How to Plant a Tropical Fern Terrarium Display

Tropical Fern

Tropical ferns are a beautiful and unique type of plant that can thrive indoors in a terrarium environment. With their lush green fronds and tropical look, ferns make an eye-catching addition to any home. Creating a fern terrarium display allows you to cultivate these plants while creating a stunning focal point in your living space.

What Supplies Do You Need for a Fern Terrarium?

To plant and grow ferns in a terrarium, you will need a few basic supplies:

  • A glass container or jar: Look for one with a wide mouth for easy access. Make sure it is clear to allow light through. The size depends on how many ferns you want to plant, but 1–5 gallon capacity is a good range.
  • Small gravel or pebbles: This covers the bottom of the container to allow drainage. Activated charcoal can also be used.
  • Potting soil or potting mix: Use one made for tropical plants and ferns. It should retain moisture but still drain well.
  • Sheet moss: This forms a natural-looking bottom layer over the soil and helps prevent soil from washing through when watering.
  • Tropical ferns: Choose varieties that will stay small and suit the terrarium environment. Maidenhair ferns, button ferns, and rabbit foot ferns are good options.
  • Decorative items (optional): Small pieces of wood or stone can add interest and texture inside the terrarium.
  • Pruners or scissors: for trimming ferns as needed to maintain optimal size.

How to Select the Right Type of Terrarium Container

Choosing the right size and shape of container is an important first step when making a fern terrarium. Here are some things to consider when selecting a terrarium vessel:

  • Size: The container needs to be large enough to house the ferns and allow them room to grow, but not so big that maintaining humidity is difficult. For 2–5 small ferns, a 1-2 gallon glass container is usually ideal.
  • Shape: A wide, shallow container provides more surface area for the ferns to spread out, while a tall, narrow one offers more vertical space for them to grow upward. Select based on the shapes and growth habits of the ferns you’ll be planting.
  • Wide mouth: Look for containers with wide openings, as this makes it much easier to access the plants for pruning, watering, and arranging the interior decor.
  • Lid or cover: essential for retaining moisture and creating a greenhouse environment inside. Pick one that fits snugly onto the vessel.
  • Clear glass: Opt for transparent, non-tinted glass so light can easily pass through. Avoid colored or opaque containers that block light transmission.

The right terrarium container sets the stage for successfully growing ferns. Take time to select one tailored to the specific ferns you’ll be planting.

What Type of Lighting Do Ferns Need in a Terrarium?

When cultivating ferns in an indoor terrarium, providing the right amount of light is crucial. Here is how to ensure your ferns get the lighting they need to stay healthy:

  • Bright, indirect light: Ferns thrive best with plenty of diffuse, ambient light. Avoid direct sunlight, which can overheat the terrarium.
  • North or east-facing windows: Placing the terrarium near a window that faces north or east will give it gentle, filtered light throughout the day.
  • Fluorescent lighting: If natural light is limited, use full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs positioned above the terrarium to simulate the light conditions ferns would get in nature.
  • Rotation: Rotate the terrarium periodically so all sides get even light exposure. This prevents ferns from reaching toward only one light source.
  • 12–14 hours daily: Ferns require a consistent daily photoperiod of bright, indirect light. Using grow lights can extend light exposure if needed.
  • Light adjustments: Observe ferns and adjust lighting as needed if fronds start yellowing or appear stretched and sparse. More light is required if this occurs.

Providing the ideal lighting conditions will allow ferns to produce lush, healthy fronds. Be prepared to tweak variables like distance and duration until you find the sweet spot.

How to Select the Best Potting Mix for a Fern Terrarium

Choosing an appropriate potting substrate is one of the most critical aspects of successfully cultivating ferns in a terrarium environment. Here are some tips for selecting the best potting mix:

  • Incorporate peat moss. This helps retain moisture while still allowing the airflow ferns need. Look for mixes containing 20–30% peat moss content.
  • Include vermiculite or perlite. These provide drainage and aeration. Aim for a mix with at least 10–20% of one of these. Too much can hold excessive moisture.
  • Nutrient-rich: The mix should contain organic material like compost to provide nutrients for ferns. Slow-release fertilizer can also be added.
  • pH between 5.5 and 6.5: Ferns prefer slightly acidic conditions. Choose a mix designed for acid-loving plants.
  • Avoid pure potting soil; this won’t drain well. Opt instead for specialized fern or orchid mixes.
  • Inspect the texture: It should feel lightweight and fluffy, not dense or tightly compacted.

Testing different mixes can help determine which one performs best and maintains the ideal moisture levels in a closed environment. Adjust components like sphagnum moss as needed for your specific ferns and terrarium setup.

How to Layer the Terrarium Components

After selecting a suitable glass container, the next step is layering the terrarium components inside to create an optimal growing environment for ferns. Follow these steps:

  • Add drainage layer: Cover the bottom with 0.5–1 inch of small gravel, pebbles, or activated charcoal to allow excess water to drain away from plant roots.
  • Include activated charcoal (optional): This helps absorb odors and purify stagnant air inside the closed container. Mix into the bottom layer.
  • Add sheet moss: Place a thin layer of dried sheet moss over the gravel to prevent soil from filtering through.
  • Add potting mix: Scoop in moist specialty fern or orchid mix to fill the container 1/3 to 1/2 full. Mound slightly higher in the center.
  • Plant ferns: Carefully remove ferns from pots, loosen roots, and plant them in potting mix. Arrange for optimal spacing and aesthetics.
  • Top with decor: Add any decorative touches like small stones, twigs, or moss as finishing accents on the soil surface.
  • Water thoroughly. Moisten the entire soil mixture until water drains from the bottom.

Proper layering establishes ideal conditions for ferns to thrive. Adjust the amounts of each component based on your specific container size and plants.

How Do You Care for Ferns in an Enclosed Terrarium?

Caring for ferns in a warm, humid terrarium environment differs from standard houseplant care. Here are some key things to keep in mind:

  • Maintain constant humidity: mist terrariums daily or place water-filled pebbles in the bottom to increase ambient moisture levels.
  • Provide good air flow: avoid overcrowding plants and leave space at the top of the container to allow some air movement.
  • Use demineralized or distilled water. Tap water contains minerals that remain on leaves during evaporation. Use pure water to prevent buildup.
  • Limit watering: Water only when the potting mix is partly dry. Too much will cause root rot.
  • Watch condensation: Some condensation inside is good, but excessive moisture signals poor ventilation or overwatering issues.
  • Remove weeds: Occasionally pluck out any weeds sprouting in the soil to prevent overcrowding.
  • Prune and shape when needed. Use sterile pruners to trim browning fronds or overgrown plants that block light from others.

With the right balance of moisture, air flow, and pruning, ferns will thrive for years inside a flourishing terrarium environment.

What varieties of small ferns grow well in terrariums?

When selecting ferns, look for varieties that naturally stay compact and miniature to suit the scale and constraints of a terrarium habitat. Some top options include:

Maidenhair Ferns

  • Delicate, lacy texture.
  • Grows slowly to 6–12 inches tall.
  • Thrives in humid conditions.
  • Can cascade down the sides of the container.

Birds Nest Ferns

  • a tight rosette shape with wavy edges.
  • Typically under 6 inches tall.
  • Does well in low light and high humidity.

Holly Ferns

  • Small, shiny leaves resemble holly.
  • Height reaches just 3–6 inches.
  • Adds unique texture and visual interest.

Button Ferns

  • Round, button-like appearance.
  • Grows slowly to 8 inches tall and wide.
  • Easy to maintain and propagate.

Rabbit Foot Ferns

  • Fluffy, furry-looking rhizomes
  • Height is capped at about 5 inches.
  • Spreads readily to fill space.

Experiment with mixing various fern species and foliage shapes to create your ideal miniature landscape.

What Are Some Troubleshooting Tips for a Fern Terrarium?

Caring for ferns in a closed terrarium brings some unique challenges. Here are troubleshooting tips for some common issues that may arise:

Brown, crispy fronds

This is usually caused by low humidity. Try increasing watering frequency, misting more, and moving the terrarium away from heating vents to boost moisture levels.

Mold or fungus on soil

Excess condensation or stagnant air can lead to mold growth. Open the terrarium for a few hours to improve airflow and reduce watering if the soil is too wet.

Weak, leggy growth

Ferns that appear spindly and stretch upward likely need more light exposure. Rotate the terrarium or move it closer to a light source to provide brighter, indirect light.

Slow growth

Nutrient deficiency is often the culprit. Supplement potting mix with organic fertilizer or use a complete fertilizer at half strength to provide more nutrients.

Insect infestations

Isolate the terrarium and prune off any affected parts of the plants. Wipe leaves down with a damp cloth and spray with insecticidal soap if bugs persist. Be careful not to overspray plants.

Closely observing ferns and making small adjustments to conditions can help resolve many common terrarium issues. Seek out plant-specific care advice if problems worsen.

What Are Some Ideas to Decorate and Arrange a Fern Terrarium?

One of the best parts of creating a fern terrarium is decorating and arranging the interior to create a beautiful miniature landscape. Some key design tips:

  • Use natural materials like small pieces of driftwood, river stones, moss, or bark to add interest while keeping an organic look.
  • Select decor items that will stand up to the constant humidity inside the terrarium without rotting.
  • Incorporate vertical elements like cut twigs or small tree branches to create height and dimension.
  • Arrange ferns both at soil level and partially up background elements for multi-level planting.
  • Alternate textures, colors, and shapes for visual variety and interest while blending components into a cohesive scene.
  • Leave some negative space between plants and decor instead of overcrowding.
  • Add trailers like ivy along the terrarium edges to soften transitions.
  • Use symmetry and odd numbers of plants in groupings for pleasing focal points.

Taking time to thoughtfully design and arrange the layout will elevate your terrarium from average to spectacular. Let your creativity run wild!

What Are Some Ideas for Unusual Terrariums Beyond Traditional Ferns?

While tropical ferns are a go-to choice for terrariums, many other plants also thrive in a warm, humid, enclosed container environment. Consider these unique alternatives:

Carnivorous Plant Terrarium

Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, sundews, and other carnivorous varieties make fascinating and unusual terrarium specimens. Just be sure to provide the bright light and moist conditions they require.

Bonsai Terrarium

Miniature bonsai trees, like gnarly olive and ficus varieties, can grow beautifully in an enclosed terrarium habitat. Watching the bonsai develop is incredibly rewarding.

Desert Terrarium

For a drought-tolerant twist, use cacti, succulents, lithops, and low-light ground cover plants like baby tears or Irish moss to recreate a desert landscape in miniature.


Showcase vibrant orchids in a terrarium designed just for them. Mount phalaenopsis and other epiphytic orchids on wood chunks and let their aerial roots grasp the humidity.

Aquatic Terrarium

Convert a wide, shallow bowl terrarium into a mini pond or aquatic paradise. Layer sand, pebbles, and aquatic plants like dwarf lilies, iris, or grasses to bring the tranquility of water indoors.

The terrarium possibilities are endless! Let your imagination run wild while providing plants with the specific conditions they need to thrive. Get creative!

What Are Some Key Maintenance Tips to Keep a Fern Terrarium Healthy?

To keep ferns growing vigorously for years to come, incorporate these terrarium maintenance best practices:

  • Wipe down glass weekly. Clean interior walls to maximize light transmission and visibility. Avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Check for condensation. Look for excessive moisture, indicating poor air flow or overwatering. Leave the lid ajar to vent.
  • Remove fallen leaves and debris: compost or discard dead leaves and fallen plant matter before it decays and affects living plants.
  • Watch watering frequency: Adjust to match plant needs based on growth rate, condensation levels, and moisture in the soil.
  • Prune ferns when necessary. Trimming keeps plants from overcrowding and creates a tidy, manicured look.
  • Supplement nutrients: Applying diluted organic fertilizer every few months replenishes the soil as nutrients deplete.
  • Observe closely: Monitor plants for signs of pests, soil issues, or other problems requiring intervention.
  • Clean walls and lid: Every few months, give the terrarium a deeper cleaning to remove mineral buildup and algae on the glass.

Consistent terrarium upkeep enhances plant health, extends lifespans, and keeps your miniature garden looking spectacular.

What Are Some Tips for Propagating New Ferns for a Terrarium?

As ferns mature and outgrow their space, dividing and propagating them to generate new plants is an easy, cost-effective way to expand or refresh your terrarium landscape. Here are some propagation tips:

  • Divide root balls: Carefully separate roots and plantlets when repotting overcrowded ferns. Replant divisions.
  • Use plantlets: Look for infant plantlets, or “pups”, growing along fern stems and rhizomes. Detach and pot separately.
  • Take spore prints. Place fronds on paper overnight to collect spores. Sprinkle over moist potting mix to grow new ferns from spores.
  • Remove runners and rhizomes. Cut pieces that can grow into new plants, making sure some roots are attached.
  • Find natural offshoots: Many ferns self-propagate by spreading rhizomes. Separate and replant these.
  • Allow time to establish. Newly propagated ferns need high humidity. Grow them partially covered until acclimated before adding them to a terrarium.

Propagation expands your fern collection for free! With a little practice, you’ll be generating bountiful new ferns.

What Should You Do If Your Terrarium Ferns Become Overgrown?

As ferns grow over time inside the warm, humid environment of a terrarium, they can easily become overgrown and outsized for the space. Here are some tips if your ferns get too large and unruly:

  • Prune ferns aggressively. Cut fronds at the base and remove excess growth so light can penetrate other plants.
  • Divide rootbound plants: Gently tease apart tangled root balls and replant divisions in separate containers.
  • Transplant ferns into larger terrariums: Moving them into a bigger space allows plants room to reach mature sizes.
  • Propagate and start over: Take cuttings to start new ferns and completely refresh overgrown terrariums with younger plants.
  • Remove bulky decor: Eliminate any heavy wood, rocks, or decor crowding roots and blocking light penetration.
  • Introduce restraints: Place decorative flat stones or pieces of plexiglass over the soil to prevent spreading rhizomes from taking over.

Don’t let overgrown ferns discourage you. With some pruning, dividing, and restarting, you can get your terrarium back in top form. The maintenance is well worth it!

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