Ironically, succulents are both easy to kill and easy to care for. Ideal for indoor gardeners succulents are happy to adapt and grow in new surroundings. Just don’t overwater!
You can plant them in just about any container putting those creative instincts to the test! Making a DIY succulent and cactus terrarium will enhance your indoor green space.
Mother’s Day approaches. How about thinking outside the box? Best of all, you probably have most of the “ingredients” handy and it only takes about 5 minutes to assemble.
A few additives can be purchased at a low cost making a succulent and cacti terrarium a very inexpensive project.
Before we get started, we must talk about containers and the difference between open and closed terrariums.
And yes….you are correct in thinking that mine is technically a potted plant terrarium. A great marriage of the two concepts.
My centerpiece has all the layers of the terrarium but with the plants on top instead of squashed below.
I’ll explain in the post why I went this route so keep reading!
Let’s talk containers…
Here is a great Mason Jar terrarium project that would be fun with kids! And you can download and print it. Especially since so many of us are homeschooling now.
The place to look for cool terrarium containers is the Goodwill, Salvation Army or perhaps your own basement. Who even knows what’s lurking down there? Don’t spend too much money!
It’s better to re-purpose something you already own or buy secondhand. Square container? Circle? Oblong? Unique? It’s up to you and your creative instincts.
I prefer clear glass containers because one can view all the visually stimulating and intriguing layers. I also favor a glass container that is shorter with a wider top.
Not only will this encourage more natural air circulation (discouraging mold) but you’ll fit in more plants, too. Plus, a super tall container will require more supplies to fill all those layers.
Most terrariums are far emptier than mine. Meaning…you can see the plants through the glass, they are not planted on top. So if your aim is for a more traditional terrarium, when following the steps below, use less than half of the material suggested.
And yes, I fully acknowledge that I was partly motivated by smell – making a more “potted” version of a terrarium is less likely to get stinky!
I had this vision of a dining room centerpiece terrarium. But small terrariums look nice on kitchen countertops, decorative shelves, the buffet table and even on your bed stand to wish you good morning each day!
Open versus closed terrariums
That’s partly why we add the sand on top. It’s also the reason for all the layers added, especially the pebbles and horticultural charcoal; we want to increase drainage.
Overwatering is the biggest terrarium pitfall. Don’t do it! Your succulents are used to desert conditions, it’s where they grow in the wild.
If you do decide to create a more traditional terrarium with the plants centered in the middle of the container, be aware that the humidity will also be higher.
My spin fosters a dryer environment to the benefit of the plants. One other advantage to a open terrarium is air circulation which allows the whole mini-ecosystem literally a breath of fresh air ~ so it’s less likely to rot and smell!
Closed terrariums are more suitable for your humidity loving plants like miniature orchids, ferns and air plants.
What’s the activated charcoal for and do I need it?
By sprinkling just a bit of activated charcoal over your rocks, you are preventing that mold from occurring. (Fingers crossed!)
My activated charcoal came in small chunks but you can also buy a powdered version that works equally well. Your choice!
The primary reason for adding charcoal to the terrarium is toxin removal. Horticultural charcoal absorbs chemicals in the soil, water and air that can build up inside your terrarium and damage your plants.
Using distilled water and NOT overwatering are also key. The charcoal also absorbs icky odors.
If you skip the charcoal, you’re more likely to end up with a smelly terrarium from decomposing soil and plant material, as well as mold and mildew.
Where to get plants….
And even though I have no objection to ordering plants online, this one time I wanted to examine the succulents in person.
I was eager to touch, feel, and assess on my own terms. This took me right to Home Depot to buy plants.
I’m happy to report that it seems Home Depot has finally decided to water their plants and they didn’t look too bad. In fact, their orchids looked great.
The succulent and cacti selection was actually pretty good! I did like how they had several plant sizes available, and smaller plants for terrariums.
My only gripe is that when you go to buy succulents, they are almost never labelled. Frustrating.
It’s up you to consult with google.
- Various succulents in different shapes, colors, and sizes
- Clear glass container with a wide opening to prevent moisture accumulation (and mold)
- Small, smooth pebbles, gravel or tiny lake rock (my preference) Buy here!
- Activated charcoal
- Moss Buy here!
- Succulent or cactus soil
- Garden ornaments (optional)
- Fine mist spray bottle
- Drinking straw (to blow around the sand!)
Layer one – small rocks, pebbles or gravel
Small white gravel bits might be attractive and draw the eye, too. Regardless, they serve the same purpose: to help drain water from the soil. Succulents and cacti crave hot and dry conditions.
Always keep in mind that your container terrarium does not have drainage holes (you wouldn’t want it leaking anyhow) so keeping water to a minimum is best. I like to mist mine to ensure plants aren’t waterlogged.
The second purpose is that the rocks are visually appealing. For deeper containers, adding two inches of rock is ideal, but for a shallower container, one inch is better.
You must make room for all the layers so use your eye and your instincts and don’t go overboard!
Layer two – activated horticultural charcoal bits or powdered charcoal
Not only will the charcoal prevent mold but will keep your terrarium from getting smelly.
Horticultural charcoal may be one of the ingredients you don’t have handy and you will pay $6-$10 for a bag of it depending on your source.
Add between 1/4-1/2 inch to keep your terrarium clean by filtering the water. For deeper containers, add 1 inch horticultural charcoal.
Just make sure it’s the horticultural variety ~ not the stuff used for teeth whitening! You’ll have plenty left over for other projects.
I ended up adding some to my closed terrarium to help prevent mold, stagnation and stench!
Layer three – moss
The bag I bought for only $4 is huge and I have lots of ideas of how else I’d like to use it. You could also just grab some moss off your sidewalk if that’s cheaper and easier for you.
The moss adds a bit of greenery to the middle of the piece and, like the charcoal, help cut down bad smells. At least in theory.
Layer four – succulent or cactus soil
But you could just use regular potting soil. Since I grow lots of succulents this investment makes sense for me as I’ll lots of opportunities to put it to use. We shall see if it lives up to the hype!
I added about an inch of soil, then tucked in my succulents and cacti remembering that they do not want to be planted deep.
Then I sprinkled an inch more soil to top my creation off. You just want to give those roots ample depth to re-root. Don’t bury them!
Layer five – sand
The sand looks super nice on top of the soil providing a light contrast to the dark soil. It also gives the piece a desert vibe.
After years of growing succulents I’ve noticed that they seem to like the sand.
Layer six – rocks again (optional)
If you notice mold in your terrarium…
Then add some fungi fighting agents like cinnamon, baking powder and apple cider vinegar. Using distilled water is also a good idea if you can!