How to make your own succulent terrarium
Updated: Jul 23
Today, I will show you how I made my first terrarium.
I personally find it very relaxing just like all crafty hobbies I've tried throughout the years. It helps you focus and concentrate at plus, the sense of satisfaction you'd get after seeing your work. It's like another 'achievement unlocked'.
I did a little bit of research about the history, procedures, principles and problems that one would encounter with growing plants, specially succulents, in a glass without proper drainage.
The first terrarium was discovered by a physician in London, Dr. Nathaniel Ward in 1827. He was interested in botany and insects. He observed insects inside a glass container with plants, including ferns inside. His ferns were dying outside due to the polluted air in London at that time, but the ferns in the glass container were thriving. He decided to grow his ferns inside the glass container, which was called "Wardian cases" at the time. It became a big hit with the Victorians. It also made it possible to transport tropical and foreign plants and keep them alive and healthy while travelling by sea. ( Check this resource for further reading.)
To make a succulent terrarium you need:
Colourful stones or ornamentals (optional)
Prepare the materials.
The picture above shows the materials I used for this terrarium (the succulents and the soil mix is not included in the picture).
There are rocks of various sizes which would help improve aeration. They are not just to improve drainage, despite what a lot of people thought, due to 'perched water table'. It retains moisture because of the capillary movement of water, moving against gravity (further reading here) which should be considered when watering terrariums. The absence of a drainage hole and moisture retention would cause root rot if not careful. This makes tropical plants like ferns more suitable for terrariums, but it will work with succulents if you water cautiously.
As you can see on the bottom left of the picture, I used sphagnum moss. I used it as a top dressing to help keep the surface temperature cooler because moss retain water.
Glass terrariums can create a mini- greenhouse effect and make the temperature inside the terrarium higher than the outside. This can scorched the leaves of the succulents. This can prevent by using the moss to absorb more water to cool the surface and by using an open terrarium rather than a close one.
2. Fill the bottom with rocks, gravel or sand
I know this is contrary to what was stated by the perched table test, but it does help with aeration and aesthetic because you can see different layers of texture and colour. Horticultural sand is what I would prefer but due to lockdown supplies and bulk deliveries are limited.
3. Add a layer of activated charcoal
This layer will help prevent fungal diseases on the roots.
4. Add the soil mixture
I used a mixture of succulent potting mix with seramis plus vermiculite for better drainage and a bit of water retention. (It is tricky to balance air and water with this growing condition.)
My layers wasn't that clear because the soil went through the gaps on the rock layer. I will use horticultural sand next time.
5. Add the plants
Pick succulents according to the arrangement or design that you wanted. Once the design is settled, proceed with planting. To plant succulents, first, loosen the soil on the root of the plant and insert it in a hole on the soil. You can get creative with the design and arrangements and this is why I love succulents because they are so compact and colourful that it makes it easy to create attractive arrangements.
6. Add the top dressing
This can be any thing from small coloured rocks to mosses. For my terrarium, I used mosses and vermiculite. They both retain moisture and help counteract too much surface heat.
7. Tidy up
I used long, soft brushes to brush off vermiculite and soil off the foliage.
Due to the complexity of this growing condition, I am planning to water it only when the soil is dry and to water it sparingly which means lesser than how I would water my succulents on pots.
I will update my blog in 3 months time to share if this method of watering and construction was successful in growing my succulents inside a terrarium.
The plants in my terrarium is still alive and the echeveria actually flowered while in there.
This was taken on June 2. After one month of being in a terrarium.
I watered it whenever I notice that the soil is drying out or when the plant is getting wrinkly. I wet the soil, trying my best to avoid watering the leaves. I used a 20ml syringe to do this.
Although the plants were surviving, I noticed that the growth is stunted and they grow very slow. That is kinda expected because of the amount of soil and root growth inside the terrarium. But, I was so happy that I managed to keep the plants alive and prevented root rot. (That would be the most devastating thing for me.)
Because I was so happy with how it turned out and so are my friends. They ordered a custom made one.
Added Ceropagia woodii variegata on this one and some moss. Let’s see how long it will last. I am going to coach my friend and share how I managed to keep mine last.
I will update this blog again after several months. Let’s see if the moss is bad or good.
Stay tuned and subscribe for more succulent and veggie growing blogs.
Talk to you soon.