How to plant a terrarium

I AM OBSESSED WITH TERRARIUMS. When we moved into my family home twenty years ago there was a terrarium left in the garden. At the time, I had no idea what it was and it has been in the garden ever since, moulding. Whoops!

I have spent the past year or two begging my mum to give me the terrarium – it has beautiful leading and a felt-covered bottom. She finally caved in as I promised I would plant it for her (she thinks I’m going to give it back but she can dream on! Ha!). I’m really enjoying bringing plants into my home so this was a great opportunity.

If however, you know full well that looking after plants just isn’t for you then why not try this lovely tutorial by one of my favourite crafters, Fran from Fall for DIY. You can learn How to Create Your Own Paper Plants over on the Wayfair site, which are zero maintenance but look great. Either way having plants in the home is such a joy so I would definitely recommend giving it a go.

Back to the terrarium, here’s how I planted it…

You will need:

How to plant a Victorian terrarium

Horticultural charcoal, potting soil, washed gravel or pebbles (optional).

You will need tropical plants that like high humidity, if your terrarium is enclosed. Don’t combine succulents with tropical plants as the one needs a lot of water and the other needs very little. I bought a selection of six tropical plants from Terra World Tropicals for £12.99 or you can buy individual plants from £1.99. It’s nice to have a variety of colours, shapes, textures when you plant a terrarium.

Tropical plant for terrarium Catopsis morreniana (Flowering Bromeliad)

Catopsis Morreniana (Flowering Bromeliad)

Asplenium antiquum 'Crispy Wave' (Tongue Fern)

Asplenium antiquum ‘Crispy Wave’ (Tongue Fern)

Tropical plant for terrarium Syngonium (Arrowhead Vine)

Syngonium (Arrowhead Vine)

Tropical plant for terrarium Coffea arabica (Coffee Plant)

Coffea Arabica (Coffee Plant)

Tropical plant for terrarium Begonia rex (Painted Begonia)

Begonia Rex (Painted Begonia)

Tropical plant for terrarium Mutation of Hemionitis Arifolia

Mutation of Hemionitis Arifolia

Tropical plant for terrarium Cordyline fruticosa (Palm Lily)

Cordyline fruticosa (Palm Lily)

Tropical plant for terrarium Sagina sabulata (Irish Moss)

Sagina sabulata (Irish Moss)

Other tropical plants to look out for are: Pilea involucrata ‘Moon Valley’ Size: To 12 inches tall and wide , Arachnoides simplicior ‘Variegata’ Size: To 16 inches tall and wide, Cryptanthus bivittatus Size: To 6 inches tall and wide, Fittonia verschaffeltii var. argyroneura Size: To 12 inches tall and wide, Peperomia caperata ‘Variegata’ Size: To 6 inches tall and wide, Saxifraga stolonifera Size: To 8 inches tall and 6 inches wide,

Antique Victorian terrarium

A terrarium – mine is an enclosed one but you can use any type of glass container. If you have an open terrarium, don’t choose tropical plants as these need high humidity.


How to plant a Victorian terrarium

1. Make sure your terrarium is completely clean. Mine had mould growing in it and all sorts, which you don’t want in a contained environment. Also, you want the glass to be totally clean before you plant it as it will become very difficult to clean once it is planted. Use vinegar to clean the glass and a scourer for the leading – careful not to scratch the glass.

How to plant a Victorian terrarium

2. Layer the bottom of the terrarium with the horticultural charcoal as this provides drainage – I used about an inch. You can not skip this step otherwise your plants will be sitting in water and the roots will rot. At this point you can also add a layer of gravel for drainage and it provides a contrast against the black of the charcoal and soil. However, this is not essential as long as you have the charcoal.

How to plant a Victorian terrarium

3. Add a layer of the potting soil (this type of soil contains more nutrients). I used about an inch.

How to plant a Victorian terrarium

4. Plant each of your plants one at a time. Rest it on top of the soil and then add handfuls of soil around it and make sure it is completely stable and ‘planted in’. Look at the details of each plant to decide where to plant it e.g. if it likes shade, place it in the middle so it will be shaded by the other plants, or if it grows very wide leave enough space around it for growth.

How to plant a Victorian terrarium

5. Pack the soil around each plant. If it’s difficult to get your hand or arm into your terrarium you may need to use tweezers or even chop-sticks!

How to plant a Victorian terrarium

6. I decided to put some washed stones and pebbles between the plants just for decoration. You can also use moss or shells.

How to plant a Victorian terrarium

Finished. I love it!

If you want to make your own you can use any type of glass container like these:


One of my favourite terrariums that you can buy (if you’re not lucky enough to find an antique one at the bottom of your garden!) is this from A Rum Fellow:

Terrarium cube

If you buy this it even comes with charcoal and gravel to get you started.

Katy x



  1. Gigi
    6th June 2013 / 8:47 pm

    I love this. Looks great. I also love the fact that you brought something beautiful back to life.

    • katy
      7th June 2013 / 5:26 am

      Thanks, Gigi! What I also love is it is so low maintenance – only have water it every couple of weeks. I might have to start a collection…

  2. Penny
    7th June 2013 / 8:56 am

    I love it ….I’m now hunting high and low for a suitable glass container.

    • katy
      7th June 2013 / 2:03 pm

      I can’t wait to see what you create, Penny!

  3. Evelyn
    7th June 2013 / 8:22 pm

    This is absolutely lovely. Apart from the weather the one thing I miss about Ghana is plants.

    Tomorrow I am going to look for suitable glass containers and also ask for my hubby to buy me a terrarium! Just Gorgeous.

  4. 5th November 2013 / 7:35 pm

    I have finally made mine! It doesn’t look quite as nice as yours but I’m pleased. Thanks for your guidance Katy x

    • katy
      5th November 2013 / 9:00 pm

      Yay! Can’t wait to see it xx

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