Gardens in Glass: Make Your Own Upcycled Terrarium


Like bell bottoms, leisure suits and The Hustle, terrariums were totally groovin’ in the 70s but seemingly fell off the face of the earth as the clock struck midnight on January 1st, 1980. But if feathered Farrah Fawcett hair can come back, so can these gorgeous gardens in glass – they’re riding a wave of renewed popularity right back into our homes.

What makes the modern-day incarnation of terrariums so very 2010? Upcycling glass containers like mason jars, jelly jars, wine bottles, glass teapots, spice bottles and even light bulbs. There’s virtually no limit to the kind of container that can be used, as long as it’s mostly enclosed.

Terrariums are little worlds within themselves, providing a high humidity environment for plants that might not otherwise survive very long in your home. It may seem strange that plants can live inside glass without constant exposure to air, but when the conditions are right, they actually need very little fresh air. The amount that gets exchanged when you open the lid to water them is enough.

All you need to get started are these materials, many of which you may already have:

  • Glass container
  • Activated charcoal (the kind sold at pet shops for aquariums)
  • Pea gravel
  • Potting soil
  • Moisture-loving plants
  • Decorative stones, moss, or figurines (optional)

Assembling your terrarium is fairly simple. Horticulture expert David Trinklein of the University of Missouri suggests washing your container in hot, soapy water and drying it thoroughly, then lining the bottom with a thin layer of gravel for drainage. Next is a ½ inch layer of activated charcoal, which will filter the air. Add at least 1-½ inches of moist, high quality growing medium rich in organic material and then you’re ready to insert your plants.

For visual interest, choose plants of various heights and colors that all have roughly the same needs. The easiest way to accomplish this? Head out to your backyard and see what you find – moss is a great choice for beginners. Trim off any damaged parts, place the plants in the soil using long tweezers or a stick with a wire loop attached to the end, and gently tamp down the soil. Try to keep the leaves from touching the glass to prevent rot.

Mist the inside of your terrarium and let it sit for a day before misting again. Once the water has evaporated off the leaves, you can cover the container.


Of course, figuring out just how to fit all of these materials and plants into oddly shaped containers like light bulbs and wine bottles can be tricky – there’s an art to it. Check out these tutorials for all the details:

Now, proudly put your terrarium on display in indirect sunlight and get ready to ignore it! The best part about these little glass gardens is that you can have the blackest thumb on the block and still maintain healthy plants with just a spritz of water every now and then. The larger the container opening, the more frequent it will require watering – but closed terrariums may not need water for up to six months.

Hopelessly craft-challenged? You can still get in on the terrarium trend. Handmade goods purveyor has a smorgasbord of terrarium offerings, including the moss terrarium by Greenbriar and light bulb terrariums by Tiny Terra, pictured above.

Photos: Greenbriar, Tiny Terra

Stephanie Rogers

Stephanie Rogers currently resides in North Carolina where she covers a variety of green topics, from sustainability to food.