How to make and care for open terrariums


This mini-lesson provides an introduction to terrariums. The learner will gain an understanding of the materials needed, the steps required and best practices for the care of a terrarium. 

By the end of this mini-lesson you will be able to:

1. Define what a terrarium is and name the two main types.

2. Understand the basic supplies required and identify the steps needed for creating a successful terrarium.

3.  Care for and  maintain a healthy terrarium.




Getting familiar with terrariums

Terrariums: The basics

Terrariums are sealed or unsealed enclosed structures; often in a transparent globe or similar container in which plants live. There are two types; open and closed.

 Open terrariums are comprised of desert plants that thrive in drier conditions.                        

Closed terrariums are comprised of tropical plants that thrive in more moist humid conditions. 

This mini lesson focuses on open terrariums or desert terrariums. 

What plants live best in open terrariums and what conditions do they thrive in?

Ideal Plant Types

The ideal plants for open terrariums are succulents and cacti because they are drought tolerant and thrive in sunny, dry areas.

Ideal Placement 

They enjoy windowsills and bright rooms, requiring water once or twice a week.

checking for understanding: the basics

  • terrariums
    are glass structures that are either open or closed; they are inhabited by small plants
  • there are two main types of terrariums
    open and closed
  • Plants that are best suited for open terrariums
    are succulents and cacti

Constructing a terrarium: the materials and steps

The supplies you will need to make your own terrarium

Supply List

1. A glass vessel with a wide opening 

Consider the plant size you desire to ensure the vessel is the right fit.

2. Activated charcoal 

Charcoal removes toxins. It absorbs chemicals in the soil, water and air that can build up inside your terrarium over time and damage your plants.

3. Succulent and desert plant soil

All soil is not the same;  obtain soil that is for succulents/desert plants.

4. A spoon 

The spoon will be your tool for planting and arranging your terrarium.

5.Decorative stones, sand or figurines

These items will add personalization and style to your terrarium.

6. Various small succulents or cacti

Make sure that the plants fit the structure you have selected.

7. Small rocks or gravel 

This will be your first layer and will create a drainage system for your plants. Succulents and cacti do not need much water. Roots that sit in water are likely to rot, killing the entire plant. 


Why is activated charcoal important when making a terrarium?

  • it keeps the soil moist
  • it will remove toxins in the soil, water and air
  • It only used for decorative purposes
Read each question carefully and select the correct response  

Why is making your first layer a gravel layer important?

  • Drainage; The roots should not sit in water
  • It will make your terrarium look better if there are layers
  • Gravel should be the second layer

The 5 steps to making your own terrarium

Let's make a match! Pair the correct step with the correct action.

  • Step 1
    Add gravel
  • Step 2
    Add activated charcoal
  • Step 3
    Add succulent soil
  • Step 4
    Add plants; succulents and cacti
  • Step 5
    Add decorative elements

How to care for a terrarium: do's and dont's

Basic terrarium care

Recall: Desert terrariums feature drought tolerant cacti and succulents that thrive in sunny, dry areas. They thrive on windowsills and in bright rooms. 

Do water regularly. Water your terrarium plants once to twice a week,  no more than a teaspoon of water on each plant. 

Don't over water. Succulents and cacti will die if their roots sit in water. 

Checking for understanding

  • overwatering can lead to rotted roots and plant death
  • overwatering can lead to ponds developing within your terrarium, which succulents love.
Read the the statements below and select the true and false statement.

Assessment: Are you ready to make a successful terrarium?

Checking for Understanding

The basics

Succulents are plants, so they don’t need much water. In fact, they don’t like to sit in wet soil because their roots are sensitive and moisture can cause the roots to

The Steps

There are 5 main steps to making a terrarium.  Step 1: add gravel for Step 2:  add activated charcoal to rid . Step 3: add succulent soil. Step 4: add succulents and/or cacti step 5: add decorative elements.