Terrarium Indoor Gardens

Terrariums, indoor foliage gardens in glass containers, are the direct descendents of the Wardian case invented in 1829 by English surgeon and plant collector Dr. Henry Chase Ward.  Although  originally used to transport plants over long distances, Wardian cases became quite popular in Victorian times to display and grow specimen plants in middle-class homes.  Modern versions of these miniature greenhouses are more like small conservatories with their glass walls, interesting roof lines, and intricate metal or wood trim.  Some styles are even perched atop their own lovely stands.  Terrarium gardens require little care, making them perfect for many different rooms in the home.  Here are a few tips on how to plant and care for a terrarium.


Line the bottom of the terrarium with ½” of fine gravel.  Add a thin layer of horticulture charcoal chips.  The charcoal helps to filter the air in the enclosed environment.  Arrange small plants on top of the gravel.  Its best to start with taller plants in the center and work outward.  Fill in around plants with soiless potting mix and water lightly.  Potted plants can also be used in terrariums.  Simply arrange the pots on top of the gravel and cover with moss.

Plant Selection

Most any green plant will grow in a terrarium.  Look for plants with similar light and moisture requirements.   Small or miniature varieties are probably best suited for the smaller terrariums.  Here are a few suggested plants to try.

  • African Violet Hemigraphis (Waffle Plant)
  • Begonia (Tuberous) Hypoestes (Pink Splash)
  • Creeping Fig Maranta (Prayer Plant)
  • Croton Orchids
  • Ferns Peperomia
  • Fittonia Pilea
  • Ivies Selaginella (Club Moss)
  • Herbs Soleirolia (Baby’s Tears)

Tips For Terrarium Care 

  • Terrariums need to be placed in a spot with bright, indirect light.
  • Take care not to over water the terrarium.  Plants may go for months without requiring water.
  • Terrarium plants do not require fertilizer.  Remember you want plants to stay small!
  • If condensation forms on the glass, open the lid or door to vent for a few hours.
  • If using flowering plants in a terrarium be sure to prune regularly and ventilate a little more.
  • Too much moisture may cause yellow leaves or brown tips. If this becomes a problem ventilate the terrarium and reduce watering.
  • Black or brown spots on the leaves may be a sign of too much sun.
  • Leggy growth is caused by lack of light.

Other Design Ideas 

  • Choose a theme for your terrarium – Southwestern desert, tropical rainforest, or English garden.
  • Use a terrarium to display a single specimen plant such as an African violet or Orchid.
  • Grow small herbs in a terrarium.
  • Use moss or dwarf ground covers for a more natural look.
  • Give the terrarium extra character and charm by adding miniature garden accessories such as statues, preserved moss (reindeer moss),river rock or decorative glass stones.