Botanical Bliss

How to Make Your Own Terrarium

Bottle up the outdoors and bring it inside with a glass terrarium.

By Tisha Leung June 4, 2024 Published in the May-June 2024 issue of Sarasota Magazine

What if you could capture indoors a living vignette of what you see outdoors, along a hiking trail at, say, Myakka River State Park—plant life organically intertwining, varietals intermixed, all thriving untamed in a natural habitat? There is a way: Build a terrarium.

Terrariums are miniature ecosystems enclosed in glass containers—controlled environments where plants can thrive. They can vary from small, simple arrangements to larger, more elaborate landscapes, and there are two main types: closed and open. Closed terrariums are just that: closed containers that create a self-sustaining ecosystem. The moisture from the soil and plants evaporates, condenses on the walls of the container and then drips back down, creating a continuous water cycle. Open terrariums, on the other hand, are at least partially open, and are often preferred for plants that require good air circulation or are sensitive to high humidity. They require occasional watering and may need more maintenance.

Overall, terrariums are well known for being easier to care for than standard potted plants, but what else makes them appealing? After building his business, Trinity Terrariums, for nine years, Sarasota artist Trinity Moore is a terrarium whisperer—and knows the answer.

“People love terrariums because they add greenery and have a calming effect, without the constant care it takes for regular house plants,” Moore says. They are fashioned as miniature natural worlds and easily become part of a home’s interior design, as well as a conversation piece. “Having natural green in your home is a vibe,” says Moore, who hosts workshops on how to create your own terrarium.

The challenge of growing tropical plants indoors is that they thrive in high humidity and therefore tend to struggle in the drier, dimmer environments found in our homes. While small tropical plants require a lot of attention indoors, they can do well in closed terrariums. Moore recommends “Cryptanthus, creeping fig, exotic moss, begonias and ferns.”

Succulents, cacti and air plants, meanwhile, are happier in open terrariums. Sadie LeBlanc is the owner of Knotted Roots, a gift shop on Treasure Island, near St. Petersburg. She leads events that help people fashion their own open terrariums with epiphytes. “Personally, I am a huge fan of the air plant terrarium,” LeBlanc says. “All that is needed is a glass container, sand or rock, and a few decorative elements, such as shells, crystals or small figurines.” No soil or planting is required, but air plants are not self-sustaining and will need to be removed from their landscape and soaked in water at least once or twice a week.

Witnessing nature through the glass is exciting. “Each terrarium is different,” says Moore. “Your eyes will spend a lot of time traveling over the moss and through the rocks, exploring and feeding your soul.”

The love of plants is often a lifelong one. Moore’s began when his parents planted a banana tree in the front yard of his childhood home in Fort Walton Beach. These days, Moore has enduring relationships with clients, offering yearly maintenance for past purchases. “I usually trim or add new plants and moss and redesign the existing landscape,” he says. “I always love redoing old terrariums—I can augment the plantings that have been maturing over the past year with more details.” 

Make Your Own Closed Terrarium

A how-to guide from Trinity Terrariums’ Trinity Moore.

1. Fill the bottom-most layer with black lava rock or fine gravel to hold excess water. 

Next, add rocks in contrasting shades for visual differentiation. Activated charcoal makes up the third layer and prevents mold and mildew.

2. Moore’s favorite mixture for a substrate is peat moss, perlite, crushed rock and small chunks of orchid bark.

Keep it loose and chunky for airflow. Angle the soil to create a hill for depth and to maximize the surface area for plantings.

3. Create a hardscape with decorative or mineral rocks to add height and to keep the substrate in place.

Add miniature tropical plants, beginning with the larger ones first. Tuck moss between rocks and plants. The scene will start forming more depth.

4. Mist with five to six pumps of water. Add three to four isopods or springtails, bioactive bugs that consume decaying plant material, mold and mildew.

Lastly, use a glass lid—or cork wrapped in plastic—to seal the ecosystem. Place your terrarium in natural, indirect lighting away from direct sun to create the condensation needed for it to thrive.

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