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Plant a Terrarium for a Unique Winter Garden or Gift

Plant a Terrarium for a Unique Winter Garden or Gift

by Melinda Myers,
Photograph courtesy of

Create a garden under glass to enjoy or give as a gift to new, experienced, and even reluctant gardeners. This self-contained system makes it easy to be a successful gardener with minimal care.

Purchase a terrarium or repurpose something hiding on a shelf in the basement, garage or shed. Even a cool glass container, cloche or bell jar turned open side down and placed on a shallow planting tray will work. Just glue a decorative doorknob or handle on the top for easy access.

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Use open containers like glass vases for drought tolerant plants that prefer lower humidity and drier soil.

Make it more festive for the holidays. Visit the ornament aisle in your favorite craft store. Create a mini terrarium from DIY Christmas orbs for holiday decoration or the perfect hostess gift.

Use closed terrariums when growing tropical plants. They thrive in the high humidity and moist soil. 

Leave the top off or use open containers like glass vases, or mason jars for cacti and succulents. Use a cacti and succulent mix for these drought tolerant plants. They prefer the lower humidity and drier soil that open terrariums and cacti potting mix provide.

Once you have the container, fill it with potting mix, plants, and other decorative items. Consider a layer of decorative stone, twigs, sea glass or sand at the bottom for added color and interest. Some gardeners include a layer of charcoal to help absorb any odor. The key is not overwatering as the decorative stone and charcoal won’t prevent waterlogged soil from killing your plants.

Consider covering the stone layer with black landscape fabric to prevent the potting mix from filtering through and covering up these items. Cover this with a layer of well-drained potting mix for tropical plants and cacti and succulent mix for drought tolerant plants. Add contours to the soil level if space allows for added interest. 

Select a variety of plants of different heights, textures, and colors to create an attractive terrarium garden. Many garden centers now sell small specimens perfect for these mini gardens.

Low growing tropical plants such as baby’s tears, creeping fig, moss, and ivies make excellent groundcovers. Small specimens of dracaenas, crotons, palms and podocarpus make nice upright features. Fill in the middle ground with ferns, nerve plants, polka dot plants and more. 

Once assembled, terrariums are relatively easy to manage. Moisten the soil and cover. Crack the lid open if condensation builds up on the glass. Then replace the cover and monitor the soil moisture and condensation. Add additional moisture carefully. A turkey baster is an easy way to water only the plants in need of a drink.

Place your terrariums in a bright location away from direct light. Heat can build up in this covered ecosystem and cook your plants when placed in a sunny location. 

Now is the perfect time to gather or purchase fun glassware, planting and decorating supplies, and of course, plants. Then take a break from the hectic holiday season to plant up a few holiday decorations and green gifts for your loved ones.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her web site is

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