How to Make an Upcycled Terrarium: Big Ideas for Tiny Gardens

By Bethany Johnson in Thinking Sustainably

It's no secret that indoor plants provide a host of benefits. From improving concentration and memory retention to reducing stress and anxiety, indoor plants can give your home a much-needed mood lift. But when you're working with little gardeners, it can be difficult to keep delicate houseplants alive.

Thankfully, there's a simple and eco-friendly solution: help your kids create an upcycled terrarium. Known for being very low maintenance, terrariums are perfect for little hands. Plus, they're a great way to teach your kids all about plants.

Chances are you already have some unique terrarium containers around the house just waiting to be transformed. Here are a few ways you can help your kids bring the outdoors in and have some fun, too.

Start with the Basics

Terrariums were originally created by Dr. N.B. Ward in the nineteenth century, according to University of Missouri Extension. While observing a buried moth cocoon in a sealed glass jar, Dr. Ward realized the moist soil inside was producing plants. His mini greenhouse plants survived for more than four years without any help.

Just like Dr. Ward's experiment, these little gardens need very little maintenance once they're established, making them great for novice gardeners.

To get started, you'll need the following:

  • Clear glass or plastic container
  • Pebbles, gravel, or other small rocks
  • Sand
  • Potting charcoal
  • Potting soil
  • Plants

The type of plants you choose will determine the type of container you'll be using. If you're looking to grow tropical plants—air plants, African violets, or some ferns—then opt for a clear container with a lid. This creates the mini-greenhouse environment these plants need to thrive. For drier plants—succulents, cacti—open containers are best.

Start by creating a drainage layer. This step ensures your plant's roots don't get over-watered. Place the pebbles or gravel in first, followed by a layer of sand. Top both with a layer of potting charcoal. The charcoal will both keep the soil healthy and prevent odors.

Next, add the potting soil. Keep in mind that succulents and cacti need different soil than other plants, so grab the right kind for what you're planting.

Finally, tuck your plants into their new home. Start with the biggest ones first, and plant deeply enough to cover the roots. Add more soil as necessary and enough water to dampen the soil.

Remember to keep your terrarium out of direct sunlight and water it only when plants start to look dry.

Hanging terrarium

Get Creative

Now that you have the basics, get creative by making an upcycled terrarium. You can use almost anything from around the house to make unique terrarium containers. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Clear Christmas Ornament: Grab a clear glass or plastic ornament and a mini funnel. Pop off the top, and carefully pour your drainage layer, sand, charcoal, and soil through the funnel. Then, use tweezers to add small plants such as moss. Add enough water to make the soil damp and replace the top of the ornament. Thread it with twine or ribbon to hang. You can also do this with an old incandescent lightbulb after carefully removing the wire filament.

Wine Cork: This works best with very small air plants or succulents. Clear out the center of the cork and add your drainage layers. Carefully add your plants, and glue a magnet on the back of the cork to mount on your fridge! Keep in mind that, since these plants won't be in a clear container, they may need more maintenance.

Baby Wipe Container: Don't toss those plastic baby wipe boxes! Take the lid off an empty wipe container and add your drainage layers and soil. Choose plants like cacti and succulents to create a tiny garden. Help kids paint the containers or cover them in fabric to personalize them even more.

Toy Truck: Most old toy or model trucks make great open-air gardens for succulents and other dry plants. Fill the bed—and the cab if possible—with your drainage layers, then add soil and plants. Just make sure to place trucks on a flat surface so they don't roll!

Helping your kids create their own terrariums is a great way to introduce them to gardening while repurposing old toys and other recyclables. With a little imagination and the right supplies, your little gardeners will be horticultural and recycling pros in no time.

Image source: Bethany Johnson | Pixabay

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It’s Good

For busy (but eco-conscious) parents, nothing feels better than providing kids with an activity that combines science, creativity, conservation, and fun! These ingenious upcycled terrarium ideas achieve all of the above, and when you're done, you're rewarded with a tiny garden to call your own.