How To Make Nesting Terrariums

Originally uploaded by MaggieMason.

I like dirt. Unfortunately, apartment living in San Francisco doesn’t afford much opportunity for gardening, and we travel so much that most houseplants come with a built-in death sentence.

I decided I wanted to make some terrariums with succulents, so we’d have some green around that didn’t require too much upkeep. Here are the results.

I used antique apothecary jars that we picked up at the flea market for $60 each. We bought two small bags of cactus mix, which I used as a base, and one bag of decorative gravel to pour over the top. The project was surprisingly easy, but I still managed to trip over a few things. So:

Mistakes for you to avoid

-My jars came with lids. I think this would be great for ferns, which love humidity, but not so good for cacti. I ended up just taking them off because everyone looked sad, but the lids are so awesome that I’m bummed.

-Most of the bigger plants we bought were useless because there was such a small area to landscape. The two-inch plants were ideal, and way, way cheaper to boot. As you can see, I ended up putting most of the bigger plants in pots and vases I had laying around. (Yes, I have entirely too much stuff laying around.)

-I put one bigger plant in a jar because I loved it so much, and ended up bruising the crap out of it. Also, some of the outer leaves were touching the jar, which kills them. It looks like I’ll need to cut off all the outer ring of foliage to keep things from getting dire.


-I used a few plants that don’t need dirt, and they were heavenly. Impossible to kill or bruise, and super easy to place.

-I plan to get some little ceramic dinosaurs and things to place among the plants, as I think it would be hilarious. Mushrooms would be equally funny in a woodland scene.

I’m watering every few days with a couple squirts from a spray bottle, and it seems to be working out, but I watered the soil at first to give the plants help with transition. UPDATE: Gayla says:
“Misting the soil directly about once a month is all that is needed for most cacti and succulents of the desert sort. Unlike most plants they don’t need to be watered when planted but prefer to adjust for a few days before a first water.
Definitely keep those lids off! Even with the humidity-loving tilandsia ’cause the lack of air circulation will drive them straight to Death By Rot.”

That’s it! Do this, it’s fun.

29 thoughts on “How To Make Nesting Terrariums

  1. Pretty! I like dirt too and I love the succulents. And the jade is suppose to be good luck. You can make new ones by just pinching off a tip and sticking it right in the dirt. Easy breezy. I like to dress my succulents up with a little sand too. They love it. I have an aloe named sideshow bob because it looked just like bob’s hair. I also like to put stuff around mine like those fake rubber bugs and lizards and tree frogs. I think it makes them feel more at home. Try some agaves too. They are beautiful and when they get big enough, you can make your own tequila!


  2. I love it. I’ll have to try this with succulents when I move, finally – unfortunately leaving my old succulents behind. Yours look awesome though, and the colour of the gravel is really striking against the green. I also love the idea of the dinosaurs and mushrooms… maybe add some gnomes, too. Most things are better with gnomes.


  3. Succulents don’t like me any more. I keep killin them accidentally. 😦

    Yours look so super cool though I may have to try again! : D


  4. Those are fantastic! What are the names of the plants that don’t need dirt, if you don’t mind. I love the jars, very cool.


  5. “Impossible to kill or bruise, and super easy to place.”

    uh? mags?

    you do know that the baby will be slightly higher maintenance, right? I mean, I know from experience that you *don’t* know, and it’s *best* that you don’t know, but the cactus isn’t like, a qualifying heat, is it?


  6. Maggie I am sorry for chiming in like a know-it-all jerk but not adding my gardening 10 cents is physically impossible…

    Misting the soil directly about once a month is all that is needed for most cacti and succulents of the desert sort. Unlike most plants they don’t need to be watered when planted but prefer to adjust for a few days before a first water.

    Definitely keep those lids off! Even with the humidity-loving tilandsia ’cause the lack of air circulation will drive them straight to Death By Rot. Two alternative ways to grow.

    Rock on!


  7. Sorry I meant to add “During the winter months, misting the soil…” They require more water during the summer depending on how much heat and light they get.


  8. YOU, my dear, are my absolute favorite blogger of all the bloggers. I just read that it’s national de-lurking day so I thought it was time to let you know. Your writing style is perfection. Your crafty entries are an inspiration. (I did some TERRARIUMS this year but with an upcoming move Im thinking of gifting them. Now I KNOW that I have to take some photos first.) And your shopping entries are dangerous, so dangerous. With my first tot on the way in June I’m really looking forward to reading about Mighty Baby! Keep up the great work Momma!


  9. Thank goodness for Gayla. That would have been a hundred bucks of overwatered cacti down the drain. The plants that don’t need water are sometimes called air cactus, sometimes bromeliads. I love them.


  10. When I was little, I took a summer class at the Boston Museum of Science. They taught us how to build different terrariums, ranging from small to big and from cacti to flowers.

    I took this knowledge home and would build them in my spare time. I was 7. And, obviously, a giant nerd.


  11. Actually, go ahead and plant up a jar with ferns and put the lid on. I’ve kept tiny ferns thriving without attention for years in sealed up glass jars. They require less light than succulents, and they just keep recycling the moisture inside the jar. Just keep them out of direct sun.


  12. Oh good, I’m glad. I meant to say earlier that I love what you did with the mounding of the soil/gravel. It’s very aesthetically pleasing but probably will also help stave off some humidity since the plants are lifted up closer to the rim.

    The plants that don’t need soil are also called tillandsia aka ‘freaky alien life forms’. I love them! I heard there is a fantastic store somewhere in San Fran that is overflowing with them and other air plants. They are great for your climate.


  13. I love how terrariums have come back in a huge way lately. And yours are fabulous! I love them.

    I’ve been thinking about doing one for some time and now you’ve inspired me to actually get off my lazy hibernating self and do it. I even have a little deer figurine waiting for a home.


  14. these are awesome and a fantastic decorating idea. and you are not the first person i know who has planted things to nest at the end of a pregnancy–my best friend planted 58 pansies the day her daughter was born. 🙂


  15. I LOVE this idea. The plants are beautiful and cheery, and above all–protected. We always have a terrible time keeping plants away from our nibbling cats. Succulents in terrariums would totally work for us. Thanks for the great idea!


  16. Lovely plants 🙂 I think I need some low maintenence ones judging by the fact that my last attempts at horticulture are presently sitting in my parents’ garden where they can be properly attended to!

    Also: on your ‘favorite posts’ page, dooce’s flickr and daily link appears in the right hand column! Not sure if anyone else pointed out to you but thought you might want to fix it! 🙂


  17. I wonder if you could put spacers between the top of the jar and the lid, big enough to let enough air in so it won’t get humid.


  18. This is such a fabulous idea. Thanks for sharing. I kill all plants but cacti, and I was looking for a way to display them that didn’t involve the usual, boring terracotta pots.


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