Planting the garden. When selecting your terrarium’s plants, use the same design principles you use in your outdoor garden. Look for a contrast of textures, sizes, and colors and pick plants you love.
- Moss (harvested from your backyard if you have it) and baby’s tears create a soft stage for upright fans of feathery ferns and perky, round peperomia. Hypoestes, prayer plant and neyhthytis provide pops of color.
- Orchids love the terrarium environment, though they need special handling as they require a different base than other plants. I have had success with a purchased orchid, planting it in a pocket of orchid bark, surrounded by sphagmum moss, within a layer of potting soil. When the orchid is finished blooming, the leaves remain an attractive element in the terrarium.
- To help plot your terrarium’s design, cut out a piece of newsprint the size and shape of the planting area and arrange your plants to find an arrangement that you like.
- I find a wooden mixing spoon and a chopstick to be good tools when planting. Dig a hole to accommodate the plant’s roots, set the plant into the hole and gently pat the soil around it. Gently shaking the entire container to settle the plants into the holes works well, though don’t be too concerned with leveling the soil: an uneven surface creates visual interest.
12 terrific terrarium plants
Moss. Moss turns electric green in the terrarium environment. I harvest my own from a patch in my yard, but it is also available online and at nurseries and garden centers. If you do harvest it, make sure to knock and shake off the garden soil and check for little weedlings stowing along. You can never go wrong covering any unplanted soil with moss, using it as the groundcover, as it sets a beautiful stage for the rest of the plantings. Nestle and pat it into the soil when planting it.
Ferns. Ferns play perfectly into the organic setting of the terrarium, giving a woodsy feel to the piece, and thrive in the enclosed environment.
Baby’s Tears Helxine soleirolii. A gentle, soft contrast to the scruffy texture of moss. It easily fries in direct sun.
Hypoestes Hypoestes phyllostachya. Commonly known as the polka-dot plant, this favorite outdoor annual is a bit aggressive of a grower, but the lower light of terrarium keeps it somewhat in check. You will need to keep it pruned but the splashy pops of red and silvery-white, as well as it spots make it worth the extra TLC.
Nephthytis Syngonium podophyllum. A thriller in the terrarium planting, the arrowhead shaped leaves and jazzy colors make it a striking element. It can be an aggressive grower, so plant it in a sot that is easy to access for pruning.
Prayer plant Maranta leuconeura. Strong color and pattern and leaves like paddles add vertical interest and color and pattern to the terrarium.
Peperomia. Countless varieties offer endless possibilities for use in terrariums. From my experience, it is a sure-fire terrarium plant.
Pilea Pilea nummulariifolia. The name Creeping Charlie sends gardeners running, but this variety is native to South America and is like the low-growing shrub of the terrarium. The golden yellow variety sets off other plants to great effect.
Dracaena Dracaena deremensis. Bullet-proof and available in vivid colors, it can grow like mad, so it needs to be tended carefully, but loves the humid environment.
Orchids. The rainforest setting of the terrarium is made to host an orchid. A special planting environment, a pocket of bark within sphagnum moss, works well. An orchid and some moss are all you need to make a special vessel.
Rex Begonia. A plethora of colors and shapes give the terrarium grower a lot of options, and all are a focal point in the setting. They do not like their leaves to be wet and including begonias is what prompted me to water at the base of plants, rather than misting.
Philodendron and pothos. Yes, both can take over a smaller container quickly, but they crawl and trail in a way few terrarium plants do and there are many varieties available. Plant them in a spot that allows for pruning.