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Friday, April 10, 2009

How to Make a Terrarium: Adding Soil Layers

The first layer in your terrarium should be pebbles. This will ensure proper circulation of water throughout the system. I like to add some glass as well. I normally try to add about 1 inch of drainage material to a terrarium. Use a bamboo skewer to level the pebbles in the container.

Activated Charcoal
Add your activated charcoal next. If the opening to your terrarium container is narrow try rolling a piece of paper into a cone and pouring the charcoal in through the cone. You only need enough charcoal to lightly cover the pebble layer.

Sphagnum Moss
Now it is time to layer your small bits of soaked and dried sphagnum moss to the terrarium. The bits of moss should be no larger than the opening of your terrarium container. Try to completely cover the pebbles and charcoal as the moss will act as a filter and keep soil from drifting into your bottom layers. This layer is optional- if you prefer to have your charcoal and pebbles mix up in your soil you can leave this step out. Use a bamboo skewer to tamp the moss down.


Mix two parts potting mix with one part sand to ensure proper drainage.   If your terrarium is on the small side (decorative bottle rather than aquarium), you may want to increase the amount of sand and decrease the amount of soil. Add distilled water to make damp but it is easier to transfer to terrarium when it is dry. Remember - you can always add more water to your final terrarium but it is difficult to remove!

You are now ready to add your soil. You should have enough soil to fill about 1/4 to 1/3 of your terrarium container. I would recommend using about 1/2 of the portion you have set aside for your terrarium and then adding the rest after you have planted your largest terrarium plants. Add the soil by scooping spoonfuls into your paper cone and tamping down with a skewer.

Once you have layered your dirt into the terrarium you'll want to mist down the soil.  Soil will need to remain damp throughout the life of your terrarium to support your plant growth.

This is the second post in my series "How to Make a Terrarium"
Previous Post: Materials and Tools
Next Post: Adding Plants


  1. Your blog it too cool! I never really knew anything about Wardian cases until this last week. They were beautiful works of art. Thank you for visiting.


  2. Great Post, also I want to mention that only one person can pick your post on blotanical,
    it won't let anyone else pick.

  3. You make it look so easy! Good instuctor!

  4. What's so cool about Terrarium Containers is that they are easy to take care of since you don't need to water them that often. Also as a beginner you can often get them pre-planted and built.

  5. Thanks a lot it has been a wonderful support, now to make a terrarium is simple with the help of your advice. Thank you

  6. Can dried spanish moss be used in lieu of the spaghnum moss as a filter?

    1. Hi Tammy, thanks for your excellent question. Spaghnum or peat moss is a commonly used element in gardening and container gardening but I have never seen spanish mossed used in the same capacities (i.e. to line a hanging wire flower basket). I did some research online and found an ehow article that may help us. I'll paraphrase some of the key points here:

      "Spanish moss is home to small insects and other organism. Spanish moss requires treatment or sterilization before use.... Because sphagnum moss grows in highly acidic waters, peat moss is usually germ free. Because of its water-retaining ability and lack of most pathogens, it is ideal for seed-starting mixes or use as a soil amendment. Spanish moss, does not incorporate easily into soil, but does act as an effective mulch, especially for indoor potted plants."

      Read more: Spanish Moss Vs. Peat Moss | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/facts_7859109_spanish-moss-vs-peat-moss.html#ixzz2EaWmP4SJ

      The idea of the Spanish moss potentially containing contaminants makes me hesitant to suggest using it as a terrarium soil layer. You'll want to minimize the inclusion of any mold or germs in your terrarium.

  7. Thank you so much for replying so quickly and doing some research! I really appreciate it. :)

  8. Love, Love, Love your blog. I am making a fairy garden and I wanted to make sure I had the substrate right. Thanks

    1. Thanks for your kind feedback! A fairy garden sounds like a ton of fun to make- email me if you'd like to share some photos of your completed project on the blog!

  9. Superb topic you have discuss here, That's really very nice, Thanks for it..

  10. I'm planting a very large (like a 10 gallon aquarium large! :D) terrarium for a handful of small ferns and mostly am wanting to grow a bunch of moss. Do you have any suggestions on specific packaged soils to use for mosses? Does it make any difference? I have peat planting medium that I usually use for carnivorous plants (most of which I'm managing to kill so far :D), and some regular old Miracle Gro potting soil, but I'm not sure if potting soil with fertilizer and stuff in it that's made with flowers in mind would necessarily be good for mosses? Any advice?

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. I have my experience:
    1. Jar of clean water and a stirring stick.
    2. Add the clear water
    3. To stir up the mixture
    4. Leave the jar for one hour
    5. Yeah, the water has settled out, you can see different layers of soil.
    Job done! It is wonderful! When you have free time, please visit my blog, and left me your value comments. I am very pleased. :)

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