Skip to main content

Life Under Glass By Sharon McGukin AIFD, CFD, AAF, PFCI

Terrariums provide easy-care botanical beauty your customers will love


Terrariums, a 70’s floral favorite, are trending all over again. Miniature plants under glass are perfect for consumers who want a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t take up a lot of space.

Glass containers with sealed lids on top offer great climate control for the mini-ecosystems. If high humidity is a challenge, choose an open container to allow air movement. Succulents work well for this environment. You can also create a fun desert motif using succulents and sand.

Shown on these pages are ideas you can share with your customers for creating terrariums. You may also want to offer a line of pre-made terrariums for purchase and delivery along with your traditional potted plant and cut flower designs.



Follow these eight simple steps to create terrariums that can sell in your floral business:

  • Start with a transparent container, like glass.
  • Add a couple of inches of small stones, gravel or aquarium gravel for drainage.
  • Cover with a thin layer of activated charcoal to reduce bacteria growth.
  • Place a thin filter, like a window screen, between the gravel and soil.
  • Add a couple of inches of potting soil that is soft and will hold moisture.
  • Position soil, sand, bark, stones, or décor to establish your landscape.
  • Water the soil before adding plants, steps, walls or decorative items.
  • Install selected miniature plants that require the same amount of moisture.


Using a thin filter (like a piece of fiberglass window screen) above the gravel prevents the soil from sifting down into the gravel, hardening around the roots, and also prevents root-rot from standing in water.


How does a closed terrarium work? Moisture builds up, sometimes causing the jars to fog up. Moisture-hungry plants enjoy the fog. When the damp air condenses, it begins to “rain” back down onto the plants.

As the plant ages, leaves rot and fall, which produces the carbon dioxide needed for their nutrition. This creates a natural atmosphere where thriving plants grow in a natural cycle of life.

The water inside the jar is recycled. The plant roots absorb water and transpire it into the air. The water condenses and falls back onto the interior landscape to evaporate again.

This water cycle repeats itself continually, creating a miniature ecosystem that is self-sustaining. The environment lives and grows through plant photosynthesis and the recycling of necessary nutrients.



The only thing needed externally is light. Like magic, indirect sunlight provides the necessary energy for plant food and growth. When light shines onto plant leaves it’s taken in by a protein that contains the green-colored pigment – chlorophyll.

A portion of the light is stored in the plant as ATP (adenosine triphosphate) for energy. The remainder of the light is used by plant roots to rid excess electrons from the water.

The electrons release oxygen that is converted to carbon dioxide and then carbohydrates. This feeds the plants.

Dead and decaying leaves become the organic material the by ecosystem uses for cellular respiration. Bacteria take in the waste oxygen and releases carbon dioxide to help the plants grow. A similar process of cellular respiration helps the plant to break down stored nutrients at night when there is no sunlight.



A succulent terrarium needs little attention and doesn’t require a lid. Sand, stones, and driftwood make interesting decor for creating a desert-like environment.

Plants like tillandsia, air plants, and succulents can be left open and misted occasionally. The desert forms early morning dew so succulents have evolved to enjoy a little mist of water.



Sharon McGukin AIFD, CFD, AAF, PFCI, is a Smithers-Oasis Design Director. She shares floral design tips, trends and techniques online each week in the Oasis IDEA Weekly blog. You can subscribe at