How to Make a Terrarium in Under an Hour

Easy step-by-step instructions to make an instant garden.

…Here our correspondent, Erica Farthing, gives us the lowdown on all things terrariums…

I knew that terrariums were all the craze among the DIY set, but I’d never attempted making one of these beauties myself. So this weekend I joined dozens of other aspiring green-thumbs to learn the art at West Elm on Brookline Ave., taught by the fabulous floral designer, John LaRoche, of Blue Guava Designs. John guided us all, step-by-step, through the process using tools as diverse as chopsticks, wooden spools, and—of all things—makeup brushes.

The first step is to select a container that you love. Try brandy snifters, mason jars, or any unusual glass vessels. West Elm has a huge variety of options, but you can also find great things at Crate & Barrel, or at yard sales, thrift shops, Goodwill, and your basement.

Clockwise from top left: croton, cactus, button fern, succulents, Irish and Scottish moss, Birds Nest, Pitcher plants, and miniature African violets.

Next, select your plants, choosing for variety. Try to get a range of leaf shapes, color, and sizes to make the arrangement more visually exciting. You can find lots of options at Mahoney’s Garden Center or through Blue Guava. John used cacti, aloe, and succulents. You can also use small ferns, ivy, moss, pitcher plants, mini African violets, echeveria, and herbs.

A variety of terrarium plants by Blue Guava.

Now you’re ready to create!

1. Build a one-inch layer of small stones on the bottom (available at Mahoney’s, Home Depot, and pet stores). Then add a one-inch layer of sphagnum moss (or activated charcoal, available at aquarium supply stores, if you’re making a closed terrarium).

2. Add a healthy layer of potting soil (or sand, if you’re only using cacti). Remember—it needs to be deep enough to take the roots of your plants.

3. Remove the plants from their little plastic pots and arrange them as you like. In tight spots, use tongs or chopsticks to nudge them into place.

John demonstrates how to carefully free the plants' roots from their prepackaged soil.

Tools of the trade.

4. Once you’ve got something you love, fill in around the plants with more soil and gently tamp down all to ensure that everything’s solidly supported. Use your brushes to clean off extra dirt with. Add a bit of water, just moistening the soil. Congratulations! You’re DONE!

Be sure to stick your finger in it everyday to make sure it’s moist. If there’s water among the stones on the bottom, let it dry out for few days.

Still not convinced you can handle this simple DIY project? Relax. John and his team at Blue Guava Design are more than happy to assemble it all for you at their South End studio. All you have to do is purchase the glass vessels and any accessories you’d like and they’ll take care of the rest.