Creating a Terrarium - Environmental education resources

(from the Project Learning Tree PreK-8 Activity Guide)

The Basics

Container

photo of terrariumThe first thing you will need for your terrarium is a container. Aquaria, goldfish bowls, wide-mouthed jars, old glass coffeepots, and clear plastic storage boxes can all work well. Just look for containers with the following characteristics:

  • Made of transparent, uncolored glass or plastic;
  • Big enough so that you can get your hand through the top to set it up; and
  • Large enough to provide enough room for plants to grow. The plants' roots will need soil that's about an inch (2.5 cm) deep and, once planted, should have 2-3 inches (5 – 7.5 cm) of room to grow above the soil.

You'll also need a cover for your terrarium if you're setting up a woodland or tropical terrarium. A panel of plastic, glass (use caution), screening, wire mesh or even plastic wrap will work as long as it covers the top of the terrarium completely.

 

Getting Your Hands Dirty

We suggest three kinds of terraria to make: desert, woodland, and tropical. Woodland and tropical terraria are essentially the same except for the types of plants that grow in them and the amounts of light and heat they need. For any terrarium, you will need three basic things: gravel or pebbles, soil, and plants. You can get all these supplies at a garden supply store. You can also collect plants and soil for the terrarium from the wild. However, see "Collection Tips" before you do any collecting. Here are the basic directions for setting up each of the three main types of terraria.

Desert

  1. Cover the bottom of your container with about ¾ inch (1.88 cm) of gravel or pebbles. Spread a piece of cheesecloth or an old nylon stocking across the top of the gravel.
  2. Mix up a batch of"desert soil" by mixing equal parts of potting soil, perlite, and sand. Layer 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of this mixture on top of the gravel.
  3. Plant your desert plants and then spray the terrarium with water until the soil is moist.
  4. Wipe the terrarium clean and place it in a spot that gets about 3-4 hours of direct sun a day.

Woodland

  1. Cover the bottom of your container with about ¾ inch (1.88 cm) of gravel or pebbles. Spread a piece of cheesecloth or an old nylon stocking across the top of the gravel.
  2. Layer 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of garden or potting soil on top of the gravel.
  3. Plant the woodland plants and then spread a small amount of garden soil around all the plants and smooth it out.
  4. Water the terrarium until the soil is moist.
  5. Wipe the finished terrarium clean, cover it with a piece of plastic (or glass—use caution), and put it in a cool location with indirect light.

Tropical

  1. Cover the bottom of your container with about ¾ inch (1.88 cm) of gravel or pebbles. Spread a piece of cheesecloth or an old nylon stocking across the top of the gravel.
  2. Layer 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of garden or potting soil on top of the gravel.
  3. Plant the tropical plants and then spread a small amount of garden soil around all the plants and smooth it out.
  4. Water the terrarium until the soil is moist.
  5. Wipe the finished terrarium clean, cover it with a piece of plastic (or glass—use caution), and put it in a warm location with bright but not too hot (preferably fluorescent) light.

Special Touches

You can customize your terrarium in several ways. For one thing, you might want to create "hills" and "valleys" in your terrarium by piling up soil in some parts before you plant you plants. You might also want to add rocks, twigs, seeds, or other objects to the terrarium after you've planted your plants to make the scene more "natural" looking. Add a thermometer inside the terrarium.