It’s pretty common to see youtubers make terrariums and read a few tutorials and think “I can do that!” But if you’re like me, once you get started, one of the first questions you’ll be asking is “can I put literally any plant in a terrarium and watch them thrive?”
While there are tens of thousands of plant species that would thrive in a terrarium, not all plants are suitable for a terrarium environment. Because the conditions of your terrarium may vary (e.g. humidity, lighting, circulation), the plants best suitable for your situation will also vary. However, there are certain plants that will do well in most terrariums.
While that may not be the answer you wanted to hear, there are certainly quick and simple criteria you can use to help filter down which types of plants might work best for you. Even if you don’t want to get into too much research, there are certainly plants that can survive in most terrariums and are great for beginners.
Why not all plants can be planted in a terrarium
First things first, there’s a reason certain species of plants are only found in certain climates/ecosystems: they’ve evolved and adapted to survive in a specific environment and that’s it. Once you take them out of that environment, they aren’t designed to handle the stresses of their new environment.
That’s why you don’t see redwood trees growing in the himalayas or jungle vines growing in the arctic tundra, even if you tried planting them there.
The same principle applies to your terrarium. Your terrarium offers a specific type of ecosystem that’s only suitable for a certain variety of plants. It’s not a magic plant utopia in a bottle.
Furthermore, the type of environment you create in your terrarium will vary depending on the humidity, water level, temperature, and lighting.
Some plants do better in dry, airy environments with little water (like succulents). Others thrive in humid, moist, and shady environments (like moss). These conditions may not necessarily match with your terrarium setup.
It also makes a big difference whether you’re choosing to create an open or closed terrarium. An open terrarium will lead to drier and cooler conditions than a closed terrarium, which is more warm and humid.
Another big limiting factor is the size of your terrarium. If your plants outgrow the space that’s allotted to them, they’re quickly going to start running out of nutrients to sustain themselves and may start competing with the other plants in the terrarium.
It’s also going to run into problems touching the sides of the containers where water condenses. If the leaves are constantly wet, that can promote the growth of mold and increase the risk of mold infection.
That’s aside from making your terrarium look like a cramped, overgrown, jungle.
You’re probably not going to want to plant an oak tree in your terrarium, unless you’re building the Amazon Spheres.
On a similar note, some plants may be more competitive than others and some may simply not do too well in close proximity to other plants. Succulents are a good example of plants that need space from other plants.
How to figure out which plants are best suited for your terrarium
One of the first things you should do to figure out which plants are going to work for your terrarium is to decide what type of terrarium you’re going to make and what the conditions are going to look like.
Here’s a few questions you can ask yourself to get some ideas going:
- Are you going to make an open or closed terrarium?
- Where do you think you’re going to put your terrarium?
- Will it be indoors or outdoors?
- What are the lighting conditions like where you will put your terrarium?
- Will it be in direct or indirect sunlight?
- What’s the climate like in your general area?
- How often do you want to water your terrarium?
These are all questions you might consider asking yourself to get a better idea of the temperature, humidity, lighting, and watering conditions for your terrarium.
With the conditions in mind, that will make plant selection much easier. You can browse etsy, Amazon, or your local plant nursery to get some idea of the types of plants you would like to see in a terrarium, then filter them down based on their preferred living environment.
Alternatively, you could do this the other way around: have an idea of the types of plants you want, then figure out what type of terrarium you would need to build to accommodate them.
For example, if you wanted to grow succulents, you would need to give it bright light exposure for more than just a few hours of daylight per day and limit the water levels and humidity. For this, you might decide on an open terrarium to be placed under a lighter set to turn on for 12 hours a day.
How to maximize your chances of success with your terrarium
If you’re not into the idea of digging deep into the research before even getting started on your terrarium, there’s no need to worry. There are options available to you to just get started quickly and not worry about creating a total disaster.
Buy tough plants
The first option that requires little work on your end is to simply purchase tough plants that do well in most terrariums. From some quick googling, here’s a list of plant species I’ve found that are great for exactly that:
- Artillery Fern
- Aluminum Plant
- Polka dot plant
- Prayer plant
- Baby tears
- Button fern
- Creeping fig
- Wandering Jew
- Most types of moss
Use plants commonly found in your area
Another option that’s going to give you high chances of success is to collect native plants found in your area. Since they are already growing in your area, they probably will do fine in your terrarium which most likely would provide a similar environment as they are accustomed to.
The process is relatively simple: walk around your backyard or a local park and collect small plants that can fit in your terrarium. Moss is my favorite to pick out.
Most likely, the native plants in your area should survive, especially if you find them all over the place, even during harsh weather. You can even pick out those weeds that you can never seem to get rid of. Those are definitely going to do well.
Some quick tips: try to pull out the plants by their roots by digging into the dirt with your fingers. If you’re collecting moss, you can collect a small patch from the middle and cover it up pretty easily.
When you do this, avoid picking out tree saplings because they will outgrow the terrarium eventually. You’ll also want to check around the area for similar looking plants that look full grown before picking them out to add to your terrarium. If you see full grown plants that look pretty big, your little plant is eventually going to outgrow your terrarium.
It’s best to make sure that the plants you do collect are small enough to fit in your terrarium preferably without touching sides. It may be helpful to bring your container with you when purchasing or collecting native plants just to get a rough idea of the size constraints.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember it’s not the end of the world if your terrarium doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. It’s really no big deal!
That’s part of the excitement of building terrariums: trying out new things and finding out what works and what doesn’t. It’s all part of the learning experience.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, you always have the ability to just make another one and try again. Feel free to just experiment with different kinds of plants in different types of terrarium environments and just have fun with it.
So if you’re debating whether or not you should jump in and start building a terrarium, just go for it and see what happens!