How To: Make a Terrarium


A week at the cabin gives us so much time to just be present. Granted, our day-to-day life is spent mostly in a state of presence, but here at home we have toys. And abundant art supplies. And the distraction of friends. At the cabin it's just us and the woods and the river.

Lupine and I took a long walk with a big basket looking for… something. We found lots of labrador tea to harvest and dry for winter and plenty of red raspberry leaf (also to be dried for tea). We picked a bouquet of black eyed susans and brought back a few leaves to find in various field guides.

As we turned back toward the cabin on the dead end road we were on Lupine and I noticed a magical expanse of moss beneath some trees. We dropped to our knees and laid on our bellies and sat in amazement of this miniature forest.

Then I remembered a project I had seen somewhere (Where, I can not say. A quick Google search found several terrarium tutorials but not the one I had seen a few weeks ago.) Lupine and I gently wiggled our fingers down into the sandy soil and lifed up a few small pads of moss and other miniature plants. We placed them in our basket and headed down the road.

At the cabin we found a few empty jars in the pantry. Sage joined us and we set to work. There are many ways to make terrariums. Here is how we made ours.

1. Gather your moss. The holes you leave in the moss landscape will quickly refill as moss spreads from nearby plants, but do be conscientious of how much you take. Just enough please.

2. Dig a bit of soil. Moss prefers sandy soil but isn't fussy. Use what you find.

3. Mound a few pinches of soil in the lid of your jar. It need not be much as moss is shallow rooting. Scrape the soil away from the edge of the jar lid so that you can close your jar in a few minutes. 


4. Place the moss on top of the soil, pushing as needed away from the threads. You may want to add sculptural elements like shells, crystals, sticks, or stones.

5. When you are satisfied with your project give the moss a sprinkle of water. You need not soak it, but this is all the moisture that your terrarium will have, so moisten it until it feels soft but not muddy.


6. Gently nudge the moss away from the threads once more and screw on your jar. It will make a terrible sand-on-glass scratching noise. Normal. Don't fret. Crank that jar and marvel at your work.


Alternatively you can use a bottle as the base of your terrarium. The "jungle bottle" that Sage made is my favorite terrarium of the five we made. He followed the procedure here but laid everything out with the bottle on its side instead of in the lid He used his fingers and a stick to arrange everything the way he wanted it.



The terrariums steam up and look magical withing minutes and by morning we could see trails in the steam from some tiny insects living in the moss.





That's my kind of project.


8 thoughts on “How To: Make a Terrarium

  1. Michelle says:

    That’s my kind of project too. Just saw something like it in a magazine yesterday but I like this way better. Thanks.Oh and Rachel, I got my order the other day and I love it. The mosquito repellant works so well. I am so happy I don’t have to spray my girl with chemicals each time she goes out to play. Thank you so much.

  2. Shannon says:

    Since my kitties always chomp down on anything green I bring into the bedroom I thought this might be a fun way to bring in a bit of nature and liven up the place… but I just have a quick question and sorry if it’s a tad silly but it’s rather embarrassing how little I know about raising and keeping plants, but anyway, how long do these terrariums last? It seems to me since they are sealed in a jar they will eventually suffocate, no? And do they need to be someplace sunny or is shade preferable? Thank you so much to anyone kind enough to answer!!!

  3. Rachel Wolf says:

    You can reopen carefully to add water if you find it isnt steaming up as it was before. Or use a big clear cookie jar. That wold be easy to add moisture to. They dont need much and the jar has plenty of air for them. They should last for months. Indirect sun/shade is best. Moss likes it cool and dark.

    ~ Rachel

  4. Abby says:

    Wow, I just noticed this is from 2011! I first found your blog on typepad as it was in the “spotlight”. I’ve enjoyed your writing and ideas. Thank you for keeping them coming. This entry is fabulous! However, living in Miami, I don’t see a lot of moss for the girls to collect. Actually, the only moss I know of is sold at Michaels (craft store) in a bag. Is there anything else we can put in the jars? Or is moss the ideal for terrariums?

    Thank you!

  5. Rachel Wolf says:

    Hi Abby, and welcome! How about this experiment: try sprouting seeds from your coop or grocery store. Chia, broccoli, alfalfa, etc. They wont as long as a terrarium of moss but they will still last – and be lovely – for some time.

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