Making A Tabletop Terrarium

As a bunch of you saw on Facebook and Instagram, we went on a giant lumber run, which means there’s a whole lotta building that’s about to commence in the nursery. But first we have to paint the walls and ceiling, so we hope to knock that out today and tomorrow (and have an update for you guys on Monday). Three cheers for finally saying goodbye to those door-overspray marks on the wall!

And while we get our paint on, I thought I’d share a nice and easy “anyone-can-do-it” project (involving living things, ahh!). Most importantly: there’s a tiny deer living in a tiny glass house in our house.

And the good news is that he can’t die… but the plants nearby most definitely can.

So this is going to be one of those experiments to see if low maintenance plants really exist. Because we all know I don’t exactly have a green thumb. Remember when I begged you to help me keep my cacti alive? Well the good news is that they’re all still alive and kicking, over two months later.

Wanna know how I’m keeping them alive? By completely ignoring them. 100%. I’ve only watered them once. In TWO MONTHS! Everyone told me just to give them a drop when the soil feels really dry, so I have truly taken that to heart. And they love me for it. Well, at least they don’t hate me (and aren’t dying in protest). Some of you even noticed them still alive and kicking in last week’s chair post. Werk, little cacti. Werk.

So now that I’ve had a decent amount of success with that completely no-maintenance planting experience, as you can imagine I practically think I’m a top level botanist. Just kidding, I still have pretty much zero plant confidence (see those succulents on the shelf in the background of this pic? They’re fake from HomeGoods). But it did inspire me to try one more “it theoretically should take care of itself” situation on for size. Namely, a terrarium.

It all started when I found this awesome glass container at a lighting shop a few weeks back (The Decorating Outlet here in Richmond). The cool thing is that they usually sell this as a hanging pendant light like this, but this one wasn’t drilled to accommodate a light for some reason, so it was marked down to $16. It just sort of whispered “Fill me with a few green things and a tiny plastic deer. You know you want to.” So I thought, OK, let’s see if this black thumb of mine can create (and hopefully maintain) a terrarium. Like without any actual maintenance.

Here’s how I made it.

Step 1. Cut a hole in a box. Just kidding. The first step was actually finding a glass container that I liked (you could also try a big glass container like this or an apothecary jar like this).

Step 2. I googled around and read about 20 terrarium tutorials. There were a lot of different methods, but the ones with charcoal – like this one – seemed the most self-stable (meaning you didn’t have to open them and water them, because the charcoal theoretically should make them into their own little self-sustainable ecosystem).

Step 3. I wrote out a list of supplies I would need: gravel, charcoal, potting soil, and some small plants. I ducked out into the garage to get some bagged potting soil, and just stole some gravel from our driveway to fulfill that requirement. Then I went to Home Depot and grabbed two small succulent containers for around $5 and looked for charcoal (some plant stores sell it) but no dice. So I hit up a local greenhouse (Great Big Greenhouse here in Richmond) and got a tiny bag of charcoal for $1.

Step 4. I added about an inch of gravel to the bottom of the container.

Step 5. I added about an inch of charcoal on top of my gravel layer.

Step 6. I added 2-3 inches of potting soil on top of the charcoal layer.

Step 7. In went my plants into the potting soil…

Step 8. And then just for fun, I grabbed Bambi’s nephew Bob and stuck him in there.

Step 9. I gently misted the plants with water (ok, I dunked my hand in a bowl of it and splashed the inside of the terrarium a few times) and then I sealed everything up and called it good.

So far it has been over a week and my little guys have been troopers. No drooping (they actually look a little happier than they were in their plastic Home Depot containers) but not a whole lot of action either (there hasn’t been a ton of Titanic-esque glass-fogging or anything like that). The jury is still out on whether this will end up being a cold and lonely tomb for them to leave this world, or a happy little place for them to hang out. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime I’d love any and all terrarium tips since you guys did me right with those cacti.

Update: Hilariously enough, thanks to my Instagram feed I learned that Michael over at Inspired by Charm made a similar terrarium from a RedEnvelope kit for $79 yesterday! So you can check his out as a ready-to-assemble alternative. Also, his photos are amazing, and his dome is blinged out in gold. Me-ow.


  1. Chelsea says

    So cute! I love the little deer. I might have to attempt one of these. I had a jade plant for almost a year before I killed it, longest life I’ve ever given a plant!

    • says

      Haha! I promise we’ll share the details with photos as soon as we can (descriptions of paint colors without pictures are like a cookbook with no food photos). Haven’t even cracked the can yet, so I hope we like it…


  2. says

    Love the container you found. Just a thought, you could try painting the deer gold or bright color for a fun pop of color – know how much you love a ceramic animal! :)

    I made a mini terrarium (for the first time) over the weekend as well – definitely a week for terrariums! Mine is here:–w/
    (they are being used as place cards/favors for a wedding)

    Can’t wait to see the nursery evolve!

    • says

      PS: I also discovered you can get colored aquarium pebbles from a pet supply store to use for the terrarium to have fun with color, and they are cheap!

    • says

      Wow, thank you!!

      @Amanda – I used liquid gold leaf and a small paintbrush to paint gild each leaf (small jar found at Michaels craft store). The container is from CB2 and it sits on a bed of shimmer white aquarium rocks from the pet store. You can spray paint it too if you are doing a lot of them, but I liked the look of liquid gold more.

      I talked to a florist today and he said that gilded succulents will actually live and grow like that, I was worried it might kill it!

  3. says

    I just found a little treasure chest at a thrift store that’s the same style as your terrarium (soldered, or something?) that I totally want to plant a terrarium in! I’m nervous, though, since the last two terrariums I planted BOMBED. But that was almost a year ago, and I’ve matured since then, right?…

    • Cara says

      Try the charcoal (available at any good aquarium store) and don’t open it up unless it becomes very apparent you need to water it. Oh, and make sure its in the right light for your plants, though succulents are very forgiving. If you hit the right balance, it will be a self-sustaining Eco system and you won’t water it ever. You can do it!

  4. shelikestotravel says

    Here’s my advice for plants enclosed in a terrarium… Don’t water. The enclosure keeps the air humid and with your plants that should be enough water to keep them going. You may evem want to open the container door from time to time.

    • says

      We can’t wait to share the paint color details with photos as soon as we can (descriptions of paint without pictures = blah). Haven’t even cracked the can yet, so I hope we like it!


  5. says

    Love this! I’ve killed too many plants to count, yes, even a succulent. But maybe I’ll give it a go one more time. Nothing like splashes of greenery throughout the house! :)) SO excited about the nursery!

  6. natasha says

    Love Terrariums. Just a tip–I can’t really tell if you have a closed or open terrarium cause of the glass (it looks closed?) but succulents don’t have a high humidity tolerance – most succulents or desert plants aren’t good choices for closed terrariums. So if you want to keep it alive, i would open it up!

    • says

      Thanks Natasha! There are little cracks around the whole thing (I think light bulbs need to have a bit of ventilation too) so I think that might be why it doesn’t steam up and get super foggy in there. Will open it up for good measure when I remember, too!


    • LeAnna says

      Also, succulents like light so keep them near a bright window, otherwise they will get quite “leggy” trying to reach for more sunlight.
      The terrarium is so fun, I love anything that makes me feel like I am peering into a miniature little world!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *