Terrarium plants have taken the gardening world by storm. Named after the Latin ‘terra’ (earth), and ‘arium’ (place or container), these miniature, slow-growing gardens housed in glass are perfect for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
Terrariums are very low maintenance and easy to take care of. Place them on windowsills, desks, or shelves, or have them as a table centerpiece. They’re perfect for those living in smaller spaces who want a low-maintenance creative way to add a touch of green to your home.
Types of Terrariums
You can make your own terrariums or buy them ready-made. The terrarium plants you select largely depend on whether you have a sealed terrarium or an open-top one. Choosing an open terrarium will create a very different environment than if you chose a closed terrarium.
A closed terrarium is mostly self-sustaining. The closed top creates a mini-ecosystem inside the jar, with its own water cycle. Water evaporates out of the ground and the plants before rising into the air. It then condenses on the sides of the jar and drips down into the soil, hydrating the plants inside.
More often than not, closed terrariums are sealed with corks. Closed terrariums are airtight, meaning they are more susceptible to mold because the soil can stay very moist without any airflow. To keep your terrarium plants mold-free and happy, simply take the lid off every week for a full day and keep mold at bay!
On the other hand, an open terrarium creates a much drier environment and is more suited to plants that traditionally live in arider, desert-like conditions. Water can evaporate freely out of the top of these types of terrariums, meaning they require some extra watering from you. Less is certainly better than too much - a light watering when the soil is completely dry will more than suffice. In the summer, your open terrarium requires more watering and in the winter it needs little to none.
What Makes a Good Terrarium Plant
One important quality of all terrarium plants is that it is slow growing. If a plant grows at a fast rate, it will outgrow the terrarium too quickly. Good terrarium plants grow very slowly, or won’t mind being trimmed to keep their growth stunted.
The plants for your terrarium must also suit the type of terrarium you have selected. A closed terrarium suits plants that prefer hot, moist environments, whereas open terrariums suit plants that prefer drier environments. Closed terrarium plants ideally prosper with limited airflow, since they’re airtight for the majority of the time.
So, a good terrarium plant grows best in the environment created by your selected terrarium and will always be slow-growing.
Top Tip: When selecting your terrarium plants, it is important to choose plants that need similar light and moisture levels, as well as plants that will thrive in the terrarium you have selected. Putting together a plant that prefers bright, direct sunlight with a plant that prefers indirect, moderate sunlight will mean that one of your plants will suffer.
Our Top Picks for Closed Terrarium Plants
Closed terrariums suit plants that love warm, humid climates. Tropical plants usually thrive in these sorts of terrariums, creating mini-rainforests that fit on your desk! Here are our favorite beginner-friendly closed terrarium plants.
Moss is the best closed-terrarium plant you can choose! Moss makes a great base plant and makes a terrarium look like a tiny garden with plush grass. You can get many different species and they’re easy to maintain, especially when in a closed terrarium. Bun moss, rock camp moss, mountain-fork, and broom-fork moss are all extremely popular terrarium plants.
The Fern ‘Blue Star’ and Fern ‘Asparagus’ are excellent close-terrarium candidates. They thrive in warm moist environments and love humidity. They all prefer bright indirect light and tolerate partial shade and look rather fabulous when paired up with moss. To use these plants in terrariums, simply just take one of their babies and pop it in! You may want to put it into a small nursery pot - this will contain the roots and stop it from growing too large.
Nerve plants love warm humid conditions and prefer it when their soil is kept moist. They make excellent terrarium plants and they’re gorgeous! In particular, the Fittonia ‘White’ has distinctive foliage that looks like a network of nerves. It works particularly well as a plant for a terrarium due to the bright white patterns on the leaf that help it stand out from the other surrounding plants.
This plant is not the best traveler, so it’s best to give it a day or two to adjust to your home before transferring it to your terrariums. This terrarium plant should be kept in a bright area, away from direct sunlight.
Spider Plant ‘Bonnie’
This beginner-friendly plant is perfect for terrariums. Native to South Africa, it favors hot, moist environments and prefers bright but indirect light. This ‘Bonnie’ variety of the traditional spider life has slightly curled leaves, making it more compact and suited for terrarium life! Our bonnie comes in a 4” pot, but are also extremely easy to propagate. Simply take one of its babies, put it into a small pot and add it to your terrarium!
Ficus Ginseng Bonsais are notorious terrarium plants. They make gorgeous centerpieces and thrive in the warm moist environments that closed terrariums offer. These little trees suit larger terrarium types, but you can also propagate their branches to make a cute little bonsai baby which can be placed in a smaller terrarium.
To propagate your Ficus Ginseng Bonsai, simply prune a branch at a 45-degree angle. Take the cutting and place it in moist soil, less than an inch deep into the soil. Keep the soil relatively moist and your new baby bonsai cutting should start growing in two weeks! Propagating should always take place from early spring ‘til summer.
Our Top Picks for Open Terrarium Plants
An open terrarium may be a better choice for beginners. They are often more ornamental than horticultural but are much easier to maintain as they don’t have their own delicate water cycle to maintain. This means they have a lower risk of mold and rot, and the terrarium plants have access to better airflow. The plants that work well in these terrariums are succulents, air plants, and cacti.
Cacti are your typical open-terrarium plants. They thrive in desert-like warm conditions and require very little care. Contrary to belief, cacti do prefer regular watering. During the warmer months, a few times a month of light watering is perfect. If you choose a cactus as a terrarium plant, it’s much easier to care for when you keep it in a small pot.
Succulents also make for excellent open-terrarium plants for the same reasons listed above! If you’re hunting for some succulents, think of smaller varieties. For example; lithops, Zebra Haworthia, jade plants, and Echeveria varieties are all excellent choices.
Snake Plant ‘Cylindrica’
This rarely-seen Snake Plant is a striking and unusual Snake Plant variety. It has spiky cylindrical fronds and thrives in desert-like conditions. Although this particular plant won’t fit in a standard terrarium, you can take cuttings and root them in water. Move them into a nursery pot, add it to your open terrarium and watch it thrive!
Choosing the best plants for your terrarium depends largely on your choice of terrarium.
Plants that are suited to tropical jungle climates love the humid and balmy conditions inside of a closed terrarium. Desert-type plants, on the other hand, thrive in the dry conditions that an open terrarium brings. As long as a plant is slow-growing, small, and suited to the terrarium you place it in, it is suitable for a terrarium. In the end, the best plant for your terrarium is up to you!
We suggest pairing some lower-lying plants with some taller plants to create depth throughout your terrarium. Choosing a variety of different colors and foliage textures will also help to create a dynamic and exciting terrarium.
Most importantly, select plants that jump out to you and suit your home. The best part of creating a terrarium from scratch is the freedom to be creative and being able to choose terrarium plants that you love!