How to Make a Terrarium

How to make a Terrarium on a stand using driftwood and a large pickle jar.

You can also read about the Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. The scientific experiment involving the Mother of all terrariums.

Age: 12+ with help

Difficulty: Easy

Time scale: 2 out of 5 (not including drying time)



  • Large wide mouth pickle jar with lid 128 oz.
  • 3 -4 pieces of curved driftwood length about the same size as the jar 
  • Wood glue
  • 4 wide elastic bands (the kind they use to hook produce together)
  • Silicone 
  • Varathane 
  • 2 inch Paint brush
  • Paint thinner
  • Gravel
  • Activated charcoal (get at pet store)
  • Potting soil
  • Tablespoon 
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Small tropical plant ( read instructions about plant selection) 
  • Moss

After figuring out how to make a terrarium planter, I can now tell you what not to do, when it comes to plant selection. So simple, yet so silly on my part. You know the plant at the store in the 4 inch pot that doesn't look very big? Well, it is too big to try to stuff into the opening of the pickle jar. Duh! I guess I should have thought of that beforehand, but the plant really didn't look very big in the store! My best advice for plant selection would be to start with plants in those really small pots. Those cute little ones that are labeled for fairy gardens and overpriced because of it! 

My poor plant had to be ripped into bits and only time will tell if it will survive the abuse! Nope, didn't survive but please keep reading to find out more how NOT to’s! 

Since this jar is going to be turned on its side, pick plants that are low growing. Make sure to get something tropical that likes high humidity. This terrarium only has two plants. One is the mystery plant because I have no idea what it is. Sorry, I know this isn't helpful. The other is moss. I dug it up from the yard, but Irish moss will work. You can find it at the garden center. 

Start with the stand. Dry fit  3 – 4 pieces of curved driftwood into a circular shape. Well, not really a circle, more of a wonky shape. Set the pickle jar on top, on its side. Adjust the pieces of driftwood  until the jar sits on it and doesn't roll around. 


Now remove the jar and glue the driftwood together. Wrap wide rubber bands around the ends, where the pieces join together, to hold until the glue has dried.

Remove rubber bands when dry. 

Paint on 3 coats of clear varathane. (kids will need their parents to do this.) 

Clean paint brush in paint thinner. 

How to Make a Terrarium

Turn the pickle jar on its side and use some extra pieces of driftwood or any other scraps to prop the jar so it doesn't roll around while you are working on it. You could just wait until the stand is dry and use that. I wanted to get this project rolling along but didn't want the jar itself rolling! This meant, I couldn't possibly wait until the driftwood stand was dry. I still needed to keep the jar from flopping around, so I propped it with other pieces, temporarily. 

Add a layer of gravel to the bottom of the jar. ( about ¾’s of an inch) Okay, so it isn't technically the bottom because the jar is sideways but I am now going to refer to the side as the bottom. Okay? Am I rambling again? 


Now use a tablespoon to add the charcoal over top of the gravel. No, not just a tablespoon, but a tablespoon at a time. Keep scooping away, until you have a layer built up that is about the same thickness as the gravel. You can buy the activated charcoal at the pet store or at some garden centres. The pet store will have it in with the fish filters and supplies. It will be in either a milk carton type container or a square plastic container. 


Time for the potting soil. Add a small amount and then add the plants. If you are using moss from the yard and it has very little dirt attached, wait to add this on the very top of the dirt. 

When completed, the dirt will need to be a thicker layer than the previous layers of gravel and charcoal.  It is going to have to be piled a bit higher than the edge of the jar opening. This is a bit tricky. Try to pack it down a bit, close to the open end, to keep it in place. 

Almost half of the jar should have airspace, not counting the space the plant is taking up. 

Fill a spray bottle with water and add a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide. 

Spray inside the jar to moisten the soil. Add the lid.

This doesn't take much water. The moss I used was very dry,  so I added about 10 squirts. If the soil you use is really moist to begin with, you will probably need less water than this. *Keep reading for an update on my Dilemma. 

It is actually quite a surprise when you see the little amount of water needed. Within a couple days the dry moss I had added was already greening up and looking happy.


When the varathane has dried completely on the driftwood stand, set the jar on. Check to see where the jar comes into contact with the stand. Lift the jar slightly and apply a dab of silicone to these spots. Set the jar onto the stand. Let dry. 

Set the terrarium in a bright spot… but not in direct sunlight or it will get too hot! 

Now, you just have to wait and see if you have the magic touch. Do you have a green thumb? Will your terrarium flourish or does your thumb have gangrene? Eww, gross. Do you know how to make a terrarium?

If your plants look happy, congratulations. You did things just right. You must have a green thumb. 

Is your terrarium rotting? Oh, oh. 

If the jar is fogging up excessively, open the lid and let things dry up a bit. 

Showing no moisture at all? Add a couple more squirts of water. 

Have you heard the amazing story of the sealed terrarium that has grown for over 50 years?  Yes, it is possible to have a jar with its very own ecosystem. Now that is how to make a terrarium the right way. Some people don't believe it. Getting the balance just right can prove to be tricky, but it can be done.

I must confess… I must not have a green thumb. My plant did not approve of either it’s home or the aggressive treatment it received putting it in the jar! The plant died, the moss got gross and it started to grow mold. Craft wreck, four thousand and ninety eight! Try, try again. I removed the lid, the mold and the dead plant and let the soil dry out. This time, I tried succulents and topped it with gravel but did not add more water. Those few squirts of water I added previously, seemed like such a tiny bit, but it was obviously too much!  

Tick, tock goes the clock. Time will tell if this attempt is more successful. I got distracted with other craft projects and forgot to check it! This time I will watch it more closely and open the lid to dry things out if necessary, before it is a fuzzy moldy mess.

How to Make a Terrarium Super Sized


After visiting the biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona, I don't feel so bad  that my first attempt at learning how to make a terrarium, was a flop. The biosphere 2 is the Mother of all terrariums. It is Huge. The glass enclosure is made up of 6500 windows and covers over three acres. It is 91 feet tall and has a stainless steel liner on the bottom, so it can be completely sealed off from the earth.


This hasn't exactly been an amazing success either. You would think on such a large scale the plants would all be growing happily. It seems even scientists have issues, when it comes to how to make a terrarium. There has been a problem with too much carbon dioxide building up inside. The only living thing that seems content are the ants.

In 1991, twelve people were sealed inside for two years, to see if they could be self sufficient. Read about this experiment in "Two years Under Glass".


The University of Arizona has now taken over operations. The biosphere is no longer a completely sealed unit. There are currently some experiments going on to do with water conservation and solar research. In my opinion the place is a big money pit. It is not self sufficient at all. Just the utility bills to keep it operating are outrageous.  

During the tour the air seemed stagnant and I felt sick, like there wasn't enough oxygen. I was just getting over the flu and my lungs seemed more sensitive than usual, so maybe that is why I noticed it. (I wouldn't suggest that an asthmatic go in there). 


It was almost like I had been shrunk down to fairy size and I was back home sealed in my own, molding, rotting terrarium. I guess that is a bit harsh since there are still some living plants in the biosphere. This just isn't the tropical oasis I was expecting.

The one thing I found most interesting was the terrarium inside the biosphere. It appeared to have plants doing quite well. They were the healthiest looking ones in the whole place.


This giant lung is one of two, used to stabilize the pressure inside the biosphere. Varying temperatures create pressure changes and without a means to equalize the pressure between inside and out, the structure could be damaged. The glass panels could break and come crashing in or explode outwards.


I think the only thing that the original biosphere 2 experiment proved, is that you can't replicate nature. Scientists obviously already knew that. It was named biosphere 2 not because there is a biosphere 1 that was a previous version; biosphere 1 is the earth itself.

There is a delicate balance that humans are not able to control, no matter how hard we try. For now, we should all just see if we can master how to make a terrarium in a jar and respect the earth. Let it do its own thing and try to cause as little disruption to this balance as possible. 

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