Planting a terrarium is one of my favorite weekend gardening projects. You get to curate a tiny garden in a glass, picking your favorite plants and placing them in any way you choose. There are so many exciting configurations and unique designs to try that it’s impossible to get bored.
Terrarium environments are very particular. It’s essential to choose a plant that not only fits in a small space but will be happy in the environment it creates. Luckily, there are many options, depending on the kind of terrarium you want to plant.
Polka Dot Plant
This spotty pink plant is a popular choice for closed terrariums due to its compact size and vibrant, spotted foliage.
Hypoestes phyllostachya is one of the most popular plants for closed terrariums, and for good reason. Remaining relatively compact, this leafy plant can easily fit into enclosed areas and appreciates the high humidity levels terrariums provide.
But the real highlight of the polka dot plant is evident in its common name. The leaves feature uniquely spotted foliage in a range of bright colors. Spotty pink cultivars are a personal favorite, adding a pop of color to your terrarium that’s tough to find in other plants.
Fittonia species have strikingly contrasting veins.
Fittonia spp. is similar in look and growth habit to the polka dot plant and is often used in terrariums for its attractive foliage. However, rather than sporting spotty leaves, the nerve plant has bright and contrasting veins that instantly stand out amongst other greenery.
Varieties with bright white veins have the starkest look, but you can also find Fittonias with red veins or even pink-tinted leaves. Pair them with a pink polka dot plant for an eye-catching and colorful terrarium display.
Chinese Money Plant
The Chinese money plant thrives in larger terrariums.
Pilea peperomioides is famous among houseplant lovers for its rounded leaves, giving it other comical common names like pancake plant or UFO plant. Its upright growth habit and love of moisture and high humidity make it a great candidate for larger terrariums, standing tall above creeping vines or moss.
The easiest way to get a Chinese money plant into a terrarium – especially one with a small opening – is to use a pup. Pilea peperomioides produces tiny versions of the parent plant that emerge from the soil. Once these pups have their own roots, snap them off and plant them in a terrarium to fill out.
Maidenhair fern has delicate, densely packed green leaves, providing an elegant touch to your closed terrarium.
There are several ferns to choose from for something a little more delicate compared to the Chinese money plant. Adiantum raddianum, commonly called the maidenhair fern, is ideal for taller terrariums with a lot of overhead space to fill.
The thin green leaves are densely packed along narrow stems. They arch gracefully and command attention. As they love plenty of moisture, a closed terrarium is a perfect home for these plants. A terrarium may be the answer if you’ve struggled to keep them alive as regular houseplants due to dry air or infrequent watering.
String of Hearts
String of hearts has tiny heart-shaped leaves and can thrive in open terrariums with well-draining substrates.
This plant is a perfect Valentine’s Day gift! The adorable Ceropegia woodii, commonly known as string of hearts, features tiny heart-shaped leaves that crawl along the soil surface or hang outside the edges of open terrariums.
As string of hearts is a semi-succulent plant, the roots prefer dry soil to excess moisture. They grow best in open terrariums with other succulents planted in well-draining sandy substrates. Excess moisture around the roots can lead to rot, affecting all other plants in your terrarium.
Peace in the Home
Baby’s tears is great for compact terrariums but requires consistent moisture and bright indirect light to thrive.
Commonly known as baby’s tears or peace in the home, Soleirolia soleirolii is a perfect candidate for shorter terrariums without much space above the soil line. This plant forms a green carpet of adorable leaves that will quickly fill gaps.
These plants have a reputation for being tricky to keep alive. I’ve damaged a few due to incorrect care and conditions, overwatering them and keeping them in a spot with too much shade. The soil should stay consistently moist but not soggy. That and plenty of bright indirect light will keep them happy for years.
Aluminum plant makes an eye-catching centerpiece in larger terrariums when given bright indirect sunlight.
Part of the same genus as the Chinese money plant, Pilea cadierei is impossible to miss and the star of the show in any terrarium. The highlight of this plant is the silver-striped foliage, hence the aluminum in the name. It is also known as watermelon pilea because the leaves resemble watermelon skin.
Since aluminum plants are taller, it’s best to use them as central feature plants in larger terrariums. Place them in a spot with lots of bright indirect sun to show off the shimmery foliage.
Golden pothos is a resilient and popular terrarium choice that thrives in various conditions.
Epipremnum aureum is a houseplant must-have for many reasons. When planted in terrariums, their tough nature and ability to thrive almost anywhere are top of mind. These vines are incredibly resilient and grow quickly in almost any environment, filling out larger terrariums with masses of foliage.
Thanks to their popularity, there are many different cultivars to choose from, including the classic golden pothos and variegated favorites like ‘Marble Queen.’ Don’t overwater them (especially in closed terrariums); you’ll have almost guaranteed success.
Peperomia caperata is perfect for terrariums, offering intriguing color and texture variations.
Of the many houseplants I’ve grown in my lifetime, peperomias were the first to steal my heart and make me a true collector. There is so much variety between species that they often don’t even look related. With options in different shapes, colors, and textures, you’re bound to find a peperomia you adore.
The smaller species are best for terrariums. Look out for the compact Peperomia caperata for interesting color and texture or Peperomia rotundifolia to trail close to the soil. If they’re in the right environment, you may even be lucky enough to see them flower.
The charming button fern, with its adorable button-shaped leaves on delicate fronds, is perfect for closed terrariums.
The common name of Pellaea rotundifolia already describes how adorable this fern is. The cute button-shaped leaves appear on long, delicate fronds, adding a true jungle feel to your terrariums.
This species grows to around 12 inches tall, remaining compact and suitable for planting in a closed terrarium. It is also quite a slow grower, taking time to settle into a new space. It thrives in the moist and high-humidity environment of a closed terrarium.
Ficus pumila is a compact vine perfect for terrariums.
When you think of members of the Ficus genus, small and compact is not likely the first word to come to mind. Most species are towering trees that grow to ceiling height indoors, such as the famous fiddle leaf fig. But Ficus pumila – with a specific epithet meaning ‘dwarf’ – is an outlier ideal for a terrarium.
This vine is a great alternative to ivy, climbing up walls and other garden structures. But you can also keep it contained by popping it in a closed terrarium, where it will quickly fill empty soil gaps. You can also attach it to decorate pieces of wood or rocks for a more artistic feature inside your terrarium.
With proper care, African violets can become a decorative, year-round flowering addition.
Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia is commonly called African violet. The name comes from its purple blooms and native African origins. The adorable fluffy leaves and their ability to flower reliably indoors have made African violets a houseplant staple for decades.
As African violets remain compact, they are ideal feature plants for terrariums. You’ll need to monitor moisture levels carefully, as the fluffy leaves can develop unsightly spots, and the base can quickly rot in the wrong conditions. With some extra attention, you can turn your African violet into a decorative statement that flowers almost all year round.
Small orchid species can thrive in terrariums with high humidity but require the right potting medium.
Miniature orchid does not describe a single plant but rather a group of orchid species with smaller flowers and a compact mature size. This smaller stature allows them to squeeze into terrariums, where their stunning flowers can shine.
Orchid care can be tricky, but it isn’t hard with a few tips. High humidity will help epiphytic miniature orchids thrive and flower for months. But you’ll need to be careful about the potting medium you select, filling the terrarium with loose orchid bark or simply attaching the roots to a piece of wood. Also, choose a terrarium with a wide opening to avoid damaging any existing flower spikes.
Silver Sparkle Pilea
Pilea is versatile and suitable for terrariums. Its cascading silver leaves can be trimmed to fit inside.
There is some confusion around the classification of this plant. Usually labeled Pilea glauca, you may also see it under the names Pilea libanensis, silver sparkle pilea, or even Pilea aquamarine. No matter what you call it, there is no confusion about its ability to grow in your terrarium.
When grown as a houseplant, Pilea glauca has tiny silver leaves that cascade over the sides of a container. You can trim a few stems to root inside your terrarium or fill the entire thing with one large plant. This versatility also makes them suitable for tiny terrariums or any artistic projects.
String of Turtles
To plant string of turtles in a terrarium, trim and root individual vines.
String of turtles is another member of the Peperomia genus (Peperomia prostrata), but this species is so adorable and fitting for terrariums that it deserves its own section. The long vines produce cute rounded leaves with a pattern that looks just like a turtle shell – a great decorative feature for smaller terrariums.
Much like Pilea glauca, the easiest way to plant string of turtles in a terrarium is to trim off individual vines and root them. This is especially helpful if you have a glass with a narrow opening that’s tough to fit larger plants through.
Spider plants can work in closed terrariums, but are best for open terrariums.
Chlorophytum comosum is one of the most popular houseplants for beginners, known for its ability to adapt and thrive in various conditions. It’s not usually a first choice for terrariums, but if you have an existing plant with tiny pups ready for planting, they can easily squeeze into smaller containers for rooting.
Although they are happy in high humidity, spider plants are generally better suited to open terrariums with regular watering. If you plant in a closed terrarium, water sparingly and watch out for signs of rot, which can quickly spread to other plants.
Dwarf Arrowhead Vine
This dwarf vine suits terrariums due to its smaller size, adaptability, and tolerance for low light.
The Syngonium genus is known for large shield-shaped leaves and vigorous growth – not ideal for terrariums. Luckily, there is an adorable dwarf variety to save the day. Syngonium podophyllum ‘Pixie’ is the perfect cultivar for terrarium planting, with smaller leaves but the same mottled color and shape we know and love.
Besides benefits in size, dwarf arrowhead vine is adaptable and tolerant of neglect. They grow best in bright indirect light but also handle low light in small spaces.
The crocodile fern adds a unique texture to your terrarium with its compact size and scaly-patterned fronds.
If a unique texture is what you need in your terrarium, look no further than Microsorum musifolium. This plant is called crocodile fern for the scaly patterns on its fronds. That, combined with its compact size and love of high humidity, make this fern a terrarium must-have.
While they love moisture, crocodile ferns hate sitting in soggy soil. Ensure the substrate is well-draining, and never add too much water to the container, especially when planting in a closed terrarium. These slow growers tolerate small spaces and thrive in medium to bright indirect light.
Watermelon vine is ideal for terrariums due to its variegated leaves and need for a stable, high-humidity environment.
Before you start imagining massive watermelon plants in tiny glass terrariums, we’re not talking about the edible watermelon vine. Rather, the species perfect for terrarium growth is Pellionia pulchra, commonly known as watermelon vine for its uniquely variegated leaves.
Watermelon vine can be tough to find and has a reputation for being fussy. They can’t live without high humidity and hate changes in their environment. Luckily, watermelon vines are content in a terrarium’s consistently high humidity.
Low-maintenance dischidia is suitable for open terrariums, but be cautious of overwatering to avoid rot.
Dischidia is a wonderfully low-maintenance genus of plants closely related to Hoyas. They aren’t as well-known as their plant cousins, but their ease of growth makes them well worth adding to your houseplant collection.
Dischidia vines often sport compact leaves that make a great addition to open terrariums. The leaves do hold some moisture, making them sensitive to rot when overwatered. These plants are ideal trailing species for open terrariums, pairing well with taller succulents to fill in the gaps.
Begonias offer diverse options for terrariums, thriving in a closed environment’s warmth and high humidity.
With a massive variety in shape, color, and size, it’s easy to find a begonia you’ll fall in love with. The colorful patterned leaves stand out in terrariums, with the beautiful blooms as an added bonus in the right conditions.
These tropical plants love warmth and high-humidity environments like the ones created by closed terrariums. Some species are more sensitive to overwatering than others, so keep an eye on moisture levels to avoid damaging the roots early on.
Marantas have vibrant, tropical-patterned leaves suited to terrariums.
Prayer plant is the common name for several houseplants, but we’re focusing on those in the Maranta genus. Marantas are easy to identify for their colorful and patterned leaves that almost don’t look real until you get up close.
These plants come from the tropics, matching terrarium environments well. The only concern to manage is size, as the leaves can become quite large. Use them as the central plant in a large terrarium, planting with lower-growing vines to prevent overcrowding.
The low-maintenance Philodendron micans has striking, velvety leaves.
A few plants in the Philodendron genus are well-suited to terrarium planting. However, Philodendron micans are at the top of my list. The leaves of this species are incredibly eye-catching and have a velvety sheen not often seen in terrarium plants.
Philodendrons are known for being low-maintenance, and this species is no different. Plant in a large terrarium, preferably with a decorative piece of wood or low opening to allow the climbing or cascading vines to shine.
‘Bambino’ alocasia has striking deep green leaves and contrasting white veins, adding a dramatic flair.
Alocasias have slowly climbed to the top of houseplant favorite lists thanks to their patterned leaves and unique growth habits. While most cultivars are far too large to fit into a terrarium, ‘Bambino’ has much smaller leaves that stay compact while adding the colorful flair of other Alocasia species.
‘Bambino’ is a cultivar of Alocasia amazonica with deep green leaves and contrasting white veins. The color is intensified in brighter light, becoming almost black and heightening the contrast. For those looking for drama in their terrarium design, this is the way to get it.
‘Fluffy Ruffles’ Sword Fern
This charming fern cultivar thrives in closed terrariums with high humidity.
The last fern on the list is arguably the most adorable, especially in its name. ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ is a cultivar of Nephrolepis exaltata with a common name that perfectly describes the ruffled fronds. Unlike regular sword ferns that grow quite large, ‘Fluffy Ruffles’ sticks to an adorable 12 inches, easily fitting into closed terrariums.
Houseplant growers often find these plants tricky to keep happy. But the high humidity and regular moisture in a closed terrarium will do most of the work for you. Top it off with bright indirect light, and you’ll have no trouble growing this plant.
Cushion moss adds a woodland touch to terrariums, staying low to the ground.
Mosses are almost essential in terrariums, covering the soil with green growth and creating that woodland look most people are after. Cushion moss is a terrarium staple, with soft leaves that stick low to the ground and complement taller plants.
Leucobryum glaucum doesn’t spread much or take over, making initial placement key. For intricate projects, you can separate it into clumps for planting or cover the soil with a large patch and watch it thrive.
Selaginella kraussiana thrives in terrariums with high humidity, bright indirect light, and consistent moisture.
Spikemoss is not technically a true moss, but it certainly looks (and grows) like one. This species, scientifically Selaginella kraussiana, develops tiny fern-like leaves that spread along the ground. They are useful groundcovers or houseplants but are most often used in terrariums.
High humidity is the one condition required for quick growth, which can be achieved by planting in a closed terrarium. Beyond that, bright indirect light and consistent moisture will help the delicate leaves look lush year-round.
Live sphagnum moss is a valuable addition to closed terrariums and thrives with regular watering and high humidity.
Sphagnum moss has a variety of uses in the garden, but it’s usually dried or used as a soil amendment (peat moss). Often overlooked, live sphagnum moss is a wonderful addition to any closed terrarium. It may be tough to find, but it is worth a purchase if you can get your hands on some.
Moisture is essential to keep this plant alive. Regular watering and high humidity will stop it from drying out, so pair it with plants that are equally happy in wetter environments.
Peacock spikemoss, known for its unique blue-green color, thrives in low light and wet conditions.
This relative of Selaginella kraussiana is named peacock spikemoss for its stunning blue-green hue. With some time to settle in, the leaves will form a dense iridescent mat in a color not often seen in terrariums.
Selaginella uncinata is remarkably tough, handling low light and waterlogged soil well. Use it as a feature plant in a decorative terrarium or as a ground cover around taller plants – it will stand out no matter where it is planted.
This soft-textured true moss is ideal for closed terrariums that require consistent moisture to thrive.
Unlike peacock spikemoss, Dicranum scoparium is a true moss. It has a captivatingly soft texture that you can’t help but touch, so it’s probably better left locked away in a closed terrarium. It’s great for covering open dirt patches, attaching to many different soil types, and thriving with plenty of moisture.
This species is called mood moss for its somewhat fussy nature. It’s not ideal for forgetful waterers as it dries quickly and loses color. But a closed terrarium will help keep moisture locked in, helping maintain the perfect conditions.
These unique plants thrive in well-lit, open environments.
Most of the plants previously mentioned are suitable for closed terrariums. Now, let’s move on to those exclusively reserved for open terrariums.
Although the concept of an “open terrarium” is up for debate (terrariums are usually, by definition, sealed), these glass arrangements have become popular for succulent or epiphytic plants that can’t handle enclosed environments. Air plants are one of them.
Tillandsias add an architectural flair to glass containers, especially when attached to an artistic piece of driftwood. Place your art piece on decorative gravel inside your container, and you’ll create eye-catching living décor that only needs an occasional misting and bright light to thrive.
Echeveria succulents, known for their compact, geometric shapes and attractive colors, are popular in open terrariums.
Of all the succulents on the market, species in the Echeveria genus are those most often used in open terrariums. They are beloved for their compact geometric forms in grey-green or purple-pink hues, pushing out adorable flowers in the right conditions.
As succulents are at risk of rot, it’s essential to plant them in a well-draining succulent mix and to layer your terrarium to keep excess moisture away from the base. As silly as it may feel, I like to use a straw to water around the roots as needed, avoiding any chances of rot that may kill the plant.
Jade plant is adaptable to various indoor conditions but can become large over time.
Crassula ovata is incredibly tough – one of the reasons why it is a popular succulent for growing indoors. It adapts to different environments well, doesn’t mind lower light levels, and has a structural appearance that you don’t often see in terrariums.
The primary issue is size. Jade plants will grow quite large if given the space indoors and can grow even larger outdoors. Luckily, they do grow relatively slowly, allowing you to keep smaller plants in large terrariums for a while before they need to be moved.
Zebra cactus remains compact, making them suitable for small open terrariums.
Haworthias are often called zebra cactus for their spiky and striped appearance. There are many interesting species to choose from, with each remaining compact and easily fitting into smaller open terrariums.
Haworthias produce small plantlets as they spread, ideal for propagation. If you have an existing plant in a container or in your garden, occasionally pull off the pups for planting in terrariums. Like echeverias, they need sandy soil and minimal watering to thrive.
String of Pearls
This draping houseplant thrives in lower light conditions and is ideal for terrariums with low openings.
Houseplant enthusiasts love string succulents because they have a higher tolerance for lower light levels. Curio rowleyanus remains one of the most popular, producing delicate dangling pearls that look great anywhere.
If your open terrarium has a low opening, string of pearls is great for planting on the edge to hang out the sides. Pair it with taller succulents and keep it in a bright area to stop the spaces between leaves from stretching.
Hens and Chicks
Sempervivum plants have a compact, geometric appearance.
The Sempervivum genus comprises compact plants with a structural and geometric look great for open terrariums. The common name comes from the small pups the plant produces around the base, ideal for trimming off and planting in new terrariums.
To help short sempervivums stand out, cover the soil with a layer of contrasting decorative gravel. This improves aesthetics and adds to the gritty and well-draining conditions the plants prefer.
Panda plant is a beautiful succulent known for its fluffy leaves.
The previous succulent options (bar Crassula ovata) stay low to the ground. They look best in shorter glasses. For tall open terrariums with a lot of overhead space to fill, you’re better off choosing something like Kalanchoe tomentosa.
This species is commonly known as the panda plant, with equally adorable cultivar names like ‘Chocolate Soldier’ and ‘Teddy Bear.’ The fluffy texture of the leaves only adds to the allure, making each one a must-have.
Consider planting Sedum morganianum in a terrarium where the vines can hang out of the opening, but be sure to water sparingly.
The final entry on the list is one of my all-time favorites – Sedum morganianum. It is commonly called burro’s tail or donkey’s tail, and it’s not hard to see why. Succulent leaves cover the vines so tightly that you can’t see the stem, making it look just like a collection of tails.
Like string of pearls, plant this species in a terrarium where the vines can hang out of the opening. Water sparingly and give them plenty of light to stop the stems from stretching and leaves from dropping.
If you’re thinking of planting a closed or open terrarium, there are bound to be a few options on this list that suit your style. Make sure you tailor the soil mix and care to the types of plants you’re growing to help them thrive in these unique environments.