Trendy Topless Terrariums

I’m a firm believer that we should surround ourselves with living things — people, pets and plants.  This smart tip is about the natural beauty of indoor terrariums.  I’m no stranger to this concept, so much so I have even written an earlier article about a marvelous glass garden, but this is different — now we are going topless and I love it!
Recently the garden lifestyle store Terrain opened a new flagship in Westport, and I became a huge fan while discovering many wonderful things for my home and garden.  One feature that took my breath away was the plethora of topless terrariums and of course I needed to have one — okay, maybe two.  I adore them and I quickly wanted to learn how I could reproduce the same look in various sizes to give as gifts.  It did not take long before I was making my own version of these portable gardens, and thanks to Terrain’s collection of decorative rocks and plant materials it became easy to do at a fraction of the cost. Now don’t get me wrong! If you would like to splurge and purchase one already made I recommend going to their store and picking one up — they are beyond compare — but for the many people who do not live in the area I wanted to deconstruct the process so you too can enjoy “going topless” with a glass garden container.

It’s easy and you will love the creativity of the process.  You will be able to assemble yours in about 30 minutes.

Here is what you will need:

A container. While you can find containers which are sold specifically for terrariums, any glass vessel that has walls will do.  Depending on how big and how fancy you want to get, the glass container(s) are always best to get from an off-price store. I pay no more than twenty bucks.  Anything from a large fish bowl to a small vase — as long as it is open you are good to go.

Horticultural Charcoal. Terrariums are damp environments with no drainage holes, and the charcoal will keep the soil from developing a sour odor. This can be easily found at nurseries, or at pet stores in the aquarium department.

Stones or pebbles. These will not be very visible, so any kind will do. You will need a couple of handfuls — enough to create a shallow layer.

Decorative rocks or moss. These will be visible, to layer on the surface. A sheet of moss or a few handfuls of rocks are enough. Sheet moss is available at garden centers, and small rocks can be scavenged from nature or you can use aquarium rocks.

Potting Soil. The best soil for terrariums is a high quality, sterile potting soil because it has a high amount of organic matter.

Plants. Before you purchase plants, first determine where you would like to place the terrarium because light conditions and temperature will affect your choice of plants. All should have similar requirements. Low-growing, dense plants are best — if you are not sure simply ask at your garden center. A benefit to topless terrariums is that you can also use succulents, which do not do well in closed terrariums because of the humidity. Make your selection based on size, color and texture.

Decorative Items.This is often my favorite part because you can really be creative and allows you to personalize it even more. You will use these to create dimension and structure to your top level, in amongst the plants. One or two pieces per terrarium is plenty — I like to use driftwood, bark, decorative rocks, pottery pieces, etc.

Assembly Steps

  1. Drainage layers: Because terrariums do not have drainage holes in the bottom you need to create somewhere for the excess water to go, away from the plants’ roots. First add about an inch or so of charcoal, then your two handfuls of stones or pebbles.
  2. Potting soil: Spoon in about three-four inches of potting soil (depending upon the vessel; you don’t want to go all the way to the rim!)
  3. Design: Before you place your plants, finalize the design of your terrarium. Will it have a back and front? If so, them place the taller plants in the back. If not, place them in the middle. I love to contour the soil so it creates more of a landscape. Contouring plus the small-sized plants combine to create the effect of a miniature world.
  4. Plants: Use your fingers or a spoon to create an opening in the soil for each plant. Tip: Before placing each plant in the soil I prefer to quickly soak the roots in a cup of water — this helps give them a jump start of moisture. Place each plant into the soil and gently pat them in. Do not overcrowd them.
  5. Coat top layer with decorative rocks or moss strips for that natural organic look. Place any decorative item(s).
  6. First watering: Add about a cup of water per plant; try to distribute the water evenly.


Simply water weekly — possibly less often if the top layer of soil feels moist to the touch. Want to water even less often? If watering once every six months is more appealing, check out my article about creating covered, enclosed terrariums here.

Simple, fun, and so decorative. Who knew that going topless was possible year-round?

And there you have it.