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How to Build a Terrarium without Spending Any Money
How to Build a Terrarium without Spending Any Money

How to Build a Terrarium without Spending Any Money

Embracing the thrifty spirit of DIY culture, let’s dive into a project that proves you don’t need to spend money to create something beautiful and alive. 

We’re talking about crafting your very own terrarium—a lush, miniature ecosystem enclosed in a transparent container. Not only is this an exercise in creativity and resourcefulness, but it also demonstrates that all the materials you need are already at your disposal, free of charge. 

Get ready to build a terrarium with zero expense, using only what nature and your household have to offer.

Finding a Container

When it comes to building a DIY terrarium, your first step is sourcing an appropriate container

Here, the challenge isn’t just in finding a container, but in finding one that is both practical and attractive. This is where your creativity and resourcefulness come into play.

Glass Jars

3 small mason jar terrariums with 1 plant each on a white floor

Have any old mason jars or jam jars lying around? These can be repurposed into ideal terrarium containers. Glass jars are readily available in most households and their screw-top lids make for excellent moisture control. The transparency of the glass allows for easy viewing and ample sunlight penetration.

Fish Bowls

herbs in open terrarium

If you’ve had a pet fish that has since moved on to bigger ponds, repurpose the bowl as a home for your miniature green world. The round, open design of a fishbowl provides a full view of your terrarium and makes maintenance tasks like watering and pruning easier.


Vases, especially those with clear glass, are a classic choice for a terrarium. They offer a wide variety of shapes and sizes to choose from, which can add an aesthetic appeal to your project. However, bear in mind that vases often lack a sealable top, so they may be better suited for open terrariums that house air plants or succulents.

Glass Bottles


For a truly unique terrarium, consider using a large glass bottle or jug. Although a bit more challenging due to the narrow opening, a bottle terrarium can make for a stunning display. Remember to have a long pair of tweezers or chopsticks on hand to arrange your plants inside!

Kitchen Containers

plastic-kitchen container terrarium

Even clear, plastic containers like those used for storage in your kitchen can be transformed into a terrarium. Though plastic might not be as aesthetically pleasing as glass, it’s lightweight and less prone to breakage.

Regardless of your choice, the most critical features to look for in your container are transparency and the ability to seal it, at least partially. 

A transparent container allows sunlight to reach your plants, while a lid or seal helps maintain the humidity levels required for your terrarium to thrive. Consider the needs of the plants you plan to house as you select your container, and let your creativity guide you. 

Remember, building a terrarium is not just about the end result, but the joy of the DIY journey.

Gathering Terrarium Materials

supplies needed to build a terrarium including tools

A crucial step in the DIY terrarium journey involves gathering the necessary materials, namely soil, plants, and stones. 

But don’t worry, you won’t need to break the bank for these. You’d be surprised at the abundant terrarium resources that can be found in your everyday surroundings.

Soil/ Substrate

close up image of waterlogged drainage layer in a terrarium

Start by sourcing soil, the life-supporting canvas for your terrarium. Soil can be gathered from your backyard, a local park, or even a forest, if you have one nearby. Remember, you need a soil rich in organic matter for your plants to thrive. If you can find compost or leaf litter in your garden, these are fantastic, nutrient-rich additions to your substrate layer.


river rocks in terrarium

Rocks or pebbles form the drainage layer in your terrarium, preventing the roots of your plants from sitting in water. You can collect small stones from a walkway, a stream, or even from the pot of an old houseplant. Make sure to wash them thoroughly to remove dirt and any potential pests.

Decorative Features

many pieces of cork bark

Don’t forget, your terrarium can be more than just plants! Small pieces of driftwood, interesting rocks, or even tiny figurines can add personality to your miniature ecosystem. Use what you have at home, or keep an eye out during your walks for potential additions.

By using materials from your immediate environment and a little creativity, you can gather everything you need without spending a penny. 

The golden rule is to ensure all materials are clean and free from pests to keep your terrarium healthy and thriving.

Building the Terrarium

With your container and materials ready, it’s time to build your terrarium. Start by adding a layer of stones at the bottom of your container for drainage. Next, add a layer of soil, deep enough for your plants’ roots to thrive. Both these layers are crucial for creating a healthy environment for your plants.

For more information on this, read our guide on creating terrariums, from substrate to planting.

Finding Plants Outdoors For Your Terrarium

air plant thumbnail image

The process of plant selection for your terrarium is a delicate and crucial step, as you need to find species that are both suitable for the terrarium environment and accessible in your local outdoor spaces. 

While the specific options available may depend on your local ecosystem, here are several commonly found plants that can thrive in a terrarium:


fern plant

Many types of ferns can be found in the wild, especially in cool, damp, and shaded areas. Varieties like the Common Ladyfern or the Christmas fern are often found in North America and are well-suited to the high humidity environment of a terrarium.


up close photo of moss on a forest floor

These are perfect for terrariums, given their love for humid, low-light environments. Moss can often be found on forest floors, shady sidewalks, or even on tree trunks. They come in various types, adding textural interest to your terrarium.

Ivy (Hedera helix)

Ivy (Hedera helix)

Ivy, especially the English Ivy, is a common plant in many outdoor spaces. It’s an excellent addition to your terrarium because of its tolerance to a variety of light conditions. However, be sure to trim it regularly to prevent it from overtaking your terrarium.

Wild Violets (Viola sororia)

These small flowering plants can often be found in shady, moist areas. Their vibrant flowers can add a pop of color to your terrarium.


green lichen

Lichens are a unique composite organism that arise from algae or cyanobacteria living among the filaments of fungi. They can be found growing on rocks, bark, or simply on the ground. They’re resilient, require little maintenance, and can add an interesting touch to your terrarium.

Clubmoss (Lycopodium spp.)

Clubmoss (Lycopodium spp.)

Clubmosses are ancient plants that look similar to small ferns. They’re commonly found in the wild, often in forested or grassland areas, and they can add a prehistoric touch to your terrarium.

It’s crucial to remember that the plants you select must be legally and ethically sourced. 

Do not remove plants from protected natural areas or private property without permission. And always tread lightly in nature, only taking what you need and leaving no trace behind.

Terrarium Care and Maintenance

Once your terrarium is built, you need to care for it properly. Most terrariums need indirect light, so place it near a window but out of direct sunlight. 

Water sparingly, as the enclosed environment retains moisture. If the walls of the container get too foggy, you might need to let it air out a bit. Maintaining the right temperature is also crucial; most plants prefer a temperate environment, so avoid placing your terrarium near radiators or air conditioners.

In Conclusion…

Building a terrarium without spending money is more than possible—it’s a fun, rewarding challenge that adds a living piece of art to your home or workspace. So, start exploring, gathering, and creating your little world in a jar!