I recently learned how to make a terrarium (also called mini- ecosystems) and I can’t stop! I love everything about making terrariums and see what a good project this is for kids of all ages and families to do together.

Terrarium plants planted in large mini ecosystem glass jar - Kids Activities Blog
Let’s plant our own terrarium garden!

Terrarium Meaning

The meaning of terrarium is a clear container with soil and plants that can be accessed through an opening to tend your mini garden. The transparent walls also allow for light and heat around the plants to create a water cycle allowing a constant water supply.

Related: How to make a terrarium

What is a Terrarium?

A terrarium is a small semi or fully enclosed garden. Most terrariums are small enough to be fit into large bottles or jars, but some can be as big as a display shelf! A good terrarium is a fully functional micro-ecosystem. Their natural ecosystem means that they are low maintenance.

A terrarium is like a little green house you have in your home. The mini ecosystem functions on water cycle, so it is a really great opportunity to introduce earth sciences to young ones.

Sunlight enters through the glass and warms the air, soil and plants the same way that sunlight coming through the atmosphere warms Earth’s surface. The glass holds in some of the warmth, just as Earth’s atmosphere does.

NASA, Terrarium Mini-Garden
Three large glass jars sit together. They are filled with layers of rocks and soil, and filled with beautiful plants. One has a small bonsai tree!
You can make so many different sizes of terrariums at home!

Why Plant a Terrarium Garden

I have loved plants for my entire life. I think my love of plants started as a kid in the garden with my grandmother. Living in Texas, now, I’ve found the heat and climate to be really rough on my favorite plants. It’s hard to foster a love of plants in my children when none of us are terribly blessed with a green thumb!

Terrariums are able to conserve water and keep plants humid no matter the weather outside! This makes them very hands-off and low maintenance compared to most indoor planters or outdoor gardens. Terrariums even work for when you get too busy to remember to water the plants every day. 

A little kid uses tweezers to put decorations into their succulent terrarium.
Easy to make and easy to learn from makes terrariums a fun family activity, around here!

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Types of Terrariums

Nearly all terrariums are made out of glass. This allows light in, but also traps moisture released by the plants. They can be flat panels that are attached to one another or single pieces of glass such as a vase or jar.

1. Tropical Plant Terrarium

Glass is the most common type of terrarium is used to keep delicate exotic plants safe and humid. Tropical plants can be very difficult to care for outside of the humid environment and natural ecosystem of a terrarium. 

Here are a few of our favorite clear glass tabletop planters you can use for a terrarium container:

A child's hand holds a succulent above a glass vase, ready to plant it in their terrarium
This cute little succulent is very easy to take care of. A low maintenance terrarium is our favorite!

2. Succulent Terrarium

A succulent terrarium is perhaps the lowest maintenance version of a terrarium that exists! Succulents thrive best when left alone in a sunny place.

This makes them extra perfect for short attention spans. They require minimal watering and typically grow so slowly that they do not often need to be trimmed or repotted.

Related: Not ready for live plants? Make a felt succulent garden.

Succulents do not do well in closed terrariums. An open terrarium for succulents is still absolutely gorgeous! I have plenty in my decor!

Here are a few of our favorite open terrariums that work great for succulents:

Small glass terrarium is filled with moss and tiny plants.
Moss Terrariums are also very low maintenance and plush!

3. Moss Terrarium

This variety of terrarium is also low maintenance, like the succulent terrarium. It is much more vibrant and green, though.

The moss grows slowly and is very happy in most types of light. Keep in mind, it needs to be watered often with distilled water.

Here are some of our favorite moss varieties that work great in a terrarium:

A wonderful work around, here, is the type of Terrarium I’ll talk about next…

This terrarium is completely sealed. Inside, the plants stay alive and healthy due to the natural ecosystem. This terrarium is full of moss and ferns.
This terrarium is completely enclosed.

4. Closed Terrarium

A closed terrarium is truly the lowest maintenance way to go. Seriously, just set it up, make sure it isn’t too wet or dry, and go! Find a spot in your house for it to live and be admired!

You water a closed terrarium one time, and then close it. After that, the water cycle takes over. Condensation forms on the glass as the plants breathe, and that water then waters the plants so they continue to live.

Here are a few of our favorite closed terrarium systems:

Make your own Small Terrarium

It is really easy to make your own terrarium, at home. We recently showed off the adorable growing Dinosaur garden.

One of the benefits of planting your own terrarium is you can decorate it in any way. I like the idea of taking inspiration from fairy houses.

 Mini Ecosystem you can buy

Don’t have the time to build your own terrarium? That is completely ok!

You can enjoy the beauty and education of a ready-made terrarium from TerraLiving! They make and sell beautiful glass terrariums that already have their own established ecosystem! So, within their wide variety of sizes, you’ll be able to find a fully planted terrarium that you love!

Mini-ecosystems are a wonderful and educational decoration. Here are some of my favorite terrariums from TerraLiving:

Small glass enclosed moss terrarium ecosystem from TerraLiving is vibrant and green
This is a TerraLiving Mini Ecosystem!
This enclosed glass ecosystem from TerraLiving is full of happy plants. This terrarium has white upright designs supporting the plants.
This is a slightly bigger closed terrarium from TerraLiving called Apex!
This large glass terrarium is full of moss, even on the walls! The Vertex Zero from TerraLiving is absolutely gorgeous.
And this enormous beauty is the TerraLiving Vertex Zero

Kids Mini Terrarium Kits

I actually prefer the regular terrarium kits over the kids terrarium kits because they seem overly commercial when just growing a mini garden is pretty awesome all on its own! The benefit is the kids terrarium kits come with everything you need to get started, so it might be the best bet for a gift or your very first ecosystem.

Here are Kids Terrarium Kits we like:

Easy Terrarium Mini Kits

If you are looking for everything needed to make a fun and educational terrarium for kids and the whole family, these are some of our top picks for you. They include:

  1. pea gravel for draining
  2. activated charcoal for removing toxins
  3. organic soil
  4. moss
  5. decorations
  6. pebbles
  7. seed mixes that sprout in several days

Here are a few terrarium kits we like:

More Unusual Plant fun from Kids Activities Blog

Have you ever had a terrarium? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Mini Ecosystem FAQs

 How long do mini ecosystems last?

Your mini ecosystem terrarium can last for months with the proper care! To ensure the longest lifespan possible, avoid direct sunlight and provide the proper airflow and moisture. Regularly clean out any dead plant material.

What is an example of a micro-ecosystem?

Examples of micro-ecosystems include terrariums, aquaponic systems and biospheres. These ecosystems rely on a balance of different species to remain healthy and promote a thriving environment for all. A micro-system is a closed environment that consists of a variety of species interacting with each other in a self-sustaining way!

How does a terrarium work?

To allow the self-contained ecosystem of a terrarium to function properly, you will need several things to keep it self-sustained. You will need the right balance of humidity, temperature, light and air quality. To achieve this the key components are:


The soil is where the roots of the plants will grow while water is needed to keep the soil moist and provide hydration for the plants. The rocks are a drainage system for the plants. You will need proper lighting to keep the ecosystem in balance.

What is the point of an ecosystem jar?

Kids can use an ecosystem jar to study how different organisms interact with each other and help each other stay alive! Ecosystem jars are a great way to observe the effects of a closed habitat and see how when one element is disturbed, the entire ecosystem will suffer.

Where to buy terrarium plants?

You can buy terrarium plants at your local nursery or online. We found a big variety of terrarium plants on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3wze35a).

What to put in terrarium?

You can find the perfect place for your terrarium at home or in the classroom by considering the following:

1. Avoid direct sunlight which can cause your terrarium temperature to rise too quickly and dry out the soil.

2. Avoid sources of heat & A/C like radiators and vents which can vary the terrarium temperature too much and result in drying of the soil.

3. Avoid busy spots that might be disturbed by children or pets.

4. Find a place where you can easily observe your terrarium!

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