Terrarium Layers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Success (2023)

Building a terrarium is like building a house.

They all need a solid foundation, some supporting structures and finally - athe wholeof plants.

Although materials and shapes may vary,the basic terrarium building process is always the same. It's all about layering from scratch, and luckily I have a project.

Therefore, in this article, we will examine the terrarium layering order step by step so that you can be sure that you are on the right path to a stable and beautiful construction.

Terrarium Layers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Success (1)

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  1. The top 5 terrarium layers in sequence
  2. 1 | The drainage layer
  3. 2 | Terrarium soil layers
  4. 3 | O Hardscape
  5. 4 | The plants
  6. 5 | Final decorations
  7. Open terrarium layers vs. closed terrarium layers
  8. Now it is your turn

The top 5 terrarium layers in sequence

Okay, I use the term "layers"literallyfor the first two, but the rest is figurative.

Each step builds on the previous one, so it helps to think of them as layers when creating oursTerrarium.

Some of these layers are essential (e.g., you can't get very far without a substrate), others are optional and/or variable. Everything will be explained in due course.

Without further ado, I will show you the order of the terrarium layers:

1 | The drainage layer– The variety of approaches to build a solid foundation for your terrarium. From a simple drainage layer to a complex raised floor approach (and all the extra layers that can go with it).

2 | The substrate/soil layer –The support structure and growing medium for our plants. Find out how to judge how thick it needs to be and how to manipulate it for better scale and aesthetics.

3 | O Hardscapelayer– Anything that is solid and not really alive, but we're mostly talking about dynamic looking rocks and logs that add a certain natural touch.

(Video) A Simple Guide To Terrarium Layers

4 | The plant layer- The best of course. Mainly naturally terrestrial terrarium plants, but also moss highlights and epiphytes for 3D planting.

5 | The decorative layer– Any final decorative elements you wish to add. Maybe a small sign, a human figure, or a water feature. Do it yourself!

Below we will break down each individual section to help you choose the right options for your own terrarium project.

A strong terrarium floor supports the entire structure.

Much like what's under our house, it should be able toresist compression,Support the layers above, zCreate a space where excess water can drain inwards.

Finally, like in the real world, our terrariums can benefit from a built-in drainage mechanism. Without them we would run the risk of turning our rainforest/homeland into a swamp - which is not good for either plants or humans.

A drainage layer (akawrong floor) is the most common way to avoid this problem.

Essentially, the false bottom is a reservoir formed by a layer ofthick drainage material. It can be large pebbles, colored aquarium pebbles, decorative pebbles, or other uneven items.

This allows water to drain from the substrate (protecting your plants from soggy soil and root rot) before it evaporates to keep the water cycle going.

Ideally, you want somethingLichtIn order not to break the glass container, I usually recommend something likeLavagesteinorLeca.

Terrarium Layers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Success (2)

In fact, Leca is a perfect choice as it can provide a lot of supportehe canabsorb a lot of waterAlso. Helps retain water while increasing humidity.


Next are 3 optional components/layers of a false floor that can help improve its functionality.

Barrier Layer (Optional*)

In order to function effectively as a reservoir, the drainage layer must provide space for unimpeded drainage of water.

The whole process stops quickly when it's clogged with dirt or debris... and that's what we top it with.

Therefore you can use some kind of barrier to separate the drainage layer from the substrate layer.

You can use:

(Video) How To Make A Terrarium | A Beginners Guide

  • Something natural like a spongelayer of peat moss. This has a number of benefits, from water retention to antibacterial properties, but you may need a fairly thick layer to get the job done (and it's not to everyone's taste).
  • something artificial like acarbon fiber fabric.This is much thinner and less visible, but make sure it's waterproof as a steel mesh is likely to rust over time.

Both can work well, but I think mesh is a better option.

However, I personally think that with a correspondingly light and fluffy substrate, not too much sags anyway. That's why this is optional and why I don't often use a barrier layer.

Charcoal layer (optional*)

Sometimes a layer of activated charcoal is also used to purify the water (although likeveryit helps, up for debate).

It's really a matter of personal preference.

Just watch if youmakeIf you decide to layer charcoal, it's probably best to choose a coarser charcoal rather than a powder. Fine dust can also get into the drainage layer through a barrier fabric.

Your top picks fall betweenactivated charcoalorcharcoal. Both can filter, but the former is slightly more effective (and more expensive).

Decorative sand layer (optional*)

For those who really want to accentuate the layers of a terrarium, a layer of decorative sand is something to try.

Honestly, by creating delicate layers of colored sand, you can create some nice sharp lines.

Terrarium Layers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Success (3)

>However, it needs a steady hand, see Joe's instructions on how to do thislayers of terrarium sandfor more help with this complicated terrarium art technique.

2 | Terrarium soil layers

There is a wholeMonteoptions when it comesterrarium soil and substrates.

What's right for you will depend on your choice of plants and construction, but if you opt for tropical plants, that's fine.Drainage,water retentioneventilationare the qualities you want to look for.

A potting mix is ​​far from ideal for tropical plants. If in doubt, theABG blendIt's a tried and true tropical substrate that I often use as a base.

As for the thickness of this layer, let the plants judge.It must be able to accommodate the largest root ball and still have room for the roots to grow..

However, remember that you can always tilt the substrate to create areas of greater or lesser depth as needed!

Terrarium Layers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Success (4)

Alternatively, if you need to accommodate some larger plants (or just don't like the look of the rocks at the bottom of your terrarium), you can forgo the drainage layer.

You need a mix that has the right amount of drainage and support for the plants - both nutritionally and physically - but arguably has a more natural aesthetic.

From what I've seen onlineProfessional terrarium builders often do without functional drainage layers altogether.

(Video) Making a Bottle Terrarium + Closed Terrarium Basics

Although sometimes they are added for decorative purposes.

There's an argument that once you thin it down to a t-shirt, you really don't need a drainage layer. Some even go so far as to say that once water has accumulated in a drainage layer, it is already too late...

Personally, I see a drain system as a sensible failsafe.I think if you are new to terrariums they can offer some useful guarantees and opportunities for unique designs. Everything is an experiment!

Then we move on to the more dynamic parts of the terrarium building.

3 | O Hardscape

In the art of terrarium constructionHardscapeis a term for the hard physical elements that you can add.

decorative stones(For example.Drachenstein) Etrunk branchesare the most common type, but crystals and pebbles also fall into this category.

Hardscape is not used in all constructions, but it can enhance a terrarium in several ways:

  • Helps build a solid foundation– Embedding large physical objects in the substrate can really help stabilize it, especially if it's uneven (if you're creating a higher background, for example).
  • Create a sense of depth- You can physically manipulate the terrarium landscape using scales and focal points to create a sense of depth. Adding a large object in the front and smaller objects in the back is one way to do this.
  • 3D-Plantage occasions- Rocks and branches can comfortably grow a variety of plant species on them. This allows for a much more creative expression when planting your terrariums.
  • pure decoration– last but not least, the hardscape is beautiful in itself and can often be a key feature in its own right.
Terrarium Layers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Success (5)

Hardscape elements should normally be added right after the substrate, as they are usually the main feature, but also because their addition can greatly change the landscape.

There's no point in spending hours creating a beautiful green landscape only to see it distorted by a large boulder.

Terrarium Layers: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Success (6)

4 | The plants

You will generally want to start planting with your largest and most importantclosed terrarium plants.

Not only because taller plants are harder to place when your terrarium is full, but also because your signature plants should take precedence at the best vantage points.

After planting your focus pieces, you can arrange the rest of your plants to accent them.

Mosses usually come last because their main purpose is to cover up exposed soil for a more natural look and you don't know what's left exposed until the end. To the right?

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In general, moss is great for composing the final look.

Once you've settled on some wonderful driftwood additions, now is the time to add any epiphytic plants you may have.

Semi-aquatic ferns and miniature vines are great options for aclosed tropical terrarium(although air plants occasionally need airflow).

(Video) Closed terrarium mistakes and how to avoid them

5 | Final decorations

How you decorate your terrarium and what you use is entirely up to you.

Whether you prefer to leave the plant environment untouched or want to build an entire Jurassic Park set out of dinosaur figures (a solid choice), the choice is yours.

Common ways to add decorative layers include covering the floor with decorative rocks, shells, placing figurines between plants, or even adding waterfall elements.

*One thing to note is that you will definitely want itnot reactivedecorations. Because of this, rocks, petrified wood, and crystals are a great idea as they won't decompose or rot over time.

Open terrarium layers vs. closed terrarium layers

Being better suited to succulents and dry cacti, an open terrarium has some differences from its closed tropical counterpart.

They don't need to store moisture, so you don't need a lid or a particularly water-retaining substrate.

However, excellent drainage is required for ideal conditions.A drainage layer is a must for open terrariums., and your substrate should also have plenty of drainage elements.

Remember that there is a different approach to aquatic succulents. You will pour asucculent terrariummuch less common, and you need to give it plenty of time to dry.

A problem compounded by the fact that open terrariums are typically in full sun - rather than the standard bright indirect light for tropical terrariums - which means they dry out much more quickly.

So you have at least a lot more leeway when casting.

Now it is your turn

I hope you have a good idea of ​​how to layer a terrarium now and whatAccessories for terrariumsYou may need.

If you are new to terrariums check out oursEssential guide to tropical terrariumsfor advice and tips for every step of the process. And go ahead and get oneTerrarium-Kitif you want to take care of the supply side.

Which start-up approach do you prefer? Are you a fan of the false bottom method?

Let me know in the comments.


1. 7 secrets for terrarium success
(The Urban Nemophilist)
2. A Beginners Guide To Making A Terrarium
(Worcester Terrariums)
3. How to Make a Terrarium | A Step by Step Guide
(Get Planting - Kirsty Wilson)
4. 5 Basic Components to EVERY Terrarium
(Hermit Garden)
5. How to Make A Terrarium (Full Version) // Garden Answer
(Garden Answer)
6. How To Make And Care For A Closed Terrarium
(Worcester Terrariums)


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