What You Need
Some tools are ones you probably have at home, others are available at our stores.
1. Pick Your Plants
First, think-dry or wet? Desert succulents like aloe and echeveria are good bets for first-time gardeners. So are low-maintenance maiden-hair ferns, which love more humid conditions. Stop by a west elm store for help matching the right plants to each container.
2. Make a Base
For succulents, start with sand. Pour an inch into the terrarium as a foundation. For a hint of color, add a contrasting shade of sand that picks up the accent tones in leaves. For plants (like ferns) that need more water, skip the sand and begin with an inch of river rocks for drainage, then add a thin layer of charcoal to keep the ground fresh.
3. Place Your Plants
For wet terrariums, re-pot ferns using west elm's Terrarium Soil Mix, made from natural coconut fiber (coir), which keeps in moisture and resists mold. With succulents, keep it simple and leave plants in their containers. Using a gardening glove to avoid prickly leaves, lower them into the glass, then twist pots to nestle them in the sand.
4. Add Stones
Next, use pumice stones to fill the spaces between each potted succulent for stability, using wooden tongs to adjust the pebbles and greens to the best angles.
5. Make it Pretty
In dry terrariums, spoon in enough sand to hide the stones and pots, then use a paintbrush to remove any sand caught in the leaves. For wet soil terrariums, experiment with garnishes like lichen and moss, and use a wooden fork to gently move them around for the best composition.
6. Take Care
Keep succulents in bright sunlight. Every two weeks or so, use a paintbrush to move sand aside at the plant's base and slowly add moisture using a dropper. Closed wet terrariums barely need any care at all, but for ferns in open-top vessels, keep the environment humid but not wet, in bright but indirect light. Mist with water only when the soil looks dry, and prune with garden shears to keep plants healthy.