6 Best Terrarium Plants for Creating Your Own Mini Greenhouse, According to Pros

updated Sep 8, 2020
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glass terrariums filled with plants
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Thanks to my plant-loving mom, I grew up in a home filled with beautiful begonia plants, spider plants, and African violets in every shade of purple. But my favorite growing thing in our house was the terrarium in a glass hexagon. It was like a mini forest, filled with baby’s breath and ferns, along with a spotted toadstool, a little pagoda, and a ceramic frog. A little dreamscape!

“Terrariums are a very European style,” says Jin Song, floral designer and owner of Flora Arte in Berkeley, California. They started out as Victorian centerpieces for displaying exotic plants in intricate glass displays, but these days, terrariums run the gamut from simple glass bowls to miniaturized versions of greenhouses.

If you’re a plant lover, you’ve surely noticed lots of terrariums filled with everything from succulents to air plants greening up your Instagram and Pinterest feeds. With so many choices in terrariums, it can be challenging to know what plants to choose—especially since some are more inclined to thrive than others. Here, three of plant pros offer up their picks for the best plants for every kind of terrarium.

Credit: Minette Hand

Air Plants (Tillandsia)

The cool thing about an air plant terrarium is that it doesn’t need any soil, says Song. “Potting mix makes all kinds of issues: bugs, leaking, rust, stains on your desk,” he says.

To make an air plant terrarium, Song says to choose an open hanging vessel, then add a little Spanish moss at the bottom. Add your air plant, such as a xerographica or flowering Stricta and maybe tuck in a few sea shells or a quartz crystal.

Air plants need bright, indirect sunlight or indoor lighting. And yes, they do need to be watered. Once per week, take your air plant out, dunk it in water, and then let it dry upside down for a few hours so all the water runs out before replacing it in its home. 

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Hen and Chicks (Sempervivum)

Like the name implies, when this succulent is happy it multiplies, so you never have to buy more. That makes it a great anchor for your succulent terrarium, says Ryan Benoit, half of the plant-loving duo behind The Horticult.

Mini succulent terrariums are ideal for beginners, since there’s very little maintenance involved.

Fill the terrarium with fast-draining, sandy soil, and keep it in bright, full sunlight. Water hen and chicks just once every three or four weeks, or only when the soil is dry to touch. 

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Mini Moth Orchids (Phalaenopsis Blume)

Tiny orchids are tailor-made for terrariums; in fact they were some of the rare beauties that helped start the terrarium craze in England.

Create an old-school display with a mini phalaenopsis orchid and miniature ferns. Root them in a combination of bark and moss, and keep them happy by misting, says Song.

If your orchid looks dry, you can also it them out and water it with distilled water until it runs through the roots. Orchids like medium to bright indirect sunlight, since direct sun can burn their leaves.

Orchids like a breeze, so it’s OK to put this one near an open window that offers indirect light.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Venus Flytrap (Dionaea Muscipula)

If you dare, why not create a carnivorous terrarium? The Venus flytrap is a dramatic addition to your plant menagerie. These plants thrive in damp environments, so build one of these in a large vessel like an oversized vase. 

“Venus Flytraps are striking and entertaining carnivorous plants to keep in a terrarium as long as it’s done right,” says Chantal Aida Gordon, the other half of the Horticult duo, and co-author (with Benoit) of the book “How to Window Box”.

This slightly scary plant with the burst of spike-rimmed traps is the stuff of movies—the man-eating plant from “Little Shop of Horrors” is based on the flytrap!

Put your Venus flytrap in a vessel that’s no more than 50 percent covered; otherwise, it will get too hot. Keep it in full sun indoors or set it outside to soak up the rays for a few hours a day. 

Venus flytraps love moisture, so you can keep yours in a pool of distilled water all the time. Note: Tap water can kill your Venus flytrap, so use only distilled for this one.

Your Venus flytrap does need to eat insects, so if you keep yours inside, you may need to feed it flies or mealworms to make sure it has sufficient protein.

Venus flytraps go dormant in the winter, so buy them February to early October from established outlets, like Predatory Plants

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Sundew (Drosera)

A carnivorous sundew would be right at home with Venus flytraps. “Sundews are small, otherworld things–with tentacles in tentacles in traffic-stopping colors,” says Gordon.

Each tentacle has a shiny, sticky dewdrop at the end that attracts and traps prey like mosquitoes. Like the other carnivorous plants on the list, it likes bright sun, constant moisture from distilled water, and airflow.

Credit: Marisa Vitale

Tradescantia (Tradescantia Albiflora)

The tradescantia family of vining plants is vast, and Song likes all of them in terrariums. But he’s especially fond of rarities, like the Tradescantia Lilac and the Tradescantia Tricolor, which can show green, pinkish and lavender stripes.

Tradescantia plants like bright indirect light. If your tradescantia doesn’t get enough light, the colors will become more muted or it will get very leggy with long stretches between leaves.

Be sure to keep your tradescantia moist, and pinch off any solid green leaves, since Song says they can take over and crowd out the variegated ones.