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Let’s Build a Terrarium!

Chava Dumas

Unlike an aquarium, from the world “aqua,” which means water, a terrarium, from the world “terra,” which means earth, holds earth. Making and keeping your own terrarium gives you an amazing opportunity to be the landscape architect — the designer responsible for creating a miniature world of natural wonders.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

You don’t need much to get started if you have an old, leaky aquarium lying around getting dusty, or an unoccupied, spare fish tank. But you can also make one from scratch — here’s how.

You will need:

  • 4 rectangular pieces of window glass (available at picture framing stores — you can order the size you need) or thick clear plastic; 8” X 10”
  • 2 smaller pieces of glass or clear plastic, 8 inch x 8 inch and 8 inch x 6 inch
  • mosquito screen
  • roll of plastic electrical tape (about 240 inches)
  • small rocks, pebbles, and sand
  • a few pieces of barbecue charcoal
  • a small bag of potting soil
  • plastic bowl    
  • interesting rocks, shells, leaves, twigs, and small branches
  • seeds and “pets”


Getting started

  1. Lay out 4 pieces of glass in a row, an 8 inch x 10 inch, then a 10 inch x 10 inch, followed by an 8 inch x 10 inch, then another 10 inch x 10 inch. Leave a small space, as wide as the thickness of the glass, between each piece.
  2. Tape the pieces together with the electrical tape, while they’re lying flat.
  3. Stand the taped-together pieces up on their edges, and shape into a rectangle with the tape on the outside.
  4. Take the fifth piece of glass, that will be used for the bottom, and lay it on top, taping all the edges all the way around.
  5. Now turn it over and make it stronger by taping the seam joints inside as well as taping the top edges all around
  6. Use the smallest piece of glass for the cover. Tape around all the edges of the piece of glass that will be used as the cover. There should be two inches of open space. Tape a 4 inch x 10 inch piece of mosquito screening to this cover, for air circulation.
  7. Make a tape hinge for the cover and fasten to one edge of glass.


Interior decorations

  1. Arrange a layer of small pebbles, rocks, and sand on the bottom. This is for drainage.
  2. Break up a few lumps of charcoal into small pieces for the next layer.
  3. For the third layer, place potting soil from the nursery, or earth from a garden (can be mixed together).



You can plan your landscaping ideas ahead by sketching on a piece of paper where you want each plant, where the plastic bowl “pond” will be, and where you will build hills and tunnels and twig shelters for the pets that will live in this miniature forest.


What should you put inside?

Plant a few seeds and small plants: ferns, Venus flytraps, moss, violets, your favorite flowers. Usual terrarium pets are: frogs, toads, crickets, turtles, salamanders, earthworms, beetles, snails, chameleons, caterpillars, and ladybugs. Depending on the creatures you choose, food can be small pieces of fruit, vegetable peels, or fish food from the pet store. Do some research!

These wildlife pets will need drinking water. Dig out a bit of dirt, making enough room to place the small plastic bowl. Fill with clean water and you have made a pond! These little critters will need hiding places that you can make from twisted pieces of wood, small branches, leafy twigs, interesting shells, and large rocks. Be creative and include things that you think your pets will like!



  • The cover of the terrarium will keep the moisture inside, but too much moisture will make mold grow. Uncover the terrarium for a short time each day.
  • Keep your terrarium clean! Remove old peels and uneaten food, and change the water in the pond.
  • Add new plants, leaves, and branches for a change of scenery!

As a conscientious Junior Gardener, it’s a great idea for you to keep a journal recording your findings. In your journal, mark a heading Terrarium and record:

What kind of seeds did you plant?

How long did it take for them to grow?

Write down the names of the animals, their size, shape, color, and what they like to eat.


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