How To: Make An Open Terrarium

Ever fancy creating your own terrarium? Well now you can with a little help from geo-fleur founder, Sophie Lee’s, step by step guide, straight out of her book, Living With Plants.

open terrarium how to

Unlike a closed terrarium, which is completely sealed, an open terrarium is, as the name implies, left open. Desert plants like cacti and succulents are great for this sort of terrarium as they need more oxygen and do not like to be as humid and wet as they would be inside a closed terrarium.

Because open terrariums are not self-sustaining, I recommend lightly spraying the plants once a week with a mister. Please do not be tempted to pour water into your terrarium, as this may cause the plants to rot. Succulents and cacti like bright light, so it’s best to keep your finished terrarium near a window.

At geo-fleur, we love geometric shapes and like to make terrariums in geometric glass containers. You can hunt for a vintage one or buy them in most gift stores or online. Alternatively, be creative with the vessel you use. Try making an open terrarium in an apothecary jar, large antique drinking glass or a fishbowl.


  • Cactus potting compost
  • Clear glass container or terrarium – try the Boll glass vase
  • Activated charcoal
  • Long-handled teaspoon
  • Selection of small cacti and/or succulents
  • Thin kitchen tongs
  • Aquatic gravel (available at pet shops)
  • Funnel (optional)
  • Small paint brush

Here’s how…

1. Spoon the potting compost into the bottom of the terrarium to a depth of about 5 cm (2 in).

2. Sprinkle a little bit of activated charcoal over the top of the compost.

terrarium how to

3. If you can reach inside the container, use two fingers to make a well for your cactus or succulent to sit in; if you cannot use your fingers, use a longhandled spoon instead. Make sure you do not make the well too deep – you need to leave about 2 cm (¾ in) of soil at the bottom of the well.

4. Remove a plant from its pot – make sure you use the tongs to hold the plant if it is a cactus so you do not get spikes in your fingers. Gently squeeze the plastic pot that the plant is in and it should come out easily. If it is pot-bound – when the plant’s roots fill the pot and start to grow out of the drainage holes – and will not come out, tickle the bottom of the pot to release the roots.

terrarium how to

5. Holding the plant with tongs, angle it into the terrarium and place it into the well. If you find it difficult to hold the plant just using tongs, a little tip is to use your spoon and tongs like a knife and fork. Use the spoon or tongs to compress the soil around the plant to make sure it is nice and secure – you will probably need to spoon some more compost around the plant and compress it to achieve this. Make sure that the plant is not wobbling around.

6. Repeat steps 3–5 until all the plants are inside your terrarium. Use the top of your spoon to test if all the plants are secure by doing a wobble test: gently tap the top of the plant or nudge its leaves to see if it moves. If any are not firmly in place, add more compost and compress it around the plant.

7. Use the spoon to add a 2–3 cm (¾–1 in) layer of aquatic gravel on top of the compost. Please do not be tempted to add decorative stones instead, as the aquatic gravel helps with drainage. You can use a funnel instead of a spoon if this is easier or if your terrarium is a difficult shape.

8. If you get any of the gravel or soil on your plants, use the paint brush to dust off the debris.

Enjoy that? Why not try your hand at creating a macramé plant hanger?

If that’s right up your street, you’ll love geo-fleur’s workshops. They’ll be holding a number of them at our Tottenham Court Road flagship store. Get your tickets today >

For more houseplant tips, tricks and inspiration, visit and check out geo-fleur’s Instagram

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