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SUCCULENT PLANTS have been a smoking hot home trend for the past couple of years.  When I was young we had a fat patch of Sempervivums in our front yard and I instantly fell in love with the chalky green plants when my mom told me they were called “Hens n’ Chicks.”  They were like my little green pets that lived in our front yard.  I loved watching the new chicks hatch from this seemingly indestructible plant one year after the next.  It’s one of the first plants that was recognizable to me and, needless to say, I was thrilled when succulents went mainstream with their use in trendy tabletop terrariums.

When I was welcomed by a towering display of ferns, cacti, succulents and little glass houses on a recent trip to West Elm, I realized happily that the terrarium trend is still going strong.  The good news is that you don’t have to spend big bucks for your ticket on the terrarium bandwagon at West Elm or a specialty shop, where a complete terrarium can cost upwards of $100.  In a trip to the nearest strip mall, you can find all the supplies you need to make your own trendy tabletop garden for about $30!


  • open glass vessel
  • river rock or similar material
  • activated charcoal
  • cactus soil
  • variety of succulents
  • moss or other ground cover
  • terrarium decor

I scored this pretty ombre blue jar on clearance at Target ($5.08)!  You can find similar glass vessels at a craft store, TJ Maxx, a thrift shop or in your own basement.  Just make sure that whatever jar you choose has a wide enough opening so that you can fit your hand down inside to plant your succulents.  The river rocks/pebbles are from A.C. Moore Arts & Crafts ($1.96 per bag) and the activated charcoal is from the aquarium aisle at Petco (on sale for $9.99).

The succulents I chose for my terrarium are from Lowe’s.  A single plant is $2.98 and a cluster of four smaller plants will set you back $3.98.  Be mindful of the size of your jar when purchasing your succulents.  You’ll want a little bit of space inside your terrarium for your plants to grow.  When in doubt, buy fewer succulents than you think you’ll need to fill your jar in order to avoid over-crowding the plants.  When selecting succulents make sure that each plant requires the same type of care.  The varieties I chose require bright, indirect sunlight and need to be watered thoroughly when dry.

Clockwise from top left: Sempervivum calcareum “Hens n’ Chicks”; Senecio species “Mini Blue”; “Golden” Sedum adolphii; and Crassula marginalis rubra “Calico Kitten”

STEP ONELaying the Groundwork  Start by covering the bottom of your jar with a layer of river rock.  To ensure adequate drainage for your terrarium this layer should be at least an inch thick.  Beach glass, colored glass pebbles or broken tile will also work if you want to add a pop of color.  Cover the river rock with a thin layer of activated charcoal, which helps to keep the terrarium bacteria and odor free.  STEP TWO:  Adding Plants and Soil  Remove the succulents from their plastic containers, snip off any diseased leaves and gently loosen the root ball of each plant with your fingers.  Place your succulents into the jar and move them around until you are happy with the arrangement.  Doing this before you add the soil will help give you an idea of how much soil you will need to use once the plants are in place.  After you find your desired arrangement, remove all of the plants and start to add soil.  Starting with the larger plants, place each plant back in the jar and cover each root ball entirely with soil.  Once all of the plants are in place, add more soil so that there is an even layer across the top of your terrarium.

STEP THREE:  Ground Cover  For some extra pizzaz, after all of your succulents are in place add a bit of colored moss to cover the soil.  This step is optional, but does help to give your terrarium a “finished” look.  You can find decorative moss at most crafts stores, but I found mine for $3.99 while waiting in the checkout line at HomeGoods.  Go figure.  Without further adieu, here she is:As you can see, the fluffy blanket of gray moss that I used helps to set the succulents apart from the big, brown layer of dirt residing below.  As a rule of thumb, your soil, charcoal and drainage material should take up a little less than half of your terrarium, allowing adequate growing space for your new garden!

MAINTENANCE  Always look at the care instructions when purchasing plants for your terrarium.  The succulents used here don’t require a lot of water, so if you use similar plants in your terrarium don’t be afraid to let the soil dry out completely between waterings.  You can mist your terrarium once a week with a spray bottle or you can use the trick I learned from a friend and throw in a handful of ice cubes every so often.  Both of these methods will help you to avoid overwatering your terrarium.  With respect to light, most terrariums seem to thrive in bright, filtered light rather than direct sunlight.

ADD A TOUCH OF WHIMSY    An optional, but adorable, addition to your terrarium is a unique figurine like the stone owl that resides in my terrarium.  There are a ton of shops on Etsy that sell cutesy terrarium accessories, like these ceramic mushrooms from the Jade Flower shop based in Seattle. 

I love my little tabletop garden, and I hope after reading this post you see how easy and affordable it is to create your own!


UPDATE:  Check out what I did with my left over supplies here!