A Natural Habitat Terrarium
Consider the soil ecosystem of the typical backyard garden. It is teeming with earthworms, ants, sow
bugs, grubs, springtails, and microscopic bacteria, fungi
and nematodes. If you use garden soil in your terrarium
many of these organisms will be present. This is not a bad
thing, as it will allow you to observe their behaviors.
• Drainage: A 2- to 3-inch base layer of pebbles
will keep your terrarium from becoming
• Soil: Mix garden soil with a lighter natural
material, such as sand or gravel, to prevent it from
• Plants: Collect mosses, small ferns, tiny tree
seedlings, and other small plants. The garden soil Sow bugs and pill bugs are easy to find and collect.
will undoubtedly contain seeds of plants that may
germinate on their own. You can allow them to grow, or not, depending on how they compete
in your habitat.
• Animals: You can choose to add soil animals to your terrarium if they do not appear on their
own. Pill bugs and earthworms are two low-maintenance choices. Dried leaves, twigs, and
chunks of bark will provide dark, moist crevices for soil animals, as well as the rotting plant
matter they need to survive.
• Light: Plants need light, but direct sunlight may cause a deadly heat buildup. Artificial or
indirect sunlight may be fine. You can move your terrarium to a sunnier spot in winter, when
the sunlight is limited.
A Terrarium for Larger Animals
Keeping frogs, turtles, or salamanders alive in a terrarium is a commitment, and requires a larger space
than a plants-only terrarium, such as an aquarium. Research the needs of the animal before you
introduce it. You may need to supplement the natural food sources of your terrarium (worms and other
soil animals) with fruits, snails, crickets, or purchased pellets.
The beauty of a terrarium is that it needs little maintenance. Water a closed terrarium only
occasionally, when you notice the condensation on the glass drying up. Observe your plants
and, if present, animals, and move the terrarium to a lighter or darker location if they
experience distress. Add or take away elements to maintain a good balance. At some point,
after a year or so, you may want to dismantle the terrarium, and rebuild it.
A Few Fun Additions to a Terrarium
Miniature landscape elements, such as mini-fences made from toothpicks, or “stone”
structures made of oven-baked clay.
Found natural objects: shells, stones, acorns, lichens, bones.
Small figurines, marbles, or glass balls.
Venus fly traps