Small World Gardening: How to Make a Terrarium with Thrift Store Finds

Dear readers,
We are super excited to present a fun DIY project today from Victoria of Second Wind Cabin in Maine. She shares four basic steps so you can make your own home terrarium out of thrift store finds! Terrariums add life and color to any room in the house and are the perfect house warming gift. Learn about Victoria’s thrifting adventures at Second Wind Cabin, including her Maine Tour de Thrift 2012!

Lately it seems terrariums are making a come back and are surprisingly easy and affordable to make.  Terrariums are portable little gardens – small natural worlds – for renters or people who like plants but don’t really want to garden.  You can find information on getting started on the web, in books and magazines. Or for a quick-start guide, follow these easy step-by-step instructions.

Supplies can be found at a garden center or in the garden section of many discount stores. Start with the container. Goodwill provides endless options for terrarium containers. The glass and house-ware department is very affordable.

Once you start, you may get hooked and every container becomes a possible terrarium!

Supply List:

  •  Container
  •  Base layer – some type of drainage provided by pebbles, shells, sand, etc.
  • Charcoal – Horticultural type, activated
  •  Soil – potting soil or sand depending on the type of plants
  •  Plants
  •  Decorative item(s)

Once you decide on the size and type of your terrarium you are making, you can select the plants. Forest type terrariums often use ferns, moss, lichen, ivy and African violets, but feel free to try what you like. Plants can be changed, don’t feel like you did something wrong if the moss fades or a plant reaches its last days. The beauty of a terrarium is that it’s your little garden experiment. So enjoy it and play around – it will be fun see the results.

Now the fun begins! Start out by adding the base layer of pebbles or whatever you’ve decided to use. The example here uses pebbles from the hardware store and shells. Add a thin layer of charcoal to help the terrarium stay fresh and fight mildew.

Next, add the layer of soil. The depth of the soil will depend on the type and size of plants you are using.

For easy planting, keep the plants in their pots and insert into the soil. You can hide the edge of the pot with moss.  Next add some moss, lichen or ground cover type plants. Moss and small plants can be gathered from the woods or your yard but be sure to only take what you need. Every state is different, so be sure to check out the rules for gathering and the endangered plant list where you live. If you’re worried about bringing any critters into your home buy moss and plants from a local garden center.

Add a focal point or fun accent piece. These small items can also be found in thrift stores. Look in the kids’ toy department for small dinosaurs, tiny dolls or even games pieces. The jewelry display offers more options. You can even change these items out using seasonal decorations for the holidays (easter bunnies, christmas ornaments, etc.)

Have fun and enjoy!

Tips for terrarium care:

Closed container terrariums should never be in direct sunlight and need very little water. If you see a lot of condensation on the inside walls open the lid slightly for a few hours to allow air flow.  If the plants start to look dry and the moss is yellowing open the lid and mist with a spray bottle.

Open container terrariums may need a bit more water. A small amount of water and mist from a spray bottle every other week or so should be enough. Plants may need to be trimmed or even exchanged if they out grow the container.

Several good resources are listed at Victoria’s blog, Second Wind Cabin.


Victoria Land is the vintage collector behind the up and coming blog, Second Wind Cabin-Vintage Goods.

As recent transplants to Maine, Victoria and her husband have decided to learn about their new home state by visiting thrift stores and flea markets and documenting their finds.

This fun project is called Tour de Thrift – Maine 2012. Stop by her blog and see where the tour has taken them this week.