Closed terrariums can be just the thing to take your home décor from drab to fab. You don’t have to be a plant expert to create your very own closed terrarium; you just need to choose plants that will thrive in warm and humid conditions, remain small enough and can tolerate low light.
Once planted, closed terrariums will be an easy-care mini indoor garden that requires little maintenance because it retains its own moisture.
What Type of Plants Are Suited to a Closed Terrarium? In general, you should go for plants that are small Miniature Plants– unless of course, you have a reasonably large container you plan on turning into a closed terrarium. For the purposes of this article, we will stick to relatively petite plants. Apart from the size of the plant, you should consider each plant’s watering and lighting needs and select ones with similar requirements.
In this article, you will read about the 15 best plants for closed terrariums, as well as some information on each individual plant and why they are ideally suited for enclosed terrariums.
What are the best closed terrarium plants? Here are 15 plants to consider when planting your closed terrarium.
1. Friendship Plant (Pilea involucrata)
With textured, green leaves, bronze veins and dark red undersides, the Friendship Plant is a good beginner plant for those new to closed terrariums. It is an easy-care, fast-growing trailing plant that will give your terrarium an extra lush feel.
If you’re looking for a more upright species, Moon Valley will add height, but if it is getting too leggy for your liking, just pinch off the growing tips, and it will keep your Friendship plant more compact.
The plant gets its name due to the fast rooting of cuttings to share with friends and family. Given the right circumstances, this cute little Pilea might even gift you with pale pink flowers.
Most cultivars are trailing plants but can be pinched back for a more compact plant. Save those cuttings and stay true to this plant by sharing with friends and family!
- Light: 6-8 hours bright light (not direct sunlight)
- Water: Evenly moist soil
- Size: 6-12 inches high
2. Watermelon Peperomia (Peperomia argyreia)
A low-growing plant with round, fleshy leaves that look like watermelon skin. Since it is a tropical plant that thrives in humid conditions, it is well-suited to terrarium conditions.
The warmth of a closed terrarium is also ideal for Watermelon Peperomias as they don’t do well in cold temperatures.
There are more than 1000 species in the Peperomia genus, all with thick, fleshy leaves that make these plants drought tolerant.
Plants that are part of the Peperomia family may look so different from each other that you’re not sure they are even related. But one thing these beauties have in common is their slow-growing nature.
Other Peperomias you can consider placing in your terrarium include Peperomia caperata and Peperomia obtusifolia; but why stop there, the Peperomia family consists of mostly compact plants with thick and fleshy leaves of various colors that will be a great addition to your terrarium.
- Light: Low to bright indirect light
- Water: Moderately little water. Take care not to overwater
- Size: 12 inches tall (Mini Watermelon Peperomia will only grow up to 6 inches)
3. Nerve Plant (Fittonia albivensis)
If you’re a sucker for foliage, Nerve Plants will soon be on the top of your closed terrarium plant wish list.
Deep green leaves with white, pink or red veins, make this plant an eye-catching addition to any closed terrarium. Fittonias do bloom but feel free to pinch off any flower spikes as they don’t come close to the beauty of the leaves.
Native to the tropical rainforests in Peru and Colombia, these plants grow low to the ground in partial to full shade in warm and humid areas.
You may also find Nerve Plants being sold as Mosaic Plants or Painted Net Leaf.
- Light: Bright light but will tolerate shade
- Water: Likes to dry out inbetween watering
- Size: 3-6 inches wide by 12-18 inches tall
4. Baby Tears (Soleirolia Soleirolii)
This delicate plant has tiny round leaves and thin, fragile stems. For its small size, this plant needs a lot of attention – when not planted in a terrarium.
The high humidity, warmth and the fact that the plant is shielded from outside forces when in a closed terrarium, will lead to a lush green carpet of tiny leaves.
Baby Tears are also called Angel’s Tears, Friendship Plant (not to be confused with Pileainvolucrate), Corsican Creeper, Helxine, Mother of Thousands, and Paddy’s Wig.
These plants will bring tenderness to any closed terrarium, but keep in mind that it is a fast-grower!
- Light: Bright light
- Water: Soil should stay consistently moist
- Size: 2 inches high and 18 inches wide
5. Golden Clubmoss (Selaginella kraussiana)
Golden Clubmoss will add a beautiful texture to your closed terrarium. This plant will quickly form a dense mat of green, with little extra effort from your side.
Unless you’re living in the tropics, Golden Clubmoss won’t thrive outside of a closed terrarium.
Also referred to as Spike Moss, Golden Moss, and African Club Moss, this plant is actually a close cousin of the fern family rather than a true moss.
- Light: Indirect light, no direct sunlight ever
- Water: Prefers moist but well-drained soil
- Size: 8 inches tall
6. African Violet (Saintpaulia)
African violets can be fussy; their leaves are prone to rot when kept in high humidity, which might make you wonder why they are listed here.
But these small houseplants with their fuzzy leaves and clusters of flowers actually do well in closed terrariums due to the moist soil, heat, and yes, even the humidity.
Just be sure to plant them in the centre or in an area where they won’t touch the glass to avoid water running down and settling on the leaves.
Also, when watering, avoid using highly chlorinated water and be sure not to get any water on the leaves.
If you don’t have access to rain water or distilled water, let the tap water stand overnight to allow the chlorine gas to evaporate.
If you want your African Violet to flower, you have to make sure to provide it with at least eight hours of darkness, each day.
- Light: Bright indirect
- Water: Keep soil moist but well-draining
- Size: 5 inches tall, spreading to around 10 inches across
7. Strawberry Begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera)
Not a strawberry plant or a begonia – but appropriately named still due to its rounded leaves and strawberry plant “runners”. This plant is loved for its beautiful foliage and burgundy-red undersides.
Leaving the leaf runners to come into contact with the soil will quickly turn your Strawberry Begonia into a ground cover.
Alternatively, if that is not the look you are going for, pinch back the growth to ensure a bushier plant.
For a smaller variety, look out for the ‘tricolor’ which has a creamy halo around the leaf margins. Although somewhat more difficult to grow, they are perfect for smaller closed terrariums.
- Light: Bright light; some direct morning sun
- Water: Allow top inch to dry between watering
- Size: Up to 8 inches tall; runners trail to 12 inches or more
7. Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes Phyllostachya)
This plant stands out the Polka Dot Plant is a lively and beautiful little plant with brightly spotted leaves that stand out particularly well against the green of other plants.
They’re not difficult to grow, but their one drawback is the fact that it has a short lifespan. After flowering, the Polka Dot Plant will either become dormant or die completely.
And if you’re thinking you’ll be able to propagate – that is not an easy or speedy undertaking. It is best to buy a new plant every spring. The Confetti Polka Dot Plant is a small variety that may be better suited to enclosed terrariums.
- Light: Bright, indirect light
- Water: Require regular waterings
- Size: 4 inches to 20 inches tall
Since ferns flourish in high humidity, most species will do fine in closed terrariums. The best ferns for closed terrariums are slow-growing ferns that are no taller than 12 inches at maturity.
But even if you select a larger version, through pruning or pinching off new growth, you can manage its size. Here are the two most common smaller species to consider.
Lemon Button Fern (Nephrolepis Cordifolia)
This fern grows to only 12 inches tall and thrives in moist, well-drained soil. They grow in shady woodland areas, making a closed terrarium the ideal habitat for them since it will supply the required humidity and warmth.
Lemon Button Ferns do prefer acid soil, so keep that in mind when selecting plants to pair with it in your closed terrarium.
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum aethiopicum)
Known for their delicate, lacy foliage that only reaches 12 inches in height, they can be quite picky, especially when it comes to humidity.
High humidity is key, as well as warmth, as these plants will go dormant if the temperature drops too low or the plant dries out.
Another species of Adiantum that will flourish in closed terrariums is the Delta Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum raddianum).
- Light: Full shade to filtered light
- Water: Regularly; don’t let ferns dry out
- Size: Depends on type of fern
These bryophytes – meaning they don’t have regular roots, flowers or seeds – get their nutrients and moisture from the air around them.
This will be a care-free addition to your closed terrarium as these velvety cushions will get all they need from the air around them.
Often used as ground cover in closed lid terrariums because they don’t take up much space – especially below ground as they don’t have a root system – leaving more space for your other plants to take up. These slow-growers prefer full shade, so larger plants blocking their light won’t cause any problems.
Mosses that are among the best for sealed terrariums include Live Sphagnum Moss, Sheet Moss, Cushion Moss, Spoon Moss, and Hair Cap Moss. With such a large variety, you can even create a closed terrarium featuring just the different types of mosses.
- Light: Full shade to bright light (can even tolerate some direct sunlight
- Water: Absorbs water in the air
- Size: 0.1-3.9 inches tall, although some species can grow up to 20 inches in height
10. Mini English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
These hardy plants can handle a variety of conditions. You can choose between lots of types, including variegated white, gold or yellow. Ivy will climb, so you need to keep an eye on its size before it lifts the lid of the terrarium or crowd the other plants.
With lobbed, heart-shaped leaves creeping over the ground or up the enclosure, it is the perfect plant to act as an accent to other shapes and sizes in the closed terrarium ecosystem.
- Light: Bright filtered to low light
- Water: Let soil dry out in between watering
- Size: Can climb up to heights of 50 feet or more; should be pruned back in closed terrariums
11. Mini Pixie (Syngonium podophyllum)
syngonium mini pixie is such a dainty little plant with its mini arrow-shaped leaves and interesting pattern.
The shape of the leaves changes as the plant ages, and tendrils and aerial roots will develop with time. The high humidity and warmth offered by closed terrariums are just what this beauty needs to be healthy.
Also known as Butterfly Plant, Arrowhead Plant, Arrowhead Vine, or Arrowhead Philodendron, Syngoniums (big and small) are available in a range of colors.
What makes this plant stands out is the change of shape as the plant matures; new leaves look like small hearts and will slowly transform into a more arrowhead shape.
- Lights: Bright to moderate light (the less light, the darker the leaves)
- Water: Do not allow soil to dry out; water with small amounts regularly
- Size: 3 inches tall
12. Prayer Plant (Maranta Leuconeura)
There Marantaceae family is a large one, but there is no doubt that these plants are some of the best for closed terrariums due to their high humidity requirements. The 'Maranta Leuconeura' grows low to the ground, making it a great addition to any closed terrarium ecosystem.
But that is not all reason why you should consider this plant, Marantas have strikingly beautiful marks on their leaves which become more vivid as the plant ages.
Prayer plants close their leaves at night, something you will need to keep in mind when selecting your container.
But all in all, prayer plant is one of the best plants for closed terrariums as they thrive in greenhouse-like conditions: warm, moist and gentle air circulation.
- Light: Medium, indirect light
- Water: Regularly
- Size: 12-15 inches tall
Read Next: How To Propagate Prayer Plant Successfully
13. Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Epipremnum aureum, commonly known as Golden Pothos is vine plant which will tolerate almost anything you can throw at it.
Loved for its nearly indestructible nature, the biggest worry you will have when placing Golden Pothos in a closed terrarium is managing its growth.
It can become quite unruly quickly and will need regular pruning to keep it in check. You will also see Golden Pothos go by the name Devil’s Ivy, Ivy Arum and Solomon Island Ivy.
- Light: Bright, indirect light
- Water: Do not overwater; likes to dry out somewhat
- Size: 39 inches tall and 18 inches across
14. Rex Begonia
With more than 1,300 species, the genus Begonia offers a wide selection of closed terrarium plants. These plants are show-stoppers with a variety of leaf shapes, colors and sizes.
Favoring shade and humid conditions, the Rex Begonias belong on the list of best plants for closed terrariums. Just a word of caution, as with African Violets, water of leaves will lead to rot and ultimately, the death of your plant.
When watering the closed terrarium, make sure to avoid splashing the leaves of your Begonia.
- Light: Bright, indirect light
- Water: Keep soil moist
- Size: 8 inches tall and up to 2 feet wide
15. Carnivorous plants – Venus flytraps, Pitcher plants, Sundew plants
Fascinating to grow but very difficult to do so successfully – unless you make these plants part of your closed terrarium.
Carnivorous plants from North America should be selected as they’re indigenous to peat bogs and will be able to not only tolerate but flourish in high humid condition in a closed terrarium.
One thing to keep in mind is that carnivorous plants require acid soil with low mineral content, so be sure to pair them with plants with the same needs.
Some other acid-loving plants include Begonias, Caladium, Button Ferns, and Spider Plants.
- Light: 12 hours light with 4 of those being direct sunlight
- Water: Water only with distilled water, rain water or reverse osmosis water; allow soil to almost dry out before watering again
- Size: Depends on type of carnivorous plant.
Those are only some of the plants that will thrive in a closed terrarium. Basically, anything can grow in a closed terrarium, you just need to apply your imagination and group plants with similar needs together.
But, ‘basically anything’ excludes succulents. And here is why.
Can Succulents Grow in a Closed Terrarium?
Succulents need a dry environment with maximum airflow to live their best life. This is clearly the opposite of the atmosphere in a closed terrarium, and that is why succulents placed in a container with limited airflow and high humidity will eventually rot and die. Although some adventurous plant lovers have come up with ways to place succulents in closed terrariums, results vary.
If you are adamant about putting succulents in closed terrariums, try the following:
- Select a container with some air holes that will avoid the closed terrarium from getting too humid.
- Use drainage stones and succulent specific soil that will dry out faster.
- Water only when completely dry and only a little at a time.
- Remove the lid of the terrarium daily to let the soil air out.
- Don’t place the closed terrarium in full sun as it will lead to too much moisture in the air due to the condensation process. There is also the possibility of the sun scorching the succulents’ leaves.
The above turns a low-maintenance closed terrarium into something that takes way too much work, and the result can be anything from a successful mini succulent display to a rotten mess.
It may be best to opt for an open terrarium if you’re dreaming of a succulent garden indoors – it’s nice and airy, and your plants will thank you for it.
So, you selected all the best plants for a closed terrarium, what is next?
Closed Terrarium Layers
- ½ to 1-inch layer of pebbles at the base for drainage
- ½ to 1-inch layer of activated charcoal to purify the air in the closed terrarium
- 1 to 2-inch layer of potting soil
After layering the pebbles, charcoal and potting soil, arrange plants in the terrarium, keeping growth in mind – you want each plant to have space to breathe.
Once you’re happy with the composition of your closed terrarium, hollow out a space for each plant; only in the potting soil layer.
Now you can firmly pat the soil surrounding the plants’ roots, water and enjoy your mini indoor garden.
How often and how much do you water a terrarium?
The water needs of plants in a closed terrarium are significantly different than what regular houseplants require. Since the plants and the soil release water vapor that gathers on the walls of the container, water is essentially being recycled. Instead of trying to stick to a watering schedule, a good rule of thumb is to water when the soil appears dry and even then, you only want to add a tablespoon or two of water.
Closed Terrarium Care
Closed terrariums require minimal care since an eco-system is created in the enclosure, making it self-nourishing.
Even though closed terrariums require low maintenance, there are some closed terrarium care suggestions to make sure the plants inside stay healthy.
- Trim the leaves of plants to stop them from overgrowing.
- It’s not only that above ground that you need to worry about. Keep an eye out for root systems of particular plants that are starting to crowd other plants. You may need to remove that specific plant or upgrade to a bigger container.
- Remove any yellow and brown leaves. This can be a sign of root rot, other diseases or even pest.
- Open the lid of the closed terrarium every now and again to let in some fresh air but when closing, make check for fungus gnats or other pests that might have slipped in.
What happens if my terrarium gets bugs?
As they say, prevention is better than cure, but even if you’ve done everything in your power to try to deter pests, they can still seemingly appear from nowhere.
If you see one of the plants in your closed terrarium infected, you can apply some insecticidal soap you can get from your local nursery.
Or, if you prefer going the natural route, a diluted mixture of dish washing liquid and water may get rid of any uninvited visitors dining on your plant leaves.
However, if this fails, you will, unfortunately,have to remove the entire plant from the closed terrarium. Keeping a sick plant in a closed terrarium can be detrimental to the health of the other plants.
Luckily, some of the best plants for terrariums are relatively inexpensive and can be replaced.
Three top tips to prevent pests:
- 1. Use pebbles or rocks to discourage gnats.
- 2. Do not over-water.
- 3. Check for bugs before you purchase plants meant for your closed terrarium.
Most Common Closed Terrarium Mistakes
It’s easy to burn the leaves and the stems of the plants by placing in too bright light. Remember, the glass of your closed terrarium turns into a magnifying glass, and this can scorch leaves if in direct sunlight or turn the terrarium into a sauna. Keep your closed terrarium out of the sun.
Providing too Little Light
Most plants need some light to survive. Place your closed terrarium near a window where it will receive indirect light or make use of fluorescent lights or grow lights.
Placing Terrarium Close to Heating Sources
One sure way to kill all the plants in your closed terrarium is to put it close to a radiator. Cars get extremely hot inside when sitting in the sun – same applies to terrariums near or on radiators.
Not Pruning your Plants
You have to cut back the plants in your closed terrarium. This does not just mean the leaves but also the roots. Remember, you want your plants to stay small, so give it a good trim on both sides, and this will ensure your closed terrarium does not get crowded.
Leaving Dead or Dying Leaves
Not removing dead or dying leaves can lead to mildew forming under and around. This is not good for the healthy plants and can soon lead to disease that will mean the end of your entire closed terrarium.
When removing dead leaves or plants, use small terrarium tools with care, making sure not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants.
You have to clean the glass of your closed terrarium both on the inside and outside. For the right amount of light to reach your plant, the glass should not be dirty or foggy.
However, do not use any harsh chemicals on the inside as this can threaten the health of your plants.
Too Much Water
The roots of even the best closed terrarium plants do not like to sit in water. That is why it is vital you do not overwater as this can lead to root rot and ultimately the death of your plants.
If you have a heavy hand when it comes to watering, use a spray bottle instead. Should you over water by mistake, leave the top of your terrarium open until the excess water has evaporated.
You want your plants to stay small, feeding them will have the opposite effect, and this will lead to plants outgrowing your closed terrarium quickly. As mentioned before, closed terrariums are self-nourishing.
Choosing Plants that are not Best for Closed Terrariums
Yes, almost anything can be grown in a terrarium. But ultimately, you want to select plants that will thrive in this type of eco-system. For example, in the case of closed terrariums, you have to choose plants that like moist soil and prefer high humidity. As mentioned earlier, placing succulents in closed terrariums will lead to rot since these plants thrive in dry conditions.
Choosing the best plants for closed terrariums is of utmost importance if you want your plants to be happy and healthy. Closed terrariums are perfect to help grow plants that are usually perceived as difficult to grow if you live in a dry environment.
The high humidity and warmth created by this closed system will make moisture-loving plants thrive. Stay away from selecting succulents or semi-succulents as they will eventually rot due to the high humidity.
Mosses are regularly used in terrariums because they grow well in high humidity, don’t need a lot of light and don’t have roots, which is a win for the other plants you plan on using.
Other plants you will see a lot of in closed terrariums are ferns, as they love the moisture and heat in closed terrariums.
When selecting the best plants for closed terrariums, keep in mind the size of the plant compared to the size of the container you plan on using.
It is best to go for slow-growing, ground-covering and small plants because you do not want to overcrowd your closed terrarium.
Some containers that work well as terrariums include candy jars, fish tanks, goldfish bowls, glass containers, even wine bottles can work if you have the patience to gently insert your plants into the narrow opening.
So, with some necessary know-how, a list of the best plants for a closed terrarium, you too can now create a mini-garden and bring the outdoors, indoors.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she attended University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture. She has supplemented her formal education by working on various organic farms, including spending a semester abroad in India.
Growing and/or raising just about anything gets her excited. She is especially passionate about environmental justice and low-tech, sustainable ways to better run small-scale farms and homesteads. Lindsey started Urban Organic Yield to discuss gardening tips and tactics.
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