How to Plant Beautiful Bottle Gardens and Terrific Terrariums!

I love terrariums and bottle gardens!  I so enjoy designing tiny plant worlds and creating miniature gardens.  This is the ideal time to build a terrarium or bottle garden, these Lilliputian microcosms are fun to make!  Terrariums will enhance your home and provide the perfect gardening therapy through the autumn and winter months.

These are some of the ingredients you can use to create a compost that’s idea for use in terrariums or bottle gardens.

The photograph above shows some of the ingredients that I use to formulate my own compost mixes for terrariums and bottle gardens.  Starting on the back row at the left hand side and moving in a clock wise direction, this picture shows: a block of coir compost, Dalefoot Composts Wool Compost for Seeds, activated charcoal (available from aquarium shops), perlite, grit, and vermiculite.

There’s no need whatsoever to use a peat based compost for the plants inside this terrarium.  For this terrarium I created my own compost mix.  I used the compost from the coir compost block that you can see at the back, left hand side of this photograph, mixed with some perlite and some activated charcoal.  If you don’t have any coir compost to hand you can use another compost, I have used Dalefoot seed compost as a component inside some of my terrariums.

I chose to plant these ferns, Pileas, and Fittonias, inside this glass bottle garden.  I used Fittonia albivensis ‘Mosaic White’, Fittonia albivenis ‘Skeleton’, Hemionitis arifolia, Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Marisa’, Pilea involucrata ‘Norfolk’, Pilea involucrata ‘Moon Valley’, and Pilea libanensis.

If you’d like to create your own terrarium or bottle garden you will need:

  • A clear glass vessel: you could use an old fish tank, a glass jar, or an old carboy.
  • Grit or gravel: to form a drainage layer at the base of your terrarium.
  • Activated charcoal (available online and from aquarium shops) to keep the compost sweet.
  • Peat free coir compost: for planting.
  • A bucket and water: to soak your block of coir compost in, prior to planting.
  • A piece of weed suppressant fabric, or a remnant of cotton material: to keep the compost above from blending into your drainage layer below – cut your material to size to cover the base of your terrarium.
  • Terrarium plants: Choose plants that are suited to lower light levels and high humidity.  For this terrarium I have used: Fittonia albivenis ‘Mosaic White’, Fittonia albivenis ‘Skeleton’, Hemionitis arifolia, Nephrolepis exaltata ‘Marisa’, Pilea involucrata ‘Moon Valley’, Pilea involucrata ‘Norfolk’, and Pilea libanensis, but the choice is yours.  Here’s a link to the planting list for this glass terrarium, where you’ll find more information about each of these plants.  Here’s a link to a much longer list of plants suited to growing inside terrariums and bottle gardens.

Wash your terrarium or bottle garden and allow it to dry before you start planting.

Add a layer of grit or gravel mixed with activated charcoal in the bottom of your terrarium or bottle garden. You can use larger sized gravel than I have used here, this was just what I had to hand.

On top of your gravel layer, place some material to stop your compost washing into your drainage level below.

Next add your peat free compost mix. You may need to use a funnel to add these ingredients to your bottle garden.


  • Wash your clear glass vessel and allow to dry.
  • If your coir compost arrives in block form you will need to soak the block in a bucket of water for up to 45 minutes before planting. It’s wise to check the compost after 15 minutes, as you may need to add more water.
  • Water your plants to ensure that they are hydrated and ready to be planted.
  • Place a 2-3cm (1”) layer of grit and activated charcoal in the base of your terrarium.
  • Sprinkle a thin layer of activated charcoal over the top.
  • Then place your piece of weed suppressant fabric, or cotton material over the top to cover the grit and keep your compost separate from the drainage layer below.
  • Ensure that your coir compost is moist but not waterlogged, then mix some activated charcoal into your coir compost and add this compost mix to your terrarium. The compost should be about 6-7cm (2-3”) deep.
  • Now it’s time for the plants! You may wish to position your plants inside your terrarium first, so you can find an arrangement you’re happy with before you begin planting.
  • Place your planted terrarium in a bright to semi shaded position, away from harsh, direct sunlight and cold drafts. The middle of the room is often a good location.  Alternatively, place your terrarium nearer the corner of a bright room.  Or closer to a window, in a shaded room.

Try to avoid placing your plants too close to the sides of your terrarium or bottle garden. Take care to place your tallest plants under the highest point of your terrarium, which is the centre of this terrarium.

Here’s the finished terrarium!

I designed and created this terrarium for a position in a semi shaded room, away from any harsh or direct sunlight.

Ensure you very carefully wipe down the surface that you plan to place your terrarium or bottle garden on. You may wish to place your terrarium on a coaster or on a felt or rubber mat. Ensure that there are no small pieces of grit underneath your terrarium or bottle garden, as the weight of your terrarium or bottle garden on top of the grit can eventually break the glass.

I designed and created this terrarium for a position in a semi shaded room, away from any harsh or direct sunlight.

This article was first published in the October 2018 edition of Vantage Point Magazine.

To see the planting list that features information on all of the plants used inside this glass terrarium, please click here.

To see a longer planting list of miniature ferns and terrarium plants with information on each plant, and a list of suppliers, please click here.

Other articles that may interest you…………..

To see a list of mini miniature orchids to grow inside terrariums and bottle gardens, please click here.

To see a planting list of a wide variety of plants, including ferns, orchids, and other plants that are ideally suited to growing in a terrarium or bottle garden, please click here.

For tips on using cork and looking out for invasive species, please click here.

To read about using decorative features in your terrarium, please click here.

To see a glass terrarium and an automated terrarium I planted in 2015, please click here.

To read about specially designed terrarium tools, please click here.

You’ll find lots of articles showing how to set up all manner of bottle gardens, terrariums, vivariums, and orchidariums, here.

Other articles you might like:

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