Design a Self-Contained Ecosystem

Terrariums are the answer to growing indoor plants in a healthy home. Observe how a thriving ecosystems works using a glass container, soil and plants.

A terrarium can transform your living space into an observation deck for a healthy ecosystem. Here’s how to build your own.

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View 'Backyard Skills Brooklyn' set on Flickr

Materials and Tools

  • Clear glass container w/lid
  • Pebbles
  • Charcoal
  • Organic potting soil
  • Plants Buy


  1. Clean your container - clear glass works best. Note that an enclosed container will be entirely self-sufficient. A plant in an open container will need occasional watering.
  2. Place a 1-2” layer of pebbles at the bottom of the container to promote drainage.
  3. Add 1/2 C of charcoal to keep the soil fresh, filter the water and prevent fungi growth.
  4. Next, add high quality organic potting soil. You’ll want enough to cover the roots of whichever plants you will insert.
  5. Place your plants inside your container, and plant them in the soil. If you’re working with an enclosed container, add the lid now.
  6. Care for your terrarium. Water if the soil looks dry. Ventilate enclosed containers by removing the lid for a short time only if lots of moisture is visible on the inside of the glass. If plants begin to fade or compete for space, prune a bit. If a plant outgrows the terrarium, move it to a larger one. And, there you g(r)o(w)!


The transparency of glass makes it possible to bring the outdoors inside. Where to place your live-in ecosystem? All plants need some sunlight; however, terrariums thrive best out of direct sunlight and far from heat sources. Be sure to select a prime location to display your terrarium - bookcases, coffee tables and well-lit countertops are perfect stages.

Plants that like shade and humidity work best for terrariums. Most importantly, you’ll want to size your plants appropriately to the size of your terrarium. It’s always best to start with the smallest plants you can, leaving room for them to grow with time. Experimentation is good. If a plant looks like it could handle living in a miniature rainforest, most likely, it’s up for the challenge.

About the Program

Backyard Skills

A lecture and workshop series teaching hands-on techniques and positive ways to live in connection with our ecosystems.

The Backyard Skills program is generously supported The Boeing Company, SDG&E, and by the Center for Living Peace in Irvine, a non-profit dedicated to empowering people to make Good Happen and be part of the solution in their local community. For more information about CLP, visit

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