How Long Can a Plant Live In a Terrarium?

Terrariums are a fun, creative way to display live plants at home or in the office. They require little maintenance and can last for years. Although each living thing is different, there are some general guidelines to follow to ensure the long life of your terrarium. Here are some things you need to know about terrarium plant's lifespan.
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Let’s face it, we all want a vibrant, long-lasting terrarium. The good news is your terrarium, when done right, can live for a very long period. But, on the other hand, it can also die down after a few weeks. At first, a terrarium looks excellent, but the health of your plants can quickly deteriorate if the conditions are just not right.

For your terrarium to thrive indefinitely, it is essential to set up your terrarium correctly and select the right plants. So just how long can terrariums live, and how do we make them last? Let’s delve right into it. 

Houseplants can generally live a long time with proper care. However, there is no sure way to determine how long a plant should live. Most plants live in one growing season. However, some houseplants can live for decades or even centuries. For instance, the oldest documented houseplant is the Eastern Cape giant cycad over 240 years old! 

Interestingly, most household plants die due to external factors and not because they are mature or old. If you want to know if your terrarium can last that long you are in the right place, we will discuss how to prolong your terrarium’s lifespan and the most durable houseplants.

The lifespan of a Terrarium

Most plants do not have a fixed lifespan. Instead, plant mortality is dependent on external factors such as water, light, nutrition, and temperature. Therefore, the lifespan of a terrarium depends on the care you give it and the environment.

example of terrarium inside a container
When taking care of a terrarium, you must find the perfect container for it to thrive

A terrarium’s duration is hard to gauge because it is an ecosystem. Precipitation from the plants and soil evaporates due to the high temperatures in the sealed glass container. The vapor condenses on the walls and back to the soil and plants. Since the system is autonomous, longevity is not based on a single plant but on its ability to support itself. 

If the right conditions are met, your terrarium can last up to 10 years or more. Theoretically speaking, a well-balanced terrarium in optimal conditions can last indefinitely. However, the average terrarium lasts anywhere from four months to approximately two years. If you would like your terrarium to survive, you might want to avoid the common mistakes below.

Factors That Can Undermine the Lifespan of Your Terrarium

Keeping indoor plants alive and healthy can be pretty difficult. Terrariums are the most convenient option for adding a touch of green to your home because they require minimal care. They are also easy to set up. However, the fact that they do not need much attention should not make you miss the below five factors that can significantly reduce the lifespan of your terrarium:

Poor Container Choice

There are two types of containers: open and closed. Most plants thrive in open terrariums. You should use the kind of plant you are considering as a guide for container choice. For example, air plants require proper air exchange and are best suited for open containers. Same as succulents, which do well with optimum ventilation, low humidity, and fast-draining soils. On the flip side, plants such as ferns, mosses, and lichens thrive in closed terrariums. Select a suitable glass container that your hand can comfortably fit through and consider the plant type when singling out the best option. 

three plants with no pot
Choosing the wrong container for your terrarium can cause your terrarium to wilt

Overwatering

Most terrarium plants do not require a lot of watering. However, one of the most common reasons for dying out of terrariums is overwatering. This is because terrariums do not have drainage holes, making the plants susceptible to mold growth and plant rot. Discolored leaves and brown roots are among the signs you have to watch out for in submerged plants. Also, a rotting plant feels exceptionally soft and crumbly.

On the other hand, underwatering can also affect your plants negatively. Lack of adequate moisture will eventually cause your plants to die. To figure out if your plants are not getting enough water, look out for falling, dry or yellow leaves. 

Wrong Choice of Plants

Choose plants that do not have a growth spurt. It would be best if you went for slow-growing plants to avoid plant rot. When plants get too long/big, they touch the terrarium sides and trap water, ultimately leading to rot. Leggy plants also suffer from a lack of adequate sunlight. If you notice that your plants are getting too big, trim them a little and place your terrarium in bright but indirect light for all parts to get sufficient sunlight. You can also prune the roots to keep the plants small.

different types of indoor plants
Know your plants well especially how they grow so that it is much easier to maintain

Overfertilization

Healthy plants require a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen and high in potassium. Most terrarium plants don’t need fertilizers. However, you can add fertilizers once every two months. Too much fertilizing of plants leads to faster growth, and this can cause the plants to outgrow your terrarium. Additionally, you can also use direct plant sprays to aid in plant growth. Signs of over-fertilization include slow or minimal growth, yellowing of leaves, and blackened roots.

Lack of Adequate Light

Terrarium plants require bright but indirect light. Different plants require different amounts of light. For instance, succulents need lots of bright light, but mosses can survive on minimal amounts of light. Light-deprived plants usually have discolored leaves and experience wilting. While adequate lighting is ideal, extreme light/heat is destructive. You should avoid direct unfiltered light as it can cause your terrarium plants to start dying.

Durable Houseplants for Your Terrarium

The lifespan of a houseplant is not dependent on the species. Below are examples of plants known for their long lifespan:

Cacti 

The cactus is one of the most recognizable succulent plants. They only require water once every couple of weeks and tons of sunshine. The lifespan increases when grown outdoors. The average life of a Christmas cactus is between 20 and 30 years.

Table Palms

Table Palms are a part of the Arecaceae family, known for living for 80-100+ years. If you desire that tropical feel in your home, this would be your best bet. This evergreen plant does not require much sunshine.

Spider Plant

The spider plant is a hanging plant that can survive for decades. They thrive best in indirect light but can be prone to rot. To increase longevity, avoid overwatering the plant.

Succulents

One of the most trouble-free to care for houseplants. Fleshy and can go weeks on end without water. The lifespan varies but can be anywhere between six years to a couple of decades.

three succulents perfect for indoors
Types of succulent for your terrarium

Cycads

Cycads can be grown outdoors or indoors. As earlier mentioned in this article, one of the oldest recorded indoor plants is the cycad which can thrive for centuries. Relatively easy to take care of as watering is only required twice a week.

ZZ Plant

The Zanzibar Gem is indestructible. While this may seem an exaggeration, indoor plants can go for long periods without water. In addition, the ZZ plant is low maintenance and can handle low lighting.

Bird of Paradise

The Bird of Paradise is not mainly known for its looks. Originating from South Africa, the best part about this plant is the mesmerizing flowers which can take up to 20 years to grow.

How to Make Your Terrarium Last

You’ve picked out the recommended long-lasting plants and avoided all the factors that could lead to drying out of your plants. But how do you make your terrarium last? The following secrets could be critical to a long-lasting terrarium.

  • Regulate Water Levels: Most people struggle figuring out the right amount of water for their terrariums. The amount of water required depends on the type of plant as well as a terrarium. To tell if your plants are getting optimum water is to feel the substrate; ideally, it should feel moist but not dry or soggy. Another good sign is the sighting of slight condensation, particularly in the mornings and evenings in your container.
aloe vera plant being watered
Make sure to do some research before watering you plant.
  • Get Rid of Dead Plant Parts: Dead plants don’t you are doing everything wrong. Permanently remove any plants that show signs of browning. This makes your terrarium to look vibrant. When you do away with the dead plants, the risk of diseases or rot to the healthy plants is minimized. Just grab a pair of tweezers, and take out the dead plants.
  • Clean the Container: Cycles of evaporation and condensation over time lead to the deposit of trace minerals on the walls of your container. The deposit ultimately leads to a cloudy appearance on your container. Plants require sunlight for photosynthesis, and the hazy appearance will hinder optimum light from reaching your plants. To clean off the deposit, grab a towel, preferably a microfibre towel, and wipe swiftly on the inside.

The Bottom Line

Good terrarium maintenance coupled with in-depth research on the best plants and factors to consider can prolong the life of your terrarium. If everything else fails, try again, and you will see just how far your terrarium could go.

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