How to Make a Beautiful Desert Terrarium?

Desert terrariums are some of the most popular and well-known terrariums today. This is a great project to do with your children, and you can get them involved in the set up by letting them add the figures, sea glass, or rocks that they collect on occasion.
A round sand terrarium.

Indoor plants play a much bigger role in the design and feel of your interior spaces. For those without a backyard where they can create an outdoor garden, indoor plants help them stay connected to nature. If you are a big fan of succulents, nothing beats the joy and delight of having your own desert terrarium.  When done right, desert terrariums can be stunning and a great addition to your indoor space.

So, how can you make a desert terrariumThe most important thing you need to keep in mind is that desert terrariums require a lot of bright light, a well-draining potting mix, and a good container to thrive.  For the container, you can use a transparent glass cylinder or cube. Don’t seal the top of the container to allow moisture to escape. The overall design of your terrarium can either be sparse or barren. A sparse design features only one succulent and a bit of tumbleweed, while a barren design goes all out and includes all sorts of succulents such as Echeveria, Sempervivum, and Sedum.

This guide highlights a step-by-step process you can follow to create your own desert terrarium in no time. Read on to learn more.

Why Should You Make a Desert Terrarium?

When planted and taken good care of, succulents, including cacti, can be a magnificent addition to your indoor spaces.

The open and transparent containers used in the process provide you with an incredible opportunity to create some beautiful layering and an eye-catching design.

A glass Hexagon desert terrarium.
an incredible and beautiful layering and an eye-catching design.

Although handling some succulents such as cacti can be pretty troublesome, your ability to maintain an open planter is greatly enhanced by the open space.

Furthermore, there are many types of succulents you can add to your desert terrarium to give it an even more exciting edge.

How to Make Desert Terrarium

Before you start the process of making your own desert terrarium, keep in mind that most succulents appreciate a relatively dry, arid environment that mimics the desert environment.

These plants don’t need frequent watering, and the containers don’t require sealing. If you strive to do everything right, you will end up with an exciting design that will transform into a fabulous feature of your home décor.

With proper maintenance, your desert terrarium will be a source of joy for many years to come. So, let us jump straight in and find out what you need to do to accomplish the mission:

Step 1: Choosing the Right Container

Typically, cacti and other succulents are known to tolerate a little bit of neglect. It is relatively easy for one to maintain these plants, and that is partly because of the fact they require smaller containers.

We suggest you use a clear glass cylinder or cube. The container should be 4 to 6 inches tall with an opening of at least 2 to 3 inches wide.

However, there is one major issue with using a glass container; it lacks a drainage hole at the bottom. Water can easily build up, soaking the soil and causing severe root rot.

You must be creative and think outside the box to address this challenge.

First, the ideal glass container for your terrarium must be of decent depth to achieve good drainage. You must also ensure it is not enclosed because cacti plants are not big fans of humidity.

The container must be completely open because even a semi-enclosed one can still cause a damp environment.

Finally, you will have to add a layer of gravel at the bottom of your container to ensure proper drainage.

Step 2: Assembling the Materials

To make a desert terrarium, you will need a wide range of materials. They include a clear open glass bowl, at least five cacti or other succulents plants of your choice, special succulent potting mix, pebbles for drainage, decorative glass pebbles, paper towels, a small stick, and decorative sand.

A person creating a terrarium.
Be careful when buying the potting mix.

Most of these materials can be obtained from your local plant store and won’t cost a lot of money. Be careful when buying the potting mix because that is the most critical thing in your entire setup.

Step 3: Drainage Is Everything

To make a stunning desert terrarium, you need to ensure you achieve the required drainage standards.  To do this, carefully place a layer of pebbles at the bottom of your glass bowl. Make sure the pebbles are approximately 3cm deep.

The primary purpose of the pebbles is to capture excess water runoff and prevent the roots of your succulents from sitting in water for too long.  If you allow the roots to stay in water for too long, it could lead to severe root rot that will eventually kill your plant.

Step 4: The Potting Mix

Make sure you are using a potting mix that is specifically formulated for cacti and other succulents. Ideally, the mix should contain a relatively high amount of sand, loam, and grit to allow for better drainage.

A group of terrarium.
Make sure you are using a potting mix that is specifically formulated for cacti and other succulents.

Now fill your glass bowl two-thirds of the way with your preferred potting mix. Water it slightly to compress it, then top up with a little more potting mix until the level is about 2cm from the top edge of the bowl.

Some of the best potting mixes to use in a desert terrarium include:

  • Commercially produced potting mix: Many manufacturers produce good quality potting mix comprising smooth grains. This is critical in preventing compaction problems, improving drainage, and retaining water more effectively.
  • Organic potting mix: This type of potting mix is made from organic sources like manure, mosses, and other natural materials. It is important to note that organic mixes retain moisture better than commercial products as they have larger particles. 
  • Clay-based potting mix: This type of potting mix is made from clay, pumice, sand, and other natural materials. It has a high water-holding capacity and is ideal for dry climates as it drains very quickly.

Step 5: Choosing Your Hardscape Materials

Open planters provide you with the perfect opportunity to show off a sleek piece of hardscape. It may be a variegated and complex maple leaf stone or a simple chunk of driftwood. One thing to remember when choosing your hardscape material is to ensure you will not harm your succulents.

For instance, wood could end up soaking up so much moisture that it will keep your plants moist above the soil, which is not good at all.

A terrarium with cactus.
Remember when choosing your hardscape material is to ensure you will not harm your succulents.

So, if you must use wood, you should consider sealing it with some sort of sealant or vanish, which can be found in any garden store or hardware.

Step 6: Get Creative

Now that you have done enough preparation and everything is in order, it is time to get creative and start creating your desert terrarium.

Carefully arrange the succulents the way you would like to display them while they are still in the pots that they came with from the plant nursery.

Everything at this stage is down to your personal preference. You can have anything from a 1-plant terrarium to a diverse arrangement of succulents.

If you want a diverse terrarium, consider adding succulents with different textures, colors, and heights. Relatively tall plants should go at the back of the terrarium, while the shorter ones should be at the front.

A group  cactus and plants on a glass bowl.
You can have anything from a 1-plant terrarium to a diverse arrangement of succulents.

Space the plants at least 5cm apart to avoid overcrowding.  You can alter the arrangement if you want to achieve a specific pattern. It is up to you to decide what you want.

Step 7: Plant Your Succulents

Carefully take out the first plant by turning the pot upside down and gently squeezing or tapping its bottom. Brush off the old potting mix and tease out the roots. Be cautious to avoid damaging the root ball.

If you are dealing with cacti plants, be sure to use a paper towel to hold the cacti when popping them out of the pot. Their tiny spines can easily lodge into your skin and cause injuries.

Make sizeable holes in the potting mix you had prepared earlier to mark where each plant will go. Carefully position each plant in its respective glass bowl and firm the soil around it. Repeat this step until you are done with all plants you have.

Once you are fully satisfied with your plant arrangement, clean the edge of your glass bowl using a paper towel to get rid of any soil residue.

Step 8: Add Sand

Now is the right time to add a thin layer of sand over your succulent soil. To accomplish this, gently angle the plants away from where you are spreading the sand.  Make sure you use a paper towel to avoid sustaining injuries.

Don’t worry if some of the sand gets lodged in your succulents because you can easily get rid of it using an old brush.

Step 9: Decorating

It is essential to add some vibe to your desert terrarium to make it look beautiful. To decorate it, consider adding small rocks, glass pebbles, or any other miniature decorations you have in mind.  The ultimate goal is to make it more stunning.

Step 10: Mist Your Terrarium

Since you had already watered your potting mix and compost, the final thing you need to do once you are fully satisfied that everything is in order is to mist the terrarium over the top using a spray bottle.

Your terrarium will be fully set up after the misting, and it is your time to start enjoying your hard work.

Care and Maintenance of Your Terrarium

All the above efforts will go to waste if you don’t give your new desert terrarium proper care and maintenance.

The most significant danger to your newly created desert ecosystem is overwatering.  Cacti and other succulents can still survive and thrive with minimal care. So, it is essential to understand the water requirements for the succulents in your terrarium and only water when necessary.

Typically, you should allow the potting mix to dry out completely before watering again. During watering, consider soaking the roots and allowing excess water to drain away.

Your primary objective should be to ensure that your succulents drink enough without sitting in the water for too long.

Preferably, you should use rainwater but if you don’t have rainwater, go for distilled water. Avoid using tap water unless you don’t have any other option.

Position your desert terrarium in a good spot that receives plenty of bright light because succulents love light. If you struggle to find a perfect location in your house, feel free to use grow lights set on a 12-hour cycle.

These plants can survive without fertilization but consider adding some special succulent fertilizer occasionally.

It is critical to inspect your terrarium regularly for any pests or diseases and take corrective action immediately. To enjoy your desert terrarium, pay close attention to its health.

Lastly, consider trimming the roots once they start growing outwards. Trimming can be done once or twice per year, depending on how fast the roots grow.

To trim the roots, gently remove the succulent from the potting mix and use a sharp pair of scissors to snip the damaged or excess roots. Replant your succulents following the correct procedure.

Final Thoughts

That is it about making a desert terrarium, and we hope you are now fully charged to give it a try. Follow the guidelines outlined above, and you will have a stunning desert terrarium in no time.

Last update on 2024-02-05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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