Seriously, These Terrarium Plants Actually Thrive When Neglected

GETTY IMAGES/PROSTOCK-STUDIO

GETTY IMAGES/PROSTOCK-STUDIO

Whether it's the height of the summer growing season, the beginning of spring, or even the coldest day of winter, growing plants in terrariums can bring greenery to your space year-round. If you're looking for plants that thrive in these attractive, low-maintenance containers, species like succulents, cacti, and even ferns can be great candidates.

Inspired to fill our spaces with greenery, we asked the expert Greg Salmeri, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Rolling Greens Nursery, about terrariums. With tips on how to select the right plants, the best ways to care for them, and types of sun exposure, our terrariums can flourish with healthy plants in their own ecosystems.

Meet the Expert

Greg Salmeri is the co-founder at Rolling Greens Nursery, providing "a wide range of home and garden products and services" to both professional and retail plant lovers.

Read on to learn about Salmeri's favorite moisture-loving plants that thrive in enclosed spaces.

01 of 10

Ferns

GETTY IMAGES/QNULA

GETTY IMAGES/QNULA

  • Botanical Name: Polypodiaceae
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining potting soil
  • Soil pH: 4.5 to 8.5 (species varies)

Part of the Polypodiaceae family, many species of ferns are easy to grow in terrariums thanks to their moisture-loving nature. "A few ferns that do well in this environment include Australian sword, asparagus fern, Boston fern, and maidenhair," Salmeri says. "These plants love moisture but need to be in an area with low, indirect light—no bright light. [They] provide a lot of greenery for that forest-like atmosphere."

Enclosed terrariums can be intimidating for beginner gardeners, but Salmeri notes that they're actually quite easy to care for. When it comes to watering, he says ferns can be misted once per week. "Since there's no drainage in an enclosed terrarium, you will need to be careful not to overwater."

02 of 10

Hen And Chicks

Getty Images/Warunporn Thangthongtip

Getty Images/Warunporn Thangthongtip

  • Botanical Name: Echeveria elegans
  • Sun Exposure: Direct sunlight
  • Soil Type: Well-draining cacti or succulent soil
  • Soil pH: 6.6 to 7.5

Like other succulents, hen and chicks thrives in the humid conditions of a terrarium. This plant gets its name for its regular growth of offsets, which also make for easy propagation by separating them from the mother and planting them in a new container.

To water succulents in a terrarium, Salmeri recommends being mindful of the added moisture and adjusting your watering schedule to suit your plants best. "Your open terrarium most likely will not have drainage holes, so you will need to be careful to not overwater your succulents," he says. "They only need to be watered once every two weeks during the summer, and once every 10 days during the winter."

03 of 10

String of Pearls

GETTY IMAGES/DIMA BERLIN

GETTY IMAGES/DIMA BERLIN

  • Botanical Name: Senecio rowleyanus
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining cacti or succulent soil
  • Soil pH: 6.6 to 7.5

Popular for its long, trailing appearance, string of pearls is a type of succulent that adds a unique look among other plants when grown in terrariums. "Succulents always do well in open terrariums, but they will need bright light indoors and in some shade outdoors," Salmeri says. Be sure to display your terrarium near an east- or north-facing window to give your string of pearls plenty of nutrients from the sun without too much direct light.

"If you like any succulents that trail out of the container, string of pearls and donkey tail work really well as trailing plants." To opt for more color in your succulents, the expert recommends choosing a variety of echeveria to for more color and a floral-like shape.

04 of 10

Peperomia

GETTY IMAGES/JENLINFIELDPHOTOGRAPHY

GETTY IMAGES/JENLINFIELDPHOTOGRAPHY

  • Botanical Name: Peperomia
  • Sun Exposure: Medium to bright light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining potting soil
  • Soil pH: 5.0 to 6.0

Peperomia, also known as radiatior plant, is known for its easy-growing and hardy properties. Since peperomia is native to tropical jungle environments, it's a great candidate for enclosed containers. Peperomia typically grows between six and 12 inches tall at maturity, so be mindful when choosing the size of terrarium you'll plant it in.

"As with all plants and containers, you want to think about how big the container is, where it's going (indoors/outdoors), and how much light the containers and plants are getting," Salmeri says. "Specifically for a terrarium, you also want to figure out if you want a container that is fully enclosed, or if there is any type of opening on the top or side."

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05 of 10

Cacti

Getty Images/nakorn tannonngiw

Getty Images/nakorn tannonngiw

  • Botanical Name: Cactaceae
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light or full sun
  • Soil Type: Well-draining cacti or succulent soil
  • Soil pH: 5.0 to 7.5

If you're planting succulents in your terrarium, Salmeri notes that cacti are a great choice to grow alongside the other plants. "Think about utilizing cacti, as they are complementary in both watering and lighting considerations," Salmeri says. "Cacti will need less water, once a month or so, so these hardy plants can happily coexist with succulents."

Most types of cacti will grow best in a terrarium with a larger hole for airflow, so ensure the container isn't fully enclosed. Species like the cinnamon cactus (Opuntia rufida minima) and Easter lily cactus (Echinopsis subdenudata) are small-growing breeds that won't overgrow the other plants in their container.

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06 of 10

Zebra Haworthia

GETTY IMAGES/TIM M LANTHIER

GETTY IMAGES/TIM M LANTHIER

  • Botanical Name: Haworthia attenuata
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining cacti or succulent soil
  • Soil pH: 6.6 to 7.5

The zebra haworthia is a popular type of succulent that gets its name for the characteristic white stripes that pattern its leaves. Since this plant does best with plenty of sunlight, it grows well alongside other succulents that have similar nutrient needs—bright light away from direct sun. You'll also want to ensure your zebra haworthia has enough moisture without watering it directly on the leaves.

"Succulents like to be watered at their roots (please don't pour water over the plant itself!)," Salmeri says. "It is best to water via a turkey baster or a watering can with a narrow spout to provide water at the plant's base. For smaller containers and plants, we suggest using a turkey baster to provide about one to two tablespoons' worth of water for each plant."

07 of 10

Fittonia

GETTY IMAGES/ALEKSANDRA PAVLOVA

GETTY IMAGES/ALEKSANDRA PAVLOVA

  • Botanical Name: Fittonia albivenis
  • Sun Exposure: Medium indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining potting soil
  • Soil pH: 6.5

Also known as nerve plant, fittonia grows well in terrariums because of its need for constant humidity. It's a popular choice among indoor plants to grow in bathrooms, and like the steam from your shower, a terrarium ensures the air stays moist. If you notice yellowing on your fittonia's leaves, your plant may be receiving too much water—but not enough water can also be harmful to this species.

"A good way to check whether or not your plants need to be watered is to simply look at the soil," Salmeri advises. "If it looks dark [damp], then there is no need to mist that day. If it looks light [dry], then you should mist. For any enclosed terrariums, you will need to take the top off every few weeks so the plants get some fresh air."

08 of 10

Tillandsia

Getty Images/Tabatha Del Fabbro Lead Images

Getty Images/Tabatha Del Fabbro Lead Images

  • Botanical Name: Tillandsia
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, indirect light
  • Soil Type: Epiphytic
  • Soil pH: 4.0 to 8.0 (Water pH)

Air plants—also known by their botanical name, tillandsia—are often the first image that comes to mind when thinking of a lush, green terrarium. Because air plants are so well-suited for this type of container, it's no wonder that so many gardeners choose this species for enclosed growing.

Air plants naturally grow as epiphytes, so there's no need to plant yours in soil. Simply set your air plant atop a bed of pebbles in its terrarium, and mist it with water about once per week. Be sure to find a terrarium with at least a few small holes to ensure proper airflow reaches your plant, and place it in an area with bright, indirect sunlight.

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09 of 10

Polka Dot Plant

GETTY IMAGES/REVJAKE

GETTY IMAGES/REVJAKE

  • Botanical Name: Hypoestes phyllostachya
  • Sun Exposure: Medium indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining potting soil
  • Soil pH: 5.6 to 6.5

Polka dot plants are known for bringing bright, vibrant colors to a space, and they're also a great option to add color to your terrarium. Unlike many other species, your polka dot plant can thrive in a closed container as long as its watering and light needs are met.

"If you're using more than one plant, be mindful of the watering and light considerations for each so that all your plants need the same [care]," Salmeri says. Polka dot plants are capable of growing in both shady and sunny conditions, so they're a great choice to plant with finicky species—but they can also grow leggy in too much shade. Similar terrarium plants that love indirect light will pair well with your polka dot plant's needs.

10 of 10

Earth Star Bromeliad

GETTY IMAGES/HAPPYKAMILL

GETTY IMAGES/HAPPYKAMILL

  • Botanical Name: Cryptanthus Bivittatus
  • Sun Exposure: Indirect light
  • Soil Type: Well-draining cacti or succulent soil
  • Soil pH: 4.0 to 7.0

The earth star bromeliad, also known as the red star bromeliad or starfish plant, is another colorful variety that thrives in humid conditions. If you want to add a dash of color to the greenery of your other terrarium plants, look no further than this species: Earth star bromeliads are characterized by their red leaves that grow in a star-like shape.

Since this bromeliad variant grows well in sandy soil, it's great for planting with other terrarium species like succulents and cacti. They can lose their color when exposed to too much sunlight, so your earth star bromeliad will grow best in a place with gentle, indirect light.

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