Air Plant on table

Making an Air Plant Terrarium

June 3, 2022
Adams Fairacre Farms

If you’re looking to bring a little taste of nature into your home, try making an air plant terrarium. Creating a terrarium is simple and can be a fun process for both children and plant-lovers. It’s as easy as getting a glass terrarium, then filling it with sand, rocks and other decorations. Air plants are hardy, so they don’t require much maintenance. Build your terrarium, decorate it and then let it liven up your home.

Designing a Terrarium

Select up to 3 Tillandsia plants for your terrarium. Air plants, called Tillandsia, grow to be a variety of different sizes, so it’s worth picking the ones you want before choosing a terrarium container. Many of them grow up to 5″ long and 4″ across. However, there are some varieties that grow as much as 3′ long and won’t last long in a terrarium. If you’re uncertain about how many to get, start with 1 and then add more later if you have room for them.

  • Some good terrarium varieties include loliacea, funkiana and stricta. Tillandsia stricta gets a little bigger than the other ones, so you may not be able to fit more than one in a single terrarium.
  • Tillandsia is sometimes sold as clumps. Clumps are multiple plants growing together into a ball. Clumps tend to be stronger than individual plants. They are likely to continue growing with proper care, which could be a problem if you’re short on space.
  • You can order air plants online. They hold up well during shipping, but, if you’re worried about getting good plants, you may be able to find some at a home and garden center.

Pick a vented glass container to house your plants. Once you have decided upon a plant size, find a quality container to match. These containers come in a variety of different sizes and styles, so keep in mind how you want the finished terrarium to look. Round terrariums are great for most small air plants, but make sure yours has an open top or side. Teardrop and pyramid-shaped containers fit Tillandsia stricta well, but make sure it has a missing panel on the top or side for ventilation.

  • The vent size can vary depending on the terrarium you choose.
  • Consider where you’re going to put the terrarium. Some containers are meant to be placed on a flat surface instead of hung up. Make sure you get one with a rope or hook if you want to hang your terrarium!
  • You could also repurpose glass bowls or Mason jars for your terrarium. Most will be about 5″ in diameter or more. As long as plenty of air can get in, your air plant will be safe.
  • The containers, as well as the remaining supplies needed for the terrarium, are available online and at most home and garden centers.
  • Smaller terrariums will be easier to take care of if you’re a beginner. Plus, they’re usually cheaper.

Choose sand, pebbles or another base for the terrarium. Select something lightweight that doesn’t retain a lot of water. If you’re looking for a simple option, get some coarse aquarium or sandbox sand. Aquarium gravel or polished pebbles can bring some color to your terrarium. Use decorative moss or crushed, recycled glass to make your terrarium unique.

  • Air plants don’t need soil. Soil absorbs moisture and can cause the plants to rot, so you’re better off avoiding it.
  • Try layering different bases to give your terrarium more style. For instance, you could mix white sand, colored pebbles and crushed glass.

Get bark, shells and other items if you wish to decorate the terrarium. These decorations aren’t necessary, but they are useful for filling space inside the terrarium. Many decorations, such as bark and sticks, can be found outdoors, but make sure they are dry and free of bugs before putting them in the terrarium. Scatter some decorative moss or aquarium shells around for color. With careful decorating, you can make your terrarium look like a small piece of nature.

  • When choosing decorations, keep in mind how much space you have available in your terrarium. Select decorations sparingly to avoid overcrowding the air plants.
  • To ensure your air plants are safe, buy decorations instead of getting them outdoors. You could get orchid bark from a hardware store, for instance.

Constructing the Terrarium

Add sand in at least a 2 in thick layer to the terrarium. Pour the sand into the terrarium first so it forms a base for you to build on. Try using plain, regular-colored sand for an inexpensive base that fits well with most terrarium designs. Level the sand out with your hand afterward.

  • You could use other colors of sand as well. For example, you might use blue sand instead, then decorate with shells or other plants to give the terrarium an ocean theme.
  • If you’re not planning on using other types of base material for decoration, you could fill the terrarium with more sand. However, make sure the air plant has plenty of room to grow.

Brighten the terrarium with a layer of colored sand or other material. Sand comes in all sorts of different colors you can use to turn your terrarium into something vibrant and unique. If you’re looking for something different, spread a 1″ thick layer of rocks or recycled glass. Rocks and glass add a variety and are a good option if you don’t want your terrarium to look like a miniature desert or beach.

  • For example, you could alternate layers of colored and regular sand to customize the terrarium with a pattern. Try using your favorite colors to make your terrarium stand out!
  • The additional layers can be as thick as you want as long as you save enough room for the plants and any other decorations you wish to add.

Place some scrap wood around the terrarium for forest theme. Get a couple of pieces of driftwood and spread them throughout the terrarium. Make sure you have room between the wood to fit the air plants. You could turn one piece of wood upside down and mount the air plant onto it for an alternative way to incorporate these decorations. Scrap wood goes well with black, brown, or regular sand for a natural look.

  • Small pieces of scrap wood can also fit well next to a couple of shells placed on plain sand.

Use shells to create a beach theme for your terrarium. After filling the terrarium with plain sand or colorful aquarium sand, choose a couple of pretty shells you like. Make sure they are small enough to fit comfortably inside the terrarium. Set them down on top of the sand near where you plan on putting the air plants. It makes the air plants look like they grew up naturally from the sand rather than having been placed in the middle of all these decorations.

  • Match the shells to the base material you used. Colored shells go well with plain sand, but they might not stand out as much with bright, colored sand.
  • If you’re decorating with multiple shells, use different types of shells placed at different angles. Arrange them to make your terrarium more varied.

Use decorative plants or coral to give your terrarium more variety. Get some aquarium coral, such as a red or black sea fan. Another option is to add a plant like a yarrow and rest it inside one of the terrarium vents. These decorations add plenty of color to your terrarium without taking nutrients away from the air plants. Spread them around so it looks like the air plants grew side by side with the decorative plants or coral.

  • Decorative moss is great for adding color to plain sand. It works very well if your terrarium is designed to look like a desert.

Place the air plants on top of the material in the container. Air plants don’t have roots and don’t need to be buried. Set them down gently in a spacious spot to let them adapt to their new home. Make sure the plants aren’t pressed up against the decorations or the walls of the terrarium. It helps them spread their leaves and dry off in case they get wet.

  • If the plants feel wet, set them aside for about 15 minutes before putting them in the terrarium. Moisture could cause them to rot. Burying the plants in the base material also forces more water onto them.
  • It is possible to set air plants inside shells and other objects. However, make sure the shell is open with enough space for the plant to grow out of it.

Secure the air plants with glue if you wish to mount them to decorations. Plan out the terrarium first by placing all decorations, then setting the plants where you intend on mounting them. Select a nontoxic adhesive like a silicone sealant, then spread a thin but consistent dab of it on the mounting surface. Gently but firmly press the plant onto the adhesive to stick it in place. Leave the plant undisturbed for about 24 hours to ensure the glue has time to solidify.

  • You could also tie the air plant down for a less permanent attachment. Use a long-lasting, sun resistant material like cable ties and place them loosely around the plant’s stem.
  • Make sure you mount air plants to nontoxic surfaces. Treated wood has copper in it that harms air plants. Painted and stained wood may also have dangerous chemicals.

Choosing a Spot for the Terrarium

Place the terrarium in an area that receives 1 to 3 hours of indirect sunlight a day. Try keeping your terrarium within 1 to 3′ of a nearby window. Use east, north, or south-facing windows in your home, since they let in the most sunlight. Air plants won’t last if they are kept in the dark or in dim light all day.

  • You could also set the terrarium within 1 to 2′ of an artificial light.
  • As long as you keep air plants well-watered, they can withstand more direct sunlight and hotter temperatures.

Select a spot away from cold and moisture for the terrarium. Air plants are tropical, so they don’t do well in cold weather. Keep your terrarium away from air conditioners and drafty windows, for example. These sources also tend to introduce too much moisture to the terrarium. Air plants do best in environments above 60F, so they survive well inside homes.

  • Keep your terrarium in a safe spot where rain, leaks, or spills won’t get inside of it. The water could cause the plants to begin rotting.

Hang the terrarium or set it on a flat surface. This will depend on the kind of terrarium you have. If you have a hanging terrarium, try tying it to a wall hook, nail, or curtain rod, for instance. Most commercial terrariums come with hanging ropes that can be secured to a hanging point inside your home. If you have a standing terrarium, place it on a flat, stable surface, such as a desk or countertop.

  • Make sure the terrarium won’t be bumped into or knocked over. Jostling it too much could mix up the base material, inadvertently burying the plants or even breaking the glass.

Caring for Air Plants

Take the plants out of the terrarium at least once a week. Even though air plants get their nutrients from the air, they still require a little bit of water from time to time. Set aside a day every week for watering. Pull each plant out to avoid introducing too much moisture to the terrarium.

  • Air plants in hot, dry areas may need to be watered more frequently. Try misting or soaking them 2 to 3 times a week instead.
  • Check the leaves to see if your plants are getting enough water. The leaves feel full and stiff when they are healthy. They turn soft, light, or even wrinkly when they need more water.

Soak the plants in a bowl of cold water for up to 30 minutes. Fill a bowl with water, then submerge the plants. It may sound weird, but the bath doesn’t harm them. Just remember to take them out when the time is up!

  • If you don’t have time to soak the plants, fill a spray bottle instead. Mist the plants thoroughly for about 15 seconds.
  • To ensure your plants are well-watered, you could soak them for longer once every 2 to 3 weeks. Soak them for 2 hours to ensure they absorb plenty of water.
  • If you have a flowering air plant, spray it instead of soaking it.

Leave the plants in an open area to air dry for 4 hours. Give each plant a gentle shake to remove excess moisture. Then, set it in a spot with good air circulation. Keep the plants out of direct sunlight while they dry. When they’re done drying, move them back to the terrarium.

  • Make sure the plants and the terrarium is completely dry. Air plants are soft and prone to rotting from excessive moisture.
  • You could also blot off the excess moisture with a paper towel. Doing this is useful if you aren’t able to leave the plant out for long, but try to be as thorough as possible.

Pull the buds off of the plant as they form and grow. Air plants produce new plants called pups. Over time, you may see these new plants coming up from the bottom of the stem. Wait until they are at least 1/3 of the size as the original plant. Then, twist them off by hand to remove them. You can get rid of them or set them in a terrarium so they continue to grow.

  • If you are unable to remove the pups by hand, use a sharp knife to separate them from the original plant. Cut as close to the original plant as possible.
  • Air plants grow slowly, so you may not notice new growth until 1 to 3 years have passed. Then, the air plant flowers and starts growing a bunch of pups.
  • Your original air plant will die a few weeks after it flowers, so save a few pups to replace it in your terrarium. Alternatively, you could leave the new growth on the old plant to turn it into a cluster, but you might run out of space in the terrarium.

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