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Jamie’s Gift Bag: Make Your Own Terrarium

Prove your superiority by DIY’ing a gift that most people have never even HEARD of.

Winter can get super depressing. The gray skies and cold air only incentivize building a nest of blankets and ennui and holing up all day to watch Law & Order on Netflix Instant. Sometimes I think about ordering one of those lamps that is supposed to improve your mood by mimicking the sun. It’d probably be a good idea, but in the winter I get so preoccupied with the gross weather that I usually can’t do much more than walk from my bed to the kitchen to refuel on snacks. This makes it hard to order the lamp.

Seasonal depression aside, I’m always a fan of things that make winter feel springy. A few years ago I learned about terrariums, which are basically little bundles of eternal spring that you can keep on your windowsill. Since then, I’ve been making them for everyone I know at every gift-giving opportunity. They are fairly cheap to make, and easy too. Here’s how I make them:

What you need:

1. An awesome-looking clear glass container with a lid. You can usually find some great ones at thrift stores. I was pinched for time, so I bought this apothecary jar at a craft store for $4.

2 Some smooth stones. I got a huge bag at the dollar store. How many you actually need depends on the size of your container. Buy enough to cover the bottom of the jar, with some extra to spare.

3. Soil. You won’t need a lot. If your parents have a garage, and they have a bag of soil in that garage, you can scoop like one cup out of there. Or you can steal some from any flowerbed anywhere. I won’t tell. Either way, you do not need a whole bag.

4. Tiny plants. Ikea and Home Depot are both good sources for terrarium-size plants. Obviously, you want to look for something that will fit in your jar. Succulents and cactuses are the kinds of plants that work best, because they don’t need to be watered too frequently. If you aren’t sure if a plant is good for a terrarium, ask someone at the store for help.

5. Doodads. I kept it simple and used a plastic deer that I got at the model-train store. Anything can work, though—dollhouse parts, Barbie shoes, dollar-store toys, things from those 25-cent machines outside the diner, etc.

How to do it:

1. Open the jar. (Duh.)

2. Throw a bunch of rocks into the bottom of your jar. These rocks will keep the plants from rotting. How many rocks you use depends on the size of the container. As a general rule, you want the rocks to cover he bottom of the jar and then some. This is more of an art than a science. Trust your terrarium-maker instincts.

3. Add a little soil to the jar. Again, the amount doesn’t really matter. Just cover the rocks so you have a nice little bed for your plants.

4. Holding each plant at its base, gently twist off the plastic pot. When you take the plant out of its container, the roots and soil will form a little compressed sandcastle thing. You don’t want this. Hold the plant over your jar and carefully loosen the soil from the tangle of roots with your fingers. Things will be looking less sandcastle-y at this point.

5. Place the plant in your jar. Fill in the space around the roots with some extra soil. You can tap the soil down a little with your finger to keep the plant standing upright.

6. Water the plant until you start to see water dripping down into the rocks. If watering the plant exposes its roots, sprinkle a bit more soil on top to ensure the roots stay covered.

7. Set the scene by adding decorations. If your plant is a cactus, you might want to use a tweezers for this part so you don’t hurt your fingers.

Water your terrarium whenever the soil starts to look dry. Wipe around the inside of the glass with a damp paper towel if things ever start to look foggy. If you plan on giving the terrarium as a gift, you can probably just tie a bow around it and be good to go. For bonus points, you can attach a card with some care info. There. Best gift giver. ♦


  • FashionHauties December 16th, 2011 7:03 PM

    HAHAHA this is great. I LOVE these jars that are sitting all over my house… except I didn’t know what to do with them ’till now! :) I love rookie! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF9-sEbqDvU

  • MissKnowItAll December 16th, 2011 7:11 PM

    This is so cool. I wish someone would give me this

  • yourenotfunny December 16th, 2011 7:31 PM

    I’ve been meaning to make one of these! I actually kind of like the idea of getting enough terrariums/small potted plants together in my room to feel like I live in a tiny jungle. Except I suck at, y’know, actually keeping plants alive. So I’m probably limited to cactuses.

  • thewordlover December 16th, 2011 7:36 PM

    Great idea, I want to give someone this for Christmas! Thank you guys for all your wonderful ideas. You’re awesome.

  • emile December 16th, 2011 8:25 PM

    i love terrariums! i plan on making one soon with some sort of carnivorous plant, like a venus flytrap. terrorarium. best gift indeed.

  • Moggy December 16th, 2011 8:46 PM

    This is so awesome, but how did you plant the cactus without getting prickles in your hands?

    • Jamie December 16th, 2011 10:36 PM

      gloves! or a washcloth around your hand! or just be careful!

  • Kyle December 16th, 2011 10:03 PM

    This is so lovely I think I’m going to make one for a gift.

  • Jamie December 16th, 2011 10:36 PM

    thanks everyone

  • Adrienne December 17th, 2011 1:28 AM

    LOVE this idea so much!! Totally inspiring original. :)

  • Afiqa December 17th, 2011 3:11 AM

    This is so pretty. My mum had the same kind of idea about giving guests terrariums for my uncle’s wedding.

  • Narita December 17th, 2011 3:13 AM

    Ooooh, just on time, amazing! I’m christmas-shopping with my family in 3 hours so this will TOTALLY be something I’ll make. Greatgreatgreat!

  • julalondon December 17th, 2011 7:31 AM

    Jamie your awesome.. I love all your ideas of gift making, since im on a budjet and really dont have that much money (probably evry student hasnt)…=)

  • hazeleyedgirl December 17th, 2011 10:02 AM

    This is great! I’ve been looking for things to replace the (now dead) plants on my bedroom windowsill, and these look much easier to keep alive xD
    Jamie’s gift bag is one of the best parts of Rookie, if not the greatest!

  • Brokenmolar December 17th, 2011 11:05 AM

    You can use cactus and succulents in a terrarium, but they don’t like humidity much… So you need to have it stay unsealed, and make sure the soil is sandy!

    • Jamie December 17th, 2011 7:32 PM

      thanks for the tips! i actually made this one two years ago and it has been doing well!

  • Renatotherescue December 17th, 2011 12:07 PM

    ooh! i really wnat to try this, it looks so cute :3
    and yes, those lamps are great! .. well i think im talking about a different kind of lamp
    we have a lamp that is as bright as sunlight, and when you put it on in the morning youll start to feel awake quicker ..
    but i guess those moodlamps are great too

    thank you for this! <3

  • Fortune_Goddess December 17th, 2011 2:55 PM

    Love it! I’m totally giving this as a gift to my mean ‘ol grandma! :-)

  • Petra December 17th, 2011 2:58 PM

    This is so awesome!

  • Ruby B. December 17th, 2011 10:10 PM

    Best gift ever.

  • blueberry December 19th, 2011 6:38 PM

    these are so cute. Loves it!

  • mouthfur December 27th, 2011 4:31 AM

    Here’s a picture of a terrium i’ve had for over a year: