Unveiling the Secrets: How Does a Closed Terrarium Work

How Does a Closed Terrarium Work


Terrariums are a unique and fascinating way to bring greenery into your home or workspace. Among the different types of terrariums, closed terrariums are particularly intriguing due to their self-sustaining nature. These miniature ecosystems have the ability to create their own water and nutrient cycles, making them a low-maintenance option for those who want to enjoy the beauty of plants without the hassle of frequent watering and fertilizing.

Closed terrariums are sealed containers that create a micro-ecosystem, mimicking the conditions of a natural environment. The plants inside the terrarium release water vapor through transpiration, which then condenses on the walls of the container. This condensed water trickles down to the soil, providing moisture for the plants. The cycle continues as the plants absorb the water, use it for photosynthesis, and release oxygen back into the terrarium.

In addition to the water cycle, closed terrariums also have a nutrient cycle. As plants naturally shed leaves and other organic matter, these dead plant materials break down and release nutrients back into the soil. The plants can then absorb these nutrients, ensuring their growth and overall health.

How Does a Closed Terrarium Work

The Basics of a Closed Terrarium

A closed terrarium is a sealed container that creates a micro-ecosystem. This self-sustaining environment mimics the natural conditions found in forests or jungles. The sealed container helps to maintain high humidity levels, creating a moist environment that is ideal for tropical plants and mosses to thrive. The plants inside the terrarium release water vapor through transpiration, which then condenses on the walls of the container and trickles down to the soil. This cycle of condensation and precipitation creates a self-sustaining water cycle within the terrarium.

Understanding the Closed Ecosystem

In a closed terrarium, the plants and other organisms create a closed ecosystem where they interact with each other and their environment. One of the key processes that take place in this ecosystem is the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. During photosynthesis, plants use light energy to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, releasing it into the terrarium. This oxygen is then consumed by the organisms in the terrarium through cellular respiration, where they convert it back into carbon dioxide. This continuous exchange of gases helps maintain the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the closed terrarium, ensuring the survival of the plants and other organisms.

Key Components and Their Functions

In order to create a successful closed terrarium, certain key components and their functions must be considered.

  • Substrate: The substrate, or the soil-like material, provides a medium for the plants to grow and anchor their roots. It should be well-draining and rich in nutrients to support plant growth.
  • Drainage: A layer of rocks or pebbles at the bottom of the terrarium helps to create proper drainage and prevent waterlogging. This ensures that excess water can escape and prevents the roots from rotting.
  • Plants: The choice of plants is crucial for a closed terrarium. It is important to select plants that are suited to the high humidity and low light conditions of a closed terrarium. Tropical plants and mosses are commonly used due to their ability to thrive in such environments.
  • Moisture: Maintaining the right level of moisture is essential for the health of the plants in a closed terrarium. Too much water can lead to root rot, while too little water can cause the plants to dry out. Regular monitoring and adjustment of the moisture levels is necessary to strike the right balance.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your Closed Terrarium | How Does a Closed Terrarium Work

Creating your own closed terrarium is a rewarding and enjoyable process. Here is a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

  1. Choose the right container: Select a clear glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. It should have a narrow opening for easy planting and maintenance.
  2. Find the right place: Place your terrarium in a location that receives indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight can cause the temperature inside the terrarium to rise too high, potentially harming the plants.
  3. Prepare the space: Clear a small space where you can work on creating your terrarium. Gather all the necessary materials, including the container, substrate, plants, and any decorative elements you wish to include.
  4. Begin planting: Start by adding a layer of rocks or pebbles at the bottom of the container for drainage. Follow this with a layer of substrate, filling it to a depth that will accommodate the root balls of your chosen plants.
  5. Arrange the plants: Carefully position the plants in the substrate, making sure to leave enough space between them for growth. Consider the height and spread of each plant to create an aesthetically pleasing arrangement.
  6. Add decorative elements: If desired, you can add decorative elements such as small figurines, rocks, or pieces of driftwood to enhance the visual appeal of your terrarium.
  7. Seal the terrarium: Once everything is in place, seal the terrarium with the lid or cover. This will create the humid environment necessary for the plants to thrive.

Choosing the Right Container

Choosing the right container is an important aspect of creating a successful closed terrarium. Consider the following factors when selecting a container:

  • Narrow opening: A container with a narrow opening may be more challenging to work with, but it can offer a unique visual appeal. However, it is important to ensure that the opening is wide enough to allow for easy planting and maintenance.
  • Sufficient light: The container should allow sufficient light to reach the plants inside. Clear glass or plastic containers are ideal as they allow light to penetrate and promote photosynthesis. Avoid colored glass containers, as they may restrict light transmission.
  • Adequate size: The size of the container should be appropriate for the number and size of plants you wish to include. It should provide enough space for the plants to grow and spread their roots.

By considering these factors, you can choose a container that not only meets the functional requirements of a closed terrarium but also complements your aesthetic preferences.

Selecting Suitable Plants for Your Terrarium

Selecting the right plants is crucial for the success of your closed terrarium. Here are some factors to consider when choosing plants:

  • Small plants: Opt for plants that are naturally small in size or have a slow growth rate. This will ensure that they do not outgrow the limited space inside the terrarium.
  • High humidity tolerance: Choose plants that thrive in high humidity environments, as closed terrariums create a moist atmosphere. Tropical plants and mosses are excellent choices, as they are adapted to high humidity conditions.
  • Indirect sunlight requirements: Closed terrariums typically receive indirect sunlight. Select plants that can thrive in low to medium light conditions, as direct sunlight can cause the temperature inside the terrarium to rise too high.

Some popular plant choices for closed terrariums include ferns, carnivorous plants, air plants, and succulents. Consider the specific needs of each plant to ensure they will thrive in the closed terrarium environment.

The Science Behind Closed Terrariums | How Does a Closed Terrarium Work

Closed terrariums are not just aesthetically pleasing miniature gardens; they are also fascinating ecosystems that operate on their own. The science behind closed terrariums lies in their ability to create and maintain a self-regulating water and nutrient cycle.

These closed environments mimic the natural cycles found in larger ecosystems, allowing plants and other organisms to interact and thrive. The water cycle within a closed terrarium involves condensation on the walls, which then trickles down to water the plants and soil. The nutrient cycle is facilitated by the breakdown of dead plant matter, releasing nutrients back into the soil for the plants to absorb. This self-sustaining nature of closed terrariums makes them a low-maintenance option for indoor gardening.

The Water Cycle Inside a Closed Terrarium

The water cycle is a crucial process that takes place within a closed terrarium. As the plants transpire, they release water vapor into the air. The high humidity inside the terrarium causes this water vapor to condense on the walls of the container. This condensed water then trickles down to the soil, providing moisture for the plants.

The condensation and precipitation that occur within the closed terrarium create a self-sustaining water cycle. The moisture levels in the terrarium remain consistent, ensuring that the plants have a constant supply of water. This eliminates the need for frequent watering and helps to maintain optimal growing conditions for the plants. The high humidity also benefits tropical plants and mosses, which thrive in moist environments.

How Plants Adapt to the Terrarium Environment

Plants in closed terrariums have unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in the enclosed environment. One important adaptation is their ability to tolerate low light conditions. Closed terrariums typically receive indirect light, which can be less intense than direct sunlight. Plants in closed terrariums have adapted to make the most of this lower light by developing efficient photosynthetic processes.

Another adaptation is their ability to tolerate high humidity. The enclosed environment of a closed terrarium creates a humid atmosphere that is ideal for tropical plants and mosses. These plants have adapted to thrive in such conditions, using their specialized structures to absorb moisture from the air and store it for future use.

While closed terrariums provide a controlled environment for plants, it is important to provide fresh air occasionally by removing the lid for a short period of time. This allows for the exchange of gases and prevents the terrarium from becoming too stagnant.

Maintenance and Care Tips for Closed Terrariums

While closed terrariums are relatively low-maintenance, some care is still required to ensure their longevity. Here are some maintenance and care tips for closed terrariums:

  • Manage moisture levels: Monitor the moisture levels within the terrarium and adjust as needed. Too much water can lead to root rot, while too little water can cause the plants to dry out. Find the right balance to keep the plants healthy.
  • Trim plants when necessary: Overgrown plants can overcrowd the terrarium and prevent other plants from receiving adequate light. Trim back any excess growth to maintain a balanced and visually appealing terrarium.
  • Maintain equilibrium: Closed terrariums are designed to be self-sustaining ecosystems. Avoid introducing any pests or pathogens into the terrarium, as they can disrupt the delicate balance of the system.

By following these maintenance and care tips, you can ensure that your closed terrarium remains healthy and vibrant for years to come.

Managing Moisture Levels

Proper moisture management is essential for the health of plants in a closed terrarium. While closed terrariums create a humid environment, it is still important to avoid overwatering. Too much water can lead to root rot and the growth of mold or fungi.

Monitor the moisture levels by checking the soil regularly. If the soil feels wet and the terrarium walls are constantly covered in condensation, it may be a sign of too much water. In this case, remove the lid for a day or two to allow excess moisture to evaporate.

On the other hand, if the soil feels dry and the plants appear wilted, it may indicate a lack of water. In such cases, add a small amount of water to the soil to restore the moisture balance.

Must Read : Best Moss for Terrariums: A Complete List

When and How to Trim Plants

Trimming plants is an important aspect of maintaining a balanced and visually appealing closed terrarium. Overgrown plants can crowd out other plants and prevent them from receiving adequate light. Here are some tips for trimming plants in a closed terrarium:

  • Regularly inspect the terrarium for any signs of overgrown plants. Look for plants with excessive foliage or plants that have outgrown their designated space.
  • Use clean and sharp scissors or garden clippers to trim back the excess growth. Be careful not to damage the remaining foliage or roots.
  • Remove any dead or yellowed leaves to maintain the overall health of the plants. These leaves can attract pests and pathogens if left in the terrarium.

By regularly trimming and maintaining the plants in your closed terrarium, you can ensure that they remain healthy and vibrant.

Troubleshooting Common Closed Terrarium Issues

Despite their self-sustaining nature, closed terrariums may encounter some common issues. Here are a few troubleshooting tips to help maintain the health of your closed terrarium:

  • Pest infestation: If you notice any pests, such as gnats or small insects, remove the affected plant and treat it separately to prevent the infestation from spreading.
  • Mold or fungi: Excessive moisture can lead to the growth of mold or fungi. Adjust the moisture levels by removing the lid temporarily and ensuring proper airflow.
  • Diseased plants: If a plant shows signs of disease, such as wilting or yellowing leaves, remove it from the terrarium to prevent the spread of the disease to other plants.

With regular care and attention, these common issues can be addressed and your closed terrarium can continue to thrive.

Dealing with Mold and Algae

Mold and algae are common issues that can arise in closed terrariums, especially due to the high humidity. Mold can develop on the soil surface or on decaying plant matter, while algae can grow on the glass walls of the container. To prevent mold and algae growth, it’s important to maintain the right balance of moisture in the terrarium. Avoid overwatering and make sure the terrarium has good air circulation. If mold or algae does appear, remove the affected plants or clean the glass with a solution of one part vinegar to three parts water. It’s also helpful to add some activated charcoal to the soil to absorb excess moisture and prevent mold and algae growth.

Addressing Overgrown Plants

Over time, the plants in a closed terrarium may grow and become overgrown, which can disrupt the balance of the ecosystem. To address overgrown plants, regular pruning is necessary. Trim back any foliage or branches that are touching the glass walls or crowding out other plants. It’s important to create adequate space for each plant to grow without competing for light and nutrients. You can also manage plant growth by selectively removing certain plants or dividing them if they become too large. Regularly monitoring and maintaining the terrarium will help ensure that the plants remain healthy and the ecosystem stays balanced.

The Aesthetic and Therapeutic Benefits of Closed Terrariums

Closed terrariums not only provide a beautiful and visually appealing addition to any space, but they also offer various therapeutic benefits for mental health. The aesthetic value of a closed terrarium lies in its ability to bring a slice of nature indoors, creating a calming and relaxing environment. The act of tending to a terrarium can also be a therapeutic activity, offering stress relief and a sense of accomplishment. Studies have shown that being surrounded by nature or even just a representation of it can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and increase overall well-being.

Bringing Nature Indoors

Bringing nature indoors is a popular trend in interior design, and closed terrariums offer a convenient way to incorporate natural elements into the indoor environment. These miniature ecosystems allow you to have a piece of nature right on your desk, countertop, or any other indoor space. Closed terrariums can be customized with different plant varieties, rocks, moss, and other decorative elements to create a visually appealing and unique display. The aesthetic value of a closed terrarium lies in its ability to add a touch of greenery and natural beauty to any room, enhancing the overall ambiance and creating a sense of tranquility.

The Mental Health Benefits of Terrarium Gardening

Terrarium gardening offers numerous mental health benefits. Engaging in this therapeutic activity can provide a sense of relaxation and stress relief. The act of tending to plants, observing their growth, and creating a nurturing environment can help to reduce anxiety and improve overall mood. Terrarium gardening also offers a sense of accomplishment, as you watch your plants thrive and create a self-sustaining ecosystem. The act of caring for living things can promote a sense of purpose and connection to nature, which can have a positive impact on mental well-being. Additionally, the greenery and natural beauty of a terrarium can create a calming and soothing environment, enhancing the overall mental health of those who interact with it.


In essence, closed terrariums encapsulate a miniature ecosystem within a glass container, fostering self-sustainability and a captivating indoor green space. Understanding the science behind their functioning unveils a harmonious water cycle and plant adaptation dynamics. Maintaining moisture balance and addressing common issues like mold and overgrowth are key to thriving terrariums. Beyond aesthetics, these botanical marvels offer therapeutic benefits, fostering mental well-being through nurturing nature indoors. Should you venture into terrarium gardening, the rewards extend far beyond visual appeal, delving into the realm of holistic enrichment and environmental stewardship.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Any Plant in a Closed Terrarium?

Not all plants are suitable for closed terrariums. It’s important to select plants that can thrive in the specific conditions of a closed terrarium, such as high humidity and limited space. Look for plants that have a tolerance for high humidity and prefer low-light conditions. Also, choose plants with compact growth habits that won’t outgrow the terrarium.


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