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Cacti and other succulents typically are not very successful when grown in humid environments. However, they still can grow favorably in an open succulent terrarium. Just make sure you select a container without a lid.
That will keep the humidity much lower than it would be if you chose an enclosed terrarium. In this article I will show you the best succulents for terrariums and some tips on how to keep succulent terrariums healthy.
What is a Terrarium?
A terrarium is a self-contained ecosystem that doesn’t require too much effort. With the proper tools, information, and plant selection you will have your own miniature, contained garden in no time.
The way it works is that the water added to the soil will be soaked up into the plant through the roots.
The plants draw moisture from the roots and evaporate it through their leaves, in a process known as transpiration.
Water droplets form and drip down the sides of the container, returning to the soil. This process mimics nature’s rain cycle, and sustains plant life.
In addition to the closed container in which the rain cycle creates a self-supporting mini succulent garden, there are other types of plant arrangements that fall under the terrarium umbrella.
Air plants, cacti, and succulents are good low-maintenance choices for a modern-style hanging terrarium.
Plants that like drier conditions do best in more open containers, where air circulates and the humidity is low.
Types of Terrariums
There are two types of terrariums characterized by the selected container: open terrariums and enclosed terrariums.
Succulents and cacti should only be planted in open terrariums, closed terrariums will provide too much moisture and will cause them to rot so those are they type of plants that we will focus on here.
Open-system terrariums use a container with a wide opening such as a large glass container, you may also see these called a open dish garden.
An open-system terrarium typically needs to be watered more often than a closed system and has lower humidity levels. One current trend is to use succulent plants or cacti.
These plants are native to dry, arid environments and have a longer display period in an open-system terrarium.
It is also easy to add decorative elements to ether type of terrarium garden has become a fun project that can be seen all over social media.
Best succulents for Enclosed terrariums
If you must try a sealed terrarium for your succulents start with these popular choices.
Self-sustaining terrarium tends to get quite humid, even if it starts rather dry. To work with this humid condition, plants tolerant to high humidity are needed. Fortunately, succulent world consists of a wide array of diverse plants, with the right selection of easy-to-maintain, humid-tolerant succulents, such terrarium can work.
As long as the terrarium is exposed to enough sunlight, the succulents inside may have a chance of surviving….
For starter selection, succulent bromeliads provide some tough plants like Cryptanthus, Dyckia, and Hectia which can thrive in humid conditions.
Spanish moss and other Tillandsias (air plants) are another, excellent choice (though a bit expensive), they actually need to be in very humid environment to thrive.
You can read our ultimate guide to air plants here!
Succulent orchids are rarer, more exotic choice, and like bromeliads, these epiphytes are tolerant to high humidity.Enthusiasts might also want to work with humid-tolerant succulents which need more care like Drimiopsis bulb, dwarf Sansevieria, or even some Sedums.
Best Succulents For Terrariums
So lets get into some of the best succulents for terrariums. These succulents should grow well in an open dish container and be relatively slow growing which is exactly what you want in a succulent terrarium.
Mother of Thousands (Kalanchoe Daigremontiana)
Bryophyllum daigremontianum, commonly called Kalanchoe , devil’s backbone, mother-of-thousands, alligator plant, or chandelier plant. Kalanchoe is a succulent plant native to Madagascar.
Like other members of its genus Bryophyllum, it is able to propagate vegetatively from plantlets that develop on its phylloclade margins. Kalanchoe is a very nice choice for a succulent gardens.
It is so easy to reproduce. Sometimes it is even considered an invasive plant. In shade, it will grow more green. If in full sun it will get more beige/grey color. Flowering beautifully in a hot weather.
panda plant (kalanchoe tomentosa)
Great for living wall, dish garden, miniature garden, terrariums, mini fairy garden and party favors.
This plant is such a cutie! It has cute fuzzy leaves and grows loose rosettes. They’re a succulent to have since it requires low light and can be grown indoors. Perfect for beginners!
Kalanchoe species is a fantastic variety of succulent that is best for terrariums. In particular, kalanchoe tomentosa will thrive when planted properly in a glass container. Also known as the panda plant, kalanchoe tomentosa has a velvety appearance that comes in shades of pale, light green and has brown spots on the tips of the leaves. This striking plant will be sure to brighten up any part of your home.
- Light: High light.
- Water: Allow the soil to dry out between watering.
This varied family is so hardy and forgiving of poor soil it’s commonly called “Stonecrop.” They typically grow fastest in full sun but can tolerate less.
Sedum offers lots of variety in texture, color, and growth habit. Like other succulents, sedum grow best with fill sun, light watering and excellent drainage. They are an indispensable succulent plant that has a place in any garden or succulent project.
Once established, sedum is exceedingly drought tolerant and rarely needs watering, even in the heat of summer. It’s a friendly beginner’s plant. One popular variety is the Burro’s Tail.
Burrito (sedum morganianum)
My next best succulent for terrariums has got to be sedum morganianum – also known as Burrito.
This is a wonderful trailing succulent and will add something different to your glass container, you can even have it trailing out to add a bit of boho-chic to your home.
This succulent type is easy to care for and will look fantastic in any type of terrarium or hanging basket.
Echeveria (Echeveria shaviana)
As it matures, Pink Frills transitions through a palette of mauve purple, silvery blue and green. Leaves are fleshy, pointed and spoon-shaped. All of the leaves have bright pink edges that frill as they age. Produces orange-pink flowers on narrow, arching wands in the summer.
Next on our list of best succulents for terrariums is Echeveria. The beautiful rosette succulents come in an array of beautiful pastel colours that do well indoors when given enough light.
This succulent is more commonly known as Hens and Chicks or Mexican Snowball. Pretty much all Echeveria types will do well in a terrarium such as Echeveria Lola and Echeveria Perle von Nurnberg’.
Jade plant (Crassula Ovata)
Jade Crassula are a very fast grower and is a very easy plant to grow. It enjoys bright indirect light and is very low maintenance.
Most jades will eventually outgrow a terrarium, but they grow slowly and respond well to being pruned. They make great bonsai plants for this reason. Jades prefer strong indirect light but can handle a wide range. The Hobbit Jade is unique and does well in terrariums.
Learn more about Jade Plant Care:
The below photo is of a Variegated Jade Plant which is a trailing succulent with tons of variegated flapjack foliage forming off of a central stem. It’s a very fast grower and is a very easy plant to grow. It enjoys bright indirect light and is very low maintenance. Just water once the top inch to two inches of soil is dry.
This variegated crassula is a nice size and looks super hardy. The color is a nice contrast with just a hint of pink on the cream and green leaves.
Agave Victoria Regina
Agave victoria regina is a beautiful and slow growing cactus. Its leaf margins are smooth and spineless and when it flowers it produces gorgeous red/purple flowers.
Slow growing succulent rosettes to can get up to18″ in diameter (45 cm), most populations are solitary, but some offset heavily.
Also known as basketball plant, at first, the Euphorbia obesa is spherical and becomes taller with age.
Euphorbia obesa is a spineless, grey-green, dwarf, spherical succulent plant with transverse red-brown or purplish bands. It can grow up to 8 inches (20 cm) tall and up to 3.5 inches (9 cm) in diameter. It has rudimentary, caducous leaves and usually 8, vertical, broad, slightly raised ribs with shallow furrows in between.
As with the other Euphorbias, There are over 2000 species of Euphorbias in the world. They range from annual weeds to trees. They all have latex and a unique flower structure. A significant percentage is succulent, but they are mostly originating from Africa and Madagascar.
The Euphorbias are named after a Greek surgeon called Euphorbus. He was physician of Juba II who was the Romanised king of a North African kingdom, and is supposed to have used their milky latex as an ingredient for his potions.
This dwarf aloe features white leaves with deep green horizontal, jagged stripes and tubular coral flowers.
- Light: Bright light with ample air flow.
- Water: Water thoroughly when soil is dry to the touch.
- Soil: Porous soil with good drainage.
This is a very kind of Aloe. It has a smooth, spotted leaves that curve backwards. These re curved leaves are kept only around the head or top of each stem, with dead leaves falling off the lower parts of the stem. It is relatively rare in cultivation.
There’s over 400 species of Aloe and an amazing number of hybrids, including tiny miniatures that thrive in open terrariums.
They appreciate a lot of sun but not scorching rays. Suitable varieties include Guido, Crosby’s prolific, humilis, and the variegated Aloe descoingsii.
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum)
This rosettes produce many little rosettes, they grow better in a pot or small area with rocks. It is know as the Hens and Chicks because it spreads with many small offshoots.
Another highly varied member of the Crassula family that includes Jade, Sedum, and Echeveria. It’s also called a “Hen and Chick” plant but, unlike Echeverias, Sempervivum dies after flowering. It grows in tight rosette-shaped clumps of fleshy leaves. The plant takes on different shades at different times of the year.
Sempervivum contains over 40 species of rosette shaped succulents, native from Europe, eastern Asia, and northern Africa. They are among the most frost resistant succulents, and as such are the most common succulent in gardens that get more than a light frost. Sempervivum comes from the Latine for ‘always alive’, referring to its toughness.
Sempervivum ruby Heart (Hen-and-chicks) generally grow for several years before blooming. This is a good choice for rock gardens, container gardens of all types, rock walls and rooftop and vertical gardens.
This succulent has a green foliage with deep, ruby red. Easy to grow and reproduce just by removing the small baby rosettes and replanting in a new location at almost any time. After flowering, the mother rosette dies to leave room for the chicks; remove by tugging gently at the base of the bloom stem.
Tiger Jaws (Faucaria tigrina)
The thick fleshy leaves are kind of triangular in shape that grow in pairs and look similar to a jaw. The edges of the leaves produce spines that look like teeth. These teeth collect moisture for the inner part of the plant to take water down to the roots.
The descriptive name fits: a sharp row of spines grow on the edge of paired triangular leaves. It’s a low-growing succulent that won’t quickly outgrow its container.
They love heat and, if given strong light, can bloom in the fall. There are many hybrids to choose from.
string of pearls (Senecio Rowleyanus)
Another trailing succulent that is great for terrariums is senecio rowleyanus, or better known as the String of Pearls due to its round perly shapes.
Agains, this succulent looks fantastic if you are going to be hanging your terrarium as they can trail out. Too much water and the pearls will burst so you must be careful not to overwater. Senecio rowleyanus has a striking green appearance and works well with most other succulent types.
Its leaves are the size and shape of small peas (about ¼” diameter).Its trailing stems can grow 2-3″ (60-90 cm). There is a small tip on at the distal point of each leaf and a thin band of dark green tissue on the side known as a “window”. It blooms during the summer and, like all asterids, it has a compound flower.
The trumpet shaped flower forms clusters (about ½” diameter) of small white flowers with colorful stamens. The flower will last about a month and is said to smell like cinnamon and other spices.
Zebra Plant (Haworthia fasciata)
Haworthia attenuata forms rosettes of fleshly, dark green leaves with white tubercles.
- Light: Medium light.
- Water: Allow soil to dry out between watering,.
The Zebra plant is another great choice which tells you how it was given its name after one look at it. This plant has stripes all over it which quickly remind you of a zebra. If you’re looking for a small succulent to grow indoors, this plant is for you.
These plants are generally small, less than 10 cm (4 in) high. The triangular shaped leaves are green with narrow white crested strips on the outside. At the end of the leaf is a non acute spine.
Keep in mind; you should grow this plant in a small planter because it has shallow roots. However, once you get the plant settled in, be prepared to be amazed. It produces dazzling yellow flowers.
Read an in-depth guide to growing succulents here!
Succulent Terrarium Care
The three most important factors you must consider when caring for your terrarium plants are sunlight, soil, and water.
Place your terrarium in a bright area with indirect sunlight. The great thing about succulents is that they can also do great under normal fluorescent lighting, so these can make nice additions to boring office spaces.
Near a south or east facing window is an ideal spot. However, avoid placing it in direct sunlight which can burn the leaves of your plant.
Water plants thoroughly when the soil is completely dry. When you notice the soil pulling away from the edge of the pot, it is time to water.
Most succulents require watering once every week, sometimes even once every two weeks. Do not overwater.
We recommend watering with a spray bottle, watering at the base of the plant rather than over the leaves which can cause the plant to rot.
The success of growing succulents is directly contingent on the soil in which it is planted. Succulents have shallow root systems and prefer drought-like growing conditions.
This makes them an attractive, low-maintenance plant choice, as long as you get a few environmental factors just right from the start.
Proper soil, drainage, fertilizer, and watering requirements are essential to a succulent plant’s ability to flourish.
Succulents have shallow root systems and prefer soil that with good drainage. A loose, rocky soil that is nutrient-rich is optimal.
When planting in containers, use a potting mix specifically formulated for succulents and cacti and plant in a pot with drainage holes at the bottom to expel excess water.
Alkaline soil has the potential to cause the demise of succulent plants. Amending your own soil with compost, perlite, pumice, decomposed granite, and sand is also a great option.
Soil truly is they key to growing succulents and to learn more you can take a deeper dive here. Dish the Dirt: The Best Dirt for Succulents (2021)
You should not add any fertilizer to your terrarium. The goal is to maintain slow growth of the plants so you do not have to repot into a larger terrarium type. The best way your plants will get the nutrients they need is from the soil.
Once your plants get to large for the container, move them to a slightly larger pot and replace with new mini houseplants.