When it comes to picking a container for your next terrarium, it’s hard to go wrong. Pretty much any clear plastic or glass container will work just fine. At the same time, the endless options available to you might be a little intimidating (the good ol’ paradox of choice).
Here’s a quick rundown of my recommendations:
If you’re at a loss for where to start, my recommendation is to get a big clear plastic tub like the one here to start out. You’ll get a lot of space to work with and experiment, meaning you will have a lot more freedom when it comes to choosing which plants to add to your terrarium.
If you’re looking to jump straight in and build a terrarium that’s aesthetically pleasing, Etsy has a lot of cool containers for sale like the one here.
If you want to build a terrarium with a minimal budget, you can always repurpose any glass or plastic container that you happen to have on hand. I built my first terrarium using an empty plastic container of walmart peanuts.
Now let’s get into some of the details.
Glass containers are by far the best way to get a great aesthetically pleasing terrarium design. If you’re able to get your hands on a glass container, this is the way to go.
They will give you the best view directly into your terrarium allowing your plants to show themselves off. Really the only factors to consider are the size and whether you like the shape or not.
The one downside of glass containers is that they can magnify light and burn/overheat your plants if you’re not careful. However, if you keep your terrarium away from direct sunlight (i.e. don’t place it outside or on your windowsill), this shouldn’t be an issue.
Here’s a list of my recommendations for glass container shapes:
Plastic containers come second to glass containers when it comes to aesthetics, but offer their own unique advantages when used for terrariums.
First, plastic can be cheaper than glass when comparing containers of equal size. This means you can get your hands on a larger container without taking big a hit to your wallet.
A larger container gives your plants more space to avoid competition and allows you to choose from a larger variety of plants than if you had chosen a smaller container. It can also be very advantageous if you’re trying to propagate some plants of your own. You also will have an easier time handling your plants just because of all the extra space you have.
Another small plus is that plastic containers are generally going to be lighter than glass containers of equal size. That’s going to come in handy if you plan to be moving your terrarium to and from a workbench or you want to move your terrarium onto a replanting mat to minimize cleanup.
This is just my opinion/preference, but I also like the idea that I don’t have to be super delicate when moving my plastic containers around. There’s no risk of cracking or shattering your container if you accidentally drop it or place it down a little too hard. That’s just one less thing to worry about.
Here’s a list of my recommendations for plastic containers (listed from biggest to smallest):
One small note, if you’re worried about chemicals from the plastic affecting your plants, I haven’t seen any sources that show that this will significantly influence the health of your plants. In my opinion, there are other more important factors that will have a bigger impact on the health of your plants than the container materials.
Low Budget Container
If you’re adhering to a strict budget, you can still get a functional container without dropping a bunch of cash.
All you really need to do is repurpose an empty glass or plastic container that you don’t have a current use for. This could be things like wine bottles, peanut butter jars, or clear tupperware. Even plastic water bottles will do.
You may have to just take what you can get, but if you can, try to look for containers that have a large opening and that have about 5 inches or more of vertical clearance to allow for a false bottom, the substrate, and your plants to fit in. It’s doable, but will be a struggle to handle plants in your terrarium when you can’t fit your hands through the opening, even when using tweezers.
You can also visit your local Target, Walmart, or thrift store and browse their containers for anything that catches your eye and fits within your budget.
How to Choose a Terrarium Container
Aside from material and budget, there’s also a few other things you might want to consider before committing to a particular container, including shape, size, and future access.
Size and Shape
Size and shape are probably going to be the main criteria you’re going to use to decide on your container.
Generally speaking, the larger your terrarium container is, the healthier it will be for your plants. Having more volume in your container gives your plants more space to minimize competition and more room to grow without touching the walls.
A bigger container also creates a bigger buffer in the soil and air chemistry. Any common issues you might see with a terrarium will be more mild and slow to appear, meaning the margin of error isn’t as tight on your end.
While the shape of your terrarium mostly comes down to your personal preference, there are some extremes that you will want to avoid. For the most part, you will be fine so long as there’s enough soil and drainage for your plants. So anything that’s not in a “V” shape will do fine.
The other thing you might want to consider is how you will access your terrarium for maintenance (if at all). Ideally, you would want your container to have a lid of some sort that you can take on/off to get inside your terrarium. However, it’s not a requirement so much as just something to be aware of when choosing your container.
This pretty much boils down to this question: will you be able to fit your hands/tools inside for pruning, watering, or adding/removing plants?
While it’s possible to make a completely self-sustaining terrarium, you may want to at least give yourself the option of doing some maintenance if things start turning south.
Most likely, you’re probably going to be considering completely clear, transparent containers. But on the off chance you’re wondering if you can use your empty bottle of wine/beer that happens to be made of colored glass, the answer is probably not.
Colored glass only permits a small range of wavelengths of light to pass through. Plants for the most part depend on the full spectrum of light (except green) for photosynthesis. When you filter out that light by letting it pass through colored glass, that greatly reduces your plants’ ability to synthesize food for itself from carbon dioxide and water.
Besides not being great for your plants, in my opinion it’s not going to look that great either. It’s going to make it harder to get a good view of your plants unless you peek in from an opening.
So if you see significant coloring or shading in your container material, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.