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What to put in a terrarium besides plants to make it stand out

I love the natural vibe of terrariums, but one thing that I’ve recently been looking into is creating a pinterest-worthy terrarium design. One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the images I see on there have little figurines that create really interesting little worlds in glass containers. That got me thinking, what else can I put in a terrarium besides plants?

Besides plants, terrariums have functional components that complement the plant life ecosystem, including activated carbon, charcoal, spring tails, and soil. From a decorative standpoint, all sorts of knickknacks and figurines can be added to the container to enhance the overall image of the terrarium. These can turn your terrarium from plants in a box to a piece of art.

So now that you’re aware of this world of possibility, let’s list out some ideas that can spark your imagination.

Decorative items

Crystals, minerals, and gemstones

Crystals and minerals are a great point to turn your terrarium into a fantasy wonderland. The great thing about crystals and minerals is that there are so many colors to choose from. 

Just check out Etsy and you’ll find tons of different shapes and colors that would go great for any terrarium design.

You can choose from amethyst, selenite, amazonite, quartz, and more. Maybe you’ll even be able to recreate Superman’s fortress of solitude.


If you don’t know what resin is, it’s basically a type of polymer that has almost a bluish, transparent color to it. It’s sort of like a more colorful version of marble.

Resin is commonly used to create an artificial body of water in small crafts, which would go great with a terrarium to create a lakeside view or a scenic island with a nice beach.

If you check on Pinterest for terrarium designs, you’ll definitely see resin used in some of the photos there.


Seashells are a great way to create a beach theme or an underwater theme for your terrarium. 

The plus side of using shells is that you have a lot of different sizes to choose from. It can be used as a way to set the scale of the scene you’re trying to create.

You can find a bunch of shells posted on Etsy for reasonable prices, or you can visit your beach and collect shells there.

Logs or twigs

Logs and twigs are very commonly found in terrariums. They can help paint the picture of a mini forest with a fallen tree.

Since logs and twigs come in a variety of shapes, they can add a lot of character to your terrarium.

If you’re collecting logs or twigs from the wild, you might want to make sure that there aren’t any small bugs catching a ride. You can either soak it in some water for 15 minutes or bake it at 350F for half an hour.

Preserved flowers

Preserved flowers are a great way to add some color to your terrarium while keeping the natural vibe alive.

This is probably a much easier choice than trying to grow natural flowers in the terrarium. You can never be sure if the flower you’re trying to grow is going to be compatible with the humid terrarium environment. Because of this, you might find that any natural flowers added to a terrarium will not last very long.


Rocks are the natural go-to for the list of non-living things to add to a terrarium. Rocks can go great with any terrarium as mountains or hills.

There’s also a huge variety of different rocks to choose from, including decomposed granite, pea gravel, lava rock, and river rock.

You can also choose to get colorful by adding all sorts of different colored rocks. These are basically the type that you’ll see in a lot of tourist hotspot stores in the US.


Figurines can be a huge game changer when it comes to designing your terrarium. The possibilities are virtually endless with the selection of figurines available.

They can easily be the centerpieces that really sell the type of theme that you’re going for.

It’s also a great way to make use of some leftover toys that your kid doesn’t want to play with anymore.


Salt can be a good way to create artificial snow in your terrarium. If you want to create a winter wonderland terrarium, salt is the way to go.

To do this, you would put some paper or masking tape over the area you want to be snowed over and start sprinkling some salt until you get what you’re looking for.


If you’re going for a sparkly look, glitter might be an option. You can use a similar paper/tape technique as with salt to get glitter to “cover” your plants.

You have all sorts of different colors to choose from as well as various different glitter sizes. Just be careful not to make a mess in your home, that’s going to be a pain to clean up.

Pine cones

Pine cones are another way to add to the natural look of your terrarium. These also come in a variety of sizes, so you can choose one depending on the scale you’re trying to go for.

Functional items

Besides decorative items, there’s also a few things you can add to a terrarium besides plants that can complement the terrarium ecosystem.


Springtails are tiny grayish white bugs that go great with any terrarium.

These little guys will feed off of dead and dying organic matter as well as fungus and mold, all things that you don’t want in a terrarium. They’re basically like the cleanup crew for your terrarium to enhance the self-sustaining ecosystem.

You can buy a starter culture of springtails from Amazon for a few bucks and use that starter culture to grow your own collection of springtails for future use.

Charcoal/rock false bottom 

If you don’t know what a false bottom is, it’s basically a drainage layer at the very bottom of your terrarium that allows water to train away from the soil. 

Without a false bottom, it’s easy to run into problems like root rot because water is accumulating around the plant roots in the soil. The false bottom is a layer of either charcoal, activated carbon, or rocks that has openings wide enough for water to easily flow through away from the soil layer.

Mesh Separator

To go with the false bottom, a mesh separator is commonly used to prevent your plan to root from growing into the false bottom.

The most separator can be anything synthetic or anything that won’t start to fall apart in the presence of water. 

Basically, the whole point is you want something to stop your plants from allowing their roots to soak in the water accumulating in the false bottom. At the same time, you’ll also want it to allow water to pass through easily so it doesn’t stop in the soil layer. This in turn will help prevent root rot.

You can either buy some mesh online and cut out a piece to fit in your terrarium between the soil and the false bottom or you can make your own. You can just grab a piece of plastic (like an empty cereal bag), cut out a piece roughly the size of your terrarium, and poke a lot of holes in it.

Other uses for terrariums

I’ve also seen people write about other uses for terrariums. In my opinion, I wouldn’t necessarily call these terrariums, but rather just regular old containers used for decoration or for holding odds and ends.

Food displays

If you can imagine a fruit basket sitting out on an open table in a living room, that’s basically what this is.

I’m not sure if you would want your plants to be touching your food though. 

Hanging flowers

You can also use your terrariums to hang flowers over the edges. I guess in this sense, it would act more like a pot for a common house plant.

Floating candles

If you are into candles, you can use a terrarium as a candle holder. All you would have to do is add some candle wax in the center, away from your plants and add a wick to it.

This would give you a “natural” or nature-inspired looking candle setup.

Regardless of what you add to your terrarium, your imagination’s the limit when it comes to its function and design. Feel free to get creative and add things that you think would be really cool to add, but were not listed here. 

For the most part, it will probably be safe for the plants. They are pretty resilient.