Terrarium in a Glass – Cactus & Succulents


Using stemware as an enclosure for a terrarium has a couple of benefits.  For one thing, your plants will be closer to eye level.  This provides an unusual and interesting perspective.  Plus, it’s chic on the cheap.  I haven’t seen anyone else making these (unique), and you can find plain glasses at Goodwill for pennies (if you don’t already have extras cluttering up your cabinet).

Cactus1      Cactus2

I’ve found a nice variety of little cactus and succulents in 2″ containers available from local plant shops and garden centers.  Generally, the plants are sitting a little low in their pots when I get them.  In order to get the soil level even with the top of the pot:

– Remove the plant from the pot gently (dirt and all).

– Add a little soil to the bottom (cactus mix is better than the standard potting soil for cactus and succulents)

– Stick the plant and original dirt back into the pot.

Now, hopefully, the bottom of the plant will be at the same level as the top of the pot.

Terrariums typically have layers of sand, rock and charcoal below the soil for proper drainage.  Since cactus and succulents require long dry spells, I’m not especially concerned about water accumulation and algae the way I would be with a tropical terrarium.

In order to get a feel for the plant, I want to give my cactus a good watering before putting it into the terrarium.  This way I can find out what quantity of water is needed.  I water my cactus terrariums with an eye-dropper so I can control how much water I put where, thereby providing a healthy even moistening of the soil without over-watering.


Instead of using plain, boring sand for drainage, I like to use colored sand.  I got a basic sand art kit which has given me a good stock of primary colors, and I’ve found mixing sands works well for creating custom colors.


The secret that makes this project possible is to plant the cactus in its original pot and conceal the pot with sand, pebbles, or whatever else you want to use.  You can put a bit of gravel and/or activated charcoal between the sand and pot just to be safe, then set the pot in the center of the glass on top of the sand.

Use a spoon or funnel to add new layers of sand around the pot.  If the cactus shifts away from the center, you can press it back into place with your fingers, or hold it with a pliers if it’s too pointy to touch.

4spoon     5layer

I haven’t read up on sand art, and I’m sure there are endless design possibilities, but I really like making stalactite patterns in my sand.  I do this by poking down through the layers with a drink stir.  There are other tools you could use, but the drink stir

– bends like the curve of the glass, and

– captures a few granules of the top level colors and deposits them below when you start to pull the stir back up  (-;

I poke out some stalactites every couple of layers.


Once the sand is even with the plant, use a small amount of sand to cover the soil and give the illusion of a desert in a glass.  I like the texture of large grain sand for my top layer, not only for its look but also because it seems easier for water to pass through it.


Add pebbles or decorations.  Use a cotton swab or damp paper towel to remove sand dust from the inside of the glass.

Cactus 3

This terrarium was designed for my fiancee’s office, a modern room in sage and brick and other earthy colors, decorated with a series of urban decay photographs and, of course, Josh’s five computer monitors.

The next one was for my office.  This overly-large wine glass made a perfect container for the cactus, and the lively color palette made it stand out against my “chianti” accent wall.  Plus, dry wine – dry desert… get it?

Desert2   Desert1

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