How to Make a Glowing Terrarium

What's even cooler than a terrarium? One that lights up! The materials for this glowing terrarium cost as little as $25, and it also takes less than 25 minutes to make. You can find most of the ingredients from the floral supply section of Michael's, and other craft supply stores should have a similar selection. Even if you couldn't care less about a terrarium that lights up, I've outlined every step with simple photographs and helpful tips to help you make any terrarium you can dream up.

I've always been entranced by the phenomenal terrariums and installation art of Paula Hayes but could never afford the artistic blown glass that makes her work so special. When I saw a crystal wine decanter on clearance for only five bucks, my imagination started to play tricks on me, creating illusions of a grandly designed terrarium that would rival the work of Paula herself. The only problem was that the wine decanter was no larger than, well... a wine decanter. Then I had another idea.

Paula Hayes is known for using the amorphous qualities of glass to her advantage, using dents and folds in the flask to create a magical effect. As it turned out, my wine flask had a big 'punt' at the bottom, creating the effect of a bubble. This bubble seemed like the perfect place to add a light, but I soon found out that any terrarium could be turned into a living nightlight. Here's how I did it!


Wine Decanter - If you can't find one at a store, they can be purchased here. Any vase or bowl can be used, but a decanter with a mound at the bottom is the easiest to light up.
Sand - Decorative sand from a craft supply store works well.
Stones - Not necessary, but they do add interest.
Potting Soil - You won't need much; just enough to surround the roots.
Glass Beads - I used frosted white glass beads to help diffuse the light; any will do.
LED Lights - Can be found at craft supply stores; I used submersible battery operated LED lights, but rechargable tealights are probably the most economical.
Plants - Should be slow growing houseplants. I used Rhipsalis, A small Orthophytum bromeliad and a coffee seedling. If small houseplants are hard to come by, you can take cuttings of new or existing houseplants such as golden pothos or creeping fig.
Chopsticks or Skewers - Will be used to position plants and materials.
Plastic Bag - Can be used to safely and accurately position rocks, sand and glass beads.

How to Make Your Own

1. Clean the Decanter
Clean with soapy water, dry thoroughly and clean outside with glass cleaner to remove any hard water deposits.

2. Add Sand and Rocks
For now, we're just adding about an inch of sand or rocks for drainage. However, simply pouring the material from the top will leave you with a mess and possible even scratched glass.To keep the sides of the flask clean and control where the sand and rocks land, I've figured out a neat little solution. Cut out the corner of a plastic bag and position the cut corner where you want the materials to fall. Slowly pour the materials into the bag, using a chopstick to guide them to the desired place.

3. Add Plants
Use chopsticks to nestle the plants into the desired locations. Allow enough room for soil to be added  above.

4. Add Potting Soil
This can also be done after adding each plant. Since the soil tends to bunch up with my plastic bag method, I've rolled up a sheet of newspaper into a funnel, taped it into place and slowly poured potting soil into the top. Don't smother the plants with too much soil - they should be growing at the same depth that they were originally growing in their containers.

5. Add Glass Beads
The glass beads help diffuse the light underneath and create a subtle glow. Add them using the plastic bag technique, position into place with the chopsticks, and add more sand or rocks around the edges if desired.

6. Add LED Lights
After turning them on, position one to three of the LED lights together where you plan on placing the terrarium. Set the terrarium over the lights so that they fit into the bubble in the middle, and look at your terrarium in a whole new light.

You don't need a wine decanter with a 'punt' to add lights: The submersible LED lights I bought from Michaels can be placed directly in the terrarium as long as you've attached a loop of string or fishing line for easy removal when the batteries need to be changed.

Here are a few things to consider with the LED lights:

- Battery operated lights will only last 8-40 hours (depending on who you ask) - but I found this set of rechargable tealights for sale online that would probably be best for long term use.

- While the lights don't seem to get too hot, exercise caution at first. The package had no warnings, but I'd rather cover my butt and say to use common sense.

- Electronic tealights can be used as well and can even be bought at dollar stores - but again - exercise caution and check the label for any warnings.

Still have questions? Let me know in the comments below!



  1. THANK YOU for this. Thank you so much, best idea since sliced bread. Or maybe the wheel.
    I love soft mood light and I LOVE this new(ish) terrarium trend.
    Finally the last straw I needed to get my behind into gear and gather the materials as this is, by far, the most beautiful idea for a terrarium I have ever seen! Now... the long hunt through all charity shops I know to score a decanter! :) (or just give in at pay day and grudgingly buy a new one, as I know this project will not let me be patient!)

    1. So glad you like it, and if you need any help along the way, please be sure to let me know! BTW I have been known to buy things at full price occasionally, thanks to my lack of patience. :/

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Stevie! I'm just about ready to start our next collaboration. Yay!

  3. what a lovely idea - that looks so pretty!

    1. Thank you! Luckily it looks decent without the lights on too. :)

  4. What a great idea! Your terrarium is very beautiful.

  5. Steve,

    You have been so helpful, thank you so much for all the advice and suggestions for my group of teens! Your terrariums are awesome! Can't wait to see more!

    1. Glad to be of help! I've just posted a big roundup article so they can peruse through any ideas or help they might need. Be sure to email me if you need any help!

  6. Very cool idea, Steve! I would like to post about it at my blog if you'd don't mind.

  7. Thanks! Feel free to post about it all you want! It's a great resource.

    1. By that I mean your blog is a great resource. :)

    2. Thanks Steve! I'll be sharing a link to your great tutorial soon!

  8. Hi Steve,

    You re well done. I would like to ask a few questions. How can you hide the adapter and how can you take out the cable from jar? Do you take it from mouth or you open a new small hole to jar ?


    1. I just put a battery operated led light beneath the glass beads!


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!