Are Terrariums Expensive to Make? (Ideas for all Budgets)

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Terrariums are an easy way to grow plants indoors, especially if you have a small living space. While they might be beautiful, many people are working with a limited budget. So, is it expensive to make a terrarium?

Most terrariums will be relatively low cost. Frugal gardeners should be able to source all the components for free. Buying the components for a basic model will cost between $30 to $60. Those seeking a larger terrarium can expect to pay $200 or more.  

There are lots of elements that can affect the cost of a terrarium. For example, are you going to buy the materials or take advantage of items you already have? Keep reading to learn more about how you can manage the costs associated with building a terrarium.

What Are The Costs Associated With Building a Terrarium?

A basic terrarium will cost less than $30, though gardeners will need to recycle glass containers.  On the lower end, a terrarium will cost around $60. But those seeking a larger terrarium with decorations and grow lights can expect to pay around $200 or more.

Let’s start by breaking down some of the elements you might need when building a terrarium. These are:

  • Container. Let’s start with the most important element. This is where you will be creating the terrarium. Generally, a larger container will be best, as it will be easier to work with. It’s best to choose one that’s made of glass or plastic.
  • Source of light. For the plants to grow, they need to photosynthesize. Because of this, you will need to provide a source of light. This can be free, placing the plants near a north-facing window. Or you might opt to provide a grow light.
  • Soil layers. Next, you’ll need to add the soil layers, which your plants will use when growing their roots. There are a few options you can use. Some people use charcoal or gravel for drainage, as terrariums don’t have any drainage holes. Others use sand. Potting mix or moss will go on top.
  • Plants. Finally, you will be able to add the plants.
  • Microorganisms. You might want to add a few microorganisms to the soil. They will help break down organic materials and return the nutrients to the soil.
  • Decorations. Sometimes, you might want to add decorative elements to improve the look of your terrarium. These are optional.

This table breaks down how much these elements are expected to cost.

ItemApproximate Cost
ContainerDepends on the size and material used. A small container can cost between $10 to $30. A fish tank will be around $100.
Grow LightAround $40, plus the electricity required to run it.
Soil layersDepends on the type of material you are using. A small bag of gravel will cost between $4 to $10. You should be able to find a bag of potting soil for between $12 to $20.
PlantsThis can vary depending on the type of plants you plan on using. Generally, though, they should cost between $5 to $10.
MicroorganismsThese will cost around $20.
DecorationsIt depends on the type of decoration you want to use. But it’s a good idea to budget between $10 to $20.
TotalOn the lower end, you could be paying $60 on the upper end it will be $225.

It should be noted that there is a lot of variation within these numbers. For example, we’ve looked at the costs of purchasing a larger terrarium, using a fish tank. If you want something smaller, you might be able to get away with a recycled bottle, which will be free.

bottle terrariums

As we mentioned, though, not all of these elements will be needed. If you are careful about the placement of your terrarium, you might be able to avoid paying for a heat lamp. This will save you $40.

Plus, since you only need a small amount of potting mix purchasing a whole bag will last for a long time. If you plan on making multiple terrariums, the costs associated with each one will go down.

As we’ll discuss later, there are a few tips you can use to cut down the costs associated with building a terrarium. You might be able to build one for next to nothing.  

How Can You Build A Terrarium On A Tight Budget?

It’s possible to build a terrarium for free. This will require being resourceful, like using recycled glass for a container and sourcing gravel from local roads. Sometimes, gardeners might be able to grow plants by taking cuttings from a terrarium they have already established. 

Though a terrarium kit might cost as little as $10, many people prefer to create the terrariums themselves. This gives you more control over the way that it looks.

Sourcing The Basics On A Budget

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to create a terrarium. Here are some tips you can use to get the materials you need for low cost or free:

  • Look for second-hand glass or plastic containers. There are plenty of interestingly shaped glass and plastic containers out there. Keep your eyes out at local recycling centers or garage sales.
  • Recycle old glasses. Sometimes, you might opt to wash out and reuse glass containers. This is free and takes away one of the biggest costs associated with creating a terrarium.
  • Sourcing gravel from nature. There are plenty of ways that you can source gravel easily. You might want to collect a small amount from a gravel road. Or you can use sand from a beach. Remember, you’ll only need a small amount to build a terrarium.
  • Looking for free plants. You might be able to find free plants in nature. For example, you can gather mosses for free. Another potential option is to take cuttings from the plants that you already have. Check your local council website, sometimes they might give away free plants which might be suitable for your terrarium.
terrarium in jar

Creating the Terrarium

Once you have sourced the basics, it’s time to put them all together. Here are the steps that you will need to follow:

  1. Add the gravel to the base of the container. How much you should be using will depend on the type of container you are using. If you have a tall, narrow container you might need a thicker layer of gravel to allow sufficient drainage. If you want you can also use some charcoal, this helps control unpleasant odors.
  2. Add potting mix. If you want, you can also add a layer of moss first.
  3. Add the plants. Consider the placement, so you can create a beautiful layout. You don’t want to overcrowd your plants. Finish by sprinkling in the moss and adding some microorganisms. Once you’ve done this, add a little water to help them settle in to their new home.
  4. Add any decorations.

Here is a great video showing some more ideas on how to build a terrarium for free:

How Much Does a Terrarium Cost to Maintain?

In most cases, the cost of terrarium maintenance will be negligible. Depending on where the terrarium is positioned, heat lamps might be needed. Sometimes, maintenance tools, like scissors or tweezers might be required, though these will be inexpensive.

Once you have built the terrarium, it’s time to consider how much it will cost to maintain it. The good news is that you won’t need to pay a lot to do this. If you have a grow light, you will need to pay electricity costs. Though these tend to be fairly low. In most states, it will be around $0.15 per kilowatt hour.

You can place your terrarium near a north-facing window. This ensures that it will get plenty of natural light and heat. If you do this, there will be no need to use a grow light.

Also check out my full guide on terrarium maintenance for any other questions you may have.

You might need to purchase a few tools to keep your terrarium looking its best. Some of the most useful options are:

  • Tweezers. Trying to reach into a terrarium to organize your plants can be a challenge. A pair of tweezers can help you with this aspect. These are fairly cheap. I paid around $10 for a pack of two on Amazon that have lasted well for years.
  • Spray bottle. Terrariums won’t require a lot of water. A spray bottle will make it easy for you to keep the soil moist so your plants will thrive. This will only cost $5 in most hardware stores. For a couple extra dollars you can get a great Mist Spray Bottle on Amazon that is great for controlling the amount of water you spray on your plants.
  • Curved scissors. Trying to prune your plants can be a challenge when they are stuck within a terrarium. Curved scissors will allow you to reach them from all angles. These can cost between $10 to $15.

How Much Does It Cost To Customize Your Terrarium?

Many customization’s can be done for a few dollars. This includes things like adding decorations like a plastic figurine or painting the container. Those with a larger budget might want to consider taking an online course to learn more about building a terrarium.

So far, we’ve looked at some of the ways that you can create a terrarium on a limited budget. But what if you have a few extra dollars to spend? In this case, there are a few fun ways that you can make your terrarium stand out. These include:

  • Adding decorations. There are lots of ways that decorations you can use to spice up your terrarium, like plastic figurines. These can be used as a way of telling a story. 
  • Adding a fake water element. This can really bring something special to your terrarium. See my step by step guide here on how to incorporate fake water elements into your terrarium.
  • Painting the container. This can be a great way of injecting a little extra color.
  • Stickers. This is an easy way for children to decorate their terrariums.
  • Getting a unique container shape. There are containers available in all sizes and shapes, which will allow you to create a unique arrangement for your plants.
  • Taking an online course. If you want to take your terrarium-building skills to the next level it might help to take a course. This will take you through the intricacies of plant placement and how to prune your plants.
  • Lighting. An LED backlight can be a great way of showing off your terrarium, though this can be expensive.
water terrarium

How much it costs to customize your terrarium will depend. Something like painting or adding figurines will only cost a few dollars. Some containers will be free or available at garage sales for a low cost. If you opt to take a course it can be anywhere from $10 to $50.

The key to building a terrarium is to be creative.  You don’t need to have a lot of money to create a spectacular design. A quick Google search will tell you plenty of unique ideas that you can try. 

How Much Does A Pre-Made Terrarium Cost?

Many pre-made terrariums will start at around $50. At the upper end, they can cost between $150 to $200. The most expensive models will be over $2,000. A terrarium kit will start at $10 and can cost up to $75.

You can take a DIY approach to building your terrarium. Though many people find that it’s easy to choose a pre-made one. There are a few options that this type of terrarium can take. Sometimes, it will already have been assembled and all the plants will be established.

As the gardeners have already done the hard work, these terrariums will have the highest costs. However, they will vary widely. Some of the variables to take into account are:

  • Type of plants
  • Size
  • Shipping costs
  • Customer satisfaction

Often, the best place to find these will be on a site like Etsy. These can start at around $50. But they can cost more than $2,000 on the upper end.

On the other hand, you might be able to find a kit. These tend to be more affordable. Again, these kits are often found on Etsy or Amazon. These can cost between $10 to $75, depending on the size of the system and the types of plants that you are using. 

A great option for any beginner is this Terrarium Starter Kit on Amazon. It’s extremely affordable and a great stepping stone before getting into more complex terrariums. For kids, I would suggest the Grow ‘N Glow Terrarium Kit also found on Amazon.

This can be a good option for beginners. They will contain everything you need to get started and come with instructions.

Final Thoughts

So, is it expensive to make a terrarium? That all depends on the approach you take. Frugal people should be able to make one for free. If you opt to buy the components you can expect to pay around $60, though this will give you enough materials to make multiple models. Those on a high budget can splurge on the coolest containers and intrinsic decorations, ending up spending a few hundred dollars.


Meet Brad, the creator behind Vivarium Vibes, where his deep connection with nature and animals truly comes to life.

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