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Upclose image of the upcycled ecosytems project tinted green



Let's make terrariums!

How can you make a terrarium out of a water bottle? Lets spend the day outside and forage for plants to create our own indoor ecosystem!

upcycled water bottle with dirt and plants inside, with string tied around the neck of the bottle with 3 beads at the end

Materials You'll Need:

  • Water bottle (any size)

  • Sheet of scrap plastic or plastic bag 

  • Cups or bowls to collect foraged materials

  • Soil

  • Gravel or small stones

  • Sticks

  • Bark or flowers

  • Any small plants with roots (grass or wildflowers will work)

  • Spoon or small shovel

  • Scissors

  • Decorations for your bottle (we used string and beads but you could also use permanent markers to color the outside

Step-by-Step Instructions:

Step 1:

Gather recycled materials! You will need to sort through your recycle bin to find a bottle to use. Any of these options will work:

  • Small water bottle

  • 2 liter soda bottle

  • Glass food jar with a wide lid

  • You'll also need a small sheet of plastic bag.

  • Newspaper to line your work station may also be helpful, if you want to use it, you can gather that now too.

upclose image of dirt soil in a bowl
upclose image of small plants, sticks, and flowers in a bowl

Step 2:

Now its time to go outside and forage. Find a space where their seem to be a lot of "weeds." Make sure you are not in someone's lawn or garden! Be sure to bring cups with you to collect in, you wont be filling your actual container until later, and little shovel or metal spoon  You'll be gathering materials from nature, try to leave things undisturbed if you do not plan to use them and only collect what you need, you can always go back out and collect more things. Here is what you're looking for

  • Little stones or gavel to fill the bottom inch of your container

  • Soil to fill the next two inches. Remove any roots you find in your soil.

  • a small stick for moving your plants around in the terrarium 

  • plant life with roots (see next step for more detail)

When you dig up your plants, break up the soil around the edges with a stick, spoon or shovel and wiggle the plant as close to the ground as you can grab. the roots will be embedded in the soil, if you don't pull them out with the plant, your plant may not survive in the terrarium. Some plants, like dandelion, which are pretty and you can use as decoration, have very very deep roots and may be hard to dig up. Here are some nice options:


Step 3:

Back at our work stations, we can now put our terrariums together. First, prepare your bottle:

  • Remove the label from your bottle, you can use hot water if necessary. Then, using a pair of scissors, or ask your parents for help with a knife, cut the top of your bottle off.

Next, cut a small circle of plastic that is the same width as you bottle. Use a pin or paperclip to poke holes in your plastic. This plastic sheet will help your bottle produce and collect condensation which will water your plants.

a bowl of small plants, sticks and flowers, an empty plastic water bottle cut in half, and a piece of plastic cut into a circle

Step 4:

Now we can fill our containers! 

  • Start by filling the bottom of your container with stones. These are for drainage! This layer will be one inch thick.

  • Next add your plastic sheet

  • The next layer will be your soil. This layer should be at least 2 inches thick.

  • Use your stick to poke a hole in the soil. Place your plant roots in the holes. Use the stick to cover the plant roots completely. Be mindful of your layout and think about which plants will look nice next to which.

  • Add your other decorative items to the top of your soil. These could be flower petals, small branches, a spiral of stones or a pattern of multi colored bark pieces that line the perimeter of the container. Be Creative!

  • Lightly water your plants before you put the cover or top half of your bottle back on.

Step 5:

Put the top half of your bottle back on and decorate!

  • When decorating, you can tie stings, beads or tassels to the mouth of the bottle. 

  • You can also color a design of pattern with permanent markers on your bottle. Be sure to use light colors so the light can penetrate through to provide nutrients to your plants

Step 6:

Now lets talk about maintaining your terrarium. By following a few steps every couple of weeks your terrarium should stay growing and healthy:

  • Terrariums retain water considerably longer than most potted houseplants. Open the cover and feel the soil to see if it's dry. If so, it needs water. 

  • Check a closed terrarium for condensation. some condensation is normal, but too much and your plants can rot. Take off the top at least once a month to air it out. Leave the top off until the condensation disappears. Do this if you added too much water, as well.

  • You may need to pull off yellowing or damaged leaves and prune plants if they're growing too large.

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