How to DIY your own Cactus Terrarium

Hello! I am popping in today to share a new plant project I completed over the weekend. Yep, I am at it again—another terrarium. I think I may need an intervention. 🙂 This one started with a Plant Social event at my favorite local nursery (which is a great idea to gather plant people together). The nursery brought in all kinds of unique plants, including cacti, and when I saw that some were blooming…well, I was hooked. So grab a pair of gloves, and let’s take a peek at how to DIY your own Cactus Terrarium.

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Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding

What do I need for a Cactus Terrarium?

River rocks, sand, gloves and cacti. Items needed to DIY a Cactus Terrarium.
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding

Choose a container:

When choosing a container for a Cacti Terrarium, airflow is the biggest priority. Look for a wide-open top to allow air circulation for these desert dwellers. The key to remember here is that Cacti like a dry habitat (which is part of their charm), and open terrariums cut down on humidity. Choose a container with drainage holes to allow water to escape or something deep enough to add your own drainage system, as I do here with a deep glass bowl.

Clean your container well and let it dry before getting started.

Glass bowl for DIY Terrarium
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding

Selecting your Cacti:

Generally, most cactus plants have the same light and water requirements, so feel free to choose what you like. I picked mine on shape, mixing the heights, and made sure to choose a couple of flowering versions.

  • Leucostele Chiloensis- Has the white flowers.
  • Mammillaria Plumosa- White fuzzy guy
  • Dragon Fruit
  • Mammillaria Spinosissma- Pin Cushion Cactus- Pink Flowers
A variety of Cacti for a DIY Cactus Terrarium.
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding

These would also be interesting choices:

  • Echinopsis Mirabilis
  • Piaranthus Comptus
  • Stapelia gigantea
  • Astrophytum Myriostigma

Building the Drainage, Rocks, Soil, and Sand.

Adding Cactus Soil for a DIY terrarium.
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding
  • First, add a layer of river rocks. These larger stones will create a drainage layer for excess water to collect, preventing it from reaching the roots of your cacti. Aim for a depth of roughly 1-1.5 inches, ensuring even distribution throughout the bottom.
  • Add a layer of cacti potting mix. Choose a well-draining, pre-mixed option specifically formulated for cacti and succulents. 
  • Leave enough space at the top for a decorative sand layer (which we’ll get to in the next step!).

Planting the Cactus

Now for the fun part! Grab those gloves. These little guys are prickly!

  • Before planting, I took a minute to arrange the cacti outside the terrarium. I also placed them in side to make sure they would all fit into the container. Here is where you can play around with different configurations. I am a fan of odd numbers, so I am using 5 cacti. Also, consider factors like size, color, and shape to create a balanced and interesting desert landscape.
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding
  • Once you’re happy with your layout, carefully remove your cacti from their nursery pots. Gently loosen the roots of the plants.
Dragon Fruit Cacti
  • Using a spoon or a terrarium rake, create planting holes in the cactus potting mix. Make sure the holes are deep enough to accommodate the root ball of each cactus without overcrowding.
  • Using your gloves, carefully position each cactus plant in its designated spot and gently fill the remaining space with potting mix, firming it around the base of the plant for stability. Be careful not to bury the cacti too deeply, which can lead to root rot. That’s it!
Assorted Cacti Varieties.
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding
  • Slowly and gently pour the coarse sand over the surface of the potting mix. Start at the edges and work your way inward, creating variations in height and texture. You can use a spoon or terrarium rake to gently shape the sand into dunes, slopes, or even a mini cactus garden path.


  • Be mindful of burying the base of your cacti. Keep the sand level below the point where the cactus stem meets the soil to avoid moisture retention around the base of the plant, which can lead to rot.
Close up of a DIY Cactus Terrarium
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding
  • Incorporate decorative elements. Small rocks, pebbles, or even air plants can add depth and character to your DIY Cactus Terrarium.
Cactus Terrarium
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding
  • Using a brush, dust off any flecks of sand or soil that may be clinging to your cacti.
Side view of a Cactus Terrarium in a glass bowl.
Photo Credit: A Life Unfolding

Caring for your DIY Cactus Terrarium

  • Light is life! Place your terrarium in a bright location (West—or south-facing window) with plenty of indirect sunlight. Cacti crave sunshine for healthy growth but avoid harsh, full sun that can scorch them, especially if you are making a glass terrarium.
  • Don’t have enough light? Artificial light can be the answer. Try this tiny battery-operated plant light.
  • Hydration is important, but moderation is key. Remember, cacti are desert plants and prefer to dry out completely between waterings. Overwatering is the leading cause of problems in terrariums. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the excess water to drain completely. A good rule of thumb is to water only when the soil feels completely dry to the touch.
  • Humidity is not your friend. Cacti thrive in dry environments. In addition to good air circulation, avoid misting your terrarium and resist the urge to cover it, as this can trap moisture (think greenhouse effect) and lead to rot.
  • Enjoy the low maintenance! With proper lighting and watering habits, your cactus terrarium requires minimal upkeep. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your miniature desert oasis.
Pin for a DIY Cactus Terrarium

Where to find Cacti for your Terrarium.

Your neighborhood nursery is a great place to start your search. The staff will be knowledgable and can guide your search. If you don’t have a local nursery, Etsy is an excellent source for unique plants and these from Amazon would be a great place to start.

So that is it for how to DIY your own Cactus Terrarium. Do you think you will make one? If you do, send a picture to my Instagram. I’d love to see it! If you’d like to see my favorite DIY terrarium filled with Orchids, you can find it here.

Until next time,


You may also enjoy:

How to DIY a Succulent Terrarium

Turn a jar into a Terrarium

Let’s make a succulent wreath.

Mini succulent Christmas Tree

Share the ♡
  1. Esme Slabbert says:

    This is so beautiful Libby. As a kiddo, my Dad had a HUGE cacti garden and this brought back so many memories of him (deceased for over 30 years) and I think I should try to make one in his memory.
    Thanks so much for participating and sharing at SSPS 300. See you again next week!

  2. Beth says:

    LOVE that terrariums are making a comeback! Don’t forget to join us over at the Creatively Crafty Linky Party every Wednesday through Sunday
    Followed and Pinned!
    Creatively, Beth

  3. Grandma's House DIY says:

    I’m featuring you this week when the next To Grandma’s house we go link party starts! Thanks for sharing with us

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