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Dino Battle! (and Building a Terrarium)

As mentioned here, we already made the first leap towards building a terrarium. I know, big deal, so we bought the vessel – but dang, that was not easy to find! From too-high price points to chintzy fish bowls at the hobby stores, we just weren’t finding the one. Well, you know, until we did.

Finally feeling mentally prepared, we headed to Sprout Home for the greenery. Originally hoping for a succulent filled vase, we were admittedly bummed to find out we would be unable to provide the proper light. Knowing our terrarium would ultimately sit on our media wall (seen here) and not a sun-packed windowsill, the friendly staff advised us to stick with ferny leaves and ground covering moss – which hold up well in bright, indirectly lit environments – perfect for us. We left the garden hot spot (seriously, if you’re in the Chicago area, you’ve gotta get to Sprout) with a teeny pot of club moss and a variation of Peperomia. We loved how crazy vibrant they were, and the Peperomia had a nice, meaty leaf with promises of conical white flowers. Of course we advise talking to your local plant experts (or even your green-thumbed pal) about your home lighting environment before purchasing based on prettiness. Which is so not what we were planning to do (har-har).

But on to the building. You’ll see we have 3 layers going on, from the bottom up: crushed rock for drainage, charcoal (keeps the soil fresh), and potting soil. We learned that the general rule is that your vessel should be filled at least 1/3 of the way once all the layers are in place, with your soil layer being as deep as your largest root ball – in our case, it was the 4″ ground covering moss. We used white aquarium gravel for our drainage level (but any gravel, stones, or craft-store pebbles would do the trick) and regular potting soil. Our charcoal was borrowed from a friend, but most garden stores will have this in stock.


Next, we added our plants. This was, um, stressful. Then again, take what I say with a grain of salt. I’m a bona fide Polly Panic and break a sweat when things don’t go perfect on the first take. The small opening, while large enough for my hands, was still constricting and awkward, but after I took a moment to calm down, it all worked out. (Watching Scott’s big boy hands dig around was enough to induce a near-on heart attack, so perhaps let’s leave that part to the ladies, yeah?) Like I said, a grain of salt.


For the final touches, we beheaded two Billy Buttons (omg, love those), sprinkled in a few plastic flowers, and created a dinosaur battlefield. Ooh, dino battle! In a flowerfield! All items were found at Sprout, but I did use acrylic paint to glitz up the T-Rex and what we think is a Triceratops – although sans horns, so who knows.


Scott’s been having too much fun role playing for the dinos (okay, so have I), and I’ll often hear exaggerated raawr!s coming from the living room. We’re still deciding on names. Any suggestions?


Upon completion, we gave it a good watering, making sure the soil was visibly wet. Since then, we’ve misted the plants with a water spritzer, and we were specifically told to give a a more substantial watering if the soil’s looking parched (although misting between regular waterings should avoid that).

Remember to have fun with layering your rocks and soil – uneven landscaping can certainly add interest, and it’ll most definitely provide rough and tough terrain for your animal figurines! Pruning along the way is also a must, snipping off any dead leaves and removing any dust that might collect in your vessel. And for a full blown tutorial on DIY terrariums, check out this guide, which we referenced more than once during our own process.

Any other plant-filled-vessel-fillers out there? It’s been a good week since we finished ours, and we’re happy to report healthy, happy plants (alongside a very serious dino battle, of course). But a week of fresh plants is a near record for our broken thumbs. In other words, we’re eager to scoop up any other tips and tricks for lively greenery. Let’s hear it, green thumbs.


  • Lauren - April 19, 2011 - 8:27 AM

    Love this! I have seen terrariums making the rounds for a while now and keep telling myself I need to hunt down the perfect vase and then I will start it – but it keeps slipping my mind! But now that I’ve seen yet another terrarium I refuse to be the last one to do mine! Love the dinosaurs!ReplyCancel

  • Cait @ Hernando House - April 19, 2011 - 9:45 AM

    Cute! The dinosaurs are too funny!ReplyCancel

  • Jackie - April 19, 2011 - 10:02 AM

    This looks amazing! I think I need one myself. As for names… they look like Lonnie & Lucy =)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - April 19, 2011 - 10:33 AM

      Ooh, Jackie, I like that! I didn’t even think of them as ladies – until now.ReplyCancel

  • RocketGirl75 - April 19, 2011 - 11:38 AM

    I love it! My husband had a terrarium/diorama built from an old television set, complete with a light, desert scene, and he adhered sand to the entire outside of it. Dioramas rule!ReplyCancel

  • emily @ the happy home - April 19, 2011 - 12:28 PM

    those are awesome additions! i think you definitely have to go with really old-fashioned names. leonard and mabel?ReplyCancel

  • Jaimie - April 19, 2011 - 12:57 PM

    I made one like this with succulents. Unfortunately even with cactus potting soil it stayed way too wet and they all rotted within a couple weeks :(
    Moss is a good idea though. I’ll have to attempt it again. Love the dinosaurs btw.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - April 19, 2011 - 6:44 PM

      Leonard and Mabel would be quite cute, too, Emily! Hmm…

      Jaimie, what a bummer! Let us know if you make another attempt – we’d love to see. We were told that moss is virtually fool-proof, but we’ve been known to kill any plant in our home. Fingers crossed that won’t happen this time!ReplyCancel

  • kim - April 19, 2011 - 9:05 PM

    Simply put, awesome. Love it, guys. I want one!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda- Hip House Girl - April 20, 2011 - 1:34 PM

    That’s what those flowers are called?! Thank you. Thank you so much.

    Thunder Thigh (for the T-Rex) and Wall-Head (for the tri). I’m so original. This idea is so fun! A terrarium would be a good idea for ferns and moss since here in UT it’s so dry. So so cute!ReplyCancel

  • Nathan - April 20, 2011 - 1:57 PM

    As a bit of trivia, not a triceratops, but a “protoceratops”. How’s that for a conversation piece? Great job with the setup!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 20, 2011 - 2:41 PM

    Ha, thanks, Nathan!ReplyCancel

  • kat - April 21, 2011 - 3:57 PM

    love the dinos! rawrrr!!ReplyCancel

  • Kalli - April 26, 2011 - 3:51 AM

    look what I found, he could be the grand-daddy dino to your baby dinos

    • Kim - April 26, 2011 - 6:58 PM

      Kalli, I’ve been a fan of those dino planters for a while now – even “pinning” them on Pinterest and “heart-ing” them on Etsy. You know me well!ReplyCancel

  • Alycia Calvert` - April 29, 2011 - 9:12 AM

    I absolutely LOVE this idea. I don’t have boys, so maybe we can find a light blue tinted vase, and make an ocean themed terrarium. I love ocean creatures.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 29, 2011 - 12:09 PM

    Alycia, that sounds like a lovely idea, too! Would love to see it if you get the chance.ReplyCancel

  • CourtneyOutLoud - June 23, 2011 - 6:21 PM

    That terrarium is too adorable! I love the dinos! Thanks for stopping by Centsational Girl and leaving a comment. I still need to add a little something to mine but have not found the perfect thing yet….ReplyCancel

  • Kim - June 23, 2011 - 6:33 PM

    Courtney, thank YOU for the tips!!ReplyCancel

  • Kairon - August 11, 2011 - 8:20 AM

    I made one of these years ago with my now 15 yr old son, he was about 6 at the time, we made it in a amall fish tank he loved it and even took it to school for show and tell.ReplyCancel

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  • Erica - March 13, 2012 - 3:38 PM

    That is a Protoceratops. My 5 yr old is a dino nut! :)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - March 13, 2012 - 4:47 PM

    Haha, thanks, Erica!ReplyCancel

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  • Ursula - June 13, 2012 - 10:46 PM

    This is very cool. I didn’t think that dinosaurs would be cute in a terrarium, but they are!ReplyCancel

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  • Jordan - January 5, 2013 - 4:10 PM

    I think for names you could do Fossil and Boni. :-)ReplyCancel

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  • soniya - May 10, 2013 - 2:00 PM

    If we cannot find plants, can we use seeds to grow plants inside the jars.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - May 10, 2013 - 2:54 PM

    Soniya, I’m not completely sure that would work… but we’re not exactly green thumbs! I’d definitely recommend getting ready-to-plant leafy plants or succulents, and dropping them into your terrarium. Home Depot and hardware stores will usually have a few things to choose from if you don’t have a local garden nearby!ReplyCancel

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  • Ayn - April 4, 2014 - 4:00 PM

    Thanks so much for sharing this terrarium idea. We plan to share it on our family website which is created by kids for kids.

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