How to Grow a Bottle Garden
There are lots of instructions that claim you need all sorts of ingredients to make a proper bottle garden. Sand, activated charcoal, gravel, and cheesecloth are a few commonly recommended items from other tutorials. Feel free to try those if you want to get fancy, but my version is extremely basic and doesn't require the purchase of any materials you can't find at home for free.
Don't worry, from my experience with this method, your bottle garden will still look beautiful and flourish without any of the extra stuff.
What Is a Bottle Garden?
A bottle garden is exactly what it sounds like: a tiny, self-sustained garden sealed in a bottle or jar. It's basically a tiny terrarium. So, why would anyone want to grow a garden in a bottle? There are several characteristics that make a bottle garden fun to own and awesome to create.
Materials You'll Need
Here's what you need to get started.
- One clear glass bottle or jar. You can also use a clear plastic bottle, but I think it looks much classier with glass.
- Soil. You can use purchased potting soil or natural soil from a garden or park (if you don't have a lawn or garden). Either works fine, and you won't need much.
- A small plant. Choose a type of plant that stays very small or grows very slowly. Groundcover plants are a good choice. I use angel's tears (Soleirolia) because they're small, low-growing, and abundant where I live, so it was easy to get some.
- One pencil or chopstick.
- Coffee grounds. Cooled coffee grounds are good to mix with your soil because they help retain moisture.
- Tiny bits of compost. I add a layer of chopped-up compost bits to the very bottom of my bottle gardens for fertilizer.
- Decorative items. I add shiny pebbles to my bottle gardens to make them more attractive. Consider adding a pretty stone, a marble, a bit of glitter, or other decoration for fun.
How to Make a Bottle Garden
- Thoroughly clean your bottle or jar. Make sure there are no bits of food or greasy residue stuck inside, and completely remove any outside labels, including scrubbing off the adhesive gunk.
- (OPTIONAL) Chop up your compost. If you're not adding compost, skip this step. If you are, chop it up into tiny pieces and add them to the bottom of your jar. I used a bit of lemon peel.
- (OPTIONAL) Mix coffee grounds with your soil. If you're not adding coffee grounds, skip this step. If you are using coffee grounds, cool them first and mix them with your soil at a ratio of half and half.
- Moisten your soil. Add water to your soil or soil/grounds mixture until is is moist but not soggy.
- Add soil to your jar. Spoon the moist soil in carefully. Fill the bottle or jar about 1/3 full of soil. If you used compost, the soil should completely cover it.
- Arrange the soil. Use the back end of your chopstick or pencil to break apart clumps and gently level out the soil. You can also use your instrument to push off any soil bits that are stuck to the sides of your bottle or jar.
- Poke a small hole with the pointy end of your pencil or chopstick. It should be shallow.
- Add your plant. If your plant is a cutting without any visible roots yet, simply place its base in the small hole to keep it in place. If your plant has roots, place the roots in the hole and use your pencil or chopstick to gently push soil over them.
- Add water. Do not put the jar directly under the tap. It's very easy to accidentally add way too much water (which means you'd have to start over). You want the soil to be very moist, but not waterlogged. The easiest way I've found to add just the right amount of water is to hold your hand under the tap and then let the water drip from your fingers into the jar.
- (OPTIONAL) Add decorations. If you're not adding decorations, skip this step. If you are, be sure to use only small items so your plant will have plenty of room to grow.
- Seal your bottle garden. Put the lid on tightly and place it in an area that gets some sunlight.
When your bottle garden is done, you shouldn't need to give it much additional care. Just water it once every 4-6 months. My first bottle garden has been sealed for 3 months and counting, and it's flourishing nicely without any additional effort on my part.
Why Make a Bottle Garden?
- Bottle gardens can be made entirely out of recycled household materials.
- They are easy to make and fun to design. It's a great project for kids both in the classroom and at home.
- Bottle gardens are extremely low-maintenance. In fact, once your bottle garden gets started, it will only need watered 2-3 times a year.
- They are an attractive and unique décor item for your office, dorm room, apartment, or anywhere else that gets a little sunlight.
- Bottle gardens are a great way to bring some greenery to spaces without room for a real, outdoor lawn or garden.
- It's a delight to watch your bottle garden grow.
- They make thoughtful and eco-friendly gifts.
How Long Does It Take to Grow a Bottle Garden?
My Bottle Garden: Day 1
It has been 5 months, and my bottle garden was starting to look a little scraggly and brown. I broke the seal to give it a bit of water before closing it up again.
Check Out One Man's 40-Year-Old Bottle Garden
- Sealed Bottle Garden Thriving After 40 Years without Fresh Air or Water
Gardener David Latimer, from Cranleigh, Surrey, first planted his bottle garden in 1960 and finally sealed it tightly shut 12 years later as an experiment, and it's still going strong!
- Fancy Indoor Terrarium How-To
If you DO want something a bit more complicated and fancy, here's a great resource. The results are beautiful, but it requires the purchase of many extra ingredients and supplies. Keep reading my guide to make a simpler one for free.
Will you try making your own bottle garden?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.