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Terrariums are small vivariums, or a small enclosed container in which plants and animals, such as lizards, frogs or turtles, are kept and observed. Terrariums simulate a dry habitat, like a desert or savannah, as opposed to an aquarium, which simulates a water habitat. Terrariums are also described as “a collection of compatible plants grown in an enclosed, clear container to create a miniature landscape for inside your home.” Terrariums are easy to care for and therefore ideal for people who want to “garden” but have little time or patience. They have also grown in popularity for keeping reptiles and amphibians (or “herps.”) However, not all herps are suitable for a terrarium. You should avoid an large species or species that like to dig and burrow. The best choice for a terrarium are small, insect-eating herps, such as frogs or geckos.

Building your own terrarium is fun, easy and relatively inexpensive. Containers come in many different shapes and sizes, but almost any clear glass or plastic container can be used, such as a fish bowl, fish tank or glass jar. However, there are containers made especially for terrariums. They can have either an open or closed top, but if you chose a closed container, you must use plants that are tolerant of high humidity. Open top containers will require more watering to maintain the humidity, but they are less subject to diseases. Many plants are suitable for growing in terrariums, but low-growing, dense plants are best. Terrariums should not be kept in direct sunlight, but do require light near a window or supplemental artificial light. Therefore, choose plants carefully - don’t combine plants that require a lot of light with low light plants. Soil in your terrarium should be high in organic matter, clean and well-drained (potting soil sold in garden centers have been sterilized and will work well.) Before planting, wash your container in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly or run it through the dishwasher. Place a layer of pea gravel or aquarium gravel in the bottom of your terrarium, followed by a half-inch layer of horticultural charcoal to keep soil from developing a sour smell. Follow this with a layer of sphagnum moss before adding soil. Approximately a quarter of the container will be used for the drainage material and soil. Be sure to add dry soil to the container. Select healthy, insect free plants for your terrarium. A spoon can be used to scoop out potting holes. Rocks, moss or small pieces of driftwood can be added to your terrarium to simulate any outdoor landscape you desire. Terrarium plants need only occasional waterings and waterings should always be light. Heavy watering will result in in standing water and rot. Some plants that do well in a small terrarium include creeping fig (Ficus pumila), Ti plant ( Cordyline terminalis), ribbon plant (Dracaena sanderiana), earth star (Cryptanthus acaulis), prayer plants (Maranta species) and parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans).

If you are adding animals to your terrarium, please note that plants purchased at a local garden center, etc. should be washed before placing in the terrarium. Things like pesticides, fertilizers, leaf shiners and other chemicals can be harmful to reptiles and amphibians. The safest thing to do is to purchase plants from a specialty terrarium supply store.


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