If you've been wanting to build a terrarium for a while, I have some good news for you:There are really only 5 basic components to a terrarium!After assembling these components, your terrarium is ready to go.
The 5 basic components of a terrarium are:
- Containers Day
- The false bottom/drainage layer
- The Separation Layer
- the substrate
- your plants
There are alsosome optional materialsYou might consider the following:
Now let's dive into what each of these layers is and what they are for in your terrarium.
The terrarium container and how to choose one
The container will be the main structure of your terrarium.Most containers are made of plastic or glass.
The most important thing you want from your container is transparency.Sunlight needs to pass through the container so your plants can absorb it for photosynthesis.
Remember that most plastic or glass containers will work as long as they are clear. So any spare containers you have will work fine.
The only thing I advise against is using stained glass.Stained glass filters out most of the light and prevents your plants from using the entire visible light spectrum for photosynthesis. If possible, try to use clear plastic or glass containers.
The other factor to consider when choosing a container is thatsize and shape.in general it will beEasier to work with a larger container and more options when choosing your plants.
A larger container also creates a bigger buffer in soil and air chemistry, meaning any issues that may arise from over/submergence, disease or mold growth are milder and easier to manage.
You also don't need any special tools to handle your plants if your container is big enough to fit in your hands.
In that regard,If you are just starting out and want to try terrarium building, a large plastic container is the right choice.
If you choose to work with a small container, be aware that you may need to purchase some tools to reach and handle your plants.
By the way, my recommendation for terrarium containers is yesStart with a plastic container like this one.. you can check minefull list of container recommendations here.
The wrong soil/drainage layer and what it does
The false bottom (also known as the drainage layer) is a layer of rocks or pebbles that allow water to run off the ground.It doesn't magically provide your plants with nutrients or healing powers, but simply creates space for water to run off the substrate.
In theory, you could do without, but I recommend it especially for beginners who might not get the feeling of over-watering their terrarium.
There are a number of benefits this offers:
- This prevents water from pooling around the plant's roots, making it easier for the soil to drain and preventing problems like root rot and mildew.
- There is greater protection against excess water in your terrarium
- Leaves room for water to collect, allowing moisture to rise with excess water in the system
I like that about the drainage layergives you a bit of protection against overhydration.If you have a drainage layer, excess water will simply pool at the bottom of the container rather than soaking the plants and causing root rot and fungal growth.
When you think about choosing the material for your false flooring, you have a lot of flexibility. Mainly,As long as you choose something that is large and irregular (or spherical), this will naturally allow room for the water to flow and pool.
So this could be anything from small rocks, marbles, gravel or anything in between.
As for the thickness of this layer,You generally want to aim for about an inch or two.Anything larger can result in too much water pooling at the bottom, opening up the possibility of unwanted stagnant water growth.
You should also keep this layer relatively small to have more space for the other layers and your plants in your terrarium. Making it too big will reduce the free space you have to build your terrarium.
I have a whole article about it.you can check hereif you want to learn more.
Separation layer: function and requirements
The separating layer serves to prevent plant roots from entering the drainage layer while still allowing water to pass through.
This is important because if your roots grow into the drainage layer where water collects, the purpose of the drainage layer will be defeated. This leads to problems with root rot and fungal growth.
It also helps keep the soil from sagging and mixing with the drainage layer.If you want a very neat looking terrarium with very distinct layers this can be an advantage.
The main thing to consider when choosing a release material is how well it performs the above tasks. With that in mind, ask yourself these two questions:
- Are the openings small/thin enough to prevent the roots from coming out?
- Are the openings large enough for water to pass through?
If you can answer yes to both of those questions, then you probably have no problem using it as a separation layer.
If you want something that "just works", you can use dried peat moss or synthetic netting.like the ones here.
If you want to go the low-budget route, you can use just about any flimsy plastic bag you have around the house. All you have to do is cut a section and drill some holes to let the water through.
Terrarium Substrate: Which Material Works Best
Soil is where your plants form their roots and get their nutrients.While you have many options available to you, the soil you choose can affect your plants' long-term growth and contribute to some problems you may encounter in the future.
Since the soil is where your plants get their nutrients,If the soil is devoid of nutrients to begin with, stunted plants will result.
If you are not carefulMay also contain unwanted chemicals, preservatives or pestshitchhiking on your land.
For the substrate you have some options that I will recommend:
- only native
Use local soil as a terrarium substrate
My first choice is home soil.There are several reasons for this:
- It's free
- It will likely pair well with any native plants you add to your terrarium.
The only problem with using native soil is that you can never be sure what will be there.It can be a carrier of rot, disease or pests.
Despite this risk, if you see plants growing nearby that are supported by this soil, there's a good chance the soil will support your terrarium plants well. However, it's always a good idea to check what kind of soil your plant prefers if your plants aren't native to your area.
If you want to be extra sureYou can always sterilize the earth by baking it at 350° for 30 minutes.This will remove all harmful organisms, weed seeds and other unwanted guests.
Using coconut as a terrarium substrate
Coconut is another option.It is a fibrous material made from coconut shells. They usually come in the form of a few pound block that expands to a (much) larger volume when hydrated.
The benefit of using coconut is that it has very good water holding capacity while also having high porosity and drainage capacity. It is also pest free as it is largely artificial (made from coconut fiber) rather than collected from the wild.
The only difficulty with using coconut is that it contains absolutely no nutrients for your plants. If you use coconut, be sure to add some perlite for nutritional value. You can even find pre-made perlite and coconut mixes online.
Using peat moss as a terrarium substrate
Peat moss is also a similar alternative to coconut.It also has fairly high water retention and is pest resistant.
Like coconut, it has no nutrients.So be sure to add some perlite to get some nutrients in your substrate.
The only thing I would look for when buying peat moss online is whether there are any preservatives or dyes added. If you plan on keeping critters in your terrarium, they are likely to be harmful to your health.
Use aquarium soil as terrarium substrate
Aquarium soil is another option available to you.It is quite common soil cooked in these dried pellets. It comes with a lot of minerals because it uses volcanic granules.
It's a great way for your plants to get their nutrients without having to add anything else to the soil.
As it is in the form of pellets, it will also favor a lot of drainage in the substrate. This will be very helpful in preventing root rot and fungal growth around your plants.
The only thing to note is that the aesthetic of using pellets instead of traditional soil may not be for everyone.
Terrarium Plants: Golden Rules for Choosing Your Plants
Finally, to put the icing on the cake, you have your plants. Your plants are literally the life of your terrarium.
When it comes to choosing plants for your terrarium, there are a few rules to follow.:
- Choose plants that tolerate high humidity
- Choose plants that don't get too big.
- Stick to plants that tolerate low or indirect light
- Choose plants that share similar life requirements
What you don't want to do is throw some old plant in your terrarium and hope for the best.not every plantit is suitable for a terrarium environment.
If you want my quick recommendation I would sayFerns and mosses are almost always the best plants for any terrarium.
Ferns and mosses like high humidity and generally do not grow very large (with the exception of some fern species).
The other pretty safe option you have isGather plants native to your region(subject to the golden rules). Since these plants have already become accustomed to your area, there is a good chance that they will survive in your terrarium.
This is especially true for moss or plants hidden in the shade. Usually, these plant species are already used to growing in an environment very similar to your terrarium.
If you choose to collect plants from your area, be careful not to introduce unwanted pests. For this reason,Soaking your plants in a little water is helpful in eradicating these pests.
I have another article with my complete list of plant recommendations thatyou can check here. I go into much more detail about what plants do best in most tanks and what I like about them.
Charcoal (optional): what it does and why it's useful for your terrarium
Charcoal is an optional but very useful material that you might consider adding to your terrarium as a drainage layer or just above the drainage layer.
Charcoal prevents the development of odors in your terrarium. Its main purpose is to filter the water that enters the drainage layer of the soil.
Eventually, throughout a terrarium's natural life cycle, you will find that death is indicative of organic material. This is all natural, but it can lead to the buildup of harmful toxins that can negatively affect the health of your plants and lead to mold growth.
Charcoal can help filter out these toxins by binding to contaminants before they have a chance to interact with your plants.
But before throwing charcoal into the terrarium, you must first check that it is the right variety for use with plants.
You definitely want to avoid charcoal briquettes for barbecuing and charcoal for stoves or campfires.These contain many harmful chemicals and microplastics that are harmful to your plants.
If you are looking for a safe charcoal to use,Look for charcoal made from logs or charcoal.
Sometimes when people refer to adding charcoal to a terrarium they may be referring to activated charcoal. Activated charcoal differs from regular charcoal in that it has been processed to make it more porous. This treatment process allows the carbon to bind to impurities more easily.
Other types of charcoal that you can find may not have this property. This may not be a big deal, but note that while they may be cheaper alternatives, it may not be as effective as activated charcoal.
Springtails (optional): what they are and what they do
Springtails are another great (optional) addition to any terrarium. They are almost microscopic, whitish and gray insects commonly found in humid areas. If you have any, you can see them bouncing around a bit.
They play an important role in cleaning your terrarium by feeding on dead and decaying organic matter, fungus and algae.
Adding springtails to the terrarium will be very useful when it comes to this.Preventing mold growth in your terrarium.When combined with charcoal they can help tremendously in keeping your terrarium clean and free of contaminants.
You can get a starter kit by purchasing it online, or you can grow your own. If you don't already have one, I would recommend buying a starter kit online and using it to start your own springtail crop for future tank builds.
If you want to read more about springtails,see this article here.
Decorations (optional): how to add some sparkle to your terrarium
If you want to take your terrariums to the next level, using decorations is the way to go.
Most decorations don't affect the health of your terrarium, but they do a great job of making it more interesting.Pinterest has a lot of cool designs that people have created.
The sky is the limit when choosing the decor for your terrarium. You can choose from all kinds of different trinkets and figures and different techniques to create the look you want.
If you want to get ideas of what to use for decoration or things you might want to try,see this article here.
That's it, it's all the layers that go into a terrarium. If you want to build your own terrarium,see this article here.
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