Setting up a Terrarium - The Basic Supplies

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It's fun to set up and plant a terrarium so here's a list of basic supplies you will need and some information about the plants you could grow.

The Container

Of course the first thing you will need is a suitable container. Many different recycled containers can be used including plastic or glass bottles, fish bowls and tanks, jugs, old apothecary jars etc. Specially made terrariums come in many different designs, styles and sizes. Before you decide on the container take careful note of where it will be located and the size that will fit best. For a terrarium that will contain living creatures make sure that it is big enough when those creatures grow to full size.

Types of Terrarium Environments

Desert Terrariums

Terrariums set up to simulate desert conditions usually have a base of builders sand with rocks and succulents. Kept very dry they are suitable for spiny lizards, box turtles, desert tarantulas and other creatures from the desert.

Rocky Terrariums

Rock terrariums, similar to desert terrariums but having ground cover plants are suitable for many kinds of reptiles.

Plant Terrariums

The most popular type of terrarium that provides a humid environment for a wide range of plants.

Swamp Terrariums

Humid and wet these terrariums are usually set up with some running water for frogs, newts, salamanders and turtles.

Tropical Rainforest Terrariums

Humid terrariums kept very warm for growing bromeliads and orchids. Some snakes, turtles and geckos also love these conditions.

Woodland Terrariums

A terrarium with a soil base and decorated with pine cones, leaves, bark etc simulating the floor of a wood. With fresh water these type of terrariums are ideal for scorpions, chameleons, snakes and some turtles.

Base Materials

There are different base materials recommended for different types of terrariums. For a basic plant terrarium coarse gravel is usually used as a base, covered with a layer of activated charcoal to keep the air clean. Sphagnum moss is layered over the charcoal and finally a layer of suitable compost. Specially formulated compost for terrariums is sold at garden centers or a mixture of potting compost, coarse builders sand and leaf mold.

The Plants

The high humidity inside a terrarium is ideal for moisture loving plants such as ferns, bromeliads or mosses but a terrarium can be set up to simulate a wide range of natural conditions including desert conditions. There many small plants suitable for growing in a terrarium including ground cover, trailers and flowering plants. Orchids or carnivorous plants, which are native to areas of high humidity can be very successfully raised in a terrarium.

A Selection of Plants for Your Terrarium

Maidenhead, spleenwort, Irish moss, Partridge berry, Baby tears, Creeping fig, Irish Moss, Rosary vine, Swedish ivy, Bird Nest, Sansevieria, Maidenhair fern, Nerve plant , Prayer plant, Spider plant, False Aralia, Watermelon peperomia, Asparagus fern, Tahitian Bridal Veil, Heart-leaved philodendron,Strawberry begonia, Wintergreen, African violet (select miniature varieties), Aluminum plant, Artillery plant, Miniature Begonia rex, Begonia rex-cultorum, English ivy, Flame violet, Golden pothos.

Carnivorous Plants

Pitcher Plant, Butterwort, Cobra Lily, Venus fly trap.

Plants for Desert Gardens

Pink polka dot, Elephant bush, Haworthia, Hen and chicks, Jade plant, Panda plant, Plush plant.


All natural terrariums can contain bark, rocks, driftwood etc. A small mirror, to simulate a pool with the edges covered by the plants can also look effective. Specially made waterfalls can be added to give a lovely effect if you have a large terrarium. Other artificial decorations can be also used. If you are including living creatures provide them with artificial caves and a source of drinking water. Check any natural materials regularly for rotting in the humid atmosphere.

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For more information on terrariums, terrarium plants and some good deals on new and used plant and reptile terrariums visit and

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