Terrarium Care

Low maintenance terrarium features aquarium pump to circulate water through a natural filter of pea gravel down to a reservoir below, well away from plant roots.

Low maintenance terrarium features aquarium pump to circulate water through a natural filter of pea gravel down to a reservoir below, well away from plant roots. (Design by James L. Booman for KidSpace Museum, Pasadena, CA)

Transplanting into Terrariums

It’s easy to move your plants into larger pots or terrariums.  When you knock a plant out of its pot, try not to disturb the roots.

Plant the whole root/soil ball into the new larger pot or terrarium.  Plant at the same level on the stem as it was in its original pot.  Use only peat moss.

Leave the top of the container OPEN to prevent overheating.

Place terrariums where the light is so bright that you feel like squinting and reaching for your sunglasses.

Carnivorous Plants like lots of water; but, the crowns of most species need to be planted at least 4” above the standing water level.

One of the very best terrarium systems we have used successfully in Museum installations can be done easily in your home. It is called a “False Bottom Terrarium.”  We have kept plants alive for years in these, with minimal maintenance.  We only have to add distilled water now and then to keep the water level up to the gravel, and occasionally change the inexpensive 24 watt white halogen light bulbs.

How to build a False Bottom Terrarium

The idea is to create a recirculating water reservoir under the soil of the terrarium.  A small aquarium pump costing less than $10 pulls the water from below, and dumps it onto the pea gravel.  The water is naturally filtered by the gravel and stays sweet smelling without the need for using charcoal. To entertain children, we have used “spitting frogs” that have water streaming from their mouths, into a pea gravel “lake” in the terrarium.  The moving water adds interest to the planting.

You will need:

1 water tight terrarium, minimum 11” tall

1 metal (non flammable, heat resistant) screen lid for the terrarium to support lamps and keep flies inside

1 small aquarium pump

1 piece fluorescent lamp plastic egg crate, cut to terrarium size

1 piece of rot resistant fabric, slightly larger than the egg crate

a couple dozen PVC tees, diameter 1 ¼ “

1 small bag clean pea gravel

1 small bag peat moss

10+ halogen 24W lamps (enough to cover the metal screen top of the tank)

24 hour timer

Power strips (for all the lamp plugs, the pump, and the 24 hr timer)

Distilled water to fill

  1. A terrarium with a metal screened top is ideal.  Place PVC tees about two inches apart at the bottom, to carry the weight of the soil and plants which will sit on top of them.
  2. Cut plastic egg crate a bit smaller than the terrarium, and place it on top of the PVC tees.
  3. Place a perforated section of plastic 3” drainpipe in one corner, through the egg crepe, extending about 6” up. Use this pipe to refill the water reservoir, and to place the fountain/water recirculation pump.
  4. Place a layer of rot resistant plastic cloth (e.g. poly shade fabric or porous nylon fabric) on top of the egg crate.
  5. Pour a 1” layer of pea gravel over the fabric.
  6. Mix plain peat moss in a bucket so that it is wet.  Mound it across the top of the pea gravel.  Make 6” deep piles of moss in some areas for Venus Flytraps and Nepenthes which require good drainage. Leave thinner 2 or 3” deep piles elsewhere to create terrain elevation differences for interest.  Plant all other carnivorous plant species in this thinner area, as they grow well closer to the standing water level.
  7. Using the 3” drainpipe access hole, fill the reservoir with distilled water until the water is in the middle of the pea gravel.  Do not let the water level touch the peat moss layer.  The roots will grow down to the water.
  8. Leave one area of pea gravel free of moss to form a “natural lake” in the terrarium.
  9. Aim the flowing water from the pump to slide down the glass into the lake, with a minimum of splashing, as continual splashing will rot the plants.
  10. Place as many halogen lamps as will fit across the metal (non-flamable) screen top, to provide intense light. To get natural growth, plant the Venus Flytraps on a tall mound of soil, so that their leaves are within 2” of the lamps. Under shelf lamps sold in home improvement stores are economical.  Plug the lamps and aquarium pump into a power strip. Plug the strip into the 24 hr timer, set for 16 hours of light per day.
  11. Plug it in, fill it with plants, and you are done!  You can jazz it up by taping a poster or natural scene at the back of the aquarium.