All Things Plants
Member Login:

Username:

Password:

[ Join now ]

How To Turn an Aquarium into a Terrarium

By (@threegardeners) on
There seems to be a lot of mystery involving terrariums. Mention one and people run away in fear. I don't know why, it's really quite simple. Let me show you.

2011-12-31/threegardeners/c80df0We have a 72-gallon aquarium. Over the years fish have passed on, the way fish tend to do. There are 3 fish left right now; kind of silly, them having an entire 72 gallons all to themselves, especially since they're all bottom feeders. It's time to renovate.

First we had to catch the fish. That wasn't quite as easy as it sounds but it was the hardest part of the whole procedure. I found an old 5 gallon aquarium in the basement. Actually, I found two 5 gallon aquariums, one 10 gallon aquarium, and a 15 gallon aquarium. I chose the 5 gallon because it perfectly suited the idea I've had swimming around in my brain for awhile now.

This would have been a much simpler process if I'd just turned one of the empty aquariums into a terrarium, but no, I had a plan. 

Bearing in mind that the average household bathtub holds between 40 - 50 gallons of water (up to the overflow valve), the 72 gallons that came out of the aquarium is a lot of water. I had to scrounge up something to hold it all since it was fish water, which is basically liquid gold when watering house plants. First, I watered every single one of the 150+ plants in the house. That barely made a dent in it. I dug around in the garage and found Hubby's wine making whatchamacallits and a couple of pails. Let the draining begin!

2011-12-31/threegardeners/e56f30 2011-12-31/threegardeners/a2f16d
Putting the water into containers  Draining

I still ended up pouring a few pails down the bathtub drain. Once the water was out I had to deal with all of the soggy, fish-poo laden gravel. More pails, a spaghetti strainer, and a recycling bucket came into play. Scoop gravel out of aquarium, rinse in the bathtub, and then a final rinse with the reasonably cleanish water from the top half of the aquarium. It's only going to be re-purposed as the bottom layer of the terrarium so it doesn't have to be sterile. This step was mostly to get the worst of the fishy smell out and to gather another pail of liquid gold.

2011-12-31/threegardeners/56bb3d 2011-12-31/threegardeners/505aab
Final rinse with water from aquarium Reasonably clean gravel

Once the gravel was rinsed the fun part began. The bottom layer is gravel. This helps with drainage. On top of, or mixed in with the gravel, it is recommended to use activated charcoal for odor control but I never bother with it and have never noticed an odor, unless you count that lovely, earthy scent you get when green things are growing happily in a nice humid environment. Arrange the gravel anyway you like. I tried to create little hills and valleys. Oh, and guess where I put the fish in their 5 gallon aquarium!

2011-12-31/threegardeners/aa5609 2011-12-31/threegardeners/9ebbc7
Putting the clean gravel back in Waiting for the soil

On top of the gravel you should put a layer of sphagnum. Again, this step can be skipped if you don't have any. I only had a tiny bit. The sphagnum helps keep the soil from seeping down into the gravel. This is kind of redundant in my opinion because you're going to end up mixing a bit of soil and gravel while planting anyway. Then comes the soil layer. Now we get to plant it!

I'd been quietly gathering terrarium type plants all summer in preparation for this event. I gathered tropicals but you aren't limited to tropicals. You could have a bog type terrarium filled with carnivorous plants, or even a desert type terrarium filled with succulents and cacti.

A Few Terrarium Type Plants
Small Ferns (Pteridophyta) Rex Begonias
Syngonium Episcia will thrive!
Prayer Plant (Maranta) Baby's Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)
Strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera) African Violets (Saintpaulia)
Ivies (Hedera) Streptocarpus
Peperomias Golden Pothos (Epipremnum pinnatum)

A few plants I can get away with, because my aquarium has a beautiful grow light fixture/hood so I'll have good light. Some plants I planted directly into the soil. Others, ones that won't bloom unless they're a tad pot bound (Streptocarpus), I just buried their pots.

One thing to remember. If you don't have a light on your terrarium (that is why I prefer using aquariums, they come with lights), you must remember to not place your terrarium in direct sun. The glass will act like a magnifying glass and you could end up cooking all of your hard work. You also need to be able to vent your terrarium to let extra humidity out. While humidity is a good thing, too much will cause mildew and fungus and all of your hard work will rot.

2011-12-31/threegardeners/b97f88 2011-12-31/threegardeners/a3d970
Newly planted Some driftwood added

Caring for your terrarium is easy. Check every couple of weeks to see if it needs a drink. Water if it's dry. Remember to vent it if too much humidity builds up (you'll know this if you can't see inside for the fog). Keep your terrarium plants well groomed. Remove any yellowing or dead leaves, they mildew easily. Prune your plants if they grow too big. You do not really need to fertilize, the idea is to keep the plants small. Your terrarium will fill in quickly enough as it is. If your terrarium is near a light source, remember to turn it occasionally to promote even growing.

I hope I've removed some of the mystery surrounding terrariums. They're really quite simple and a lot of fun. They can evolve over time. I might decide a few months from now to add a waterfall or a river. Just have fun!!

2011-12-31/threegardeners/29d4cb
Finished! I added the Philodendron at the last minute.

» View more Gardening Ideas by threegardeners
« View all our Gardening Ideas

Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Wow!! plantladylin Jan 26, 2012 10:15 PM 8

More Gardening Ideas by threegardeners
Fighting Mildew Naturally
Natural Air Freshener
Deterring Rabbits in Your Garden
Repel Deer Naturally
Hanging Plants: Recycling Baby Crib Panels
Protect Your Developing Seeds
Make Your Own Moss Pole
Propagation: Water Rooting Houseplants
Catnip Dreams
A Quick Egg Shell Tip

© 2014 All Things Plants
Times are presented in US Central Standard Time
Today's site banner is by Char and is called "Rudbeckia, Sedum and Weigela"

About - Contact - Terms of Service - Privacy - Memberlist - Acorns - Links - Ask a Question - Newsletter

Follow us on TwitterWe are on Facebook.We Pin at Pinterest.Visit us on Google+