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How to construct a natural looking terrarium

terrariumMany people that keep reptiles and amphibians enjoy seeing their animals in a natural setting. To create this natural setting, many keepers construct a terrarium which mimics that natural setting. Terrariums are enclosures that provide an environment where plants and specific animals live together. Terrariums can range in size from a gallon to a several hundred gallon design. Selecting the tank's size is perhaps the most important part of designing a terrarium and should be directly influenced by the herps and plants that will live in it. The size and style of the enclosure will have a direct impact on how the terrarium looks. Be sure to choose something that looks nice and is easy to maintain. Depending on what animal you wish to keep in the terrarium will also dictate the habitat you want to develop. Having a basic theme in mind when designing your terrarium is also helpful; by having one, you will be able to add specific plants, substrates and features to your terrarium that should reflect the animal's natural habitat. Some common terrariums are desert, savanna, forest and rainforest. Some species will even fair well in micro habitats such as a puddle in front of a tree or a burrow under a piece of wood.

If you are designing an enclosure for a child's room, you may choose to incorporate models, toys or figurines even. For example if you have a toy helicopter with plastic army men, they may make a nice addition to a jungle habitat with anoles and tree frogs.

Another important aspect of designing a natural looking terrarium is plant selection. There are many types of household plants that are available through nurseries that are suitable for a terrarium. Be sure to keep a few things in mind when you select your plants. Choose plants that will not grow too large as they may overshadow other plants. Also use a variety of colors, heights, and leaf shapes in your terrarium as this will add aesthetic value. The plants you decide upon should also have similar care requirements such as lighting and watering. Most plants will have labels or tags on them that will inform you of their needs. Before you plant them in your terrarium, you should try different arrangements in the terrarium with them still in their pots. Also plants that get taller should be toward the back and/or sides, with smaller plants in front of them, as this will provide better viewing and a sense of depth to the terrarium. Once you have decided where you want them placed, you may remove them from their pot and plant them in their final position.

Depending on the plants you have chosen as well as the animals you want to keep, your terrarium can be illuminated with a fluorescent grow light made for plants. Most amphibians will do well at a normal room temperature in the range of 73-76. If additional heat is needed, use a heat pad on the side, back or bottom of the terrarium. If you have lizards that require basking light, you may use an appropriately sized incandescent light; of course this is all relative to the size of the terrarium.

Another option is to create a water feature. By using a suitable rock or piece of drift wood, you can section off a section of the terrarium that has no soil and only a thin layer of gravel that could serve as a water area. The divider may be silicone into place along the bottom of the tank and perhaps the side to prevent the soil from becoming too wet and to prevent soil from eroding into the water feature.

Here are some simple steps to follow for the basics of creating your natural looking terrarium:

1. Be sure the terrarium is free of dust and any other impurities. Wash and rinse with a mild vinegar. Be sure to rinse and dry well.

2. A thin layer of pebbles or small stones should be placed in the bottom of the terrarium approximately 1-2 inches deep. This will keep your soil from staying overly wet by allowing excess water to drain.

3. A thin layer of activated carbon can be placed on top of the gravel. This will aid in keeping water clean and removing dissolved organics.

4. On top of the carbon, place a thin layer of filter floss, sphagnum or spanish moss about 1-2 inches think. This will prevent your soil from bleeding down and into the drainage gravel.

5. Place a thick layer of your potting soil on top. Be sure to use a soil that has no fertilizers in it, as this will contaminate any possible water feature. Fertilizers may also be dangerous to your herps, especially amphibians. As your terrarium ages, the plants will receive nutrients from the waste that the animal(s) produce.

6. Next you can plant your plants

7. After your plants have been placed in the soil, you can fill in the open spaces with driftwood, branches, rocks or any other decor you had in mind.