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By dfsek
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Posts:  10
Joined:  Wed Jan 26, 2022 12:36 am
#398404
Hi! I'm about to start setting up my second carnivorous terrarium, I was looking for some advice and tips before setting it up.

I'm doing a tropical mid/highland terrarium setup, since where I live (Phoenix AZ) it's much too dry to keep anything outside, and I don't access to a greenhouse, or much space in general. (I'm a high school student :lol:) I also want the terrarium to be more of a "display terrarium" rather than a "collector's terrarium," I want it to look like a chunk of an environment (even though the plants in it would never be seen together in the wild!)

I've read about which plants do well in terrariums, and decided to attempt to keep the following:
  • Nepenthes
    • Various N. ventricosa hybrids (St gaya, Lady luck, etc)
    • N. tenuis
  • Drosera
    • D. capensis
    • D. multifida
    • D. madagascarensis
  • Various tropical Pinguicula species/hybrids
  • maaaaaybe a daughter plant of my Heliamphora minor x heterodoxa, if I'm able to keep the temps inside low enough (right now my heli is in its own little terrarium, acclimating after shipping. Just got it on Saturday!)
I've read in various places that these plants do well in terrariums. I currently have some Sarracenia and VFT's in a fishbowl, as I've read they don't do as well in terrariums.

Terrarium Setup

I purchased a 30'' long, 12'' deep, 18'' tall aquarium tank from a thrift shop. I'm a bit worried about the height interfering with lighting, but I believe i've found a solution, which I'll get to later.

For basic setup, i plan to do a simple false bottom with LECA, with a layer of sphagnum for filtration, and then various surface "substrate zones" for the different plants, 1:1 sphagnum + perlite for the Nepenthes, 1:1 perlite + peat for the Drosera, and a slightly higher concentration, maybe 3:2 of perlite + peat for the Pinguicula.

This was the source of my first question. My current small terrarium has multiple substrate zones just like this, and the plants have done pretty well. But after reading into carnivorous terrariums a bit more, I noticed lots of people use buried pots, rather than planting directly in substrate. Is there an advantage to this, beyond the plants being easier to move? Is it extremely important for the plants to be moved in a display terrarium? (e.g. will I need to replant frequently enough to warrant buried pots)

I also plan to do a moss wall in the back or side of the terrarium, for planting Pinguicula in. I was inspired by this California Carnivores blog post!

For the rest of the terrarium, I plan to use rocks & logs to have a varied-height environment. I've selected some rocks and cleaned them off very well, though I'm a bit worried about the wood. It's a bone dry chunk of sand blasted grape vine. Would that decompose and put the plants at risk if I put it in the terrarium? I was considering putting Pinguicula substrate into some of the cracks/knots, and planting some pings there would that kill them?

I also plan to grow star moss on lots of surfaces in the terrarium.

Lighting

For lighting, I purchased 2 of these GE 30W LED grow light bulbs. According to what I've read they're plenty bright, with a good spectrum. And due to their spotlight-esque nature I'm pretty confident they'll be able to provide enough light even in the relatively tall (18'') terrarium. I would love to hear any thoughts on these bulbs, from what I've seen they're pretty good.

Other Stuff
I plan to introduce springtails to control fungus growth. None of my plants are going to be small enough to be harmed by the springtails, at least I don't think they will be.

Humidity
It's extremely dry where I live, which is why these plants are going in a terrarium in the first place. I might be able to keep the humidity up with a mostly open top, just because of how tall the terrarium is, the lower sections would stay relatively humid, if it becomes an issue I will just cover sections of the top until the humidity is acceptable (i'll probably aim for 70-80%)

Temperature
Inside, where this terrarium will be, the temperature will be in the mid to high 70's during the day, and the high 60's to low 70's at night. I believe that'll be fine for the plants I have.

I apologise for the long post! This is a project I've been planning for a while now, if any of you guys have any tips, recommendations, or changes you'd make, please let me know! Thank you! :D
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By ChefDean
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Posts:  5815
Joined:  Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:44 am
#398406
Well, I don't think you'll have much luck with that, but I could be wrong.
Neps don't like to be as wet as the sundews prefer. You may be able to keep the dews not as wet, but I think you'd be walking a fine line of wet enough for sundews to survive, and not so wet that the Nep rots. It could work, maybe.
As to the Pings, they have a dormancy period that the Neps don't. Temperate Pings need a cold sleep, while Mexican Pings take a dryer sleep. Could also work, perhaps. But you're now looking at creating at least three different habitats in a very small space.
Next, you're correct that Sarrs and VFT's don't like and don't do well in terrariums, they need better light and airflow. A fishbowl isn't a better option because a fishbowl without water is simply a fishbowl shaped terrarium.
I'm not going to comment on the rest of your stuff other than to say you might want to think about a lot of it some more before you pull the trigger on it. There are many people on here and other carnivorous plant forums that successfully keep moisture loving carnivorous plants outside in the desert Southwest. Maybe that is the information you should be seeking.
Supercazzola liked this
By dfsek
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Posts:  10
Joined:  Wed Jan 26, 2022 12:36 am
#398409
For the Neps and Sundews I suppose that could be an additional advantage of the buried pot method. Do you think that would allow me to keep the neps dry enough while giving the sundews enough moisture? I'd probably have most substrate be on the dry side w/ sundew pots more moist if i did that.

I actually wasn't aware the succulent phase of tropical pings was required! I guess that's what i get for reading the basic care instructions on calcarn and assuming that's all there is to it. If the succulent phase is triggered solely by moisture I could do the buried pot method for them too. But I'm assuming temperature plays a part in that process as well, yeah?

I guess this would potentially be the big advantage to the buried pot method, since that would transform this into essentially a decorated collector's terrarium. Do you think that would work, or would I just be better off completely separating them?


And for the fishbowl, the idea was to allow light and airflow for the plant, while maintaining high humidity. The bowl is open at the top with a grow light above, and the plants are about halfway down. The bowl has a false bottom to allow drainage. Would that not be enough airflow?
By dfsek
Location: 
Posts:  10
Joined:  Wed Jan 26, 2022 12:36 am
#398410
Also, I'll definitely look at others who've kept plants in the southwest. The terrarium idea arose from humidity concerns, but it just now occurred to me I never looked into how others have solved that beyond just terrariums, lol
By dfsek
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Posts:  10
Joined:  Wed Jan 26, 2022 12:36 am
#398414
dfsek wrote: Wed Jan 26, 2022 3:20 am For the Neps and Sundews I suppose that could be an additional advantage of the buried pot method. Do you think that would allow me to keep the neps dry enough while giving the sundews enough moisture? I'd probably have most substrate be on the dry side w/ sundew pots more moist if i did that.
A lot of my terrarium ideas came from this page: http://www.pitcherplant.com/terrarium.html
I'm assuming what the diagram is showing is keeping the nep separate so it can be watered differently to avoid rot.
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By specialkayme
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Joined:  Tue Apr 13, 2021 11:02 am
#398440
Looks like you've been doing a fair amount of research. Good for you :D

A few pointers:
1. 18" tall is not very tall for a nepenthes. There are some that stay shorter than others, and some that like more light than others. Ventricosa is a forgiving nepenthes, but it'll outgrow that space in about a year.
2. I don't think you'll need two of those lightbulbs. One will work fine. They are powerful. When I first got mine, I thought I was going to have to keep it 6" away from my plants (like most cheap LEDs), and I burned my plants. I learned I had to keep it ~3' above the plant tips. One bulb was able to more than adquately light a 2'x2' area for me.
3. I don't think you'll have success in one container from nepenthes, drosera, and pings. They all generally like different conditions. Nepenthes doesn't like to keep its feet wet and likes very airy substrate. Drosera generally likes to keep its feet wet and likes more dense substrate. Pings are closer to VFTs. Rather than saying "I like plant A, B & C and lets put them in the same container", instead say "I like plant A, what conditions does it like, and what other plants like similar conditions?"
4. You may want to look into Australian pitcher plants. Just a suggestion.
5. The reason why you see so many terrariums that use pots, instead of planting directly in substrate, is because a) you sometimes need to move them around inside the terrarium to find their best conditions, as some corners are brighter or wetter than others, and b) some root structures can overtake others, and getting it out is a nightmare. Nepenthes typically has small root structures. But I've had some sundews that make a web of roots. I also like to plant a few small ferns and some other neat looking "non carnivorous" plants in my terrariums, and they can sometimes take over. There's nothing quite like going to repot a plant in a terrarium and picking up a 3'x2' sheet of roots. I know from experience.

Personally I've done a number of different terrariums. VFT, Sundew, nepenthes mostly. Right now I have a nepenthes in a fishbowl on rotation. It can go about 12 months before it outgrows the container. First round was just a nepenthes. Second and third round was a nepenthes, ferns and live spaghnum. This last round I put a in a nepenthes, ferns, live spaghnum and tried two sundews. I doubt the sundews will take off, but they were literally weeds in my grow area, so figured I'd see how they perform instead of tossing them in the compost.

Give it a go, see what works and what doesn't, and change it for the next round.
By dfsek
Location: 
Posts:  10
Joined:  Wed Jan 26, 2022 12:36 am
#398445
Thank you so much for your advice!

18" tall is not very tall for a nepenthes. There are some that stay shorter than others, and some that like more light than others. Ventricosa is a forgiving nepenthes, but it'll outgrow that space in about a year.
I somewhat planned for this, but that's a good point, I wasn't aware they'd grow so quickly. My original plan was to cut stalks and propagate them, then once I have too many daughter plants I have an excuse to upgrade! :lol:

I suppose that strategy would still work in a terrarium of that size, and allow it to keep going for a few years.
I don't think you'll need two of those lightbulbs. One will work fine. They are powerful. When I first got mine, I thought I was going to have to keep it 6" away from my plants (like most cheap LEDs), and I burned my plants. I learned I had to keep it ~3' above the plant tips. One bulb was able to more than adquately light a 2'x2' area for me.
Alright, the main reason I got 2 was because the terrarium is almost 3 feet long, but 2 bulbs would probably be too much. I'll probably have the bulb off to one side and plant some intermediate light plants on the less lit side.

I don't think you'll have success in one container from nepenthes, drosera, and pings. They all generally like different conditions. Nepenthes doesn't like to keep its feet wet and likes very airy substrate. Drosera generally likes to keep its feet wet and likes more dense substrate. Pings are closer to VFTs. Rather than saying "I like plant A, B & C and lets put them in the same container", instead say "I like plant A, what conditions does it like, and what other plants like similar conditions?"
I am 100% guilty of that :lol:

I've done a bit more investigation into pings, since i realised I hadn't actually researched them too much, and had made a bunch of assumptions. I've decided to put the pings in their own separate terrarium, a 10gal I have laying around. That'll give me a lot more room to propagate them, too!

As for the large terrarium, I had an idea, but I'm not sure how well it would work. Now that it'll be down to 2 types of plants, rather than 3, and neither of those 2 require any sort of dormancy, I believe I'll be able to keep them together in the larger terrarium if I design it well. I plan to have a rock in the middle creating a sort of "cliff" divvying up the terrarium into a "swampy" zone and a "highland" zone.
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Basically, the neps go in pots in the elevated section, which lets them sit in dryer substrate than the dews in the lower section of the terrarium, which are planted directly in the substrate.

Do you think a setup like this would work? I feel like this is much more feasible than throwing pings into the mix, but I may be overlooking something.
You may want to look into Australian pitcher plants. Just a suggestion.
They're on my wishlist! They're just so expensive, and I'm not going to get one until I know I can successfully keep my Heliamphora alive :lol:
The reason why you see so many terrariums that use pots, instead of planting directly in substrate, is because a) you sometimes need to move them around inside the terrarium to find their best conditions, as some corners are brighter or wetter than others, and b) some root structures can overtake others, and getting it out is a nightmare. Nepenthes typically has small root structures. But I've had some sundews that make a web of roots. I also like to plant a few small ferns and some other neat looking "non carnivorous" plants in my terrariums, and they can sometimes take over. There's nothing quite like going to repot a plant in a terrarium and picking up a 3'x2' sheet of roots. I know from experience.
That makes a lot of sense, I've seen some gigantic root structures myself, lol. A pot probably wouldn't be super great at controlling moisture on its own, but I think my elevation zone idea may work pretty well. Again, I may be overlooking something, if I am please point it out :lol:
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By specialkayme
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Posts:  148
Joined:  Tue Apr 13, 2021 11:02 am
#398454
dfsek wrote: My original plan was to cut stalks and propagate them, then once I have too many daughter plants I have an excuse to upgrade! :lol:
I don't think that strategy is going to be as feasible, or as productive as you think.

Generally speaking Nepenthes has 4 growing "stages":
1. Tiny little seedling thing, grows slow as molasses (depends on the type, some take 10 years to get out of this phase, some take 6 months).
2. Leaf jump pickup, but still fairly compact.
3. Rapid growth, vining, followed by flowering.
4. Post flowering, relaxing, figuring out life.

3 and 4 are the best to take cuttings from. Basals can be taken almost anytime of course. It's impossible to take cuttings of 1, and incredibly inefficient and challenging to take cuttings of 2. Late stage 2 is going to be too big for your terrarium, and early stage 3 will explode out of it. You could take cuttings of late stage 2, but the spacing between nodes is going to be small, which means your success rate is going to probably be low. You're essentially treating it like a bonsai at that point, cutting off it's growth tip every time it gets too big in order to keep it small. But every time you cut it back, it will throw a temper tantrum.

Possible, but not really the best way to produce a "show terrarium".
dfsek wrote:
As for the large terrarium, I had an idea, but I'm not sure how well it would work. Now that it'll be down to 2 types of plants, rather than 3, and neither of those 2 require any sort of dormancy, I believe I'll be able to keep them together in the larger terrarium if I design it well. I plan to have a rock in the middle creating a sort of "cliff" divvying up the terrarium into a "swampy" zone and a "highland" zone.
untitled.png
Basically, the neps go in pots in the elevated section, which lets them sit in dryer substrate than the dews in the lower section of the terrarium, which are planted directly in the substrate.

Do you think a setup like this would work? I feel like this is much more feasible than throwing pings into the mix, but I may be overlooking something.
You're walking a very fine line with that design. Assuming you keep mostly spaghnum moss on the nepenthes side and peat moss on the sundew side, theoretically it's possible. But you need to make sure there is enough water that the sundew side has enough but not so much the nepenthes side doesn't have too much. Which is going to be challenging with 18" of vertical space. And for every inch you raise up the nepenthes, you make it easier, but the closer it gets to light and the less vertical grow space you have, which the nepenthes need the most.

The other problem is the spaghnum moss will wick up water from the bottom. So you'll really be water logging the nepenthes just by watering the sundews.

While theoretically possible, with a higher than average fail rate expected, what you're trying to do is actually put two different terrariums in one. Which is a recipe for disaster. If that's really what you want to do, take a piece of plexiglass and cut it, insert it in the bottom and use silicone caulk to make it water tight. That way you have a "wet side" and a "dry side", much like a turtle enclosure with a pond area. The sundews can get as water logged as they like and it won't affect the nepenthes.
dfsek wrote:
You may want to look into Australian pitcher plants. Just a suggestion.
They're on my wishlist! They're just so expensive, and I'm not going to get one until I know I can successfully keep my Heliamphora alive :lol:
Yeah, they generally aren't cheap. Especially when you compare them to ventricosa or cape sundew prices. But if you hunt hard enough you can find them at not horrible prices. But if you hunt long enough, and you're patient, you can find one. I got one in 2019 off ebay for $15. Mind you it was a tiny little thing, but still. Two and a half years later I'm at the point that I might be able to take some cuttings off it. But I'll probably give it another year to grow out.

There are a ton of really impressive cephalotus terrariums out there, and I think it would work well for your climate. If you have the patience for the long game, and you're able to establish and propagate the right cephalotus, it could just pay for college :D

I hear many say cephalotus is a picky plant. I haven't experienced that so far. I keep it next to my sundews and generally ignore the thing. Seems to be doing just fine. It does like a "dry period" and a "wet period", but other than that it isn't temperamental. Maybe I got lucky with an easy plant, maybe I acclimated it to less than ideal growing conditions when it was tiny, maybe it'll die tomorrow. IDK, but I definitely got $15 of enjoyment out of it over the past 3 years.
By dfsek
Location: 
Posts:  10
Joined:  Wed Jan 26, 2022 12:36 am
#398469
I don't think that strategy is going to be as feasible, or as productive as you think.

Generally speaking Nepenthes has 4 growing "stages":
1. Tiny little seedling thing, grows slow as molasses (depends on the type, some take 10 years to get out of this phase, some take 6 months).
2. Leaf jump pickup, but still fairly compact.
3. Rapid growth, vining, followed by flowering.
4. Post flowering, relaxing, figuring out life.

3 and 4 are the best to take cuttings from. Basals can be taken almost anytime of course. It's impossible to take cuttings of 1, and incredibly inefficient and challenging to take cuttings of 2. Late stage 2 is going to be too big for your terrarium, and early stage 3 will explode out of it. You could take cuttings of late stage 2, but the spacing between nodes is going to be small, which means your success rate is going to probably be low. You're essentially treating it like a bonsai at that point, cutting off it's growth tip every time it gets too big in order to keep it small. But every time you cut it back, it will throw a temper tantrum.

Possible, but not really the best way to produce a "show terrarium".
Ah, I guess I kinda lumped together stages 2 & 3 in my head.
While theoretically possible, with a higher than average fail rate expected, what you're trying to do is actually put two different terrariums in one. Which is a recipe for disaster. If that's really what you want to do, take a piece of plexiglass and cut it, insert it in the bottom and use silicone caulk to make it water tight. That way you have a "wet side" and a "dry side", much like a turtle enclosure with a pond area. The sundews can get as water logged as they like and it won't affect the nepenthes.
I may do this, until I have the terrarium space for a larger, more permanent solution. I'll keep the nepenthes potted so it's easier to move them when they outgrow it, since the estimate is a year, I feel like this would be a pretty good starting point for keeping the variety of plants I would like. I do have a place I can put the nepenthes when they grow too large, a humidity-controlled room at my school. I'd prefer they be in the terrarium for now, though, rather than in what is essentially a basement, lol. That way I can actually see them. The terrarium is for my school's tech office.

The plexiglass divider is a much better idea than having the 2 sections connected, I'll probably end up doing that, I feel like that would be much more stable than having them be in the same zone, since now they're effectively different terrariums sharing an atmosphere.
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By specialkayme
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Joined:  Tue Apr 13, 2021 11:02 am
#398473
dfsek wrote:I do have a place I can put the nepenthes when they grow too large, a humidity-controlled room at my school.
Most nepenthes, especially the ones you're likely looking at, don't need humidity controlled environments. They just generally grow better than the 45% RH humans normally keep their houses at. Not a requirement.

I've seen many that keep nepenthes in heated homes in the North, where RH gets down to the teens when heaters are running, and they do just fine. There's a youtube channel (WindowsillNepenthes I believe) that just dedicates growing . . . wait for it . . . nepenthes on windowsills . . .

There's also NepenthesAroundTheHouse (website) that does essentially the same thing.
By dfsek
Location: 
Posts:  10
Joined:  Wed Jan 26, 2022 12:36 am
#398481
The humidity here is consistently very very low, even inside (can stay in the 20% range for extended periods during the summer), but I could definitely just get a cheap ultrasonic humidifier and keep the humidity in the 40's or 50's. Didn't know Nepenthes could survive that! I remember reading that humidity that low is pushing it, but I suppose I could give it a shot. If I originally kept them in the terrarium i'd definitely have to slowly acclimate them to the significantly lower humidity. Might just try to keep them outside the terrarium to begin with, see how that goes with a couple starter plants.
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