Converting an Aquarium into a Terrarium

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This page is about converting an aquarium into a terrarium. When your fish tank is worn out or you do not need it anymore, recycle it into a controlled environment for plants or reptiles.


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I'm thinking about converting a 30 gallon aquarium into a terrarium. I would like advice from anyone who has done this successfully.

What types of plants are slow-growing and would do well under glass? The top will not be sealed, but will be mostly covered by the aquarium top that has the light in it.

By ChloeA


Here's a photo of my completed terrarium. The miniature violets cost about $4 to $5 each. I found the shefflera and a cute small palm at Walmart for $3 each. The small juniper was pricy, about $15. The ground cover is something called Irish moss that was on sale at a discount store after St. Patrick's Day. The rocks and gravel are from my yard.

Of course, all this does add up, I probably spent about $75 total. But now I have a large and attractive focal point in my home office. The activated charcoal which was recommended to go over the gravel in the bottom was a major expense. I used a type for aquarium filters and possibly could have found a cheaper source.

By ChloeA


Your terrarium looks amazing! Here are a few helpful tips to help you maintain it.
  • Moisture: The beautiful thing about terrariums is how easy they are to maintain. They almost thrive on neglect. The biggest mistake people make is over doing it on watering. Once you add moisture to your terrarium, it's hard to remove it. Excess moisture attracts bacteria and plants become more vulnerable to attacks from diseases and pests.

    With an open top, it may dry out faster, but after a little trial and error, you will be able to determine the best watering schedule for your plants. A lot of condensation building up on the outside of the glass is a sign you've gone overboard.

  • Fertilizing: I wouldn't recommend it. After all, fertilizing promotes growth, and the whole idea of a terrarium is to sustain small-sized plants. A high quality soil should contain all of the nutrients your plants need. Replace a little of the existing soil in your terrarium once a year when repotting your other houseplants. If you know the soil you are using is poor quality, you can add a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer (1/2 strength) after your plants have settled in.

  • Thinning and pinching: Eventually some of your plants will outgrow the terrarium. Pinching them back will help keep vertical growth in check and encourage them to fill out horizontally. Expect to thin a few specimens out occasionally, too. If a plant dies, remove it right away. Remember to check any replacement specimens thoroughly for insects and diseases before adding them into the mix. Keeping your terrarium free of dead leaves and other plant debris will also help reduce the likelihood of insects and disease.

  • Sunlight: An aquarium light should work fine for most of your plants. Glass magnifies the suns rays and will heat up the inside of your terrarium quickly, so avoid placing it in direct sunlight.

What a beautiful addition to your home office!



By nicole (Guest Post)
April 11, 20080 found this helpful
Best Answer

anyone know how to make a terrarium that is a good habitat for hermit crabs but still pretty and easy to take care will be 2.5 gallons

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By Marcia. (Guest Post)
April 13, 20080 found this helpful
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Hi Chloe, Wow, this is so neat! I am hoping one day, to do something like this, also. Thanks to all the replies also!
Love and hugs, Marcia

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April 24, 20080 found this helpful
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Thanks for the advice, Ellen. The only thing I'm fertilizing is the violets. Actually I left them in their tiny one-inch plastic pots, because my understanding is that they need to become pot-bound to bloom regularly.


They have to be watered fairly frequently, about once a week, and I put violet food in the water. The rest of the setup seems to need water about once every 10 days.

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April 10, 2008

I'm thinking about converting a 30 gallon aquarium into a terrarium. I would like advice from anyone who has done this successfully. What types of plants are slow-growing and would do well under glass? The top will not be sealed, but will be mostly covered by the aquarium top that has the light in it.



Converting Aquarium into Terrarium

Terrariums are great! I turned a large glass wine bottle into a terrarium and currently am growing a green pepper plant in it. Very cool environment to grow plants in.


For your type of terrarium, I'd suggest growing Java Moss on some large rocks. Also, if you plan to include a water feature you might select some duckweed. Both of these plants require lots of light to grow, so don't forget to keep using your attached light system.

Take a look at this info: (03/16/2008)

By Lisa

Converting Aquarium into Terrarium

What about using Lisa's idea to grow pepper plants? You could remove the top to pick your peppers. (03/16/2008)

By Marty Dick

Converting Aquarium into Terrarium

You might want to take a look at this glass terrarium project too. There is also a page that has recommended terrarium plants. (03/17/2008)

By Will

Converting Aquarium into Terrarium

I have used a 32-gallon fish tank that had a leak. The depth of the layers would depend on the size of your tank. You want good drainage and the charcoal prevents the soil from souring.

This is how I did mine, keep in mind I had a 32 gallon tank. First, layer the bottom with about 3 inches of fish gravel; I reused what I had after cleaning it. I used natural stone, I think it looks better.

Next, make a 3-inch layer of charcoal. This can be found in the plant section of most stores, I bought it at Wal-mart. The last layer should be 3 inches of a good quality potting soil mixed with a bit of sand.

I used the cover that came with the tank and used a plant light purchased at Wal-mart. When I bought my light, it was cheaper to buy it in the lighting section of the store than in the pet department. I kept the light on all day, since I didn't get any natural light in that room. I turned it off at night. I don't think it would be a good idea to have the tank in direct sunlight. It would probably get too hot for the plants.

I then landscaped it to look like a wooded area. I used different rocks, moss and tree bark and even found some small natural looking items to add to it. I found a miniature wheelbarrow and other items to make it look like a natural scape. Water it very lightly before adding anything. I used a spray bottle to water. Don't saturate it.

I planted different variety of small plants. It was trial and error. Some plants did overwhelm the tank at times, but I would just cut them back. After a month, the tank was filled with plants and looked great. I had a mirror glued the back of the tank when I used it for the fish so that added to the look. I received many complements from visitors.

We also had a toad living in the tank. Being the tank was all natural; the toad lived in there for about 5 years. I had a small house for him. About once a month, we would buy live crickets and add them to the tank for food. I made sure any openings were sealed so there weren't any escapees. We did get some but the cat usually took care of them. I never had to clean up after the toad since his waste went into the soil. I did have a "pond" buried a bit in the soil for him. He loved to soak in it.

I forgot to mention that at times I did have to clean the inside glass since the toad would like to kick up and dig at times. It was very interesting to watch the toad especially at feeding time.

I hope you enjoy this little project as much as I have. I finally had to give it away since we were moving and we did not have any room for the tank. I hope someday to make a small one since I really enjoyed it.


By Mike

Converting Aquarium into Terrarium

Thanks for all the great advice! I've put in all the substrate and soil, and am starting to collect small plants for the terrarium. I think it may be possible to grow several kinds of herbs, in addition to a few decorative things like miniature violets. (03/21/2008)

By ChloeA

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