Crested geckos are unique and fascinating reptiles that make great pets. These arboreal lizards originate from the islands of New Caledonia and inhabit tropical forests in the wild. As captives, they require specialized enclosures to mimic their natural habitat. One essential element of a bioactive crested gecko terrarium is live plants. Plants not only enhance the naturalistic appeal of the vivarium but also provide important functional benefits for your gecko.
When selecting plants for a crested gecko enclosure, there are several factors to consider regarding the plant’s size, hardiness, safety, and ease of care. With hundreds of plant species to choose from, it can be overwhelming to decide what to use in your terrarium. This guide will walk through the key considerations when choosing plants for crested geckos and provide recommendations for the best terrarium plant options.
What are the benefits of live plants in a crested gecko enclosure?
Live plants offer numerous advantages in a crested gecko terrarium:
Plants help create a naturalistic environment that mimics the gecko’s wild habitat. Crested geckos come from tropical forests filled with vegetation. Replicating some of that complex environment will help them feel more secure. A well-planted terrarium promotes natural gecko behaviors like climbing, hiding, and exploring.
Plants release moisture into the air through transpiration, raising humidity levels. Sustained humidity between 50-80% is vital for crested gecko health. Their skin is susceptible to drying out, which can cause serious issues. Plants act as natural humidifiers without the need for misting systems.
Through photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the air. This air purification provides fresher air quality within the enclosed vivarium. Improved airflow is essential for gecko respiration and preventing mold growth.
Strategically placed plants act as visual barriers, making crested geckos feel more secure. They typically appreciate dense foliage for hiding spots and breaking up open sight lines. Plants also provide shade from bright lighting.
Climbing and enrichment
Plants give crested geckos opportunities to exhibit natural climbing behaviors. The addition of sturdy plants creates a complex environment for mental stimulation and activity. This enrichment is important for captive reptile health and wellness.
Live bioactive cleanup crew
When paired with species like isopods or springtails, plants help support a live bioactive cleanup crew. The crew feeds on decaying plant matter and gecko waste, serving as natural janitors in the enclosure. This eliminates the need for spot cleaning.
What factors should be considered when choosing crested gecko plants?
When browsing the wide selection of tropical plants available, keep the following factors in mind:
Consider the size of both the fully grown plant and its container. Anything too large will overcrowd the enclosure. Look for plants that will provide ample coverage when grown in without monopolizing too much space.
Rapidly growing species can quickly outgrow the terrarium. Seek out slow growing varieties that can be easily maintained long term. Look for growth rates of under six inches per year.
Different plants have varying light needs. Make sure to provide ample lighting to meet the needs of the plants you select. Most tropical terrarium plants do best with moderate or bright indirect light.
Look for tropical plants that thrive in humidity levels of 60-80%. Species from temperate regions may develop issues in the warm, humid terrarium environment. Select moisture loving options.
Ideal crested gecko temperatures range from the upper 60s to upper 80s Fahrenheit. Choose plants capable of tolerating these warm conditions without issue.
Select plants with watering needs that match the terrarium setup. Consider factors like drainage layers, ventilation, and irrigation options when deciding which plants work best.
Toxicity to reptiles
Never use plants toxic to reptiles. Thoroughly research each species for toxicity before adding it to your crested gecko’s enclosure. This is crucial for your pet’s health.
Sturdy growth habit
Look for plants with hardy stems and structure for climbing. Avoid plants with weak branching that can easily snap under weight. Prioritize sturdy options that can tolerate some wear.
What are the best plants to use for crested geckos?
Here are some excellent plant choices to consider for a crested gecko terrarium:
Bromeliads are a diverse tropical plant group perfect for arboreal terrariums. There are hundreds of bromeliad species and cultivars to choose from. Look for compact selections under 12 inches tall. Popular options include:
- Neoregelia: Compact varieties with vivid coloring and central water reservoirs. Great for drinking and shelters.
- Cryptanthus: Low light tolerant earth stars that work well as groundcover. Provide hiding spots and humidity.
- Billbergia: Hardier selections like Billbergia nutans with long lasting blooms. Prefer drying between waterings.
- Tillandsia: Air plants that attach to hardscape without soil. Look for hardier, low light air plant species.
Ferns come in all shapes and sizes, with many low light jungle varieties ideal for terrariums. They have ancient roots and add lush, prehistoric appeal. Consider the following easy growing ferns:
- Rabbit’s Foot Fern: Whimsical foliage on this sturdy climber. Tolerates dry air well. Does not shed debris.
- Boston Fern: Cascades beautifully over terraces and structures. Provide bright indirect light and high humidity.
- Holly Fern: Large shiny fronds on this bold, hardy fern. Grow as an accent plant or background. Prefers moist soil.
- Button Fern: Compact fern perfect for foreground planting. Likes humidity. Spreads readily by rhizomes.
With over 1,000 species, peperomia offers incredible plant diversity. These tropical perennials have fleshy leaves and have adapted to low light rainforest conditions. Try:
- Watermelon Peperomia: Round leaves with signature watermelon-like striping. Trailing or upright growth habits available.
- Pepperface Peperomia: Rippled waxy leaves reminiscent of black peppercorns. Compact growth under 12 inches tall.
- Red Log Peperomia: Trailing stems with red undersides. Grows well in terrariums and hanging baskets.
No terrarium plant list would be complete without pothos. With its iconic heart-shaped leaves, pothos is one of the most popular vivarium plants. Benefits include:
- Trails well along back walls and terraces
- Tolerates low humidity and irregular watering
- Removes air pollutants
- Extremely low maintenance
- Many different varieties and leaf shapes
Look for small leaf varieties like golden pothos, neon pothos, and pearl and jade pothos for terrariums.
These tropical plants have unique foliage that folds up vertically at night. Try these vibrant prayer plants:
- Maranta leuconeura: The classic prayer plant with striking vein patterns. Likes humidity and indirect light.
- Calathea: Peacock plant, rattlesnake plant, and more brilliant patterned options. Prefers regular water.
- Ctenanthe: Compact prayer plants like burle marx with rippled gray-green leaves. Does well in terrariums.
Orchids can provide striking blooms and adapt well to humid, jungle-like environments. Look for miniature varieties and consider these favorites:
- Moth orchids: Beginner friendly phalaenopsis thrive with indirect light. Look for compact varieties under 12 inches.
- Jewel orchids: Ludisia discolor has vibrant jewel-toned leaves with minimal care needs.
- Bulbophyllum: Miniature orchids with oval pseudobulbs. Grow in well-draining media.
How should you prepare the plants and terrarium for planting?
Once you’ve selected suitable plants, it’s time to get them established in the vivarium. Follow these tips for a successful transition:
Quarantine new plants
Always quarantine new plants in a separate container for 2-4 weeks before adding to the terrarium. Monitor for any signs of pests or disease during this period.
Wash and trim plants
Gently remove the plant from its nursery pot and rinse roots to remove old soil. Trim any dead or damaged foliage. Remove any decorative plastic or sticks.
Plant in clean terrarium appropriate substrate
Use a clean, well draining substrate free of chemical additives. Coconut coir, sphagnum moss, bark chips, and horticultural charcoal all work well.
Allow proper drainage
Ensure the terrarium has a drainage layer using gravel, LECA clay balls, or mesh screens. Provide 1-2 inches of drainage media below the substrate.
Plant along back walls first
Larger background plants like trailing pothos should be planted directly into the substrate along the back first. Then fill in the middle and foreground areas.
Use mounts and terraces
Secure epiphytic plants like orchids and bromeliads onto hardscape features using fishing line or velco. Cork bark, vines, and terraces help anchor plants.
Mist well after planting
After getting all plants established in the terrarium, mist them generously using a hand spray bottle. This removes any air pockets in the soil and minimizes transplant shock.
Provide optimal lighting
Ensure all plants receive adequate lighting based on their individual light requirements. Supplement with grow lights if needed.
Allow time to adjust
Give plants 2-3 weeks to adapt to the warm, humid environment before introducing your crested gecko. Monitor for signs of stress and make any needed care adjustments during this period.
What type of lighting do crested gecko plants need?
Providing proper lighting is crucial for long term plant health in a crested gecko enclosure. There are several effective options:
Linear fluorescent bulbs that span the length of the terrarium work well. Use plant specific and full spectrum bulbs. LED fluorescents are energy efficient.
LED grow lights
Full spectrum LED grow lights are ideal for deeply planted vivariums. Look for adjustable gooseneck styles that allow targeting different areas.
Dual lamp fixtures
Combine daylight basking bulbs with plant specific fluorescent or LED bulbs in double dome fixtures. This meets both gecko and plant needs.
When possible, provide some natural daylight through a window or screen. The sun provides the full spectrum plants need most. Just avoid direct hot sun.
Provide 10-12 hours of light per day. Use timers to ensure consistent light cycles. Turn lights on in the morning and off at night to match natural photoperiods.
Follow manufacturer guidelines, but most terrarium suitable plants need around 2,000-5,000 lux brightness at foliage level. Adjust light height accordingly.
Strategically placed glass or acrylic windows allow supplemental daylight into shadowed areas of the terrarium. Just avoid glare or heat buildup.
What are the best practices for watering crested gecko plants?
Proper moisture is essential for plant health. Here are some key tips:
- Allow the top layer of substrate to dry out in between waterings
- Pour water directly into the substrate around the base of plants
- Use room temperature filtered or bottled water
- Avoid getting foliage and stems wet when watering
- Remove any standing water after 30 minutes
- Adjust frequency based on humidity, ventilation, and plant needs
- Water heavily until it drains freely from the bottom when dry
- For many plants, weekly or biweekly watering is sufficient
- Supplement with daily light misting of hardscape and free space
Observe plants for signs of under or overwatering and modify your schedule accordingly. A moisture meter can be helpful for gauging when to water. Proper substrate, drainage, and air circulation will prevent soggy conditions.
What are the ideal humidity levels for crested gecko plants?
Most tropical plants prefer steady humidity between 60-80%. Some key considerations:
- Use a hygrometer to monitor humidity inside the terrarium
- Many plants do best around 70% humidity
- Increase humidity with mist systems or evaporative media like moss
- Provide adequate ventilation to prevent stagnant stale air
- Find a balance between humidity and airflow
- Observe plant health and watch for signs of problems
- Adjust as needed by modifying ventilation
- Ideal conditions will minimize leaf browning and fungus issues
Higher humidity demands more diligent monitoring for pests and diseases. Maintain the enclosure cleanliness and promptly address any issues observed.
Should any trimming or pruning be done?
Occasional pruning keeps plants healthy and prevents overgrowth:
- Use clean, sharp scissors or shears for clean cuts
- Prune dead, dying, or damaged growth
- Trim plants becoming too large for space
- Selectively thin dense growth for better light and air
- Cut back leggy, sparse growth to encourage compactness
- Direct wayward stems back into desired areas
- Pinch out growing tips to encourage bushy growth
- Propagate trimmings or use for other vivaria
- Remove fallen leaves before they decompose
- Disinfect tools after each use
- Quarantine and monitor cuttings before replanting
Take a minimalist approach to avoid stressing plants. Never prune more than 20% at one time. Prune as needed based on growth rate.
What types of issues may arise with crested gecko plants?
Even with good care, you may encounter some common plant problems:
Plants not thriving likely indicate improper lighting, watering, or humidity. Evaluate your husbandry and make adjustments.
This can signal overwatering or insufficient nutrients. Allow the soil to dry more between waterings and fertilize if needed.
Low humidity, insufficient water, or too much light cause browning leaf tips. Increase misting, water more frequently, or adjust lighting.
Inadequate lighting, nutrients, or root space will stunt plants. Provide optimal conditions and repot if root bound.
Slow growth with dropped leaves happens when some tropicals are kept too cool. Raise temperatures into optimal ranges.
Failure to bloom
Insufficient light, humidity swings, overcrowding, or improper trimming can inhibit flowering. Tailor conditions to the plant.
Watch for scale, mealybugs, spider mites, and aphids. Isolate and treat infested plants immediately.
Low air circulation coupled with high humidity encourages fungal growth. Increase ventilation and reduce humidity.
What should be done before introducing crested geckos?
Once the plants are well established, about 2-3 weeks after planting, you can add your crested geckos. Before introducing them:
- Observe plant health and resolve any issues first
- Trim any damaged foliage that could be harmful
- Ensure the substrate is clear of debris
- Remove any loose leaves or objects
- Verify stable temperature, lighting, and humidity
- Make sure all plants are fully rooted and stable
- Secure loose vines or epiphytes that could fall
- Clean the glass and any hardscape
- Watch for signs of disease or pests on plants
- Test any automated or electric systems thoroughly
- Have a first aid kit prepared for plant and animal injuries
Taking these preparatory steps will help ensure a smooth transition when your geckos enter their new planted terrarium. Closely supervise them at first and allow some time for adjustment to their new habitat.
What kind of routine terrarium maintenance is required?
While planted crested gecko setups are relatively low maintenance, providing some regular care optimizes the health and longevity of both plants and pets:
- Daily misting to supplement humidity and moisture
- Twice weekly removal of fallen leaves and debris
- Weekly monitoring of plants for signs of problems
- Biweekly light substrate raking to prevent compaction
- Monthly thorough glass and decor cleaning
- Monthly trimming of overgrown plants as needed
- Every 2-3 months, flush the drainage layer to prevent salt buildup
- Every 4-6 months, replace depleted substrate and reposition plants
- Yearly full terrarium overhaul, cleaning, and plant replacements
Develop a routine suited to your specific setup. Make notes on a calendar for when tasks need to be performed. Consistency is key for bioactive success!
Creating a naturalistic planted habitat for crested geckos is very rewarding but also requires some research and preparation to get right. Selecting the right mix of hardy, low maintenance plants tailored to the terrarium environment is key. Provide ample humidity, tropical temperatures, drainage, and proper lighting that mimics their wild habitat. With good plant choices and proper care techniques, your crested geckos will thrive alongside living plants in their bioactive terrarium. Just be sure to do your homework when choosing plants to avoid any issues down the road. Your geckos will appreciate the complex environment created by living terrarium plants.