Watering an open terrarium for the first time

xiaosongJune 3, 2008

I've been a little bit confused about how much water should be used the first time after the plants are planted in the aquarium. I've read a variety of things on the internet, from you should water just around the plant, to just mist enough to wash off the soil from the glass and finally to water until you see water at the gravel layer.

I read everywhere to not overwater and that terrariums can go for weeks to month without watering. I also see people talk about looking at how much condensation is on the glass to tell if you need to water or not.

So, my setup is a 10 gallon converted aquarium that I washed out and autoclaved the gravel to make sure it is clean. I have about an inch of gravel on the bottom, then a thin layer of charcoal, then a layer of dry sphagum moss followed by some normal potting soil from Home Depot on top. The home depot in manhattan didn't exactly have a wide array of flowers and since I've never even had a potted plant before, I decided to just try with some cheap plants and go from there before I set up something more complex. I got some impatiens and begonias and planted them in the tank. I decided to leave the top off because I read that you have less to worry about in terms of mold and such and since I see the tank everyday at work, I don't mind watering it a little bit more often. The tank sits by a westward facing window and gets a lot of light and sunlight through the shade in the afternoon.

After I planted using the regular potting soil, I misted the terrarium but aside from the top quarter inch being wet, the rest of the soil, about an inch and a half, still looked dry. I tried to hold off watering more so I left it uncovered. The next day, there was no condensation on the glass, the gravel was dry and the soil didn't stick to my finger when I pushed down on it. I misted some more but it was still about the same the day after.

So, sorry for the long post but here are my questions.

1) How much should I water the first time after I've planted? It is a 10 gallon aquarium so should I try to get the soil wet enough that some drains down to the gravel layer and I can see it?

2) If I don't have the tank top sealed with saran wrap, will I still see any condensation on the glass? If not, is the water cycle not happening so I will need to just water more often?

3) If I do need to water more often, how much should I water each time? Like a quart of water or so when the soil is dry?

Sorry for the long post and I appreciate any help you can give me! Thanks.

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terrestrial_man(9)

Only a suggestion:
Maybe you should dig out one corner of the substrate and leave it open. Then water until you see water pooling up in the hole. Then stop watering and see how it percolates by evaporation back into the soil layers. If the soil mix still seems dry then on the next watering let more water fill the pool. And so on until you find the surface of the substrate slightly moist but not wet. You could also poke your finger into the substrate just to see how wet it feels and use that as a judge. The way your plants will respond depends not only on the amount of water but the heat and light amounts which drive the plants to need water.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2008 at 5:34PM
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sherryazure(6)

and if you do ever overwater, roll some paper towel up into tight 'wick' and stick into soil... it will uptake water and allow it to evaporate. Best Sherry

    Bookmark   June 16, 2008 at 5:20AM
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paul_(z5 MI)

1) How much should I water the first time after I've planted? It is a 10 gallon aquarium so should I try to get the soil wet enough that some drains down to the gravel layer and I can see it?

Hi Xiao!

Unfortunately there is no surefire answer as it depends in part on what kinds of plants you use, how MANY plants you have in there, as well as the media's ability to hold water, etc.

As a general rule of thumb, the soil when you you first put it in should be moist enough to stick together a bit when squeezed into a ball.

Begonias tyically do NOT like realy wet soil. Impatients tend to like more moisture then the begonias. This could make this terr a challenge -- what may be nice for the begonias may be too dry for the impatients. Consider this terr an experiment. :)

You didn't mention how MUCH soil you have in the tank, but assuming you have the soil at least 2 inches deep -- if you stick your finger into the soil about an inch down and it is dry to the touch then you probably need to water. The impatients will also let you know they are too dry by wilting.(Not that you want to wait that long on a regular basis -- as that is stressful to the plants)

Water the plants a little bit at a time. Enough to moisten the soil surface. Let this sink in for a few minutes then if it looks like the water has not penetrated the soil deeper down, add some more. Remember that it is always better to go back to add more than to grossly over water by giving too much. Having a bit of water amongst the gravel will act as a bit of a reservoir so you can water until you see a little bit of water in the gravel area. However it isn't NECESSARY to do so.

  1. If I don't have the tank top sealed with saran wrap, will I still see any condensation on the glass? If not, is the water cycle not happening so I will need to just water more often?

You might see some condensation on the glass down at the gravel or soil level but don't count on it. And yes you are correct that the water cycle will not be happening so you will indeed have to water more often.

  1. If I do need to water more often, how much should I water each time? Like a quart of water or so when the soil is dry?

Sorry there are too many factors that will affect this so there is no simple answer for you -- except that a "quart" of water for that size tank with the plants you have will almost definitely be waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much. :)

The time of year could affect how much water you need or at least how often you need it. Office air tends to be quite dry -- especially in the winter. But depending on how strong you winter light is and the temp the office is kept at over the winter you may still find you need less water than in the summer when the sunlight coming in the window is a lot stronger. Afraid you'll have to wait and see.

Again plan on giving only a cup or two of water and see how that works. You can always add more later.

Hope...

    Bookmark   June 17, 2008 at 9:56PM
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