Setting up my new Rainforest Terrarium

I really enjoy designing and planting terrariums and bottle gardens.  Usually, I look for pre-made glass bottles, vases, vivariums, old aquariums, or fish tanks, to use to create and design my indoor gardens.  However, earlier this year I decided to commission a custom made terrarium, which was designed to fit neatly on top of my sideboard, where it now provides a home, complete with automated care, for some of my orchids that form part of my National Collection.  In this article, I’ll show you how my Rainforest Terrarium was set up and I’ll explain the thinking behind my design.  I hope that this article will help you, if you’re thinking of installing a terrarium of your own.

Rainforestvivs Custom Build Terrarium

There are a few specialist vivarium builders in the UK, they mostly cater to the herpetology community (‘Herp’ for short), designing tanks for keeping dart frogs and other amphibians and reptiles inside.

Rainforestvivs (now The Rich Rainforest) are an independent company, based in Cwmbran, in Wales.  Rainforestvivs produce a range of both planted and unplanted terrariums, the company produce custom build terrariums, and they also offer a range of terrarium plants and accessories.  I asked Rich at Rainforestvivs to build this custom built, unplanted terrarium for me, which I will refer to as my Rainforest Terrarium.

It may sound a bit over the top to give each of my terrariums a name, but I do this to help you to be able to easily find all of the articles that relate to each of the terrariums I have designed and written about, allowing you to quickly find every article that relates to the particular terrarium that you’re most interested in. To find each article: you can either search in the search box, or click on the name of the terrarium you’re reading about in the tags, which are found near the bottom of the page, on the right hand side of each article.  Clicking on the Rainforest Terrarium tag will bring up every article about that particular terrarium.  Alternatively, you can look in my Terrariums section, where you’ll find the other terrariums I have written about.

If you’re interested in this terrarium, you can find all of my articles about my Rainforest Terrarium here.  You’ll find all of my articles about setting up terrariums here.

Rainforest Terrarium size

I asked Rich, from Rainforestvivs, to build me an enclosure that measures: 95cm (37.4 inches) x 100cm (39.4 inches) x 45cm (17.7 inches) (W x H x D).  I chose these particular measurements to allow this Rainforest Terrarium to fit perfectly on top of a sideboard I have.  One of the obvious advantages of having a custom built terrarium is that you can have your terrarium built to your exact specifications, which is ideal if you, like me, wish to house your terrarium on a particular piece of furniture, or if you have a specific corner of your home where you’d like to place a terrarium.  Custom built terrariums are ideal for every kind of home, from tiny homes to extensive residences; with a custom build terrarium you can make the most of whatever space you have available to you.

In this photograph, you can see my Rainforest Terrarium installed and in place, the MistKing misting system has been fitted into the pre-drilled holes, and the external fans have been dropped into the square apertures in the corner of the roof panel.  When it was delivered, this terrarium was placed onto a 3mm rubber mat, to reduce the risk of stress fractures to the glass structure of my Rainforest Terrarium.

Choice of glass for custom build terrariums

When you place an order for a custom build terrarium, you get the chance to choose the type of glass your terrarium is constructed from.  Rich from Rainforestvivs, built my Rainforest Terrarium using 4mm (0.2 inches) thick toughened safety glass; this is about the maximum size of terrarium that you can create with this thickness of glass.  A larger sized terrarium would require 6mm (0.25 inches) thick glass, which is both heavier and more expensive to use.

Toughened safety glass

I would always recommend choosing toughened safety glass, or fully tempered glass for your terrarium.  Naturally, toughened safety glass is so much stronger and more resilient than regular glass, so it is less likely to break, which is a huge advantage in itself, but if you do break a terrarium made of toughened safety glass, this glass breaks into small pieces, rather like a car windscreen.  Pieces of broken toughened safety glass tend to have more rounded edges, the broken glass tends to be blunt, so it is far less dangerous than the shards you are left with, when regular glass shatters.  I can say this with complete confidence, having accidentally broken a vast number of glass terrariums over the years!

Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass

The interior of my Rainforest Terrarium is accessed via two sliding doors that are situated at the front of this terrarium.  I specified to have these sliding doors and the top (ceiling) glass panel made from Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass – a special low-iron glass, that gives an astonishingly clear and transparent view through the glass, there’s almost no green tint over this glass at all.  The Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass allows maximum light transmission through the top glass panel, while the use of Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass in the sliding doors (at the front of the Rainforest Terrarium) gives a clear view of the plants inside.  I am so glad that I made the decision to use this glass for these two areas of my Rainforest Terrarium, as the Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass makes such a difference – you can barely see the glass!

Making the best use of your budget to design a great terrarium!

If you’re not constrained by a budget and you like the idea of using an especially clear glass, then you may wish to use Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass for every single glass panel that your terrarium is constructed from, to create an incredibly clear terrarium, with maximum light transmission from all sides.  However, this glass is much more costly than regular toughened safety glass, so if cost is an issue, you may choose to forgo using this glass altogether.  Alternatively, you may wish to delay placing your order, to allow yourself the necessary time to save up the extra funds, and you also could limit your use of this glass, as I have done.

I am so glad that I chose to use Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass for my Rainforest Terrarium, this glass is just so transparent, it is almost revolutionary!  Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass provides a much clearer view of my terrarium plants.  My terrarium’s appearance is greatly improved by the inclusion of this glass to form the top panel and the sliding doors of this Rainforest Terrarium.

If you’re working to a budget, I would advise using Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass for the panels that will provide you with the greatest benefit and effect, which in most circumstances, would usually be the front and the top glass panels of your terrarium – if your budget allows you to use this glass for both of these areas.  Alternatively, if the cost of the glass for these two areas is prohibitive, you could use Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass to form the front panels of your terrarium.  In most circumstances, if you can only choose one panel of this glass, you’ll receive the greatest benefit from using Pilkington Optiwhite™ glass to form the panel of glass on the side of your terrarium that you’ll view most often, which is usually the front.

Cutting holes in terrariums and vivariums for misting systems, fans, and other equipment!

There are so many benefits of having a custom built terrarium, one advantage that I really appreciated, was having a complete terrarium, one that featured all of the cut outs I required, at the end of the process.  It was wonderful to able to specify the precise holes I needed Rich, from Rainforestvivs, to drill into the glass for me.  When I received my Rainforest Terrarium, each cut out had been completed exactly as I had specified, so my equipment fitted perfectly and took just a few moments to install.

This is the drilling/cutting specification plan that I sent to Rich, at RainforestVivs; to give Rich the information about my exact requirements, so that he could pre-drill the holes for the misting system and make the cut outs for the fans, in the two back corners of my Rainforest Terrarium.
This photograph shows the humidity-controlled external fan which sits in the purpose-cut aperture in the top panel of my Rainforest Terrarium.

In early 2017, I designed my Orchidarium, using a pre-made glass vivarium.  For this build, after purchasing the glass case for my Orchidarium, I ended up having to approach another company to purchase a sheet of acrylic, to act as a lid for my Orchidarium.  The company that I bought the sheet of acrylic from, made the cut outs as per my specification template (which was different to the specification sheet for my Rainforest Terrarium that you’ve just seen pictured above), to allow access for all necessary cables, etc.  The cutting out I required for my Orchidarium was carried out perfectly, I have had no problems with either the acrylic lid or the cut outs that were made.  This lid has worked well for me, it is still in operation as I write – I have no plans to replace it, but I am actively trying to avoid purchasing any new plastic, so for me, another great advantage of a custom build terrarium, is that you can specify the exact size and placement of the cut outs you need.  Rich then used his tools and expertise to drill the holes without shattering the glass.  This is a huge benefit – I’ve heard many a cautionary tale of folk attempting to drill into the glass structure of their own tanks, and after a stressful and difficult afternoon’s work they were left with a pile of shattered glass in the place where their terrarium had once stood – a frightening prospect!

This photograph shows a view of the top of my Rainforest Terrarium, showing the two external fans, and the misting system connections. The top panel and front sliding doors are made of low-iron glass, which gives extra clarity when viewing the terrarium. This glass also allows the maximum light transmission into the glass case.

As well as cutting the holes for the misting system, to allow the cables to fit through the top glass panel of my Rainforest Terrarium, I also asked Rich to cut out two corner sections of the top glass panel, to allow two external fans to be neatly dropped into the terrarium.  I use these external fans to draw humid air out of the top of the terrarium, and to circulate fresh air into the tank, via the mesh vent that sits below the doors of my Rainforest Terrarium.

This photograph of the front right of my Rainforest Terrarium shows the channels for the sliding glass panels. You can also see the ventilation grille; when the hygrometer detects that the humidity inside my Rainforest Terrarium has risen above 80% RH, the external fans are triggered into operation, they pull air out of the top of the terrarium, this action in turn draws fresh air in through this grille.

Custom build terrarium construction time frame

When you order a custom build terrarium, the time from when you place your order to when your terrarium is ready can vary enormously.  At the time when I placed my order, it took two weeks from when I ordered my Rainforest Terrarium, with Rich at Rainforestvivs (now The Rich Rainforest), to having the finished tank delivered to my home.  If I had placed my order during a busier time of year, I may have had to wait for a number of  months for my finished terrarium.

All of the specifications and design discussions for this Rainforest Terrarium were concluded via email, which suited me very well indeed, but if you’re looking to have your own custom built terrarium created and you prefer to telephone rather than email, do make sure to use the communication method that will suit you best.  It’s worth making some notes on any particular questions you have, or anything you want to double check, so that you can be prepared before you call Rich at Rainforestvivs or another custom build terrarium company.

This photograph shows the black door trims and the fascia of my Rainforest Terrarium.

Protecting the toughened glass of the base of your terrarium

Toughened glass is incredibly strong, but even toughened glass is easy to shatter if it’s put under localised pressure.  Placing glass-on-glass could result in enough pressure to crack and smash the toughened glass of this Rainforest Terrarium, even with just the tiniest particle of grit trapped between the two sheets of glass.  As the sideboard on which the Rainforest Terrarium is to be sited has a glass top, I ordered a piece of 3mm (0.1 inch) rubber matting to cover the top of the sideboard.  The rubber matting has enough ‘give’ to provide a firm, but safe, non-slip base for my Rainforest Terrarium to sit upon.

This photograph shows the front ventilation grille and the sliding door runners for my Rainforest Terrarium. You can also see the rubber matting on which the terrarium sits.

Using Leca balls as the terrarium substrate

I am actively trying to avoid buying new plastic wherever I can.  Instead of using plastic egg-crate to form the false bottom of this terrarium, (as was fitted inside my Orchidarium) for this Rainforest Terrarium I opted to use Leca balls – lightweight clay balls, which form an excellent substrate in the bottom of the tank.  Leca balls are formed from expanded clay, a material that’s very light, so it doesn’t add too much extra weight to the terrarium.  These expanded clay balls won’t rot or decompose, making this material the ideal choice for use in the wetter drainage area, inside my Rainforest Terrarium.  Leca has quite a number of uses in horticulture.  If you’re planning to use Leca in your terrarium, do make sure you remember to wash the Leca balls thoroughly before use.

I added two short lengths of plastic tubing, one in each of the front two corners of the base of this terrarium, to allow easy access to the void around the Leca in the bottom of my Rainforest Terrarium.  The plastic tubing creates an open area, with an unobstructed view and access to any water that has collected in the base of the terrarium; this enables any water to be easily siphon off or drained out.

I lined the surface of the Leca with a couple of sheets of weed-suppressant membrane.  A peat free, coir compost was placed on top of the weed-suppressant membrane.  The peat free, coir compost was topped with a layer of cushion moss, which sits on top of the coir compost, adding colour and interest to the base of my Rainforest Terrarium.

This photograph shows the Leca balls being washed before use. This is important, as when Leca balls are purchased they are usually covered in dust, cleaning the Leca helps to avoid contaminating the water reservoir.
Here you can see the washed Leca balls in place, in the base reservoir of my Rainforest Terrarium.
The Leca balls in the base of the my Rainforest Terrarium are around 5cm (2″) deep. In the corner, a short piece of pipe creates an opening which allows easy access to siphon off any excess water from the base reservoir.
Next the weed-suppressant fabric membrane is placed over the surface of the Leca balls. This membrane has been folded to make a double layer, which will ensure that water can drain into the base reservoir, but any compost and other debris stays out of the water, where it would otherwise decompose.
This photograph shows the side of my Rainforest Terrarium, here you can see the weed-suppressant membrane covering the Leca balls. The membrane is slightly over-sized to ensure a lip around the entire surface, to prevent compost dropping down the sides and into the reservoir below.

Choosing a misting system for your terrarium or vivarium

The MistKing misting system I installed inside my Orchidarium has worked really well, I haven’t had any problems with this misting system since I installed it in March 2017, so I was happy to again install the MistKing misting system inside my new Rainforest Terrarium.

I used three misting nozzles with the MistKing misting system that was installed inside my Orchidarium, but as this Rainforest Terrarium is a larger sized tank, this time I used 5 misting nozzles: 4 single nozzles – one in each top corner, and one double nozzle, which is positioned in the middle of the front inside edge of my Rainforest Terrarium.

Be certain that you have selected the most cost effective misting system for your terrarium

When I placed my order with MistKing, I ordered a MistKing Starter system and then I specified some extra nozzles, as this worked out to be a more cost effective solution for me than buying a full-spec misting system with 5 nozzles – it is really worth taking time to check the different options available to you.  The MistKing system comes with a digital timer, so all I needed was a bucket with a lid to use as a reservoir.  My bucket is regularly filled with de-ionised water; when the MistKing misting system operates, the system syphons the water from the bucket to water the plants inside my Rainforest Terrarium.

I have set up the MistKing misting system to generate a fine cloud of mist over all of the plants inside this Rainforest Terrarium, when the misting system runs for 1 minute 30 seconds, at 8.30am every morning.  On the 1st August 2018, I decided to add in an additional lunchtime mist over the plants for 30 seconds, at 12.30pm.  The MistKing misting system is very easy to operate, I can change the automatic misting that the plants receive to suit

The twin MistKing nozzles, for my MistKing misting system are positioned in the middle, at the front of my Rainforest Terrarium.
This is the single nozzle in the right-hand top corner of my Rainforest Terrarium. These nozzles fit directly into the holes that were pre-drilled by Rich from Rainforestvivs during the terrarium manufacturing process, so they took just moments to fit to my Rainforest Terrarium.
This is the MistKing digital timer, which is programmed to control the misting system for my Rainforest Terrarium.

Fertilising the orchids

The day-to day plant care for the orchids that are growing inside my Rainforest Terrarium is all automated, the plants are taken care of on a daily basis – the plants are misted and watered each day, the humidity levels are automatically maintained and the lighting system is set to operate automatically.

When it comes to fertilising these orchids, this is not something I have tried to automate, so this is still carried out by hand.  I haven’t tried to fertilise the plants automatically, as this is something that is only carried out once at week at most, and at times every two weeks or less.  Orchids only require fertiliser when they are actively growing, so this is not a task that is carried out over the winter months.  I do not wish to provide my plants with more fertiliser than they require.  When I was designing this Rainforest Terrarium, the most important thing to provide was the lighting, the misting and maintaining the humidity, whilst creating good air circulation and exchange.

Maintaining the humidity levels inside my Rainforest Terrarium

To ensure constant and consistent humidity, I have four fans that operate inside this Rainforest Terrarium.  Two 8cm fans are housed internally, these fans run constantly, within the tank, to maintain good air circulation inside this terrarium, at all times.  Good air circulation is important to create a healthy growing environment, to avoid fungal problems, and to allow the water around each of the plant’s roots to evaporate before nightfall, and to ensure that my plants enjoy optimum growing conditions.

In addition, there are two 8cm fans, which were placed into the custom-cut holes, in the ceiling of this Rainforest Terrarium.  These fans provide internal/external air exchange.  When this terrarium becomes too humid, these fans automatically pull humid air out of the top panel of the tank; as a consequence of this action, the design of my terrarium results in fresh air being drawn into the tank, through the grille, in the lower front section of my Rainforest Terrarium.  These ceiling fans are connected to a hygrometer unit, with a probe inside the tank; they only operate when humidity inside my Rainforest Terrarium exceeds 80%RH.  If the humidity level rises above 80%RH, the fans will draw fresh, dry air into the the tank, but as soon as the humidity level begins to drop, the fans switch off automatically, thereby maintaining a minimum humidity level and ensuring optimum growing conditions inside this Rainforest Terrarium, at all times.

This is the top inside corner of my Rainforest terrarium. The external fan, which is controlled by a hygrometer, has been dropped into the square aperture cut into the top glass panel. The internal fans, which run constantly to ensure good air movement and circulation within the terrarium, are attached to the wall with suction hooks.
This photograph shows the ventilation grille from another angle.
This diagram shows the external air circulation within my Rainforest Terrarium. The two fans in the top corners are activated via a hygrometer, which turns them on when humidity increases above 80% RH. This pushes humid air out of the top of the terrarium, and causes fresh air to be drawn in through the grille that runs along the front of the terrarium below the doors. This maintains a constant humidity level, but also ensures good air circulation to avoid a buildup of any fungus or airborne diseases.

I hope the diagram above helps to demonstrate the method for allowing air circulation around and through this Rainforest Terrarium.

The fans inside my Rainforest Terrarium are powered by a USB cable, which connects to a plug in the wall socket.  The particular fans I have feature a design that allows me to ‘daisy-chain’ fans on a single cable, so this means I have two power connections – one for the two fans within the terrarium, which run constantly circulating the air inside this enclosure (24 hours a day).

The other two fans – the external fans that are sited in the ceiling of my Rainforest Terrarium – are connected to a separate power source, which is plugged into the humidity controller – the Inkbird IHC-200 Plug-n-Play Humidity Controller.  The sensor for this humidity controller hangs down inside the Rainforest Terrarium, it only powers the ceiling fans when the humidity rises above 80%RH.  This avoids excessive humidity levels building up inside the terrarium.  The humidity levels are controlled, as fresh, drier air is drawn into the enclosure.  Once the desired humidity level is restored inside my Rainforest Terrarium, these fans turn off automatically.

Choosing LED lights for your terrarium or vivarium

When I set up my Orchidarium in 2017, my research at the time led me to purchase a Jungle Hobbies Advanced LED lighting system.  This unit provides excellent quality light from its LEDs, this light has some useful features (a built-in timer that fades the light up in the morning and down at night, as well as a remote control).  However, after a year of use, I’ve experienced a number of problems, mostly around the Jungle Hobbies Advanced LED lighting system’s heat and cooling management system.  The electronics within this Jungle Hobbies’ light generate a lot of heat, so the light’s unit has an in-built cooling fan, which triggers whenever the light gets hot – which on a normal day is about every 20 minutes or so.  Unfortunately, the Jungle Hobbies fan is rather loud, it’s far louder than the sound made by all of my other terrarium fans put together, which means it can be distracting and disturbing in equal measure.  Worse still, in 2017, the cooling fan for my Jungle Hobbies light began to fail – which caused this fan to become even noisier, as very loud noises were made by the fan’s bearings, which were ridiculously noisy!  On a number of occasions, the heat that my Jungle Hobbies lights produced caused the fan to cut out completely, which lead to the light over-heating and shutting itself down – leaving my plants in darkness!

When I contacted Jungle Hobbies, to alert them to the problems I was experiencing, the company sent me a replacement fan unit, but they weren’t quick to do so – shipping this small fan from Canada to the UK took over 2 months.  These Jungle Hobbies’ lights were expensive, I have concerns that if I purchased these lights again, the same problem could happen again in future.

I wanted to avoid the problems I experienced with the Jungle Hobbies lighting kit I bought for my Orchidarium, so to avoid making the same mistake again, and avoid purchasing a noisy set of lights, I looked for LED lights that didn’t need a fan.  I got in contact with a new Polish company called Skylight.  Skylight produce LED lights, but their lights are designed in such a way that they don’t need any active fan cooling – their lights are completely passive, so they’re totally silent.  Which is fantastic!

This is the Skylight Pro RP LED lighting unit that I used to light my Rainforest Terrarium.
This is a view of the underside of the Skylight Pro RP LED lighting system. The construction is simple and elegant, it has no moving parts this lighting system instead relies on passive cooling for the LED lights.

Skylight have a number of different models, mostly aimed at the herpetology markets, but this year they have introduced their new ‘Pro RP’ range, specifically targeted towards horticultural use, and it’s these new lights that I’ve installed on my Rainforest Terrarium. The Skylight Pro RP lights have an adjusted frequency range, with a little more red light to improve photosynthesis – giving them an excellent PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) for plants – i.e., the frequencies of light that plants need to actively photosynthesise.  After several months, the results have been excellent, these lights are producing strong light levels for the plants growing inside my Rainforest Terrarium – with my light-meter I measured 8000lux (760 foot-candles) at the top of the tank, 4400lux (400fc) in the middle of the tank, and 2000lux (185fc) at the base of the tank.  My Skylight LED lights run silently, something I am so very grateful for!  Each unit draws 12W of power, so the triple-unit setup on my Rainforest terrarium is 36W – which is not bad given the light levels these lights produce.  My Rainforest Terrarium is housed in a dark room, if I was to read a book, or work in this room, I would have previously needed to put a light on, but now that I have my Rainforest Terrarium, if I read or work near this terrarium in this room I do not need to turn another light on.

The Skylight Pro RP is launching in the UK this month, and is available via UK resellers – but because it’s specifically designed for horticultural use, they won’t hold stock of this particular light, so if you want to try this light for yourselves, you’ll need to pre-order it.

This is the Skylight Pro RP LED lighting system and accessories that I used for my Rainforest Terrarium.
My Rainforest Terrarium has three Skylight Pro RP units to provide maximum lighting for my plants.
This is the connection cable for the Skylight Pro RP lighting system that I used in my Rainforest Terrarium. These cables provide a choice of configurations for the lights.

Skylight LED lights are modular, they offer many options, allowing you to configure your lighting setup to best suit your requirements, depending on the size and shape of your tank and the selection of plants you’re growing.  I chose to use 3 Skylight lights, I have these lights arranged in a ‘fan’ shape on top of the roof of my Rainforest Terrarium  – the lights have been positioned directly on top of the glass, they look down into the terrarium.

Unlike the Jungle Hobbies’ lights, the Skylight light models don’t have a built-in timer, but it was easy and straight forward to set the Skylight LED lights up on a timeswitch, so they turn on in the morning and off again at night.  Karl from Skylight told me that they are planning to add a timer module in future, but these new lights are at the prototype stage, they’re still in development.

This chart shows the Skylight Pro RP light Spectrum. These lights are specially designed for horticultural use, with a slightly increased red spectrum when compared to the Skylight RH/RV which are aimed more towards animal vivariums. The Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) is optimal for plants to grow well. The energy usage is low too, with a total of 36W for a triple unit setup.

Rainforest Terrarium equipment

The full list of parts and equipment used to build this Rainforest Terrarium are as follows:

  • An enclosure that measures 95cm (37.4 inches) x 100cm (39.4 inches) x 45cm (17.7 inches) (W x H x D) constructed from 4mm (0.2 inches) toughened safety glass. Pilkington Optiwhite™ low-iron high-clarity glass was used for the front sliding doors, and the top/roof panel.
  • A 3mm (0.1 inch) thick piece of rubber matting, cut to 100cm x 50cm.
  • 20L bag of CANNA Aqua Clay Leca balls.
  • Two short sections of plastic tubing cut to size.
  • Sufficient weed suppressant membrane to cover the base of the terrarium twice over, with enough extra material to form a lip around the outer edge.
  • MistKing Starter Misting System v4.0 with a ZipDrip Valve, and one extra single and double misting nozzle.
  • Two AC Infinity Multifan S1 80mm USB powered fans for internal air circulation.
  • Two AC Infinity AirPlate S1 80mm USB powered fans for external air circulation.
  • Inkbird IHC-200UK Dual Relays Plug Digital Humidity Controller/Hygrometer.
  • Skylight Pro RP LED lights – with 3 lighting units.
  • A timeswitch for the lighting system.
  • A large bucket with a lid.
  • 45mm Suction Cup Wall Hooks.
  • Green card for the backdrop and to hide the lighting cables and misting piping.
  • Zip ties for organising the cables and tubing.
  • Peat free coir compost.
  • A selection of orchids, moss, and cork – see the full planting list for my Rainforest Terrarium here.

Planting the Rainforest Terrarium

I love to create and plant beautiful terrariums that bring interest and beauty to the rooms that house them.  I enjoy using terrariums to create miniature plant worlds that are very naturally planted, to showcase the beauty of the plant world.  However, on this occasion, I needed this particular Rainforest Terrarium to be able to house as many orchids as is possible within the allocated space, and to provide these plants with automatic care, so my planting and the positioning of the plants inside my Rainforest Terrarium is designed to be functional, rather than beautiful.

Next, a 2-3cm (1″) layer of coir compost was spread across the surface of the weed-suppressant membrane, this peat free compost was then covered with cushion moss. My Paphiopedilum plants were then positioned in place, their pots carefully planted into the moss and compost, so that the base of each pot sits on the membrane. This allows water to run through the pot and drain through the membrane, into the reservoir below.

Epiphytic plants

The majority of the plants that reside inside my Rainforest Terrarium are epiphytes.  An epiphyte is a plant that grows on top of another plant; epiphytes use their host plant to raise them up, thereby enabling the epiphytic plant the chance to gain a higher position within the forest canopy than they would otherwise be able to achieve themselves.  Thanks to their host plants, epiphytic plants have the opportunity to gain better access to light, water, nutrients, and improved air circulation – healthier growing conditions.  Epiphytes are not parasitic plants, they do not take any sustenance from their host plant, epiphytic plants take all of their nutrients from the water, the air, and any fallen leaves or decomposing plant matter that collect around them.

I have mounted all of the epiphytic plants that reside inside this Rainforest Terrarium onto cork bark (see this link for a step-by-step article showing you how to mount epiphytic plants on cork).  Each piece of cork has had a hole drilled through the top.  A small piece of wire was then inserted through the cork bark, the piece of wire was then twisted and fashioned into a hook, thereby allowing each plant to be hung onto a rubber suction cup, and positioned along the sides of the glass inside this Rainforest Terrarium.  Although it is not as beautiful as I would like, having the plants mounted individually in this manner means that I can easily rearrange the orchids within this Rainforest Terrarium, and I can also easily take one or all of the plants out of the terrarium to examine or photograph, if I wish to do so.  This Rainforest Terrarium has been designed to be easy, simple, and effective.

This is my Rainforest Terrarium as pictured on the 2nd August 2018, inside this terrarium, Phalaenopsis equestris ‘Aparri’ is in flower, and Aerangis calantha, Aerangis punctata, and Phalaenopsis lobbii, are in bud.

The primary purpose of this new terrarium is to house more of the plants within my National Collection of Miniature Phalaenopsis Species and my National Collection of Miniature Aerangis and Angraecum Species.  I also enjoy growing Paphiopedilums, so I have included some Paphiopedilums inside this Rainforest Terrarium.

Paphiopedilums can be epiphytic plants (epiphytic plants grow on other plants), lithophytic plants (lithophytic plants grow on rocks), or terrestrial plants (terrestrial plants grow on the ground, in the soil, or in leaf litter and bark under trees).  Some Paphiopedilums can be very versatile plants, they can grow as epiphytic, lithophytic, or terrestrial plants, but most Paphs are terrestrial orchids – orchids that grow on the ground: in the soil, or in fallen leaf matter.

The Paphiopedilums inside this Rainforest Terrarium have been planted in amongst the moss at the base of the tank.  These Paphiopedilums have been planted directly in their plastic pots, (in which each individual Paphiopedilum plant is planted in a bark based orchid compost).  The way in which I have planned my planting means that the Paphiopedilum pots are sitting on top of the membrane, above the Leca, so when these plants are watered (either by hand, or by the Rainforest Terrarium’s automated misting system) the water drains through each of the Paphiopedilum plants’ pots, out of the holes in the bottom of their individual plant pots, into the Leca reservoir below – this ensures that the plants are never sitting in water.

The water can easily be drained out of the Rainforest Terrarium through either one of the two pieces of plastic tubing that were placed in the front corners of the terrarium amongst the Leca.  The Rainforest Terrarium’s reservoir is quite large, so there is room for the water to collect in the base without causing any problems – draining the water is not a daily or weekly task.

This is my Rainforest Terrarium, this terrarium provides automated care: lighting and misting for some of my orchids.
Most of the orchids that are growing inside my Rainforest Terrarium have been mounted on cork and hung on the sides of the glass, using hooks and suction cups.
This is my Rainforest Terrarium as pictured on the 2nd August 2018, inside this terrarium, Phalaenopsis equestris ‘Aparri’ is in flower, and Aerangis calantha, Aerangis punctata, and Phalaenopsis lobbii are in bud.

Currently, these plants are growing inside my Rainforest Terrarium:

  • Aerangis calantha
  • Aerangis fastuosa
  • Aerangis fuscata
  • Aerangis hariotiana
  • Aerangis luteoalba var rhodosticta
  • Aerangis modesta
  • Aerangis mystacidii
  • Aerangis punctata
  • Aerangis somalensis
  • Aerangis spiculata
  • Aerangis verdickii
  • Aerangis x primulina
  • Amesiella minor
  • Amesiella monticola
  • Angraecum aloifolium
  • Angraecum bancoense
  • Angraecum compactum
  • Angraecum didieri
  • Angraecum dollii
  • Angraecum elephantinum
  • Angraecum equitans
  • Angraecum ochraceum
  • Angraecum pectinatum
  • Angraecum pyriforme
  • Paphiopedilum concolor
  • Paphiopedilum esquirolei
  • Paphiopedilum fairrieanum
  • Paphiopedilum henryanum
  • Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum
  • Phalaenopsis appendiculata
  • Phalaenopsis chibae
  • Phalaenopsis cochlearis
  • Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi ‘Green’
  • Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi ‘Red’
  • Phalaenopsis equestris
  • Phalaenopsis equestris ‘Aparri’
  • Phalaenopsis fasciata
  • Phalaenopsis finleyi
  • Phalaenopsis gibbosa
  • Phalaenopsis honghenensis
  • Phalaenopsis inscriptiosinensis
  • Phalaenopsis lindenii
  • Phalaenopsis lobbii
  • Phalaenopsis lobbii f. flavilabia
  • Phalaenopsis lowii
  • Phalaenopsis lueddemanniana ‘Woodlawn’
  • Phalaenopsis malipoensis
  • Phalaenopsis pallens
  • Phalaenopsis pantherina
  • Phalaenopsis parishii alba
  • Phalaenopsis pulcherrima
  • Phalaenopsis pulchra
  • Phalaenopsis stobartiana
  • Phalaenopsis taenialis
  • Phalaenopsis wilsonii

You can see my Planting list for this Rainforest Terrarium here.  This planting list provides information about each individual orchid species, it also provides links to every article that features each individual plant.  I have listed the suppliers where I have purchased my plants, cork, and moss for this terrarium at the bottom of the planting list.

I was very happy during every step of the process of creating my Rainforest Terrarium, and I have been absolutely delighted with my finished Rainforest Terrarium so far!  If you’re interested in my Rainforest Terrarium, you can see all of my articles about this enclosure via this link here.

Monitoring the temperature, humidity, and lighting inside my Rainforest Terrarium

As with my other terrariums, I am constantly tracking the temperature, humidity, and light conditions inside this Rainforest Terrarium.  Here’s an insight into the conditions inside my Rainforest Terrarium:

This chart shows the minimum, maximum, and average humidity levels in my Rainforest Terrarium since it was set up. The drops that you can see on this chart – the drops in my Rainforest Terrarium’s humidity levels, are where I have had the doors of my Rainforest Terrarium open, to view or to photograph my plants.
This chart shows the minimum, maximum, and average temperature in my Rainforest Terrarium since it was set up on the 14th April 2018.

To head straight to the next update on how the equipment inside my Rainforest Terrarium worked over the following eleven months – from April 2018 to March 2019, please click here.

To head straight to the next update that shows how the Aerangis, Amesiella, and Angraecum orchids grew and developed over their first eleven months inside this Rainforest Terrarium – from April 2018 to March 2019, please click here.

To head straight to the next update that shows how the Paphiopedilum and Phalaenopsis orchids grew and developed over their first eleven months inside this Rainforest Terrarium – from April 2018 to March 2019, please click here.

For tips on looking out for invasive species and using cork in your terrarium or bottle garden, please click here.

If you’re interested to find out how I track the temperature, humidity, and light conditions inside this Rainforest Terrarium, you may be interested to read this article I have written where I explain in detail how I closely follow the conditions inside all of my terrariums and my glasshouse.

Other articles that may interest you…………..

To see the step by step process of how my Tall Orchidarium was created, please click here.

To see the step by step process of how my Orchidarium was created, please click here.

To see my step-by-step guide of how to set up and plant a terrarium or bottle garden, please click here.

To see a list of mini miniature orchids to grow inside terrariums or bottle gardens, please click here.

To see a planting list of a wide variety of plants, including orchids, ferns, and other plants that are ideally suited to growing inside a terrarium or bottle garden, complete with stockists, please click here.

To read the first part of my White Orchid Terrarium Trial, please click here.

To read the first part of my Miniature Orchid Trial, please click here.

To read the first part of my Madagascan Orchid Trial, please click here.

To read about the Queen of Orchids, the largest orchid in the world, please click here.

You’ll find lots of articles showing how to set up bottle gardens, terrariums, vivariums, and orchidariums here.

Other articles you might like:

One thought on “Setting up my new Rainforest Terrarium

  1. Illene Dansie

    February 21, 2019 at 4:32pm

    I don’t see that you used a supplemental heat source for the orchidarium or rainforest terrarium. I temperature in the orchidarium I am setting up does not get above 70 degrees fahrenheit. Do you have any recommendations for supplemental heating products?

  2. David

    August 8, 2020 at 8:29pm

    I am setting-up my first orchidarium. In your Orchidarium you made a tray with the egg crate material but in the Rainforest one you didn’t. Are there advantages to one over the other?

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      August 9, 2020 at 11:09am

      Hello David, I found the method I used in my Rainforest Terrarium worked brilliantly and saved me needing to purchase extra plastic. I’d recommend using leca, it works really well. Best wishes, Beth

  3. S.R.

    March 25, 2021 at 11:32pm

    Do you know if there’s anyone who sells custom “all-in-one” terrarium setups? Ones that come with misters, fans, lights, and so on. I’m coming over from aquarium-keeping, and all-in-one aquariums are very common to find. You buy the aquarium, plug in 1 plug, fill it with water, and you have the light, filtration, and everything else. I’m surprised that this doesn’t seem to be a type of terrarium setup. I like the BiOrb Air, but it’s larger than I’m really looking for, so I’m trying to see if anywhere sells custom setups with a similar idea. Have you, by any chance, tripped over anyone who sells that sort of thing?

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      March 25, 2021 at 11:40pm

      Hello, I’ve not found any all-in-one terrariums (other than the BiOrbAir). I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful on this occasion. Best wishes, Beth

  4. David P. Morrow

    April 15, 2021 at 3:14pm

    Hello. Im almost finished setting up my Rainforest Terrium and have a question. How much coir did you put over the weed supressant layer? I approximately have about 1/2 inch. Thanks and much appreciation.


    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      April 15, 2021 at 3:26pm

      Hello David

      When I set up my Rainforest Terrarium in 2017, I added a shallow layer of coir, which was about an inch thick. However since then, I have removed the coir and I now just use leca, which I still cover with the membrane and then top with the moss. Both methods work well.

      Best wishes

  5. Michael Radhey

    March 2, 2022 at 1:47pm

    Hello Pumpkin Beth.
    I thank you for posting on the Internet such a detailed and helpful page. It has inspired me and likely many others. You forgot to mention that the first step is to empty one’s apartment of useless items taking up precious terrarium space. lol.

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      March 2, 2022 at 8:23pm

      Hello Michael, That is very true – I should have said that first – with a side note and helpful reminder to take care to preserve any clear glass vases, bowels, and other items you may have. Haha!

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required