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Terrarium Deserts

Nov 6, 2007
Many people think of the desert as a dry, sandy and somewhat lifeless place. Dry certainly, sandy sometimes but deserts are hardly lifeless. Some deserts support a huge variety of plant life in what can be very fragile ecosystems. This is especially true in the deserts of the American Southwest.

The deserts of the American Southwest are often situated between mountain ranges. Rain that falls at higher elevations tends to run down to the desert basin below providing a limited amount of natural irrigation.

When it comes to desert flora, most of us think of the humble cactus. The beauty of the cactus is the stunning diversity and beauty of these succulents. Equally as stunning is the ability of this plant species to survive in relatively harsh conditions. Yes, cacti are succulents.

Cacti are generally shrubs that have a juicy center core and often succulent limbs. The surfaces of many cacti are comprised of minute scaly leaves covered with clusters of sharp spines.

The fleshy stems can assume many different forms and shapes. The branching of the saguaro cacti is what many of us relate to the American West. These giants of the cactus world can have a lifespan exceeding two hundred years. These hardy plants have adapted over thousands of years to the meager moisture of the desert environment. Growing to as tall as 20 feet, the classic saguaro is hardly a proper candidate for the average terrarium.

The good news is that there are dozens of species of cacti that make a perfect addition to the desert terrarium. Even though all cacti are succulent plant types, not all succulent plant types can be considered cacti. Since many succulents can thrive and survive in the same relative growing conditions, mingling cacti and non cacti species in your terrarium can make for a very pleasing display.

The initial set up for a desert terrarium is not much different than for one that will support more tropical plant life. As with any terrarium, drainage is still an extremely important factor. Do not skimp on the amount of drainage material. Plant roots will not survive long if they are immersed in water. This is especially true for cacti and other succulents. The root systems of many cacti and succulents can be very shallow and excess water must be drained away.

The quickest way to kill off a cactus plant is to water it too often. I know this from personal experience, sadly more than once.

The soil used to successfully grow cacti is not hard to find. Many nurseries and garden supply retailers have soil mixtures that are compatible with average terrarium cactus. If a specific soil is not available, there are alternatives even for the novice grower. Combining plain potting soil half and half with sand will leave you with an adequate growing media. Adding a little gravel like that used for fish aquariums can also help to improve the ability of the soil to drain.

Once you have a laid down a layer of drainage material such as gravel, adding a thin layer of sphagnum moss would not hurt. Using a layer of moss will help keep the top soil and sand mixture from leeching down into the gravel. Finish up by adding a deeper layer of the soil and sand mixture about one and a half to two inches deep for the average small desert terrarium.

Moving the cactus specimen from its container to the terrarium is a critical step and must be done carefully. First determine the proper location and dig a small planting hole. Carefully remove the cactus from the original container being careful not to disturb the roots. Plant the specimen and carefully cover the root ball.

Cacti properly planted in a desert terrarium can be easily cared for by even a novice plant enthusiast.
About the Author
Mitch Endick is a short article writer for the popular
terrarium site:
TerrariumSale.com. He provides information on how to build a terrarium, terrarium plants and glass terrariums.
His website,www.TerrariumSale.com
also has information on reptile terrariums, frog terrariums and lizard terrariums.
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