can i use an aquarium as a terrarium

Terrariums have emerged as a fascinating trend in the world of indoor gardening. These miniature ecosystems bring a slice of nature indoors, offering a captivating and low-maintenance way to cultivate plants in a confined space. As the popularity of terrariums continues to grow, a unique idea has taken root: repurposing an aquarium as a potential container for creating a terrarium. In this article, we delve into the world of terrariums and aquariums, exploring the possibilities, benefits, and considerations of using an aquarium as a terrarium.

Understanding Terrariums and Aquariums

Defining Terrariums: Terrariums are self-contained ecosystems enclosed in glass containers, allowing plants to thrive with minimal intervention. They come in two main types: closed and open terrariums. Closed terrariums maintain a humid environment, ideal for moisture-loving plants, while open terrariums offer better air circulation, suitable for succulents and other plants.

Defining Aquariums: Aquariums, on the other hand, are commonly associated with aquatic life, providing a controlled environment for fish and aquatic plants. They feature glass or acrylic walls, a substrate for plants, and water with appropriate filtration and lighting systems.

Similarities and Differences:

Terrariums and aquariums are both enclosed environments that allow people to create and maintain miniature ecosystems, but they have distinct differences due to the types of organisms they support. Here’s a breakdown of their similarities and differences:


  1. Enclosed Environments: Both terrariums and aquariums are enclosed glass or plastic containers designed to house and display living organisms. They provide controlled environments for plants and animals.
  1. Micro-Ecosystems: Both setups aim to replicate natural ecosystems on a smaller scale. They often include substrate, plants, and other elements that mimic the habitat of the organisms being kept.
  1. Aesthetic Value: Terrariums and aquariums are often created for their aesthetic appeal. They can serve as captivating decorative pieces in homes, offices, or public spaces.
  1. Maintenance: Both require regular maintenance to ensure the health and well-being of the organisms inside. This includes monitoring temperature, humidity, lighting, water quality, and cleaning.


  1. Habitat Type:

   – Terrarium: Primarily designed for terrestrial (land-based) organisms, including plants, insects, and small reptiles or amphibians. They are closed systems with minimal water features.

   – Aquarium: Designed for aquatic (water-based) organisms, such as fish, aquatic plants, and invertebrates. They contain water bodies, which can vary from freshwater to marine setups.

  1. Water vs. Land:

   – Terrarium: Focuses on creating a land-based habitat. Water requirements are minimal and usually involve misting to maintain humidity.

   – Aquarium: Central to the setup is the aquatic environment. The water quality, filtration, and circulation are crucial for the health of the aquatic inhabitants.

  1. Substrate:

   – Terrarium: Typically features substrates suitable for terrestrial plants and animals, such as soil, sand, or coconut coir.

   – Aquarium: Utilizes substrates appropriate for aquatic systems, such as gravel, sand, or specialized aquatic planting substrates.

  1. Plant and Animal Species:

   – Terrarium: Suitable for species that thrive in drier conditions, like succulents, air plants, and certain reptiles or insects.

   – Aquarium: Houses a wide variety of aquatic organisms, including tropical fish, corals, aquatic plants, and invertebrates like shrimp and snails.

  1. Water Features:

   – Terrarium: Often lacks significant water features, focusing more on providing suitable land-based environments.

   – Aquarium: May include elements like water filtration systems, air pumps, and aquatic decorations like rocks and driftwood.

  1. Lighting:

   – Terrarium: Requires lighting suitable for terrestrial plants and animals. Light levels may vary based on the types of organisms being kept.

   – Aquarium: Needs specialized aquatic lighting to support photosynthesis in underwater plants and to enhance the colors of fish and corals.

Choosing the Right Aquarium

  • Factors to Consider: When repurposing an aquarium as a terrarium, several factors come into play. The size of the aquarium determines the types and number of plants you can include. The shape of the aquarium affects the visual aesthetics and the arrangement of plants and hardscape elements. Material matters too, as glass and acrylic have different properties affecting heat retention and light penetration. The lid type is crucial for maintaining the desired humidity levels.
  • Advantages of Repurposing: Repurposing an old or unused aquarium as a terrarium offers numerous advantages. It’s a sustainable option that reduces waste, and it can be more cost-effective than purchasing a brand-new terrarium. Additionally, the transparency of aquariums provides excellent visibility of the contained ecosystem.

Preparation and Cleaning

  • Thorough Cleaning: Before converting an aquarium into a terrarium, a comprehensive cleaning process is essential. Any residues, chemicals, or contaminants from previous use need to be removed to create a safe environment for the plants. Cleaning involves scrubbing the glass, rinsing thoroughly, and ensuring all surfaces are free from harmful substances.
  • Ensuring Plant-Friendly Conditions: Cleaning is not just about aesthetics; it’s about creating a healthy foundation for your plants. Any lingering substances can harm or hinder plant growth, making thorough cleaning a critical step.

Creating Proper Drainage 

  • Importance of Drainage: Adequate drainage is paramount in both terrariums and aquariums to prevent water accumulation, root rot, and waterlogged soil. In an enclosed environment, excess water has no means of escape, making drainage layers a crucial aspect.
  • Methods for Effective Drainage: Creating effective drainage layers within an aquarium setup involves using materials like gravel, activated charcoal, and a well-draining substrate. These layers facilitate water movement away from the plant roots and ensure a healthy growing environment.

Choosing the Right Soil and Plants

  • Suitable Soil Types: The choice of soil varies based on the types of plants you intend to grow in your terrarium. Generally, a well-draining mix that retains moisture without becoming waterlogged is ideal. You might need different soil types for succulents versus tropical plants.
  • Plant Selection: Certain plants thrive in the controlled environment of an aquarium-turned-terrarium. Consider the light and humidity requirements of your chosen plants. Some popular choices include ferns, mosses, air plants (tillandsias), and various succulent species.

Arranging Hardscape Elements

  • Enhancing Aesthetics: Hardscape elements, such as rocks, pebbles, and driftwood, play a significant role in enhancing the visual appeal of your terrarium. These elements not only provide a naturalistic look but also serve as functional features for plants to anchor and climb on.
  • Strategic Placement: The arrangement of hardscape elements is an art in itself. Placing rocks and wood strategically can create pathways, niches, and height variations within your terrarium, resulting in a more interesting and dynamic design.

Installing Proper Lighting

  • Lighting Considerations: Adequate lighting is crucial for plant growth in a terrarium, especially if natural light is insufficient. While aquariums typically feature specialized lighting for aquatic plants, the needs of terrestrial plants in a terrarium differ.
  • Artificial Lighting Options: Depending on the plant species you choose, you might need artificial lighting solutions. LED grow lights are a popular choice due to their energy efficiency and customizable spectrum options. Positioning the lights at an appropriate distance from the plants ensures optimal light distribution.

Maintaining the Terrarium

  • Regular Watering and Fertilizing: Terrariums, whether in aquariums or dedicated containers, require consistent maintenance. Develop a routine for watering based on the moisture preferences of the plants you’ve chosen. Fertilize as needed, considering the nutrient requirements of the plants in your ecosystem.
  • Addressing Challenges: Challenges such as mold growth, pests, and plant overcrowding can arise in any enclosed environment. Regular monitoring, proper ventilation, and timely intervention are essential to keep your terrarium healthy.

Potential Challenges and Solutions

  • Condensation Management: One challenge unique to repurposing an aquarium as a terrarium is condensation buildup. The enclosed environment can lead to excess moisture on the glass walls, obstructing visibility and potentially causing plant damage.
  • Airflow Enhancement: Limited airflow is another challenge to address. Unlike open terrariums, aquariums may have less natural airflow, which can impact plant health. Positioning the terrarium in a well-ventilated area and opening the lid occasionally can help alleviate this issue.

Showcasing Your Terrarium

  • Creative Designing: Creating a terrarium within an aquarium allows for unique and creative design possibilities. Experiment with plant placement, hardscape elements, and decorative items to craft a captivating micro-landscape.
  • Personalization with Decor: Incorporate decorative elements that resonate with your style. Tiny figurines, miniature structures, or other decorative items can add a whimsical touch to your terrarium, making it truly your own.

Can an Aquarium Serve as a Suitable Terrarium?

When it comes to using terrarium as an aquarium, caution is advised. While an aquarium can mimic a terrarium in terms of size and the plants it houses, the key difference lies in the inhabitants. Terrariums are designed for land-dwelling organisms, while aquariums are meant for aquatic life. Therefore, certain adjustments are necessary to ensure the well-being of the animals.


Repurposing an aquarium as a terrarium opens up a world of possibilities for indoor gardening enthusiasts. The marriage of aquatic and terrestrial elements offers a captivating aesthetic and a thriving ecosystem within the confines of glass walls. From understanding the differences between terrariums and aquariums to choosing the right plants and addressing potential challenges, the journey of creating a captivating terrarium is both rewarding and educational. Embrace this innovative approach, experiment with designs, and find joy in nurturing your own miniature garden within the transparent confines of an aquarium-turned-terrarium.

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