Building a terrarium from the bottom up – leaf litter

Today’s post is the start of the building a tank from the bottom up series.  It will feature everything you need to know to get your terrarium or vivarium started!  First layer was the False Bottom, second was substrate, third was moss, and fourth was cleaning crew read more about them if you missed it.


Next Up: Leaf Litter!

Leaf litter is very important for a healthy tank.  With the microfauna, springtails and isopods below, the leaves will help the microfauna feed on the decaying leaf litter and give them a better chance to reproduce within the tank.  Leaf Litter also helps keep the frogs out of the dirt.  When the frogs are allowed to get dirt on them it causes unnecessary stress and can cause health issues.   Dirt sticking to the frogs is a common and easy to prevent occurrence.  A nice thick layer of leaf litter will help your frogs be more bold as they can hop around the tank, knowing that they always have some leaves to hide under.


Different types of leaf litter:

Oak Leaves


These leaves are rather small and last quite awhile due to their waxy coating.  These leaves are very common throughout the hobby.  Due to their small size, these leaves are easy to fit around plants.


Magnolia Leaves


These leaves are quite thick and take a long time to break down.  They also help as hiding places and visual barriers for the frogs.  Many frogs may actually use these leaves to lay eggs on as well!


Sea Grape Leaves


These leaves are flat and thick leaves.  They are so flat that they may be laid down on top of the substrate to sit flat against it.  These leaves have a leathery feeling which adds to the naturalistic appearance within the vivarium or terrarium.


Indian Almond leaves


These leaves are typically used to make tadpole tea due to their anti bacterial properties, but they may be used in leaf litter as well.


My Method

Buy leaf litter from a reputable place where it was collected in a location with no pesticides.  I typically lay down a good layer of oak leaves (1-1.5″) and then place magnolia on top.  If I have some Sea grape leaves those would go on the top, broken up slightly.  This allows for an overall depth of 1-2″ thick of leaf litter.  I feel that combining multiple types of leaves creates a more natural appearance and allows for different rates of decomposition which allows the micro fauna to have a consistent food source.


While the reputable place you buy your leaf litter from will advertise it as pesticide free, it is always a good idea to rinse all of the leaves and boil them for 5 minutes prior to use.  This is an easy process that will provide you with an extra piece of mind.

Once you have the leaf litter down then you are ready for step 6!


Photos by GlassBox Tropicals.  Visit their website here to see all of their products.


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