The Magic of Charcoal in Terrariums

Terrarium enthusiasts know that charcoal is not just burnt wood. It comes in various forms and can bring unique benefits to your terrarium. In this article, we will delve into the world of charcoal and explore its effectiveness and safety in terrariums. So, is charcoal the new black? Let’s find out.

charcoal in terrarium

Charcoal is widely used as a soil additive in gardening. Its ability to retain water and nutrients, improve soil structure, and support microbial life makes it a popular choice. But the real charm of charcoal lies in its filtration properties. It acts as a purifier in terrariums, providing a clean environment for plants.

Why Does a Terrarium Need Purifying?

Terrariums, like any other ecosystem, go through natural processes such as leaf fall and organic material degradation. While these processes are normal, they can lead to unpleasant gases, harmful rot, and the growth of mold and mildew. Charcoal comes to the rescue by filtering out these toxins and purifying the terrarium.

Activated charcoal, also known as activated carbon, is a specially treated type of charcoal. Its high porosity allows it to bind impurities more effectively than regular charcoal. The activation process increases its surface area, enhancing its filtration capabilities. Activated charcoal is available in various forms like powders, pellets, and tubes, and all work the same way.

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activated charcoal layer and hand
We’ve tried it with these activated charcoal “tubes.”

How Long Does Charcoal Last in a Terrarium?

Activated charcoal, like a sponge, eventually becomes saturated and loses its purifying abilities. In aquarium filters, it is recommended to change the charcoal every 2-4 weeks. However, the situation in terrariums is different. Terrariums have a lower volume of water passing through the charcoal layer, and they don’t produce as much waste as aquariums. So, while there is no definitive answer, it is reasonable to assume that a charcoal layer in a terrarium would last longer.

Open Terrariums and Charcoal Filtration

You might think that open terrariums don’t require charcoal filtration since gases can escape into the atmosphere. While it’s true that gases are less of a concern in open terrariums, charcoal still plays a crucial role in filtering water contaminants and absorbing potential plant pathogens, heavy metals, and toxic substances. So, even in open terrariums, a layer of charcoal can be beneficial.

Choosing the Right Charcoal for Your Terrarium

There is a wide range of charcoal options available online. You can find different sizes and granularities to suit your needs. Activated charcoal “tubes” work well as drainage elements, while chunky pellets are easier to handle. Horticultural charcoal is another cost-effective option, although it doesn’t have the same filtration potential as activated charcoal.

Unsuitable Forms of Charcoal for Terrariums

It’s essential to avoid certain forms of charcoal in terrariums. BBQ charcoal briquettes contain additives and contaminants that are not suitable for plants. Used charcoal from stoves or fire pits may be contaminated with harmful chemicals or microplastics. So, it’s best to stick with charcoal specifically designed for terrarium use.

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The Conclusion: To Charcoal or Not to Charcoal?

While charcoal is not 100% necessary in a terrarium, it can be incredibly helpful. It brings the usual benefits of soil additives and provides some level of purification. There is no concrete evidence on the long-term effects of charcoal in terrariums, but anecdotal evidence suggests its usefulness. So, why not give it a try? Whether mixed in with the substrate or used as a drainage material, charcoal is a simple addition to enhance your terrarium.

horticultural charcoal chunks
Alternatively, horticultural charcoal is another good, cheaper option. It doesn’t have the same filtration potential, but you’ll get a lot more for the same cost.

If you have experience using charcoal in your terrariums, we would love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments if you have found one type of charcoal to be superior or if you have a thriving terrarium without using charcoal. Happy terrarium gardening!

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