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How to Quarantine Terrarium Plants for Reptile Enclosures

How to Quarantine Terrarium Plants for Reptile Enclosures

A Guide to Quarantine and Cleaning Plants for Reptile Enclosures

Adding live plants to your reptile enclosures can create a naturalistic and stimulating environment. However, adding plants too quickly to a habitat can introduce a multitude of hazards to your reptile's health and even throw off the balance of your bioactive enclosure. These include plant pests, fungus, and even fertilizers and pesticides that may compromise your pet’s health.

This guide outlines a standardized protocol for quarantining and cleaning new plant acquisitions that you intend to add to your reptile’s enclosure. By adhering to these recommendations, you can significantly reduce the risk of introducing detrimental organisms and chemicals to your reptile's environment, and keep your current plants and your reptile safe and happy!

Potential Risks Associated with Uncleaned Plants

The introduction of unwanted guests like mites or other plant pests into a reptile enclosure can have significant consequences. Even a single pest can reproduce asexually and soon take over an entire enclosure, sapping the life from your established terrarium plants. Treating plant pests within an enclosure poses the additional complication of not being able to use chemical pesticides in close proximity to reptiles. This leads to hobbyists trashing entire enclosure builds out of frustration, or battling for months or even years in attempt to eliminate plant pests. 

Too late to prevent plant pests? Check out our article on Identifying and Treating Terrarium Plant Pests Naturally!

Quarantine and Cleaning Procedures

  1. Isolated Containment:

Establish a dedicated quarantine area for the newly acquired plant. This could be a spare terrarium, a pop-up greenhouse, or even a spare tub with air holes. Crucially, this quarantine area must be physically separated from your reptile's enclosure and any other houseplants you may own.

  1. Meticulous Inspection:

Conduct a thorough visual examination of the plant. Look for evidence of crawling invertebrates, webbing indicative of spider mites, or physical damage to the leaves that could suggest insect feeding activity. If any pests are identified, isolate and treat the plant appropriately before proceeding with the cleaning process.

  1. Optional: Substrate Replacement

Some experienced reptile keepers recommend removing the original potting soil and replacing it with a sterile, reptile-safe substrate. This practice eliminates the risk of introducing unwanted organisms or pathogens that may be present in the commercial potting mix. To do this, shake off as much original soil as you can without heavily disturbing the root ball. You can even go as far as washing off the roots, though this can be stressful and even detrimental to more sensitive species of plant. 

  1. Leaf and Stem Hygiene:

Carefully rinse the leaves and stems of the plant with tepid water. You can also do a diluted Dawn dish soap dunk to remove any hidden insects. 

5. Disinfection (Optional):

Bleach Solution (Use with Extreme Caution):

For particularly persistent pest problems, a highly diluted bleach solution (one part household bleach to ten parts water) can be employed for a brief soak of the foliage, avoiding contact with the roots. Following the soak, thorough rinsing is essential to remove all traces of bleach residue.

Hydrogen Peroxide:

A safer alternative to bleach is a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution diluted 1:1 with water. Submerge the plant in this solution for 15 minutes, followed by a thorough rinse to remove any residual hydrogen peroxide.

  1. Quarantine Period

Once the plant has been cleaned, it must remain in quarantine for a minimum of 4-6 weeks. This extended observation period allows you to monitor for any signs of pest reemergence or disease development before introducing the plant to your reptile's enclosure.

Additional Considerations

  • Species-Specific Plant Selection: It is critical to research and select plant species known to be safe for your specific reptile; a species that is herbivorous or occasionally grazes on plants should have pet - safe plants in their enclosure. This is not as much of a concern with insectivores as they are not consuming parts of the plant. 
  • Proper Plant Care: During quarantine, having a high quality full spectrum LED will keep your plants happy and facilitate new root and foliage growth. The Arcadia Jungle Dawn is a wonderful option that is known for promoting lots of healthy new growth. Ensuring your plants are kept at proper humidity levels for their species will allow them to remain strong and help keep pest populations lower. For example, spider mites will quickly breed in low humidity environments, which can quickly overwhelm a tropical houseplant that is already suffering the stress of low humidity. 

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