Problem: The soil in my enclosure is always saturated.
You probably already know that overly saturated soil can cause root rot and other problems in your enclosure. Here are some ways we’ve found to solve the soil saturation problem:
1. Make your drainage layer deeper. You need plenty of drainage material below the top level of your soil for the water to settle. We recommend at least 1-2 inches of drainage material in most enclosures. 2-3 inches of drainage material are recommended if you will be using a submerged pump for water cycling inside the enclosure.
2. Make sure the material you are using is well-suited for drainage. Your drainage layer needs to let the water settle down to the bottom of your enclosure and then move easily with your pump for good water cycling. We’ve had excellent results with expanded clay pellets (such as hydroton), pea gravel (a good inexpensive option), and calcined clay. We’ve found that we get the best results when using a larger medium at the bottom, like the pea gravel or expanded clay pellets. Then, we like to add a layer of calcined clay, which is more of a medium-grain. This provides excellent drainage without letting the top layer of soil medium fall into the drainage layers.
3. Add an overflow drain so that standing water can’t rise above your desired level.
4. If you have at least 2” of proper drainage material and an overflow drain to keep the water from getting too high, then the next step may be to build up the landscape inside your enclosure by adding more hills, valleys, or other interesting landscape elements that increase the overall depth of soil in your enclosure.
Sometimes the problem may simply be the enclosure. For example, the enclosure doesn’t have enough space to make a deeper drainage layer or you can’t easily add an overflow drain. In that case, you’ll need to either find a way to work within the constraints of your enclosure or to look at other enclosure designs that better fit your needs.
If you are looking for an enclosure that makes it easy to manage soil saturation, all of our enclosures have a minimum of 4” in the base for adequate substrate layering and have the option of adding an overflow drain. And, all of our designs can be customized to meet your specific needs.
Seth and Rachel Hiser, the founders of BioVivara, help exotic plant and animal enthusiasts create beautiful, low-maintenance, naturalistic enclosures. Learn more about their journey from hobbyists to business owners here.