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  1. #1
    BPnet Veteran Luvyna's Avatar
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    How to add safe live plants to ball python enclosure

    I'd like to add some ball python-safe plants to my new enclosure but I want to be really careful not to put in anything that could harm my BP. I've read that some plants like aloe vera and devil's ivy are safe for BPs. I was wondering if anyone here can confirm that and if there are any other BP-safe plants I could add?

    Also wondering how to ensure that the soil I put in is free of chemical fertilizers...etc. and creepy crawlies? Any advice is appreciated!

  2. #2
    BPnet Veteran Starscream's Avatar
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    Re: How to add safe live plants to ball python enclosure

    Plants that are safe for ball pythons are basically anything that doesnt have spines. They're very unlikely to eat the leaves of a plant, unless they happen to strike a leaf instead of their prey during feeding time, so the chance of ingestion is very, very low.

    Plants that can survive a ball python -- now that's the hard part. Ball pythons can be bulldozers; they're heavy-bodied snakes and like to squash plants if given the opportunity, so you want very hardy plants that tolerate higher humidity. Pothos, ivy, crypthanthus, snake plants, umbrella plants, pretty much anything that can take a beating is your best bet.

    Before I can answer the soil question, I feel like I need to ask if you plan on going bioactive, or are you hoping to keep plants in with your snake sans the bioative aspect? If you're not going bioactive, it's usually easier to keep the plants potted and remove them for watering and cage cleanings. If you are doing bioactive, I can expand a bit more!
    Last edited by Starscream; 05-13-2021 at 08:47 AM.
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  4. #3
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    Spines on anything would bother me because I would think they could poke their eyeball on it. Like, I know they essentially have a scale over the eye, but I still just personally wouldn't put anything with spines in the enclosure. Also, aloe will likely start to look awkward without bright outdoor lighting, and will also grow huge and need to either be replaced or have to keep being cut down, or the main plant removed and leaving the "pups," which will also probably make it look awkward.

    The soil: if you leave the plants in pots, what I would do is, remove the plant and rinse off ALL of the dirt from its roots. Then replace the soil in the pots with sterilized potting soil (you can microwave or oven the potting soil; get organic, too, I guess, but I still kind of side-eye those little slow-release fertilizer balls). Hardcore option: make your own potting soil; look up a recipe from online based on the type of plant. The soil I use for my more desert-y potted plants is usually different proportions of coconut coir, sand, worm castings, and rocks. For less desert-y plants: a mix of compost, perlite, sand if needed, coconut coir. You could probably do worm castings instead of compost, but should be able to find either. Also, microwave any soil you're about to put in the enclosure.

    If you are planting them in the enclosure's substrate instead of pots, use a bioactive mix instead of the above. For fertilizing them within the planted enclosure, I can think of a few natural fertilizers you can make yourself or buy. Worm castings and kelp meal are usually at garden stores. Some plants that like more acidity can be fertilized with coffee grounds. For any of these, I would dig a little hole around the plant and put the fertilizer there, then cover over it with soil. That way, the nutrients will absorb into the roots and not cause a mold hazard on top of the soil. If you are doing bioactive, the soil would just be moderately moist, so you probably wouldn't have to water the plants too often, because it'll be like its own little terrarium. I would choose "houseplant"-y plants that don't need bright outdoor lighting and can tolerate different conditions. I can probably offer more suggestions once I know what the setup will be like, too.
    Last edited by TofuTofuTofu; 05-13-2021 at 09:52 AM. Reason: clarification
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  6. #4
    BPnet Veteran Starscream's Avatar
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    Re: How to add safe live plants to ball python enclosure

    Quote Originally Posted by TofuTofuTofu View Post
    Spines on anything would bother me because I would think they could poke their eyeball on it. Like, I know they essentially have a scale over the eye, but I still just personally wouldn't put anything with spines in the enclosure. Also, aloe will likely start to look awkward without bright outdoor lighting, and will also grow huge and need to either be replaced or have to keep being cut down, or the main plant removed and leaving the "pups," which will also probably make it look awkward.

    The soil: if you leave the plants in pots, what I would do is, remove the plant and rinse off ALL of the dirt from its roots. Then replace the soil in the pots with sterilized potting soil (you can microwave or oven the potting soil; get organic, too, I guess, but I still kind of side-eye those little slow-release fertilizer balls). Hardcore option: make your own potting soil; look up a recipe from online based on the type of plant. The soil I use for my more desert-y potted plants is usually different proportions of coconut coir, sand, worm castings, and rocks. For less desert-y plants: a mix of compost, perlite, sand if needed, coconut coir. You could probably do worm castings instead of compost, but should be able to find either. Also, microwave any soil you're about to put in the enclosure.

    If you are planting them in the enclosure's substrate instead of pots, use a bioactive mix instead of the above. For fertilizing them within the planted enclosure, I can think of a few natural fertilizers you can make yourself or buy. Worm castings and kelp meal are usually at garden stores. Some plants that like more acidity can be fertilized with coffee grounds. For any of these, I would dig a little hole around the plant and put the fertilizer there, then cover over it with soil. That way, the nutrients will absorb into the roots and not cause a mold hazard on top of the soil. If you are doing bioactive, the soil would just be moderately moist, so you probably wouldn't have to water the plants too often, because it'll be like its own little terrarium. I would choose "houseplant"-y plants that don't need bright outdoor lighting and can tolerate different conditions. I can probably offer more suggestions once I know what the setup will be like, too.
    I would add that you want soil that doesn't have manure in it; not only will it take too long to break down and may cause scale problems, but this will attract fungus gnats and other annoying bugs like crazy. Even if you do bake your soil to get rid of nasty critters, fungus gnats will find it, which is why if you want to plant things directly into the enclosure, I would recommend bioactive; that way the clean-up crew (isopods, springtails, worms, etc.) has a better chance to out-compete the gnats before they go too crazy.
    Last edited by Starscream; 05-13-2021 at 10:19 AM.
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  8. #5
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    Re: How to add safe live plants to ball python enclosure

    Quote Originally Posted by Starscream View Post
    I would add that you want soil that doesn't have manure in it; not only will it take too long to break down and may cause scale problems, but this will attract fungus gnats and other annoying bugs like crazy. Even if you do bake your soil to get rid of nasty critters, fungus gnats will find it, which is why if you want to plant things directly into the enclosure, I would recommend bioactive; that way the clean-up crew (isopods, springtails, worms, etc.) has a better chance to out-compete the gnats before they go too crazy.
    I agree! I avoid cow-based compost for a bunch of reasons, but I also find it a bad texture for pretty much anything, and it clumps together and is just bad lol. It's almost like it has clay in it. But yeah, I meant to say basically, if you are planting inside the substrate, to do bioactive. Aside from outcompeting gnats, having invertebrates will also help with aerating the soil, cycling it, and breaking down stuff, meaning less maintenance for the soil and plants.

    Also, fungus gnat eggs can be dormant in store-bought soil mixes for a long time, which is also why it's important to microwave the soil, even if you're just doing potted plants in a non-bioactive enclosure. You can still get fungus gnats in pots though, which could be a problem. The only way I have fixed that, with my potted plants (not in an enclosure but just in my house), is to put a later of sand and gravel on the top of the soil in the pot. They don't like the dry soil surface. However, you then have to water from below using a dish, instead of watering the surface of the pot, lol, so that could get complicated in an enclosure. However, you could always just remove individual pots to water them.

    Overall, I would recommend bioactive if you want to add plants, but I do get that some people don't want to deal with the initial setup, expense, and learning curve. I am sure I will run into some learning curves as well, with my own bioactive experimentation.
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  10. #6
    Registered User hihit's Avatar
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    Re: How to add safe live plants to ball python enclosure

    Quote Originally Posted by TofuTofuTofu View Post
    Spines on anything would bother me because I would think they could poke their eyeball on it. Like, I know they essentially have a scale over the eye, but I still just personally wouldn't put anything with spines in the enclosure. Also, aloe will likely start to look awkward without bright outdoor lighting, and will also grow huge and need to either be replaced or have to keep being cut down, or the main plant removed and leaving the "pups," which will also probably make it look awkward.
    Just jumping on here as a plant dad to recommend against aloe for a different reason. Aloe is native to desert areas and does NOT tolerate moist soil very well. Same with a lot of succulents. Usually those types of plants need their soil to completely dry out before you re-water them, which wouldn't be happening if you planted them in the substrate of a ball python enclosure where you need to keep things relatively moist. They also have kinda shallow roots, which isn't great given the "bulldozery" nature of ball pythons.

    Source: a poor fool who gave his aloe root rot and has accidentally knocked its pot over a few too many times.
    Everyone's weird in their own stupid way.

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  12. #7
    BPnet Veteran Luvyna's Avatar
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    Re: How to add safe live plants to ball python enclosure

    Thank you so much for the input everyone! All of this info is really helpful. Really appreciate the tips on choosing plant species, finding/making good soil, and avoiding fungus and bugs!

    I'm just planning to have potted plants in the enclosure but now I am contemplating maybe trying bioactive eventually. It sounds like most people are saying to go bioactive if I want to do live plants but are there any ways to make potted plants work too and what are good species for this?

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  14. #8
    Registered User Caitlin's Avatar
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    I am NO expert, but I can share that I keep one or two potted plants in the enclosures for all of my snakes. I have had really good success with Pothos and Snake Plants. Most of these plants have been thriving for at least a couple of years; they seem to appreciate the humidity - most of my snakes are kept at about 60-65% humidity - and a few hours a day of LED lighting (though I do have Jungle Dawn UVB lighting in several enclosures). I just keep a standard plant saucer under each of them. I use pretty deep substrate in order to maintain humidity and because many of my snakes like to burrow - so I cover the saucers with substrate. I wrap fake vines around the planters because even if my snakes don't care, I like an aesthetically pleasing enclosure.

    hihit is right about Aloe - I wouldn't use it for most of my guys, but it does really well in my Sand Boa enclosures.

    I have been (still am, really) VERY cautious and honestly a bit cynical about the current fad of bioactive keeping, though I won't get into that particular rant here. I do think bioactive is a good idea, and maybe even the best idea, for small animals like Dart Frogs and most of the popular geckos. But I'd still need to be convinced with better information than 'It's cool' about how and why bioactive is really any better than a good naturalistic setup for most snakes.

    I'm coming around to greater acceptance of well-researched bioactive in specific circumstances, though, and am likely going to cave in and try it for a couple of my crew. We'll see. I'll post if I am crazy enough to give it a shot.

    Editing to add: if you do end up fighting fungus gnats, I can recommend a 'Katchy' bug trap. Check them out on Amazon. They're pet-safe, not bad-looking in the room, great for fruit flies and gnats, and a real blessing during mosquito season as well.
    Last edited by Caitlin; 05-15-2021 at 03:02 PM.
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  16. #9
    Registered User Caitlin's Avatar
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    Sorry for added post - that weird editing timer got in the way. Just wanted to add that a couple of other attractive plants, besides Pothos and Snake Plants, that are sturdy enough to survive in enclosures with heavier-bodied snakes like Ball Pythons include Korean Rock Fern (Polystichum tsussimense), Pteris Ferns (Pteris cretica or Cretan Brake Fern), and Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum). These do well with low-level lighting and can deal with a wide humidity range.
    1.0 Jungle Carpet Python 'Ziggy'
    0.1 Brazilian Rainbow Boa 'Mara'
    1.1 Tarahumara Mountain Boas 'Paco' and 'Frida'
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    1.1 Rough-scaled Sand Boas 'Rassi' and 'Kala'
    0.4 Oregon Red-spotted Garters
    1.0 Ball Python (BEL) 'Sugar'
    1.0 Gray-banded Kingsnake 'Nacho'
    1.0 Green Tree Python (Aru) 'Jade'

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  18. #10
    BPnet Veteran Starscream's Avatar
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    I'm definitely not saying go bioactive if you want live plants -- only if you want them planted in the substrate and not in pots. Leaving them in pots works perfectly fine -- and like Caitlin said, you can do things to make them look nice for you and functional for the animal.

    I think one thing people misunderstand with bioactive for heavy-bodied snakes, is the mistaken assumption that the bioactive aspect is to remove cleaning up any "messes" the snakes make. My girl Maze's messes are way too large and infrequent to actually feed the clean up crew sufficiently, and I would not recommend bioactive if your only aim is to reduce the need to pick up poops. You will for a ball python regardless of if the enclosure is dubbed "bioactive" or not. I provide it more for the opportunity for her to engage in more natural behaviors -- the deep substrate the plants need to thrive also doubles as good digging material for Maze, and she has dug a few holes since I've put her in her big house, as an example.

    As for a few more plant choices, I've used pothos, snake plants, pink earth star cryptanthus, aglaonemas, dwarf umbrella plants, spiderworts, spider plants, english ivy, creeping fig, prayer plants, coleus, dumb cane, rabbit foot's fern, and dracaena. I would NOT recommend begonias or nerve plants -- they are way too fragile, and in the case of nerve plants, require constantly high humidity and watering to really thrive.
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