I’ve seen plenty of leopard gecko habitats that were full of hides, climbing perches, and proper substrate, but one thing that seemed to be lacking is plants. Maybe it’s because owners don’t know you can actually grow plants with your leopard gecko setup.
It may seem counterintuitive because these little geckos love a hot and dry climate like a desert. We all think of deserts as places devoid of plant life except cacti, which aren’t a good choice for the sensitive skin of leopard geckos.
There are in fact, a lot of plants that can thrive in the arid, hot climate that these geckos love. With a little care, and the following list you can help enrich your pet’s enclosure and provide a natural feeling of home.
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Let’s Get Started With Substrate
Obviously, you can’t grow live plants on reptile carpet, or in excavator clay. So, how do you go about creating an environment that is great for your leopard gecko, and live plants?
The two most popular ways to grow plants with your gecko are to either keep the plants in pots or add in a bioactive substrate.
Keeping Plants In Their Pots
Leaving live plants in their pots is a convenient way to water them, trim them when they get too large, and aid in drainage. Most plants that are suitable to live in harmony with your leopard gecko need fast-draining soil.
It’s also a good way to add interest and enrichment to your gecko’s environment. You can move the plants around occasionally which will help to prevent boredom.
Potted plants are also easier to maintain than creating a bioactive substrate. Just position your plants where you want them, and then surround them with large pebbles to keep your gecko from knocking them over.
The other way to grow plants in your leopard gecko’s enclosure is to create a bioactive substrate. This is basically an “alive” soil, that’s nearly identical to the natural environment.
This substrate contains live, beneficial bacteria, and other soil-dwelling invertebrates that help keep parasites at bay and aid in the natural cleaning of the soil. Because there are live organisms in this substrate, it can be harder to maintain, and difficult to keep on top of gecko waste.
Bioactive substrates can be difficult to get started, but once they are established they don’t require much maintenance and are relatively clean. You can either create your own by purchasing the proper soil and invertebrates or go the commercial route.
The Bio Dude Terra Sahara Bioactive Reptile Substrate is an easier alternative because it combines everything you need in one simple package. There are pros and cons to either way you add your plants, but in the end, your gecko will be healthier and happier.
Now, on to the plants that you can grow with your pet.
Special Requirements For Plants
There seems to be some debate on whether leopard geckos need light or not, but if you’re going to have plants in your setup, you’ll need light for them or they’ll suffer.
You can provide light by adding UVB bulbs or grow lights. Just like most animals, plants benefit from a normal light and dark schedule, so you’ll need the light source to be on a timer. Most plants need 8 to 10 hours of light a day for proper growth.
You should also be cognizant of the heat source when you add plants. If you use a heating mat for your gecko, be sure to keep your plants away from the heating mat if it’s placed on the bottom of the enclosure.
As the plant’s roots dig deeper into the ground, they reach cooler temperatures. If the roots grow downward and meet up with the heating pad, the excess heat could ruin your plants.
You can put the heat pad on the side for your gecko, or just keep plants on one side of the terrarium.
When looking for plants, you want varieties that can withstand the hot temps and relatively dry environment that leopard geckos prefer. Look for plants that are hardy in Zones 9 or higher, and don’t require constantly moist soil.
Succulents and spineless cacti are great options, but we also have plenty of other options listed below. And without further ado, let’s get into it.
Leopard Gecko Plants For Your Setup
1. Aloe Plants
There are too many species of aloe to list, but most varieties will grow well in your gecko’s habitat. Aloe Vera is a very popular plant that you can find in most nurseries and home improvement stores.
Aloe is a slow-growing plant that doesn’t require a ton of water and won’t take over the tank. Occasionally, aloe will grow offshoots that you can remove and pot to grow new plants, and you can trim them if they get too big.
Aloe has plenty of other benefits aside from being a great plant to grow with your gecko. The juice from the thick leaves is a great moisturizer and helps relieve minor burns.
Aloe plants only need to be watered about once or twice a month and prefer well-draining, sandy soil.
2. Air Plants (Tillandsia)
Air plants have reached astronomical popularity over the last few years. You can find them everywhere.
In the wild, they grow by attaching themselves to other, larger plants and trees. They don’t require soil and can be placed nearly anywhere in your gecko’s tank.
These plants can handle temperatures up to 90° F (32° C). Air plants need to be watered by misting them every few days or soaking them in water. Completely submerge the air plants for 20 minutes or up to a few hours every 10 days to 2 weeks.
Be careful when misting them, especially if you have a lot of air plants in the tank. You may end up raising the humidity too high for too long.
3. Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera)
These flat-leafed succulents may be called a cactus, but they have no thorns or spikes on them.
The Schlumbergera is a dark green plant that grows long segmented branches. In the fall and winter, when the days begin to shorten, they burst forth with a ton of pink, red, or purple flowers.
They really are showy and easy to grow. Just water them about once every week or two and split them or remove them when they get too big.
The Christmas cactus grows slowly, but they can get large. The segments can be broken off and planted in the soil to grow new plants if you want to propagate them.
4. Elephant Bush (Portulacaria Afra)
The elephant bush is so named because it can grow over 10 feet tall and is a favorite food of elephants. It is also a favorite plant with bonsai enthusiasts.
To keep it from growing through your gecko’s tank and up to your ceiling, just keep it trimmed down to a manageable size. They take well to trimming so you don’t have to worry about them taking over your room.
The elephant bush is a visually appealing plant as it has reddish-brown trunks and stems, accented with small, glossy, green leaves. Under the right growth conditions, this plant will reward you with small clusters of white, pink, or purple blooms.
The elephant bush can handle temps around 110° F (43°C), and only needs to be watered once or twice per month.
5. String of Pearls (Senecio Rowleyanus)
The string of pearls plant is another succulent, but this one is a fast grower.
It only mounds up to about 6” tall, but it will drape over a pot or ledge as it grows. Given time and space, the string of pearls can produce a lush, pebbly carpet.
It takes well to prune, so if you’re not looking for a carpet of plant growth, just cut it back.
This plant grows small, pearl-shaped, green nodules along the vines, and in cooler temperatures will sprout small, white flowers that smell similar to cinnamon. Unfortunately, in the warm leopard gecko environment, you may never see these flowers.
When planting a string of pearls, you have to put them in the cool area of the tank. They can only tolerate temperatures in the low 70s, anything higher will cause them to die back.
These plants don’t require much water. You only need to give them a drink once or twice a month.
6. String Of Bananas (Senecio Radicans)
Similar to the string of pearls, the string of bananas plant is easier to care for and produces small, thick leaves that resemble the namesake fruit.
The string of bananas has the same mounding and trailing habits as the string of pearls plant. It may be a faster-growing succulent though so you’ll spend more time trimming it back unless you want a carpet of tiny, green, banana-looking leaves.
These are easy to propagate as well. Just snip off a string, and plant it in the ground. Keep the soil moist until the roots are established, and you’ll have another separate plant.
They need plenty of light (at least 6 hours worth each day). If they don’t get enough light they will get “leggy” and the banana-shaped leaves will become sparse.
Plant the string of bananas in well-draining soil, and only water when the soil dries out. When the soil is dry about a half to a whole inch down, give this plant a good watering.
7. Jade Plants (Crassula Ovata)
Jade plants, sometimes called money plants are some of my favorite succulents. I love the smooth, rounded, thick, bright green leaves that resemble the famous stone.
Jade plants resemble the elephant plant, but they won’t get nearly as tall. To keep them bushy and full, and compact if you so desire, simple trimming is required.
These plants can live for many decades and are often made into bonsai trees. They are also a slow-growing plant so you won’t need to trim them very often.
Not fussy at all, these plants are easy to grow and tolerate 75°F (24° C) temperatures well. They also need plenty of light, so a UVB or grow light is essential but other than that they are a very low-maintenance plant.
Just water them once every few weeks when the soil dries to the touch.
8. Sedge Grass (Carex Pendula)
Let’s break up the long list of succulents with some sedge grass.
These grasses are often found in arid, desert-type landscapes. They are extremely drought tolerant and can handle very hot temperatures so they will grow great with your leopard gecko.
They create cascading mounds that your gecko may enjoy hiding under, especially during daylight.
Sedge grasses come in all sizes and many different colors. Be careful though, some varieties can grow over 4 feet tall and wide. Meaning you could end up with an enclosure that’s nothing but grass.
Look for smaller varieties such as:
- Carex Bromoides
- Carex Eburnea
- Carex Radiata
- Carex Siderosticha
You can plant most sedge grass in either the cool area or the basking spot of your leopard gecko’s enclosure. They can easily tolerate temperatures up to 100° F (38° C).
Water your sedge grass about once a week to keep it happy and healthy.
9. Radiator Plants (Peperomias)
A tropical plant native to Mexico, the Caribbean islands, and South America, Peperomias has over 1000 different species to choose from. The leaves can be smooth, or textured, variegated or marbled, and can come in many different colors.
You could plant only radiator plants in your leopard gecko’s enclosure and have a wide variety of textures and colors. But they all have slow growth and low maintenance in common with each other.
To keep their vibrant colors alive, you’ll need to provide them with about 12 hours of artificial light. They can tolerate mild to warm temperatures, so in your gecko’s tank, they will do better in the cool area.
With slow growth habits, you may never need to repot them. Another great thing about these plants is they propagate very easily. You can cut stems and even leaves off and grow new plants from these cuttings given the right conditions.
They only need to be watered once every 10 to 14 days.
10. Sweetheart Wax Plants (Hoya Kerrii)
For those of you who have never grown any plants before, or swear you have a brown thumb instead of a green one, this plant may be the one for you. It’s a succulent that doesn’t need much water and is very hardy.
The sweetheart plant will keep the same single leaf for nearly as long as you keep it in the small pot. They have become increasingly popular because of this shape.
A single, small plant will grow a single, heart-shaped leaf. Yes, it’s cute, yes it’s small, and it’s easy to care for, but leave it in the tiny pot, and it will hardly grow at all. Unfortunately, this plant ends up being very boring if it never grows.
The trick is to repot the plant into a larger pot so the roots have a place to grow, and you’ll have more of those thick, heart-shaped leaves.
Given extra space in a larger pot, you will eventually see more of these thick leaves, though it may take years. Just be patient, or purchase a sweetheart plant with more than a single leaf as these will grow faster.
Plant these thick succulents in the cooler area of the tank and provide them with plenty of light. Water them once or twice a month. They are prone to root rot, so let the soil get very dry before watering again.
Though very similar to Hens and Chicks, these plants are in fact different plants.
I won’t get into all the subtle differences here because that’s a whole article in itself. Here we will just go over why they’re a good plant to grow alongside your leopard gecko.
Echeverias grow thick, succulent leaves in a rosette pattern. They can come in many different colors from greens and blues to pinks and purples. Some varieties have contrasting colors on the edges of the leaves.
When they flower they produce a long, arching stalk that may have bell-shaped flowers at the end. Snip them off after they flower, or produce seeds.
Echeverias don’t grow very tall, but they can spread pretty quickly. Much like hens and chicks, these offshoots can be propagated so you may never run out of these plants if you choose.
They require plenty of light and should be planted on the warmer side of the terrarium, as they like it hot. You only need to water these low-growing succulents after the soil has dried out, or once to twice a month.
12. Hens And Chicks (Sempervivum)
Many plants that have the same growth pattern are often marketed as hens and chicks. The real plant is called Sempervivum, so look out for that name when looking for the real deal.
These plants take on the rosette shape we talked about earlier, but they often have rougher-edged leaves and grow differently. Once a sempervivum rosette flowers, it dies and should be trimmed out. Don’t worry because they will continue to grow more “chicks” and continue to spread out.
When you cut out a dead rosette, add a little more substrate and the sempervivum will fill itself back in.
Their colors range widely, and you may see colors such as brown, light or dark green, pink, purple, gray, maroon, and more. They may be a solid color throughout or have a different color along the edges of the leaves.
The leaves can be glossy, matte, pointed, or rounded. They may also have a waxy sheen or tiny hairs on them, so you have plenty of variety to choose from.
These plants are moderately fast-growing and will spread out as long as there is soil. Like other succulents here, you can propagate these by snipping off small rosettes and putting them into the new soil.
Sempervivums need a lot of light but don’t need a lot of water. Wait for the soil to dry to the touch before watering, or water them once to twice per month.
Unlike echeverias, sempervivum prefers a cooler climate and does better away from the hot basking area.
14. Plant Some Zebra Cactus (Haworthia Fasciata)
The zebra cactus is another spineless cactus that is safe around your leopard gecko. They are similar in growth habits to aloe plants, but they have pleasing white stripes on the pointy, fleshy leaves.
If aloe plants grow too fast for you, and you’re tired of trimming them or replanting them, the zebra cactus may be the plant for you. They grow much slower than aloe plants.
While aloe plants can get rather large over time, the zebra cactus reaches a max height of around 8 inches. You won’t have to trim them, and they require less care than aloe.
I’m not saying they are better than aloe plants, just that they are easier to care for, especially for those who want a plant they don’t have to do much with.
Plant the zebra cactus in the cooler side of the tank, give it about 4 to 8 hours of artificial light per day, and water it once or twice a month. Then just let it go because that’s all the care these plants really need.
15. Hindu Rope Plants (Hoya Carnosa Compacta)
This unique plant has curly leaves that may remind you of green egg noodle pasta. It’s a succulent plant that grows well-potted or planted and loves to send out long tendrils of vines covered in curly leaves.
The Hindu rope plant is easy to grow when it’s given light, well-draining soil, and plenty of light. The roots really need a lot of air so mix in plenty of perlite or pumice when potting them.
When this plant starts to get too long, trim the vines back. If you want more Hindu rope plants—maybe you’d like some hanging baskets—just pop the trimmed vines in moist potting soil. Soon you’ll have more of these easy-to-grow plants.
They create nice hiding places for your leopard gecko and can be a visually stimulating centerpiece. They can also flower in the late spring and summer if you give them proper temperature fluctuations.
Keep the Hindu rope plant on the cooler side of the leopard gecko’s tank. During the daytime, let the temps reach about 70° F, then cool it off to between 60° F and 65° F.
Mature plants may produce beautiful pink or white clusters of flowers.
16. Living Stones (Lithops)
Living stones are also called pebble plants because they closely resemble pebbles or smooth rocks. This plant grows close to the ground and produces pairs of thick, succulent leaves that look like rocks.
They are hardy plants that don’t require much water, can stand high temperatures, and are very easy to grow. They won’t provide much shelter or hiding places for your gecko, but they will create some visual interest.
Lithops need sandy, gravelly, reasonably deep, very well-draining soil. These will do best in a pot because too much water will give them root rot.
You don’t need to repot these until the pot gets crowded. Then you can split them up and create more pots. They are slow-growing succulents so you’ll only be splitting these plants every 4 or 5 years.
In the fall, Lithops may flower and bring about a bright burst of color for added interest. They can then drop seeds that grow more of these unusual plants.
You can plant Lithops in the basking area of your terrarium because they can handle temperatures up to 105° F (41° C) and will do well in the dry climate. You’ll only need to water these beauties once every two to three weeks.
17. Snake Plants (Dracaena Trifasciata)
Also called Mother In-Law’s Tongue, these tall plants are extremely hardy. Though they can grow rather tall, these plants are best for taller tanks. They can grow from 1 to 3 feet tall.
Another great benefit to growing snake plants in your leopard gecko’s tank, or anywhere in your house for that matter, is they are great air filters. Snake plants help to purify the air and are better at it than other plants that hold that title.
Snake plants produce a lot of oxygen, and they absorb toxic chemicals in the air such as benzene and formaldehyde.
Snake plants have sword-shaped, tall, thick leaves in colors green, yellow, and reddish brown.
Though this plant is a very slow-growing plant, to keep it shorter, you can prune off taller leaves during the growing season—spring and summer.
To prune snake plants you need to cut the leaves off at the soil level. The plant will spread rhizomes under the ground and produce more leaves, but if you want to keep it shorter, you can trim the tallest leaves.
This tropical plant will do better on the cooler side of the leopard gecko’s tank. It can handle warmer temperatures, but not as warm as your basking spot will get.
You should only water your snake plants about once every few weeks or so. Like many other plants on this list, let the soil dry out before giving them a full watering.
18. Pink Quill (Wallisia Cyanea)
The pink quill is a type of bromeliad, which is also a species of air plant, but these do need soil to thrive. Pink quills are named for the flat, pink flowers that look like bird feathers.
Though these plants are prized mostly for their unique flowers, they are hardy plants that also produce tough, mounding leaves that your leopard gecko may enjoy hiding under.
While pink quills look like tropical plant that requires plenty of humidity and moisture, they actually do very well in a dry environment. They need plenty of indirect or artificial light but only need to be watered about once a month.
They do well with a few mistings between watering though. That’s the only caveat about having pink quill plants.
The flowers last about three months long before they start to dry up and fade away. They often drop seeds that will start new plants.
You can leave these seeds there as they grow, or separate them into new plants. Plant these specimens on the cooler side of the enclosure to enjoy their beauty.
19. Plastic Plants
If the thought of live plants in your leopard gecko’s enclosure has you breaking out in hives you can go with plastic plants. Live plants add variety and enrichment to your pet, but they also have certain needs and can be stressful and time-consuming.
We tried to pick out the easiest, most hardy plants, but they still need watering, and light, and sometimes need to be pruned and repotted. It’s understood that we all have busy lives to tend to. If the thought of caring for more live organisms isn’t your thing, then go ahead and add some artificial plants.
In the end, the main goal is to have a happy, healthy, long-living leopard gecko, plants are secondary.
There You Have It
Here are several options for plants you can add to your leopard gecko’s environment. While you have a lot of choices here, you don’t have to stick only to these plants. Just keep in mind that your gecko does better in a dryer environment.
Adding plants that require constantly humid soil will raise the humidity too high for your gecko. Look for plants that can handle high temperatures and like to dry out between waterings.
Here’s a quick breakdown of all the plants here:
- Air plants
- Christmas cactus
- Elephant bush
- String of pearls
- String of bananas
- Jade plant
- Sedge grass
- Radiator plants
- Sweetheart wax plants
- Hens and chicks
- Zebra cactus
- Hindu rope plants
- Living stones
- Snake plants
- Pink quill
The great thing about plants is you don’t have to keep the same ones in the terrarium for the life of your gecko. You can change it up occasionally and keep your little reptile from getting bored in its tank.
Have a comment about the best plants for your leopard gecko? Drop us a line below, we love hearing from our readers.