I won’t lie to you; all of my Solomon Island Ground Boas are in wood cages which preclude any real possibility of planted tanks (I’d like my cages to last more than a year, thank-you-very-much). But, as I was setting up a cage for a green tree python (that was actually supposed to be for a SITB, but then I decided I’d rather have another GTP, hah), and re-jigging a cage for my jeweled Lacerta this weekend, I got to thinking that a lot of what I was doing could be applied to a planted Candoia cage.

Planting is a good way to run with your imagination and bring some wild back into your home (albeit in a glass box!). There are a few things to keep in mind, but for the most part, just be creative. Or play it safe. Whatever makes ya happy!

Randomly inserted into this post are pictures of tanks I’ve planted over the years. Most of them would work well for Solomon Island Tree Boas with a little tweaking, or for Ground Boas if you consider their larger size.

So, we start with – obv – the cage itself.

If you have a ground boa, you’re probably going to go with a large aquarium or maybe a plastic cage with sliding doors. If you have a tree boa, you might want to consider something like an Exo-Terra, or just a taller aquarium. Either way, it’s probably best to make sure it holds water, at least for the first few inches, and that damp soil will not corrode or warp the material.

Tree Python Cage


A nice background can really make a cage, but a poorly installed one can be a death trap. If there are any gaps or pockets between the glass and the background, your snake will find a way into it, so if you do go with a background, go with something straight and flush and silicone it to the tank properly. Zoomed makes a nice cork bark background, and you can also get rolls of coco fibre that are pressed together. Both look pretty natural and certain plants will climb them. Alternatively, you could simply paint the back of the tank (the outside) in a neutral colour, or even paint a scene (just remember, you are seeing it from the other side, so if you paint a blue sky with a green bush on top of it, you won’t see the bush from the other side; you have to paint the bush first).

Planted Exo-Terra

This one actually has a water fall and a pond, but you can't see it in the photo.


Before we go into substrate itself, consider whether you’d like to put in a drainage layer. This is essentially a 1-2″ layer of something, such as gravel or expanded clay pellets, under the dirt, that holds water and wicks it up into the soil to keep it damp but not water-logged. If you have a tree snake, do it. Drainage layers are awesome. Top the drainage layer with a layer of poly fill or plastic window screen so dirt doesn’t get into it.
If you’re making a cage for a ground boa, don’t use a drainage layer. My snakes burrow given half a chance and that would be bad news.

So, back to the substrate. I’ve used lots of substrates over the years and I don’t have an exact formula, I just sort of mix different ingredients together until I get what I like.

  • Black earth (makes up probably 1/3 of the total substrate)
  • Coconut mulch – dirt style, not chunky (makes up about 1/3 of the total substrate)
  • Sand
  • Dried leaves
  • Orchid bark
  • Just mix it up in a bucket until you get the consistence you like. I’m happy with it when it sort of holds its shape when I squeeze it in a ball, but also kind of falls apart.

    I will then add some springtails and other buggies from the forest, a worm composting bin, or another tank. The dried leaves help with this, too. And voila, you have bio-active substrate. You still need to spot clean, of course, but the buggies will help break down fecal matter.

    Just Pothos

    Lighting and Plants

    Before you can pick out plants, you have to decide on your light. Is the tank getting some light from a window (which I don’t advise anyway since a tank can overheat in sunlight)? Or just room light? Or are you going to put a fluorescent light fixture over the tank? If you are in a low-light scenario, you will have to limit yourself to low-light plants:

  • Pothos – lovely, impossible to kill. Trim regularly. It comes in many varieties including neon and silken.
  • Zamioculcas Zamiifolia – aka ZZ plant – very nice, sturdy, but gets very big and will eventually need to be transplanted.
  • Philodendron – A nice, dark green vine.
  • If you have higher light, you can pick from many other plants such as:

  • Snake plant – very sturdy.
  • And the following, which will get squished by ground boas but should hold up well to tree boas:

  • Jewel Orchid – tough, and gorgeous, if you can find it.
  • Bromeliad and air plant – you can silicone air plants to the tank background
  • Orchids (and mini orchids) – they may even flower
  • Lipstick plant
  • Small fern
  • Spider plant
  • Maintenance

    The easy part is setting it up, the hard part is keeping it going.

  • Do not use chemical fertilisers. If you have a fresh water aquarium, use the water from your water changes to water. You can also use the water left over when you boil or steam spinach, artichokes, etc. Use monthly or so, depending on the plants you have.
  • Spot clean feces and urates as you see them.
  • Spray daily.
  • Trim your plants as they get too big.
  • D├ęcor

    Cork tubes and half rounds look great and I find my snakes really use them. Driftwood works great too, and you can also use plastic ornaments if you want.

    Planted Exo-Terras on Wood Cages