11 Best Plants for Leopard Geckos: For a Natural Environment

Decorating your gecko’s enclosure is fun because you can add so many different things. Live plants are often top of the list for many of us herpers, and for good reasons.

First of all, they look awesome! But they also provide multiple benefits for your pet.

Of course, you can’t add any random plant to the vivarium. You must ensure the species you choose are non-toxic and compatible with the gecko’s environment.

Keep reading to discover 11 best-fitting plants and tips on planting and maintaining your green vivarium.

Benefits of Plants for Leopard Geckos

Planted gecko vivariums are all the rage lately. They certainly look amazing, but they also come with short- and long-term investments.

Not only will you need to tweak your setup, but you must also factor in the maintenance work, like watering, misting, and pruning of the plants.

But let me tell you, all the work is so much worth it! Once your planted vivarium is established and running, you and your leopard gecko will reap multiple benefits, namely:

  • A natural-looking enclosure looks cool and makes your gecko feel in its element.
  • Tons of opportunities for the gecko to play and explore.
  • Plants provide functional perks like shade and intimacy for your pet.
  • Excellent air filtration for an extra-clean enclosure.
  • Easy to turn into a fully bioactive setup by adding isopods, springtails, and other small organisms.
  • More frequent opportunities to interact with your pet during maintenance plant care.

In addition to the above, you can choose beginner-friendly plants. Plants with low TLC needs will greatly reduce your time investments.

And here’s the best part— there are so many interesting species to choose from! Don’t know where to get started? Take a look at the following list; you won’t be disappointed!

Types of Plants for Leopard Geckos

Some plants make excellent additions to a gecko enclosure; others…not so much.

You need hardy species that can tolerate high temperatures, low humidity, and bright light in a vivarium.

Luckily, there are dozens of options to fit these criteria. Here are some of the best ones, in no particular order:

– Succulents

  • Hardiness zone: 3-11
  • Temperature: Up to 80°F
  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Size: 6 in – 2 ft
  • Growth rate: Slow

Succulents are the quintessential lazy plants. They’re good for your gecko and very low effort too! Why is that, you ask? Because succulents are so diverse and hardy! These plants are naturally adapted to withstand extreme environments.

Most succulents are fit for hardiness zone 11. These plants store water in their leaves for prolonged periods, so they need minimal watering even in high-temperature conditions.

Unsurprisingly, many succulent species are found in deserts, so they should already be a natural part of the leopard gecko’s wild environment.

Succulents come in various shapes. Typically, they’re light green plants with thick, sturdy leaves arranged in a rosette pattern.

Many succulents produce flowers, and some are covered in pointy needle-like leaves. I recommend succulents like echeveria, haworthia, and sempervivum.

These plants are safe because they’re not covered in needles. They can be both decorative and functional since they’re low and sturdy enough for your leo to climb and explore.

These succulents enjoy bright light, but you should keep them out of the leo’s basking spot. Intense direct light can scorch even the hardiest plants!

Succulents need draining soil to avoid root rot. Apart from that, maintenance is as easy as watering the plants every three weeks.

You don’t need any fertilizer and won’t have to trim them. These plants are short, so they make perfect centerpieces for the vivarium without obstructing the view.

– Spider Plant

  • Hardiness zone: 9-11
  • Temperature: 65-85ºF
  • Light: Moderate to bright indirect light
  • Size: 12-15 in
  • Growth rate: Fast

The spider plant is another hardy plant that can withstand the high temperature in your gecko’s enclosure. Spider plants also tolerate low-humidity conditions and don’t need frequent watering (once per week is enough). Spider plants don’t require special fertilizers, but nutrient-rich draining soil is best for their growth and root health.

The leaves of spider plants are rich green, sometimes variegated with pale yellowish vertical bands. This plant can grow over one foot long, so it’s best suited for tall vivariums. Its leaves are long and thin, bending downwards as they grow.

As it grows, the spider plant takes on a tangled and bushy appearance. The lush appearance makes the spider plant a perfect decorative element for a vivarium background.

While the leaves are too thin and soft for your gecko to climb, they provide shade and can function as a good hideout for your pet.

– Snake Plants

  • Hardiness zone: 9-11
  • Temperature: 65-85ºF
  • Light: Moderate to bright indirect light
  • Size: 1-4 ft
  • Growth rate: Fast

Snake plants have elongated, elliptic-shaped, dark green leaves. Sometimes, they can be variegated with yellowish or pink margins, depending on the plant species. Snake plant leaves are smooth and rigid and grow upwards in a rosette pattern.

This plant is actually a type of succulent, which means it’s virtually indestructible. It can tolerate high temperatures and low humidity and needs no fertilizer. That’s because snake plants are native to arid tropical areas and have evolved to thrive in poor and rocky soil.

All you need to do is water them every two weeks and ensure the soil is completely dry before watering again. Snake plants shouldn’t be exposed to high humidity, so use draining soil to prevent root rot. Keep the plant out of the basking spot, as harsh direct light can burn the leaves.

Now, there’s a reason why I didn’t include the snake plant with other succulents on the list. They grow very tall, very quickly. I’m talking in the range of 4-12 inches a year.

For this reason, I would only recommend snake plants for tall vivariums. If you have the space to spare, this plant can make an interesting background decoration. Snake plants are also among the most powerful air-filtering plants.

– Air Plants

  • Hardiness zone: 10-12
  • Temperature: 55-85°F
  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Size: 2-12 in
  • Growth rate: Slow

Air plants are unique in multiple ways. For starters, they don’t rely much on their roots to feed. Instead, they take most of their nutrition from the air (can you guess why they’re called “air plants?”). This special ability makes air plants highly versatile and easy to keep.

You don’t even need soil— you can “plant” them anywhere, including on logs, cork, stones, etc. Air plants’ maintenance needs are a bit different. Since these plants don’t take moisture from the soil, you must soak them for two hours every three weeks. You should also mist them every couple of days.

As a genus (Tillandsia), air plants are very diverse. There are approximately 650 documented species, each with a slightly different appearance.

Overall, though, air plants grow long, thin, and flexible wispy leaves. They range in color from very pale green to icy blue to bright neon pink.

Air plants are excellent for any vivarium shape, size, and setup. They’re very small and slow-growing, so you can place them anywhere from the foreground to the back.

And since there’s no soil needed, you can move them around whenever you want to change things up. These bushy plants will make a safe and colorful hideout for your leo gecko, no doubt!

– String of Pearls

  • Hardiness zone: 9-12
  • Temperature: 60-80°F
  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Size: 11 in – 3.3 ft
  • Growth rate: Fast

The string of pearls is another unique succulent that deserves its own category. Unlike most other succulents, this species is a trailing plant.

It grows thin, malleable vines that flow downwards. But the most remarkable trait is the leaf shape. The string of pearls has small, plump round leaves that closely resemble green peas.

It’s the perfect addition if you’re looking for something novel and captivating. The upkeep is also extremely simple. Provide it with draining soil, water it every three weeks, and keep it out of direct light exposure. Really, it’s that simple!

The string of pearls is perfect for all vivarium sizes and shapes. Its vines are very versatile. You can attach them to ledges or mesh screens to decorate the background wall.

Alternatively, you could let them grow freely to form a lush mat on the ground. Since this plant grows so fast, you should trim it regularly.

Luckily, trimming is very simple— snip the vine at your desired length, and you’re good to go!

– Bromeliads

  • Hardiness zone: 9-11
  • Temperature: 60-85°F
  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Size: 1 in – 3 ft
  • Growth rate: Slow

Bromeliads make up a family of over 3000 flowering plant species. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of variety among these thousands of specimens.

Some bromeliads are as small as 1 inch tall, while others grow up to three feet! Some bromeliads are trailing plants, while others look like pineapple crowns or snake plants.

Fun fact: pineapple is actually the fruit of a bromeliad plant (Ananas comosus). Some fruitless but equally beautiful bromeliads you can add to your vivarium include the earth star (Cryptanthus spp.), tufted air plant (Guzmania spp.), flaming sword (riesea spp.), neoregelia (Neoregelia spp.), and vriesea (Vriesea spp.).

The above species are tall-growing plants with elongated bright green leaves and colorful flowers. The leaf growth resembles a pineapple crown, and the flowers can be bright pink, orange, yellow, or red.

These will surely draw all the attention, giving your vivarium a complete makeover. Most of these plants grow over 1 foot high and spread a lot in width.

Thus, it’s best to use these as background décor. The earth star bromeliad is shorter, growing up to 6 inches high.

Bromeliads are a bit more finicky than other plants. They need high moisture, so they need absorbent soil. On the other hand, they’re also prone to root rot, so the soil should be fast-draining. You’ll have to mix and layer different substrates, like peat soil and sand.

Watering is also a two-part process. You should water them every two weeks, ensuring the top of the soil is perfectly dry beforehand.

However, that’s not all! Bromeliads must also have water in their “urns” (the vessel-like space in the center of the leaf rosette) at all times. You’ll need to keep an eye on the plant and replenish the water as needed.

– Christmas Cactus

  • Hardiness zone: 10-12
  • Temperature: 60-70°F
  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Size: 6-12 in
  • Growth rate: Moderate

Cactuses (or “cacti,” if you want to be fancy) aren’t the most gecko-friendly plants. Indeed, most cactuses are covered in thorns and needles that could hurt your gecko’s skin. But not the Christmas cactus! This beautiful flowering plant is smooth and rubbery, and your gecko will love it.

This plant grows up to 16 inches long, as its stems flow down like a trailing plant. While the plant doesn’t have leaves per se, its stem is segmented into small, flat pads with scalloped edges.

At the end of the final pads, the plant produces small, bright-colored funnel-shaped flowers. The flowers are typically red or pink, but orange and yellow varieties also exist.

The Christmas cactus is heat-sensitive. It does best in temperatures up to 70°F but might need temperatures as low as 60°F to flower. So, you should plant it on the coolest end of the heat gradient.

Speaking of planting, the Christmas cactus needs a well-draining but nutrient-rich soil with plenty of organic matter. Ideally, you should mix compost, potting soil, and coarse-grain sand to meet all its requirements.

While the setup can be a bit complicated, maintenance is very easy. The Christmas cactus only needs water 1-2 times per month when the top layer of the soil is fully dry. You can place the cactus in the mid-to-background region of the vivarium.

If you let it grow out, it will get tall and leggy. With frequent trimming, you can get it to grow dense and bushy. To trim it, just cut off between the segments without damaging the pads.

– String of Turtles

  • Hardiness zone: 10-12
  • Temperature: 70-80°F
  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Size: 1-2 ft
  • Growth rate: Slow

The string of turtles is native to rainforest habitats in Southern America but does well in average household and vivarium conditions.

It tolerates high temperatures of up to 80°F but thrives between 68-75°F. For the best results, I recommend placing this plant on the cooler end of the enclosure and away from direct artificial light exposure.

It’s a nice addition to your gecko’s home thanks to its interesting look and versatility. The string of turtles is a trailing plant that grows long, thin vines. Its leaves are small, waxy, and perfectly round.

The rich green color and pale green veins on the leaves also resemble a turtle’s carapace, hence the name.

You don’t have to worry about space demands or trimming. The string of turtles is a slow grower. While it can reach up to two feet, it only grows up to 4 inches high; it fits perfectly in all vivarium sizes.

You can use it to grow a green mat or attach the trailing vines to the walls or decorations in the enclosure.

The string of turtles won’t be very demanding. It doesn’t require special fertilizers.

But you’ll need lightweight and well-draining soil to protect the roots from excess moisture. This plant hates excess water and doesn’t need watering more than 2-4 times a month.

– Jade Plant

  • Hardiness zone: 10-11
  • Temperature: Up to 75°F
  • Light: Bright, indirect light
  • Size: 3-6 ft
  • Growth rate: Slow

Jade plants are very hardy and low-maintenance. They’re naturally adapted to arid conditions and only need watering once every 2-3 weeks. They don’t need organic or compost soil either! All-purpose potting soil will do as long as it provides proper drainage.

Just remember that jade plants have a lower heat tolerance and thrive in temperatures below 75°F. So, keep the plant on the cooler end of the vivarium. Technicalities aside, the jade plant is also really nice to look at. It looks like a miniature tree with stubby roots and thick, rubbery, oval leaves.

Although it can grow up to 6 ft tall, its growth is slow enough to keep up with it; jade plants only grow up to 2 inches per year.

So, you don’t need a tall enclosure to keep them. With frequent trimming and a bit of know-how, you can turn the jade plant into a luxuriant bonsai.

– Hoya Plant

  • Hardiness zone: 9-11
  • Temperature: 60-85°F
  • Light: Moderate to bright, indirect light
  • Size: 2-4 ft
  • Growth rate: Slow

Hoya plants make up a genus of over 500 species. However, most commonly-kept hoya houseplants are similar in size, appearance, and requirements. Some examples include waxvine (Hoya australis), sweetheart wax plant (Hoya kernii), and porcelainflower (Hoya carnosa).

The above species are all trailing plants with medium-sized, stiff, rubbery leaves ranging from round, to ovate, to heart-shaped. Hoya plants also grow ball-shaped clusters of small, white, star-shaped flowers with a crimson center.

These are beautiful, but it, unfortunately, takes years for the plant to mature for its first bloom.

If you buy a young hoya plant, you won’t see flowers anytime soon. On the flip side, at least hoyas are slow-growing and low-maintenance! To add a hoya plant to the vivarium, you’ll need well-draining soil with good aeration.

Other than that, these plants typically need watering 1-2 times monthly. Overwatering can cause root rot.

Since hoya plants grow trailing vines, they work well even in short vivariums. Hoyas thrive in temperatures up to 85°F, and they need indirect light. Keep that in mind when choosing the plant’s location in the enclosure.

You should keep hoyas on the cooler end of the vivarium, and away from direct artificial light exposure.

– Peperomia

  • Hardiness zone: 10-11
  • Temperature: Up to 80°F
  • Light: Moderate to bright, indirect light
  • Size: 8-12 in
  • Growth rate: Moderate

Last but not least, we have peperomias. This genus contains over 1,000 plant species, so there’s a lot of variety to choose from. Plants in this genus are also called “radiator plants,” thanks to their love of dry and warm conditions. Thus, they’re perfect for your gecko’s enclosure!

It’s hard to give a general description since so many species exist. Peperomias are generally petite, compact, and with medium-sized leaves. Leaves can be rounded, ovate, or heart-shaped; their texture ranges from rubbery to papery and rippled.

There’s also a wide variety of leaf colors and patterns. Available colors include dark green, gray, red, and purple, alongside plain, marbled, or variegated patterning. As for size, most species grow at most 1 ft tall, especially when kept indoors.

To include peperomias in your vivarium setup, you’ll need lightweight soil with good aeration. A mixture of all-purpose potting soil and gravel will do.

Apart from that, remember to water the plant once every 1-2 weeks. Peperomias grow up to 5 inches per year on average. You won’t have to trim them too often unless you have a very small vivarium.

Avoid Toxic Plants

There are tons of wonderful plants you can use to beautify the enclosure. However, not all plants make a good fit.

Many species can’t withstand hot and dry environmental conditions. Other plants are straight-up toxic and deadly to geckos.

You especially want to stay away from the latter. Here’s a list of the plants you should avoid:

  • Azaleas
  • Begonias
  • Mistletoe
  • Dumb cane
  • Bracken fern
  • Poinsettia
  • Lilies
  • Shamrock
  • Cycads
  • Hyacinth
  • Philodendrons
  • Pothos
  • English ivy
  • Poison ivy
  • ZZ plant
  • Boxwood

Leopard geckos are insectivores, so it’s unlikely they’ll eat vivarium plants. However, you should stick to non-toxic species just to be safe. The above plants could kill your gecko due to their high oxalate or poisonous glycoside content.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list but a collection of the most common plants that could hurt your gecko. For more information, check out more potentially-toxic plants here.

Setting up a Plant-based Habitat

Adding plants to a vivarium is easier than it might seem. However, it’s a bit different than planting things in a pot or a garden. You’ll need a few tweaks.

Here’s a checklist of the basics when setting up a plant-based habitat:

Choose Compatible Plants

Leopard geckos need a warm and dry environment. Their ideal enclosure temperature is 75-85°F, and the humidity should be 30-40%. Moreover, leo geckos need a basking spot and 12-14 hours of light exposure per day.

The plants you pick must tolerate these temperature, humidity, and light exposure ranges. The plants I’ve described previously in the article provide an excellent starting point.

Prep the Plants

When preparing the plants for the enclosure, you must first uproot them from the plastic pot they came in. Be careful! You should grab the plant closest to the base and pull slowly. You don’t want to break any leaves or stems by accident.

Most plants are treated with pesticides, so you’ll also have to wash them. Remove any chemicals and dust off the leaves before planting the vivarium. It’s also good to run the plant’s roots under a gentle stream of lukewarm water until all the dirt comes off.

Remove as much soil as possible to get the plant ready for the new substrate. Thoroughly washing the plants also helps eliminate potential pests like potworms or spider mites that hide in the original soil.

I also highly recommend disinfecting your plants with hydrogen peroxide. While this might seem overkill, it’s the best way to kill pests and parasitic organisms like fungi.

This ensures the plants stay healthy, and you don’t risk introducing unwanted critters into the vivarium. To disinfect plants, you should soak the roots in a 3% diluted hydrogen peroxide solution for six hours.

Add a 1.5-inch drainage layer in the vivarium

Plants that thrive in arid environments are prone to root rot. You need a drainage layer to allow water movement and prevent excessive moisture. So, the first thing that goes into the tank should be a drainage layer.

The most common choice is a clay-based pellet substrate like ZooMed’s “hydroballs.” This is a lightweight, highly absorbent, and long-lasting option.

Put a mesh screen over the drainage layer

You can use any type of plastic mesh screen that lets the water through. You just need a layer to separate the drainage from the substrate. This prevents compaction and enables the clay to substrate breath.

I recommend a fine plastic mesh. These are cheap, and you can find them in any hardware store. DON’T use metal screens— these will invariably rust due to the constant exposure to humidity.

Measure the vivarium, cut the plastic mesh to size, and plop that right in there on top of the drainage.

Layer the substrate on top

Once you got the drainage layer and the mesh down, it’s time for the substrate! This part is tricky because the ideal substrate depends on your chosen plants. You might just need a regular 3-inch layer (as a bare minimum) or a tall substrate up to 1 foot high!

Tall plants with thick and long roots will need more. If you have a small vivarium, a tall substrate will take up too much space and mess up your heat lamp placement (since the entire floor will be closer to the lamp). If that’s a potential problem, choose small plants with short roots.

As for the substrate choice, most plants thrive in a lightweight, well-aerated substrate. The best substrate would be one that maintains some moisture without becoming oversaturated or compacted.

I recommend mixing coconut husk-based substrates with potting soil and sand or gravel. Once the final layer is complete, you’re ready to plant!

Tweaking the rest of the setup

Plants need visible light to grow and photosynthesize. Chances are, you already have a source of visible light for the vivarium since leopard geckos also need plenty of light exposure. Now, remember that most plants thrive with indirect light.

You should shine the lamp away from the plants, especially if using a bulb with a very bright light. Excessive light exposure could lead to browning or spotting on some plants. Besides lights, changing your substrate and adding plants modifies a few more variables in the vivarium.

For one, you’ll get a shift in humidity levels. Secondly, you might have to tweak your lamp placement if you have a hybrid heat lamp with visible light. Most plants don’t like too much heat.

Even desert plants thrive in temperatures under 85°F. Too much heat can burn the leaves and even kill them!

By the way, planted setups aren’t compatible with heat mats. A heat mat warms the vivarium from below, which is a problem for plants. The roots might get too hot, which can damage the plant. If you’re using a mat right now, you’ll have to switch to a heat lamp.

You should include a thermometer and a hygrometer on the planted side of the tank. These gadgets will help you monitor and maintain optimal temperature and humidity levels for your plants and gecko.

A hygrometer is especially handy if you want to avoid overwatering the plants.

Plant Care in Leopard Gecko Tank

Once your planted vivarium is up and running, you’re in for weekly to monthly maintenance. Establishing a good care routine is important to keep your plants healthy and thriving.

It seems like the work never stops, but don’t worry! It’s simpler than it looks.

You can’t go wrong if you follow these simple tips:

Maintain proper temperature, humidity, and lighting

Just like your gecko, plants have optimal parameters, and they grow accustomed to their environment. Temperature, humidity, and light shifts can damage plants or stunt growth.

Plants from arid environments are especially sensitive to humidity levels and can develop root rot from excessive soil moisture. Extreme temperatures (typically above 85°F) and direct bright light exposure can also scorch the leaves and cause brown spots, leaf holes, and scalloped edges.

Consider fertilizers

Most arid plants can live without fertilizer. But it’s good to add some at least once a year. Fertilizers provide important nutrients that all plants need, even hardy ones.

Skipping the fertilizer will eventually lead to problems like stunted growth, dying stems and leaves, and nutrient deficiencies.

When plants become deficient, they might lose color, develop holes and dark spots, or start shedding old branches and leaves.

Water properly

Each plant species is going to be a bit different. Adapt your watering routine to the plants you have.

Arid plants should be watered once a week to once a month, but only when the top soil feels dry to the touch. So, check the soil humidity regularly to know when your plants need more water.

When watering, pull away the leaves and only water the plant roots. You don’t want any moisture on the leaves, as that can cause fungus growth. Drip the water slowly and wait for the soil to absorb it little by little. Don’t dump all the water at once, as you risk inundating the roots.

Keep the plants clean and hygienic

This includes cleaning the healthy leaves and removing the dead or withering ones, if necessary. You should also prune damaged stems.

Inspect the plants each time you water them. Wipe dust and dirt off the leaves with a moist cloth. This reduces the risk of pathogen exposure and infection in the plant. To prune damaged parts, use gardening scissors and cut just a bit above the branch or stem node.

Dead or damaged plant leaves and stems could be dangerous in two ways. First, these plant parts will start rotting or growing fungus, which is obviously bad for the plant or your pet.

Secondly, a damaged plant is likely to get infected. By pruning the affected area, you limit the spread of the disease to the rest of the plant.

Remove all uneaten live insects

Monitor the live bugs when feeding your gecko. Free-roaming live insects can cause significant plant damage in two ways— either by damaging the leaves directly while feeding or by infecting the plant with borne pathogens.

Keeping this advice in mind, you can prevent and treat most plant health issues. Know that plants are predisposed to various fungal infections (rust, snow mold, mildew, black spots). However, keeping humidity levels low and maintaining proper hygiene eliminates these risks.

Herbicides and fungicides are also useful in treating various plant diseases, but you don’t want to use those in your gecko’s enclosure.

Your pet could die from secondhand exposure to these chemicals! So, when your plants are infected, the best option is to use old-fashioned treatments like pruning.


Live plants help create a beautiful, natural-looking environment while providing health and psychological benefits for your gecko. It’s a win-win! And there are many interesting species to choose from.

Most arid, non-toxic plants are compatible with a leo gecko’s enclosure. Succulents, air plants, and snake plants are such examples.

The plants I’ve covered in this article are also beginner-friendly and low-maintenance. Let me know which ones caught your eye!

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...