It seems like we have an influx of newbies at the moment, so here are a few things I wish I had known about setting up a mini-rainforest. Please feel free to add your own lessons - my lessons are limited since I focus on plants and don't keep frogs.
- Your humidity level will vary based on established plants. The setup will require a whole lot of water to maintain humidity at first, and less and less as the tank grows in and plants create a microclimate around their leaves. You will most likely need to constantly tweak watering schedules for the first year.
- You can use a misting system to keep humidity up, and you can use a misting system to water plants. These are two different functions, and require different amounts of time. Generally 10 seconds of mist a few times a day (depending on your ambient humidity level) will keep humidity up, but almost all plants will want to be watered until they are soaking, once or twice a week.
- Algae, mold and fungus aren't problems, until they are. They'll always be part of a functioning system, but should stay under control with adequate airflow, fluctuation in humidity levels, and a cleanup crew. If they get out of control (meaning you see a negative impact on frogs or plants), one of those factors is probably the culprit.
- Beautiful lush moss walls require good light and drip walls or obsessive hand misting (on top of an automated misting system) to establish themselves. Once established, they can survive with a normal misting schedule.
- 24/7 waterfalls are too wet, especially for a newly established system. I was hoping for something lush and green around my waterfall, but all I grew for months was long, smelly, disgusting algae. I eventually put the waterfall pump on a timer (for now, 1/2 hour 3x/day) and I'm finally growing some moss and liverworts around it, and hoping I can run it longer now that the algae bloom is over and more desirable plants are gaining a foothold.
- Some hand misting is essential if you care about fussy plant species. I currently use hand misting to: fertilize, once a week; establish new plants, especially if they have limited roots or I'm trying to get them to root in a difficult area; try to dial in preferred water levels for really fussy plants (I'm looking at you, Dendrobium parvulum).
- Lots of plants love to grow with moss around their roots - orchids and various carnivorous plants especially tend to do well with live sphagnum around their roots. But very small plants can easily be outcompeted by moss, and will need to have it trimmed if it's covering them.
- Plan for plants getting shaded out by other, higher plants as the tank grows in. Light levels will change over time.
- Space out plant orders from different vendors by about a month, that way if you have to quarantine you don't have to set up two separate quarantine zones for plants from different vendors. I regularly ignore this lesson and have about 10 mason jars with plants in quarantine for various reasons.
- If you care about a plant, keep 2 of it. Sometimes a plant will be doing great and then just suddenly take a nosedive, and as much as you fuss over it, it will just be determined to die.
- Specific clones or lineage of a plant matters. If you love those brilliant magenta flowers, see if you can find a plant from the same stock as the plant in the picture, or get a picture of it in bloom from the vendor before buying it. Species can vary quite a lot in flower color, fragrance, size, vigor, growth habit, etc., hybrids even more so. If a specific aspect of a plant matters to you, ask those questions before buying it.
- If you are uncertain of the final location of a specific plant, or of its preferences regarding light, water, etc. - pot it up in a small pot with your substrate or mount it on a piece of cork if it's an epiphyte, and bury or hang it in the location you're trying out. That way you can move it around for a while without harming its roots.
- It's better to under-water than over-water - unless it's a pleurothallid, a bryophyte, or a filmy fern. You can generally classify plants into "will slowly decline if it doesn't get enough water" and "will expire immediately upon drying out". The latter work really well if you have a tendency to over-water, like me.