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How to set up a planted aquarium

Planted aquariums are a great way to bring a piece of nature into your home. Setting up a planted aquarium may seem like a daunting task, but with the right guidance, it can be fairly simple, even rewarding.

Growing aquarium plants can be a bit like learning to garden underwater. It requires the right balance of light, nutrients, and water conditions to ensure that your plants thrive and your aquarium stays healthy.

Here is what you need to know about setting up and maintaining a planted aquarium.

What plants are best for a beginner planted aquarium?

For beginners, it’s best to start off with hardy, low-maintenance plants such as Java Fern/Moss, Anubias, Anacharis, and Amazon Sword. These plants are relatively easy to care for and can adapt to a variety of water conditions. They are also known for their ability to grow quickly and help keep the water clean by absorbing excess nutrients.

What equipment do I need for a planted aquarium?

To set up an aquarium, you will need several key pieces of equipment. This includes:

  • Aquarium tankA tank of appropriate size for the plants you want to keep and the space available in your home. It’s recommended to start with a larger tank if you’re a beginner.
  • Plants – Obviously!
  • Substrate – Essential for plant growth. Make sure to choose a suitable substrate for the types of plants you wish to use.
  • Lighting Plants need light to photosynthesise and grow. Choose lights that provide the appropriate amount for your plants.
  • Filter To keep your aquarium water clean and clear. Pick a filter that is suitable for your tank size.
  • Heater Many aquarium plants thrive in warmer water, so a heater may be necessary to maintain a stable temperature in your planted aquarium.
  • Substrate fertilisers – To provide your plants with the necessary nutrients they need.

Setting up a planted aquarium

It’s not as simple as just filling a tank with water and throwing in some plants. Setting up an aquarium requires careful planning to ensure the health of both plants and fish. Here are some steps to help you set up your planted tank:

1. Choose a tank

The first step is choosing an appropriate sized aquarium tank. The size of your tank will depend on the space you have available and the type of plants and fish you want to keep.

Larger tanks are generally easier to maintain than smaller ones, as they provide more stable water conditions. Also, think about the types of fish and plants you want to have in your tank and their needs.

Once you have chosen a tank size, decide on the location for your aquarium. Make sure it is placed in an area with sufficient natural light, but not in direct sunlight, as this can cause algae growth. Also consider the weight of the tank when filled, choosing a sturdy, level surface to place it on.

Learn more about choosing the right aquarium.

2. Choose the substrate

The substrate is the material that covers the bottom of the tank and provides a base for the plants to root in. There are different types of substrates available, such as gravel, sand, or soil. Coarse sand or fine gravel are ideal choices, as they provide a good anchor for roots while allowing water to flow through easily.

Avoid using pebbles or large, chunky gravel, as these can compact too tightly, making it difficult for roots to penetrate and absorb nutrients effectively. Instead, opt for substrates specifically designed for planted tanks, which are often infused with iron and other essential minerals that promote healthy plant growth.

Plant-specific substrates not only provide a nutrient-rich environment for your plants, but also have the added benefit of buffering pH levels and softening water, which can be beneficial for many species of aquatic plants. Mixing or layering different types of substrate can also be effective in creating a diverse environment for plants.

3. Choose your plants

When selecting plants for your planted fish tank, it is important to consider a few key factors such as the lighting and water conditions in your tank. Different plants have different requirements, so choose species that are compatible with your setup.

Some popular beginner-friendly aquatic plants include Java fern, Anubias, Amazon sword, and Vallisneria. These plants are relatively easy to care for and can thrive in a variety of conditions.

Before adding plants to your tank, it’s important to rinse them thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris that may be present. Trim any damaged or dead leaves before planting them in the substrate. Make sure to leave enough space between each plant to allow for growth.

Be sure to research each plant’s specific care requirements, such as lighting and nutrient needs, before adding them to your tank.

4. Install lighting and filtration

Plants require light for photosynthesis, so it is important to provide adequate lighting for your planted aquarium. Filtration too is essential for maintaining water quality and keeping your tank clean.

Choose a lighting system that provides the right spectrum and intensity for your plants’ needs. LED lights are a popular choice as they are energy efficient and provide the right spectrum of light for growth. Make sure to position the lights evenly across the tank to ensure all plants receive an adequate amount.

A good filter will remove debris, excess nutrients, and harmful substances from the water, helping to maintain a healthy environment for plants and fish. Choose a filter that is appropriate for the size of your tank, and consider adding a heater if necessary to maintain stable water temperatures.

5. Add water

Fill your tank with dechlorinated water at the appropriate temperature for your plants and fish. Use a water conditioner to remove any harmful chemicals from tap water before adding it to your tank.

You can choose to put the plants in first or after you’ve filled the tank with water. If you choose to add them first, make sure to carefully plant them in the substrate, ensuring their roots are well covered. If you choose to add them after, gently place them in the substrate and adjust as needed until they are securely in place.

Maintain your aquarium’s water quality by regularly testing and monitoring parameters such as pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels. Make adjustments as needed to ensure a healthy environment for your plants and fish.

6. Cycle your tank

Before adding any fish to your aquarium, it’s important to ensure everything is set up and running smoothly. Planted aquariums require the perfect balance of lighting, CO2, and nutrients in the water column to thrive. Understanding and managing these concepts is crucial for a successful planted aquarium.

Every new tank must go through a cycling process before adding any fish. This process establishes beneficial bacteria in the tank, which help convert toxins like ammonia into nitrates. This creates a safer and healthier environment for fish and plants to thrive in.

Learn more about cycling your tank.

Your fish

Some fish species are better suited to planted aquariums than others. See – which fish swim where for more information.

What fish are best for a planted aquarium?

When selecting fish for your planted aquarium, it’s important to choose species that are compatible with plants and won’t damage or uproot them.

Some popular fish species that are well-suited for planted aquariums include:

  • Neon Tetras/Cardinal Tetras
  • Platies
  • Angelfish
  • Guppies
  • Rasboras
  • Bettas
  • Cherry Barbs
  • Siamese Algae Eater
  • Corydoras

What fish should I avoid for a planted aquarium?

Not all fish are suited to planted tanks. Some are known to be aggressive or have a tendency to dig up plants or even eat them.

Avoid fish such as:

  • Cichlids
  • Goldfish
  • Scats
  • Plecos
  • Tinfoil barbs
  • Monos
  • Buenos Aires Tetras
  • Silver Dollar Fish

Feeding your plants

Just like fish, plants in a planted aquarium also need to be fed to thrive and grow. Plants derive nutrients from the water and substrate, but sometimes they may need an extra boost.

Our liquid plant food can provide essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients to your plants. These supplements can help promote healthy growth and vibrant colors in your plants.

Follow the instructions carefully to prevent over-fertilisation, which can harm your plants and affect water quality.

Basics for planted aquariums

As a beginner it’s crucial to understand the basic needs of your plants to ensure their success. Here are some of the key parameters to consider:

  • pH levels – You’ll want to use pH levels of around 6.5 and 7.8
  • Alkalinity – Aim for a KH (carbonate hardness) of 3-8 dKH (54 ppm – 140 ppm)
  • Ammonia – Ensure zero traces of ammonia in your tank, as high levels can be harmful to both plants and fish
  • Temperature – Most aquatic plants thrive in temperatures between 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Water Hardness – Aim for 50 ppm to 100 ppm
  • Lighting – Provide adequate lighting for your plants, typically around 8-10 hours a day
  • Nitrates – Keep nitrates levels below 10 ppm to prevent algae growth

We have a wide range of water treatments to keep your tank in optimal condition.

Cleaning a planted aquarium

Cleaning your aquarium is essential for maintaining a healthy environment for your fish and plants. Here are some steps to follow when cleaning a planted tank:

  • Regular water changes: Removes any accumulated waste, excess nutrients, and toxins from the water. Aim to change around 25% of the water every month. Learn how to do a water change.
  • Clean the substrate: Use a gravel cleaner to clean the substrate and remove any debris or waste that has settled at the bottom of the tank. This will help prevent the buildup of harmful substances in the water.
  • Trim and prune plants: Overgrown plants can block light and nutrients from reaching other plants in the aquarium. Regularly trim and prune your plants to promote healthy growth and prevent overcrowding.
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