If you’re looking to level up in your aquarium keeping skills, consider adding live aquatic plants. Not only do they add a natural beauty to your tank, but they also help consume toxic waste chemicals and purify the water for your fish. Follow along as we step you through the process of setting up your first low tech planted aquarium.
Before You Start: Gather the Planted Tank Supplies
Let’s first form a shopping list of necessary materials. If you are new to planted aquariums or are working on a limited budget, there’s no need to get a rimless, low-iron glass aquarium that costs a fortune. A regular glass tank from your local pet store works just fine, and the rim actually serves a purpose to help buffer against any unevenness between the aquarium and the stand.
The fish tank should be placed on a hard and level surface, such as an aquarium stand, kitchen counter, or solid piece of furniture. Make sure that the surface (and the floor beneath it) can support the weight of the entire aquarium setup, which may weigh nearly 10 pounds per gallon once you add the water, substrate, equipment, and decorations.
While an aquarium lid may seem like an unnecessary expense, we highly recommend getting one because it minimizes heat loss and the amount of electricity the heater uses. A lid also decreases evaporation, which can cool the tank and cause swinging water parameters that stress your fish. Plus, a fish tank cover is a simple way to prevent fish, shrimp, and snails from accidentally jumping or climbing out of the aquarium.
An aquarium lid stops fish from jumping out and other household pets from getting in.
An aquarium background is optional but nice to have since it hides the power cables and airline tubing from view. You can buy a background from the local pet store, spray the back panel of the tank with Plasti Dip rubber coating, or even tape posterboard to the aquarium. We personally like black backgrounds since the color seems to make plants stand out more and hides algae better.
A heater and thermometer are usually necessary if you plan to keep tropical fish. Read our full article on how to choose an appropriately sized heater for your setup.
For lighting, there are many, many options to choose from, so in general, we recommend that beginners go with a planted LED light because they are designed to provide the optimal spectrums and PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) levels for growing aquarium plants. The Easy Plant LEDis our personal favorite because of its solid performance and great value for low to high light plants, but for more information, read our article on how to pick the best planted aquarium light for your specific needs. A light timer is also extremely helpful for making sure your plants get a consistent amount of light every day and preventing algae growth.
Substrate is another hotly contested topic in the planted aquarium world. Dirt and enriched soils are often touted as the best options because of their high amounts of nutrients, but these excess nutrients can leak into the water and cause water quality issues or algae blooms for inexperienced hobbyists. Therefore, we recommend that beginners start with inert substrates that contain no nutrients, such as aquarium gravel or coarse sand. For more information, find out how to pick the best substrate for your planted tank.
Tweezers are useful for planting aquarium plants or adding root tabs into the substrate.
You can design your aquarium using only live plants, but many people like to add hardscape, such as aquascaping rocks and driftwood that are safe for fish tanks. You can look online for inspiration or pick whatever looks good to you. Other useful planted tank supplies include:
- Dechlorinator to remove chlorine and other toxins from the water
- Easy Green all-in-one fertilizer to feed your plants
- Water test kit to measure how much fertilizer you need to add
- Algae scrubber to clean the aquarium walls
- Planting tweezers to insert new plants or root tabs into the substrate
- Pruning scissors to remove dead leaves or propagate plants
- Aquarium siphon to change water and vacuum the substrate if needed
Finally, let’s talk about buying the live aquarium plants. The reason why we saved them for the very end of the checklist is because you should wait until you have almost everything set up before shopping for them. For example, it would be unfortunate if you got your new plants and then realized that you don’t have enough substrate to cover 2-3 inches of the tank bottom. Here are some helpful tips when makingyour plant selection:
- Go with beginner plants if you’re new to planted tanks. They tend to be hardier and more forgiving when we make mistakes.
- Buy a wide variety of plants to try out because some species may thrive in your water conditions and others may not.
- Save up and buy lots of plants upfront if possible. Having a large density of plant mass helps to use up the available nutrients in the tank and decrease algae growth.
How to Set Up a Fish Tank with Live Plants
Now that you have all the supplies ready, here is a step-by-step guide to assembling your aquarium:
- Pick a suitable location. Ideally, the fish tank should be near an electrical outlet, as well as a source of water for easy water changes. To minimize algae growth and temperature swings, don’t place the tank in direct sunlight or near an air conditioning vent. Also, avoid high traffic areas where the tank may get bumped into by adults or explored by curious pets and young kids.
Choose a location for your aquarium in a low traffic area out of direct sunlight that has nearby access to an electrical outlet and running water.
- Prepare the aquarium stand or counter space by installing the stand and cleaning the surface.
- Rinse the aquarium and accessories. First, wash the tank, substrate, and hardscape with water (no soap) to reduce cloudy water. Next, install the aquarium background if desired. Some people choose to quarantine their live plants at this point to remove duckweed, pest snails, and other hitchhikers.
- Place the tank on the stand and add the substrate. Planted tanks usually require at least 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of substrate. Also, insert root tab fertilizers into the ground if you are using inert substrate and have cryptocoryne plants, sword plants, or other species that feed heavily from their roots. (Read this article on how to use root tabs and which plants require them.)
- Place the equipment and hardscape in the aquarium. The heater and filter are not turned on at this step but are merely positioned in the tank so that you can use the plants and decorations to hide them. The rocks and driftwood form the “skeleton” or framework of your planted tank design, so take your time and rearrange the pieces as much as needed in this step.
Before you add any water, spend time moving around the hardscape and plotting out where the plants will go.
- Fill the tank partially with dechlorinated water. By adding approximately 6 inches (15 cm) of water, the lowered water level helps to support the plant leaves while you are planting them so that they do not bend too much and break. When filling the aquarium, pour the water through a colander or onto a plastic bag or bowl to avoid disturbing your aquascape design.
- Plant the plants. We have a whole blog article that breaks down the different techniques used for each type of plant. Place the taller plants in the background so they won’t hide the shorter plants in the front. Also, consider where the aquarium lighting will be so that you put the low light plants in the shadows or the edges of the tank and the higher light plants right underneath the light. Finally, don’t move the plants once you have planted them because each time you relocate them, the plant requires an adjustment period before it can get well-rooted and start growing quickly again.
- Fill the rest of the tank, and add the lid and light. Turn on the equipment and make sure everything is working properly. If you are using a heater, you may need to wait 30 minutes for it to acclimate to the water temperature before turning it on.
- Start with low amounts of fertilizer and lighting at first to avoid algae growth. In the beginning, the plants are still getting used to their new surroundings and won’t be growing as much. Therefore, program the timer for only 5-6 hours per day at first. Slowly increase the amount of lighting and Easy Green fertilizer each week as you start to see plant growth.
Don’t feel like you have to copy the professional aquascapes you see online. Use your creativity and design your planted aquarium in a way that is most pleasing to you.
If some of your plants' leaves start melting, do not throw away the plants. Most likely they are growing new, smaller leaves that will be more accustomed to living underwater in your local tap water, as described in this article. However, if your plants are still not doing well three to four weeks after planting them, read our article on plant nutrient deficiencies to make sure they’re getting all the essential building blocks they need.
How many hours of light do you need for a low tech planted tank? Low-tech planted tanks require 8-10 hours of light per day on medium intensity. A longer photoperiod will likely cause algae blooms to occur. A 6-hour photoperiod is often beneficial in the first couple weeks as your plants begin to establish.Does a low-tech planted tank need fertilizer? ›
Low-tech planted tanks require a relatively simple fertilization routine. Once a tank has been established after a few weeks, the routine involves dosing all-in-one liquid fertilizer once or twice per week, and root tabs once per month. Both the root tabs and liquid fertilizers are sold by a variety of companies.What is low-tech planted tank method? ›
What is a low-tech planted tank? A low-tech planted tank is an aquarium that requires little to no maintenance. You don't have to change the water very often or worry about equipment and the combination of plants, lights, and substrate make the tank simpler, but also easier to maintain.Does low-tech plants need CO2? ›
All aquatic plants require CO2 to photosynthesize and produce glucose. However, pressurized CO2 systems are not required to provide adequate CO2 to an aquarium.How do you set up a planted tank for beginners? ›
- Step 1: Set-up and Start with Quality Plant Substrates.
- Step 2: Test and Regulate pH Levels and Hardness (KH)
- Step 3: Add Light Fixtures.
- Step 4: Add Aquatic Plants.
- Step 5: Add Fish.
- Step 6: Add Supplementary Plant Nutrients as Needed.
Most planted aquariums do not need more than 8 hours of light. Setting your lighting period for longer than 6 hours in NEW planted aquarium set-ups. During the first month your lighting period should be shorter to keep away algae while your plants grow in.Are LED lights good for planted aquariums? ›
You can use almost any type or brand of light to grow plants as long as you have enough light intensity, but we highly recommend getting an LED light – rather than fluorescent, compact fluorescent (CF), or other light technology.How long do planted tanks need light? ›
To provide animals and plants the lighting they need, 10 to 12 hours a day is sufficient. Installing a timer or purchasing a unit with integrated timing can make lighting easier––just set it and forget it. Keep in mind algae loves light as well. So if you notice algae growth starting, cut back on the duration.Can you have a planted tank with just gravel? ›
While gravel is not the best substrate for a fully planted tank because it does not provide minerals to help plant growth, it can help anchor the plants down and is not too dense for roots to spread throughout the bottom of the aquarium.Do I need to cycle tank before adding plants? ›
If you are using relative easy/hardy plants and non-ammonia rich substrates, then planting without pre-cycling is fine. For tanks that use higher levels of light, its easy for plants in a new tank to be quickly smothered with algae if ammonia levels are elevated.
Air pumps in planted aquariums
Plants take in CO2 during the day and release oxygen. At night, this process reverses, so they are diminishing the oxygen levels in the water and increasing the CO2 levels. In this situation, an air pump may be needed to accommodate fish in the aquarium.
If you are getting zero levels for both even after you added fish food a week ago and continuous rising of Nitrate levels, your tank cycling is complete. Perform a 50 % water change if your Nitrate levels reach + 40 ppm.How deep should substrate be for a planted tank? ›
The general recommendation is at least 3 inches. Not only will this amount be pleasing to look at, but it is also deep enough to allow plants to root without floating away. While there is no upper limit to how much substrate you should use, there are some things to keep in.How much circulation should a planted tank have? ›
Some websites say that water should circulate around a tank at least four times an hour, so if you have a 100-gallon tank, then you need a filter and/or powerhead that can move 400 gallons per hour (GPH).Do airstones increase CO2? ›
Air stone can indirectly help aquarium plants grow by replenishing CO2 that the plants use for photosynthesis. They also circulate a small volume of water throughout the tank, which is crucial for distributing fertilizer and other nutrients.How can I add CO2 to my tank cheaply? ›
Aerosol CO2 sets are perhaps the cheapest and quickest way to add CO2 to a planted aquarium. They consist of a pressurised CO2 can, a hose, and a diffuser. Press the button on the can and the diffuser fills with Carbon dioxide gas.Can a planted aquarium survive without CO2? ›
Plants definitely grow better with the addition of CO2, but some plants don't need additional CO2 at all. A thriving, healthy planted aquarium can be created without CO2, as long as you choose the right plants, and light it accordingly.How long should you wait before putting plants in a new tank? ›
4-6 weeks is the average amount of time it takes for your plants roots to establish themselves in the substrate.How do you introduce plants to an aquarium? ›
Simply place them on the water surface, provide lots of light and liquid fertilizers, slow down the current, and don't let their leaves get too wet. Some people like to use fishing line or airline tubing to contain the floating plants and prevent them from getting pushed underwater by the filter output.Do fish like heavily planted tanks? ›
Some species of fish prefer to have plenty of open tank space for swimming and may not do well if the tank is completely filled with plants. Some species, on the other hand, will benefit from the shelter provided by large groups of live plants in the tank.
Colors of Light for Healthy Growth of Aquatic Plants
Red and blue lights are used in photosynthesis of plants. Red light is attenuated rapidly in water while blue light has better penetration in water.
Conduct a water change of a minimum 30% each week. This prevents the build up of organic waste which algae thrive on. During the first 2-4 weeks you should be changing the water more often until your tank matures.What color light is best for fish? ›
Tropical, or Colour-Lite bulbs, are designed for fish viewing. These accent red and blue hues, and are ideal for making your fish stand out better. They will give a much brighter visual, and mean that you see your fish more clearly and get the best out of them.How much watt LED is needed for planted tank? ›
A good basic rule to follow is to provide 1 to 2 watts of lighting per gallon for fish-only aquariums, 2 to 5 watts per gallon for freshwater planted aquariums, and 4 to 8 watts per gallon for reef aquariums.What spectrum is best for planted aquarium? ›
Most white lights (bulbs/LEDs) lack red/blue by default. This causes tanks to look washed out. Colour plants pop a lot more when there is stronger red/blue lighting. However, there must be enough green/orange/yellow spectrum present as well to give a balanced visual output.How do you keep a planted tank alive? ›
Similar to the plants in your garden, aquarium plants need at least 10-12 hours of light to flourish. Full-spectrum, fluorescent lighting is a must have when caring for aquarium plants. Without the light, the plants cannot go through photosynthesis to generate energy for growth and produce oxygen for your tank.Can a tank be too planted? ›
Generally, an aquarium can not have too many plants. As long as your fish have space to swim, you can't really overdo plants. Even thick plant cover simulates the natural habitat of many fish, especially small community species like livebearers that are typically prey in nature.What are the best light settings for a planted tank? ›
Lumen: Plants that require low light do fine on just 15 to 25 lumen. 25 to 50 lumen is for plants that need moderate light and above 50 works well for plants that require extra brightness. You can measure lumen, or light strength, using a light meter.What is the best substrate for low tech? ›
You should go for any substrate that's rich in nutrients and has granules that can for sure let your plants thrive. Great options are ADA soil or Eco-Complete. *Caution when choosing topsoil. You might see some people using topsoil capped with a layer of gravel for their low-tech planted aquarium.What size tank is best for planted aquarium? ›
In general, you can't go wrong with a 10-gallon tank, or preferably a 20 gallon+ tank. With all of that said, don't be afraid to let creativity be your guide. Above all, creating a healthy environment for the livestock is the goal; if you can create an aesthetically pleasing set up along the way, even better!
- ADA Aquasoil Amazonia. ADA Aquasoil is an excellent option if you want to keep many different plants. ...
- Seachem Flourite. ...
- CaribSea Eco-Complete. ...
- Mr Aqua Aquarium Soil Substrate. ...
- Hermit Habitat Terrarium Substrate.
A common misconception to most novice fish keepers is that plants cannot be added to an uncycled aquarium. The first notion is that the plants will die off causing further problems but this couldn't be further from the truth.What is new tank syndrome? ›
New Tank Syndrome is a term used to describe problems that occur due to the build-up of invisible, toxic compounds in an aquarium. It gets its name as the issue is most likely to occur when your filter is maturing when starting a new aquarium.Can you over oxygenate a fish tank? ›
Too much oxygen in water can lead to the potentially lethal gas bubble disease, in which gas comes out of solution inside the fish, creating bubbles in its skin and around its eyes. (Excess nitrogen, however, is a far more common cause of this disease.)Are air bubbles good for fish tank? ›
Aerate the water
Just like you and me, fish need to breathe. To do this, fish draw dissolved oxygen out of the water – without it, most breeds of fish will suffocate. Bubblers add oxygen to your aquarium.
During the day, aquatic plants absorb CO2, producing O2, and during the night they absorb O2 and produce CO2.How much light should a planted tank get? ›
Most planted aquariums do not need more than 8 hours of light. Setting your lighting period for longer than 6 hours in NEW planted aquarium set-ups. During the first month your lighting period should be shorter to keep away algae while your plants grow in.How many watts of light do I need for a planted tank? ›
A good basic rule to follow is to provide 1 to 2 watts of lighting per gallon for fish-only aquariums, 2 to 5 watts per gallon for freshwater planted aquariums, and 4 to 8 watts per gallon for reef aquariums.How much LED light do aquarium plants need? ›
That all depends upon which plants you have chosen for your aquarium. If you have chosen nothing but "Easy" plants, 10-20 lumen (0.25 to 0.5 watts) per litre is adequate. For "Medium" plants, we recommend 20-40 lumen (0.5 to 1 watts) per litre, while "Advanced" plants require more than 40 lumens (1 watt) per litre.How much light do low light plants need? ›
Plants referred to as low light intensity plants generally should receive between 50 and 250 foot-candles. Under artificial light, a few plants in this group can be maintained at as little as 10 foot-candles. Low-light plants should receive between 10 and 15 watts of fluorescent light per square foot of growing space.
Conduct a water change of a minimum 30% each week. This prevents the build up of organic waste which algae thrive on. During the first 2-4 weeks you should be changing the water more often until your tank matures.How long should I leave the light on in my planted aquarium? ›
How long should I keep my aquarium lights on? To provide animals and plants the lighting they need, 10 to 12 hours a day is sufficient. Installing a timer or purchasing a unit with integrated timing can make lighting easier––just set it and forget it. Keep in mind algae loves light as well.What color LED light is best for aquarium plants? ›
Colors of Light for Healthy Growth of Aquatic Plants
Red and blue lights are used in photosynthesis of plants. Red light is attenuated rapidly in water while blue light has better penetration in water.
For many tanks a filter is used to provide water movement & flow. Water circulation in a planted tank distributes oxygen/carbon dioxide evenly throughout the tank and brings waste to filter elements. Giving the importance of flow in a planted tank, it's important to have a pump for water movement if no filter is used.How many watts does 4 plants need? ›
With a 32-watt LED grow light, you can provide enough lighting for four plants. For a Sea of Green, the same 32-watt grow light can provide lighting for one plant.Can normal LED lights grow aquatic plants? ›
Yes, aquarium plants will definitely grow under LED as long as the light emits in the right spectrum. Regular white LEDs are great and will allow your plants to thrive. Just make sure you know what brightness your plants desire.What happens if low light plants get too much light? ›
Symptoms of excess sunlight on indoor plants
When shade-loving plants are exposed to full sun, leaf scorch or sunburn can occur. Strong sun and heat cause the breakdown of chlorophyll in the leaf. Damage appears as pale, bleached or faded areas. These areas eventually become brown and brittle.
For a cultivation area or a grow tent of 80 x 80, you will need LED systems from 100W to 200W depending on the manufacturer. Any LED system between these watts will be enough to fully grow up to 4 plants.How many hours a day should a plant light be on? ›
Illuminate interior plants for 12-14 hours a day. If you keep the lights on for 16-18 hours a day, flowering plants will likely bloom sooner. Seedlings grow best when supplied with light around the clock.