Okay, I admit it. I’m an aquarium addict. Our home now has three, fully planted fish tanks and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my oldest sons’ new tank for his Bearded Dragon. Why? Because I want to turn his old tank into what my husband has made me promise to be my last fish tank. While he enjoys my tanks as much as I do, he is perplexed as to why I feel the need to keep setting up more. I just think he’s still salty over my replacing the bedroom television with a 10 Gallon Red Cherry Shrimp tank.
Many people keep aquariums and use fake, plastic plants and different fake ornaments, thinking that keeping live plants will be to hard or time consuming. Or, maybe they’ve bought plants from the pet store and stuck them down into their gravel, only to watch them wither and die. The truth is, if you set your tank up properly for plants, they will not only basically take care of themselves, they will also help in the upkeep of your aquarium.
Before diving into your fish tank, look around online or in books at fish tanks to see what appeals to you. There are so many ways to aquascape a tank, which is why I keep acquiring more! You should also keep in mind the lighting that you have on your tank. If have the standard hood and lights that came with the tank when you bought it then you will be limited to sticking to low light plants such as Java Moss, Java Fern, and Cryptocoryne.
For other plants, you will need to get a retrofit kit and aim for at least 2-2.5 watts per gallon. Also keep in mind what types of fish you are wanting to keep and research their diet. Nothing is more upsetting than taking the time to set up this beautiful, planted tank, adding fish, and then waking up in the morning to discover your fish have ate your plants down to the nubs.
There are other items you will need such as a filter and heater. Which type you use is of personal preference and how much you want to spend. I encourage you to do your research, as you should do before acquiring any pet. You will want to know how much water turbulence the fish you are planning to keep like, the temperature they are happiest in and the temperature your plants will thrive best in.
Research and planning can save you a lot of hassle and heartache later. Also keep in mind that if you opt to go for the higher lighting that you will need to add CO2, either by a high tech pressurized system or do-it-yourself system (which I will write another article about) to ward off algae growth that can occur in high lighting situations when there is an imbalance.
Okay, now for your substrate. Head for your local Lowe’s, Menard’s, etc for the best prices. On your shopping list will be Mason Sand, Manure Compost, Bone Meal, and Water Lilly Fertilizer Tablets. The tablets look like large disks and usually come 2 to a pack. You are only going to use half of one disk so, don’t buy more than you need. As for your Mason Sand, you want enough to give you about an inch of coverage. Usually one bag is plenty, unless you have, say, a 150 gallon tank.
When you’re ready to set up your tank, purchase your plants and head home for your adventure. Be sure your tank is where you want it before you start and take care as to not place it in front of a window or in a place where it will receive direct sunlight. You may think the natural sunlight will help your plants to grow but, it will cause fluctuations in your water temperature and the dreaded algae overgrowth.
Now that you have all of you goodies, roll up your sleeves and get ready to dig in. I suggest placing towels on the floor around your tank to catch any spills. Open your Manure Compost (don’t worry, it’s been filtered and cleaned and doesn’t smell like manure) and put about a 1.5 inch layer evenly on the bottom of your tank. You may notice that there are clumps in the compost and you should break them up with your hands. Then, sprinkle your Bone Meal across the top of your compost. It doesn’t take a lot, just a generous dusting. Take a Lilly Tablet and break it in half. Crush up half of your tablet and sprinkle it in.
Now for your sand. Be sure you rinse the sand first, many, many times. It’s best to use a clean bucket that that has never been used with chemicals or for house cleaning. Take it outside and fill it about ¾ full of sand. Using your hose, fill the bucket with water, swishing your sand around, let it settle and then pour off the dirty water. I often stick the hose down into the sand and mix it up as the water fills the bucket.
This seems to help speed the process along. Try to get your water to run as clear as you can. Your filter will help pick up any leftovers but to much will leave you with a cloudy tank for weeks.
After your sand is good and clean, spread it evenly over your mixture in the tank. Aim for about an inch or so of coverage. Keep in mind that settling will occur and after awhile your substrate will stand about half as tall as it does now.
When your substrate is all in place, you’re ready to add your plants. While you can add plants after the tank is full, it’s easier to do so (and not as wet and messy) beforehand. Follow the directions of planting according to your plant. Some plants have root that you can gently push down into your substrate, other need to be weighted with plant weights and allowed to root themselves. Others need to be tied to things such as rocks or driftwood.
After you have your tank aquascaped to your satisfaction, you’re ready to fill up your tank. If you have chlorinated water then you will need to add water conditioner to it before adding it to your tank. If you have well water, just grab a hose! Place a small saucer on top of your substrate. This is where you will aim your water so as not to disturb your substrate and mess up all of your hard work.
When your tank is full, you can add you heater and filter, replace your hood, and stand back and admire your work. Your tank will be a bit cloudy at first but if you’ve rinsed your sand properly, I’ve always found my tanks to be clear by morning. At most, it should be clear within 2 days if you’ve rinsed your sand properly.
The nice thing about having a planted tank it that since the plants consume ammonia and nitrate as a nitrogen source, there is no need to build up nitrifying bacteria as long as there are enough plants. This means your tank will “cycle” faster. It will, what some people call, “silent cycle.” Of course, if you have dirty filter media from another established fish tank, using it in your filter or even swishing it around in the tank and squeezing the goodies out into your new tank will help it cycle even faster.
Since I have several tanks, I will even do water changes to my other tanks as I’m setting up my new tank and add the water from my old tanks into my new tank. I then have added fish as soon as 48 hours later with no problems. Although, I do also have well water that has near perfect water parameters. If you do not have access to dirty filter media or established tank water, you will want to wait about 2 weeks before adding fish. When you go to the pet store, take along a sample of your water for them to test for reassurance.
This of course is a basic article on how to SET UP a planted tank for optimum growth. You will want to research and read up on maintaining your tank. But this will give you a great foundation to build on. Welcome to your newest addiction and happy fish keeping!