1-Gallon Planted Tank – No Filter. No Heater. No Ferts

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Setting up a self-sustainable, thriving aquatic environment is always a challenge. You need to set up the correct layout, choose compatible fish species, plant the habitat properly, etc. It’s very much an art in and of itself.

The situation becomes even more interesting when discussing nano tanks since these come with unique challenges along the way.

To make the situation even more outlandish, we will discuss the smallest type of aquarium you can get – a 1-gallon one.

This is a cost-effective option for people who cannot afford larger tanks. Or who simply like the appeal of a micro-world crammed in a small aquatic setup. So, can you do it and how?

How to Set Up a 1-Gallon Aquascape?

When it comes to setting up the aquascape itself, your goal is to instill an illusion. The 1-gallon setup is already small enough as it is. Your goal is to make it appear larger and with more depth which you can achieve via carefully-planned tinkering with the decorations and plants.

In classical, normal-sized, and large aquariums, all of the larger plants and decorations generally fall on the background. The shorter and smaller plants and other aquatic components come in the front.

This allows unrestricted vision of the fish and creates a sense of open space guarded by a natural wall of plants.

Unfortunately, you can’t do that in nano tanks because that technique will create the opposite effect in your 1-gallon tank. The space will feel crowded and suffocating.

So, you should approach the situation from the opposite perspective. The larger plants should be at the front and the smaller ones at the back.

This will create the impression of depth as if the plants get smaller as they get farther. It’s an optical illusion that will have a meaningful impact on the viewer’s perception.

Tank decorations like rocks can also be used similarly. Just make sure you don’t use overly-sized pieces that will eat up all the available space.

After all, you also need room for plants, substrate, and fish or other aquatic animals.

Best Plants for 1-Gallon Tank

There are quite a few aquatic plants that seem cut for small and nano environments. To mention a few, we have Rotala wallichii and Rotala nanjenshan.

Myriophyllum mezianum and Micranthemum umbrosum are additional great choices that thrive in micro-setups. These plants have long and delicate stems and will complement the setup without crowding the environment.

I also suggest carpeting plants like Hemianthus callitrichoides or mini java moss that will imbue the habitat with a more natural and vivid look.

These plants are generally easy to maintain, requiring moderate lighting conditions, clean waters, and some occasional CO2 injections for good measure. We’ll come back to the CO2 part later on.

Can You Keep Fish in a 1-Gallon Planted Tank?

Yes, you can keep fish in a 1-gallon tank, but you need to be ready for some rather unique challenges along the way.

These include:

  • The fish’s size – Obviously, you can’t place an Oscar in a 1-gallon setup. You need small and lively fish that don’t mind the smaller environment. The ideal fish species for 1-gallon nano tanks will grow up to 1.5 inches, maybe 2 at most. You could have them a bit larger, but I don’t recommend it. That’s because you will most likely need to keep several of them, and you don’t want to overcrowd them. There’s no point in undergoing the trouble of setting up a nano tank just to place one fish in.
  • The number of fish – Overcrowding is a real danger in all tanks, but especially 1-gallon ones. You need to make sure that your ‘nano’ fish are fine living in a more crowded space, and you should always control the fish’s number. The tank can get overpopulated fast if the fish begin to breed. We all know that overpopulated aquariums have problems with ammonia levels, poor oxygenation, and excess nitrates. All these problems will grow tenfold in a 1-gallon tank precisely because there’s no room for the chemicals to spread.
  • The fish’s personality and temperament – You want to stay away from fin nippers and bullies that could attack or harass their tankmates. This isn’t much of a problem in a normal-sized aquarium because fish have a lot of swimming space and hiding areas at their disposal. So, they can evade their pursuers and give them space to cool off the situation. But we’re talking about a 1-gallon setup here; they have nowhere to run. So, always go for peaceful and friendly fish species that won’t cause problems in a social setting.
  • Maintenance-related problems – If you don’t know by now, the smaller the tank is, the more maintenance and cleaning it will require. That’s because we’re talking about a small, crowded setup where dirt and waste accumulate quickly. Be ready to provide your fish with adequate cleaning to keep their habitat healthy and fresh. Remove fish waste and food residues daily or every other day, however, fits your situation the best.

Regarding the fish species themselves, some good options include:

  • Dwarf pufferfish
  • White cloud mountain minnows
  • Tetra types (cardinal, neon, ember, flame)
  • Guppies
  • Betta (just one per 1-gallon tank)
  • Pygmy Corydoras
  • Zebra danios
  • Dwarf platyfish, etc.

For another useful tip – exert strict control over the number of male fish. All male fish will display aggression and territorial behavior when crammed in a small space with other males. The fish’s species doesn’t matter; it’s hardwired into their gene pool.

So, only have 1 male per tank, along with several females for good measure.

Do You Need Lighting for 1-Gallon Planted Tank?

Yes, you do need lighting for your 1-gallon planted tank. It doesn’t matter how large or petite the tank is, really. If there are live plants inside, you require a light source to allow plants to perform proper photosynthesis.

The real problem is that excessive lighting can lead to algae bloom, and the danger is tenfold when it comes to nano tanks. Algae can take over the environment fast, cover the plants, and restrict their access to light.

To prevent that, manage light intensity, light duration, and, most importantly, the height of the light source.

The latter, in particular, is often ignored, yet it packs a powerful impact in the grand scheme of things. The closer the light is to the water’s surface, the higher the light intensity.

Simply increasing the light source’s height by 3 inches decreases the light intensity by nearly 50%. A 20w halogen bulb is sufficient for a 1-gallon setup.

Your plants require approximately 8 to 10 hours of light per day, followed by up to 14 hours of darkness. The same goes for the fish since they, too, require a stable day/night cycle, albeit for different reasons.

After all, fish don’t function based on photosynthesis. Not that I know of, anyway.

How to Maintain a 1-Gallon Planted Tank

This is where the situation gets a tad more complicated. In theory, whether the tank is small or large, the same type of maintenance is necessary, right? Right, but it’s the frequency that differs.

So, here are some good tips to use for your nano tank, which will work for any aquatic setup for that matter:

  • Don’t overcrowd your fish – The more fish you have, the more waste they will produce, filling up the environment with ammonia quickly. And it’s deceptively easy to overcrowd your fish in a 1-gallon tank. The optimal way to go about this is to monitor your fish’s interactions. If they feel content with each other’s presence, they’re fine.
  • Don’t overfeed your fish – This is a major problem in tanks of all sizes, but especially nano setups. Overfeeding your fish will fill the environment with food residues that will decay and produce more ammonia than the system can handle. Fish should only get sufficient food to consume within 1-2 minutes.
  • Don’t overcrowd plants – Live plants are necessary for a nano habitat, but having too many crowded in a 1-gallon space will backfire fast. That’s because plants, just like fish, compete over the same resources, including space, water, CO2, and nutrients. If they’re overcrowded, the weaker and more sensitive ones will inevitably die. Finding a balance in this sense isn’t easy, which is why I advise moderation. Understand your goal-layout and choose the plants’ type and number accordingly.
  • Perform regular aquarium maintenance – Regular water changes and tank cleaning are necessary to preserve the system’s stability. The cleaning aspect refers to removing dead plant matter, cleaning fish waste, and cleaning food residues as often as possible. Preferably without disturbing the fish or the environment too much in the process.
  • Consider a reliable filtration system – Figuring out the ideal filtration system is a bit tricky. Any large filter will produce powerful currents that could destroy the environment and disturb or even hurt your fish. A hang-on-back (HOB) filtration unit is the most appropriate pick in this sense. On one hand, the filter goes outside the tank, so it wouldn’t take up precious space. On the other, it’s best for smaller environments, as some models can easily accommodate as low as 1-gallon aquariums.
  • Trim plants regularly – This is necessary to keep the plants in check and prevent them from overgrowing. Regular trimming will prevent some plant species from overtaking smaller ones and will preserve your layout’s intended look.
  • Prevent algae formation – Algae will develop and spread wherever they can find the ideal conditions. Tweak light intensity, use plant fertilizers in a calculated manner, keep the tank clean, and maybe consider adding some plant grazers in your tank. These measures will inhibit algae growth, keeping the environment cleaner and safer for longer.
  • Manage CO2 injections carefully – Nano tanks require CO2 injections because there simply isn’t enough CO2 being naturally produced for your plants. The environment is too small, and there aren’t sufficient CO2 sources to satisfy your plants’ needs. So, CO2 injections are necessary to give your live plants the building blocks of photosynthesis. The added CO2 will also inhibit algae growth along the way. The problem is that CO2 is toxic to fish in high-enough concentrations. So, be mindful of that and don’t overdo it. Pouring too much CO2 into the environment will also considerably boost your plants’ development, causing them to grow faster and larger, requiring even more trimming.

All these measures are standard for any aquarist, and I’m sure there are many others I may have missed.

Conclusion

Overall, crafting a sustainable and stable 1-gallon tank isn’t that much different than setting up a normally-sized environment.

It’s just that the nano tank requires more attention and care because the environment itself isn’t as stable in the long run.

So, don’t rush things and inform yourself thoroughly before deciding on your tank’s final look and setup.

avatar I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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