Planted Tank Setup – The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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If you’ve ever been fascinated by the beauty and serenity of aquatic plants gracefully swaying with the flow of water in an aquarium, you’ve come to the right place! Diving into the world of planted tanks can be an incredibly rewarding experience for beginners seeking a new hobby or even seasoned aquarists looking to level up their aquarium game.

This article serves as your complete guide to setting up a thriving planted tank, with tips, tricks and personal experiences to help you along the way. Ready to embark on this aquatic adventure? Let’s dive in!

What is a Planted Tank?

A planted tank, often referred to as a “nature aquarium” or “aquatic garden,” is an aquarium designed to showcase and nurture living aquatic plants.

Unlike a typical fish-only aquarium, a planted tank places equal importance on the aesthetics and health of the plants, creating a balanced ecosystem for both aquatic flora and fauna to thrive.

Incorporating plants in your aquarium can provide numerous benefits including:

  • Improved water quality: Plants absorb harmful chemicals, such as ammonia and nitrates, from the water, acting as natural filters and contributing to a healthier environment for your fish.
  • Enhanced visual appeal: A carefully designed planted tank can resemble a mesmerizing underwater landscape, with diverse plants adding color, texture, and movement to the setup.
  • Enriched habitat: Plants create a more natural, stimulating environment for your fish, offering shelter, breeding spots, and even a source of food.

Now that we’ve established what a planted tank is and some of its advantages, let’s explore the essential components for setting up a thriving aquatic garden.

History of Planted Tanks

The concept of planted tanks dates back to the early 20th century with the invention of the “balanced aquarium” by English chemist and naturalist Philip Henry Gosse.

Gosse believed in maintaining harmony among plants, animals, and their environment to create a self-sustaining ecosystem. His ideas sparked interest among fishkeepers, leading many to incorporate living plants into their aquariums.

However, it was Japanese aquarist Takashi Amano who truly revolutionized the world of planted tanks. Amano introduced the “Nature Aquarium” concept in the 1980s, which combined artistic design principles, such as the use of minimalistic layouts and the golden ratio, with advanced techniques in aquatic plant care.

He also popularized the use of CO2 injection for aquatic plants, encouraging accelerated growth and promoting healthier habitats for fish.

Amano’s innovative approach to aquariums inspired aquarists around the world to elevate their aquariums into living works of art.

Today, planted tanks and aquascaping competitions continue to grow in popularity, with numerous hobbyists pushing the boundaries of aquatic plant design and cultivation.

Now that we’ve delved into the history of planted tanks let’s dive into the step-by-step process of setting up your very own underwater haven.

Setting up a Planted Tank: Step by Step

Setting up a planted tank can seem like a daunting task for beginners, but with the right knowledge, patience, and a dash of creativity, your dream underwater garden can become a reality. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

Step 1: Choose Your Tank Size

Select a tank size suitable for both your needs and the needs of the plants and fish you plan to keep.

As a rule of thumb, a larger tank provides greater stability and allows for more flexibility in plant and fish selection. Common beginner-friendly sizes range from 10 to 55 gallons.

Step 2: Select Your Substrate

Aquatic plants require a nutrient-rich substrate for optimal growth. Options include specialized plant substrates like ADA Aqua Soil or CaribSea Eco-Complete, or a combination of fine gravel and laterite. Ensure a depth of at least 2-3 inches for proper root development.

Step 3: Choose Your Lighting

Proper lighting is crucial for plant growth and overall health. Opt for full-spectrum LED lights or fluorescent T5 or T8 bulbs with a color temperature between 5000-7000K. Ensure 8-12 hours of daily illumination to maximize photosynthesis.

Step 4: Provide CO2 and Fertilization

Adding CO2 to your tank can significantly improve plant growth rates and health. Invest in a CO2 injection system or liquid carbon supplements like Seachem Flourish Excel. To provide essential nutrients, use a combination of root tabs and liquid fertilizers tailored to your plant species’ requirements.

Step 5: Select Your Plants

Choose a diverse mix of aquatic plants, considering factors like size, color, and growth rates. Typical beginner-friendly plants include Java Moss, Java Fern, Anubias, Cryptocoryne, and Amazon Swords.

Step 6: Design and Aquascape

Plan your aquascape before planting, considering factors like plant heights and the rule of thirds. Use hardscape materials like driftwood and rocks to add depth and movement to the design.

Step 7: Plant and Fill Your Tank

Plant your aquatic plants using aquascaping tweezers to ensure proper root placement. Gently fill your tank with dechlorinated water, taking care not to dislodge the substrate and plants.

Step 8: Install Filtration and Heating

Choose an appropriate filtration system (hang-on-back, canister, or sponge filters) and set your heater to maintain a consistent temperature suited to your fish and plant species (typically between 72-78°F).

Step 9: Cycle Your Tank

Allow your tank to cycle for 4-6 weeks to establish the nitrogen cycle, testing the water parameters regularly with test kits. Only once ammonia and nitrite levels have reached zero, you may begin introducing fish to your planted tank gradually.

Step 10: Monitor and Maintain

Regularly monitor your water parameters, trim overgrown plants, and perform weekly water changes (approximately 25%) to keep your aquatic ecosystem healthy.

With these steps in place, you’ll be on your way to creating a stunning, thriving planted tank that both you and your aquatic inhabitants will enjoy.

Remember that patience and perseverance are key components in this hobby, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you encounter difficulties along the way. 

Now, let’s see each step in detail.

best substrate for planted aquarium

Substrate Types

Choosing the right substrate is a critical decision when setting up your planted tank, as it provides vital nutrients for plant growth and plays a significant role in the overall aesthetics of your aquascape.

There are several types of substrates to consider, each with its unique properties and benefits. Let’s explore these options:

Inert Substrates

Inert substrates are non-nutrient-bearing substrates, meaning they do not provide any nutrients for plant growth. However, they can still be used in planted tanks if combined with root tabs or supplemented with liquid fertilizers.

  • Sand: Fine in texture, sand offers a distinct look and is ideal for plants with fine root systems. However, it can compact easily, potentially affecting your plants’ root development and water circulation. Opt for coarse sand to avoid these issues.
  • Gravel: Gravel substrates are available in various colors, shapes, sizes, and can create a natural aesthetic. Choose a fine gravel (about 1-3mm in diameter) to allow for easier planting and prevent potential root compaction.

Nutrient-Rich Substrates

Nutrient-rich substrates are specifically designed for planted tanks, with added minerals and organic compounds to promote healthy plant growth.

  • ADA Aqua Soil: One of the most popular planted tank substrates, ADA Aqua Soil, is a soil-like medium derived from volcanic ash. It buffers water pH to slightly acidic levels, making it suitable for many aquatic plants and fish species. Additionally, it contains essential nutrients for plant growth.
  • CaribSea Eco-Complete: Comprised of volcanic basalt mineral composition, this substrate comes with live beneficial bacteria to help kick-start the nitrogen cycle in your tank. Rich in iron and other essential nutrients, Eco-Complete provides an excellent foundation for plant growth.
  • Fluval Stratum: Derived from volcanic soil, Fluval Stratum boasts a porous texture and nutrient-rich composition. It lowers the water pH and softens the water, making it an ideal choice for fish and plants preferring slightly acidic and soft water conditions.

Combination Substrates

Combining different substrate types can provide an excellent balance of nutrients and aesthetics while maintaining beneficial water parameters for your fish and plants.

  • Laterite and Fine Gravel: Layering fine gravel over a thin layer of laterite (iron-rich clay) can create a nutrient-rich substrate, providing ample iron for your plants’ root systems without compromising the overall look.
  • Layered Substrates: Some aquarists opt for a multi-layered approach, incorporating nutrient-rich substrate at the bottom layer and covering with a more aesthetically appealing top layer (e.g., sand or gravel). This allows for optimal plant growth while still achieving the desired visual effect.

Ultimately, your choice of substrate will depend on your plant species, overall aquascape design, and personal preferences. Each option has its pros and cons, so careful consideration of your specific needs and goals will help ensure a thriving planted tank.

aquarium plants light

Lighting Requirements

Proper lighting plays a crucial role in the health and growth of your aquatic plants, as it is the primary driver of photosynthesis – the process by which plants convert light energy into the food and energy they need to thrive. Here’s what you need to know about lighting requirements for your planted tank:

Light Intensity

Aquatic plants can be classified into three broad categories based on their light requirements: low, medium, and high light. Choose plants that match the intensity of the light you’re able to provide in your planted tank.

  • Low-light plants (10-20 micromoles of photons per square meter per second): These plants require less light to grow and include species like Java Moss, Java Fern, and Anubias. Low-light tanks usually do not require CO2 supplementation and are less susceptible to algae outbreaks.
  • Medium-light plants (20-40 micromoles of photons per square meter per second): Plants such as Cryptocoryne, Amazon Swords, and certain stem plants thrive in medium light conditions. Supplementing with CO2 can enhance growth and overall plant health.
  • High-light plants (40-100+ micromoles of photons per square meter per second): High-light plants like Dwarf Baby Tears, Rotala, and certain carpeting plants demand intense lighting to grow properly. These tanks typically require CO2 supplementation and stringent nutrient management to prevent algae growth.

Spectrum and Color Temperature

For optimal plant growth, use full-spectrum lighting that mimics natural sunlight. Full-spectrum lights cover a broad range of wavelengths, providing the necessary light for photosynthesis. Opt for lights with a color temperature between 5,000K and 7,000K, which appears as a bright, crisp white light.

Types of Lighting

There are various types of lighting suitable for planted tanks, each with their own benefits and drawbacks:

  • Fluorescent Bulbs (T5, T8, T12): Classic options for planted tanks, these bulbs provide adequate spectrum and intensity for most plants. However, they may need frequent replacement as they degrade over time.
  • LED Lights: LED lights have become increasingly popular in the aquarium hobby due to their energy efficiency, customizable spectrum, and low heat production. They also last significantly longer than fluorescent bulbs, making them a cost-effective option in the long run. Just ensure the LED light you choose is designed for plant growth, as not all LEDs are suitable for photosynthesis.


The photoperiod, or the amount of time your lights are on each day, should generally be between 8-12 hours for most planted tanks.

Too much light can lead to excessive algae growth, so it’s essential to strike a balance between providing sufficient light for your plants and preventing algae. Using a simple timer to automate your lighting schedule and ensure consistency can be helpful in maintaining a healthy light balance in your tank.

By carefully considering the specific light requirements of your aquatic plants, selecting the appropriate type of lighting, and ensuring the right balance of light intensity, spectrum, and photoperiod, you can provide the optimal conditions for your planted tank to flourish.

Filtration and Circulation

Filtration and circulation are essential components of a healthy planted tank. A well-functioning filter removes harmful chemicals and particles from the water, while proper circulation ensures adequate oxygen availability and even distribution of nutrients to all parts of the tank. Let’s explore these crucial aspects of your aquatic ecosystem:

Types of Filtration

There are three fundamental types of filtration, each with specific functions.

  • Mechanical: This filtration type physically removes particulate matter, such as uneaten food, debris, and plant matter, from the water column. Filter sponges and foam pads are common examples of mechanical filtration materials.
  • Chemical: Chemical filtration involves using activated carbon, resins, or other filter media to bind and remove dissolved organic compounds, medications, and odors. While many planted tanks can benefit from chemical filtration, take caution when using activated carbon, as it may also remove essential nutrients for your plants.
  • Biological: Biological filtration is arguably the most critical aspect of filtration in a planted tank, as beneficial bacteria break down harmful ammonia and nitrite into less harmful nitrate during the nitrogen cycle. Filter materials such as ceramic rings, lava rocks, and bio-balls provide ample surface area for these beneficial bacteria to colonize.

Filter Options

Several filter options can be used in a planted tank, each offering unique pros and cons:

  • Hang-on-back (HOB) filters: These filters are easy to install, operate, and maintain, making them a popular choice for beginners. HOB filters can provide adequate filtration for small to medium-sized planted tanks.
  • Canister filters: Canister filters offer a high level of filtration efficiency and water circulation, making them a popular choice for larger or heavily planted tanks. They also allow for easy customization of filter media, providing a more tailored approach to water quality management.
  • Sponge filters: These filters primarily offer mechanical and biological filtration, using air bubblers to draw water through the foam or sponge material. Sponge filters are an excellent choice for smaller tanks or breeding setups, as they provide gentle circulation and will not suck up small fish or fry.


Proper water circulation in your planted tank promotes efficient gas exchange at the water surface, prevents dead spots, and ensures even distribution of nutrients and temperature throughout the tank. Inadequate circulation can lead to poor plant growth, decreased oxygen levels, and increased risk of algae growth.

While most filters provide some degree of circulation, it’s essential to ensure that water movement reaches all areas of your tank. To enhance circulation in your planted tank, consider adding a powerhead or circulation pump, positioning it strategically to generate desirable water flow patterns.

Maintaining effective filtration and circulation is vital to the overall health and success of your planted tank. Choose a filter that suits your tank size, bioload, and plant species, and ensure proper water movement throughout the tank to create a thriving environment for both your aquatic plants and fish.

aquarium plants for beginners

Choosing Plants for Your Tank

Selecting the right plants for your planted tank is both an exciting and challenging aspect of setting up your aquatic garden. With a vast array of plant species available, from floating plants to stunning carpets, it’s essential to choose plants that not only meet your aesthetic preferences but also thrive in your specific tank conditions.

Here are some factors to consider when selecting plants for your planted tank:

Light Requirements

As discussed earlier, plants can be classified into low, medium, and high light categories. Choose plants that match the intensity of the light you’re able to provide in your planted tank. Ensure your lighting setup meets the specific needs of your chosen plants to promote healthy growth and avoid potential issues with algae.

CO2 and Fertilization Needs

Some aquatic plants require CO2 supplementation to grow optimally, while others can thrive with ambient CO2 levels in the tank. Consider plants that align with your CO2 setup and be prepared to adjust your CO2 and fertilization strategy based on the species you select.

Growth Patterns

Consider how fast your selected plants grow and their growth patterns. Fast-growing plants can quickly fill in your tank and require frequent trimming, while slow-growing plants may take more time to establish themselves. Balanced plant growth contributes to a healthy, vibrant aquascape.


Ensure the plants you select are compatible with your tank’s other inhabitants, especially your fish. Some fish may nibble on certain plant species or uproot them, while other fish prefer to seek shelter and protection among dense plant growth.

Aesthetics and Aquascaping

Your chosen plants should complement your aquascape’s design while reflecting your personal preferences. Combine different plant types, such as foreground, midground, and background plants, to create depth, structure, and contrast. Incorporating plants of varying sizes, colors, and textures will result in a captivating underwater landscape.

With these factors in mind, here’s a list of popular aquarium plants suitable for various experience levels in the planted tank hobby:

  • Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri): Low-light, easy-to-grow moss that can be attached to driftwood or rocks.
  • Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus): A hardy, low-light plant with broad leaves, suitable for attaching to hardscape materials.
  • Anubias (Anubias spp.): A slow-growing, low-light plant with thick leaves, great for attaching to rocks, wood, or ornaments.
  • Cryptocoryne (Cryptocoryne spp.): A versatile genus of plants, with many species adaptable to various light conditions and water parameters.
  • Amazon Sword (Echinodorus spp.): Striking rosette plants with large, sword-like leaves. These plants enjoy moderate light and can be used as focal points in the mid-to-background of your tank.

By taking the time to carefully select the right plants for your tank conditions, you’ll create a visually appealing and thriving planted tank that you can enjoy for years to come. Remember that patience, research, and a dash of creativity go a long way in curating the underwater garden of your dreams.

Plant Care

Once you’ve set up your planted tank and chosen the ideal plants for your underwater oasis, maintaining their health and vitality becomes the top priority. Proper plant care includes various aspects, such as fertilization, CO2, trimming, and pest management.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to ensuring your plants remain healthy and flourishing:


Aquatic plants require essential nutrients to grow and thrive, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients like iron, manganese, and zinc. While some plants obtain these nutrients through their roots from substrate, others absorb nutrients directly from the water column.

Depending on your specific plant species and tank setup, consider using a combination of root tabs and liquid fertilizers to provide a well-rounded nutrient profile.

CO2 Supplementation

As previously mentioned, CO2 supplementation can significantly impact plant growth rates and overall health. If you discover that your plants are struggling to grow or losing their vibrancy, consider implementing CO2 injection or utilizing a liquid carbon supplement like Seachem Flourish Excel.

Pruning and Trimming

Regular pruning and trimming of your aquatic plants encourage healthier growth and prevent overgrowth, which can lead to shading or competition for resources among plants. Invest in quality aquascaping tools, like scissors and tweezers, to make the trimming process more precise and effortless.

During your regular tank maintenance routine, trim any dead, damaged, or overgrown plant leaves and stems to maintain a clean and visually appealing aquascape.

Pest Management

Some common pests, like snails and algae, can harm your aquatic plants or undermine the aesthetics of your aquascape. For pest management, consider these strategies:

  • Snails: Snails can overpopulate and damage your plants. You can use natural methods like adding snail-eating fish (e.g., loaches) or snail traps to remove these pests. As a last resort, use chemical snail removal products with caution, as they can also impact other invertebrates in your tank.
  • Algae: Algae can outcompete your plants for nutrients and light, leading to stunted growth or other issues. Maintaining a nutrient balance in your tank, proper water changes, and avoiding excessive light exposure will help control algae growth. You can also introduce algae-eating shrimp, snails, and fish to help keep algae under control.

Plant Compatibility and Placement

Ensuring that your plants are compatible with each other and appropriately placed within your tank can contribute to better overall growth and plant health. When planting new or rearranged plants, consider their specific needs and ensure they are placed in areas of the tank that cater to those requirements (e.g., shade-tolerant plants placed under larger, taller plants).

By following these plant care guidelines, you’ll help support healthy, vibrant growth in your aquatic plants and enjoy a thriving, lush planted tank that can bring nature’s beauty into your home. Be prepared to learn, adjust, and adapt your plant care routine as your tank evolves and your experience grows.

Water Quality and Temperature

Maintaining optimal water quality and temperature is essential for the health and well-being of both your plants and aquatic animals in your planted tank.

By keeping these parameters stable and within the ideal range, you’ll create a thriving environment for your entire underwater community.

Here’s what you should know about water quality and temperature in your planted tank:

Water Parameters

To achieve and maintain ideal water quality, you’ll want to monitor and manage multiple parameters, including the following:

  • pH: The pH level dictates how acidic or alkaline your water is. Most aquatic plants and fish thrive in a pH range of 6.0-7.5, although some species have specific preferences. Test your water regularly using pH test kits or electronic meters to keep the pH within the desired range. Adjustments can be made using products like pH buffers or natural additions such as driftwood or crushed coral.
  • Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate: These compounds are part of the nitrogen cycle, with ammonia and nitrite being harmful to both fish and plants, and nitrate being relatively less harmful but can contribute to algae growth if present in excess. Regular water testing and changes, along with an efficient biological filter, will help maintain optimal levels of these nutrients.
  • GH and KH: General Hardness (GH) and Carbonate Hardness (KH) represent the levels of dissolved minerals in your water, which can significantly impact plant growth and fish health. Perform regular water tests and adjust the hardness levels using products like Seachem Equilibrium or natural additives as needed.


Aquatic plants and fish can be sensitive to temperature fluctuations, so it’s crucial to maintain a consistent temperature suited to your specific tank inhabitants. For most planted tanks, a temperature range of 72-78°F (22-26°C) is suitable for both plants and fish. To achieve this range:

  • Heaters: Choose an appropriate heater for your tank size, usually rated between 2-5 watts per gallon. Submersible heaters with an adjustable thermostat allow for precise temperature control and are the most popular choice among aquarists.
  • Thermometers: Regularly monitor your tank’s temperature with an accurate thermometer. Digital thermometers or glass thermometers with a suction cup are excellent options to ensure you can quickly spot and address any temperature fluctuations.

Consistently maintaining optimal water quality and temperature is vital to the success of your planted tank. By diligently monitoring and adjusting these parameters, you’ll create an environment in which your aquatic plants and fish can thrive, resulting in a vibrant and healthy underwater ecosystem.


Aquascaping, the art of designing and arranging plants, rocks, driftwood, and other elements in your planted tank, can be a highly rewarding aspect of the aquarium hobby.

A thoughtfully designed aquascape can transform your tank into a mesmerizing underwater landscape that captivates the viewer and offers a serene, natural environment for your aquatic plants and animals.

Design Principles

When planning your aquascape, consider incorporating these fundamental design principles:

  • Rule of Thirds: This composition guideline suggests dividing your tank into nine equal parts (using two equally spaced horizontal and vertical lines), placing key elements, such as focal point plants or hardscape, along the intersection points of these lines. This approach can create a more balanced and harmonious visual impact.
  • Depth Perception: Use techniques like perspective, layering, and diagonal lines to create an illusion of depth in your tank. Position smaller elements and plants towards the back and larger ones near the front for a forced perspective effect.
  • Color, Texture, and Contrast: Incorporate a variety of plant species that offer different colors, textures, and leaf shapes to provide visual interest and contrast. Pairing plants with complementary colors or contrasting textures can create dynamic and eye-catching arrangements.

Hardscaping Materials

Hardscape materials, such as rocks and driftwood, play a significant role in creating structure, movement, and a natural feel in your aquascape. Here are some popular hardscaping options:

  • Rocks: Choose rocks that are aquarium-safe and offer interesting shapes, textures, or colors. Popular rock types include Seiryu stone, Dragon stone, and Lava rock.
  • Driftwood: Driftwood can create stunning, organic shapes and provide natural attachment points for plants like Java Fern, Anubias, and mosses. Diverse driftwood options include Spiderwood, Malaysian driftwood, and Mopani wood. Make sure to thoroughly soak or boil driftwood before placing it in your tank to remove any possible contaminants and prevent excessive leaching of tannins.

Plant Placement

When arranging your plants, consider their growth patterns, size, and light requirements. Group plants with similar needs together and place them appropriately in the foreground, midground, or background:

  • Foreground plants: Opt for shorter, carpeting plants that can thrive under the lighting and create a sense of depth. Examples include Dwarf Baby Tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides), Monte Carlo (Micranthemum tweediei), and Marsilea species.
  • Midground plants: Select plants of medium height with appealing foliage or colors, which can provide structure and contrast in your aquascape. Cryptocoryne and Echinodorus species are excellent midground options.
  • Background plants: Choose taller, fast-growing plants to form the backdrop of your aquascape and cover equipment or tank walls. Species like Vallisneria, Rotala, and Hygrophila are ideal background plants.

Maintenance and Adjustments

Once your aquascape is complete, ongoing maintenance and adjustments are essential to keep it looking healthy and visually appealing. Regular trimming and pruning, along with careful monitoring of water quality, plant health, and growth, will ensure your aquascape remains a thriving and captivating underwater haven.

Remember that patience, effort, and creativity are the keys to creating a beautiful and functional aquascape. As your skills and experience evolve, your planted tank will transform into a living work of art, a testament to your passion for the aquatic world.

Choosing Fish and Invertebrates

In addition to a thriving plant life, an important aspect of a planted tank is the selection of fish and invertebrates that will coexist harmoniously with your aquatic plants.

When choosing these tank inhabitants, it’s crucial to consider their compatibility with your plants and tank environment, ensuring a well-balanced and lively underwater ecosystem.

Here are some factors to consider and popular options for your planted tank:


When selecting fish and invertebrates, consider the following aspects to ensure compatibility with your planted tank ecosystem:

  • Size: Choose fish and invertebrates that are appropriately sized for your tank, taking into consideration their adult size and swimming space requirements.
  • Behavior: Opt for species that are peaceful and plant-friendly, as some fish may nip at plant leaves or uproot plants, causing damage and upending your aquascape.
  • Diet: Select fish and invertebrates that have a primarily omnivorous or herbivorous diet. Some species may consume any algae present in your tank, providing added benefits to your aquarium’s health.
  • Water Parameters: Ensure that your chosen species can thrive within the water parameters of your specific tank, including temperature, pH, and hardness levels.

Fish Options

Here are some popular, plant-friendly fish options to consider for your planted tank:

  • Tetras: Small, schooling fish like Neon or Cardinal tetras add a vibrant touch of color and movement to your tank without causing harm to your plants.
  • Rasboras: Another schooling species, the Harlequin rasboras are peaceful fish that can coexist harmoniously in a planted tank environment.
  • Corydoras: Bottom-dwelling catfish, such as the Panda or Sterbai Corydoras, provide unique movement and are gentle tank mates for plants and other fish.
  • Guppies: These small, colorful livebearers are easy to care for, making them a popular choice for planted tanks. Just be aware of their propensity to reproduce quickly.
  • Dwarf Cichlids: Species like the German Blue Ram or African Butterfly Cichlid can add character and color to your tank without harming your plants.

Invertebrate Options

Invertebrates can provide beneficial algae-eating services and add unique charm to your planted tank. Some excellent options include:

  • Shrimp: Cherry or Amano shrimp are charismatic additions that actively graze on algae and detritus, making them valuable cleanup crew members.
  • Snails: Nerite or Malaysian Trumpet snails are fantastic algae-eaters and scavengers. Just be aware that some snail species can reproduce rapidly, so keep a close eye on their population levels.

By carefully selecting fish and invertebrates that are compatible with your planted tank environment, you’ll foster a thriving aquatic community that enhances the visual appeal and vitality of your underwater garden.

As you gain experience and knowledge in the hobby, you’ll develop a keen eye for the perfect aquatic companions to suit your unique aquascaping vision.

Feeding and Care for Fish

While your thriving planted tank provides a more natural and stimulating environment for your fish, proper feeding and care remains paramount to ensuring their health and well-being.

Feeding Guidelines

  • Quality Food: Provide a balanced and varied diet using high-quality foods. Opt for reputable brands of flakes, pellets, or granules as your fish’s staple diet, ensuring they meet the specific dietary requirements of your fish species (herbivore, omnivore, or carnivore). Supplement with freeze-dried or frozen foods such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, or daphnia for added nutrition and variety.
  • Appropriate Portions: Avoid overfeeding, as uneaten food can contribute to poor water quality and encourage algae growth. Feed your fish in small portions, enough to be consumed within a few minutes. Observe your fish while they eat and adjust the portion size as needed.
  • Feeding Frequency: Feed your fish once or twice a day at regular intervals. Consistent feeding routines can help reduce stress and ensure your fish receives the necessary nutrition.

Care Guidelines

Apart from maintaining a consistent feeding routine, caring for the fish in your planted tank involves several essential considerations:

  • Water Quality: Regularly testing and monitoring water parameters, such as pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, is crucial to minimize stress and ensure fish health. Perform weekly water changes of approximately 25% to maintain optimal water conditions for your fish and plants.
  • Regular Observations: Observe your fish daily, both during feeding and at other times, to detect any signs of illness or stress. Monitor changes in behavior, swimming patterns, or appearance, as these can indicate potential issues that may require intervention.
  • Quarantine: When introducing new fish to your planted tank, quarantine them in a separate tank for a couple of weeks to observe their health and prevent the introduction of diseases or parasites into your main tank. This precaution can save you from potential harm to your existing fish population.
  • Stress Reduction: Maintaining a consistent temperature, providing hiding spots and shelter through plants and hardscape, and avoiding sudden environmental changes can help reduce stress levels in your fish. Insufficient cover, overcrowding, or large fluctuations in water temperature and quality can lead to stress-related diseases and decreased fish lifespan.

By providing proper nutrition, ensuring high water quality, and diligently observing fish behavior and health, you’ll create a vibrant and thriving environment that takes your planted tank from an underwater garden to an enchanting ecosystem.

Fulfilling these fundamental care practices and remaining attentive to your fish’s specific needs will ensure their well-being and contribute to a captivating and harmonious aquatic space. Enjoy the joys of fishkeeping!


While setting up and maintaining a planted tank can be a rewarding experience, it’s not uncommon to encounter challenges along the way.

In this section, we’ll cover common issues, from plant health problems to algae growth, and provide guidance on how to troubleshoot and resolve these concerns for a thriving planted tank.

Plant Health Issues

If you notice your plants exhibiting signs of poor health, such as yellowing leaves, stunted growth, or melting, consider the following troubleshooting solutions:

  • Lighting: Ensure your lighting system provides adequate intensity, spectrum, and photoperiod for your specific plant species. Adjust these factors as needed to promote healthy plant growth.
  • Nutrients: Evaluate your nutrient supplementation to ensure your plants receive the essential macro- and micronutrients required for growth. Use a combination of root tabs and liquid fertilizers to provide an optimal nutrient balance.
  • CO2: Assess your CO2 levels, and consider adjusting your CO2 supplementation or liquid carbon dosing to meet your plant species’ needs.

Algae Growth

Excessive algae growth can be both unsightly and detrimental to your aquarium’s health. To address and prevent algae issues, consider these troubleshooting tips:

  • Lighting: Evaluate your lighting system and photoperiod to ensure they are within the recommended range for your specific plants. Overexposure to light can contribute to algae growth.
  • Nutrient Balance: Test your water parameters and, if necessary, perform additional water changes to reduce excess nutrients that can fuel algae growth.
  • Bio-load: Overstocking or overfeeding your fish can lead to increased nutrient levels in your tank, promoting unwanted algae growth. Maintain a proper balance of fish and observe appropriate feeding practices.

Pest Infestations

If your planted tank is affected by pests like snails or aquatic insects, consider the following interventions:

  • Manual Removal: Hand-pick visible pests from your aquarium during maintenance. With snails, use a lettuce leaf or cucumber slice to attract them, then remove the pests before discarding the bait.
  • Biological Control: Introduce predators that feed on specific pests into your tank. Be sure to select species that are compatible with your current tank inhabitants.
  • Chemical Treatment: As a last resort, consider using chemical treatments to control pest infestations. Be cautious, as these can also affect beneficial organisms in your tank.

By implementing these troubleshooting strategies, you’ll be better equipped to handle potential challenges and maintain a thriving and healthy planted tank.


Embarking on the journey of setting up and maintaining a planted tank can be a truly rewarding and fulfilling hobby. With this complete guide for beginners, we’ve covered everything from understanding the history and components of a planted tank to selecting the right plants, fish, and invertebrates, as well as ensuring their continued health and well-being.

Remember that patience, learning from experience, and a passion for the aquatic world are essential for cultivating a thriving, mesmerizing underwater garden. May your newly-found knowledge fuel your enthusiasm and success as you dive into the enchanting realm of planted tanks. Happy aquascaping!

Author Image Fabian
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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