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You Need To Know About Planted Aquariums: 8 Useful Tips

Updated: Feb 1, 2023

Plantation Aquarium: How I get into It?

My neighbor had two tanks at home and both were planted tanks. I remember going to his place and admiring his tanks and his enthusiasm for the hobby. He would never give out his secret of maintaining his tanks. He always made it look easy but would never divulge details. So I decided to have a planted tank too. I was already well versed with my African cichlid tank for the last 5 years. But, planted tank and its requirement were very challenging, but at the same time very exciting. For me, it was a new experience to upkeep my tank. Experimented and made lots of blunders till my tank was stabilized. Some finer points need to be taken care of while setting up a planted tank.

I would recommend for a beginner to the hobby that a planted tank as a first tank is not recommended. Get an experience of a non-planted small tank; settle down by understanding its maintenance, fish feeding, filtration, siphoning, etc. Get used to the routine of maintaining a small tank and believe me when you are into the groove of things will be much better to face at least the basic challenges of a planted tank.

Big Take-Away: Plants in an Aquarium aid in Nitrogen Cycle.

Nitrogen cycle in a planted Aquarium
Nitrogen cycle in a planted Aquarium

For effective setup of any tank introduce good bacteria into the tank which can speed up the Nitrogen Cycle. Products from Seachem (Stability) and Easy start from Easy life can quickly set up your Aquarium. Now, since we have decided to go for a planted tank, let's do a checklist of things we need for a basic plantation tank.

Nano Tank with Green Plants
Nano Tank

Planted Aquarium Size and its Placement

I always believe that any fish tank should be a joy to be owned, a stress reliever, and not a burden and an add-on to stress. The purpose to have a tank as a stressbuster will be defeated if you spend too much time doing maintenance every time. You should be enjoying your creation.

I always get this question as to what should be an ideal size of a first planted tank. I always say a cube of 1.5ft x 1,5ft x 1.5ft in height for a beginner, Why? Because a smaller tank is much easier to maintain and learn. This is an ideal size to get used to a planted tank. Preferably don't get a ready-made tank with inbuilt filtration and lights. This is the wrong tank to have for a planted tank as the light source may not be effective for plant growth. Assemble your tank with filtration with the right light meant for the growth of plants. A tank is just the first thing to consider for any setup and the placement of the tank should never be placed at a window where the sunlight is directly falling into the tank, it will lead to Algae growth and the tank will look ugly if not maintained well. We will also look at other factors too leading to algae growth a little later in this article.

Planted Substrate

Tropica Soil
Tropica Soil

The most important aspect of a planted aquarium is the substrate. There is much soil in the market from ADA, Fluval, Tropica, JBL, etc I have used tropica as my first substrate and had a good experience with it. My only regret using this soil was my initial experience as I was not told by the seller that it comes with nutrients and not to be dosed with fertilizers at the initial 40 days. I had an algae problem because I was dosing with fertilizers immediately the very next day which was a serious mistake from my side of understanding the soil and the lights were switched on for 8 hours which was another problem. Once the mistake was rectified it was good soil to have your plants growing. The soil which looks like perfect granules does not break up like other soil on the market. This is necessary. Tropica Soil I used for good 3 years without it breaking into powder. The next I used was Fluval stratum substrate in a 12-inch bowl. The crypts were doing fine out there. So far so good with Fluval stratum. Fluval Stratum substrate granules break easily, The granule size is also bigger than tropica. The substrate tends to break when heavy hardscapes are kept on it. Crypts grew well with Fluval stratum even under low lights. The company says it's shrimp friendly too. There are other variants of Fluval stratum coming soon into the Indian Market. For a Beginner, it all comes down to the price point of the soil. Next comes the ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Ver.2 9L can be considered but its cost factor needs to be factored in for a setup. But for a beginner on a restricted budget can opt for Tropica. The soil in India comes from its source in Japan and its shrimp friendly too. Many of them add a substrate layer at the bottom of the tank before adding the soil for root development. I don't feel it's necessary if you are using tropica soil as it comes with nutrients. My plants grew well without using the extra bottom substrate layer. You need to have at least 2 inches of thickness for the plants to grow firmly into the substrate.

Always grow the plants in an aquarium using a properly planted aquarium substrate. Buy good quality soil like Tropica which can last longer. Tropica soil is plug-and-play soil. You need not worry about the growth of plants. As Tropica soil is infused with Nutrients, it is advisable to dose Fertilizers after 40 days. Let your plants get adjusted to the soil.

Lights in a planted tank

Use proper spectrum lights for a planted tank. Different plants require different types of lights. Some plants grow very well in a high-light environment. Some do well in a low-light environment. Since this Article is meant for a beginner to a planted aquarium, I have decided to write about a low budget light that is sufficient for the growth of the plants. I have experimented with Sunsun ADS 700c. Plants grew well using this light in a 3ft tank having a height of 18 inches. I have mentioned the height out here because the penetration of the light is very important if you are growing a carpet. For proper growth of carpeting plants like the Monte Carlo adequate high light needs to be considered. The light should penetrate to reach the bottom of the tank. Some plants like Ludwiga or rotala need low to medium light for their growth. Anubias which grow when attached to rocks need not get high light. It is perfectly grown even in low light. There is some interesting website to know what the plant's needs are like Tropica. Colour Temperature is considered in degree Kelvin (K). recommended light sources with a color temperature in the area of 5500 to 6500degree K should be considered. Most of the manufacturers state the color temperature. Buy specific lights meant for a Planted tank. Research on Plants that you will consider based on the lights. If you have reds or any colorful plants then you will require medium to high light for the intensity to be shown in plants. For a beginner to a planted aquarium, go with the greens only and enjoy your planted tank. Gradually, introduce colors in your aquarium. Based on our experience the lights should be switched on for 6 hours initially and then increased to 8 hours gradually after a month. Let the new plants adjust to the new environment of your tank. After 15 days increase it to 7 hours and then 8 hours.Initally some plants will melt down. But don't worry as this is a natural process. Sometimes, the seller will send to you the plants grown emmersed not submerged. The plants that are grown emmersed and now grown submerged will have a melt down process as its adjusting to the new environment.

SunSun 700c
SunSun 700c Light for a planted Tank

Beginners Plants to be considered in an Aquarium

Ludwiga repens
Ludwiga repens - My favourite

Types of Plants are very well explained as Easy, Medium, and Difficult (Meaning High light to get the natural colors). Easy and medium plants can be considered for a beginner.

Select plants that require the same amount of light (Low or medium). Research on plants and then buy the right plant. There is no point in buying plants that require different types of light settings in the beginning. Low light plants can melt under high light and high light plants will not thrive in an aquarium with low light.

Select plants that require the same amount of light (Low or medium). Research on plants before buying. There is no point in buying plants that require different types of light settings in the beginning. Low light plants can melt under high light and high light plants will not thrive in an aquarium with low light. To help you to decide on plants, I have attested a link from Tropica at the end of the article. Also dosing of macro and micro nutrients should be as per the dosage instructions on the bottle. Excess dosing of fertilizers will result in Algae like BBA and other types of algae. The thumb rule is to have heavy planted tank. The layout of the planted tank should be taken into consideration. There are many types of plants like vallisneria which are considered as background plants, The sections in a tank can be divided as foreground, mid-level and background plants. There are plants like anubias, bucephlandra which needs to be grown only on driftwood or plants. If the rhizome is buried into the soil the plants will die. Research your plants well.

Filtration in an Planted Aquarium Plant

Fluval C2
Fluval c2 hang on back power filter

Filtration is the next step and the heart of any successful aquarium. The filtration needs to be spot-on in an aquarium. Filtration should reach every corner of the aquarium. The plants will grow well as well as the inhabitants in an aquarium. The turnover of the filter should be at least 3 times the volume of the tank. For example, if your tank volume is 100L the capacity of the filter turnover should be at least 400L/per hour. I had used Eheim Classic 350 external filter 2215 on a tank having 3ft in length x 18-inch depth x 18-inch height. We do not recommend using the internal filter in a planted tank because the force of the output of water will be too strong and aesthetically it will not look good. For a smaller tank for a beginner, you can go for a hang-on filter. If your budget permits you can think of Tidal35 from Seachem. or you can go for brands from SunSun or Sobo which are budget-friendly but may not have the features of Seachem Tidal 35. I have personally used Tidal75 in a planted tank because of its additional features such as a surface skimmer all built-in in one filter. I use to notice that after using co2 there use to be a slight not so-pleasant thin layer of film on the surface, after using the protein skimmer it went away.

Important TIP to be considered in a Planted Aquarium: GAS Toxicity

Lack of proper filtration can lead to Gas Toxicity. The increase in CO2 levels in your aquarium can prove toxic to your livestock which in turn can lead to the fish being lethargic, having a poor appetite, and gasping at the surface. It is highly recommended to agitate the water with the help of an airstone and also do a water change. With the surface agitation, the buildup of the Co2 can be released into the air. If you are changing the water. Make sure the water is dechlorinated. Co2 changes the pH level of an aquarium and turns more acidic.

Turn on the Co2 one hour before the lights and should shut it off 1 hour before the lights go off. Co2 helps in photosynthesis. Plants do grow well and are healthy. I use to provide co2 to my 3ft tank for at least 5 hours. The best thing is to have a digital timer set for an on and off automation system. The digital timer can be used for both the light as well as the Co2 system. It should be done at a particular time of the day. A digital timer is an interesting accessory to have, it can help in regu lating the light and Co2 in the tank at a decided time. Even if you are traveling you will be less stressed with your tank.

Planted tank in-habitants

The inhabitants in a tank should be selected carefully. Please avoid African cichlids in a planted aquarium. They will destroy everything that you have done. Avoid Goldfish in a planted setup. They will consider it their diet. I have kept the tetra variety in the tank and they did well. Some plants were destroyed by my angels. Java ferns do well with the Angels. Plants provide good hiding space for the inhabitants too. The more the plants the better it is to fight even the Algae. The plants will absorb the extra nutrients in the water thereby living fewer nutrients for the algae to feed on. Discus I have noticed do not disturb the plants. Avoid aggressive fish into a planted tank. Having said that Angelfish are a pretty nuisance if it forms a pair into a tank. They will even chase other fish thus destroying the plants that come in their way. I have seen this happening in my 3feet tank. Be careful when you are selecting fish into the tank. Select Ottocinclus as your clean-up crew rather than Siamese algae eater (This fish can grow above 1 inch). Siamese Algae eaters are good eaters of Algae espically BBA when they are small but once they become big they tend to eat more of the fish food than algae. Preferably, go with Ottocinclus. Even Mollies thrive in a planted aquarium and eat algae.

Co2 or Non-Co2 for a planted tank

C02 or non-co2 is always a question that we get quite often. At an initial stage, for a beginner, we recommend easy plants and a smaller tank with a non-co2 setup. And if you want to consider co2 then opt for Seachem Flourish Excel. Once you are graduated and ready to take on the planted tank to the next level introduce the C02 system in your tank. Co2 helps in better photosynthesis and high-demanding plants grow healthier and better. It also helps in the control of Algae. Some plants like ludwiga can grow in low light too but will grow intense with high light and Co2. For a low-budget hobbyist, we highly recommend Seachem Flourish Excel which is a Bioavailable aorganic carbon source. Use this product if your tank is smaller in size. According to some forums using flourish excel also helps in Algae control. Seachem does not state that flourish excel helps in Algae control. I use to use it with my co2 kit every alternate day.

Maintenance of a planted tank

Planted tanks require a disciplined maintenance schedule. Removal of dead leaves and dead fish, uneaten food should be removed from the tank. If the tank is not properly maintained there will be algae growth growing everywhere in your tank on your glass, on the décor, and on the plants too. If the tank is not maintained well there can be an increase in Ammonia, and nitrite issues which result in the death of the inhabitants. Try and maintain a schedule and do a 30% water change every week. This can help to get rid of Ammonia and other toxicity in your tank. I use to add the macronutrients once a week after the water change. The next day of the water change I use to add the micronutrients (Seachem Flourish). A word of caution if you want to use Tropica fertilizer, please be careful with overdosing. This might lead to Algae growth. If dosed properly as per the instructions. Tropica ferts do well in an Aquarium. Therefore the right approach will be to dose less at the beginning during a setup and slowly increase the proportion as per the instructions.

Plants do require fertilizer. Dose your plants with Macro Nutrients ( NPK - Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, etc)) and Micro Nutrients (Zinc, iron , magnesium, etc). Always dose as per the instructions. Quite often increase in dosage leads to Algae growth. These nutrients are necessary for plant growth. An imbalance in any of these will lead to abnormal growth and unhealthy plants.


This article was mainly used for the beginner to a planted tank. Hope you have enjoyed our experience setting up a planted tank.

Setting up a planted tank is an exciting hobby and involves science. The hobbyist will learn the process of a perfect ecosystem by experimenting with plants, lights, and CO2. There will be failures along the way. But, do not give up. We all learned through failures. This Articlearticle was written based on our experiences of both failures, steps taken to rectify, and our motivation to help hobbyists easily set up a planted tank.

Inspirational Video from Green Aqua International

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Author: Sunil Dcosta proprietor for


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