How To Setup A Planted Tank

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There are plenty of comprehensive articles online that provide step-by-step guides on starting a planted tank. But, for anyone new to the hobby, the first impression can be pretty overwhelming. To be honest, I’ve recently picked the hobby back up after an 11-year hiatus (that’s a story for another day). One day Nicole and I were going through old possessions while cleaning the house out and we chanced upon several Aqua Design Amano (ADA) Aqua Journals along with photos of my old International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest photos.

Pictured above is my old 40 gallon planted tank. With her encouragement, we took a trip to our local fish store and bought a complete 48 gallon setup. In a few short months, I found our house flooded with tanks – literally. Every room in our house had at least one planted tank – bathroom excluded. It’s crazy to even fathom the amount of time we put into each and every one of them. You can say we got back into the hobby full swing. To my surprise, a lot had changed in the years I had been gone. This required me to relearn almost everything. After a quick 6 months and a handful of successful tanks, I’m confident in sharing with our planted tank start up guide. We’ll be using our latest high tech nano planted tank for this guide.

The first layer of substrate and substrate additives are usually ignored and optional depending on your plant choice and substrate system you use. Companies like Tropica, Fluval, Seachem and Marfied offer substrates that are all-inclusive and packed with essential nutrients. However, we’ve had the most success in our tanks with the ADA system so we’ve stuck to it. It’s a higher price to pay, but our plants love it. In this example, we added about a 1/4 bag of ADA Power Sand Special Small, ADA Bacter 100, ADA Tourmaline BC and ADA Clear Super. The Power Sand will allow the stem plants that we chose for this tank to thrive and grow quickly by allowing their roots to spread. While the additives will provide long term water column balance which is important for aquatic plants and livestock.

Next, two layers of ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light were used to top off the Power Sand and additives. The Normal type is poured in first and the fine type, second. All ADA Aqua Soil come in both types. This is optional and one can simply use one type, but the finer grain type provides a much more pleasing look. Both types are essentially the same ADA Aqua Soil – just depends on your aesthetic preference. In our case, we chose to include the Fine type for visual purposes – especially so in planted nano tanks where the tank is viewed microscopically and every detail will magnify the overall size of the tank. The idea behind most planted nano tanks is making the aquascape look larger than the tank it’s actually in. Whether it’s creating depth through choice of plants, hardscape or even the substrate itself.

The ADA substrate was then moistened for easier planting. By wetting the Aqua Soil with a fine mister, the substrate layer is not disturbed and provides enough water for ease of planting. We always avoid flooding the tank during this step because scaping and planting in a flooded tank is extremely difficult since plants like to float.

After the substrate is moderately wet and ready for planting, we place our choice of hardscape, (in this case, Manzanita Wood) into its proper location. The wood twigs were pre-boiled and soaked. By doing so, the wood will not float, tannins leeching into the water column is minimized and attaching aquatic plants such as Taiwan Moss and Anubias Nana Pangolino is easier. From our experience, all types of drift woods for aquariums will float because they are dried prior to sale. Boiling and soaking prevent that from happening. Another benefit includes getting rid of the yellowish tint that leaks into your tank water (unless you like the tea water look).

The real fun begins when you plant your first plant into the substrate. Planting from background to foreground will allow you to visualize where each plant will go. Our general rule is to cater the hardscape to plants of choice. In this example, we really wanted to feature a main red stem plant and compliment the Manzanita Wood along its base. Different species of stem plants in various greens, pinks and red were planted first.

Soon the background was filled and we were ready to move onto the mid ground. Usually the mid ground is the hardest depending on the plant(s) of choice since they come in various sizes. Our best advice is choose plants according to the size of your tank. You never want to have a single plant that will take over a tank on its own.

Now you’re one step closer to filling the tank. All that’s left is the foreground. We ended up planting hair grass for a softer feathery look. The great thing about this plant is that it is a low and relatively fast grower. It should spread and cover the whole area in about two weeks time.

Finally, we carefully siphoned RODI water along with established tank water into the tank. By adding water from an already established tank, you don’t have to worry about cycling the tank and can add livestock right away. It’s natural for a newly filled tank to be slightly cloudy due to sediments from the substrate. It should go away quickly with proper filtration and/or water changes.

In about two days, you’ll start to see the plants perk up if adequate lighting and CO2 is provided. We normally do not add fertilizer to our planted tanks during its initial week since that’s when the nutrients from the substrate will be most potent. During the next few weeks we’ll slowly introduce fertilizers at half the recommended dosages and adjust from there.

PLANT LIST: Ludwigia Repens ‘super red’, Rotala Sp ‘pink’, Myriophyllum Sp Mini Guyana, Hydrocotyle Tripartita, Alternanthera Reineckii ‘mini’, Eleocharis Belem, Micranthemum Umbrosum, Taiwan Moss ‘mini’, Anubias Nana Pangolino

Tanks specifications and more information can be found here.

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with the companies mentioned nor was I compensated for providing any information in this post. The views, opinions, and positions expressed in this article are solely my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Glass Aqua or any employee, affiliate, subsidiary or division thereof. Glass Aqua makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, timeliness, suitability or validity of any information presented by individual authors and/or commenters on and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or any losses, injuries or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

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