Setting up an aquarium that will be beautiful and easy to maintain can take a bit of forethought! Here are some tips on setting up a planted aquarium!
Choosing the right tank for your aquarium is an important first step. Most aquarium shapes can be adapted to keep plants and fish happy and healthy, but here are a few things to keep in mind.
Larger tanks are much easier to keep than smaller tanks, but take up more space and can be a bit more expensive on initial setup. For your first tank, Seachem recommends at least 20 gallons. This helps to keep your tank chemistry stable, gives you lots of room for fish and plants, and is still very affordable! If you’re particularly interested in keeping one kind of fish, find out what size of tank you’ll need to house them comfortably.
Tall tanks can be stylistically interesting and great for keeping fish with long trailing fins, but can also require more powerful lighting to illuminate properly. Light is key for keeping plants, so keep that in mind as you are choosing a tank.
Many fascinating shapes of tanks are available, but odd-shaped tanks are often difficult to clean or maintain. Your tank glass will need to be wiped down once a week, and filter maintenance needs to be done very regularly. Consider whether the shape of the tank will make this difficult.
Acrylic tanks are strong, affordable, and widely available, but tend to scratch or discolor easily. Glass tanks are much more durable and will resist scratches and discoloration, but tend to become expensive as the aquarium gets larger.
Proper lighting is absolutely essential for maintenance of plants in the aquarium. However, choosing the right light for your aquarium may take a bit of research! Plants require light in both a proper spectrum and a proper intensity, so not every light is strong enough or has the proper spectrum to support plant growth. Here is a quick guide to the types of aquarium lighting you may encounter on the market.
Incandescent bulbs are, unfortunately, universally unsuitable for growing plants. These kinds of bulbs are neither intense enough, nor capable of producing the proper spectrum of light to grow plants. They are perfectly fine for fish-only tanks though!
T8 Fluorescent Bulbs
Unfortunately, like incandescent bulbs, standard T8 Fluorescent bulbs are almost universally unsuited to growing plants.
T5 Fluorescent Bulbs
If you have a light fixture that uses T5 fluorescent bulbs, you may be able to use the fixture to grow plants! There are a variety of T5 fluorescent bulbs available which are capable of supporting plant growth. Be aware, though, that even specialty plant bulbs will need to be changed regularly as they begin to dim (often once per year or more, even if they have not gone out).
Metal Halide Fixtures
Metal Halide fixtures reliably provide powerful, full-spectrum light, and have long been the preferred light for high-end reef and plant keepers for this reason. The downside to this type of fixture is the high energy usage, high heat output, and frequently high price tag.
LED lights are the superior form of lighting for planted tanks, and numerous LED lights are available for planted aquaria! Depending on your light, it may come pre-programed for plants, or you may need to alter the spectrum of the light yourself. If you are altering the spectrum yourself, consult a spectrum chart to ensure you are providing the plants with the spectrum they need.
Setting your tank up with proper filtration is key to long-term success. A tank with a poor quality filter will tend to have unhealthy fish and plants, poor circulation, and will ultimately cost more in the long run. Here are some features to look for in a filter.
Your filter needs to be powerful enough to circulate all the water through the filter at least four times every hour. This keeps oxygen levels in the tank high and circulates nutrients through the plants. Keep in mind that if you are using a non-Seachem® filter, the filter may be advertised for a tank much larger than it can adequately circulate – always check the flow rate of your filter to be sure it is powerful enough for your tank.
You will be filling your filter with filter media (covered in the next section) to house beneficial bacteria, adjust water chemistry, remove detritus, and lots of other benefits. Every aquarium is different, so Seachem® recommends filters that can be easily adjusted to hold whatever filter media is best suited to the needs of your system. Many filters come with pre-made “cartridge” style filtration, which limits the ability of the fishkeeper to adjust to the needs of the individual tank.
The primary role of your filter is to hold filter media. A filter with no space for media is primarily circulating your water and will do very little to help keep waste levels low or clarify your water. Make sure your filter has enough space to hold all the media you need!
Any time a filter needs to be replaced, the upheaval in the aquarium can be harmful to the fish and the plants. Choose a filter that is durable and easy to maintain to keep your aquarium healthy in the long term!
Filter Media is what goes into your filter, and covers everything from sponges to carbon. Here are some medias Seachem recommends for planted aquaria:
“Sponge” or “pad” style media is designed to pull solid waste particles out of the water. This is important because it keeps the rest of the media in the filter from getting gummed up with solid waste particles. Seachem recommends the Tidal Foam™ filter sponge media for Tidal filters.
Some medias are designed to target specific kinds of chemicals for removal from the tank. You can pick and choose between chemical filter medias depending on what is troubling your tank.
- Purfiltrum™ or Purigen®: Remove dissolved organic waste. Great for tanks that are cloudy or discolored
- MatrixCarbon™: Removes a wide variety of tank contaminants including organics. Great for tanks with notable waste buildup or “mysterious” contaminants.
- Zeolite™: Removes ammonia. Great for emergency ammonia removal.
At the heart of every healthy tank are large, healthy beneficial bacteria colonies. These colonies primarily live on surfaces in the tank, so providing bacteria with lots of surface area to colonize is key to tank stability and fish health. For aquarium bio-media, Seachem recommends Matrix™ for its high surface area and ability to house numerous kinds of bacteria.
You may have heard about the importance of providing your plants with sufficient bioavailable carbon or CO2 gas! Plants use carbon from CO2 to fuel their growth, and providing proper amounts of carbon both improves plant health and can reduce algae. Keep in mind that filter carbon is not bioavailable carbon, and won’t provide a carbon source for your plants!
Natural carbon sources
In nature, CO2 is equilibrated into water from the air. Unfortunately, in your home tank there are so many plants and such little surface area of the water that plants run out of CO2. So while you don’t entirely need to add a carbon source like CO2 to a pond, you do need to add a carbon source to an indoor aquarium
CO2 injection systems
Many planted aquarium keepers will use a CO2 injection system to keep the CO2 concentration in their aquarium high. This is an excellent and widely-used method of maintaining carbon levels! The downside to this is that CO2 is a natural source of acids - adding CO2 means that you must also keep a close eye on your pH and add buffers to ensure it does not fall too low.
Seachem® offers a supplement in our Flourish® line which is intended to be a source of carbon that can either be used alongside CO2 or as a replacement for CO2. Flourish Excel™ is excellent to boost the carbon concentration of your tank without altering the pH or requiring the use of additional buffers!
Heaters are important for maintaining the ideal water temperature for tropical fish, but they are also important for plant health! Plants do best when water parameters, including temperature, are stable. Make sure that your heater is strong enough to heat your entire aquarium, and place it somewhere within the aquarium that has plenty of flow. The Seachem Tidal® Filters have a built-in heater clip to ensure that there is as much flow as possible around the heater.
There are lots of kinds of aquarium stand to suit every aesthetic preference! Remember though, aquariums are heavy, and not all types of furniture are suited to support a full aquarium. Choose a stand that is strong enough to hold your aquarium, and has enough space to store all your supplements and equipment.
As you visit your local aquarium hobbyist store, you’ll find lots of accessories that are intended to make maintaining your planted aquarium easier. Here are some accessories you might find helpful, but which aren’t a requirement to maintain a healthy tank!
This is a piece of equipment which will automatically dose supplements in your aquarium so that you don’t need to! Depending on the quality of your auto-doser, you may be able to program your auto-doser to maintain ideal pH, turn your CO2 injection system on and off, and keep to a complex weekly dosing schedule!
Planted tanks require regular testing to ensure that nutrients and major water parameters are staying within the ideal range for plants. Sensors can give you constant readings for different water parameters to make this testing easier! Keep in mind that electronic sensors need to be calibrated regularly to ensure they are accurate.
These are more commonly used in reef systems, but can be helpful in planted systems as well! Automatic top-offs automatically pump water into your aquarium when the water level falls due to evaporation. This is both helpful to keep your aquarium looking nice, and also ensures that water parameters remain more stable.