Everything you need to know about planted aquariums

Are you looking for a guide to help you set up your own planted aquarium step by step?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. Join us, and we will tell you everything you need to know to be able to assemble your tank with natural plants.

For a beginner it is overwhelming when he first enters the world of fish tanks with natural plants. That if pH,that if light, fertilizers, cycled… bufff, a lot of things.

But don’t worry, we’ve all started like this, step by step.

Aquarium is not a hobby that is learned from one day to the next, it needs some basic knowledge to get started. And for those we are here. We will teach you everything you need to learn to assemble your planted aquarium.

Planted Aquarium

The great guide about the planted aquarium

What is a planted aquarium?

When we talk about a planted aquarium, we are referring to an aquarium that has real plants, that is, natural plants. This definition is very basic, but assembling a planted aquarium is not as simple as its definition.

The introduction of aquatic plants in our aquarium, in addition to beautifying, provides a number of benefits to the tank habitat.

First, they help build a more stable ecosystem, oxygenate the water during the day, and absorb excess nutrients. Also, if you have fish, aquatic plants provide food and natural hiding places.

Types of planted aquariums

Within the aquarium with natural plants,two main currents are distinguished when it comes to setting up a planted aquarium.

To summarize, we can say that you can choose to assemble a planted aquarium of low demand, or an aquarium of high demand.

  • The low-demand tank is known as a Low Techplanted aquarium,and uses plants with low lighting needs. This means less investment in equipment needed to maintain this type of planted tank. Normal plant-specific lighting and small amounts of fertilizer are usually sufficient.
  • The high-demand tank is known as a High Techplanted aquarium,and it uses plants with high lighting needs. This means that a greater investment in necessary equipment is needed, in addition to exhaustive control. They need abundant light, Co2 injection and controlled fertilizer inputs.

As you can imagine, the High Tech tank is the typical aquarium with very leafy plants, while the Low Tech is usually more moderate.

The low-requirement planted aquarium is more suitable for those who start with the aquarium of natural plants. And since this article is aimed at beginners, we are going to focus on this type of aquarium.

Apart from this main division between planted aquariums, we can find these other classifications of different types of tanks with plants.

Other types of planted aquariums

According to the design that makes up the planted aquarium we can distinguish:

  • Central: the composition is focused on the center of the tank.
  • Rectangular: the flora occupies the entire urn equally.
  • V-shape: the shape is characterized by placing the plants on two sides, leaving the central area open.
  • Lateral: vegetation is placed only on one of its sides.

Several trends can also be distinguished within planted aquariums:

  • Dutch: this aquarium aspect gives full prominence to plants. It uses a wide variety of plants, and usually no other elements, not even fish.
  • Japanese: also called naturist landscaping, it is based on the minimalist reproduction of terrestrial landscapes using a few species of plants. Within this style, we have the popular Iwagumi,in which rocks are adopted the main role of design.
  • Jungle: Finally, we have the wildest style of presence, where plants are allowed to take their most natural form.
Everything you need to know about planted aquariums

How does a planted aquarium work?

When we decide to put natural plants in our aquarium, the main handicap we encounter is the issue of Co2. This component is necessary for plants to assimilate nutrients.

It happens that when plants perform their photosynthetic activity, they consume Co2. Thus, the level of this element drops a lot during the hours of light, which is when they perform photosynthesis.

Because of this, the nutrient assimilation capacity of plants also decreases, and so their growth. Therefore, in this habitat the vegetation can maintain its biological cycle with the contribution of nutrients made by the waste of the fish.

The drawback is that the balance of the basic nutrients: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium,are far from their ideal ratio.

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In this way, it will almost certainly end up generating an imbalance in the medium-long term. And an imbalance will favor the appearance of algae in the tank.

In this sense, on the one hand, it is necessary to provide fertilizer in very small quantities, 2-4 times a month.

And on the other hand, you also have to avoid the accumulation of nutrients. Therefore, at least once every two months, you should skip the supply of nutrients. In this way, the flora will assimilate the excess nutrients that may be in the water column.

This issue of fertilization is somewhat complex, since we enter fully into the world of chemistry. But since in this post we focus on the basics for beginners, we have only seen it without delving into it.

Guide to making aquarium planted step by step

Let’s focus now on the basic knowledge, the necessary equipment and the steps to follow to set up a planted aquarium.

Water and its chemistry

To immerse yourself in the art of the planted aquarium, you need to know the following basic parameters of water.


This parameter refers to the acidity or alkalinity of the water. The pH should be suitable for the inhabitants of the aquarium. And in this sense the easiest thing is to use flora and fauna appropriate to the characteristics of the local water.

The most important thing for the health of the tank is that the pH is stable and does not fluctuate noticeably.

Water hardness

It is also very important to control the hardness of the water, which is presented in two parameters that we must know.

  •  General hardness – represented by GH, it refers to the amount of salts that are dissolved in the aquarium water. Without delving deeper into the subject, it surely sounds more if we talk about soft or hard water.

    It is important that the content of dissolved salts is at the level appropriate to the needs of the inhabitants of the tank.
  •  Temporary hardness: represented by KH, it refers to the amount of bicarbonate and carbonate salts dissolved in water. This parameter is important because it helps mitigate pH oscillations.

    In the aquarium with natural plants, these cause an increase in pH during their photosynthetic function. When photosynthesis stops at night, the pH drops. And this fluctuation of the pH is harmful to the inhabitants of the aquarium.

    This is where the pH buffering capacity of temporary hardness comes into play. We must have an adequate level of KH so that plant cycles do not cause dangerous variations in pH.
Everything you need to know about planted aquariums

Cycle the planted aquarium

Cycling is the maturation of the biological environment. That is, the creation and settlement of the colony of bacteria that act as a biological filter.

Like any other type of tank, the planted aquarium must begin its journey with a correct cycling.

This process is necessary so that the aquatic ecosystem formed in the aquarium does not become a toxic environment. Thus, it is how we get correct levels in nitrates, nitrites and ammonia.

If you are not familiar with this procedure, and do not know how to cycle, you can visit our post dedicated to this fundamental topic. We insist. You have to have correct indices of nitrates, nitrites and ammonia to have a healthy aquarium.

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Filtration of the planted aquarium

The process of filtering the tank with natural plants is as vital as in any other type of aquarium. It is necessary to remove from the water the toxic components derived from the biological activity of the fish.

It is true that having natural plants helps water purification. However, in most cases it is necessary to use a filter, to prevent the tank from becoming toxic. In order for plants to serve as a filter, many plants would be needed for very few fish.

Tank substrate with natural plants

Substrate is a key factor in the success of a planted aquarium. It is where the plants will take roots,and the ideal is to have the right characteristics to facilitate their progress.

When we talk about gravel or inert sand as a substrate, it is recommended to use a grain size between 2 and 4 millimeters. A larger or smaller size will hinder the development of your plants.

It is advisable to supplement with some nutritious substrate to help the plants develop better.

Lighting of the planted aquarium

Lighting is perhaps the most important component of an aquarium with natural plants.

Vegetation needs light to be able to perform photosynthesis. And for our aquarium we need an artificial light lamp with suitable characteristics for the development of plants.

Nowadays, LED technology is the most common when you have to install the lighting of a planted aquarium. If you want to know more about LEDs for aquarium,you can find our article dedicated to this topic in the previous link.

Finally, it should be noted that it is very important to maintain a regularity in the photoperiod. Thus, we will avoid stress problems in plants and favor the proliferation of algae. The simplest solution for this is to get hold of an automatic timer.

Co2 in the tank with natural plants

As we mentioned earlier, Co2 is the main component that limits the development of plants. Those who bet on a leafy tank, in addition to providing more light and fertilizer, need the contribution of Co2 through an injection system.

The problem comes when there is some imbalance between these components. An excess of lighting and / or nutrients together with a low level of Co2, leads to an uncontrolled proliferation of algae.

When we need to increase the level of Co2 without thinking about buying an injection system, we have 3 options:

  • Increase water agitation: This will favor greater gas exchange between water and air, increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the water.
  • Use liquid Co2: it is one of the simplest ways to contribute co2 to the vegetation of your tank.
  • Turn off the light for about 3 or 4 hours: it causes the plants to stop photosynthesis, and the Co2 accumulates again in the water.

Plants for beginners

When we start in this hobby, it is best to start with the simplest plants,and then go complicating if it is what one wants.

The Amazonian Sword and the genus of Anubias are the classic plants recommended for beginners in aquariumphilia. There is also the Ambulia,the Java Fern,the Bacopa Madagascar or the Java Moss.

If you want to dig a little deeper into aquarium plants,you can click on the above link to see our post dedicated to aquatic flora for aquariums.

Fish for tanks with natural plants

Let’s look at a small reference with the fish usually used by beginners in aquariums planted with fresh water.

It is common to find in fish tanks with natural plants tetra fish, scalars, discus fish, Gourami, Bettas or Guppys.

If you want to know more about aquarium fish,we invite you to click on the above link and stop by our article dedicated to our aquatic friends.

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Assemble an aquarium planted step by step

  1. The first thing you have to do is adapt the substrate according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and place it at the bottom of the aquarium.
  2. Then place the decorative elements of the aquarium, whether they are trunks, rocks or branches.
  3. Now place the accessories that go inside the tank, such as the filter, or the heater if necessary.
  4. Now it’s time to fill the tank with water. Use a dish or other element on the substrate to cushion the force of the water.
  5. Then, wait until the suspended particles have settled, and start the filter. It’s time to start the cycling process.
  6. During the cycling process, we can introduce the most resistant plants. But keep in mind that you must then connect the lighting to start the photoperiod necessary for the plants. You can also wait until you finish cycling to introduce your plants.
  7. When the maturation has been completed, and we have an adequate nitrite level, prepare the aquarium to introduce the first inhabitants. You have to make the first of the water changes, replacing 25% of the aquarium water, with new water. If it is from the tap it must have rested for a minimum of 24 hours, to evaporate the chlorine. Otherwise, chlorine will wipe out the colony of bacteria we’ve been waiting for several weeks.
  8. The filter should also be given the first cleaning. You should rinse it gently with the water from the tank that you have removed in the water change. Keep in mind that in the filter is most of the bacteria that have been generated during cycling.
  9. Now we can introduce the first fish. Do not over-feed them, we do not want the ammonia level to skyrocket. Provide what they eat in 3 minutes, 4 times a day.

Maintenance of the planted aquarium

To finish, we will see a brief list with the tasks to be performed in the regular maintenance of our planted aquarium.

  • Add fertilizers once a week or fifteen days.
  • Skip once every month or two months the fertilizer, to avoid the accumulation of nutrients.
  • Occasional cleaning of the substrate by means of a siphon.
  • Pruning when necessary to maintain good circulation.
  • When any important pruning or re-conditioning is carried out, make a water change of at least 50%.

We hope from fishlists.com that this guide on planted aquariums has helped you to set up your own planted aquarium. If so, you can thank us by valuing this post with the little stars below.