Planted Tank Beginners Guide
Updated: Apr 24
As well as looking nice, planted tanks can be really beneficial for your pet fish. They provide the aquarium with dissolved oxygen and keep the CO2 levels low, whilst also providing additional filtration. Many people believe that planted tanks are too expensive and require too much maintenance and so they opt for fake alternatives, and while a sliver of truth is there, this isn't always the case. There are many beginner friendly plants to get you started.
Starting with Vallisneria, it also goes by “American Eelgrass” because of its aesthetics of long and flattened green or red leaves. It should be planted into a coarse substrate as it provides good aeration and also allows the essential nutrients to find the roots. It’s a very hardy plan and will grow quite quickly which makes this species good for beginner hobbyists. Quick growing plants are also ideal for fish known to nibble.
You can pick up American Eelgrass here.
Amazon Sword plant
The amazon sword plant is native to the tropical freshwater of the amazon basin in south america. Because the tank should match the wild for both plants and fish, you should keep waters as close to between 60 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit with a pH of 6.5-7.5 as you can, taking into account the other needs of your tank species. The amazon sword plant has broad leaves which bear a resemblance to actual swords, or the heads of spears.
Using coarse gravel to plant these in will allow the roots to grow and take hold quicker as well as allowing nutrients to get through the gravel and reach the roots. The leaves of the amazon sword plant grow to around 20 inches in length and become a nice hiding spot for your fish, if they end up mating then it also makes a great spot to lay eggs!
Java Fern is probably something you’ve already heard of. It's a great beginner plant species for a bunch of different reasons including their ability to adjust to various ranges of conditions such as being able to grow well under low to little lighting conditions. These plants need to be attached to wood using either twine or fishing line to allow them to attach on their own using their root systems. Alternatively, you can also plant these plants into a coarse aquarium soil and substrate which can supply plenty of nutrients required for growth. It also has the benefit of it not tasting too nice, so fish that love to snack, such as goldfish, won't eat it.
Java Moss, slightly different, just as awesome. It’s a hardy species of moss that’s usually found growing on rocks and fallen, submerged tree trunks in tropical rivers in southeast asia. It will also accept a wide range of water conditions such as poor light and a range of temperatures from 59-86°F and a pH of 5.0-8.0. Java Moss is so simple to propagate that you will soon have a large colony of it to spread throughout your aquariums or trade with other hobbyists. All you need to do is cut out a chunk of it from the main clump and place it elsewhere where it can continue to grow. Because of this it can be a cheap investment that you can build up - one plant can eventually fill each of your tanks.
Elodia (also known as american waterweed) grows best in direct sunlight and when planted into the aquarium substrate, but it can also grow well when it’s left floating in the tank too. It grows small white flowers on the surface of the water when it blooms but for the main part it’s usually fully submerged. What’s excellent about this plant is that it produces huge quantities of dissolved oxygen and obviously takes in a lot of CO2 to do this, which makes it perfect for freshwater aquariums!
You can buy Elodia here.
So what sort of fish are suitable for planted tanks?
Mainly small ones. There’s actually a variety of different fish as well as other organisms that you can keep in your planted tank. They’ll create a sort of symbiotic relationship with the plants in the sens that the waste produced by the fish will feed the plants, the CO2 produced by the fish will be used by the plants and replaced with oxygen which the fish can then breathe. It’s a helpful cycle of fish and plant patting each other on the back. You need to be careful though as some fish will eat the plants and ruin this cycle.
One fish we recommend is the Galaxy Rasbora. Rasboras come in a wide range of types, personally we love the Axelrod’s Dwarf Rasbora and the Crossbanded Rasboras! They’re bright and distinctive nano fish - a peaceful species that only grows to be about two inches long. Other fan favourites are the Harlequin Rasbora, the Lambchop Rasbora, the Miniscule Neon Green Rasbora and the Galaxy Rasbora.
Another two breeds that you can allow in your planted tank are the Neon Tetra and the Cardinal Tetra. Oh, the neon tetra. It’s probably the second most popular starting fish next to goldfish. Tetras are another popular, small schooling fish just like Rasboras, and they come in lots of varieties too. As we’ve mentioned, the neon tetra is very popular, but there’s also the Cardinal Tetra, the Black Neon Tetra, the Congo Tetra for something colourful and the X-Ray Tetra, named as such because you can see their insides (Very cool for both adults and children!). They’re pretty easy to care for and prefer neutral pH waters from 7.0 to 7.8.
As with most schooling fish, like the rasboras we’ve mentioned, keep them in groups of six or more because they enjoy safety in numbers. In fact, tetras go very well with rasboras and other community fish as both species are very friendly and neither will grow to the size of a goldfish, where smaller fish become food.
Another thing to think about is that the leaves on the plants provide the perfect habitat for algae to grow on, which is bad. Algae will quickly drain the resources our plants need and overthrow them. However, fish such as otocinclus catfish and siamese algae eaters can do a great job of nibbling the algae and help keep the plants healthy. Planted aquariums also provide the ideal habitat for larger freshwater species like Rainbowfish, Discus and Angelfish. You should avoid keeping any herbivorous fish species in your planted aquariums, particularly if you are keeping expensive plants as these fish will eat your plants.
Alternatively, let’s have a look at fish you should avoid. The first is actually a really popular fish.The silver dollar fish is a very easy species to care for which is part of the reason it is so popular. Unfortunately, many aquarium hobbyists do not realize the danger of keeping these fish in a planted tank. These fish can grow up to 6 inches long, so they are capable of eating large amounts of plant matter in a short period of time.
We’ve mentioned that Neon Tetra are good for plants, but not all Tetra are equal. Though they may be small, growing only 2 ½ inches long, the Buenos Aires tetra can wreak havoc on the planted tank. These fish are best kept in groups with 6 or more of their own species and they tend to do well in community tanks with other South American species. This species of tetra will eat just about any type of aquatic plant except for Java Fern.
Lastly, it’s the species that shocks us with how large they grow, taking over your child's first aquarium and needing a tank roughly 10 times the size to stretch out properly. Goldfish can be tricky to keep in the home aquarium if you do not provide adequate space. Not only do these fish grow very large but they require high levels of dissolved oxygen. Goldfish are likely to feed on any plants in the tank, so if you must keep them in a planted tank use plants that grow quickly.
If you are going to go to all the effort required to cultivate a planted tank, you should do your best to do it correctly the first time. Do your research to ensure that none of the fish in your tank will destroy your live plants and be sure the plants you choose are compatible with your tank environment. In addition to these important preparations, there are also a few tips that can help ensure your success in cultivating a planted tank.
In case you do have a few fish that like to munch on live plants, be sure to include some fast-growing species of plants such as hygrophila and cabomba. In cichlid tanks, you can avoid problems with your fish uprooting your plants by using floating plants that do not need to be rooted in substrate at all. Some popular species of floating plants include duckweed, hornwort, crystalwort and azolla. Another option is to root your live plants to pieces of driftwood so they will always have a firm foundation.
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