If you have seen many aquariums with their lush and healthy plants, you may want to start one yourself. Of course, for beginners it can somewhat be a difficult task. Figuring out the first things to do or what equipment to buy may seem confusing to many beginners. Luckily, there are plenty of guidelines and tips out there to show beginners how to set up a basic planted aquarium.

This article aims to show beginners how to set up a planted aquarium successfully. This guide will help you create your own basic planted aquarium. Then once you’ve got the experience, you can create a more advanced planted aquarium system – of course, you will need to start on the basics first.

What you need to get started:

  1. Aquarium tank
  2. Aquarium Plants
    1. Spray Bottle (optional)
  3. LED lights
    1. Timers (optional)
  4. Filter
  5. Aquasoil or Substrate
  6. Bacteria powder (optional)
  7. Rocks & Driftwood (optional)
  8. Co2 (optional)
    1. CO2 Cylinder
    2. CO2 Regulator + Solenoid
    3. CO2 Diffuser
    4. CO2 Tubing
    5. Bubble counter
    6. Check valve

Add Substrate to Aquarium

Setting up your own basic planted aquarium - adding aquasoil substrate - AquaticMag

Fill the aquarium with aquasoil. The amount of soil depends on the layout you are going for – also depends on the aquarium plants you are planting. A good rule of the thumb is to fill the aquarium with at least 2 inches of soil. This will give your plants enough rooms to spread out their roots while also giving your micro-organisms and bacteria a nice safe haven to flourish in.

Optional step

If you have bought bacteria powder, sprinkle it at the bottom of the tank before adding your aquasoil or substrate. Bacteria powder will promote growth of bacteria which helps with the nutrient content of the aquarium. It helps the aquarium to mature quicker versus the month it typically takes to cycle an aquarium. Plants, Fish, and Shrimp tend to do better in mature tanks since there is less pH swings and ammonia/nitrite/nitrate spikes.

Decorate Aquarium with Rocks and Driftwood

Setting up your own basic planted aquarium - arrange hardscape - AquaticMag

Arrange the hardscape materials (rocks and driftwoods) into a position you are satisfied with. Don’t forget to consider the area for other equipment (filter, heater, pipes, etc.). The hardscape will provide the look of your aquarium. This process takes some time to get it right – Typically adding your hardscapes and positioning and repositioning till you find a desired result. Some aquascapers takes days on deciding on their hardscape before adding plants or starting their Dry Start Method.

Tips for aquascaping

To create the illusion of depth for your aquarium, it is recommended that you put the substrate in a sloping manner. The thickest part of the aquasoil should be at the back of the tank sloping down to the front.

In-house Grow out

Setting up your own basic planted aquarium - grow out plants - AquaticMag

While creating a hardscape can take some time, it’s always best to have another tank or even plastic containers growing out your plants while you make your final decision on the look of your aquarium. Rushing through the hardscape mode and just filling the tank could cause future problems like cleaning and maintenance as well as plants not growing ideally from being either in too shaded or too well lit areas.

Saturate the Substrate

Saturate the aquasoil by adding water into it. Keep adding water until the soil dampens, making it easier for planting.

Prep your Aquarium Plants

Setting up your own basic planted aquarium - prepare your aquarium plants - AquaticMag

Prepare the plants you are going to use. Remove the unnecessary parts of the plants and divide them in clumps to make planting easier. Cutting any plants with roots to about a half inch to inch long will promote new root growth as well as make it easier to plant into the substrate. Rhizome plants can be sliced into 2-3 leave parts, stem plants can be cut with 2-3 nodes attached to each, and runners like foregrounds can be split up in 3-10 nodes.

Planting Everything

Setting up your own basic planted aquarium - plant aquarium plants - AquaticMag

Now start planting. Keep in mind the spacing between each clump. Normally, spacing depends on the plant. Typically, about an inch is good for most plants. A good rule of thumb is to just cover your tank with as many plants as you can since they will absorb excess nutrients – this speeds up the cycling process. To bury your aquarium plants deep into the substrate, you may need to use a good set of aquascaping tweezers.

Fill up the Aquarium

Setting up your own basic planted aquarium - Water filled - AquaticMag

Slowly fill the tank with water. Make sure that you fill very slowly and steadily to avoid plant and soil displacement. That will also minimize the clouding effect from aquasoil.

Add Co2 to your aquarium (optional)

Ready your CO2 system. Connect the regulator to the cylinder and make sure that everything is tightly fitted together. Check the valve and bubble counter for any leaks or damages. Adjust the needle valve according to the recommended value. Typically, 1-2 bubbles per second will suffice but using a Co2 Drop Checker will be more precise in knowing your PPM’s.

Once the CO2 system is set up, connect the CO2 outlet to the diffuser. Place the diffuser in an area where there is maximum dispersion for bubbles (it is usually placed opposite the filter outlet). The objective here is to prolong the contact between the CO2 and water to decrease the amount of wasted CO2.

Install Timers (Optional)

Install the timers. Connect the lights and CO2 system to separate timers. Run the lights for 8 hours a day and have the CO2 run 1-2 hours before the lights are turned on and another hour after they are turned off. Doing so will ensure that the aquarium has good CO2 flow when the lights are on.

So that’s pretty much it. Once you got the aquarium all setup, you will start to see your aquarium plants grow. Of course there are a lot more technical things to growing aquatic plants than this basic guide but this will get you started off in the right direction to making your planted tank flourish.

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I'm not the greatest writer in the world but I like to educate people on how to setup and maintain a beautiful shrimp tank that friends and family will be envious about. It's a great hobby and takes a bit of knowledge but once you get it down - it seriously beats looking at a screensaver of fishes!