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Small Planted Tank Setup Guide

Discussion in 'Aquarium Articles' started by MOD_Dawn, Mar 12, 2009.

  1. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    Okay Leslie, I made this with you in mind. This is just a quick rundown without getting into all the technical stuff (co2 systems, types of lighting available, spectrums of bulbs, blah blah blah). Okay, I lied..I got into the blah blah blah just a lil :)

    [help] So you have a small tank and are looking for plants that will work within it.

    :confused: Your unsure of which plants stay small enough that you won't have to do constant pruning and you'd like a nice full appearance and maybe some recommendations on inhabitants that might work in a tank this size.

    :D Well here's a quick rundown that may help!

    If I had a small that I wanted to do rather easy here's what I'd do ;)

    Note -> First off..any substrate is probably going to be way to much for smaller tanks (ie 5g)! (Staple the bag of the leftovers, you might just want to do another one somewhere down the road).


    Place at a depth of at least 3" when using looser substrate such as dirts/sands. I say this because I know from experience that many will loose some of their initial depth over time IF siphoning into your substrate. Also, It's easier for planting (holding) well rooted plants in place.
    Ie. Stems require less and Well rooted plants such as Crypts require more. You can always create a wall to mound your substrate around plants that require more of the "depth" also-It will help cut costs back when using more expensive substrates such as laterite.

    A)Seachem Flourite...rinse VERY well and can add Seachem Clarity to speed up the cloudy period without any negative effects
    B)Eco-Complete planted...no pre-rinsing..just add it in
    <not recommending ada aquasoil because read way to many complaints about cloudiness, clumping, and problems getting stems in it without having breakage>
    C) You can also use CaribSea Sand, Pool Filter Sand (silicate free), Pea Gravel, Aquarium Gravel, Etc.

    FILTRATION (if necessary):

    Some choose to use the plants as a filter (fast growers work best from what I've read..and also it must be HEAVILY planted with VERY few inhabitants)

    Canisters work best imo since they provide the least amount of surface breakage. With planted tanks you want as little surface disturbance as possible (other than aeration for inhabitants at night--bubbles will defin. cause disturbance).

    If you must use a hang on back (hob) filter go with something such as a Whisper (their noted for causing the LEAST amount of surface disturbance).

    If your really fortunate you can go with a sump! (Wonderful if you have the room and easy to hide equipment in it)

    MEDIA (if necessary):

    This is where you can be creative. I've read so many variations that my head felt like it was spinning with all of the choices available. I'll note a few that are good in my opinion. Also note that their are ones for removing problems such as Nitrates (De*Nitrate), Ammonia, etc. I won't bother listing them here at this time.

    >Filter Floss (can get at aquarium store, or can also find at wal-mart..I can't remember the actual name of the bag at this moment..but when I do I'll edit this and put it in)
    >Seachem Purigen (try to get the ones that already come in The Bag)
    >Eheim EHFIMECH (Hollow Ceramic Rings)
    >Eheim EHFISUBSTRAT Superior Biological Media
    >Eheim SUBSTRAT Pro
    >Lava Rock
    >Broken up pieces of Terra cotta
    >Foam Aquarium Sponges (20ppi, 30ppi)

    HEATER (if necessary):

    Some people are lucky and their tanks remain pretty stable throughout the year temperature wise. I am not so lucky and have an airconditioner that is in the same room as the tank & believe you me when I say I run it ALL summer long that I am defin. not lying.

    >The following is a quick starting base for how to asess heater wattage that would be proper for your tank>3-5 watts per gallon in a glass tank and probably 2-3 watts per gallon in an acrylic tank should suffice.

    Go with a submersible (or inline if you can) heater and place it near water flow (ie. filter out-take/air stone)

    76F would be a good setting point for both a planted tank and inhabitated tank.


    >Temperature Monitor I'd personally recommend going with one that has a probe that you suction cup to the inside wall of your tank (near filter/aeration).

    Temperature should be relatively stable fluxuating only a degree or two. This will prevent stress and health related issues. STABLE being the key word here.

    Coralife has a nice small digital thermometer & Tom Oscar has one that is on the bigger side but also features a temperature alert, clock, and a feature that allows you to see what the highest reading was and what the lowest reading was on your water temp.

    AERATION (if necessary):

    I recommend using an airstone placed somewhere along the back wall that can be placed on a timer for when your lights are set to go off. This will produce additional oxygen in case you have inhabitants in your setup.
    (checklist here..airpump, check valve, airline tubing, airstone, timer)


    Most will recommend a lighting anywhere from 2-5 watts per gallon for a freshwater planted aquarium. For easy care I'd shoot for 2-2.5 (you can grow just about anything within that range). 10-12 hours is suggested for planted tanks (get yourself a timer to "set it and forget it")

    Bulbs should be A "full spectrum" bulb which is anything between 5000k and 6500k. This has nothing to do with brightness, and bulbs high in the color spectrum (10,000K)will have no value to plant growth. Subsequentially, Lunar lights (actinics) also have no value to plant growth.

    1. Know your total watts per gallon (wpg).
    A general forumula used to calcuate the wpg is to divide the total wattage of your light fixture by the number of gallons that your aquarium is. (ex. 20 total watt fixture over a 10 gallon would be 20/10= 2wpg

    2. Find which range your wpg fits into. This will help you select plants that would more than likely be best for your setup.

    a) Low Light (1.5 to 2 watts per gallon of water)
    b) Moderate Light (Moderate is somewhere in between two and three watts per gallon of water)
    c) High Light (3 or more watts per gallon of water)

    :cool: Keep in mind that the total lighting wattage depends on the plants you intend to keep AND know in advance that the higher your total watts per gallon of lighting is will always result in more work on your part (ie. work may include any or all of the following: trimming/pruning, co2 system, chemicals to maintain balance, uv sterilzer, excessive algae, etc). Also know the colored (ie. red/pink) plants will require light near and into the High range and will benefit from the addition of Iron (seachem flourish iron).

    :!: On a sidenote if your planning on keeping inhabitants in with the plants I'd place a canopy (glass, acrylic, light diffuser) over the top of your tank..this will avoid jumpers and will keep your fixture protected from water splashes.


    :geek: I can't stress this one enough guys and gals

    -> Know what you are buying ahead of time, take the time to learn the FACTS first. At a minimum I ALWAYS look up the max height and width of the plants to make sure they are suitable for the tank size...in addition to their lighting requirements!

    Some plants can get several feet and unless you want to do constant pruning..I'd do my research first!

    Plus, plants can get really expensive fast (take it from someone who knows this first hand)

    A few things might want to know about the plants your selecting are:

    >Light requirements of the plant
    >What is the max height and width that the plant can possibly reach (this information is critical in helping to decide where to plant it...ie Tall goes to back, Medium goes to middle, and Low goes to front)
    >How does the plant reproduce (ie. side shoots that can quickly fill in an area)
    >Is the plant known to be easy in care or labeled as more "delicate"
    >If you will have to prune it/clip it..how to do so properly without harming the plant
    >Can it be moved if you'd like to relocate it later on (ie. most crypts will suffer "melt" or crypt rot if you try to move them)
    >Would root tabs be beneficial for its growth (most crypts benefit from root tabs which are placed beneath the substrate aprox. 2"-3" from the plant). Keep in mind with the placement of the tab that the roots will grow TOWARDS the tab.
    >Is this plant "sensitive" to the use of Flourish Excel?

    Starter Additives

    *this is just a quick list...their are plenty more out there!*
    1)Seachem Prime (remove baddies, add every time you add or change water)
    2)Seachem Flourish Excel (this will be used as often as 1x day) or one of those small co2 dispensers such as Jungle Labs Plant Care CO2 Fizz Factory
    sidenote-->Some plants are "sensitive" to Flourish Excel and will basically croak if it is used in the waters where they exist.
    3)Seachem Flourish (use only weekly)
    4)Optional-->Seachem Flourish Tabs (Great for root feeders..ie crypts)
    5)Optional-->Seachem Flourish Iron (Great for the colored plants..ie reds/pinks)

    PLANTS (heres a few that average under the 12" range for those with smaller tanks):

    *keep in mind the max growth height/width is just averages*

    [glasses] Plant Heavily! It will give you extra filtration ;)

    -->Dwarf Anubias/Anubias Nana 3"-6" height max and 3"-6" width max
    -->Anubias barteri v. nana petite (size of thumbnail and get about 1" in height)
    -->Anubias Coffeefolia 6"-10" height max, 4" max width
    -->Crypt Wendtii 6"-10" height max, 4"-6" max width
    -->Crypt Lutea 5"-6" height max, 3"-5" max width
    -->Sag Chilensis 6"-8" height max, 4"-6" max width
    -->Sag Subulata 4"-12" height max, 4"-6" max width
    -->Sag Sublata Dwarf 4"-12" height max, 4"-6" max width
    -->Ruffled Sword 4"-8" height max, 2"-4" max width
    -->Rosette Sword 2"-6" height max, 5"-8" max width
    -->Radican Marble Queen Sword 6"-8" height max, 6"-10" max width
    -->Pygmy "chain" Swords 2"-3" height max, 2"-3" max width (spreads)
    -->Amazon Compacta Sword 6"-8" height max, 6"-8" max width
    -->Banana Plant 2"-4" height max, 2"-4" max width
    -->Java Moss 2" height max, 2" max width
    -->Micro Sword 2"-5" height max, 2" max width
    -->Moss Balls 2"-12" height max, 2"-12" max width
    -->Riccia Fluitans .5"-2" height max, .5" max width
    -->Watersprite 6"-12" height max, 4"-8" max width
    -->Pennywort Brazilian 4"-8" height max, 2"-6" max width

    ONLINE SITE TO PURCHASE PLANTS (just a few of course):


    INHABITANTS (that could easily work in smaller setups):

    *in moderation of course, but many can work in even a 5g*

    a)Some of the smaller Shrimp species (ghost, cherry, yellow, etc)
    b)Male Betta
    c)Dwarf Gourami, Honey Gourami
    d)Female Bettas
    e)Male Platies
    f)Male swordtail
    f)Some of the smaller Tetra species (neons, cardinals, embers)
    g)Mystery Snail
    h)Harlequin Rasboras
    i)Pygmy Corydoras
    l)Fancy Male Guppies
    m)Male Endlers
    n)Malaysian Trumpet Snails
    etc. etc. etc.

    [angel] LESLIE: [angel]
    Don't go with anything over a max height of 8"..since after substrates added you're probably looking at about 11" max height remaining..Plus it will save you the hassle of constantly clipping (unless your doing open top and don't care).

    ALSO use the height to help you decide the placement..tall in back..medium in middle...shortest in front!

    For your setup I'd recommend something like the following:
    1.Substrate->Seachem Laterite (rinse the heck out of it & add Seachem Clarity)
    2. Plants/driftwood:
    a)Dwarf Anubias/Anubias Nana max 3"-6" (can use to make a wall-they spread 3"-6" wide also)
    b)then you'll have about 4" remaining for a piece of small driftwood
    c) and go with maybe Pygmy "chain" Swords/Echinodorus tenellus @ 3" max. height that would fill the front quite nicely!
    3. Inhabitants:
    a)Cherry Shrimp for that pop of color
    Can also do many listed below for a small tank such as yours (small amts):
    b)fancy male bettas (2-3)
    c)single Dwarf gourami, honey gourami
    d)2-3 female bettas
    e)single male betta
    f)2 platies (sex accordingly due to no fry space)
    g)many of the smaller tetra species (neons, embers)
    h)single snail (mystery)
    i)harlequin rasboras (5)
    j)pygmy corydoras (3-4)
  2. Guidoman888

    Guidoman888 New Member

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    Wow dawn you really took your time on this one! There's usefull info for all of us :)
  3. Anthony

    Anthony Active Member

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    Good job Dawn. I went ahead and made this sticky. ;)
  4. James0816

    James0816 New Member

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    Imo 2" won't hold most roots (ie. crypts which are the favored plants of many).

    I actually prefer the Rena Filstar Xp Line (quiet and easy to maintain..quick disconnect and won't kill yourself lifting it when full).
    Also Seachem told me they use carbon in their planted tanks...but for now I'm recommending to use it only for pulling meds out (as that makes more sense--learning new things about it myself).

    I use an emperor 400 on my 90g..yes the flow is restricted to one area(basically only in front of the emperor to the front of the glass), but I have never experienced plants being "whipped" around....even when I used an emperor 400 on the 15g (Had to cut the intake of course).

    I agree! Although I must admit that lately I found it easier to just order big al's floss online (easier to find as most of the stores in my area are doing away with craft sections-which is normally where the batting/polyester was found.)

    Hence my note on not getting into the specifics...way too many of them when it comes to lighting to the point it will give you a migraine! Ugh!

    Yes, I did forget to mention that, thank you.

    Never used any of the methods, just informing others what's out there as options. I use Flourish Excel.

    FWIW: Good starter thread. I'm sure others will have some more great info to share!

  5. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    Glad it will serve as help.
    -->Thank you Anthony for making it a sticky.
    -->Thank you Guido! you're always so nice.
    -->Thanks James for the addtl info. and reminding me about the excel (was late and I'm sure I missed a thing or two). I added a sidenote about the flourish excel.
  6. James0816

    James0816 New Member

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    I use no more than two inches and have no problems with rooted plants at all.
  7. LemonDiscus

    LemonDiscus Active Member

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    I have 1.5" on my 125 and have no problem with rooted plants either.... For my crypt I put a little mound of sand to bury its roots.... my Swords dont really care... they do fine with even 1"
  8. Leslie

    Leslie New Member

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    I didnt tell u last night dawn, but thanks for making this. it will help others as well.
  9. Guidoman888

    Guidoman888 New Member

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    Like lemon said i just have about 1.5''/2'' to and the plants do fine
    I think its different per tank ut 3 inc h would maonmly be fine

    And you reward me with plcuking and marshmallow guns :eek: :(
  10. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    I must have the "super" version then cuz two inches wouldn't do squat for mine..let alone hold them up.
    My bronze wendtii have a massive root system on them (arrived potted and the roots extended curled up at about 1"+ below/out of the bottom of the pot!

    For most of the others (stems mostly, they can defin. get away with less).
    I guess I'm too used to the deep sand bed from the salty tank before. :)

    At 3" some gets sucked away with my substrate too (python) and on occassion I will go down a bit in depth IF I feel/see the need to.

    Also, the substrate depth ties in with the size of your substrate (ie gravel/dirt/sand/etc) in respect to how much you should have.
    Ps. Thanks for input..I made a edit in the substrate to reflect others opinion on depth in noting that its basically dependant on what your planting and whether you will "siphon" some up on occassion or just leave it in place and go lightly .5" above the top of it. ;)

    For example: Stem plants require less depth than say your Well rooted plants (ie. crypts).
  11. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    Yes, candy is ALWAYS a reward. [laughing]
  12. GOT MTS?

    GOT MTS? Member

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    For a potted plant with an abundance of roots I always cut a few inches of root off and let it produce new roots. I figure the reason they get so long in the pots is that they are searching for nutrients.

    BTW I don't think surface breakage is an issue unless you are using C02. Even then a little movement at the surface isn't that big a deal. On my nano tank I use a HOB palm filter and I have no problem keeping c02 in the water. just FYI

    Also I wanted to say very good write up Dawn. You must have spent a lot of time with this one.
  13. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    Lol, see what not being able to sleep gets you...a LONG thread. Haha!
    Glad it will prove helpful in many ways.
  14. LemonDiscus

    LemonDiscus Active Member

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    It is a nice thought out thread Dawn :D
  15. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    Thank You Ryan. I know with the smaller tanks its tough deciding what can/can't work in them. Plus the stability factor alone causes many failures with them. Been there myself a few years back when the nephew wanted this cute character tank that turned out to be a living nightmare.
  16. Anonymous

    Anonymous Guest

    Top Poster Of Month

    dawn that was nice easy to understand, well done, and many thanks.
  17. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    oh your sooo welcome, I'm always glad to be of help when I can.
  18. alpinefish

    alpinefish New Member

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    Thanks! Now that I have some fish, my mom is thinking about getting plants.
  19. MOD_Dawn

    MOD_Dawn Thread Starter Active Member

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    No Problem, just give a shout if you need any further assistance :)
  20. DanBruv

    DanBruv New Member

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