The Backbone of the Aquarium. (Things you need.)

Aquarium. That holds water ha!

Filter. Any filter that pumps enough water for your sized tank. Keep in mind that undergravel filters probably aren't a good idea with sand substrates.

Substrate. To plant in and give a good surface area for the bacteria necessary for good fish husbandry.

Live Plants. To assist in naturally cleaning, feeding and beautifying the aquarium and inhabitants.

Good -Flourescent- lighting. Do not use Incandescent as it does nothing for your plants.

A good basic rule to follow is to provide 1 to 2 watts of lighting per gallon for fish-only aquariums,

2 to 5 watts per gallon for freshwater planted aquariums, and 4 to 8 watts per gallon for reef aquariums.*

A stand that can withhold the weight of a full aquarium. Water weighs around 8 Lbs. per gallon so it gets heavy pretty fast.

Things you should probably have on hand.

Cups/Containers of varying sizes.


CLEAN sponge/s.

Tape. - For taping off the tank if you paint the background. "Paint on the outside of the glass!"

Phone. - Someone's bound to call.

Babysitter. - Trust meeee.

Spoons/Forks/Butter Knife. - For planting and digging and eating your yogurt.

Towels. - You WILL spill water!

Fishing line. - For tying Java Ferns and Mosses to rocks/logs.



This first picture is of my demonstration tank.
Note the black background and sides,
this helps pull the finished product together.

Research all sorts of aquarium photographs.
Look at your garden, friends' gardens...anything that might inspire your Aquascape.

A very good Aquarist is Takashi Amano, his work has helped lead to my utter addiction to all things fishy. Remember, a Planted Tank is just a garden underwater.

Lay out all your supplies within easy reach. Sounds simple to remember, but you'll always forget something and have to stop what you're doing to go play fetch.

Once you decide on what look you're going for we'll take a look at...



Note the substrate higher in back than front.

Sloping the substrate from the back to the front helps aid in vacuuming the aquarium during routine water changes. I must admitt I don't always follow this rule, I just add the sand in varying levels, creating mountains and valleys as I see fit. A heavilly planted aquarium means a lot less overall cleaning. The plants will happily feed off of the fish waste and some leftover food particles.

I've always used a mixture of sand and clay as the majority of my substrate. Both give a more natural feel and have major advantages over plain gravel.

1. Sand is cheaper.

2. It holds plants better keeping them from floating and aids in root development.

3.Good clay provides a rich base for plants to develope a fantastic root system.

4.Good substrate means less upkeep and fertilization costs.

5. Some fish species will DIE with gravel as a substrate. (Peacock Eels...And some other scaleless species especially.)

After you add at least 1-4 inches of substrate to your liking it's time to think about HardScaping.

From time to time gases may build up beneath your sand, just gently stir the substrate with a chopstick or some other such thing.

When using Silica (playbox sand) Sand do NOT breathe in the dust.

Sand/Clay probably won't work with an undergravel filtration system.

Hint: Topping the clay with sand helps keep your water from turning muddy.

Hint: Use an old pillowcase and waterhose to wash large amounts of sand, as this removes the dust that can cloud your water.

Now that that's done, we move on to...




Before adding water my 'hardscape" is laid out.

Here's where a lot of people get into trouble. They've read and looked at pictures and been told exactly what not to do when decorating their tanks. Well, here's my advice, all two cents worth of it.

Forget what you've been told. Go on FORGET it. As long as your set-up is suitable for the species of fish you plan on keeping, the rest is up to you. If you want to put that gaudy plastic Elvis in with your tetras, go ahead and do it.

YOU have to look at this tank, not those other people.

Check your layout.


A few minor adjustments to the layout.

Arranging things before the water is added makes things a lot simpler. Trust Me. When the time comes to fill the tank, place a saucer or some such thing over where you're pouring the water.

This helps keep the substrate from clouding the aquarium too much. It also keeps your plants/decorations from mucking up.

Finally, time to Garden!


Adding the plants!

Choose plants well suited to your lighting and aquarium size. Most plants are graded as either "High" "Medium" or "Low Light". If you place a high light plant in a tank with low light, it will eventually die. I've even heard some low light plants will die "burn up" with too many WattsPerGallon "WPG".

This makes perfect sense if you think about it. Another good tid-bit to keep in mind, certain plants do best with plenty of food, know your plants.

That's one thing I can't stress enough.

Aquarium plants are expensive and no one wants to toss $10-100.00 out the door! A good thing to use as a guideline for arranging your plants is " tallest towards the back, shorter as you move forward."

This is entirely up to you though. If your tank is happy, soon you'll need to trim your plants. I usually pinch with my fingernails as well as use scissors (like giving my java moss a haircut) to help ensure bushy controlled/healthy growth. Most plants can be rooted, so save those cuttings in an extra tank/bucket!

A note on fertilizing:

I use Jobes Plant Sticks by breaking them in half and burying the pieces completely beneath each plant's roots. Some people claim these aren't safe for fish...but I've never had a problem using them. Maybe avoid this type of application if you have burrowing species. There are fertilizers epecially suited for aquariums, but I'm cheap, so there.Tongue out

Keep an eye out for one of my next Aquarium Tutorials on creating your own fertilizers.

The Bio-Crew!

Perhaps the most important inhabitants in any aquarium. These are the "mostly" no-see'ums of the Aqua Pit Crew. They're responsible for taking care of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates as well as all other sorts of nasties.

After your aquarium is set-up it starts to go to work. Most of the time you can't see the mysterious ways of this enchanting world, but trust me, it's there. The fastest way to get your Bio-Crew going is to "seed" your tank and filter with aged aquarium media. Your local fish store or a friend's aquarium is a good place to start. Get the goo from their filter and put it in yours. Ask for a cup or two of their substrate and place it on the top of yours. Sprinkle a bit of fish food in for good measure. Make sure your filter stays running the entire time you're cycling your aquarium.

I would wait a good 2 weeks before starting to add fish. Let the tank age and establish a good amount of bacteria to help with the upcoming bio-load. Add your fish 1-2 at a time and wait a week or more before adding more fish. The aquarium has to adjust to meet the higher bio-load of new fish.

In a later article I will write exclusively about these critters and how to put them to work overtime for you.

A list of plants for your Underwater Eden.


Bolbitis heudelotii 'African Water Fern'

Monosolenium tenerum 'Pellia'

Taxiphyllum ferriei
'Weeping moss'

Taxiphyllum montagnei 'Christmass moss'

Microsorum pteropus 'Windelov Lace java fern, Windelov java fern'

Microsorum pteropus 'Red Java Fern'

Microsorum pteropus 'Needle leaves microsorum'

Microsorum pteropus
'Narrow leaves microsorum'

Rosette plants.

Cryptocoryne beckettii 'Crypt Beckettii'

Cryptocoryne wendtii
'Crypt wendtii brown'

Echinodorus ozelot

Echinodorus tenellus 'Pygmy Chain Sword'

Grassy Plants.

Elocharis acicularis 'Dwarf Hairgrass'

Eriocaulon sp. 'cinereum'

Lilaeopsis brasiliensis 'Brazilian Micro Sword'

Broad Leaved Plants.

Anubias barteri 'Nana'

Anubias barteri 'Petite'

Anubias minima 'Anubias minima'

Nymphaea lotus 'Zenkeri'

Nymphaea pubescens

Barclaya longifolia 'Orchid Lily'

Plants -NOT- suited for aquarium use.

Airplant/Spider Plant.

Mondo Grasses.

Hemigraphis exotica 'Purple Waffle'

Pilea sp. 'Aluminium plant'.

Spathiphyllum wallisii 'Peace Lily'.

There are many more plants that pet stores will try and pass off as aquatic. Do your research and bring a detailed list with you when you go plant shopping.

If they sell you a misidentified plant, MAKE them refund your money or give store credit.

"Where's the fish?" you're probably asking.

This article is about setting up an aquarium, not about stocking. These are guidelines for you to follow and make your own.

I will later post an in depth article on proper stocking and fish species.

Here's some shots of my planted community tank. Hope you enjoy!




* Thanks to for the WPG info!

Until we meet again,