Beginner Planted Tank - Stocking, Substrate, etc ??

plantedstudent

HI all, long time lurker here but I finally decided to join! I am a student in college, and got the biggest tank allowed - 20 gallon long. I've been doing a lot of research, and would love input/advice for my thoughts on how to get going with this tank!

Stocking: 2 (1M1F) GBR, 1 honey gourami, 8-10 zebra danios, 6-8 panda corys, 6 amano shrimp, and 4 nerite snails
- would love advice on time frame for adding in these fish, I obviously won't be adding them all in at once but which should go first, how long to wait in between, etc.

Plants (starting with foreground and moving to background): (idea 1) java moss, anubias nana, green wendtii, jungle val, aponogeton, wisteria, valliseria asiatica
(idea 2) parva, red and green wendtii, undulata, spiralis, balansae, bacopa

Substrate: pool filter sand (brand advice?) and easy root tabs (aquarium co-op)

General supplies: Pennplex cascade 200 filter with a pre filter, bio rings, and a sponge pad; Nicrew ClassicLED 30-36, Orlushy 100W heater, Tetra pump vacuum, Seachem prime dechlorinator.

Again, I'm a total newbie (except for a dearly departed betta fish from elementary school - RIP Hermione), and welcome any advice! I am especially curious about lids - do I need one, where to get one/make one - and substrate - want to make sure my corys are ok, but also my plants aren't suffocating.

Thank you!
 

WetRootsNH

I'm partial to idea 2 for the plants. but I just love crypts.
Any pool filter sand that says its 100% silica sand should be fine. Specific just make sure it doesn't contain any aglaecides or antimicrobials.
Keep in mind that color can vary between brands so you may want to look for a specific tint if you want white or tan.
I'm not big on lids myself. Never had a fish jump but I've never had species that are known to be inclined to do so.
 
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Chanyi

1) Find a local breeder for rams, the ones found in the store are no good genetically.
2) Any brand of pool filter sand is good, just find one with a color you like.
3) Vals won't work in a 20 gallon long, dwarf sag would be better.
4) Set temp to 82 degrees, rams need warm water.
5) Cycle the tank, add the rams last before they get too territorial, they also prefer a "matured" tank.
6) Ditch the root tabs, they are not needed. Dose the water column with easy green or Thrive and you're set, plants will get all they need from the water column. Root feeders are an age old myth that has been proven against.
 
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plantedstudent

Thank you so much WetRootsNH, especially for that PFS advice. If you know (I've had trouble with conflicting opinions on google), will any of what I'm planning to stock be considered a jumping species?
 
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WetRootsNH

Thank you so much, especially for that PFS advice. If you know (I've had trouble with conflicting opinions on google), will any of what I'm planning to stock be considered a jumping species?
My thoughts are that the danios could be a potential flight risk. But I couldn't say for certain as I've never had any species of danios. I'm just looking at what part of the water column they prefer and their body shape.
To be clear, I have never found a PFS that contains any unwanted chemicals but it's always worth checking.
For root tabs, I agree with above. Not necessary. You can still do them if you want though. I know I don't need them as I E.I. dose the water column. But they are very effective as placebos so I throw them in once in awhile. Like buying fancier oil for your car. They are also good for people that tend to get timid with their dosing. More problems are caused by underdosing than overdosing in my experiences but some people still get squeamish with the amount of chemicals they are adding to the tank. Root tabs can help fight the human factor and keep ferts up for the plants.
 
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plantedstudent

My thoughts are that the danios could be a potential flight risk. But I couldn't say for certain as I've never had any species of danios. I'm just looking at what part of the water column they prefer and their body shape.
To be clear, I have never found a PFS that contains any unwanted chemicals but it's always worth checking.
For root tabs, I agree with above. Not necessary. You can still do them if you want though. I know I don't need them as I E.I. dose the water column. But they are very effective as placebos so I throw them in once in awhile. Like buying fancier oil for your car.

Sounds great, I'll do a bit more research into those danios. Thanks again for all the quick help!

1) Find a local breeder for rams, the ones found in the store are no good genetically.
2) Any brand of pool filter sand is good, just find one with a color you like.
3) Vals won't work in a 20 gallon long, dwarf sag would be better.
4) Set temp to 82 degrees, rams need warm water.
5) Cycle the tank, add the rams last before they get too territorial, they also prefer a "matured" tank.
6) Ditch the root tabs, they are not needed. Dose the water column with easy green or Thrive and you're set, plants will get all they need from the water column. Root feeders are an age old myth that has been proven against.

Thanks Chanyi, this is great advice! Do you have any ideas about how to find a local fish breeder? I haven't had a lot of luck finding clubs (rural PA).
 
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WetRootsNH

Another option would be an online breeder. But being that you are in PA I'd wait for warmer months to order livestock.
 
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AngryRainbow

You've got some issues with the planned stock in terms of temperature compatiblity. Just off the top of my head, gbr and panda corys won't work together. Gbr require 80F+ and pandas like things cooler, low 70s I believe. I'm not sure about all the others temp requirements
 
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plantedstudent

Another option would be an online breeder. But being that you are in PA I'd wait for warmer months to order livestock.
That's definitely something I was considering, but, as you mentioned, it will be pretty cold once it's time to stock (I'm assuming late January, depending on how things cycle). Would buying shrimp from a big box store be alright, do you think?

You've got some issues with the planned stock in terms of temperature compatiblity. Just off the top of my head, gbr and panda corys won't work together. Gbr require 80F+ and pandas like things cooler, low 70s I believe. I'm not sure about all the others temp requirements
Thank you, this is a good thing to keep in mind and something I've definitely been considering! I was planning on setting the temp to 80 from what I've seen with my research online, would this not be a good midpoint for the GBRs and corys?
 
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AngryRainbow

Not for pandas, no they won't do well in those temps. There are other cories that would do fine, such as sterbai.
 
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plantedstudent

Not for pandas, no they won't do well in those temps. There are other cories that would do fine, such as sterbai.
After researching for weeks, I'm still learning so much about all the little details of this hobby. Thank you so much for this advice!
 
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WetRootsNH

Forgot about the cory temp thing. I think duplicareous and aldofoi are okay with higher temps as well but I may be miss remembering. They are also pretty tough to find...
Wouldn't a 20 be a bit small for SterbaI sized cory's? I only ask as I'm no stocking pro and in my 75 they seem to be pretty large bodied and active.
 
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AngryRainbow

Also it seems 80 will be too high for the zebra danios as well. If you skip the gbr, the danios and pandas would be perfect together.

Gbr are Great fish, but sadly their temp requirements are higher than most other fish

Zebra Danio Fish Care, Size, Life Span, Tank Mates, Breeding

Brachydanio rerio – Zebra ‘Danio’ (Brachydanio frankei, Danio rerio)
 
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MissNoodle

80 is too high for the cories or the zebra danios. They need much cooler.

SterbaI corydoras or bronze corydoras would do better than panda cories for that temp, or get some kuhlI or java loaches instead. Better warm water fish

In place of the danios, why not some glowlight tetras? They like that temperature range
 
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plantedstudent

Also it seems 80 will be too high for the zebra danios as well. If you skip the gbr, the danios and pandas would be perfect together.

Gbr are Great fish, but sadly their temp requirements are higher than most other fish

Zebra Danio Fish Care, Size, Life Span, Tank Mates, Breeding

Brachydanio rerio – Zebra ‘Danio’ (Brachydanio frankei, Danio rerio)
Bummer, they're so neat looking! Do you have an idea for another "centerpiece" fish that could work well in this environment? I've considered 3-4 platys, a betta, dwarf blue gourami, or 3-4 guppies, but really love the look of GBRs.
 
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MissNoodle

Bummer, they're so neat looking! Do you have an idea for another "centerpiece" fish that could work well in this environment? I've considered 3-4 platys, a betta, dwarf blue gourami, or 3-4 guppies, but really love the look of GBRs.

Why not a Bolivian ram pair? They do cooler temps.

Thinking:
2 Bolivian rams
3 platies
6 zebra danios
6 panda cories

I wouldnt do a betta or DG together nor would they go well with a ram id think. Mostly because they tend to be buttheads and youd encounter more fights more often than not. And bettas need temps over 76F
 
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plantedstudent

80 is too high for the cories or the zebra danios. They need much cooler.

SterbaI corydoras or bronze corydoras would do better than panda cories for that temp, or get some kuhlI or java loaches instead. Better warm water fish

In place of the danios, why not some glowlight tetras? They like that temperature range
I thought about doing a school of tetras, but my roommate and I both really love the look and personality of zebra danios. I'll definitely be switching cory species!
 
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MissNoodle

I thought about doing a school of tetras, but my roommate and I both really love the look and personality of zebra danios. I'll definitely be switching cory species!

They are awesome fish, but they need cooler temperatures too. You'd be better off switching out the GBR who is the only one on your list who requires warmer water
 
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AngryRainbow

If zebra danios are a must, I would go with your original stocking plan, but switching the gbr for Bolivian rams
 
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smee82

Honestly if you want to do a planted tank get an aquasoil not inert sand and root tabs. Plants are just as addictive as fish but it seems to me a lot more work.

Its easy to upgrade your light or add co2 but swapping out your substrate is more painful then a root canal when you have a full tank and not enough buckets for all your fish and plants.
 
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WetRootsNH

Honestly if you want to do a planted tank get an aquasoil not inert sand and root tabs. Plants are just as addictive as fish but it seems to me a lot more work.

Its easy to upgrade your light or add co2 but swapping out your substrate is more painful then a root canal when you have a full tank and not enough buckets for all your fish and plants.
You need to invest in a large cooler, a plastic dustpan, and a plastic tote my friend. I've done tons of substrate swap outs, three times it was a dirted tank, and it ain't no thing with the above at your side.
Drain some water into cooler, catch fish and release into cooler, throw plants in, drain rest of water into sink/tub/yard, scoop old substrate into tote with dust pan and dump outside, place new substrate in tank and finally, put everything back in. Super easy.
 
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plantedstudent

Honestly if you want to do a planted tank get an aquasoil not inert sand and root tabs. Plants are just as addictive as fish but it seems to me a lot more work.

Its easy to upgrade your light or add co2 but swapping out your substrate is more painful then a root canal when you have a full tank and not enough buckets for all your fish and plants.
I can only imagine! Would aquasoil work for those corys, though? I also don’t want the tank to get too muddy or murky.
 
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jake37

I think you have too many fishes planned for this tiny tank. The GBR are going to be very aggressive when they lay eggs and they also want very clean water. As others mentioned the panda will not tolerate the warmer temp required for GBR; but I would consider pygmy cories. These are very small - you could go with 8 or 12. I would drop the gourami and danios and go with white fin rosy tetra - 6. So that would be 6 white-fin rosy tetra; 2 gbr and 8 pygmy cories - that will be a pretty well stocked tank. An alternative would be 2 GBR 2 guppies and 8 cories - the guppies are pretty hardy and while normally in colder waters they can adapt and give you lots of entertainment when they chase their frys - also they will provide something for the GBR to beat up when they spawn.
-
Also if you are going to order GBR (I prefer gold rams myself) coralbandit is a good source.

Don't use aquasoil. This is for a tank in a dorm; and you've been a lurker. Just get some easy to grow plants like amazon swords and anubia and toss in a few root tabs around the amazon sword. As long as you have a decent light (fluval plant 3.0 24 inch on a 20L is fine); it will grow. My 20L has moonshine carib sea and plants are growing quite well (not as well as with co2 et all but plenty fine for a low tech low effort tank). Personally I would get stony river inert black substrate and avoid moonshine caribsea - because it is much easier substrate to work with and clean (I have that in a 29). I also have eco complete in a tank but highly recommend the stony river - it just reduces the efforts in tank management (basically the plants grow as well as in the other substrates and vacuuming is trivial with it). You would want 50LB for a 20L (here is a picture of the 29):
--- this is a guppy tank -
g.jpg
 
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Chanyi

Yea don't do the aquasoil, it's an active buffering substrate that is not needed for a great planted tank. Inert substrate is cheap and a simple all-in-one fertilizer like easy green or Thrive is all that's needed to grow any common plant and have success with.

Go ahead and research aquasoil - note it's pH buffering characteristics, life span, ammonia release and price etc.
 
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plantedstudent

Don't use aquasoil. This is for a tank in a dorm; and you've been a lurker. Just get some easy to grow plants like amazon swords and anubia and toss in a few root tabs around the amazon sword. As long as you have a decent light (fluval plant 3.0 24 inch on a 20L is fine); it will grow. My 20L has moonshine carib sea and plants are growing quite well (not as well as with co2 et all but plenty fine for a low tech low effort tank). Personally I would get stony river inert black substrate and avoid moonshine caribsea - because it is much easier substrate to work with and clean (I have that in a 29). I also have eco complete in a tank but highly recommend the stony river - it just reduces the efforts in tank management (basically the plants grow as well as in the other substrates and vacuuming is trivial with it). You would want 50LB for a 20L (here is a picture of the 29):
--- this is a guppy tank -
g.jpg
What a great looking tank! Thanks for the advice about the substrate and the lighting, but fluval lights are a little out of my price range as a student. I appreciate the tip about CaribSea, I've seen such varying reviews!

I think you have too many fishes planned for this tiny tank. The GBR are going to be very aggressive when they lay eggs and they also want very clean water. As others mentioned the panda will not tolerate the warmer temp required for GBR; but I would consider pygmy cories. These are very small - you could go with 8 or 12. I would drop the gourami and danios and go with white fin rosy tetra - 6. So that would be 6 white-fin rosy tetra; 2 gbr and 8 pygmy cories - that will be a pretty well stocked tank. An alternative would be 2 GBR 2 guppies and 8 cories - the guppies are pretty hardy and while normally in colder waters they can adapt and give you lots of entertainment when they chase their frys - also they will provide something for the GBR to beat up when they spawn.
-
Also if you are going to order GBR (I prefer gold rams myself) coralbandit is a good source.
Wow, this is such a detailed response! What do you think of 8 danios, the honey gourami, 3-4 platies (1M2-3F), and 6-8 pygmy cories? From what I can tell, they all have similar parameters and would get along well.
 
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jake37

I'd drop the honey gourami myself - just not a fan of big (6 inch) fishes in a small tank. You can do it - people do all the time but I think there are more interesting fishes. If you go with 8 danios; you could go with platies; guppies; endlers; killifishes; or swordtails (though some female swordtails can get rather large). Some people are big fans of mollies (and they eat algae) but like swordtails and platies they can be a bit large. If it were my tank i'd consider 6 rosy white fin tetra; or cardinal and a pair of Apistogramma. The tetra I mentioned don't really school - but there are rainbows that school (I'm just not a fan of danios - presuming they are zebra). Btw 8 danios is pushing the limit of what you should put in a 20L - I still think you are trying to cram too many fishes in a small tank.

Wow, this is such a detailed response! What do you think of 8 danios, the honey gourami, 3-4 platies (1M2-3F), and 6-8 pygmy cories? From what I can tell, they all have similar parameters and would get along well.
 
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AngryRainbow

Going off of what you've expressed interest in, I think the following would work well:

3 honey gourami (1m 2F) they're social fish so they would appreciate friends
8 danios
6 panda cories

I would do either the honeys or the platies probably, not both. If you want to go with livebarers, go with either guppies or platies as mollies and swordtails are a little too big for a 20 gallon. Also figure out what you're going to do with all the babies they will have.

Since you're still in the planning stages, a fun site to play around with is. Its not perfect though, so try to stay around 80% stocking per their rating, and check back with the forums for a final check with what you come up with.
 
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smee82

I can only imagine! Would aquasoil work for those corys, though? I also don’t want the tank to get too muddy or murky.

Aquasoil is fine with all bottom dwellers.

Yea don't do the aquasoil, it's an active buffering substrate that is not needed for a great planted tank. Inert substrate is cheap and a simple all-in-one fertilizer like easy green or Thrive is all that's needed to grow any common plant and have success with.

Go ahead and research aquasoil - note it's pH buffering characteristics, life span, ammonia release and price etc.

Its a common myth that aquasoil needs to be replaced. Its high cec ratio means that its always going to have nutrients in it. Ive had some of mine for over 7 yrs and the other lot has been used for over 4 yrs.

Yes it will leech ammonia for a short time but how is this bad. The ammonia will help plants become established and you also don't have to worry about adding a source of ammonia to cycle your tank.

Yes it can cost a bit but add up the cost of root tabs that need changing every 3 months for ever and compare that to its one off cost.

Its also much much easier to plant in and for plants to become established then sand. And you don't have to worry about sand getting in your filter. Theres heaps of post where people have had sand get sucked up a damage their impellers.
 
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Chanyi

I'm not against aquasouil by any means, I just don't think it's the right fit for OP's tank. Besides, OP said they want to use sand so I was leaning towards the sand option

Aquasoil will lose its buffering ability if it is used with tapwater, and the CEC is useful, but it's far from a complete plant nutrition program. I'm against root tabs, they are not needed. All that's needed is a complete water column dosing regime. It can also begin to turn into a muck rather than a nice soil, I've seen it, not every situation, but it can happen.... Just like sand getting into filter motors / impellers It can happen, but with pool filter sand, medium grit blasting sand etc. the grains of sand are course enough to sink right away, and are not easily disturbed, heck I could actually gravel vac my blasting sand tank and hardly lose any. Maybe a handful of sand after a 45 gallon water change worth of gravel vacuuming.

Inert sand is clean, easy to work with, easy to plant into, does not affect water parameters, easy to keep clean, cheap, looks fantastic and can grow plants just as well as any aquasoil tank out there if the right steps are taken

OP, go with sand and play with aquasoils later on in your planted tank carrier
 
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plantedstudent

I'd drop the honey gourami myself - just not a fan of big (6 inch) fishes in a small tank. You can do it - people do all the time but I think there are more interesting fishes. If you go with 8 danios; you could go with platies; guppies; endlers; killifishes; or swordtails (though some female swordtails can get rather large). Some people are big fans of mollies (and they eat algae) but like swordtails and platies they can be a bit large. If it were my tank i'd consider 6 rosy white fin tetra; or cardinal and a pair of Apistogramma. The tetra I mentioned don't really school - but there are rainbows that school (I'm just not a fan of danios - presuming they are zebra). Btw 8 danios is pushing the limit of what you should put in a 20L - I still think you are trying to cram too many fishes in a small tank.
Wow, I've never even heard of apistogramma, but they're so neat looking! Thanks again for the tips and advice, I've been playing around on aqadvisor but I've heard conflicting opinions about its validity. Could I ask why you're not a huge fan of danios? I'm interested in them because I've read great things about their personalities, but I'm always interested in other opinions.

I'm not against aquasouil by any means, I just don't think it's the right fit for OP's tank. Besides, OP said they want to use sand so I was leaning towards the sand option

Aquasoil will lose its buffering ability if it is used with tapwater, and the CEC is useful, but it's far from a complete plant nutrition program. I'm against root tabs, they are not needed. All that's needed is a complete water column dosing regime. It can also begin to turn into a muck rather than a nice soil, I've seen it, not every situation, but it can happen.... Just like sand getting into filter motors / impellers It can happen, but with pool filter sand, medium grit blasting sand etc. the grains of sand are course enough to sink right away, and are not easily disturbed, heck I could actually gravel vac my blasting sand tank and hardly lose any. Maybe a handful of sand after a 45 gallon water change worth of gravel vacuuming.

Inert sand is clean, easy to work with, easy to plant into, does not affect water parameters, easy to keep clean, cheap, looks fantastic and can grow plants just as well as any aquasoil tank out there if the right steps are taken

OP, go with sand and play with aquasoils later on in your planted tank carrier
Thanks for the advice! I originally said sand because (obviously) the cory cats' health comes before my wanting a jungle tank, and I wasn't sure if the two would be compatible. You've definitely reassured me that I can have a thriving ecosystem without fancy (and expensive) soil. I am thinking about just doing liquid fert and no root tabs, do you have a specific brand that you recommend for the "dosing regime"?

Going off of what you've expressed interest in, I think the following would work well:

3 honey gourami (1m 2F) they're social fish so they would appreciate friends
8 danios
6 panda cories

I would do either the honeys or the platies probably, not both. If you want to go with livebarers, go with either guppies or platies as mollies and swordtails are a little too big for a 20 gallon. Also figure out what you're going to do with all the babies they will have.

Since you're still in the planning stages, a fun site to play around with is. Its not perfect though, so try to stay around 80% stocking per their rating, and check back with the forums for a final check with what you come up with.
Thanks for this list, it really does seem like an ideal tank for me. I do want to make sure (as others in this thread have brought up) that I am giving all my fish enough space to really thrive, so I think I'm leaning more towards platies or guppies, as I wouldn't want to cram 3 of those honeys in there. However, do you think that three would be able to thrive? I really do love how they look and act, and I am a bit worried about the babies, as there aren't any LFS in my area that would be able to take them, so I'm relying on babies getting eaten.
Thanks for the tip about aqadvisor, too. I've poked around on it, but that 80% idea is really awesome and a good way to keep me honest about what would look great vs. what would thrive.
 
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AngryRainbow

Thanks for this list, it really does seem like an ideal tank for me. I do want to make sure (as others in this thread have brought up) that I am giving all my fish enough space to really thrive, so I think I'm leaning more towards platies or guppies, as I wouldn't want to cram 3 of those honeys in there. However, do you think that three would be able to thrive? I really do love how they look and act, and I am a bit worried about the babies, as there aren't any LFS in my area that would be able to take them, so I'm relying on babies getting eaten.
Thanks for the tip about aqadvisor, too. I've poked around on it, but that 80% idea is really awesome and a good way to keep me honest about what would look great vs. what would thrive.

Honey gourami max out at 3 inches. I think you'd be fine with a group, but you could stick to two and see how you like that stocking. You won't have to worry about babies with the honeys, only the livebarers (platies, guppies, etc). Breeding honeys is more involved and you will rarely get "accidental" breedings
 
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plantedstudent

Honey gourami max out at 3 inches. I think you'd be fine with a group, but you could stick to two and see how you like that stocking. You won't have to worry about babies with the honeys, only the livebarers (platies, guppies, etc). Breeding honeys is more involved and you will rarely get "accidental" breedings
Sounds great, thank you! I think I'll stick with 3 honeys, 8 danios, and 6 panda corys like you suggested. This put me around 85% at aqadvisor (including the invertebrates - 2 assassin snails and 4 amanos). Thanks again for all the advice, it's been so helpful!
 
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Chanyi

Thanks for the advice! I originally said sand because (obviously) the cory cats' health comes before my wanting a jungle tank, and I wasn't sure if the two would be compatible. You've definitely reassured me that I can have a thriving ecosystem without fancy (and expensive) soil. I am thinking about just doing liquid fert and no root tabs, do you have a specific brand that you recommend for the "dosing regime"?

Easy - Thrive or Easy-Green
Moderate - PPS-Pro or EI 'light'
Advanced - Custom EI modified, DIY micro's, custom PPS-Pro modified.

is a good website to give you ideas on how much to dose / what you are getting.

Don't use the Flourish line up, it's expensive water. You can use the Flourish Iron if your pH is above 7.
 
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