Setting Up A New Planted Tank For Aquascape

  • #1
HI All!

I am setting up a new tank for the first time. The LFS near my house has an option where I can buy a 33 gallon tank (36"L x 15"W x 18"H) along with a filter, wooden base with storage, and T5 lights altogether in a single deal. I need advice if I should consider this option, or buy the items separately.

I intend to have a planted setup and thought of modifying the fire extinguisher in my house for CO2. But then decided to purchase a CO2 setup from the same store (for safety). I need CO2 for my carpet plants to live healthier. I am a little concerned about the 18" height since aeration and light may be an issue for carpet plants.

I am getting 8-10 Ember Tetra, 8-10 Cardinal Tetra, 2 Amano shrimp, and 6 Red Cherry Shrimp for the tank a month or so after the nitrogen cycle has settled. I am hoping that there might be some tetra fry which will survive to adulthood (also hoping that the fish spawn). Am hoping carpet plants may help. I do not intend to use marbles. I will be using only Amazonia ADA soil for the aquascape. I need advice if there is something more I can do to help some fry survive and grow. There is still time for this, but I understand from various articles that I need a long term view before setting up the aquarium.

Thanks in advance for going through my note, and any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks a lot.
Jocelyn Adelman
  • #2
I would go with LED lighting over t5.

For fry any area with dense vegetation will help them survive... (I wish my guppies would eat their fry!) mosses are great for shrimplets, when first establishing a colony I leave a loose bunch for them to hide in (not tied to something... after colony is established I will then tie the moss)
Fish cover most anything can work, Best option though is a looser floating cluster (guppy grass) that the adults will have a harder time getting into, but again, any dense plants will work (cabomba, limnophilia sessiflora, hornwort).... bushy works better then grassy.
  • Thread Starter
  • #3
Thanks a lot for your response, Jocelyn.

I am hopeful and confident that the RCS will reproduce successfully in my tank.

Question: Would it make much of a difference to the plants if I have T5 instead of LED? I ask because I am getting this as part of the setup, which is about 70% less than if I get each part (tank, filter, light, stand, top) separately.

Question: Would Jocelyn's advice hold good for 1-2 inch tetra fish too? I am planning Java moss, Dwarf Baby Tears, Dwarf Hairgrass, Java Ferns, Bacopa - I do not want to exceed 5 types. I need at least 2 carpet types.
  • #4
How important is the overall look to you? A lot of high tech scapers try to nail down that high tech look with rimless tanks, LED lights, glass intake/output. I would put that into serious consideration when buying a tank, because if you're going to stay in the hobby for a long time, you may eventually want a rimless tank. If you get one now you can reuse it for years.
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
Thanks a lot for your advice.

Well, a week ago, I knew nothing about aquariums and fish. I studied a lot the past 5 days. But there will always be lots to learn. I studied about fish and plants but not the actual setup. I started looking up rimless tanks after I saw your message. And I did not understand what you meant when you said "glass intake/output".

You made a good point about thinking about the tank from a long term perspective. I am getting this relatively inexpensive setup from a tiny store near where I live. But it does look like the quality could be questionable. After I am experienced enough, if I want to move to an awesome looking tank, the point you raised comes into question. What would I do with the existing tank! And I do not have place at my house to maintain two tanks!

I need to spend more time studying, thinking, and imagining.
  • #6
Alright! If you've only been into this for five days I recommend you hold off actually buying anything for at least another month, like you mentioned. I did four months of research before starting, and even then my first tank was not a long term success, nor was I happy with the actual tank that I bought. Fishkeeping is not a hobby to rush into, and even less so for aquascaping And trust me you'll probably want more than one tank after a while, you'll find space for it. Multiple tank syndrome hits us all at some point.

So about intakes and outputs: Very basically intake is where the filter takes in water, output is where it comes out. Seems simple, but since flow is very important in planted aquariums, both of these must be strategically placed.

If we take a look at this typical high tech setup:

We see the rimless tank, the ADA lights (ADA is somewhat like the name brand in aquascaping), and the scape itself at first. Upon closer examination we also see the glass CO2 diffuser on the right, and the intake and output on the left. Typically glass intake/outputs are lily pipes.

The whole setup is meant to be minimalist, including the stand, so the viewer focuses on the scape itself and any rims, colored tubes, hang on back filters, and internal filters are not a distraction.

All of this is far from necessary in order for you to have a beautiful planted tank! I'm just trying to show some ideas, this is what many aquascapers work their way towards.
I will say, starting off with a high tech tank and Co2 is harder than starting off with a low tech tank. Low tech tanks are a bit like the training wheels on a bike, if you will. There's so much about planted aquariums that can only be learned through experience, that starting with a high tech setup increases the chances of the setup not working out.

For some additional research, I recommend youtube, it's been my greatest resource. Check out these people:

George Farmer
The Green Machine
Dennis Wong
ADU aquascaping
Jocelyn Adelman
  • #7
Hold on there cowboy!!!!

Dwarf baby tears and dwarf hairgrass are bad ideas... they need pretty high lighting, pressurized co2, plant specific substrate, and good ferts.
Unfortunately as tempting as they are and as pretty as they look they are not beginner plants (not even a beginner up for a challenge... proper balance in tanks takes awhile to figure out, it's different for every tank, and everyone has a learning curve.
No need to spend money to fail

For carpeting you could do a moss carpet (flame moss could work well for this) or dwarf sag.... while dwarf sag won't ever look like a dhg carpet, it's the best you will get for low tech low lighting.

Java ferns, bacopa, moss sounds fine also check out guppy grass, hornwort, water Sprite, anubias, some hygrophilia species, crypt wendtiI and crypt lutea. All are among the easier plants (don't read easy as foolproof, no plant besides anubias is... and even then some can't grow anubias)

Also, it is not usually recommended to have two carpets in one tank... eventually one will overtake the other without some borders in place, also takes attention from the visual "flow"

As for the t5 vs led.... up to you... I would read through a couple of the posts from planted tank to help you decide.

You can also do a search for t5 vs led aquarium

Personally I use leds, so I can comment much on the t5s overall...

For some reason my post are showing up wonky on the app, but fine on the web... if you can't see my link go to and look there
  • Thread Starter
  • #8
Thanks again for your response, Jocelyn.

This is what I was planning initially:
Tank, Filter, Top, Stand: Single setup of 30"L x 15"W x 18"H tank, inbuilt filter, top and wooden storage bottom.
Plants: Dwarf Hairgrass behind the stones and a trimmed layout in the foreground, Java moss on the driftwood, and Dwarf Baby Tears in the background and on the stones - none of which have any overlap, as they would be separated with stones. Java Ferns and Bacopa in the corners.
Fish: Cardinal Tetras, Ember Tetras, Red Cherry Shrimp, Amano Shrimp
Additional setup: CO2 cylinder + diffuser
Timeline: To get the tank by 24-Sep.

This is what I am thinking now:
Tank: I will probably get a 30-36" long tank with 15-18" height and 15-18" width - so that I can maintain it for a long time to come. I saw some tanks which have curved glass exteriors in the front. I do not know what those are called - I intend to get one of those. It has aesthetic appeal.
Filter: I am thinking about going for the SUNSUN HW-302 3-Stage External Canister Filter
Fish: I probably need to go for beginner fish. I do have (1) RCS and (2) Amano shrimp in my list anyway. I loved the Rainbowfish, but I am scared they will eat the shrimp. I am thinking of (3) Ember and (4) Black Neon or Silver Tip Tetras now.
Plants: Thanks for your tips. I am going to go with plants which do not have broad leaves to achieve the scaling effect with tiny fish.
Stand: I am going to modify an old television stand - it has wheels which I am going to replace with immobile wooden supports.
Additional setup: No top (I learnt that it is not good for planted aquariums) or CO2 (at a later stage once I understand plants better).
Timeline: No date. I will get the tank when I am absolutely clear about what I want which is practically achievable considering the circumstances (my experience, availability of stuff, etc.).
Jocelyn Adelman
  • #9
So some practical tips
1) don't forget the heater and gravel vac (buckets or python)
2) tanks over 18/20 inches can be a pain. First off hard to light properly... the depth of the tank makes a huge difference in lighting... the deeper you go the more your lighting will cost. Lights have to penetrate the water to reach the bottom. This can be a huge issue for small carpeting plants that usually need high lighting. Second part of deep tanks is maintenance... once it is up on a stand, you will then need to reach your arm to the bottom... after initial planting this is less, but there are still times you need to reach in. Also it can create issues even when using a gravel vac (distance from floor up and over and into tank to reach the tank bottom)
3) shrimp... ideally you will want to start with more then 1 rcs... if they do get eaten (more likely then the amano) hopefully the colony will establish... also you will never ever see just 1.... I have about 100+ in most of my tanks and regularly spot about 15 at a time. You can get shrimp from anywhere, but I ordered mine as a package of 20 from aquatic arts.
4) plants and scale.... so nano tanks really need small plants, larger tanks can use anything... in fact just using small plants is a big drawback (bottom covered and rest is empty). You need to scale the plants to the actual tank size... so decide tank size first and then decide plants.
5) filtration likely I would go with the 304b over the 303... I have both, and use the 303 in a 29gallon, anything above would get the 304. You want to aI'm for at least 5x turnover (gallons per hr) for canisters, 10X for Hobs.... again, once you pick the tank you can decide for the filter...
6) lighting is not a place to skimp. There are some great lights that aren't too pricey, but most budget lights won't work well for plants... better to spend it once they buy a 'great price!' And have to buy again.
7) fertilizers.... if you have plants you need to feed them. If you stick with only a few plants like javas, moss, and anubias and have a decent bioload you can likely use flourish. Beyond that (which sounds like they way you want to go) you will need something that has more NPK (macros) then flourish. Ferts are made of two things- macros (nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus) and micros (trace elements and iron). It is cheapest to buy dry ferts and mix your own, however I wouldn't suggest that for the first time you are starting out (can be hard to decide what exactly your plants need). Great all in one ferts (macros and micros in liquid form, pump bottle 1 pump per ten gallons) are thrive by nilocg and plant food by ultum nature systems.
8) co2 at a later stage is a good idea, get used to plants growth and then switch over. Only downfall to this is most carpeting plants are easier to plant with very little water in the tank... if you upgrade to co2 for DJG and DBT later on the rescape will be a bit more complex.
9) tank size... you can decide this two ways... pick your fish and then get a tank to fit, or pick your stand/space and get a tank to fit, then choose your fish after @texas domer and Anders247 are great at stocking and can help you decide once the tank size is decided...
10) substrate... huge decision... most plants can be grown in anything, sand can be used with root tabs, high CEC substrates like eco complete and flourite are great ((also with root tabs), but if you have your heart set on high tech carpeting plants you might want to consider either dirting your tank (soil with a sand cap) or something like Ada Amazonia. Be aware that Amazonia and the like will lower your ph, and also eventually break down.... also most of these substrates will release ammonia and require a lot of water changes off the bat so the timeline to adding fish will be delayed. Flourite and eco complete are great middle of the road substrates (I use eco complete and have a dhg carpet... would be less work in Amazonia, but the ease of eco complete outweighed the drawbacks for Amazonia at the time I set up that particular tank.
11) plants... beginner plants do not mean easy plants. Only plant I would truly consider easy is anubias. Also low light plants doesn't mean stock lighting... they still need a good plant light... just not as strong as other plants. List of good plants to start anubias (nana petite is very small, great scale, coffeefolia is larger and textured, etc... there are many varieties for different uses). Java fern (also many varieties, I love my needle leaf the best of all, but there is also trident, windelov, different varieties with different textures and different heights... there are some amazing Java fern only scapes out there). Ludwigia repens... easy going plant, can add a touch of red when happy. Water Sprite. Water wisteria. Crypt wendtii. Hygrophilia corymbosa. Mosses (Java, flame, xmas, weeping, etc) Amazon swords. Anacharis (can be fussy and doesn't work great for aquascaping). Cab omba. And many many more... floating plants such as hornwort, dwarf water lettuce, red root floaters, water Sprite and wisteria can be floated as well, frogbit...

Best course of action....
1) pick tank
2) select fish (fish need different requirements, some will need more/less current, some like to eat certain plants, some need sand substrates, etc) you won't add them til after the end, but it is good to select them first
3) select substrate, filtration, heater, gravel vac, ferts, lighting
4) select plants
  • Thread Starter
  • #10
Thanks for the detailed notes, Jocelyn.

Lights: I am thinking about Finnex 24/7 Planted+, since I am going to have these for a long time. I am going to order this online only after I finalize on the tank. The only drawback is that if the device conks out, there is no local store here who will help fix it. I hope an electrician can help.

Tank: I might go in for a 24" length tank after all, because I have a nice 24"x22" table (modified television stand). Like you mentioned, I am a little worried about the deeper ones due to the lighting issues with plants. I might go in for a 15" deep and 15 or 18" wide tank. Hopefully, I will get a second tank which is bigger (30-36" length) if I am still as passionate in this hobby. (It does seem addictive for now.)
I spoke to a couple of ADA dealers yesterday about tanks. They were not willing to divulge any details on phone and asked me to visit them - which I intend to do anyway this week. One dealer said that Sunsun filters will not go with ADA tanks (I did not understand why), and he wanted to show me the filter options from ADA. Fluval was the other option he had. I think the ones he mentioned cost significantly higher than Sunsun. So maybe I might not go in for an ADA tank after all. Boyu tanks are easily available here.

I am seriously planning to first get 3-4 glass bowls where I can only grow 5-8 types of aquatic plants. Once I am comfortable with this and know which plants I like from the ones I grow, I can buy the tank along with finalizing the other decisions. I will probably use simple sand substrate with a little root fertilizer for the plants in the bowls.

My ultimate objective (for now) is to have a good aquascape that I am happy with (in the tank). I have probably seen over a hundred hours of videos on aquascaping. I am ready to compromise on the choice of fish. So if ADA Amazonia is best for plants, I would not mind waiting a few weeks longer to welcome some fish. I intend to introduce 2 fish a week to the tank until I reach the capacity I want.
Jocelyn Adelman
  • #11
Love the bowl idea! While not quite a tank experience (filtration makes a difference and assuming the bowls won't have it) it's a good way to get into ferts needed, algae control, etc. plus you can get a jump on plants to add as they grow

Amazonia will release ammonia, others too, which will help you cycle. I would say to get ammonia separately as well to help with a full cycle... sometimes there can be territory/schooling issues with fish added over time. The additional ammonia you can use to bump the ppms you want to process for your bioload. (Raise ppms after cycled, I like to cycle to 2ppm and then increase from there).
Another issue with adding fish slowly is if one added later on comes in with something it can wipe out your entire existing stock.. when adding fish slowly a qt tank is recommended... (good idea either way to have a smaller tank available as a hospital/qt)

Any canister can fit to any tank, some extra parts (glass or stainless lily pipes) might be needed, but with an Ada tank likely you would do this anyway. (I hate glass btw, gets dirty pretty quickly... I would rather use black intakes that disappear against a black background then Clean those darn pipes!!! (Personal choice though)

Oh and I have the 24/7 on a few tanks, never had issues with them. I would recommend getting the SE model over the old model though
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
Thanks again, Jocelyn!

Well, I ordered a 2.5 gallon bowl online - something to start with, and it is going to be delivered on Monday. I think I will start with 3 plants in there. No filters. No CO2. No heater - the temperatures here range between 68 and 87 Fahrenheit indoors throughout the year. These days it is around 74-79. The plants should be good with that, I expect. For light, I intend to use a 4-5W LED light - from a desktop lamp. I intend to get substrate (sand) and pebbles from my LFS instead of online. No Amazonia for now.

I am thinking of making a valley with the substrate and plant 2 types of high plants there (probably two from Java Ferns, Bacopa, Hornwort, Jungle Vals, Anubias), and carpet plants (Monte Carlo is what I have in mind for now) at the higher ends (along the diameter) for more light. I do not want to use driftwood or rocks because the whole idea is to understand the plant system. Or maybe I can put in a piece of driftwood with some moss.
Maybe, in the future, this tank can double as a breeding tank. But I am not sure if it is big enough for breeding. Perhaps too small to maintain a Betta as well. I can probably use the setup as an aquascape decor at home if I can maintain it well.

Fish - long time before I see them at home. I might get only two types of Tetra and Amano and RCS. From what I found, these seem the social type and may not be territorial.
Jocelyn Adelman
  • #13
You can make it a RCS tank in the future

Just be sure the bulb you are using is 6500k. Cfls are easy to get if yours isn't....
  • #14
Most tetras need atleast a 20 gallon tank. Being they are a schooling fish and should have schools of 6+
  • #15
Threads have been merged, please only create one thread per topic
  • Thread Starter
  • #16
Mak - Thanks for your advice. I am not going to buy a tank immediately and am doing a lot of research first. I have already seen over a hundred hours of Aquascaping videos online. I have got an RO system installed at home, and have ordered a book on aquarium plants. The TDS reading for the RO system is around 50 PPM for now. I ordered a 2.5 gallon bowl online in which I am going to have some plants. If I start off with a low tech tank, it might not be easy to replace it with a high tech one unless I get a new tank.

Thanks, Jocelyn. Yes, Red Cherry Shrimp are a good idea in the long run for the bowl. I am just worried about a population explosion if I think about it.

I am getting some good deals over the next 3 days for any products I purchase on Amazon. I am thinking about the buying the following products in advance:
(1) Lights - one Finnex 24/7 Planted+ for the tank
(2) LED lamp for the bowl
(3) A Stress Healer for the fish
(4) Fertilizer (?)
(5) Sunsun filter [EDIT]
Should I get a CO2 setup like this one in advance because I will get a 10% off on it?

Tanks are expensive online anyway out here. I have to get it from a LFS. Fish food and test kits will have a shelf life, so I do not want to get them in advance. I will get the substrate from the LFS too.
Jocelyn Adelman
  • #17
I would buy the tank before you buy the lighting and filters.

Light for bowl and ferts would be priority

Nothing needed for fish yet... would need tank, scape, cycle to take place first....
  • Thread Starter
  • #18
So I finally set up a 2.5 gallon bowl today with Java moss, Ludvigia, Crypts, and dwarf sags. Got a 2500K 8-watt lighting for the bowl. I will get Salvinia in a week's time. I wanted Hornwort too, but maybe there is no place for it. No filter or CO2. I am thinking I will need some daily water changes?


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