Planted Over Tank Sump/Riparium/Filter/Planter Build/25g tank journal - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 73 (permalink) Old 03-05-2015, 02:57 AM Thread Starter
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Planted Over Tank Sump/Riparium/Filter/Planter Build/25g tank journal

A little background. I have always liked the look of planted aquariums where the plants are allowed to grow out of the tank; as well as planted filters. I attempted to plant a HOB filter in another tank, and while the plants grew they never really took off the way I wanted them to; and being impatient I really didn't feel like waiting ages for my stem plants to breach the surface.

After looking around, I saw that most of the riparium setups where either shower basket type setups, or half flooded tanks, neither or which I was terribly fond of. Then I found the look I was looking for with Vanish's 75 Gallon Wisteria and Sunset Jungle and I figured I'd try and build something similar. Vanish was incredibly helpful, taking and posting additional equipment pictures and answering my questions THANK YOU!

25g aquarium
Finnex Planted+ 24"
200gph fountain pump from harborfreight (already there driving the HMF filter with spraybar)
Assorted PVC pipe and fittings
Open Cell foam sheet
1/2 and 3/4 inch liquid tight electrical fittings
1/4 inch birch plywood
24" window planter box
Some vinyl tubing

So now on to the pictures

The box as it sits on my tank. It rests on a piece of 1/4 plywood that sits in the rim of the tank.It has 2 holes drilled in it for inflow and outflow. Due to space concerns it sits over the top of the tank instead of behind.

The box, 3/4 inch overflow in the front 1/2 inch inflow in the back, the tubing sticking out of the elbow quiets the flow a little bit. The elbows set the water level about 1/2 way full and prevent more than a small of water to flow back into the main tank should the power go out.

The plumbing. The "T" on the left (overflow) distributes the water so it doesn't blast my substrate. The "T" on the right splits the flow between my DIY spray bar and the inflow on the box. ATM it looks like 1/3 or so of the water goes into the planter the rest through the spray bar. More flow into the box was too much for the overflow to handle and caused circulation issues in the tank without the spray bar. The spray bar and the and overflow "T" are not connected. they just happen to conveniently support each other.

FTS shot. The black rectangle on the right is my maten filter which conceals the pump and my heater behind it. This is also my primary filtration and acts as a guard against anything getting into the pump (small tetras and shrimp could easily get chopped up if it wasn't there)

The plants

From left to right Golden Pothos, dracaena godseffiana (Florida Beauty), Peace Lily, and Croton (Bold Star). The only one I'm not sure will grow is the croton.

Future plans:
-I am presently waiting for the 3 feet of snow to disappear so I can get some pea gravel from work (landscaping company) that I plan on using as my grow media. Since I already have a primary filter I'm forgoing vanish's pot scrubbers.
-Find either a colander or some small plastic baskets to use to contain the stone. I may also use some open cell foam instead If I can find a good deal on small pieces.
-Figure out lighting, I'm hoping the ambient light is enough for the plants to grow, if not I may add some track lighting or a "gooseneck" lamp for supplemental light.
-Paint the plywood back, possibly the pvc though It doesn't really bother me.

Long term goals and dreams:
-I would love to try spider plants, tiger lily's, ferns, and other flowering plants if space allows in the box.I'd also like to set up some lower growing plants that look like a lawn under the plants, just to make it a bit more green (things like glosso, micro sword, etc)
-If space allows I would like to try and do a tiered setup down the wall of several planters, IF i can manage to not take up a huge amount of space.
-I would like to grow herbs at some point as well, though I realize I'm quickly running out of space.
-Lastly an indoor fairy garden. Why? The tank was originally setup with a Hobbit them (I tried making bag end) and it never really worked out the way I wanted, I had flow issues and my DIY scenery fell apart. SO if I can find the right ceramic pieces, I could make it out of the water this time around and hopefully end up with something cool (my g/f keeps asking me if I'm ever going to redo the look so if I ever want additional tanks in the future I should probably appease her).
-Add a second "emergency drain" I don't expect anything to clog the overflow but anything is possible. As it currently is installed should it ever overflow the box, it would run right into the top of the tank, so atm it's not an immediate concern.

I think that about covers everything . Any questions/comments are greatly appreciated, and again a big shout out to VANISH!

Last edited by theatermusic87; 03-08-2016 at 09:52 PM. Reason: additional info
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post #2 of 73 (permalink) Old 03-05-2015, 02:26 PM
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I think you're set up for success. I like how you did your plumbing. It is barely visible from the front. I would definitely paint the plywood, both for looks but more importantly, water protection.

Considering you're only growing plants in the plants (and not using it as a filter), I don't think you need to worry too much about containing the grow media. Just make sure the inlet and outlet have a guard around them inside the planter box. The reason I have them in mine is so I could, in theory, lift out the baskets to get to the filter media. In practice, I haven't done that in months.

fittonia albevenis has been my favorite low grower.

The Croton may do well. I have one that sits next to my box (although a different variety) and it does not like to go dry. If it doesn't like being permanently wet, one thing you could do is "plant it high" so that the bulk of its roots and not covered in water but it can reach to the water. This is the benefit of having the full planter box height to work with.

You'll be amazed at just how much space these plants can take up once they start growing. I think a "carpet" will be tough as the larger plants will quickly shade the bottom. Just give it time. At this point, you can only see my box after a trim.

You're welcome for the help, but don't take everything I say as gospel, I'm just another in the club with success. Best of luck to you!

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post #3 of 73 (permalink) Old 03-07-2015, 08:06 PM Thread Starter
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I realized I had some old aquarium pebbles that I am NEVER going to use (prefer sand, gravel or dirt) so I added one of my plants to the planter.

The pot is a cottage cheese container with some slots cut in it to allow water to flow through, but contain the peddles. Like a big aquarium plant pot. I've had good luck starting seedlings in these before and I have a stack of them around the house.

The plant in the pot, I took all the dirt off the roots first, there is about an inch and a half or so between the root crown and the top of the water in the trough
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post #4 of 73 (permalink) Old 03-13-2015, 08:54 PM Thread Starter
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Work thawed out enough for me to get some river stone (in this case 1 inch minus ) was hoping for something a little smaller, but they didn't have any pea stone in the bins, and I was concerned the crushed stone would cut the plant roots. Oh well.

So I got it planted the rest of the way

Please ignore the dusty look to the tank... I thought i rinsed the stone well, BUT turns out there was still a little stone dust left, it's slowly settling out.
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post #5 of 73 (permalink) Old 03-15-2015, 11:22 PM Thread Starter
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It's a accent light from walmart, that has a slot in the base to make it wall mountable. I kicked around all sorts ideas for lighting from bending conduit and attaching it to the stand, to hanging clip lights from a window curtain rod, and this is what seemed simplest/cheapest for a temporary install (living in an apartment, so track lighting on the ceiling wasn't really an option). The framed picture in some preceding photos has been moved to another wall.

Also yes I know it's not all centered, but viewing it from the room it's not noticeable; and due to the way the planter had to fit on the tank, nothing was centered to begin with.

Also here is a pic of my new (I think female) German Blue Ram, recently removed from quarantine and added to the tank. Not the best of pictures, she's kind of skittish still, but I love the way it looks like its a large mouth bass with the lateral line.
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post #6 of 73 (permalink) Old 03-19-2015, 10:06 PM Thread Starter
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Just a brief update no pictures this time...

I added some plastic mesh around the overflow, this should keep any leaves/debris that falls off the plants from clogging the drain. I did this isinstead of a second drain due to lack of space mainly, still might change my mind once it grows in some.

I also am seeing new leaf growth, just a little bit atm, but everything but the draceana has something so im taking that as a sign things are adapting.

Lastly ive taken to sprinkling my flake food into the box, based on how it drains it disperses the food better in the water column, and my fish seem much more active during feeding, and none seem to struggle to get their fill, so this is an improvement.
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post #7 of 73 (permalink) Old 03-20-2015, 03:48 PM
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Looking good! The new light looks ideal to me.


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post #8 of 73 (permalink) Old 04-25-2015, 04:13 PM Thread Starter
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I think it's about time for an update. Photos first and then some text later!

The planter box:

FTS Shot:

Isometric view:

Now for the update part;
Plant Growth:
I've so far had 2 new leaves on my pythos, a couple of shoots and flowers on the peace lily (it's kind of hard to tell since it was already fairly large when I obtained it). I've also had some minor growth on the other plants, though nothing really worth getting excited about just yet. I did however lift all the planters out a few days ago to check on root growth and all of them (esp the pythos) had evidence of roots that were beginning to the individual planters (in the case of the pythos it was a good 6 inches long)

NEW Plants:
I also added some additional plants (my g/f wanted a window box SO i stole some cuttings when I was setting that up) I ended up adding maranta "red" maranta leuconeura which has a new leaf developiong, as well as some Tradescantla "Red Hill" tradescantla zebrina which also seems to be adjusting quite nicely. I also added some four leaf clover marisella quadrifolia that I had left over from planting in the tank. I'm not really a fan of how it looks in the tank, but I hope it'll fill in along the box nicely and it seems to be adjusting well also. Lastly I tried adding some cuttings of "golden moss" in both the planter box and a dirt planter I have around the house, and it all died despite regular daily misting/watering, which is kind of a bummer.

The four leaf clover:

Equipment Changes:
The plywood support under the planter box has yet to be painted, and I think in the long term I'm going to leave it that way, It's really not noticeable at all unless you are standing right over the tank (the light obscures it from the front). It also seems to be holding up much better while damp than i would've expected cheap 3 ply plywood to; when it needs replacing I think a piece of 1x6 pine would be better.
I was concerned that the light added over the box would encourage algae growth in the planter, and so far that doesn't seem to be happening (which may be because I have a bit of a hair algae problem still going in the tank some day I'll win).
I've had some issues with my pump losing pressure after a week or so of being in use. I THINK the issue is with the tubing I'm using to bridge between pump and PVC bending and losing it's tight seal. I readjusted the way the pump sits and I think I've solved that issue. If no a zip tie will probably suffice; but for now It's working. The main issue is the mattenfilter was originally intended to be used with an airlift pump and there just isn't a lot of space behind the foam for a pump. Next time around, either more space, an external pump like a maxijet, or no mattenfilter with a pump and prefilter in the tank.

Future Plans:
Let things continue to grow. I might try adding a colony of cherry shrimp into the planter (there are already shrimp in the tank) with the intent that they have a bit more secluded/protected place to breed. Though I'm not sure how i'd go about keeping them there; I've also found one already in there that made it up the overflow before perishing for reasons unknown hence where the idea came from).
I may also find some more plants to add since the draceana and croton haven't really done much growing. Might try some creeping jenny or wandering jew if I can find them, or some anbias; not really sure yet, just thinking about the options atm.
I may also completely re do the interior of the tank; in the past year and a half or so it's never really looked the way i want it to; and the current algae issues aren't helping me like it anymore If i should rescape I'm definitely going to keep the planter box on top though; that fit's my vision for the tank rather well.

Lastly extra pictures I thought were cool; excuse some of the blurriness my phone is a better phone than camera.

water cascading from the spray bar during a water change

Mini water fall from the end of the overflow. During a water change But I could see it being cool as a feature in a different tank with room for it to splash around.

Lastly my hygro putting out emersed leaves
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post #9 of 73 (permalink) Old 04-25-2015, 08:56 PM
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Looking great! What a neat project, wish you started this a few years back when I had a glass tank I wanted to grow plants on top of. I just couldn't keep the watering up so the planter box behind was a fail.

What about getting some creeping jenny [Lysimachia nummularia] as a vining/ground cover plant? It is a very nice aquatic plant as well.

Go look at a real nursery for small terrarium plants, mine had rabbit's foot and kangaroo paw ferns and variegated creeping fig which were plants on my shopping list where HD only had larger potted plants.
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post #10 of 73 (permalink) Old 05-03-2015, 03:48 PM Thread Starter
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Just a brief update, I experienced a bit of a mishap with the tank. My light on the wall, mysteriously and all by itself fell off the wall. Fortunately it didn't fall in the tank, and I was home when it fell; however it did pull the screw completely out of the wall. I'm amazed this happened since I had an almost identical light on my wall as a kid and I abused the crap out of it and never had any issues. Either way it is now remounted with a different screw and is once again stable.

I also modded my finnex planted+ to include a dimmer, no pictures of it yet, however it was fairly easy. I spliced one of
these these
into the power cord and soldered it to the circuit board inside the fixture. It gives me a good range of dimming, and hopefully being able to dial back the light intensity and get rid of some of the algae.
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post #11 of 73 (permalink) Old 05-05-2015, 01:18 AM Thread Starter
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New phone, new camera, new pictures...

The box (with some new planting)

The tank (post dimmer install) I like it not quite so bright

GBR in all her? glory, definitely colored up more than before, also ignore the glass i leave some scum for the otos.

An update on the planting, I removed the croton and marisella n favor of adding African violet some fitonia (red and white verigated) and a much bigger clump of golden moss hopefully this time it survives. The croton was just too slow growing and looked to scraggly. I'm liking the look significantly more already (esp with the violets in bloom)

Last edited by theatermusic87; 05-06-2015 at 01:39 AM. Reason: spelling
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post #12 of 73 (permalink) Old 05-18-2015, 02:25 AM
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what light do you have on top of your tank? ray2? how tall is the tank? looks like you get pretty good light spread and depth

75g journey , Eheim 460L , 33g retired
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post #13 of 73 (permalink) Old 05-18-2015, 11:26 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by rebelbuck1993 View Post
what light do you have on top of your tank? ray2? how tall is the tank? looks like you get pretty good light spread and depth
It's a standard 25g tank, so 24 wide x 12 deep by 20 high; I get great spread by the bottom of the tank of the tank and not too much light spillage. Though tbh as you work your way up the water column there is a noticeable "shadow" area towards the front and back. Nothing too drastic but it is noticeable.

The light (which I probably should have added in the opening post) is a finnex planted+ 24". Love the color temperature on it, and i get pretty respectable growth out of it. I did recently add a dimmer to it because I was getting quite a bit of black hair algae and despite changes in ferts and light duration, I was still having issues, dialing the intensity back to ~70% seems to be having a decently noticeable effect. Since adding the dimmer I run the moonlights during the day to increase the apparent brightness (something I considered made the tank too sterile looking before the dimmer)
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post #14 of 73 (permalink) Old 05-23-2015, 10:47 PM Thread Starter
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Time for another update! With some pictures!

My hygro seems to be doing well climbing up over the top of my light

There is some new leaf growth in the planter box, seems like as the algae is going down in the main tank that the growth in the planter box is picking up. The african violets stopped flowering, I think it's because there is a lack of light, might change things up later on, but for now I like the way it looks.

I added an auto top off of sorts. It's a piece of wood with a hole drilled in it that sits on the rim where the canopy would normally go. There are a pair of metal l brackets that keep the wood from sliding into the tank.

Lastly a not quite full front of tank shot. Not terribly noticable, but the algae on the driftwood is definitely going away.
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post #15 of 73 (permalink) Old 05-26-2015, 02:50 AM
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Nice tank You hardly ever see 25 gallon tanks usually.
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