Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
Add plants before filling the tank.
Mist the plants as you go.
Then put a plate or plastic bag over the substrate and pour the water in over that. This way reduces the cloudiness.
If the planting is so dense you cannot see the back of the tank, then do not worry about the N-cycle, the plants are your bio-filter.
Otherwise, here are the best ways to cycle, with no harm to the fish:
1) Fishless cycle. Add ammonia to the tank to feed the bacteria. (The bacteria are already in the tank, they are growing on the plants and other places). When the bacteria can remove 3 ppm of ammonia overnight and no nitrite shows up, there is enough bacteria for a reasonable fish load. This will generally take about 3 weeks, if are no plants, or just small plants.
2) Shortened fishless cycle: If you have access to Nitrospira bacteria from a bottle or from a cycled tank, add it to the new tank. Then start feeding ammonia just like the fishless cycle. This method will go a lot faster, depending on how much bacteria you can add. Look for Nitrospira species on the label if you buy any cycle products. If it does not say Nitrospira it has the wrong bacteria, and is a waste of money.
3) Bottled bacteria: Get one of the products as described in idea 2. Dose a small amount and add a small amount of fish. Dose more later and add more fish. Dose more later and add more fish... The Nitrospira products can be kept in the fridge (not freezer) for anywhere from 6 mos to a year, so you can add fish whenever you want, just add some more bacteria up to 24 hours or as little as half an hour before you add the new fish.
ALWAYS QUARANTINE NEW FISH!!! Do not risk your main set up with fish that may bring in disease or parasites. At least a month of observation in a smaller, bare bottom tank minimum.