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I was just gifted a 20 gal tank. It came with a heater, thermometer, filter, LED lights. Whatever comes with the topfin starter kit, essentially. I’m not super sure where to start. Ideally I would like to keep live plants and mostly shrimp, and a few small fish if necessary for the overall tank life. The plants I’m planning to order are combined with driftwood: MICROSORUM WINDELOV Fern Driftwood, JAVA FERN driftwood, JAVA MOSS driftwood, and BUCEPHALANDRA driftwood. These come as a set from a local seller. I got some mixed info on when and how I should start cycling my tank. With the driftwood plants, I was told I wouldn’t need substrate, but should I get it anyway? Can I cycle my tank with the plants? Are the plants a good fit for the tank I want to achieve? Right now I kind of need some specific advice based on this. Is this attainable as a first timer?
 

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I would recommend substrate. It gives a place for you beneficial bacteria to live inside your tank and your livestock down the road will appreciate it. Plus if you want other stem plants in the future it will be nice to have the option without a teardown.
You can cycle with the plants. I think an important thing to do would be to figure out your fertilizer plans and to figure out exactly what fish and shrimp you want to keep before you buy anything. Look around online or at LFS and make a list of everything you are interested in and make a chart with parameters for gh, kh, pH, temp, aquarium size, Max size, #of fish needed for comfort, breeding capabilities. Then see what you want most and pick compatible species from your list
But read up...you are about to head down a very fun rabbit hole. Good luck!
 

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Yup, for sure get the substrate! It gives a surface for beneficial bacteria and looks nicer while you're cycling. The plants from what I know are really nice beginner plants (also kinda a newbie myself but I've some experience with java fern & moss and they are super easy).

It really depends on what you want to achieve; an island look would be good with the driftwood-attached plants, but if you want a lusher and more natural (in my opinion) scape, some midground/backround plants with height is definitely needed.

What you're going for is definitely attainable. Just make sure you do lots of research! Happy tank planning!
 
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