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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I’ve been reading a lot about planted tanks . My husband bought me a new 55 gallon tank so I could start a low tech planted aquarium. I’m not looking to use CO2 yet as I’m just starting out and learning. What are the best substrates to use? And what plants should I start out with . I know I should plant a lot starting out . Any advice would be amazing!! Thanks
 

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For plants, if you're a beginner, stay away from Pearl weed. It never stops growing and could be a pain. It is very popular, and probably one of the best looking plants in a 55 gallon tank. I would recommend Water Wisteria. Put a bunch in the tank and it should be good. Gravel is definitely a better substrate than sand. Sand is also not very well for beginners.
 

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- Yes, definitely plant a lot. A 55 is going to need a lot of plants. It is very common to buy what you think is a lot and then to realize you need more once you actually plant it. This definitely happened to me with my first tank, and you just buy more plants. You may be able to find deals from local hobbyists (Facebook marketplace, craigslist, through a local club) and we have a sales board here.

- Stick to tried and true low tech plants, the easier the better. I like this list, but that's just a starting point. I think it's smart to try lots of different types of plants rather than buying a lot of just a few species because it can be hard to predict what you will be successful with and what you will like the most.

- The composition of the plants in your tank will probably change with time. Some will grow really well right away and may become weedy down the road - I don't really think that's a problem because you really, really need to have some healthy growing plant mass ASAP to keep the algae at bay and to, um, help you not feel like a failure when other stuff doesn't work out or takes a while to get established. I love and recommend crypts, but man, do they take their time getting established in low tech tanks. Once they do, they are some of the least fussy plants out there and make a great backbone of the scape, but it takes time to grow them up. I personally like water sprite and anacharis as early successful plants, but I don't keep them around long term for aesthetic reasons. The same with floating plants - I only keep them in my shrimp tank because the shrimp love them, but I did use them to help balance things in the beginning in my main tank.

- Don't get seduced by difficult plants or all the electric colors in high tech tanks. It's beautiful, but it's just not something that a beginner with a low tech tank can achieve. That's fine! Spend a year or so and learn with forgiving easy plants and you can set some new goals down the road based on your experience.

- You asked specifically about substrate, and it's up to you. People are successful with both inert (gravel) and active (dirt with a cap, aquasoil) substrates, but the management of each varies.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
- Yes, definitely plant a lot. A 55 is going to need a lot of plants. It is very common to buy what you think is a lot and then to realize you need more once you actually plant it. This definitely happened to me with my first tank, and you just buy more plants. You may be able to find deals from local hobbyists (Facebook marketplace, craigslist, through a local club) and we have a sales board here.

- Stick to tried and true low tech plants, the easier the better. I like this list, but that's just a starting point. I think it's smart to try lots of different types of plants rather than buying a lot of just a few species because it can be hard to predict what you will be successful with and what you will like the most.

- The composition of the plants in your tank will probably change with time. Some will grow really well right away and may become weedy down the road - I don't really think that's a problem because you really, really need to have some healthy growing plant mass ASAP to keep the algae at bay and to, um, help you not feel like a failure when other stuff doesn't work out or takes a while to get established. I love and recommend crypts, but man, do they take their time getting established in low tech tanks. Once they do, they are some of the least fussy plants out there and make a great backbone of the scape, but it takes time to grow them up. I personally like water sprite and anacharis as early successful plants, but I don't keep them around long term for aesthetic reasons. The same with floating plants - I only keep them in my shrimp tank because the shrimp love them, but I did use them to help balance things in the beginning in my main tank.

- Don't get seduced by difficult plants or all the electric colors in high tech tanks. It's beautiful, but it's just not something that a beginner with a low tech tank can achieve. That's fine! Spend a year or so and learn with forgiving easy plants and you can set some new goals down the road based on your experience.

- You asked specifically about substrate, and it's up to you. People are successful with both inert (gravel) and active (dirt with a cap, aquasoil) substrates, but the management of each varies.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thank you so much!! This is great advice and helpful with a starting point for me! I’m so excited to get started. I wanted to start with easier plants first as well. I’m nervous 😬 but I know it may take time to establish what I want. I’m very patient .
 

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Patience is a very good thing in this hobby 😉👍 welcome aboard!! I would definitely do some research into low light beginner plants and get an idea of what plants you want to use and how to plant them (attach them to rocks or wood or plant in substrate) and plant pretty heavy.

As far as substrates go inert (gravel, pool filter and, blasting sand, river rocks) don't provide or hold any nutrients, for a lot of plants rooted in the substrate you're going to need to use root tabs. The benefits of using inert gravel is that it will last forever, you just have to add root tabs every couple months. Starting up with inert gravel means you will have to add ammonia to your water to kick off your nitrogen cycle. Active substrates will hold nutrients for a certain amount of time (usually between 6 months to a year, sometimes more) and will get your plants to start quite a bit quicker/ easier. It also will leech an adequate amount of ammonia to your water column so you won't have to worry about measuring out and adding the ammonia for yourself. The draw backs are- they do eventually lose their buffering and fertilizing effects and will degrade needing refreshing. There's no wrong or right answer to the substrate question. I, personally, use inert in a lot of my low tech set ups because the plants I use a) are mostly rhizomes so they aren't planted in the substrate and b) with the types of plants I use that are in the substrate I'm better off using root tabs for. I like the permanency. For higher tech set ups I use active substrates (aquasoils) because the plant types I use do much better with the size and composition of aquasoils. IMO substrates are a very personal decision lol, I know it sounds stupid but to me it really is. Only the person setting up the tank knows the level of start up maintenance they are willing to do (aquasoils have a very strict water change schedule for start up, inert substrates have a more involved process where you might be water changing less but you're testing more and adjusting more). Good luck!! Would love to see updates!! 😁👍
 

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Welcome to the hobby! It's a lot of fun and like anything, has a long period of getting to know terms before you understand things.

I highly suggest watching some videos on setting up low tech aquascapes. MD Fish Tanks on YouTube has a lot of setup videos on this kind of tank. You will also get a very good visual of how many plants you need. Having a lot of plants is important because healthy plant mass will actually keep away algae. Too few plants and you are in for a struggle.

My single biggest piece of advice is to do large weekly water changes to your tank. Regardless of any other factor, this has been the most helpful for keeping algae at bay for me. At least 50% and preferably 70+%.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thank you everyone ! I appreciate all your tips. I got some of the stuff I will probably use as my hardscape and such . Thinking I may need a bigger focal point maybe . Also anyone have any tips on making slopes and preventing them from sliding or flattening out. I’d really like to make some sort of mound or hill . 😊 I think I’m going to use fluval stratum as a substrate. I’ve also got some root tabs.
I’ve put a list together of some plants I want to use . I’ve researched easier plants. I’ll be getting quite of few of the faster growing plants to hopefully help with algae . I’ve put a picture of what I have for my hardscape so far . Once I figure out how I want it set up I’ll get my plants . Of course the more I research the more I want to do lol. Like co2 . But I think I’ll start without and see how I do . I’ve been playing with a few ideas as to how I want to set it all up. Still deciding on a solid arrangement. Maybe I need larger rocks. Any suggestions are welcome 🤗
1029356
 

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Love the choice in substrate! I won't start a new tank without an active substrate these days.

Pictured is my 40gal breeder which has Fluval Stratum in it. It's low tech. Hopefully it shows how well things can be without co2? Although I have a seperate co2 tank running as well.

I got the tank fully "furnished" off of Craigslist January 2020 and I believe it has been up and running for just about 2 years now. I add recommended dose of Thrive S (shrimp specific fertilizer) spread out over the week.

Plants are various Cryptocorynes, Madagascar lace, Aponogeton (2 types I think?), some Anubius, Rose Sword (group lower left in tank which was not there when I purchased the tank), some Java Moss, growing population of Subwassertang (not hard to do lol) and some Rotala rotundifolia (supposed to be a fast growing stem plant but not in this tank lol) that is barely hanging on.

Light is I think a Finnex LED based off the plastic legs that it has. Possibly an older Fluval (?). My light schedule is at 5 hrs these days with a full day with no lights on. There is a skylight (Solo-Tube) right over the tank so it does get some ambient light. Even at this light schedule green spot, and green dust algae grows on the sides of the tank by the end of the week. But as you can see that algae growth doesn't effect the plants much. I am amazed at the Madagascar Lace plant as in the past it has always done poorly for me (algea magnet). Highly recommend keeping the light schedule at 6 hrs (fully intensity if you can ramp your light) or less during the first month or so. That will really help keep algae at bay until the plants fill in.

Are you familiar with how Fluval Stratum and other active substrates pull kh and other nutrients out of the water column? Not a huge deal just need to be aware of it. I would hold off on your plant tabs until the soil matures a bunch more (I added some right after I got the tank and didn't notice any difference, been basically a year without any substrate additives). The more important nutrients would be potassium and micro fertilizers. Possibly phosphate? The soil will pull a bunch in the beginning.

As for slopes, one thing that I've seen is using black plastic cardboard, cut into strips. The idea is that you place these behind a rock wall (or wood or whatever) so that the little bits of substrate don't slip thru. Which they will. Another one is plain old filter floss. But that requires a good patchwork of rocks.

For plants don't forget about the WTB section on this forum. It might be tough with the way USPS is these days but perhaps worth a try.

Also, a group of Salvinia (floating plant) in the beginning is not a bad idea. They will soak up excess nutrients while your other plants get established and are easy to remove if/when they are not needed anymore.

Good luck and post some pics of when it gets set up. :)

 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Love the choice in substrate! I won't start a new tank without an active substrate these days.

Pictured is my 40gal breeder which has Fluval Stratum in it. It's low tech. Hopefully it shows how well things can be without co2? Although I have a seperate co2 tank running as well.

I got the tank fully "furnished" off of Craigslist January 2020 and I believe it has been up and running for just about 2 years now. I add recommended dose of Thrive S (shrimp specific fertilizer) spread out over the week.

Plants are various Cryptocorynes, Madagascar lace, Aponogeton (2 types I think?), some Anubius, Rose Sword (group lower left in tank which was not there when I purchased the tank), some Java Moss, growing population of Subwassertang (not hard to do lol) and some Rotala rotundifolia (supposed to be a fast growing stem plant but not in this tank lol) that is barely hanging on.

Light is I think a Finnex LED based off the plastic legs that it has. Possibly an older Fluval (?). My light schedule is at 5 hrs these days with a full day with no lights on. There is a skylight (Solo-Tube) right over the tank so it does get some ambient light. Even at this light schedule green spot, and green dust algae grows on the sides of the tank by the end of the week. But as you can see that algae growth doesn't effect the plants much. I am amazed at the Madagascar Lace plant as in the past it has always done poorly for me (algea magnet). Highly recommend keeping the light schedule at 6 hrs (fully intensity if you can ramp your light) or less during the first month or so. That will really help keep algae at bay until the plants fill in.

Are you familiar with how Fluval Stratum and other active substrates pull kh and other nutrients out of the water column? Not a huge deal just need to be aware of it. I would hold off on your plant tabs until the soil matures a bunch more (I added some right after I got the tank and didn't notice any difference, been basically a year without any substrate additives). The more important nutrients would be potassium and micro fertilizers. Possibly phosphate? The soil will pull a bunch in the beginning.

As for slopes, one thing that I've seen is using black plastic cardboard, cut into strips. The idea is that you place these behind a rock wall (or wood or whatever) so that the little bits of substrate don't slip thru. Which they will. Another one is plain old filter floss. But that requires a good patchwork of rocks.

For plants don't forget about the WTB section on this forum. It might be tough with the way USPS is these days but perhaps worth a try.

Also, a group of Salvinia (floating plant) in the beginning is not a bad idea. They will soak up excess nutrients while your other plants get established and are easy to remove if/when they are not needed anymore.

Good luck and post some pics of when it gets set up. :)

Your tank looks great!! Thank you so much for all the input I really appreciate it! I was not aware the substrate did that but thank you I will make sure to keep an eye on that. I was going to get floating plants as I’ve read they help in the beginning. Should I purchase a better light? I just have the hood that came with the tank with the led strip lights. Thanks again . I will post pics as soon as I set it all up !! I can’t wait to get started .
 

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Your tank looks great!! Thank you so much for all the input I really appreciate it! I was not aware the substrate did that but thank you I will make sure to keep an eye on that. I was going to get floating plants as I’ve read they help in the beginning. Should I purchase a better light? I just have the hood that came with the tank with the led strip lights. Thanks again . I will post pics as soon as I set it all up !! I can’t wait to get started .
Thank you!

As to the light, that's a tough call. It depends on the light. Which I will assume there is not much information on as it came with the tank?

The issue that I would see is that your 50 gallon tank is rather tall (19" right?) and most, not all, "tank" lights are not that powerful. So you might have difficulty getting some plants to do well at or near the substrate. You might also see some plants, I'm thinking stem plants, get "leggy". The spectrum of the leds shouldn't be a factor (MD Fish Tanks uses the cheapest of cheap, lol) except for how you view the tank. Upgrading the light could definitely provide more "pow" to the plant colors depending on the type of lamp you go with. Get a light that ramps and you have way more options for providing some viewing light for the majority of the day (say 5-7 hrs at 30-40%), while providing a shorter period of time with higher power for plant growth (say ~3hrs at 100% intensity for an overall lighting period of 8-10 hrs). If you are not apposed to spending some money. :)

But that's not to say that the light you have now won't work. Anubias, Java fern's, Buce, crypts should all do well. I forgot I have some Sagittaria subulata in this tank that is now starting to spread. Definitely try some of that out as well. I would also try some Hygrophilia Polysperma(dwarf hygro). That would definitely tell you if your lights are good or not. If they don't do well then maybe time for an upgrade, lol!

And as mentioned by @ElleDee @minorhero plant heavy! From the get go. I would not actually consider my tank heavily planted. It definitely needs more, especially along the back which is what the rotala was for but it obviously isn't liking the situation.
 

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Here is my old 55 gal. I used pool filter sand and 3 nine watt led light 6500k ish bulbs. My advice is to plant lots of crypts, lucens in the back and wendtii in the middle. These fill in pretty fast and are good values. I also had some ludwigia that did well after this pic. The anubias and buce did well but grew super slow and were expensive, so use stuff like that sparingly. The crypt parva and val in this pic never took off. Too much light is what messes up most low tech tanks.
1029487

I also had a 72 gallon with a similar set up but used 2 30 watt flood lights. This one used the same crypts and also the ludwigia.
1029489
 

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Thank you everyone ! I appreciate all your tips. I got some of the stuff I will probably use as my hardscape and such . Thinking I may need a bigger focal point maybe . Also anyone have any tips on making slopes and preventing them from sliding or flattening out. I’d really like to make some sort of mound or hill . 😊 I think I’m going to use fluval stratum as a substrate.
I think the magic word with making slopes is "terracing." Also, Some people put lava rock underneath to help keep things from getting too anaerobic deep in the substrate. That way you don't get foul smelling gas.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Finally got everything I needed and setup. My plants arrived yesterday. My light will come on Friday. I went with Nicrew Plus with the timer. I’ve got my tank filled up and planted . I also decided to try the co2 lol. I couldn’t help it with all the results I saw. I have to set that up today. I already want to get a better filter system than what came with the tank but that will be in a few weeks probably . Any suggestions? This is what I have planted and I feel like I need more bit maybe you guys have a better idea .
3 Golden Aubias
6 Anubias nana
About 3-4 bunches of Lemon bacopa
6 Crptocoryne brown/green wedtii
3 bundles of creeping Jenny I got for free
Hornwort
4 to 5 bunches of water wisteria
4 Limnophila Hippuridoides
3 Ludwigia Super red
Monte Carlo
3 Java fern
2 rotala rotundifolia
4 Vallisneria Asiatica
And quite a bit of Java moss
Also got some duckweed but I think I’m regretting that I put that in lol.
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1029613
1029614
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Update 😊. It’s been about 4 weeks . I upgraded my lighting within the first 2 weeks to a nicrew sky led aquarium light, and also decided to use co2 . Everything on timers . So far so good. Plants are growing. Got my co2 to the right levels I think . Had small algae problem but under control and basically gone thank goodness . And have added shrimp from my shrimp tank . Figured I’d post an updated picture! And thank everyone again for all the advice and support. Now just thinking about what fish to possibly add. Any ideas? Hornwort has taken over . I’ve even taken some and added it to my other fish tank . Will need to remove more .
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