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want to try a planted tank, but not sure if a beginner should

1686 Views 18 Replies 16 Participants Last post by  pawslover
I stumbled on your site while doing some research for aquariums. I am looking to get started in this hobby, again. I have had some tanks over the years, but never really knew what I was doing. But an opportunity has presented son has a 55 gallon tank that is empty. He had it set up in his room with an Oscar, but when he left on his mission, I killed it (pumps need water, fish need oxygen...but that's for a different discussion)

Anyway, he is back home and we would like to set up the aquarium. It will be in the living room this time and in order to keep my wife happy, it needs to be a nice setup. I want to do small fish that school and small angels (if that is even possible) after looking around, I think I want to do a planted tank.

To start with I am researching which pump, filter, lights, etc. I need and will work with the planted tank. As I am a novice to all of this, I am wondering if I should even do a planted tank. I also am looking for advice as to where to buy supplies, fish, etc as I am not sure about the chain stores.

once I get the basics down, I will be looking at how to make a tree. The theme of the tank will be "The Tree of Life". So I will need a large tree and I saw some driftwood / moss combos that might work. I will be looking at the planted forum and researching the driftwood/moss trees. I would love to have a weeping willow look.

I look forward to learning and posting my progress,
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First off, welcome to the forum. Planted tanks are nothing to be afraid of. In fact, they are perfect for the beginner because offer a further level of filtration, oxygenation, and and great looks to the tank. Furthermore, fish love them. They can absolutely tell the difference between live and plastic plants.

A 55g is a good starting size. For beginners, the bigger the better. Its much harder to mess up a large tank than a small one. As for where to buy equipment, the internet is your very best (and cheapest) option. For a 55g, I would personally run 2x250gph (or 2x300gph, optimally) canisters of your favorite brand (Eheim, Rena, Aquatop, etc). This will give you ample filtration and allow you to filter both sides of the tank simultaneously. Big pieces, such as filters, lights, etc, are way overpriced in local chains, however, places like Petco, Petsmart, etc, do often carry supplies, accessories and livestock at decent prices.

Lighting is a very big issue, and not something we can help you with until you tell us what type of setup you are looking to get into. What I mean is, lo-tech with easy, low light, slow growing plants, or high tech with co2 injection, fertilizers, quicker growing, and possibly more difficult plants. On that same note, a moss tree is definitely an advanced aquascaping technique.

Another important choice is substrate. What you use can range from regular dirt to expensive, top of the line synthetic dirt such as ADA AquaSoil.

Finally, stocking should be the furthest thing from your mind, currently. A properly and fully stocked planted tank should be set up, and then fish should be added. This is the number one best way to ensure initial and long term survival of your livestock.
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Planted tanks can actually be as simple, or as complex, as you want to make them. Your stocking plan is a pretty easy one--nothing there to rip up plants or need conditions that might make certain plants difficult. Your next step is to figure out how much time you want to spend maintaining a tank.

I love, love, love the amazing high light requirement plants that are featured in so many of the really awesome tanks out there--but I don't run them in my tanks. High light means fast growth and constant work pruning and balancing fertilizers and lights and needing c02. Cool stuff, and totally do-able, but not my thing. I like being able to step back and pretty much let things run on automatic for weeks or even months at a time (other than feeding and a bit of cleaning here and there).

For example: my primary tank is a 37g(tall). I've got fluorite and gravel for substrate, an all-in-one package deal LED lightbar with integrated timer, and two canister filters only because it was easier to add a second when I upgraded tank size than break everything down (my original canister is in-line with a combo chiller/heater) and set it back up on a single larger filter. Before I upped my lights to medium level, I used Seachem Flourish 3x week and threw in root tabs a couple times a year. Now I use a different all-in-one fertilizer 3x week and throw in root tabs a couple extra times a year. ;)
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Plants need water, nutrients, light and CO2 to live and grow. Keep that in mind.

The intensity of light drives the plant's needs for CO2 & nutrients.
For a beginner, I'd suggest you start out with a low tech tank with LOW light intensity. This way you can't mess up with algae outbreaks and you don't have to spend money on a CO2 system. You can get hardy plants to grow (slowly) in this condition like swords, crypts, anubias, ferns, and a few stem plants.
In all my years (20+) of keeping fish, I've never gone high tech. I agree with the above - its only as complicated as you make it. No need for fancy lights or ferts or substrate. I use Petsmart gravel, nothing special, and have happy swords, cabomba, anacharis, ferns, moss and the like.

I do recommend lots of filtration - the more the merrier. Even that doesnt have to be fancy - 2 Aquaclears and you'll be good to go. I even have 3 filters on my 55, an Aquaclear, a HOT Magnum canister type filter, and an Eheim canister.

Best of luck, looking forward to pics, and welcome :)

If you can read (the old threads)
If you can ask questions (about things you've read in those threads)
and you can follow directions.

You can have a successful planted tank. There are some basics to learn and a trick or two, But, this isn't rocket science. (although some might have you think so)

Chances are you didn't learn too drive in a Masaratti. Don't bite off more than you can chew for the 1st tank. You can have a very nice planted tank with a moderate investment and wise choices of easier to grow lower light plants.
I'm still a complete novice when it comes to a planted tank, but so long as you take it slowly and plan ahead, there is no Aston the plants should be any harder to keep than the fish.
One thing I have found is that by keeping live plants my fish are far happier and healthier, so if anything, it makes keeping a aquarium easier.
Welcome to the forum. All of the above posters make great point on how to attempt this. I'm a fan of starting low tech low light. Just take ur time don't rush into anything
I started keeping plants when i was ~16 (i'm 18 now. 19 in a month).. If i could do it, anyone can. Like everyones said, its as simple as you make it. Avoid buying ridiculously picky plants and youll be FINE. I dont inject co2 or anything in my 75G, and my plants are insane. I have some that are so long, they reach the top of the tank, run all the way to the other side o the tank, and are half way down to touching the bottom (Over 4' Long :D!). Thats with occasionally putting some rootmedic in the tank and stuff- nothing overkill. No carbon dioxide or any of that fancy crap (even though i have it). Only plant upgrade is that i used eco complete instead of normal gravel, and i have a dual t5ho light. For a 50-60$ Investment on a lamp, your tank will go from fish ready to plant ready (And even thats unnecessary if you have low light plants like Java ferns and stuff, which could be kept by your average 5 or 6 year old hahaha).
It's intensely addicting. Heed my warning!
Don't heed his warning, just keep it in the back of your mind locked up along with all those other warnings you've heard but never paid attention to ;)
It's intensely addicting. Heed my warning!
Take your estimated expenditure on plants.

Multiply it by 10.

And keep away from shrimp and snails unless you want even more intricate layers of compulsive shopping!
Like others have said, ultimately it depends on how deep you dive at first. There is a bit of a learning curve with planted tanks before you achieve "perfect balance", but I don't think that this is a hobby only for advanced aquarists.
Welcome to the forum. Beyond what is already said, consider the type of setup and plants. Low versus high maintenance.

Low maintenance - generally require nominal trimming, slow growers, low range of colors, cost less to start up, more forgiving and easier to adjust in the event of algae..

High maintenance - may require weekly trimming, generally faster growers, broad range of colored plants - reds to light greens, more expensive to start up, may require CO2, fert dosing, high light, and difficult to find a balance.
Do it. I just started my first tank ever. This forum is great... I think plants are easier than fish to keep alive. If you have fish then your already feeding daily in many cases. Adding food for your plants isn't much different.

My advise is to keep it simple (in theory) and understand what you need for success before you buy stuff.

I have also spent more money than I wanted to. But it's fine... I enjoy the results.
Welcome! Lots of good info already. Definitely can be as easy as you want it to be or more involved. Personally, I like low tech, low maintenance. I start with a decent plant substrate (my favorite is Eco-Complete) and upgrade the lights to T5, then stick with low to moderate light plants. Occasionally dose with Seachem Excel but I'm not a stickler about it. For filtration, one slightly oversized for the tank canister and an HOB to prevent surface buildup. Cycle fishlessly.

Best sources for most everything is online. Hard goods especially better on pricing online and for plants & livestock, no better source than fellow hobbyists. Commercial sources just can't compare for quality & it's lot easier to get successful results in this hobby when you start out with good quality :) Look for auctions or swap meets in your area as good potential sources of plants & fish, check the sections here for buying/selling/trading or look on
First of all, THANK YOU for all the feedback. I am still processing it all. I am liking the low tech / low maintenance suggestions.

since i am starting with a clean slate, here is what I am thinking for my layout.

on the left side, 6-8" wide, a dense combination of plants preferable with some red and at varying heights. I also plan to have driftwood sticking out (this side should look wild, untamed and harsh) I am also considering a bubble bar running from front to back along the line b/n this harsh area and the river

Then will be the river, blue pebbles or something simple.

Next is the straight and narrow path. maybe some flat river rock. (is it possible to make my own pavers out of clay or something?)

On the right, this will be the largest section, I want green grass with the tree...that's it. This side should look very neat and clean and peaceful. I want the tree to be the focal point, so a short plain grass is all I want for now. as for the tree, I don't know what I want but I realize this will be the hardest part. I have seen some bonzai looking trees and liked those, I also have wondered if there was something that would resemble a willow tree. What can you use for the tree trunk? does it have to be drift wood? can I use wood dowels or plastic to shape the trunk and branches?

I have attached my layout drawing to help visualize this. I also found a tank by neoshrimp that is very similar to what I have in mind

Please let me know what you would suggest for plants. that would be low tech but still fit my vision.

Thanks in advance.


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Your vision is a good one, however, it would probably need high tech equipment to achieve the results you have in mind. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try what you are looking to try, just be aware the tank you references has pressurized co2 and the works.

However, just choose the right plants and I think you can do it. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of reds for low tech. Sunset hygrophilia is about the only one I would suggest. Jungle Val would be great for the untamed area. It's easy to grow and when it's tall enough it lays across the waters surface. For the grasses, you'd probably want to stick with dwarf sag.

For the tree, most people use driftwood, but anything that looks like a tree and is aquarium safe is feasible. Dowels? Probably not. PVC would work if you are handy enough. So does foam materials. Be aware of things that float, because they need a way to be anchored.
Trickerie is correct. That tank in the link does not look low tech and achieving that look when low tech may not be impossible, but it's not easy. I have been keeping low tech tanks for years & have never had much success with red plants or grass carpets. Mine are LOW Maintenance so I don't know that it can't be done, but those plants do better with plenty of light, fertilizers & CO2.

As far as the tree, you may find some manzanita wood that has the look you want or if you have a specific vision in mind & are handy, it would be worth reading through the DIY section and look at what can be created with foam.
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