How To Build A Planted Aquarium For Beginners

Step by step guide to your first Planted Aquarium

Looking for a natural and beautiful underwater ecosystem that captures the eyes of all who gaze at it? Freshwater planted, or natural aquariums can do just this. They contain aquatic plants and fish that mirror natural aquatic environments, and it can be a very fulfilling and enjoyable hobby.

Natural fish tanks are typically much easier to maintain than other fish tank setups since the inhabitants of the ecosystem create a synergistic environment for them all to thrive. Fish supply co2 and nutrients for healthy plant development. In turn, water plants supply supplemental biological purification and oxygen to produce a tidy, healthy environment for fish. It’s a beautiful thing!

Recommended planted aquarium for beginners.

To ease you into to your new hobby here is a simple step by step process to follow for creating your own personal aquatic ecosystem.

We recommend start with a 20-gallon high aquarium, Aquarium Stand, and Fluorescent Strip light.

Plants and equipment we recommend for a beginner and it will look great:

Aquarium Plants-

  • 1 Green Myrio
  • 2 Rotalia Indica
  • 2 Ludwigia
  • 3 Annubias Barteri
  • 3 Java Fern
  • 4 Micro Sword
  • 4 Wisteria
  • 6 Cryptocoryne
  • 6 Annubias Nana

*NOTE there are also “plant packs” you can purchase with pre selected plants.


  • Tetra Whisper Power Filter power filter
  • 100W Marineland Precision Submersible Heater
  • Coralife Digital Thermometer
  • 2 – 15.4 lb bags Seachem Flourite™
  • 24″ Floramax Plant Growth Lamp
  • 3 Driftwood
  • 16 oz Stress Coat® Plus
  • Test Kit
  • Flourish Liquid Plant Pack
  • 250 ml Seachem Flourish™ Excel

Some fish we recommend:

  • Albino Aeneus Cory Cats
  • Cardinal Tetras
  • Neon Blue Dwarf Gourami
  • Rummynose Tetras

Now that we have covered what you will need to start, lets dive in and go through all the necessary step get your aquarium up and running.

Planted Aquarium Setup

We have a guide for aquarium setup

  • Set up your aquarium and stand.
  • Add a high quality, mineral-rich substrate (this is the foundation for long-term success).
  • Rinse plant substrate well before placing in aquarium.
  • Fill aquarium with de-chlorinated water and install filter and heater.

Planted Tank PH and Hardness

You will certainly want to monitor these as your aquarium evolves, and monitor often after initial set up. Make sure the pH is between 6.5 and 7.5 by using a water conditioner. This is the healthy and appropriate range for both your fish and your plants. Use Reverse Osmosis water and re-mineralize with Seachem Equilibrium when dealing with hard water issues.

Planted Lighting Set Up

Do yourself a favor and grab a plant lamp to replace the usually subpar stock light that comes with your aquarium hood, this will set you up for success and your plants will grow healthy. And if you decide to go with plants that have “higher light requirements” then you will want to use two strips. Your plants are a large part of what make your aquarium pop, so we should take the time care for them properly.

Add Your Plants

It is crucial that you let your aquarium establish itself for a few weeks, usually about 2-3 before you add your plants. Once you are all ready to go start with the foreground of your aquarium and add in short growing plants to the foreground and add plants in ascending order to fill the mid-ground and background.

Add Fish

Just like with plants, wait at least 2-3 week establishment marker in the nitrogen cycle before you begin to add your fish.  Don’t add to many all at once or you may have trouble if   The fish we listed above will all do just fine in this tank, and we would recommend you do a school of about 6-12 for this size of tank, the fish are here to compliment the surrounding plants and environment, usually fish are the main attraction, but here its is the underwater forest we are after.


In order to sustain their health and growth your plants require added nutrients. Carbon (C02) is a very important and essential nutrient for developing plants which your fish will provide but to get robust growth you may need to supplement C02. There are yeast based, pressurized, and aerosol systems.  As well as liquid C02 however, this is not as effective as gas C02.  There are micro-nutrients your plants need in addition to C02.  API Leaf Zone or Flourish are good options. Just remove the carbon from the filter so you don’t remove them. Always follow the manufacturers recommendations to maintain your beautiful plants. 

How To Build A Planted Aquarium For Beginners

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