Beginner’s guide to setting up an aquarium with live plants

Beginner’s guide to setting up an aquarium with live plants

There are many reasons to have an aquarium; some are based on purely scientific reasoning such as blood pressure regulation and stress management, some on Feng Shui principles like bringing prosperity and luck, and others simply because of the sheer joy of having a natural aquatic ecosystem right under your roof. Whether you are new to the ways of handling planted aquariums or a seasoned pro, you are bound to enjoy the beauty and grace of aquariums with live plants. To be able to replicate a natural underwater ecosystem in a glass box that remarkably depicts the beautiful symbiotic relationship between aquatic plants and fishes is truly liberating.


It may look difficult and complicated, but maintaining a planted aquarium is easier than you can imagine. Aquatic plants and fishes are very complimentary in nature. Hence, an aquarium with plants is easier to maintain than the ones without plants. The aquatic plants get carbon dioxide and nutrients for a healthy growth from the aquarium fishes, and in turn supplies oxygen to the fishes. The plants also regulate the process of biological filtration for a clean and healthy environment of the fish tank.

If you have made up your mind to take the plunge and set up your very own aquarium, here are some points that you need to keep in mind for creating a fuss-free planted aquarium:

  • Choose the right aquarium size: Although the bigger the better mantra works best, not all of us can invest in large aquariums because of space, budget and time constraint. A minimum 20 to 30 gallon aquarium is considered ideal for family homes. In case of space crunch, a 10 gallon aquarium can also be used, but try to avoid larger fishes like goldfishes in it as they tend to get crammed up and eventually lead to premature deaths. For adventurous aquarium hobbyists who want to display many species of fishes and plants, a 55 gallon aquarium is just right.
  • Nutrients required for plant growth: You cant’ miss out on adding these nutrients to your fish tank:
  1. Nitrogen: This macronutrient is responsible for optimum growth of the plants.
  2. Potassium: Breaks down carbohydrate to form protein needed for reproduction.
  3. Phosphorous: Stores and transport energy and is responsible for stunted growth if deficit.
  4. Iron: Plays a key role in photosynthesis. Deficiency leads to discoloration of leaves and even death of plants.
  5. Zinc: This enzyme activator is an absolute necessity for the formation of leaves. Be careful not to go overboard, as it may cause “little leaf” syndrome.

Other important nutrients for the proper growth of plants as well as functioning of the natural ecosystem of your aquarium are Chlorine, calcium, magnesium, nickel, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.

  • Choose the right substrate: A well-fed substrate provides anchorage to aquatic plants and also serves as the medium of nutrient absorption by the plants. Live plants need a lot more than just sand and gravel for optimum growth and sustenance. Adding a nutrient rich layer below the sand or gravel layer will facilitate lush growth of the plants and increase longevity. So whether you are using aqua soil, potted soil, fluorite or gravel substrate, make sure it compliments the kind of plants you choose for your aquarium.
  • Go for low maintenance and undemanding plants: While choosing plants for your aquarium, you must keep 3 things in mind: their compatibility with fishes you keep in the aquarium, their aesthetic appeal and of course most importantly (for beginners especially), their undemanding nature. We suggest plants like Vallisneria sp., Amazon sword plant, water wisteria, java moss, Mayaca fluviatilis etc., which have very little or no demands and adjust well to most aquarium set-ups with ease.
  • Choose fishes for the aquarium wisely: Depending on whether you have a cold aquarium (at room temperature), or a heated one, choose fishes accordingly. For cold aquariums, Gold fish and blood fin tetras are great. For heated ones, choose between black molly, black skirt tetra, swordtails or betta. Care must be taken to ensure that they are compatible with the fishes kept. Fishes like Goldfish are rough and may harm delicate plants. They are compatible with plants like Vallisneria gigantea.
  • Invest in good quality heaters, filters, siphons and pumps so that you don’t have to bother about replacing them anytime soon. Install lighting systems that deliver at least 3 to 5 watts per gallon of lighting. Use a water testing kit to check the pH levels of the water. Ideally, it should be between 6.5 and 7.5. These gadgets ensure that the plants and fishes in the aquarium live in a healthy and clean environment just as they would in natural water ecosystems.
  • Distribute your plants according to their size and appearance to increase the beauty of your aquarium. Taller plants like Vallisneria can be used as background plants, medium size plants like water wisteria works well as a mid ground plant, and standalone or carpet plants like Java moss is beautiful as a foreground plant.
  • To increase the beauty and aesthetics of your aquarium, you can add interesting decorative showpieces and murals. From kids to adults, we all love gazing at a beautiful aquarium. They are great conversation starters too.

So now that we covered your basics regarding setting up an aquarium, we are certain that you will start working on it right away.

Aquarium Plants
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Please fill in the form get updates on new articles.

5 thoughts on “Beginner’s guide to setting up an aquarium with live plants

  1. pankaj sharma says:

    I wold like to open new aquarium shop in Bangalore so please guide from where I can get materials in bangalore

    • Raja says:

      Hi.. Wholesale market is in Chennai..Area name is Kolathur..Fishes and equipments are shipped all over India from here.. Unbelievable price..Visit once you might get more idea for your shop..All the best..I am a hobbyist from chennai…I am happy to help you..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *