The Beginner Planted Aquarium
Updated: Jan 6
A complete guide to setting up a easy to maintain 10 gallon aquarium!
If you are new to the aquarium scene and don't know where to start but have always dreamed of enjoying a beautifully scaped planted aquarium, then we have the perfect guide for you!
In this guide we will give you a step by step guide to setting up a easy to maintain 10 gallon aquarium featuring products from our store. The goal is to get you started on the right path. By no means do you have to use exactly what we use.
It should be noted that this is a setup geared towards those who are not only new to fish keeping but planted aquariums specifically. This set up will allow you to maintain easy to maintain plants and is not meant for more demanding plants. Of course with adding things like CO2 and more intense lighting even easy to maintain plants will do even better but for this set up is not needed.
What will you need?
10 gallon aquarium
Step 1: Setting up the aquarium
In the aquarium world we always recommend for beginners that the larger the aquarium the easier it is to maintain. Generally this is accurate but there are pros and cons to this. A affordable size for beginners we always recommend is a 10 gallon. It is wise to note that the size of tank determines roughly what type of fish you can keep. This set up will be for a small tropical fish community.
You have two options for the 10 gallon tank. If you want full control over the equipment then a simple glass rectangular 10 gallon aquarium will do just fine. Or to save a little bit of money you can purchase a 10 gallon aquarium kit which contains the tank, filter, hood with light and sometimes even a heater with a few other supplies. We recommend Aqueon for a beginner aquarium kit. However for this setup we want to choose our equipment and thus will go with a regular 10 gallon aquarium.
Location is very key. Avoid placing the aquarium near direct sunlight and vents. This can affect the aquarium's temperature and excessive light can cause unwanted algae problems. Also avoid placing the aquarium near doorways or where there is high traffic. The inhabitants tend to spook easily. With a 10 gallon aquarium you can either place it on a stand designed to hold 10 gallon aquariums or a counter top or shelve that is able to hold the weight will do just fine. Place a leveling mat underneath the tank to help reduce any pressure points. Make sure the aquarium is as level as possible and does not wobble.
Clean or rinse the aquarium as there can be residue from the manufacturer. Master Breeder Dean from Aquarium Co-Op recommends washing the aquarium with Dawns dish soap which is used for wildlife rescues during oil spills and is animal safe. Just make sure to rinse thoroughly and dry.
There are a number of filtration options out there from under gravel filters to sump filters. Depending on the size of your aquarium and what you plan on keeping greatly affects your choices for filtration. The filter is the life support system of your aquarium and helps in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in a small body of water.
For this setup if you purchased a kit you most likely will have hang on back (HOB) filter that comes with it. These filters are one of the classics and work well on a 10 gallon aquarium. Other options are sponge filters, internal filters and even small canister filters can work.
If you chose to go with a standard tank then we recommend for this set up the AquaClear HOB filter rated for up to 10 or 20 gallons. This HOB filter is our favorite and the one we recommend for this type of filtration. It is relatively quite, easy to start up, modular in terms of filtration media, and has flow control.
This filter will hang on the back of the tank either in the middle or to one side. For this set up we chose to put it in the middle.
Since we decided to have full control in choosing what equipment we want on the tank you have a wide range of options for lighting depending on your budget. There are full spectrum controllable LED lights in the market that are specially designed for planted aquariums. These are especially great for medium to high light demanding plants and plants that you are trying to get a reddish color out of.
Since we are aquascaping with easy plants that don't require high light we will be going with the Aqueon OptiBright LED Light Fixture. This light has a combination of white/blue/RBG, has a built in timer with sunrise/sunset capabilities with a remote control and is one f the more affordable lights for planted tanks in the market.
This light comes with two legs that will rest on the sides of the aquarium rim.
Unless you heat the room where the aquarium is to the appropriate temperature for a tropical community (75-77°F) you will need a aquarium heater. Like many other pieces of equipment, heaters come in a variety of sizes and wattages depending on the size of your aquarium. Some come preset while others can have the temperature set.
A few pointers in regards to heaters:
Heaters can be greatly affected based on the environment the aquarium is in. If the room is relatively cold the heater will have to work more to maintain temperature. If it gets too hot then a heater might not be needed.
It is important to also have a reliable thermometer to make sure the heater is maintaining the desired temperature. Some heater allow you to calibrate.
Keep in mind that most heaters do have a temperature discrepancy of ~ +/- 1°F (this can vary by manufacturer).
When doing maintenance or water changes make sure to turn your heater off. Before turning it back on wait a couple minutes until the heater has adjusted to the new temp. This is to help prevent the glass from shattering. (Although if you add in water that is the exact same temp. which we recommend then no need to wait to turn it on.)
For this setup we recommend the Oase HeatUp adjustable heater. We use Oase's heaters which come in a variety of sizes and wattages and so far have proven reliable. These heaters can also be calibrated. We recommend placing the heater near high flow so the heat can be easily distributed. For our set up the heater will be next to the HOB at the back. You can place to either side and later hide it with either the hardscape or plants if you wish to not see it.
Do not turn on the heater until the aquarium is filled completely with water.
Step 2: Aquascaping
Although you can add gravel as a substrate, you would have to supplement it with nutrition capsules to allow the plant roots to get the appropriate nutrition. Most if not all aquaecapes start off with aquarium soil as substrate.
We use and recommend Tropica Aquarium Soil. It comes in two sizes and types:
Aquarium Soil (6 lb. & 20 lb.)
Aquarium Soil - Powder (6 lb. & 20 lb.)
Both the regular soil and the powder are pretty much the same. The only difference is grain size. Powder is best for plants with small select roots such as carpeting plants and tissue culture. It is also best used in nano aquaecapes for sense of scale. For this set up we are using the regular sized soil.
Unlike inert substrates such as sand and gravel, aquarium soil contains the essential nutrients for healthy plant roots and growth. After a bit of time the soil will loose its nutrients and you will have to supplement. Visit the product page to determine how much soil you would need. Once you have calculated how much you will need you can then add the soil into the tank.
A rule of thumb is to either slope up towards the back or to one side. This is to add depth to your aquascape. Also it helps in determining where your plants with longer roots will go verses those with shorter roots.
Hardscape consists of any wood or stones/rocks you wish to add to your aquascape. This gives your aquascape a more naturalistic feel and structure. Hardscape also allows for hiding spots for fish and other aquatic critters.
You can chose to have a combination of wood and rock (i.e Nature style), just rock (i.e Iwagumi style) or just plants (i.e Dutch style). For this setup we have decided to go for a more naturalistic style with a combination of driftwood and seriyu stone. A tip from renowned British Aquascaper George Farmer is the rule of thirds. We have positioned our driftwood to the right hand corner and at the base of the wood have places the stone to accent the wood and to create a transition.
Aquascaping is a art form so experiment and try different kinds of stone and rocks until you like the look!
We offer a wide variety of plants primarily from Tropica that are either potted or tissue culture. with tissue culture plants you are guaranteed pest, algae and disease free. However, these plants are basically baby plats and will need enough nutrients to start growing.
List of plants used for this example:
All plants except for the Marsilea crenata are easy category plants. After preparing the plants appropriately, they are then planted starting with Marselia crenata in the foreground as the carpeting plant, S. repens borders the stone as a transitional plant, the Crypt. undulatus 'Red' and Nymphoides hydrophyllia 'Taiwan' act as accent plants in between the rock and wood. The java fern and Anubias are epiphyte plants meaning they do not need to be in the soil and can be attached to the rock and wood either by using gel based glue, fishing line, plant weights or simply wedging into cracks and crevices. After a while the plants will attach to the wood or rock. To help plant the plants into the soil we use aquascaping tweezers.
Care & Maintenance
We recommend since this would be a new aquascape to download the Tropica Service App which will help you in maintaining and caring for your aquascape for the next 90 days. We recommend following Tropica's instruction on the soil regarding water changes. Monitor your water quality and wait for at least two weeks before adding any live animals. Prune plants as needed with aquascaping scissors and dose your tank with the appropriate fertilizers when and if needed.
The current livestock is:
Zebra Danios x5
Nerite snails x3
Orange Sunkist shrimp
Although this article gives a brief rundown on setting up a planted aquarium, it should at least help guide you to the right path. The concepts are the same no matter what size aquarium, equipment and plants you use.
If you want to actually see this aquascape set up and any updates watch the video below!
If you have any questions on choosing the right tank, equipment, supplies, plants and livestock feel free to contact us!