Knowing What You Want

January 21st, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

40G - 3.5 Weeks

One of the most important things you can do to ensure a successful planted aquarium should be done before you ever start the project. There are a number of factors that must be determined that will impact the time required to upkeep the aquarium, the cost of your final setup, and type of fish/plants you can keep.

Time spent per week

Hemianthus callitrichoides Oxygen BubbleThere are many different styles of planted aquariums, and some require far more day-to-day effort than others. Upfront, you should determine how much time every week you would like to devote to this hobby. Remember, that in addition to the plants, living creatures will be dependant upon your care, so it’s not fair to them or you if your aquarium goes south due to your inactivity. Realistically decide whether you have 2 hours every week or an hour once a month, or less. Much less than that, and you may wish to reconsider all but the most modest endeavors into the planted aquarium hobby.

The beauty of this hobby, is that often, time spent is rewarded with healthy, hriving plants, and a magnificent aquascape. It is also possible to spend less time, and allow the nature of the plants themselves to grow and develop into more of a jungle aquascape. Obviously, there’s also something in-between.  The types of plants you are attracted to may also help influence this decision. In general, stem plants, or plants that grow vertically from a stalk, usually require more upkeep than plants that are rooted with rosette leaves coming from their base.


You knew that cost had to enter the equation at some point, right? In general, planted aquariums are fairly expensive, although they do not have to be. If you buy everything new from your local aquarium store, you could easily spend $500-$1,000 for a mid-range setup. Of course, tempering your ambitions, and being willing to buy used equipment, can significantly lower your total expenditure. If you are fortunate enough to have a local aquarium society in your area, this is a great place to acquire equipment, plants, fish, and lots of great advice.  If you are handy, there are plenty of Do-It-Yourself possibilities in the aquarium hobby, which can help save some cash.


Ancistrus sp. L279The type of fauna that you wish to have in your planted aquarium can go a long way in determining what type of plants you should grow along side them. In general, smaller fish (0″-6″) are the best fish to keep. Much larger, and they can unknowingly uproot plants when swimming by. Fish that dig, eat plants, or rearrange their territory should be avoided in nearly all situations. Do your research and make sure that the 3″ Plecostomus algae-eating catfish at your fish store will not turn into a foot-long beast.


Finally, you must decide whether you want to be able to grow just about any plant out there, or whether you are willing to trade a more limited plant selection for less upkeep, fertilization, and equipment costs.


In conclusion, the ideas introduced in this article should be kept in the back of your head when reading future installments of this series. I will further expound upon these topics, introducing all of the complexities of various equipment and techniques, but do not lose sight of what you ultimately want to get out of this hobby.

4 Responses to “Knowing What You Want”

  1. Phillip Brown Says:

    This is all really well said. A great Aquascape is both art and science and can become very time consuming – but so fascinating.

  2. Paul S Says:

    This is very interesting. I’m looking forward to reading your future articles.

  3. Gautam Bose Says:

    A good piece!

  4. Quinn Says:

    I like you’re stuff so far, i just rekindled my relationship with fish tanks this year since my pre-teen year trials…Definitely getting sucked into the idea of owning a badass planted tank. Your site seems to be the most helpful so far since i’ve been scavenging for information about a month ago, really wish i had a uncle down the street to walk me through step by step but im sure your help will serve just fine.