How to setup Low-tech Planted Aquariums

Click Here if you are looking for my guide on Low Tech Planted Tanks.  If you are looking for my article on Low Tech+Excel tanks, click here. I hope you found my article on setting up a low-tech planted tank to be helpful. If you have any questions/comments/thoughts or suggestions, please leave me a comment on this page and I can get back to you. Don't feel intimidated by the massive wall of text in the article. Planted tanks really aren't all that complicated. The hardest part is putting all the information together, reading it and understanding the basics and science of planted tanks. That hard works been done by me 😉 so read the article and go setup your Planted masterpiece!

Lastly, it might give you more confidence to know that the tank pictured above is my very first planted tank (and only my second attempt at keeping an aquarium ever)! Good luck!

159 thoughts on “How to setup Low-tech Planted Aquariums

  1. How much substrate do i need? And how deep should I have my sand or gravel bed on top of the substrate in a 36 gallon tank. I’m new at aquariums. Thanks for the help.

  2. Love the article, guess you get that a lot, lol. I’ve basically setup a 55gal with a sump and worried about it not getting enough light because of the height of the tank. I think it’s about 22 inches high, I have 2x20W T8’s and 2xT5’s.

  3. Many thanks your articles, very helpful. I have a problem and seek your advice.
    Tank is a fluval edge 23l to which I have added two 5w 6500k LED lights,(13.5in total). Lights on timer 10 hrs / day and planted with java fern broad and small leaf and three small Anubis.
    One male beta, 5 cherry barbs and three ottos inhabit.
    Weekly 25% water changes at which time I add 0.25 of tetramin plant food. Also keep indian almond leaf in tank but change When starts to breakdown.
    Started tank 11 months ago and water conditions never change, 0 ammonia and nitrite, nitrate 0.25 to trace but tap water shows 20. Only tested for phosphate recently and tank between 0.5 and 1. Tap water 0.5.
    Plant was doing great, multiplying and thickenning and I was growing baccoppa Carolina profusely and having to cut back regularly.
    Suddenly I had BBA and feather algea on plants and the broadleaf java fern suffered and started showing brown patches.
    nothing has changed accept I think I overdone the pruning on the baccoppa and that is when the algea started to show. I replanted but it has all died back.
    That when I added the Anubis.
    I have been dosing seachem excel and upped the dosing of the tetramin for the last week.
    I really am at a loss and would welcome any advise. I have tried to maintain a natural tank and avoid adding chemicals. I guess I am asking a lot of such a small tank. The only advise I get from shops is add chemicals to get rid of algea but this is not the route I want to go down and in all honesty I am unhappy adding the seachem.
    Anyhow, if you have any wonder cures l would welcome.
    If you tell me how to post them I can send some photos.
    Thank you for your kind attention

  4. Hey! I’m just looking into possibly changing my tank over to a planted tank, I have a 36G bow front tank. It came with a 17W T8 24 inch light and some say that that’s not enough lighting. I would like a carpet plant, and I have no idea what else right now. Just trying to figure out the cost to switch over. Thanks!

  5. Just wondering why you specifically mention in the article that incandescant lights should NOT be used? thanks

    1. Apologies for the super late reply. The reason to avoid incandescent lights is simply because they produce far too much heat in comparison to light and are extremely inefficient in providing the requisite amount of light needed for growing aquatic plants. While they can work for some low-tech plants, I just wouldn’t recommend using them as they are also going to heat up the water surface substantially.

      1. Hi,
        I have 7 gallon tank.can I use 1-1.5 watt led fixture.1.5*7=10.5 and I have 11 watt led fixture.thank u for ur reply.

  6. Hi!

    Thanks for taking the time & effort to simplify the process of setting up a planted aquarium.

    I live in southern India and I’m an absolute novice. I don’t know where to procure the substrate from & also where to procure these plants from. Would you recommend any place where all these are available in southern India? I’m not sure if my local fish store store stocks these.

    Also, are there any alternatives to those that you have mentioned?


  7. sir i have two feet fish tank and i know how to make fertilizer fish tank and soil and sand andco2 and light please replay fast help me thank you rahul maurya

  8. hi, thanks for the information.
    Can you suggest , how to use a internal filter for a planted setup? Is it possible?
    Is there any good and cost effective external filter?

    Please suggest


  9. Dear Sudeep!
    Just stared my new aquarium basad upon your article which is very usefull, thank you for it!
    I have a question straight forward:
    this is the second day since the start but the water is still a bit cloudy (all subtrate and media was washed, also bacteria was added, carbon filter media was added 12hours ago).
    -Do you recommend water change at this state or i should wait more?

    You can find my blog and pics here.

    XMACX Aqua

  10. Dear Sudeep!

    it’s been 4 days i started the aquarium, but it’s still a bit cloudy (dusty).
    do you recommend water change or it would ruin the method? 🙂

  11. Sir.Ami akti plant aquriam krte chai.tai apnar kachhe onurodh j ki vabe plant aquriam krte hoi Jodi bolen .apnar contact no ta jdi den.tahole khub upokar hoi

  12. Great article! In the substrate section, you had mentioned that any type of porous substrate with a high CEC is suitable. Does pool filter sand (coarse sand) work?

  13. Hi,

    A very interesting article, thanks very much for sharing!

    I’d like to know a little more about your 10gal low-tech tank:

    From the picture, there doesn’t seem to be a large diversity of plant types (maybe 5 or 6). Presumably this was deliberate to keep it as simple as possible?
    Could you kindly list the plants in there for me please? I’m pretty new to planting and not so good at recognising them by sight.

    Thanks again,

  14. Hello,

    I’ve been toying with planted tanks for years and haven’t had much success. I’d like to try your low-tech, non-CO2 method, but, in Canada, it is hard to by Potassium Nitrate and Potassium Mono Phosphate. Do you have a substitute method, say, buy using Seachem products?


  15. Hello,

    New to the hobby but not to the more technical aspects of fertilizing plants. I really enjoyed your article and found it very useful. I do have a question though. If I were using your recommendations for fertilizing the tank AND I were using Flourish products for NO3, PO4, K, Ca, Mg, and Fe I would need something like 12ml Flourish Nitrogen, 55ml Flourish Phosphorus, 6ml of Flourish Potassium and 1/2 tsp of Equilibrium for each dosing (2x week) on my 40gal tank. I did the calculations on APC’s Fertilator. Am I being an airhead and I totally missed a key piece of information because that seems like a huge amount of fertilizer per week? Is this why you mention buying in bulk? Thanks!

    1. I should have specified that I was trying to match your recommendations for ppm not tsp using Flourish products. You stated that there should be 5.27 ppm NO3, 1.61 ppm PO4, 7.41 ppm K (adding 3.43, 3.32 and 0.66), 1.42 Ca, 0.42 ppm Mg, and 0.02 ppm Fe. Sorry for the confusion.

  16. I think I have been convinced I know enough to successfully do a planted tank now. It will only be a 10 gallon tank but it will be awesome. What plants do you have in the tank on top of page


  17. Hi I do have a low tech excel dosed planted tank .
    Tank dimensions 75cm×30cm×60cm . Filter sunsun hob 702
    and using flourish and plant magic biweekly .
    Lighting 6 hours a day by sunsun sl 800 led .
    Water change weekly 30 percent .
    I can observe that my plants were growing well and I do find browish dots on my plants leaves which totally spoils my tank look . I cannot find the reason for that . Please suggest ur opion on this
    Tank complement :
    1 pair cardinal tetra
    2 pair of rainbow
    3 pair of cheery barb
    3 pair 0f rummy nose
    1 pair of cory cat
    1 pair of seamease algae eater
    And I do use aeration motor but kept to minimum 24 hours a day .
    My serious doubts for that brown dots on my plant leaves were
    1) because of too much oxygen as I am using aeration 24 hours
    2 ) maybe bcoz of sunsun sl 800 led
    And not using t5 bulb ..
    Kindly advise

  18. Sudeep,

    I would like to thank you for helping me get off to a great start on my planted aquarium. This is something that I had wanted to do for a long time, but I was afraid that I would be wasting my money on a potential disaster. Without your article, I would have never attempted this as C02 was just too expensive for me and I really wanted a planted tank. I followed your outline and almost two months later I am enjoying watching new plant growth. I am still learning to make minor adjustments, but my tank looks awesome.

    My particulars are 70 gallon (yes, 70… I know it is not the normal 75, but I confirmed with actual dimensions), Fluorite substrate, Finnex 24/7 Planted Aquarium LED, an AquaClear 110, and fertilizing as recommended using dry components. As for the plants, I have Anubias, Java ferns, and two varieties of Cryptos. As for the fish, Zebra danios, bristlenose pleco, and otocinclus.

    Although the plants are doing quite well, I started with; twelve danios and now only have two, 5 otocinclus and now only have three, and three bristlenose and now only have one. In hindsight, I think I overdid it on the algae eaters, but I am at a loss with the danios knowing that they are fairly hardy. I’ve tested my water and nothing seems out of line. I will be taking a water sample to my LFS to see if they have different results. The fish that remain appear quite healthy, but I am wondering why the initial fish die-off if the plants are doing so well. Any thoughts?

    I still have a corner or two to fill-in with some plants, but that is a minor tweak to the overall appearance. Again, thank you for such a great “recipe” for success. It is so relaxing to just sit back and watch my own aquatic world.

    1. John, thanks a lot for your note. It’s great that so many years on, my article is still helping so many people pick up this awesome hobby! No idea re: the fish since you say your testing looked good. Apart from ammonia issues, nothing really stands out. Otos are notorious for being very stressed from being in pet stores, so it is not unusual for them to have a high mortality rate. All the best with your tank!

  19. Sundeep
    Thanks for your knowledge of planted aquariums.Very easy to comprehend.I have a question about substrate.If I already have gravel only,how should I go about changing over to what you suggest to use?I really hate the thought of moving crypts because it shocks them so much.Thanks

  20. I setup a low tech (non-co2) using your guide. My tank is doing great! Thank you. I have been using Excel but would like to switch to your fert recommendations using KNO3 and KH2PO4 and Equilibrium. I can purchase Potassium Nitrate and Potassium Mono Phosphate from the site you recommended and other sites. You have the ppm for each element listed separately which is a little confusing. Can’t I just buy KNO3 and KH2PO4 and multiple the teaspoon recommendation for a 65 gallon tank or do I need to worry about the ppm for each element.

  21. Sudeep,
    I’am planning for a 5G nano planted aquarium & was going through a lot of stuff online & getting confused,ran into your article by chance & it is a God sent .
    I have most of your recommended components to setup the tank, a 5G tank, 15W of T4 lighting, 340L/h HOB filter, Seachem flourish. Just some clarifications though, i intend using ADA aquasoil with pea gravel on top (budget constraints, plus i already have the gravel), would that be ok?
    I plan on keeping about 7-9 neon tetras without any algae eaters, would that be fine?
    Also what kind of media would be ideal for the HOB,what would you suggest.

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