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. I have a Marineland 27 gallon cube. It comes with a 18″ Marineland Doublebright LED. Will this produce enough light for this method?

  2. Hi

    Ive just bought a 260 litre fluval vicenza it came with a Power Glo T5 39Watt and a Life Glo T5 39Watt, is this suitable lighting? If not any suggestion what I could swap it with. I’m aiming for a carpet of dwarf hairgrass and good moss growth but everything is turning brown?


  3. I just wanted to tell you how great your article was on setting up a low tech planted aquarium with equilibrium. I am a month into my low tech planted aquarium and couldn’t have done it without your advice. Thanks for doing this.

    1. Thanks very much for you note Joette. I’m glad that this article is helping you and many others. Unfortunately I had to tear down my tank due to multiple moves, so this article will be helpful to me as well when I get around to setting it back up! 🙂

  4. I’m wondering if you would recommend a larger tank or a smaller tank for a first low-tech venture? Also, I know that in any planted tank the fish aren’t the focus and I wonder if there is a rule of thumb about inches of fish/gallon of water. Well-written article. Thanks for blazing the path for the rest of us.

  5. Hello Sudeep… This was a very informative article & it will surely help me in deciding what’s best for setting up my planted tank. I’m currently saving up for substrate & other equipment. I do have some queries regarding the substrate. Which one do you suggest I use… ADA Amazonia or JBL ProFlora Start Set 200? What’s your suggestion for a medium budget setup?

    Also, I hope it’s a good idea to use RO water (Bisleri)in the tank since the tap water in my area contains high amounts of calcium.

  6. First,
    Thank you Sudeep for putting together this great information.

    You’ve given me hope that I can finally have a planted tank.

    Your tank pictures are beautiful.
    Would you please ID the plants in them so that I’ll know what plants to look for when planting mine?

    1. Margaret…the foreground plant is Dwarf Hairgrass..although I wouldn’t recommend it for a purely low-tech tank as it does seem to prefer some carbon supplementation (at the very least – Excel).

      The other plants are:
      And some regular Anubias.

      I forget the name of the fast growing stem plants in the background.

  7. Hi Sudeep

    I am intending to build a 2ft low-tech planted tank. However, i wish to see your advice on the following matter.

    Below is my intended set up
    1) 2ft Tank
    2) Hamburger Mattenfilter
    3) Black Dennerle Sand (Inert)
    4) 6.72watt LED Clip-On Light
    5) 20 Red Cherry Shrimps

    Plant Choice
    1) Mini Nana Petite
    2) Mini water lettuce(Floating)
    3) Duck Weed(Floating)

    1) Will the above set up be viable in the long run without adding Co2 and Fertilizers ?(I.e. will the plants die ? )
    2) What other plants do you suggest ? Can i still get rooted plants if i use black dennerle sand as substrate ?

  8. Sir your guide has been so enlightening. I am planning to make a planted aquarium but am illadvised by the local LFS. My tank size is 46x18x22 and I cannot afford the laterite to fill it in total. So can I mix my substrates with part sand, part laterite, part gravel. I am told, a lot of people do good with sand alone + fertiliser. You said that your tank substrate is nutrient free. So can I hope to get some success? I shall be highly obliged if you can share your experience. Thank u

    1. I wouldn’t worry too much about the laterite. Sand alone can work but many people say that it can hurt in the long term as the sand can get compacted and affect root growth for the plants. A mix of small gravel + sand might be better in your situation.

      1. Thank you sir for ur advice. U just saved Rs 5k for me. I was very hesitant to spend that much right now. Whatever results I will keep u posted. Thanks again.

  9. Hi
    My tank is a 46g bowfront tank with 2.35 watts per gallon. I have two 36in T-5 and one 36in T-8 bulb. The substrate will be api first layer mixed with gravel on the bottom and eco complete over the top. I will be using excel and EI dose. The plants that i will be trying to grow are rotala indica, glosso, sag, sword, ludwigia, cabomba and wisteria. Am I doing everything right? Will all of my plants grow well? I don’t want to waste money, so I need your help.
    Thank you

  10. Hi Sundeep I hope you can answer my questions. I’m setting up my low tech 10gal tank with the guidance of your article. It’s really helped me alot!! I have a few questions. For the water in my tank I choose to use half tap and half distilled water because my KH was 12. By doing this my KH is now 7KH.

    My problem is that I bought Flourish comprehensive fertilizer. The article said if I used this fert I will need to add calcium and magnisium, but I’m not sure how much. In additon, I purchased calcium (CAS04) and magnesium (MGS04). I read that the CAS04 will not increase the water hardness, but now I”m wondering if I should have gotten the other Calcium that would increase hardness. I’m wondering this because I’m thinking if I don’t do water changes my plants will continue to us the Calcium and Magnisium and make the water go soft. Is this correct? If this will fix the situation I could just buy equlibrium instead. Also, if I buy Equilibrium instead won’t the plants miss out on all the other nutrients correct? I appreciate your help!! Donetta

  11. Thanks for your contributions to the hobby. I enjoyed reading your guides. Low tech and excel tanks can still produce very nice aquariums compared to high tech, CO2 tanks IMO. Keep up the good work.

  12. Hello I have a couple of good questions actually. I have had a 75 gallon tank for over two years now with an Oscar and a Texas Cichlid also a pleco. I have recently decided to donate the oscar and texas to my local fish store and go for a planted tank. I have a substrate of simple stone roughly half inch in diameter and a good canister filter. I have just added proper lighting for a planted tank and I only have the pleco and roughly twenty guppies in the tank now. The plants seem to be doing good so far but I read on here that you should use different substrates but I was told by someone who has many planted tanks that this rock will do just fine. Is he wrong?

    1. Hello. It depends… half inch diameter stone isn’t all that big. If the plants can root in it easily then that might help. But it’s not about size alone. Google Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) of aquarium substrates. Essentially it has to do with the porosity and ability of the gravel to bind cations (many of which are nutrients in the water) and make them available to plants in the root zone. This is thought to be quite beneficial which is why a number of clay based substrates like Eco Complete, etc. are popular for planted tanks. Your rocks are most likely going to be very poor at doing this. This would make it much more difficult for the plants to pull in nutrients from the root zone. If you are regular with fertilizing the water column, they should still be able to take in nutrients from the water, but a better type of substrate would most likely help.

      Since you already have things setup, I’d maybe stick to what you have and see how successful you are. Maybe you won’t really need a better substrate for what you are growing. Hard to give a definitive answer, but just some food for thought.


  13. Hi Sudeep,

    First of all awesome post and this is the reason why I went for a lowtech planted aquarium. Its very nicely written and great information for starters like me. Down to my question. I have a 20 gal tank and I have planted dwarf hair grass in the tank with java moss on driftwood. Thats the only plants I will ever have in this tank. There is no CO2 system installed and using a floride substrate. My question here is that the light that came with the tank is a t5 bulb but not sure about the output it has as its not in the manual or on the bulb. I am ok investing in a separate bulb. I measured the length of the bulb and its around 17 inches. I am kind of confused as to which bulb I can purchase to match the output of the desired plant growth. Kindly advice.


    1. BTW online I only see t5 bulbs with 20 inches length and above. That kinda puts me off as I am thinking I may have bought the wrong equipment.

  14. Incredibly good article: very concise, organized and well written. Thank you for sharing it, and the references to the actual study (FYI seems to have been taken down, and the domain name is for sale, too bad.)

    I am a beginner and have no doubt my first plated tank will be successful because I will follow all the directions in your article.

    Thank you again!

  15. This article is a great! Explaining everything in plain words. Thank you for writing it.

    I have a question. I added ferts in my aquarium for the first time an hour ago. I just tossed them in. It’s more than an hour since then and some particles (?) have not dissolved yet. I still haven’t got any fish in the tank, but I was wondering how dangerous would it be if a fish ate one of them, mistaking it for food. Is there any such chance, or am I just too worried?

    Also, is what I did correct? Just tossing the ferts in the tank? Or should I do it some other way?

    Thanks in advance and congratulations on this amazing article!

    1. Interesting question. I usually just gently pour the dry fert into the spot where the filter pours water back into the tank to help with the mixing. I wouldn’t worry too much about hurting the fish though if you want to be extra careful you could just scoop a bit of tank water into a small jar with a lid, put the ferts in, shake well and then pour into the tank.

  16. Very helpful article – thanks for putting this information together. I’m noticing that your photos of your 10 gallon tank look like the lighting is much brighter than in my 10 gallon, which is lit by 2 10 watt compact fluorescents. What lights are you using?

    I plan to add a lot of plants and up the lighting to two T5 HO tubes from AquaticLife. I will probably need to suspend them about a foot above the tank to avoid having too much light. I would appreciate your opinion of this setup for my 10 gallon. Thank you!

  17. Hi
    Im setting up my first lt planted and I’m doing ever thing this article says.
    I bought floramax substrate and the firts but I’m not sure when I should start dosing,after the two weeks or the day I plant the tank?

  18. Hi Thanks for writing such a helpful article. It really has all the correct directions, precautions and procedures all in one place. I have indeed set up my tank in the same way as described. And belive me it is doing well.

  19. Hello-

    I have a 55 gallon fresh water tank, that has fish invit and I would like to plant it, but I was not sure if I could leave the fish in the tank and do a slow transition? Thanks for your assistance.

  20. Excellent guidance. Am starting my plant tank setup. Will converse along the way. Thnx again for your write up.

  21. HI

    Thanks for such a great article ” Low Tech Planted Fish tank”. Having just got back into keeping fish i aim for the planted fish tank. (This is how i found your website). You have basically wrote everything that i was beginning to research myself, saving me so much time. Thank you so much for helping me in my quest i am now using your guide.. 🙂

  22. For traces, you are using Seachem Equilibrium, which only has Iron, Magnesium, and Calcium. Isn’t necessary to dose for micronutrients such as Boron, Zinc, and Molybdenum?

  23. Hi. I’m new to the hobby and will be setting up a 20g tank. I bought flouite but wanted to add leonardite to the base. The question is how much do I need to it in for a 20 g tank

  24. What is your opinion on the use of air stones in a non co2 tanks ? Will it add to or reduce the dissolved co2 levels ?

  25. Excellent article. Thank you so much for simplifying the fertilizing scheme into something that I could easily follow. It is working great so far in my low tech tank!

  26. Hi Sudeep,
    Great article! I am an aquarium enthusiast and until now I was into keeping Discus. I always thought that it was very difficult to maintain planted aquarium but now thanks to your article that I have managed to start up a planted aquarium with much ease. Thanks again for the great info put together.

  27. Thanks for the low tech planted tank article, it was great!

    I’m a reef guy switching to a low tech planted tank. It’s 150g (72″Longx18Widex26″Tall). Because it’s 26″ tall, what would be the recommended lighting setup? I already have 3x 175w 13K halides installed and would love to use them, but will replace them if needed. I could even use them in sequence (one one at a time for 2hrs each, then all three on the last 4hrs?).

    What do you think?



  28. First I’d like to thank you for your description on setting up a low tech aquarium. But I’m a little unsure on wether or not I have the correct lighting for mine. Here’s my info..

    I currently have a 40gal tank 36Lx15dx17t
    Lights: duel T5 39w 6700k per.
    Can you tell me if this is to much or to little?
    And thank you in advance

  29. I am very interested in starting up a low tech tank, but I don’t want to be disturbing the substrate and plants very often. You mentioned that you should start out with fast growing plants then phase them out as you get going. I don’t really want to do that (buying plants I’m just going to get rid of anyway, and disturbing the substrate are my main issues) Are there any plants you would reccomend that I could start with and keep? I don’t mind starting slow.
    Also, what is the smallest tank you would reccomend for a planted tank?

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