Setting Up a Succesful Planted Freshwater Aquarium
The practice of growing plants underwater is referred to as aquascaping. Adding plants to an aquarium not only adds a natural feel to a tank, it also provides an additional filtration system for your aquatic life. Fish benefit from the extra oxygen in the water provided by the plants, and the plants enjoy the fertilizer provided by fish waste. It's a win-win situation.
Step One: Pick an appropriate tank
As one wise person once told me, in the aquarium business, "the solution to pollution is dilution", so essentially, the larger the tank, the less you will have to clean your aquarium. I have found that 40 gallon tanks seem to be ideal because of the water:air ratio. The width of the tank allows it to be cleaned easily as well. The bigger the better.
Step Two: Pick a substrate
Most plants will grow in almost any substrates, however be aware that plants like anubias do not like to be rooted in anything. The substrate will hold beneficial bacteria that will allow fish to live happily in your tank. Your options here are basically either gravel or sand. While gravel may seem interesting with its neon colors at the pet store, it is probably not the best choice for a planted aquarium. Most plants take root better in sand and it looks much more natural.
Step Three: Pick fish and plants
After you have let your tank cycle for at least 48 hours with a functioning filter and heater, feel free to add fish and plants. Shorter plants should be rooted in the front, taller ones in the back. Try to keep plants out of the middle to give your fish some room to swim. Be sure to pick fish that will not destroy your plants. Silver dollars will eat your plants, and some cichlids are prone to tearing them out completely.
Step Four: Maintenance
Hopefully in the beginning you installed appropriate lighting for plant growth. There are plant growth bulbs available at most pet stores. The long florescent bulbs are typically the most effective. Bulbs should be replaced every six months or so, or whenever you notice the lighting is significantly weak. Add a liquid fertilizer, like Nutrafin Plant Gro. Be sure you pick a fertilizer that is safe for both fish and plants. Of course you can go way beyond these basics. Some people chose to create carbon dioxide systems to improve the health of their plants. Many well-known aquascapers use otocinclus catfish, which are extremely effective algae-eaters. These fish will not damage your plants like the common pleco, which is a huge pooping, plant demolishing machine. Aquascaping is very rewarding and fascinating for everyone who will come in contact with your beautiful tank.
Thanks for reading!