When we talk about a planted aquarium, we can refer to an aquarium where aquarium plants, fish and other invertebrates coexist, or where plants play the leading role.
Although there are aquarium plants that are really difficult to maintain, there are other plants that are perfectly adapted to any environment, water quality and lighting, they are what are known as plants for beginners .
This is an understatement, because those plants could just as well be in a beginner’s aquarium or any seasoned aquarium hobbyist.
Throughout this article, you will find everything you need to create a planted water aquarium, that your plants survive a long time and that they do not die after a few days.
We have to be very clear that we are dealing with living beings , and that all physical parameters (aquarium, lighting …) and chemical (water quality) influence their growth and state of health.
Let’s start at the beginning, answering a crucial question:
What is a planted aquarium?
The planted aquarium or Dutch aquarium , is a freshwater aquarium where the most important are plants … natural of course.
Most of the aquarium kits that they sell already bring decoration , and add some plastic plants that could be aesthetic, but that do not resemble what a planted aquarium can become. Check out some great pictures of planted aquariums :
Having live plants in the aquarium, not only improves the image of the whole, they also offer great biological improvements in planted aquariums.
A fish tank should have live aquarium plants as they help control the nitrogen cycle, provide natural shelters for fish, and can even serve as additional food for some species. In the decoration of the planted aquarium, the most difficult thing to achieve is that the whole is homogeneous and natural, from an aesthetic point of view: color, size, shape and growth of the plants. In addition to the plants, the added decoration: sand , gravel, logs and stones , complete the decorative set of the planted aquarium.
Elements necessary to set up a planted aquarium
If we are at this point, we are interested in having a planted aquarium, and we are looking forward to starting to create a large aquarium that looks like the photos of planted aquariums that I have shown you before.
What do we need to get started? Well, a Dutch aquarium needs the same basic equipment as any other aquarium:
- Filtering equipment
- Substrate for aquarium plants
- Lighting equipment
- And… obviously aquarium plants
Aquarium Urn or Aquarium Kits?
It is time to start assembling our aquarium and the first question to solve is the urn, tank or fish tank.
What size suits us? Is it better to use Aquarium Kits?
This is a really interesting question and the one that raises the most questions among beginners.
At first glance, it can be much easier to start with a nano aquarium than to buy a 200-liter aquarium.
But it turns out that the water quality is more difficult to keep stable in a small aquarium, than in a medium or large aquarium.
If we make mistakes they are easier to correct or their effects will be less pernicious, in a 100-liter aquarium, than in a 20-liter one.
In my experience, an aquarium to start with shouldn’t be smaller than 50 or 60 liters, a manageable size that allows a certain margin of error.
Between choosing an aquarium kit or an aquarium urn from which to assemble all the elements, I will tell you that it is easier to start with an aquarium kit.
They already come with all the necessary elements to start: the urn, filters, lighting, some even come equipped with heaters.
Filtering equipment is perhaps one of the most important parts of the aquarium , since it directly affects the quality of the water, eliminating solid waste and helping to transform ammonia from fish waste, into nitrates that are beneficial to plants. This point is critical, especially if we are going to maintain an aquarium in which plants and fish coexist. In a Dutch-type aquarium in which the presence of fish is merely representative, the aquarium filtering remains in the background, although it is always necessary to have good control over the different parameters that affect the quality of the water.
Tip: choose a filter with a filtering capacity of at least 3 times the amount of water in the aquarium.
For example, if your aquarium is 100 liters, the chosen filter should be able to filter 300 liters per hour.
There are three types of filtering that can be done inside an aquarium:
- Biological, with which we favor the appearance of the bacteria necessary to complete the nitrification process of the water.
- Mechanic, who cleans the solid particles that are suspended in the water, to avoid in many cases that they end up at the bottom of the aquarium, where they would have to decompose to disappear completely.
- Chemical, whose primary function is to maintain the water parameters within adequate ranges, such as water hardness and pH .
Types of aquarium filters
There are several types of filters that can be installed to help us complete the filtering of the water, which depending on where they are installed are divided into:
- Internal filters . They are placed inside the aquarium, thus occupying a space that we have to plan for.
They can perform all types of filtration, both mechanical, chemical or biological, although they are more cumbersome to clean and manipulate, because they are «inside» the aquarium.
- Backpack filters . Backpack filters are already easier to handle, because they are not inside the aquarium, they are hung on the side or the back of the aquarium.
There is a great variety of waterfall filters on the market, which allow us to maintain perfect water quality.
- External filters . Although they can be placed in all types of aquariums, they are essential for a large aquarium.
They are placed outside the aquarium in an auxiliary place, such as a cupboard under the aquarium.
Substrate for planted aquarium
Aquariums in which plants are introduced need a suitable substrate that favors their growth and perfect development.
Do you know the importance of the substrate in the planted aquarium?
If we keep an aquarium in which plants and fish coexist, a large part of the fish waste will be converted into nitrates, which will help the plants grow healthy.
However, when the aquarium is basically plant-based and there are not many fish, (almost all) the plants must absorb the nutrients from the substrate.
In most cases, the substrate fulfills two basic functions, serving as a means for the plants to take root and stay at the bottom of the aquarium, and as a vehicle through which the plants obtain their nutrients.
You may not know it, but there are aquarium plants that do not need the substrate to grow, They are floating plants that absorb the nutrients they need to grow, through the leaves, and the substrate does not help them to root either.
Types of substrate for aquarium
Certainly on the market there is a huge amount of substrates for aquariums , some are suitable for plants and others fulfill a rather aesthetic function … although their contribution to the water filtering process should never be underestimated.
These are the different substrates that you can choose for the aquarium:
Inert substrates within a planted aquarium contribute to water filtration, since nitrifying bacteria tend to nest on their surface. Obviously, they also serve an aesthetic function.
For the most part, they do not affect the chemical composition of the water , but care must be taken in this regard, because some sands can affect the pH of the water, if they have a coral origin.
Could you have plants that live in inert substrates? Well yes, those that feed through their leaves, absorbing nutrients through the water column: anubias, ferns and mosses are good examples.
What inert substrates can you find? The following:
Many novices confuse gravel with sand, because the barrier that divides gravel and sand in an aquarium is very small, as much as the millimeters in diameter of the thousands of small stones that make it up.
Gravel is one of the most used inert substrates , because it is easy to handle, it does not cake as much as sand and why not say it, its price, which is very affordable.
Sand is the same substrate as the previous one, but much finer.
Some aquariums not only look great with sand, they need it for the recreated biotope or the fish that are raised need a fine substrate to dig into.
In any case, itis convenient to put it at the end, as the last decorative material. If you have problems controlling the pH, do not use coral sand, use silica sand that does not alter the chemical composition of the water.
The nutritive substrates are similar to those you use in your garden or pots, so that your plants are perfect.
The big difference is that the nutritive substrates for aquariums do not contain chemical materials, which can affect the health of the fish.
In any case, we have to take into account that the nutritive substrates will alter the chemical composition of the water, and we must be prepared for this eventuality.
As there is a good variety of nutritive substrates on the market, the ideal is to investigate the composition of each one, to see which is the one that best suits your aquarium and your plants.
substrates Complete substrates are formulated to offer plants all the nutrients they need. They are without doubt the best substrate for planted aquariums.
Despite being fantastic, they have their drawbacks.
They are substrates that cause a strong rise in ammonia, which is why they are very good when we start cycling the aquarium. The recommendation is to place all the plants from the first moment, to avoid an uncontrolled proliferation of algae.
If we use this type of substrate, during the first two months of cycling the aquarium, we must make water changes of up to 50% at least once a week.
The multi-substrate option is the most commonly used in planted aquariums. It consists of adding different substrates in different layers.
It usually begins with a thin layer of sand, covered by an intermediate layer of nutrient substrate and a last top layer that can be composed of gravel, sand or a mixture of both.
The advantage? Better control over the chemical composition of the water, as well as a much more natural appearance.