Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Low Tech Planted Fresh Water Fish Tanks

I started two low tech planted fish tanks three years ago, and they are still doing very well. The key is adequate lighting and a light fish load. If you want a heavily planted tank, you won't get much growth without a strong light source. If you happen to have a sunny window, direct sunlight for at least 6 hours a day is a good substitute. Most people will need a secondary or primary light source.

I started with a 75-gallon tank, and a LED light bar made for aquarium plants, full-color spectrum, Edge and Marineland, but this one is less expensive. Marineland light bar prices have increased over the years. There are timers on some light bars and programmable light levels, including a blue moonlight one for the evening.

A planted tank is simple to maintain as the plants give off oxygen for the fish, so a bubbler may not be needed. A filtration system is not necessary because the fish waste is used by the plants. Partial water changes are needed every other week for optimal water quality, although it may be okay with less. I've read that established tanks can go for as long as two months between changes. I killed off some fish this way, so I'll never wait that long again to change out the water. For both my tanks, I drain and fill a five-gallon bucket.

The first thing I did was research the Walstad Method.

I purchased ordinary garden soil, the heavier, the better. I used simple top soil. If you buy soil that has a lot of peat moss or mulch, it will float to the surface. Adding 100% red clay(crafters clay) is helpful for holding down the soil, and the plants use the high iron content. I topped my soil off with some sand for aesthetics and to hold down the soil.

Inexpensive plants can be found online on Facebook groups or eBay.

A few easy low light plant choices from the Walstad link:


I didn't like the floating plants because they multiplied and blocked out light, limiting the undergrowth.

After you plant, wait for a month, testing the water quality before adding any fish.

Add fish that don't make a lot of waste. I would avoid any type of goldfish. The system is self-filtering to a point. The plants are not a high power filtration system, it's a balance that you find slowly. At first, you may have smaller plants and some algae issues. Wait for plant growth which will crowd out the algae. A heavily planted tank will outcompete algae for nutrients. Once the plants grow in heavily, you get a nice balance and adequate oxygen for fish.

Fish to avoid:


  • Plecos that grow large and dig. These are sold small, but some get over 11 inches.
  • Goldfish because of heavy waste and limited swimming area.
  • Any fish that like wide open spaces
  • Silver dollar fish which eat plants like salad
  • Any large fish


Shrimp do very well in planted tanks because of the many places to hide.

Fish and others that have done well in my tanks:


  • Golden, tiger, and cherry barbs
  • Angelfish
  • Cory catfish
  • Ghost, cherry, and bamboo shrimp
  • Apple snails
  • Clams


Mistake fish:

I added a pleco that has grown to 11 inches. It has dug up my tank a few times, and I had to add a filter with a circulation pump hose to the 75-gallon tank because of excessive waste. I am committed to keeping him/her until she passes, so adjustments were made. They like water movement, so the circulation hose keeps it happy.

I added an algae eater to my 50-gallon tank, and it got rather large as well. I didn't need it when the tank established itself, but I'm committed to keeping this fish as well.

If you want to add a little movement to keep a bio-scum(organic decay) from forming on top, add an underwater circulation fan. I added one to the smaller tank when the bamboo shrimp were alive. They liked to sit on a piece of wood and grasp the food flowing through the pump.

To aid in the growth of plants, add a little Flourish Excel.

If you get a case of the snails, add a little aquarium salt. Snails love planted tanks and tend to multiply quickly.

Excuse the mess. Both tanks need "weeding" and the glass cleaned. My pleco made a mess in the larger tank, tunneling under the soil in the back.

The first tank was purchased on sale years ago and the larger tank was found for $10.00 at a yard sale.

An instructional to a very basic planted tank on the cheap.



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I'm a homeschooling mom of two, a teen and a little. I hope this collection of mine helps you as much as it has helped us. I have an Etsy shop here:http://www.etsy.com/people/Alexandra66 And a blog: http://happyheartsathome.blogspot.com/