The Fish Guru

Planted Aquariums: Creating a Thriving Underwater Oasis

Introduction to Planted Aquariums

Aquariums are captivating and can be a great addition to any room or space. They are a wonderful way to observe and appreciate nature in places where it is not readily available.

Aquariums are not only soothing and beautiful to look at, but can also have a beneficial impact on the environment. A planted aquarium is one that contains live aquatic plants in addition to fish or other aquatic animals.

Benefits of live plants in aquariums

Aquatic plants in a planted aquarium offer numerous benefits to the overall health and wellbeing of the environment. Perhaps the most significant benefit is their ability to assist in maintaining water quality.

By absorbing excess nutrients such as ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate, a planted aquarium helps to keep water clean and clear. This process is called nutrient export.

At the same time, aquatic plants release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis, which provides a source of oxygen for fish and other aquatic life. In addition to helping maintain water quality, aquatic plants provide a natural aesthetic appeal to the aquarium.

They provide a natural habitat for aquatic animals and help prevent the spread of algae growth. They can also create natural barriers and territory markers for fish, reducing their stress levels.

Basic requirements for planted tanks

To achieve a healthy, thriving planted aquarium, several basic requirements must be met. Major nutrients: Plants require essential nutrients to grow, which include nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.

These nutrients can be found in commercial fertilizers that are added to the aquarium water. Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate: These are chemical compounds that can accumulate in the aquarium water, leading to poor water quality and plant health.

To prevent this from happening, adequate filtration, water changes, and regular testing of the water parameters are crucial. Surface agitation: Surface agitation is important as it promotes the exchange of gases and helps circulate nutrients throughout the aquarium.

Water circulation: Good water circulation is necessary to provide all the plants with access to necessary nutrients, producing a healthy and thriving ecosystem.

Tank Cycling

Cycling refers to establishing a beneficial bacteria colony in the aquarium that will metabolize the waste products produced by fish. There are two ways to accomplish this: fish cycle and ghost cycle.

Ghost cycle and its advantages

The ghost cycle is a fishless cycle that uses ammonia as the primary nutrient source. This cycle is advantageous because it avoids subjecting any fish to the harsh water conditions during the establishment of the beneficial bacteria colony.

The beneficial bacteria’s bacterial colony feeds on the ammonia until a robust and stable colony develops. With the bacteria colonies established, youll never have to worry about toxins and can introduce fish safely.

Challenges in ghost cycling

The ghost cycle has several challenges, however. The first of these is the adequate nutrient demands required to maintain the growth of the beneficial bacteria colony.

In the beginning, the bacteria colonies will grow slowly, and nutrient levels must be maintained until the colony grows. This requires dosing of fertilizer to trigger the bacterial growth and specific care while maintaining the nutrient levels.

Another challenge is the accurate testing of the aquarium water parameters. During the cycling process, it is essential to keep track of the ammonia and nitrate levels, which requires accurate and consistent testing.

This will help to determine when the beneficial bacteria colonies have reached adequate levels to establish an equilibrium environment for the fish.


In conclusion, a planted aquarium is not only a beautiful addition to any living space, but it can also enhance the overall health and wellbeing of the aquatic animals that call it home. Maintaining the necessary parameters for a healthy planted aquarium requires attention, knowledge, and adequate care.

When it comes to cycling a planted aquarium, a fishless cycle or ghost cycle is a viable alternative to the traditional fish cycle and is safe for fish. Understanding these basic requirements will help to create and maintain a thriving and healthy planted aquarium.

With regular maintenance, adequate lighting, and proper imbalances, you can create a beautiful and healthy underwater ecosystem.

Natural Protection

In the wild, fish have access to various forms of shelter and protection. They have natural vegetation, such as submerged plants and trees, to provide hiding places for young fish from predators.

In an aquarium, live plants replicate the natural vegetation that fish would usually find in the wild.

Live plants work as a natural shelter for fish, providing a secure space to hide, rest, and eat.

For example, young fish or fry require hiding places to reduce the risk of predators attacking, and live plants offer an ideal hiding spot in a planted aquarium. Plants are also a source of food for some fish, with some species preferring to nibble on the plant leaves for their nutritional requirements.

Aquaria with live plants create an environment where fish can thrive, which means a higher chance of breeding success. Live plants provide underwater cover where parents can lay their eggs, thus increasing the chance of hatching successfully.

The leaves of the plants create an environment where eggs can be laid and hatch into fry, which will find shelter and food from the plants and the microorganisms that come with them. Are Planted Tanks Better for Fish?

When it comes to creating an environment that mimics the natural habitat of fish, a planted tank has several benefits over unplanted tanks. Stability: Planted tanks offer better water quality and stability, which is vital for the wellbeing of fish.

A planted tank provides a natural water filtration system by absorbing excess nutrients, such as ammonia and nitrates, and using them for growth, resulting in healthy plants and water quality. Plants also contribute to the production of oxygen, while taking in carbon dioxide from fish respiration, which maintains stable gas levels in the aquarium water.

This can result in a more stable and healthier environment, making fish less susceptible to illness and stress. Living conditions: Live plants provide a natural habitat for fish and give them a sense of security and protection.

Fish in a planted aquarium have access to hiding places, reducing stress levels, and making them more comfortable. Additionally, live plants produce a natural food source, which means the fish have access to more nutrients, potentially making them healthier and more vibrant.

Maintenance: Planted tanks require maintenance, but theyre no harder than unplanted tanks. In fact, the right combination of plants can be self-sustaining, and with the proper lighting and nutrients, the plants will grow well and make the water purer.

Live plants also create a natural ecological balance, making it easier to maintain the chemistry of the water as well. On the other hand, unplanted tanks are easier to maintain, require less care and may be more cost-effective.

However, they lack the added benefits of live plants that enhance the fishs living conditions. In summary, while unplanted tanks are easier to maintain, live plants provide numerous benefits for fish in their natural habitat.

The natural environment created by live plants improves the quality and stability of water conditions, providing fish with better living conditions, which, in turn, reduces stress levels and promotes good health. Live plants also offer a natural shelter and food source, making them critical for fish breeding and early survival.

Live plants may require more maintenance, but the rewards are well worth the investment. Can Planted Tanks Have More Fish?

A planted aquarium is all about striking a balance between the number of plants and the demands of fish. The number of plants in the aquarium plays an essential role in accommodating a specific number of fish and maintaining water quality.

The more plants in the aquarium, the better, as they help to absorb excess nutrients and filter the water. The amount of fish that can be accommodated in a planted aquarium is primarily dependent on the bioload- the total amount of organic matter produced by fish and aquarium life.

The bioload is dependent on the size, number, and species of fish in the aquarium. Overstocking the aquarium can result in a harmful increase in bioload, leading to adverse fish health outcomes.

Ideally, a planted aquarium should contain one inch of fish per 1-2 gallons of water. But, this formula isnt foolproof because a heavily planted aquarium can accommodate four to five inches of fish per 1-2 gallons of water.

The demands of the fish are also a crucial consideration, as different fish species require varying levels of nutrients. Some fish consume more food and produce more waste, which means they require more plants and a more significant volume of water than other species.

In addition, heavily planted tanks with high oxygen levels can accommodate fish with increased bioloads, such as cichlids and other brightly colored species. To optimize the number of fish in a planted aquarium, the aquarium should be heavily planted throughout, including the carpet and tall plants.

Needless to say, the plants in the aquarium should also be healthy to perform their job of cycling the nitrogen and other nutrients. Do Planted Tanks Need Fish?

While live plants are in many respects self-sustaining and can efficiently run in the absence of fish, they still need the help of aquatic animals to maintain a proper balance. Here are several reasons why fish are essential in a planted aquarium:

Dose Fertilizer: Fish make an essential contribution to the nutrient cycle in a planted aquarium.

They produce waste that contains beneficial nutrients, such as ammonia, which nitrifying bacteria in the filters break down into nitrite and then nitrate, which are converted to nitrates that plants consume. This process can replace the need for regular dosing of fertilizers.

Algae Control: Fish can help control algae growth in a planted aquarium by eating algae and unattached microorganisms in the water. Additionally, some species of fish have a symbiotic relationship with algae, where they eat smaller predatory organisms that consume the algae, controlling their growth.

This balance helps keep the ecosystem in a healthy state. Snails: Snails are aquatic animals that are often added to planted aquariums.

Snails help to keep the aquarium clean by eating debris and dead plant matter. Additionally, their slime helps suppress the growth of algae.

Shrimp: Shrimp are popular inhabitants of planted aquariums as they consume uneaten food and clean up dead plant matter that contains microorganisms. They also scavenge debris, which is beneficial for an aquarium ecosystem.

In conclusion, while live plants are the primary focus of a planted aquarium, aquatic animals are crucial in maintaining a natural ecological balance and nutrient cycle within the ecosystem. Fish provide essential nutrients that plants need to thrive, help control algae growth, and provide an additional level of cleaning and balance.

Adding in snails and shrimp can further help maintain a healthy ecosystem and keep the planted tank looking beautiful.

15 of the Best Planted Aquarium Fish

Choosing the right fish for a planted aquarium can be challenging, especially for beginners. With so many species to choose from, finding the perfect combination of fish and plants can be a daunting task.

Here’s an overview of some of the best planted aquarium fish to help you get started. 1.

Cory Catfish: Cory catfish is a bottom-dwelling species that feeds on detritus and other small organisms. They are a popular choice for planted aquariums due to their gentle nature and compatibility with other species.

Cory catfish thrive in a heavily planted aquarium with a sand substrate. 2.

Neon Tetra: Neon tetras are a popular beginner fish that are easy to care for and hardy. They are schooling fish, so it’s best to keep them in groups of six or more.

They are colorful and attractive, making them a great addition to any planted aquarium. 3.

Cardinal Tetra: Cardinal tetras are similar to neon tetras, but with a brighter coloration. They are peaceful, schooling fish that prefer acidic water conditions.

They add a vibrant pop of color to planted aquariums. 4.

Harlequin Rasbora: Harlequin rasboras are another schooling fish with a unique body shape and accent color. They are easy to care for and compatible with other species.

Harlequin rasboras add a natural and lively touch to a planted tank. 5.

Chili Rasbora: Chili rasboras are a coldwater species that can jump out of the aquarium if stressed. They are tiny, colorful, and easy to care for, making them a great choice for beginners.

They can be kept in groups of 10 to 12 and are best kept in tanks that are heavily planted. 6.

Betta Fish: Betta fish are known for their beautiful colors and long flowing fins. They are popular in heavily planted ecosystems and make excellent nano options.

Betta fish are compatible with other peaceful species like shrimp and snails. 7.

White Cloud Minnow: White cloud minnows are a hardy and active species that are best kept in groups of six or more. They are a coldwater species that thrive in planted tanks with a temperature range of 64-72F.

8. Endler’s Livebearer: Endler’s livebearers are often glorified guppies that come in a variety of colors and patterns.

They are rapid breeders, making them ideal for aquarists who want to cultivate a thriving colony. Endler’s livebearers add a dash of life to a planted aquarium.

9. Cherry Barb: Cherry barbs are rarely seen in regular setups but are fantastic for a natural setup that mimics the natural habitat of fish.

They are peaceful, hardy, and can live up to four years. They are compatible with other peaceful species and add color and movement to an aquarium.

10. Rummynose Tetra: Rummynose tetras are a popular choice for their red bodies and active nature.

They thrive in large, heavily planted aquariums and like to be kept in schools of 10-12. Rummynose tetras add a lively touch to a planted aquarium.

11. Siamese Algae Eater: Siamese algae eaters are widely available and are ideal for keeping algae in check in planted aquariums.

They are demanding and territorial, but they can thrive in a heavily planted aquarium with plenty of hiding spaces. 12.

Black Neon Tetra: Black neon tetras have gained popularity due to the high demand of neon tetras. They have a beautiful contrast of iridescent blue and black coloring, making them stand out in any aquarium.

Black neon tetras are peaceful and thrive in planted aquariums. 13.

Celestial Pearl Danio: Celestial pearl danios are a less popular schooling fish that adds unique contrast to any planted aquarium. They have bright coloration and are peaceful.

Celestial pearl danios are easy to care for and thrive in planted aquariums.


The 15 fish mentioned above are some of the best options for a planted aquarium. A heavily planted aquarium can provide fish with a natural environment with ample hiding spaces, food, and a healthy ecosystem.

Choosing the right fish for a planted aquarium requires careful consideration of compatibility, water parameters, and activity levels. With the right combination of plants and fish, your planted aquarium can flourish and become a stunning underwater oasis.

Overall, the article focuses on the benefits, requirements, and challenges of maintaining a planted aquarium. It covers the importance of live plants in an aquatic ecosystem, the ideal bioload of fish in aquariums, and the significance of aquatic animals, such as fish, for sustaining a natural ecological balance in planted tanks.

The article also provides a list of 15 different fish species suitable for planted tanks that will add color, movement, and life to an aquarium. By understanding these key concepts and implementing them in the appropriate manner, anyone can create and sustain a thriving underwater ecosystem.

A planted aquarium is not only a beautiful addition to any living space, but can also provide numerous benefits for the fish living in it.

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