If you’ve ever seen a meticulously maintained planted tank, it’s hard not to be in awe.

Plants in an aquarium are not just pretty: they contribute to the tank ecosystem by producing oxygen and absorbing harmful CO2 for optimal health of your fish!

The presence of live plants in a 10-gallon planted tank reduces toxins in the water and keeps waste from fish in check. Plants act as a natural filter and deter harmful overgrowth of algae — the bane of many aquarists.

So go au naturel and introduce some live aquatic plants to your tank!

Here’s how to set yourself up for success.

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum
ADA Aqua Soil
Finnex FugeRay Planted+ Aquarium LED Light
Potted Java Fern
Current USA Plus Pro LED Light
Ecology of the Planted Aquarium

Links To Amazon

Setting Up a 10-Gallon Planted Tank

When first deciding what kind of tank is right for you, you have to first decide if a low tech planted tank is what you’re after.

What is a low tech tank? It actually has nothing to do with the number of technological gadgets involved, but rather is the absence of injected Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

As it turns out, some plants can grow fine without the added CO2, so a low tech tank can be cost saving and easier to set up.

Here are some Low Light plants that would be great for your low tech planted tank.

You do need to do your research, however, when embarking on a low tech planted aquarium, as it can be easy for your aquatic plants to fail in the wrong environment. Planted aquariums might look enticing, but they can be more work than an aquarist realizes and require a delicate balance of nutrients and light in order to thrive.

But hey, that’s why you’re here!

First off, you need to make sure your basic water chemistry is ideal for planting. If you’ve had an existing aquarium environment going for a while, this can be a great way to create an optimal environment for plants.

Your water quality should read ammonia and nitrite levels at 0 ppm and nitrates at 40 ppm or less (ideally around 20 ppm).

You water pH should be stable before adding plants to the mix to ensure success. This means you’ll want to avoid large fluctuations in pH which are inevitable during water changes. You want to go with fish and plant species that are adapted to living in a pH similar to what you have.

Picking Your Substrate

When it comes to the substrate, you’ll want to pick the right one for your type of plant species. You’ll want to bury the plant’s root system at least 1-inch underneath the substrate. The three main types to choose from are:

1. Flourite. Flourite is a popular substrate for planted aquariums because it’s lightweight and can be mixed with gravel or other types of substrates. Be sure to rinse well before using in your aquarium!

2. Gravel. This is a straightforward option for anyone starting out with a planted tank. With this substrate, you need to use fertilizer to make sure your plants are getting adequate nutrients.

A note on sizing: gravel pebbles larger than 5 mm in diameter may cause problems with roots not being able to anchor properly and nutrients falling through the gaps.

3. Aqua Soil. This substrate is highly popular due to its natural look and versatility. It also provides long-lasting nutrients for your plants, so added fertilizer is not needed!

Click here to see our list of the Best Substrates for a planted tank.

Lighten Up!

When choosing to light for your planted aquarium, you have a few things to consider. The species of the plants you want to grow in your tank should inform your choices on the following options:

1. Strength. Just like it sounds, strength refers to how much light is emitted into your tank. The PAR Measure (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) is the most useful gauge of a light’s relevant strength.

Low lighting is great for shade-loving aquatic plants. Medium-light can be used in a tank with carpeting greenery and high light is optimal for brightly colored plants and keeps plants healthy to avoid algae overgrowth.

2. Color. Color is really more of personal preference since plants use all colors in the spectrum for photosynthesis. Opt for lighting that’s heavier on the red/blue spectrum to make green plants appear more vibrant.

Tanks are, at the end of the day, visual art meant to be enjoyed by the tank owner. Pick a light that is pleasing to you!

3. Spread. Spread is the amount of area that the light covers. The spread of your lighting set-up should match the dimensions of your 10-gallon tank. It’s best to have two areas of lighting instead of one in the center, for example, to ensure equal PAR measures across the whole tank.

Click here to see our article on some really great LED lights for planted tanks.

Plants, Plants, and More Plants

And finally, let’s talk plants! Depending on the type of tank you want to achieve and the lighting you want, there are hundreds of aquatic plant species to choose from. Here are some popular plant choices for beginner tanks:

1. Java Fern. These low light-loving ferns are a dramatic addition to your tank and are super easy to take care of. They have the ability to grow up to 12 inches tall and you can propagate them on your own. They’re hardy and can even be attached to rocks or wood elements in your tank!

2. Marimo Moss Ball. Another low light plant, these moss balls are fun and playful, giving a whimsical feel to your tank. Not a “plant” per se, these moss balls are clusters of filamentous green algae, found in many lakes in Japan, Russia, Iceland, United Kingdom, and Northern Europe.

3. Cryptocoryne Aponogetifolia. This is a big statement plant, growing up to 40 inches. If you’re looking for a centerpiece plant, this one’s your go-to. But don’t worry, it grows slowly so you won’t be overwhelmed.

4. Rotala Rotundifolia. This is a great option for color-lovers, as it’s a bright reddish pink and will provide a great contrast to your green plants! This plant is a moderate to high-light plant that is fast-growing.

5. Amazon Sword. Perhaps the most recognizable aquatic plant, the Amazon Sword is a great plant for beginner aquariums. Its’ broad leaves provide bulk to an area of your aquarium that you want to feel heavily planted. This is a moderate to high light plant.

You’ll want to think about the foreground, midground, and background when choosing plants types.

All About Filters

Filtration is a make-it-or-break-it element to your planted tank. Without a good filtration system, your tank health will suffer from biowaste build-up and your plants and fish will eventually die as a result.

It’s important to invest in a good filter system but it can be hard to navigate the dozens of choices and figure out the best type for your tank. Here, we’ll compare the three most popular filter-types:

1. Hang-on filters. These filters do exactly what it sounds like: they hang off the side of your aquarium wall. However, these models are becoming increasingly less popular because they’re noisy and distracting to the aesthetic of your tank.

These are especially disrupting to a low tech tank without CO2 introduction because they can actually lower the amount of CO2 in the water by continuously agitating the surface of the water.

Learn more about HOB Filters here.

2. Canister filters. These filters are the top choice for many aquarists. They live outside of the tank and you can control the flow rate, filter medium, and many other options which makes this filter highly customizable. They’re quiet and create crystal clear water while enabling the growth of beneficial bacteria (more on that later).

See our buying guide if you want to learn more about Canister Filters

3. Internal filters. These are another option for small tanks only (less than 20 gallons). They live inside the tank, submerged in the water, and are air pump driven. This makes them very efficient at small tank cleaning, but can also detract from the aesthetic of your tank.

Ultimately, the type of filter you choose will come down to your budget and what you want the final result to look like.

Here is a great video putting it all together.

And Finally, the Fish!

What Species Should I Pick For My Planted Tank?

Species is a very important subject. First, not all fish species get along well with one another so if you’d like to have different kinds of fish, do your research!

Another thing to consider is tank size. Many fish will not do well in a 10-gallon tank, so you’ll need to pick a species with lower spacial needs.

After you’ve spent all this time and money on plants, you need fish who won’t totally eat through them! Here are a few fish species that are highly recommended for planted tanks:

  1. Rainbow Fish. Colorful, docile, and great for home aquariums!
  2. Swordtails. Excellent community members, Swordtails will totally leave your plants alone.
  3. Tetras. A medium-sized school fish, tetras their bright blue and red coloring play well off the green of a planted tank.
  4. Rams. Also known as ram cichlids, these fish are great in community tanks.
  5. Killifish.
  6. Gouramis.

Here are a few articles about stocking a 10-gallon tank:

Before You Add Fish in a Tank, Test the Water

The first thing to consider is water. The water your new fish is coming from likely had a controlled ph level.

It’s also important to note the particular fish species you’re dealing with and what their needs are. It’s a good idea to speak with an expert at the store before purchasing and acclimating a fish.

Test your water prior to adding your fish. You can do this with a conventional water tester available online or at aquarium stores. Your chlorine should be at 0, and your ph should match that of where your fish is coming from (so don’t forget to ask!)

Give Friendly Bacteria Time to Make Themselves at Home

Bacteria are your friends, and they’re a fish’s friend too!

Helpful bacteria do all sorts of things in an aquarium like combat ammonia build-up and recycle waste products.

“Cycling” a tank also allows for proper nitrogen levels to balance out as the bacteria make themselves at home.

To speed this process along, there are a few things you can do. Think of this step as feeding the bacteria their first meal of ammonia.

You can add a small amount of fish flake food, small chunks of raw shrimp, or gravel from another aquarium that is established.

Even with these tricks to speed it up, you should give your tank at least 24 hours to start building up bacteria before adding fish.

How do you know when it’s ready? The Nitrogen Cycle is considered not complete until ammonia levels are at 0 and nitrate levels are staying below 40 ppm.

Introducing the Fish

When adding your fish, you want to treat it like the new and blossoming relationship that it is and take it slow.

Turn off your aquarium light and make sure the temperature is appropriate for your fish species.

Lower the plastic bag you fish came home in into the water and let it float. This allows the fish to get used to the new tank is small steps. Do this for 15-30 minutes.

It’s a good idea at this point to test the ph inside the back and compare it to your tank. If they’re drastically different, this will shock your fish and could even kill them!

If the numbers are not the same, Take a measuring cup and add a small (1/4-1/2 cup) amount of the tank water into the bag and wait at least 15 minutes. Test the ph again and see if the numbers are any closer.

When the ph has a difference of less than 0.1, you’re now ready to introduce your fish!

To do this, carefully lift your fish with a small net out of the plastic bag and quickly transfer it to the tank.

Keep an eye on your fish for the next hour or two and make sure they’re making themselves at home and acting normally!

Ongoing Maintenence for a Healthy Tank

For ongoing maintenance of a healthy tank, you need the right filtration system that allows beneficial bacteria to flourish in your tank. This will help both your fish and your plants maintain their health and vitality for years.

Fertilizers are especially important to a planted tank for ongoing maintenance as well. Just like you wouldn’t plant your brand new Spring herbs in old dried out dirt without fertilizing it, you don’t want to leave your aquatic plants without the nutrients they need.

Fertilizer requirements depend on what type of plants you’re growing, but you can find fertilizer balls or root tabs in any aquarium store.

How do you know when it’s time for some extra love for your plants? Keep watch on your tank regularly and take note of any changes in your plants, including yellowing leaves, thin or spindly growth, or pale veins. Generally, these are signs of deficiencies including a lack of nitrogen, iron, potassium, or trace elements.

Regular cleaning of your tank gravel and replacing 15% of the water is also necessary from time to time. It is recommended that you clean your tank in small intervals over several days so as not to shock your fish.

Final Thoughts

Once you’ve set yourself up for success with a planted tank, you’ll be able to enjoy the wonders of this mini ecosystem for years to come.

A planted tank can give an aquarist a whole new level of satisfaction, knowing that their tank is entirely alive and natural. The best part — it’s not as hard as it sounds!

Need some more tips and tricks on starting a low tech 10-gallon planted tank? Check out our essentials list to get started!

More Info About 10-Gallon Tanks

  1. Guide to Setting up Your 10-Gallon Planted Tank
  2. 12 Hungry Algae Eaters For Small Tanks 10 Gallons & Under
  3. Stocking A 10 Gallon Tank
  4. Best Small Catfish for a 10-Gallon Tank Setup
  5. Bottom Feeder Fish for a 10-Gallon Tank
Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum
ADA Aqua Soil
Finnex FugeRay Planted+ Aquarium LED Light
Potted Java Fern
Current USA Plus Pro LED Light
Ecology of the Planted Aquarium

Links To Amazon