A Complete Guide to Setting up Your 10-Gallon Planted Tank

Before we get into the guide here is a list of the best plants for 10 gallon aquarium that you can use. These species are all low light plants, grow easily with minimal care and you can see them in the tank I created below.

  1. Foreground Plants: Sagittaria Subulata (Dwarf Sag)
  2. Midground Plant: Cryptocoryne Petchii
  3. Background Plants: Hygrophila Difformis (Water Wisteria)

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!

Okay so let’s start, here is my planted tank after a recent trim.

Here’s how to set yourself up for success.


Before we get too deep into how to set up your 10-gallon planted tank I wanted to show you the results of my first attempt at a small low tech planted tank.

Below you’ll find a few photos showing my 10 Gallon planted tank as it evolves from day 1.

The Equipment I Used

Since this is a low tech tank I’m not using any CO2. I only plan on dosing aquarium plant fertilizers twice a week to start.

I’ll be using Nilocg Thrive which was recommended to me by Dmichaels fish den who has a great youtube channel and really explains things in an easy way, check it out!

Anyways here are the plants I used.

Setting The Hardscape.

When setting up your hardscape there are a lot of rules to follow and things to consider.

Things like;

  • Rules of Composition
  • The Rule of Thirds
  • The Golden Ratio
  • Creating Perspective

Or, you can do what I did…just find a picture of something you like and do your best to mimic it.

I didn’t exactly get what I wanted but I was happy with this layout.

10 Gallon Planted Tank Hardscape

Start Planting:

Once I was happy with hardscape, I started to plant the tank

If you’ve ever watched someone like George Farmer plant a tank he makes it look so EASY!

Well, it’s not.

Even though I was using a pair of aquascaping tweezers, my plants kept popping up especially the Dwarf Sag and the Crypts.

So frustrating!

The Plants I Used

Foreground: Sagittaria Subulata (Dwarf Sag)

Midground: Cryptocoryne Petchii, Cryptocoryne Albida, Echinodorus Paniculatus (Amazon Sword)

Background: Hygrophila Difformis (Water Wisteria), Vallisneria Corkscrew, Bacopa Caroliniana

Anyways here is what the tank looked like after the planting

Day 1

10 Gallon Planted Tank Day 1

Being that this was my first attempt I was pretty happy with how things turned out and looking forward to seeing this tank grow in.

After One Week

10 Gallon Planted Tank Week 1

You’ll notice in the photo above that the Dwarf Sag and Cryptocoryne Petchii have really started to melt. Otherwise, all the other plants are doing great. 

You’ll also notice that I’ve moved the filter from the side of the tank to the back. This was for a few reasons;

The first is that the outflow from the filter was causing the sand to pile up against the rocks to the left of the photo, and also caused the substrate to move into the sand.

Lesson Learned: When picking a place for your filter consider where the output will be as well as the flow and how that might impact your scape.

The second reason is that this tank is right next to my 7-year-olds bed and although nothing happened I just kept thinking something might happen.

Don’t trust your kids…I repeat NEVER trust your kids, especially the little one!

After Two Weeks

10 Gallon Planted Tank After Week 2

After two weeks, we won some and lost some.

Let’s start with the bad.

The Dwarf Sag has basically completely melted away with only a few small green chutes left. Also, the Vallisneria has started to melt however, there is a lot of new growth so I’m hopeful.

Now for the good.

I’ve had to trim the Bacopa and the Water Wisteria it is growing very nicely and not melting at all. I replanted the cuttings and hope they propagate.

Also, the Cryptocoryne Petchii has grown two new leaves so it seems to have transitioned.

The Amazon Sword has also grown a few new leaves so I’ve cut back some of the original leaves, they were likely grown emersed and will eventually melt. Overall the sword seems to be transitioning.

Lastly, I’ve added two Amano Shrimp and two Nerite Snails these guys will help keep the tank clean and any algae growth down.

So when will I add fish?

Well, the tank hasn’t fully cycled so we need to wait a little longer before adding our fish.

After One Month

10 Gallon Planted Tank After One Month

Alright after one-month things are looking pretty good!

We’ve added two Cherry Shrimp and six Glowlight Tetra and the plants all seem to be doing well. Even the Dwarf Sag has started to grow back in albeit very slowly.

And best of all there is little to no algae so far.

Here are a few close-ups from the tank so far.

Glowlight Tetra schooling in 10-gallon planted tank.
Glowlight Tetra schooling in 10-gallon planted tank.
Nerite Snail on a rock.
Nerite Snail on a rock.
Glowlight tetra and Amano Shrimp in Water Wisteria plants
Glowlight tetra and Amano Shrimp in Water Wisteria plants
Cherry Shrimp and Nerite Snail on rocks.
Cherry Shrimp and Nerite Snail on rocks.

I’ll continue to update this post as things progress but if you like here are a few more things to consider.

Nine Month Update.

10 gallon planted tank nine month update

So it’s been a while since I’ve updated you all about this tank so after a recent cleaning, I thought it would be a great idea to share a few things.

The Plants:

So first off you’ll notice that a few plants are no longer in the tank. Those are the Amazon Sword as well as the Cryptocoryne Petchii both outgrew this tank and I’ve relocated them to my 30 Gallon tank and as you can see in the photo below they are still doing great. I’ve greyed out everything other than the plants so you can see them. 

You’ll also notice in the update photo that there is a small amount of Java Moss. I added a few small chunks and it took over the tank so I’ve also removed the moss and placed it in my 30-gallon tank as you can see in the photo below.

30 Gallon Tank Plants

The Livestock:

Okay so if you recall we had two nerite snails and two Amano Shrimp and unfortunately those have all been lost along with one glowlight Tetra.

That said we still have four Glowlight Tetras and Three Endler Guppies along with two Otos’s and a bunch of pest snails haha.

Here’s a pic of some of the fish.

Glowlight Tetra

Limited space doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the wonders of schooling fish in your aquarium. Find out which species are best suited for smaller environments and how to provide proper care to ensure their well-being. Explore our expert recommendations for schooling fish for small aquariums and transform your tank into a thriving, captivating ecosystem.

The Equipment:

I’m glad to report that all my equipment is still doing great and I’ve had no issues with anything. The Asta LED light seems to do a great job providing enough light for the plants so I don’t have any complaints and wouldn’t hesitate to buy another one.

I’ll look to update you all after one year where I think I’ll re-scape the entire tank and add some fresh new aqua soil.

Here’s what I used again if you’d like to replicate my results.

Setting Up a 10-Gallon Planted Tank What You Need to Know

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.

, 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!

How many plants can I put in a 10-gallon tank?

The number of plants you put in your 10-gallon tank will depend on a few things like;

  • How many fish you have in the tank.
  • How big will the plants grow
  • How often you plan on trimming

For example:

Fish need room to swim; if you have too many plants, the fish won’t have room to swim.

If you keep plants that grow fast and big, maybe one plant is enough to keep your aquarium looking great.

If you want a low-maintenance planted tank, maybe plant a few small, slow-growing plants.

How many substrates do I need for a 10 gallon planted tank?

10-15 pounds of substrate would be ideal for a planted tank this size. However, depending on your plants’ requirements, you may need more or less.

Most plants are root feeders, ensuring you have a nutrient-rich substrate with enough depth to allow for healthy root systems to grow.

How do you Aquascape a 10-gallon tank?

With a tank, this small simplicity is key. 1-3 rocks, with a small piece of wood with some foreground and background plants, would make a beautiful scene.

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
  6. How Much Gravel For A 10 Gallon Tank
  7. How Many Neon Tetras In A 10 Gallon Tank
  8. How Many Guppies in a 10-Gallon Tank
  9. How Many Goldfish in a 10-Gallon Tank
  10. Easy 10-gallon Cichlid Tank Ideas
  11. Best Powerhead for a 10 Gallon Tank
  12. What Is The Best Canister Filter For A 10 Gallon Fish Tank?
  13. Gravel Vacuum For 10 Gallon Tank & Smaller
  14. Best Stands For 10 Gallon Fish Tanks

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