Aquarium Setup

Crated a Planted Tropical Fish Tank

Following are instructions for creating a new tropical freshwater fish tank. If you do not desire live plants, you can follow the same instructions while ignoring the references to plant fertilizer and the multiple layer gravel bed.

However, we do recommend live tropical plants as part of the complete aquatic environment. Your fish will appreciate them also.


  1. PH TEST KIT - Mid range (ph6.0-7.6).
  2. PH ADJUSTERS - Can use store bought PH UP or PH DOWN plus PH Stabilizers or can use baking soda to raise the PH and Muriatic Acid to lower the PH.
  3. PLANT FERTILIZER - Recommend a general aquatic fertilizer designed for aquarium use that contains iron, manganese and other minerals and micro-nutrients but no nitrates or phosphates.
  4. AMMONIA TEST KIT - Combined NH3/NH4 (0 to 7 ppm).
  5. THERMOMETER - Standard aquarium variety.
  6. GLASS AQUARIUM - Any size desireable - 20 to 50 gallons best for beginner.
  7. FILTER - External cannister filters best - get size that matches tank. Should come with filter media. If not get sponge, zeolite and activated carbon media.
  8. AERATOR - Aeration is needed for two situations: 1) Non-planted aquariums, and 2) Marginally planted aquariums with densely stocked tanks that will be allowed to get "hot" in the summer. Some external cannister filters offer a venturi type attachment that will allow for aeration when desired.
  9. TANK COVER - Look for hood with two (fluorescent) bulb capacity, a minimum 24 inches, the longer the better. One bulb should be a "plant" bulb placed at the back of the tank. One bulb should be a "fish" bulb placed at the front of the tank. (Many "super stores" have cheap bulbs that are adequate).
  10. TIMER - An inexpensive two pin timer for turning lights on and off daily.
  11. HEATER - One 100 to 300 watt submersible ceramic heater depending on ambient room temperature and tank size.
  12. LARGE GRAVEL - Enough one inch diameter gravel to completely cover the bottom of the tank so no glass is visible (Garden Center).
  13. MEDIUM GRAVEL - Enough 1/8 to 1/4 inch pea gravel to completely cover the large gravel plus one to two inches on top (Garden Center or swimming pool supply company).
  14. SAND - Enough 20-30 (1/32 to 1/16 inch) size silica sand to provide a one to two inch layer on top of the medium gravel (Garden Center or swimming pool supply).
  15. SMALL DECORATOR GRAVEL - If desired, enough for a thin top layer of whatever pleases you (Pet Shop or Garden Center).


  1. ADD WATER - Fill 1/3rd full from garden hose (can use bottled or other water but not necessary).
  2. ADD GRAVEL - Wash all gravel before putting into tank otherwise filter will take several days to clear the water. Add large gravel first (enough to cover bottom). Add medium pea gravel second (minimum one inch on top of large gravel). Add one inch layer of sand on top of pea gravel. Top off with decorator gravel if desired.
  3. ADD WATER - Fill to 2/3rds full.
  4. INSTALL FILTER - As per manufacturer's directions. Arrange filter intake on one side of the tank and return on the opposite. The intake should be near the bottom of the tank and the return at the surface of the water. The best combination of filter media is 1)sponge 2)zeolite and 3)activated carbon in that flow sequence in the filter. Let filter run overnight as is (with no aeration).
  5. CHECK PH - Check with test kit, adjust as necessary. Want PH between 6.5 and 6.8. Check monthly.
  6. ADD PLANTS - At this point you can add rocks, driftwood or any other tank decorations you may desire. Once the "hard" decorations are set, you can then landscape the plants around them. Try to get the roots anchored deep into the large gravel.
  7. FILL TANK WITH WATER - Fill tank to 5 inches below top of tank. This should allow for the additional water when you receive your first fish.
  8. ADD PLANT FERTILIZER - Only if using live plants. Follow directions.
  9. RUN TANK - Run tank without fish for several days. Lights should be on 14 hours per day. Use timer.
  10. ADD FISH - Our fish may go directly into the tank as long as you acclimate according to our receiving instructions. See "What to do before you receive this fish" and What to do when you receive this fish" under the "More Info" buttons on any fish page.
  11. OTHER FISH -If you are adding fish from a pet shop we would recommend either holding them in a quarantine tank for several days as they have been housed with fish that have been sourced from all over the world. At a minimum treat with quick cure for one hour to ensure they are not carrying any external parasites. This can be done convieniently by talking your pet store clerk into adding the treatment directly to the bag when you make your purchase. Then follow the same proceedures as with our fish.
  12. TANK MAINTENANCE FISH - You may want to add some "tank maintenance" fish. We recommend Otocinclus catfish (species such as Otocinclus vestitus) if you can find them. They will help keep the glass clean of algae. Do not use Chinese algae eaters as they will eat your plants. If you cannot find Otocinclus try a plecostumus or related suckermouth catfish. Sometimes these do bother the plants but if your lucky they won't. Our Rams are excellent bottom feeders and will keep the bottom clear of feed.


Feeding is the most important interaction you will have with your fish and their environment. Feeding drives everything. The better you become at feeding, the better your fish will look and the easier your hobby will be.

Overfeeding will overwhelm the biological feeder, stress the fish and cause increased maintenance. If you are having problems in your tank it is probably due to over feeding. You are not just feeding your fish. You are feeding a closed living biological habitat. You must not feed more that that system can handle. Larger systems are more stable.

FEEDING: (Primary Diet)

  1. Start feeding the next day after stocking.
  2. Feed once or twice daily. DO NOT OVERFEED. Feed should be consumed within two or three minutes.
  3. Once you have established a routine feeding schedule that is working, periodically skip a feed.
  4. We recommend a high quality flake diet rich in vitamins and high in animal and vegetable proteins (minimum 45% protein). Crunch flakes slightly to make smaller for smaller fish

FEEDING: (Tank Maintenance Fish)

  1. Feed sinking spirulina discs (1 or 2 depending on number/size of fish). Start two or three days after stocking tank.
  2. If algae growth appears on sides of tank, decrease spirulina feeds. If is clear of algae and Otocinclus or plecostomus appear hungry or are eating plants then increase spirulina feeds.


  1. Perform a 25% water change quarterly. If you are having algae or ammonia or fish stress/loss problems change the water 25% monthly. You must ensure that their is no chlorine or chloramine in your makeup water. Low amounts of ammonia should not be a problem.
  2. Check and adjust the PH after each water change. See fish pages for required values.
  3. If you overfeed the tank, skip a day.
  4. Clean and change the filter media once per quarter. Don't sterilize the sponge, just rinse. Change zeolite and activated carbon. Can perform this maintenance more frequently if desired but it is not necessary if you are not overfeeding.
  5. Have Fun! Contact us with any questions.