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If I was considering building out a tropical fish tank for my home and wanted to create a good landscape (waterscape?) for both the fish and our visual impact, what are some of the things that I should be considering in my selection and are there examples? Are there special lighting considerations? Filters?

I would probably be keeping fish like tetras, corydoras, and similar.

  • The term "aquascape" is frequently used to describe the combination of plants and rock, driftwood, etc. – Christian Conkle Oct 27 '14 at 0:15
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Lighting

It is first important to note that plants use photosynthesis for growth. In doing this, they have light requirements. Amount of light and Watts per gallon are useful measurements, however, the most important light requirements are color and PAR value. For standard T-5 or T-8 type lights, you'll want temperature color 6700K. This is light that is similar to noon with no clouds. 5500K is daylight and 10,000K is full spectrum (blue). For LED lighting, you want to pay attentin to wave-length. You'll want to get as close as you can do Red 640-670nm and Blue 430-460nm. You'll want more blue than red, anywhere from 60%-40% to 75%-25%.

Filtration

Plants eat up plenty of nutrients to grow. In doing so, they reduce the bio-load needed to be handled by filters. Ultimately, you'll want to follow the standard filtration requirements of your stocking. However, what you'll want to pay attention to with which plants you get is how much water flow will be occurring where they live. Rooted plants can handle a lot of water flow (similar to a sword plant with a powerhead near it). However, stem plants without roots will be knocked over by high water flow. If they are short you can angle your filter output away from them, however if they are tall you'll need to find a way to secure them or deflect water flow.

Substrate

You'll want substrate that the plants can attach to and anchor themselves, or you'll want to anchor them with "lead" or other plant weights. You can also anchor certain plants (anubias or microsorum) by attaching them to driftwood or rock via cyanoacrylate gel (super glue gel) via the rhizome. These plants will then attach themselves via their roots and the cyanoacrylate will eventually dissolve (fish safe).

Stocking (fish)

With plants, you can usually create a great environment for most fish. Mid- to top-tank dwellers will enjoy tall plants (echinodorus or ludwigia) whereas bottown dwellers will enjoy shorts or bushier plants (cryptocoryne or hygrophila in addition to what's been mentioned). It is important to note that if you pick fish that sift substrate or get large (pleco, clown loach), they will dig up plants or knock them over, so pick strong rooted plants with these fish. There are also fish that eat plants (gold fish, some plecos, etc) so you'll want to check on that to see what they prefer in case you need to avoid plants or pick tougher ones.

Stocking (plants)

Depending on the above factors, you'll want to pick your plants. There are a lot of "low light plants" that work well without high light. These plants are usually green plants (vs red or purple). These are also usually the same types as the "beginner plants". These go by the Anubias name or "crypts", "java fern" and "hygro". Taller, strong rooted plants are normally called "swords" and do well for beginners and some even in low light. It's difficult to cover all the possibilities, but what I recommend is looking through plants, picking the ones you like and then researching them before buying. Make sure you can keep them alive in your conditions.

Conclusion

Ultimately, there are so many factors in planting your aquarium that there are literally books about it. Be sure to research your fish and plants and then set up your aquarium based on their requirements. I recommend a low light or beginner plant stocking at first. You'll find these easier to keep alive and easier to enjoy. Once you learn what you like, you can expand your equipment or plants to suit your needs. You can work with fertilizers or high light, maybe injected CO2. These advanced topics are a lot of fun if you enjoy them, but don't let them intimidate you at first! I run low-light sword tanks (among others) and they look just fine -

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Just remember to have fun with it!

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There are 3 main factors in setting up a planted tank: Lighting, Substrate, and CO2.

Lighting

Some plants may grow just fine with minimal light (Cryptocoryne, Anubias). But most need substantially more light than a basic aquarium light provides. For a planted tank you'll want at least 1 watt per gallon, but many (most) plants require more - 2 watts per gallon or more. If all you have is a standard aquarium light that came from a kit, its likely you'll want to upgrade that.

Substrate

Aquarium gravel isn't the best for most plants. Its too difficult for them to grow roots in such rough substrate and it will limit their growth. Instead, consider a specialized substrate for planted tanks. These will contain the right mixture of minerals and will be loose enough that plants can grow roots.

CO2

CO2 gets into the water mainly by transfer at the surface, so there's a practical limit to how much CO2 will 'naturally' be available in the tank. Because of this, many of the very lush planted tanks you see will have supplemental CO2 systems. This isn't necessary just to have plants (I have a nice planted tank without CO2 added). But if you want a lot of growth, they help a lot.


As for plant selection, a lot of that is just about what you personally want the tank to look like. Generally people pick foreground (smaller), midground, and background (taller) plants, and arrange them in that order, front to back. You might also consider some moss to grow over logs and stones. And some carpet plants to cover the substrate. Obviously you'd look at the lighting you have available in the tank and compare that to the requirements of any plants you are thinking about adding.

Your fish may also dictate your plant options. Some fish will eat certain plants (I had some platties tear into my moneywort). Others may enjoy hiding in plants that float at the surface. In your case, for tetras and corys, I don't think you have to worry about either.

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