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New to planted tanks and would appreciate help with a set up...


8 Apr 2013
Hi all.

I am considering a planted tank system and would appreciate some help starting off.

A bit of background on me...

I am relatively new to this site and have been keeping fish for around six years. This was mainly a medium sized reef aquarium which I had success with in the reef keeping forums, and I also spent some time moderating and participating as an advisor for anyone with questions about all aspects of reef keeping. An overview of my system is outlined here..


The instability of reef keeping in general, accompanied with the extremely high maintenance and costs led me to close the tank down and leave fish keeping for a year.

I now have a hankering to start something again, but a lower maintenance system which I will not worry about in the same way I did when I had upwards of £2000 just in livestock.

My thoughts so far (subject to change from advice of course) is...

TMC signature 60 x 45 x 30cm
Gro beam 1500 ultima
....and thats about it.

What I would really like help with is some advice on....
- canister filter/media selection
- CO2 (is it a must?)
- additional supplements
- kit list (tests etc)
- beginner plant selection
- substrate
and anything else that people think may be useful.

I would like to make it as fuss free as possible, but not at the expense of achieving what I want, a colourful, healthy, balanced, relatively minimalist aquarium.

I am a total noob to planted tanks so the shoe really is on the other foot coming from my involvement in the reef world, so please excuse any ignorance I show in the information above.

I am keen to learn and would appreciate any help anyone can give.

Best Regards

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Hi Greg, welcome to the forum.

I've just been looking at your Marine tank, it looks beautiful, based on that I'm sure you can make any planted tank a success.

Your choice of tank and light seem spot on, those TMC tanks look to be a great shape for scaping and the Gro Beams are tried and tested, remember though, go easy on the light, along with CO2 distribution, it seems to be the root of most of our problems on here!

As for your other equipment I would have a look at some of our more successful members' journals and see what they're using.

Canister Filter: General opinion is that you need x10 flow. e.g. If your tank is 100 litres you need a filter that can deliver at least 1000 litres per hour. As you probably know when they're full of media etc most filters won't deliver the LPH that they claim so go bigger if you can! You don't need to worry about the media too much, if you search on the forum you'll find better advice but you should only need what comes with the filter, I personally left out most of my media and only have one basket in use (with ceramic pasta looking things) and some foam, the rest are empty, flow is more important. You might want to try a bit of Purigen in there as it does add a degree of clarity to your water.

CO2: It depends what you're aiming for and what plants you want etc, have a look at some 'lo tech' tanks and journals on the forum, they can look amazing. If you do want CO2 have a look at the 'Fire Extinguisher' tutorial, I wouldn't bother messing around with any other system. You'll find out that there are plenty of different methods of delivering CO2 into your water and you'll struggle to get an answer about which is best.

Substrate: ADA aquasoil is tried and tested but also fairly expensive, there are cheaper and DIY substrates but it's up to you. In my current tank I've just used plain old unipac sand but I'm mostly growing plants on my hardscape.

Test Kits: As Clive would say.. forget about these.

Plants: Have a look at the tropica website, plants are split into categories of ease of use etc.

My best advice would be to look at some of the tanks in the 'Featured Journals' section. Members like George Farmer have lots of experience and I should imagine have tried many different types and brands of equipment before settling on what they use now, George has the same TMC tank as you're interested in so you won't go far wrong looking at his journals which will list his equipment etc.

I hope I've answered your questions to some extent, I'm relatively inexperienced myself but you can learn fairly quickly on UKAPS as there is a wealth of information and experts here.



Thank you for taking the time to reply and thank you for your nice remarks about my previous aquarium.

The advice you have given is just what I need......a good place to look and start reading. I am still in two minds about where to begin my planted tanks. I may go low tech and just get a relatively inexpensive system to reacquaint myself before investing a lot of money.

On the flip side I may also invest in a high tech set up early to avoid re-purchasing equipment/tanks etc as I go along.

For now i'll keep reading and check back in soon.

Our of curiosity James, why no test kits? I lived and died by them as a reef keeper, but maybe things are different in the planted world?

Thanks again and best regards

Youll scare yourself testing for nitrates, us planted enthusiasts pour nitrate and phosphates into our tank these are plant food and you could fail without them. These don't cause algae too much light and not enough co2 for the amount of light causes algae. The only tests you need are a ph pen and a tds pen. Its a completely different game compared to marines
Happy learning
Thank you fot that information. It is good to know.

If you don't mind me asking, why a TDS pen? Do planted tank owners also use RO or is the pen for other reasons?

On the subject of lighting, has anyone heard or read anything good about the new TMC aqua bars? They are another contender for my lighting
Hi Greg, welcome to the forum.
Rule number one... don't get hung up on lighting... it is the downfall of most beginners in the planted tank game!
The governing factor is C02, low tech or high tech it just the same... match you light to the C02 available.
Just bear in mind that to much C02 will kill livestock so it is a balance between C02 & light that really matters.
Low tech spells low light, high tech spells very thoughtful lighting & Co2 matching, but still relatively low light.. just much faster growth due to the higher amounts of C02 available.
Thanks for the above, thats definitely food for thought.

So what is considered low light and what would be intense light? In terms of watts per litre? I know there is no exact rule and it depends on tank depth, water clarity etc but it gives me something to work with in my mind. Perhaps a suggestion for a TMC signature other than the grobeam? I am starting to appreciate the balance between CO2 and light and that this balance is difficult to obtain.

I am considering a simple low light inexpensive set up to trial things a bit and begin to learn. Equally I am also think of investing in the tank I really like (the TMC signature) and then upgrading the kit as I go along and my experience/success grows. It is tough to know where to start but the more I read the clearer it is becoming.

Also how is the co2 'matched' with the light? Is it just a case of tinkering to find the optimum levels through adjusting the Co2 canister? Any advice on starter co2 kits?

Thanks again
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If we are talking about a C02 injected set up then you need to get in as much C02 as possible without stressing your livestock & then try to establish the ideal amount of light to give strong growth without establishing algae!
This is not always easy to achieve & we very often compromise by using less than perfect lighting & C02 limits.
Adjustable light intensity is a fantastic asset to have available....
Hi Greg, I remember you from the Salty side when I was in it a little while ago...

I also have the TMC signature tank http://www.ukaps.org/forum/threads/a-fool-and-his-money.31857/

Just to add to what the other guys say. Test kits are useless here. Dose as much co2 as you can without killing anything. Dose as much fertilizer as possible, it's almost impossible to overdose. Do 50% water changes for the 1st 2-3 months and also 6 hours a day lighting. As per marine par is far more important than watts here. 6500k is what your looking for roughly in terms of colour temp. About 10x tank turnover is correct. Algae problems are ALWAYS caused by too much light, not enough fertilizer, low flow or low/fluctuating co2.

I am much happier running a tropical plated tank than a marine. (Looks better, cheaper, less hassle, no worrying) and the community here is much better than the salty side ;)

Good luck buddy
I wish I'd read this from Clive (Ceg4048) before I ever bought any CO2 equipment as I think flow/distribution influences everything from equipment to hardscape to plant layout. This shouldn't paralyze you but make you realize you need a plan in place before buying a regulator and dropping a diffuser in a tank then wonder why your tank doesn't look stunning which is exactly what I did.


The 10X rule is a rule of thumb which helps to guarantee that there is sufficient energy to move the fluid to most, or all regions of the tank. Flow rate should always be considered within the context of the distribution of that energy throughout the various zones of the tank (high, low, left, right, center and so forth). So having some arbitrary flow rate is meaningless if the distribution of that kinetic energy is uneven, because if the distribution and flow profile are incoherent then there will be areas that have too much energy while other areas suffer insufficient flow. In that case, both areas are susceptible to the risk of nutrient and CO2 deficiency.

By far, the most critical function of flow/distribution is the delivery of CO2 and Oxygen to the leaf. Terrestrial plants have the advantage in this regard because CO2 diffuses and transports easily in air. On the contrary, CO2 or Oxygen dissolved in water diffuses and transports at a rate of approximately 10,000 slower than in air. This is a major disadvantage for aquatic plants. Gaseous transport in plants is, by a huge margin, the most important mechanism to their survival and prosperity, so in water, the first trick is to increase the CO2 partial pressure, which is accomplished by pressure injection. Higher pressure helps to transport the gas but the diffusion and transport rates are still appealingly low.

There is a much less well known obstacle to the movement of the gas in fluids. Fluids moving across a solid object have a frictional component known as viscosity. We all know the term from motor oil commercials but it applies to any fluid. This friction slows the movement of the fluid to nearly zero at a short distance from the surface of the object. In our case, the leaves will have a layer of stagnant water surrounding it, referred to as the boundary layer. Boundary layers having near zero velocity also therefore have a high static pressure. This high pressure pushes against the rest of the water above it and is an impediment to the movement of nutrients and CO2 from the larger water area. So, CO2 and nutrients inside the boundary layer will slowly move across the plants exterior membrane but replenishment of the gasses and nutrients from the free stream into the Layer are impeded due to the high static pressure of the Layer. As fluids are put in motion their static pressure decreases and the Boundary Layer thickness becomes thinner up to a certain speed. Above that speed, the Boundary Layer again thickens up. So there is a small range fluid velocities near the leaf surface where increased flow reduces the thickness of the Boundary Layer and facilitates transport of nutrients/CO2 to the leaf. At velocities below this range the thickness and pressures are high, and above the range the thickness and pressures also increase.

Clever distribution schemes therefore allocate enough energy to all locations so that the fluid velocities are within the acceptable range in all the zones.

We normally advise that if all the leaves can be seen to be gently swaying, then this is an indication of good flow distribution. If some are moving like flags during a storm while others are static then this is an indication of poor distribution.

You might want to have a look at the video in the post http://ukaps.org/forum/threads/inline-devices.2965/#post-32127 to get a better illustration of flow theory."
Thanks guys. Some more great information there. Am continuing to read up on what I can and my thoughts on a set up change daily. Think I'll wait until I settle on something for sure and then think about a purchase.

Dan I also remember you from UR. Glad you are enjoying the planted side. Your tanks looks great
That marine setup is gorgeous!!!

Why dont' you just go low tech and save yourself the hassle of another hassle tank :) People love their CO2 setups here as it gives the most options but the forum is busy not without a reason, it can be challenging too.
I highly recommend you check out Big Tom's and Alastair's low tech journals here. You'll be amazed. Here is a link to Tom's. It's a long thread well worth the read.


I also highly recommend this substrate type from the link below for a low tech like that. It will give you amazing results with 0 investments after setup and almost self sufficient. No need for CO2 as it gets produced in the soil from decomposition. The plants do grow very healthy indeed.

And good luck :)

Okay, so after some careful thought I have decided on what I am going to do...

I have reserved a Fluval Roma 125 tank and cabinet as a relatively inexpensive way to return to the hobby, to kind of test my enthusiasm for the hobby after a break.

I am not sure if the following constitutes high tech, low tech, or somewhere in between but I plan on adding a few bits and would appreciate any help.

1. The tank comes with an internal filter which I anticipate will be fine for the relatively small fish load I intend to keep. I also like the idea of the internal filter as it mean I don't have to modify the tank, and it also will be very quiet. But I am conscious of the flow not being enough so should I A: keep the internal filter and add a small powerhead or pump? or B: Just modify the tank and go for a larger external filter that comes with the appropriate flow rate of X10 tank turnover (was thinking fluvial 306 @ around 1200lph) I kind of like option A but am keen to know what people think.

2. I will be adding a Co2 system to help with the plant health/appearance etc. I have had a few conversations in local fish stores and like the idea of a co2 set that can be attached to a timer so that I don't have to switch it off at night. Any suggestions on a sensibly priced all in one set? The LFS did say that you could leave co2 on permanently but I have read a lot suggesting that it is not recommended. Any advice on this?

3. I will also need some ferts and was wondering if anyone could suggest a decent set covering all the essential nutrients?

4. I was think of starting off with some java fern, anubias and a carpeting plant of some kind. Any suggestions here would be welcomed as well.

5. And finally, my intention was to stick with the twin 20w T8 lights to begin with, as a lot of advice has warned me off going to bright. Does this sound like adequate lighting on a relatively deep tank? I also have my eye on a twin 24w T5 starter to add into the hood if it needs it but my intention was to start with the built in lights, let things settle, and go from there. Does this sounds sensible?

I know there is a lot of questions but I would appreciate peoples help and experience. If anyone could answer a few or all of the questions it would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks to everyone so far for being so helpful.

Best Regards

Hi Greg, I would ask you to consider an open top tank as this really adds a nice extra viewing dimension & offers more control over lighting by raising or lowering the lights.
You need to look up EI fert dosing as this is the way to go...
Search for fire extinguisher co2 set up .. this is the best way to go..
Perhaps the most important aspect towards success is flow & C02 distribution, you need to study this point very well.
Thanks for the quick replies guys.

Foxfish, the reason I am not going for an open top tank is that the setup would cost twice as much and I am looking for an inexpensive way to get back into fish keeping, If I'm honest, I am also not a huge fan of them over conventional custom made tanks as I don't want an ultra modern looking set up. I have looked at the previous links relating to flow, and I understand what I need to achieve so I guess its my choice how I try and do that? Thanks for the advice on ferts and co2.

Big clown, thanks again for the input, I have had a look a the links and will get in touch with the person you suggested if I can't find something suitable sold locally.
Just answering a couple of points

1)Maybe have a look at his thread below. The aquascapes achieved are amazing and he is using an internal filter and a wavemaker to supplement the flow. He has videos on which you can see how he's positioned them and where they blow(bottom right of his tank)


4)In terms of the anubias and java fern, they don't like much light. The anubias specifically may get destroyed by algae(mostly green spot algae) if exposed to too much light. The one suggestion would be that anubias needs the rhizome above the substrate but does better if the roots grow into the substrate, especially if it's a nutritious one such as soil).
I'd look into some sort of fast growing stem plant, whichever you like, to add to your current choice of plants. It's best to have both otherwise it's difficult to first cycle the tank, then have it in balance.