How to Set Up a Planted Aquarium

Plants can make an aquarium more attractive.

Plants can make an aquarium more attractive.

A planted aquarium gives your fish a home that’s a lot more like their natural habitat than a bare tank could be. Your little wet pets will benefit from the oxygen the plants put into the water, plus they’re sure to take advantage of the many hiding places a nicely planted aquarium has.

Items you will need

  • Aquarium with lighted hood
  • Gravel
  • Dishpan
  • Filter
  • Water treatment kit
  • Plants
  • Saucer
  • Aquarium heater

Step 1

Place your aquarium in the location you've chosen as its permanent setting. Once you start filling it, it will be extremely heavy and you won’t be able to move it.

Step 2

Wash your gravel before placing it in the tank. Pour it into a plastic dishpan, fill it with water, stir the gravel, and pour off the dust and debris that floats to the top. Repeat this process until the gravel is clean.

Step 3

Pour a layer of gravel into your aquarium. The gravel should be deep enough to support plants. Smaller plants are fine in about 2 to 3 inches of gravel, but if you plan on using larger plants, a deeper layer, about 4 to 5 inches, will hold them better.

Step 4

Put a filter in the tank if you are going to use a box filter or other type of filtration system that goes in the tank. Place under-gravel filters before you put in the gravel. You don't have to add exterior filters until the tank is planted and filled.

Step 5

Treat the water you are going to put in the tank using a water treatment kit made for fish tanks. Add drops from the kit to your tap water according to the label instructions to remove chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals. Fill the tank about a third of the way full with the treated water.

Step 6

Make holes in the gravel that are large enough to hold the roots of your plants without crumpling them or folding them over. Plants often come with weights at the bottom to help them stay in place while they get established, so leave these on if your plants have them.

Step 7

Set the plants in the holes and fill in around the roots with gravel. Place the taller plants toward the back of the tank and the shorter ones toward the front to make it easy for you to see in. You can mix it up a bit by placing some of the shorter plants in the back, which will create a more natural-looking setting.

Step 8

Place a saucer in an open area of the gravel and finish filling the tank by pouring the water over the saucer. This will prevent the disruption of your plants and gravel. Remove the saucer when you’re done filling the tank. Start your filter and put your aquarium heater in place, but wait about 15 to 30 minutes for it to acclimate before you plug it in.

Step 9

Fit the hood on the tank. Turn the lights on about eight to 10 hours a day to help keep your plants healthy.


  • If you want your plants to survive, choose fish that are not big plant eaters. Some species will chow down on your plants and you’ll end up needing to replace those plants on a regular basis.


  • Test the water before adding fish, since a new tank can take awhile before it’s ready for them.

About the Author

A recipient of a business and technology degree from the master's program at West Coast University, Cindy Quarters has been writing professionally since 1984. Past experience as a veterinary technician and plenty of time gardening round out her interests. Quarters has had work featured in Radiance Magazine and the AKC Gazette.

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