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djlombar

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Hello all! I had a 29 gallon tank with only fish years ago and I am looking to begin my first planted fish tank. I want to do things right as I get back into the hobby. I am looking at getting a 55 gallon tank and want to do a combination of low-tech plants and fish. I love the look of natural tanks, as if you were looking at a cutout of nature itself. I've been doing a lot of research but I'd love to get some advice and opinions on some start-up options. Here is what I had in mind so far:
Equipment
  • 55 gallon tank w/ glass canopy
  • Fluval 407 canister filter
  • Eheim Jager 300w heater
  • Hygger Advanced Full Spectrum Light (42W 48-54")
Fish (introduced over time)
  • Tetra (neon, cardinal, green fire)
  • Dwarf Chain Loach
  • Clown Killifish
  • Rams
  • Amano Shrimp (or smaller if I don't get the Rams)
  • Dwarf Gourami
  • Stiphodon Goby
I'm using AqAdvisor to get an idea of number and it looks like I could safely have around 40 fish which is awesome (heavier on the Tetras of course).
Here is where I am looking for help:
  • Is this a reasonable setup?
  • What kind of substrate would you recommend for a natural look but also good for plants and maybe some bottom-dwellers (including the Stiphodon Goby). I'm thinking fine sand with some smooth pebbles mixed in. I'm nervous about fine sand with it getting caught up in the filter or looking to much like a reef tank with non-reef fish (but I could certainly be wrong on both fronts there, I don't have any experience).
  • For this combo of fish and plants how "full" should I make the hardscaping?
  • What kind of aquascaping stones do you like?
  • Anything else?
Here are a couple of tanks I consider to be really nice:
r/Aquariums - First planted aquarium

r/Aquariums - First planted aquarium
 

Byron

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A few observations. First on the heater...assuming this is a 4-foot 55g tank, you should have two heaters, one at each end. For this tank I would not go below two 250w, but two 300w may be better. Eheim Jager are good in my view, my last heaters purchased were these. The filter also plays into the heater with respect to positioning. With a canister (agree this is best here) having the intake at one end of the tank and the outlet at the other is best. It creates a normal stream movement which the fish will respond to, and it dissipates heat and water circulation is better. One heater next to the intake, the other at the opposite end next to the return/outflow.

As for the light, wait for members who are experienced in the stated light as I suspect it may be too intense. Light has to balance nutrients and be sufficient (but not over) the requirements of the selected plants. Keeping in mind that forest fish do not appreciate overhead light so keeping it minimal for the needs is best. And I would always include substantial floating plants, both for shade and incredible water quality. The fish will be more active and brighter in colour with all this.

Substrate--if you intend substrate fish (loaches are mentioned) you want soft sand. You're in the US so look for Quikrete Play Sand, unless you want the much more expensive aquarium river sand (make sure this is inert). Plants will also grow as best as they can. Home Depot and Lowe's carry Quikrete so far as I know, just avoid any other industrial sand as they are not as soft and many are white which you certainly do not want. I used this for a dec ade and have never had filter issues; the filter intake should be positioned 4-5 inches above the substrate and this is avoided.

As for fish, what are your water parameters of the tap water, meaning GH, KH and pH. Aside from sorting that out, I would avoid the green fire teytra if this is the species Aphyocharax Rathbuni because it can be quite nasty, fin nipping and worse. All species in this genus have this trait, On the "Rams" if this refers to the common or blue ram, it needs higher temperatures than many other fish can manage permanently, in the 82-86F range. The Bolivian Ram is more accommodating of "normal" temperatures in the mid to high 70's F.

You will want chunks of wood, some can be straight pieces on end to represent standing trunks underwater. others lie on the sand. Rocks are up to you, just avoid any that are calcareous. You are considering mainly soft water fish and you don't want the GH/pH increasing unnecessarily. Smooth river rock available at landscape places is idea, it is smooth from water action and usually granite or similar and safe. It comes in various sizes so you can create nice effects.

The first photo you posted is not very suitable for fish. They are "open" with bright light and no cover, they will remain at the bottom shivering among the only cover they can find. The second photo is much better, it provides some surface cover, and could be made even better with floating plants. Water Sprite, Frogbit, Water Lettuce, or some stem plants allowed to float.

Welcome to TFF. :hi:
 
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djlombar

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A few observations. First on the heater...assuming this is a 4-foot 55g tank, you should have two heaters, one at each end. For this tank I would not go below two 250w, but two 300w may be better. Eheim Jager are good in my view, my last heaters purchased were these. The filter also plays into the heater with respect to positioning. With a canister (agree this is best here) having the intake at one end of the tank and the outlet at the other is best. It creates a normal stream movement which the fish will respond to, and it dissipates heat and water circulation is better. One heater next to the intake, the other at the opposite end next to the return/outflow.

As for the light, wait for members who are experienced in the stated light as I suspect it may be too intense. Light has to balance nutrients and be sufficient (but not over) the requirements of the selected plants. Keeping in mind that forest fish do not appreciate overhead light so keeping it minimal for the needs is best. And I would always include substantial floating plants, both for shade and incredible water quality. The fish will be more active and brighter in colour with all this.

Substrate--if you intend substrate fish (loaches are mentioned) you want soft sand. You're in the US so look for Quikrete Play Sand, unless you want the much more expensive aquarium river sand (make sure this is inert). Plants will also grow as best as they can. Home Depot and Lowe's carry Quikrete so far as I know, just avoid any other industrial sand as they are not as soft and many are white which you certainly do not want. I used this for a dec ade and have never had filter issues; the filter intake should be positioned 4-5 inches above the substrate and this is avoided.

As for fish, what are your water parameters of the tap water, meaning GH, KH and pH. Aside from sorting that out, I would avoid the green fire teytra if this is the species Aphyocharax Rathbuni because it can be quite nasty, fin nipping and worse. All species in this genus have this trait, On the "Rams" if this refers to the common or blue ram, it needs higher temperatures than many other fish can manage permanently, in the 82-86F range. The Bolivian Ram is more accommodating of "normal" temperatures in the mid to high 70's F.

You will want chunks of wood, some can be straight pieces on end to represent standing trunks underwater. others lie on the sand. Rocks are up to you, just avoid any that are calcareous. You are considering mainly soft water fish and you don't want the GH/pH increasing unnecessarily. Smooth river rock available at landscape places is idea, it is smooth from water action and usually granite or similar and safe. It comes in various sizes so you can create nice effects.

The first photo you posted is not very suitable for fish. They are "open" with bright light and no cover, they will remain at the bottom shivering among the only cover they can find. The second photo is much better, it provides some surface cover, and could be made even better with floating plants. Water Sprite, Frogbit, Water Lettuce, or some stem plants allowed to float.

Welcome to TFF. :hi:
Thanks so much for all this detail! I was looking at the German Blue Ram but if the Bolivian Ram would create a less stressful environment I'd rather go that route. And good to note about the green fire, I will nix them from the list.

This sand work? https://www.lowes.com/pd/QUIKRETE-50-lbs-Play-Sand/3006085 I read a lot of people like to use pool filter sand as well.

Good to know about floating plants. I wonder if it's worth investing in a more expensive light where I can adjust the intensity more?

One other question I had, and maybe I should start a separate thread for this, has to do with a quarantine tank. I was looking to get a 10-15gal as a quarantine tank but rather than "instant" cycle it with some filter media from the 55gal tank, I was thinking of keeping it very lightly stocked (6 tetras maybe), so it acts as something functional. When I need to quarantine fish, whether as new additions or to treat illness, I would move them into the 55gal and then back into the quarantine tank once it is no longer needed anymore (after being cleaned and getting parameters back of course). I would keep these two tanks as exact as possible. Any reason this wouldn't work?
 

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Lots of good advice from Byron as ever :)

Just to add on the light, it is a popular low tech light but you should get the controller to let you dim it as its better to have the control. 42W is too strong for low tech but if you can set it to 50% you'll be in a great place, 100% could work ok but you'll need to have a lot of fast growing plants and use a decent amount of ferts. Hygger are a budget brand but do quite impressive stuff, I have a little powerhead and its a really good bit of kit.

Nice scape examples too, I think tank 1 could be a great tank with the things Byron mentioned with a few plant swaps. Eg if you swapped the hair grass for Vallisnera and got the longer thicker leaves over the top, or replaced it with a fast growing stems maybe some kind of penny wort like Cardamyne or Hydrocotlye? Agree with a good bed of floating plants, I have red root floater in my tanks and its a nice pink and green plant with compact red roots and it does not go crazy like some of the other plants.

Wills
 
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djlombar

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Lots of good advice from Byron as ever :)

Just to add on the light, it is a popular low tech light but you should get the controller to let you dim it as its better to have the control. 42W is too strong for low tech but if you can set it to 50% you'll be in a great place, 100% could work ok but you'll need to have a lot of fast growing plants and use a decent amount of ferts. Hygger are a budget brand but do quite impressive stuff, I have a little powerhead and its a really good bit of kit.

Nice scape examples too, I think tank 1 could be a great tank with the things Byron mentioned with a few plant swaps. Eg if you swapped the hair grass for Vallisnera and got the longer thicker leaves over the top, or replaced it with a fast growing stems maybe some kind of penny wort like Cardamyne or Hydrocotlye? Agree with a good bed of floating plants, I have red root floater in my tanks and its a nice pink and green plant with compact red roots and it does not go crazy like some of the other plants.

Wills
Thanks for the additional info on the light. I don't think the intensity is adjustable so I may need to go with something that is not budget. I know it's hokey to some but I do like the idea of a 24/7 light to simulate real light. Any suggestions, trying to keep under $200? I was hoping to get a 24/7 light because I like the idea of the natural day progression but maybe this is something I need to compromise with so that I can control the intensity? I'm also willing to up my budget closer to$200. Any suggestions?

I should have been a bit more specific on those examples...they were more a general idea, nothing specific. The fish are more important to me so I focused on that first but I should pick out my plants next since I should be able to plant them while the tank cycles (right?).

I'll certainly look at those floaters! Would a glass top be a hinderance to floating plants?
 
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Wills

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Thanks for the additional info on the light. I don't think the intensity is adjustable so I may need to go with something that is not budget. I know it's hokey to some but I do like the idea of a 24/7 light to simulate real light. Any suggestions, trying to keep under $200? I was hoping to get a 24/7 light because I like the idea of the natural day progression but maybe this is something I need to compromise with so that I can control the intensity? I'm also willing to up my budget closer to$200. Any suggestions?

I should have been a bit more specific on those examples...they were more a general idea, nothing specific. The fish are more important to me so I focused on that first but I should pick out my plants next since I should be able to plant them while the tank cycles (right?).

I'll certainly look at those floaters! Would a glass top be a hinderance to floating plants?
I'm not sure of the costs in the US but the Twinstar B range might be what you are looking for, in the UK the 4 foot version is about £130 and the controller is £25 and that would let you dim it and do a morning and evening setting to ramp up and down. I have the Twinstar S and the controller and now run it with 15 min ramp ups and offs and do 2-3 hours in a morning and then 6 hours in an evening with a dim down through the day.

With the scapes for me there is a huge amount of enjoyment of making highend looking aquascapes but over time it has come down to working out the fish needs. So if you enjoy that style of competition tank, embrace it and use it as inspiration to make your long term set ups (as some of these set ups are only designed to last 6 months for a contest and the fish might only be added for a few weeks to get the final photo.

Wills
 
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djlombar

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I'm not sure of the costs in the US but the Twinstar B range might be what you are looking for, in the UK the 4 foot version is about £130 and the controller is £25 and that would let you dim it and do a morning and evening setting to ramp up and down. I have the Twinstar S and the controller and now run it with 15 min ramp ups and offs and do 2-3 hours in a morning and then 6 hours in an evening with a dim down through the day.

With the scapes for me there is a huge amount of enjoyment of making highend looking aquascapes but over time it has come down to working out the fish needs. So if you enjoy that style of competition tank, embrace it and use it as inspiration to make your long term set ups (as some of these set ups are only designed to last 6 months for a contest and the fish might only be added for a few weeks to get the final photo.

Wills
I was hoping to get different hues to simulate dawn and dusk light so I will do some further research though I may have to compromise.

What kind of canopy/hood do you have? I see some debate on glass lid vs mesh.
 

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I was hoping to get different hues to simulate dawn and dusk light so I will do some further research though I may have to compromise.

What kind of canopy/hood do you have? I see some debate on glass lid vs mesh.

I have open top tanks on my 100 litre I have mesh and on my shrimp tank it’s open as it’s got wood and plants above the water line.

Some of the ones that do like moon light are a bit gimicky and while it looks cool does not do great for plants, the fluval ones might be a good mid point as they have that settings but also a pretty solid unit - the aqua sky with the remote is not too expensive. The mobile app one and the plant 3.0 is a bit more though but not sure if you need all that?
 

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This sand work? https://www.lowes.com/pd/QUIKRETE-50-lbs-Play-Sand/3006085 I read a lot of people like to use pool filter sand as well.

Yes that is the playsand; it will be either dark grey or buff colour, either is fine. On the pool filter sand--no. First issue with this is it is white (at least any I have ever seen is; someone once said black was available, but that is almost as bad) and this causes stress to many fish as it reflects the overhead light unnaturally. Sometimes you can sort of "cover it up" with wood, rocks, dried leaves, and good floating plants to shade the light. But when there is something even better, why bother. And that brings me to the coarseness; play sand is the most highly refined of the Quikrete industrial sands, and that simply cannot be bettered. This matters with substrate fish (cories, loaches, cichlids) but less for others, but why restrict what you can have.

I was hoping to get different hues to simulate dawn and dusk light so I will do some further research though I may have to compromise.

What kind of canopy/hood do you have? I see some debate on glass lid vs mesh.

I will offer my comments while I'm here, not nullifying Wills' later. The dawn/dusk option is fine, but some over-use it and this can lead to algae issues. Plants need a minimum intensity depending upon the species, but algae is not fussy and can manage under any light. Dawn/dusk should be limited to 30 minutes which is basically what it is in the tropical areas. The "daylight" can be limited, from as low as six hours up. I would not go high with this, especially in a new tank which is unbalanced for the first several weeks and that again gives algae a benefit. Plant heavy at the start, include floating plants, and watch the light.

You want a cover that will not allow evaporation, not allow dust (and anything else) to get on the water, and keep fish in the tank. You would be surprised at how many fish will jump during darkness when something spooks them...cories and loaches have been know to do this. I always had either a hood made for the tank, or glass cover sets that sit down on the tank frame rim while the light sits across the tank resting on the frame. The light must always be separated from the water surface with glass or similar.
 
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djlombar

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I have open top tanks on my 100 litre I have mesh and on my shrimp tank it’s open as it’s got wood and plants above the water line.

Some of the ones that do like moon light are a bit gimicky and while it looks cool does not do great for plants, the fluval ones might be a good mid point as they have that settings but also a pretty solid unit - the aqua sky with the remote is not too expensive. The mobile app one and the plant 3.0 is a bit more though but not sure if you need all that?
Yeah I may consider the aqua sky.

Would a glass lid be a bad idea?
 

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One other question I had, and maybe I should start a separate thread for this, has to do with a quarantine tank. I was looking to get a 10-15gal as a quarantine tank but rather than "instant" cycle it with some filter media from the 55gal tank, I was thinking of keeping it very lightly stocked (6 tetras maybe), so it acts as something functional. When I need to quarantine fish, whether as new additions or to treat illness, I would move them into the 55gal and then back into the quarantine tank once it is no longer needed anymore (after being cleaned and getting parameters back of course). I would keep these two tanks as exact as possible. Any reason this wouldn't work?

You do not want to be netting fish back and forth. Chasing a fish with a net invokes the strongest form of stress because it is the "escape predator" response. Don't do it unnecessarily.

If you have space to run this QT permanently, that is the absolute best option. But leave out fish, have live plants (again, especially floating) and snails if you like (the small one). I ran a 20g like this for years, and it would sit 12 months, maybe 18 months, without fish, but when I bought the fish it was all set to go. I added liquid fertilizer, not much, to keep the plants alive. But the great benefit here is that the new fish are going into an established, not just a cycled, tank, and that is very significant as it avoids a lot of stress. Stress causes 90% or more of all aquarium fish disease, so keeping it minimal is key to healthy fish. Prevention as opposed to treatment.

I had a shallow sand substrate, and a couple chunks of wood.
 
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djlombar

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You do not want to be netting fish back and forth. Chasing a fish with a net invokes the strongest form of stress because it is the "escape predator" response. Don't do it unnecessarily.

If you have space to run this QT permanently, that is the absolute best option. But leave out fish, have live plants (again, especially floating) and snails if you like (the small one). I ran a 20g like this for years, and it would sit 12 months, maybe 18 months, without fish, but when I bought the fish it was all set to go. I added liquid fertilizer, not much, to keep the plants alive. But the great benefit here is that the new fish are going into an established, not just a cycled, tank, and that is very significant as it avoids a lot of stress. Stress causes 90% or more of all aquarium fish disease, so keeping it minimal is key to healthy fish. Prevention as opposed to treatment.

I had a shallow sand substrate, and a couple chunks of wood.
Posted here: https://www.fishforums.net/threads/quarantine-tank.483242/ but do you think a 16" cube tank (14gal) would be suitable for the fish I listed purely for QT?
 

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Yes that is the playsand; it will be either dark grey or buff colour, either is fine. On the pool filter sand--no. First issue with this is it is white (at least any I have ever seen is; someone once said black was available, but that is almost as bad) and this causes stress to many fish as it reflects the overhead light unnaturally.
The Quikrete PFS sand I have bought has always been tan, not white
 

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The Quikrete PFS sand I have bought has always been tan, not white

That's worth knowing. In tanks without substrate fish, this is fine. But not with cories or loaches, and I would be cautious with small cichlids that filter feed the same. I conversed with Quikrete some years ago now, and they assured me that their play sand is refined to make it as safe as possible, meaning smooth. The fellow said they understand how kids get sand in their eyes, mouths, etc, so they take pains to make it smooth. Their PFS is angular and thus rough. That's what they said, and they produce it, so I went with that. I will recommend what seems the best option, and leave it at that.
 

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