Rex's Planted Tank Guide

Your Source Of Information For Planted Tank Aquariums, Lighting, CO2 & Fertilizers


Oh boy! Do I have a lot to say about hardware! There is so much to choose from, I hope to help you narrow down your choices with the information provided below.

Tanks – Height×Width×Depth

Let's start with the biggest piece of hardware you have or will buy.
The tank. Some tanks are much better for planted tanks than other tanks. In fact the most commonly sold large tank the 4' 55 gallon tank is a pretty poor tank size for a planted tank. They are so shallow in width that it's really hard to get any sense of depth in the layout.

A much better choice would be a 75 gallon tank as that extra 6’ of width makes all the difference in the world. Likewise the most commonly sold small tank the 10 gallon is not the best choice for a planted tank. It's not very tall nor is it very wide. I have seen some awesome 10 gallon tanks but they do require a much finer hand in plant selection and placement. Also IMHO they are much more maintenance intensive. It's really easy to get a very high plant biomass in a 10 gallon tank and quickly strip the nutrients from the water.

A much better choice for a smaller tank and more stable due to greater water volume is the 15 gallon tank, note NOT the 15 High. Some of my favorite sizes for planted tanks are 15 gallon, 20 Long, 30 gallon, 30 Breeder, 40 Breeder, 50 gallon, 65 gallon, and 75 gallon. And any of the dream sized 90+ gallon tanks. I don't recommend Hex style tanks as they are very hard to light. Also the Corner tanks while awesome looking are a bit harder to light.

If you are just starting to think about a planted tank and don't yet have the tank you might want to keep in mind it's much easier to light tanks that are even length (2’ and 4’) or 3’ tanks. Try and avoid the 30’ tanks. You might wonder why I say this. Well 55 watt PC bulbs are 21” – 23” long and 96 watt PC bulb come in at around 34’ long. There is a method to my madness!

Filters – Hang On Back (HOB) or Canisters

Filters are like religion. You will find that people tend to buy one brand and stick with it. But aside from that most of the filters on the market will work just fine. For smaller tanks or those on limited budgets the AquaClear HOB (hang on back) are a great choice. They are inexpensive, quiet and work forever.

For larger tanks and those who can spend a few extra bucks a canister filter is the way to go. Most commonly you will find canister filters from Eheim, Rena and Fluval. The nice thing about a canister filter is you can plumb a external CO2 reactor into the lines! Also canister filters move a lot more water and don't require as much maintenance as a HOB filter. If you can try and avoid any filter with a Bio-Wheel© as the Bio-Wheel makes it harder to maintain decent CO2 levels in the tank. Contrary to what some people say a Bio-Wheel© doesn't “harm” a planted tank.

A canister filter in the opinion of most people is ideal for a planted tank. You get good water movement, lots of space for mechanical filtration and the ability to plumb in-line heaters and CO2 reactors. The big problem is there are really no viable canister filters for tanks in the 10-20 gallon range. I have found one filter that may be the answer to that problem though. The Zoo Med Turtle Clean 501 filter pumps 79 gph which would be perfect on smaller tanks. I have not yet managed to get my hands on one of these units to try. If you have used one I would really like to hear from you. If I manage to get my hands on one I will review it and let everyone know how well it works. I'm hoping that it would help keep the CO2 levels up and not cause the CO2 loss that is so common with HOB filters.

Well I bought a Zoo Med 501 filter and it was a total waste of money in my 10 gallon tank. They just don't move enough water. I then got a Cascade Penn Plax 500 and it works like a champ.

Heaters – Submersible or Inline

There are many good brands of heaters out there. I prefer to use the titanium or stainless steel with the remote temperature adjustment. It's nice to be able to adjust the heater without going swimming. Also there are some decent in-line heaters that can be plumbed into the lines on your canister filter. And some filters have heaters built into them.

There are also substrate heaters. And if you want to start a discussion quickly on a forum ask about them. The opinion on them is really divided. And most people don't use them. In my opinion if you have money to burn and are a gadget freak then by all means get one. But remember that if you live in a climate where you run the air conditioning for part of the year or wish you had air conditioning to run they are not all that effective unless you also want to buy a chiller to keep the tank cool. Also substrate heaters can be a royal pain in the butt when you are moving plants around. Most stem plants won't cause a problem but Crypt and Sword roots will get tangled up in the substrate heater quickly.

Other hardware

  • There is a bunch of other hardware you can spend your money on. UV sterilizers, pH monitors/controllers, and chillers just to name a few.

Do It Yourself – D.I.Y.

  • There are many DIY projects you can build for your planted tank. If you are handy you can build your own stand and canopy. You can build your own CO2 reactor and your own bubble counter. You can even build your own multiple tank CO2 system. I have built my own water changing aid.
    Some hints if you want to build your own CO2 reactor. The reactor should be placed on the OUTPUT side of your canister filter. Not the INPUT side. Water flow should be from top to bottom and the CO2 should be injected from 1/3 to 1/2 way down the reactor. Don't put any sponges or mesh or floss in the reactor. Nothing more than a couple of bio-balls. Otherwise your reactor will clog and can create enough back pressure to damage your canister filter (voice of experience here).