A PICTORIAL ARTICLE
ON HOW TO SET UP A PLANTED TANK
USING GRAVEL AND SAND AS A SUBSTRATE
read first part first :)
PICTORIAL STEP BY STEP SET UP OF PLANTED TANK
Below you will find my attempts at photographing my setup from
beginning to end. This was the first time using a digital camera and some
of the shots are a bit fuzzy. With the help of a good friend they have
been edited to make them as clear as possible. Accompanying the photos
will be a brief description. Enjoy.
The first thing that you need to do is rinse the gravel that you have
purchased. If you have the ability to do this outside it is preferable
since this process creates a lot of sediment that will go down your drain
no mater how careful you are. To do this you should get yourself a 5G
bucket that is clean. Put half a large bag of gravel into the bucket.
Place bucket in your tub and add water to just below the top. Using your
hand agitate the gravel so that the dirt will get suspended in the water.
Let the water sit for a second.
After letting sit for a second; carefully tip the bucket to dump the
dirty water out. Be careful and do this slowly! The last thing you need is
to dump a bunch of gravel down the drain. Stop when you see the gravel
just about to escape from the bucket. Repeat until water runs clean. More
then likely you will have to repeat this process many times. As you can
see from this picture the gravel that I bought said it was pre-washed, I
still had to rinse it 10 times before the water started to run clean.
As you can see from this picture no mater how careful you are there is
a lot of sediment that makes its way into the tub. Try and take as much of
it out with a paper towel before you rinse the tub. It is also a good idea
to let cold water run down the drain for at least a half-hour. This will
help move any sediment on down the line. If you don't you may clog the pee
trap. This was what was left over from 6 large bags of gravel. So as
stated before if you have the ability, rinse the gravel outside.
As you are rinsing the gravel, believe me you are going to want to take
a break every once in a while, you will need to make a depth stick.
Consult your drawings and see what depths the gravel part of your
substrate will be. On a stick (I used a paint mixing stick) make markings
according to these depths. Example if the back of the tank is going to be
4" deep and the front of the tank is going to be 2" deep,
transfer this onto the stick one mark 2" from the bottom and the
other 4" from the bottom.
So you have rinsed some gravel and you want to add it to the tank. Do
not just dump a full buckets worth in at once. This is a lot of pressure
and you may crack the bottom of the tank, do it slowly.
Finally you have finished rinsing all the gravel and have added it to
the tank. Now you need to spread the gravel around to achieve the slope
you have planed. The easiest way I found to do this is to use a glue
spreader that you can buy at any Building Supply.
As you go along spreading the gravel check the depth every once in a
while to make sure you are getting it to what you had planed.
Before you go and rinse the sand the same way you did the gravel and
add it into the tank you need to add some fertilizer tabs or "Jobe
Sticks" to the gravel. As you can see in the picture I use a pair of
tweezers to add the tabs/sticks. Place them into the gravel about an inch
in and place them every 5-6 inches apart.
After you add the fertilizer tabs/sticks you need to add tiers to the
gravel these tiers can be made out of cork bark, peat plates or pieces of
slate. The purpose of these tiers is to hold the slope that you are trying
to create in place. Gravel and sand have a tendency in an aquarium to
self-level over time. Sorry the shot I took of where I placed the tiers
was too fuzzy to put in this article. You can go back and check my
Topographical sketches to see where I placed my tiers in my setup. You can
see them in the next picture poking out of the sand. After the tiers have
been put in place add the rinsed sand to the tank the same way you did the
gravel. Use the same spreading tool and check your depths the same way
As stated in the previous picture here you can see my slate tiers
poking out of the sand.
On to the plants! So you have made all your purchases of the plants you
want for your tank, what to do now? If your plants have come in a pot with
rockwool packing or they are a tangle of roots you must separate them or
take the rockwool out and free the plants. Get yourself a small basin and
fill it with Luke warm water. Place the plants in this and gently pry the
rockwool off, tweezers come in handy to get the little bits. Or gently pry
the roots apart if they are tangled. Be careful in both cases try not to
damage the leaves and roots in any way.
While the plants are in the Luke warm water in the basin you should
inspect them for snails and snail egg clusters. Egg clusters look like a
grouping off small black dots. Rinse these off. After you have done this
trim any dead leaves off of the plant.
There is one more thing you have to do while the plants are still in
the basin. Trim the roots back a quarter. What this does is when you plant
the plant in the tank it will encourage the plant to grow roots before it
grows leaves. This will help the plant get established. So now you have
trimmed and inspected all the plants now you have a choice to be a little
more anal. Just to make sure your plants are not carrying any pests or
diseases you can give them a PP (Potassium Permanganate) Dip. To do this
dip you will need to purchase PP in crystalline form. For a Dip to
disinfect plants you need a solution of 10mg/litre for 10-minute bath.
After doing the PP dip, make sure you rinse the plants well with fresh
luke warm water. The easiest way to make this solution is to start with a
stock solution. Below you will find out how to make a stock solution.
|Desired concentration in mg/L
The table indicates the quantity of each stock solution (in ml) needed
to achieve the desired concentration in 10 litres of water to be treated.
- 0.1% stock solution = 1gm chemical in 1 litre of water
- 1.0% stock solution = 10gm chemical in 1 litre of water
- 10% stock solution = 100gm chemical in 1 litre of water
Thus stronger stock solutions are better suited where a final desired
concentration is high or where the volume of water to be treated is large.
Obviously, overdosing is easier when using stronger stock solutions*
This stock solution can be stored for use later on. Store it in a Dark
Glass bottle and put away somewhere safe! Light will decompose it!
*The above chart was taken from: "The Manual of Fish Health" by:
Dr Chris Andrews, Adrian Exell and Dr Neville Carrington. Copyright 1988
Salamander Books Ltd., Published by Tetra Press, 3001 Commerce Street,
Blacksburg, VA 24060. ISBN 1-56465-160-6. Pg. 184 and 185.
If you have decided to do the PP dip on the plants this is the perfect
time to start filling the tank. If you have not decided to do the PP dip
it is also a good time to start filling the tank with water. The best way
to do this is as you see in the picture, place a plate on the substrate,
on this plate place a bucket or bowl.
As you can see in this picture, I am not a bucket guy, I use a
"Python" either way if you use a bucket or a "Python"
add water slowly to the bucket on the plate. In other literature or on
other web sites they say to fill the tank a third of the way for two
reasons. 1 this will let you know if you have a crack in your tank and if
it leaks. 2 this will allow you to plant the small plants first a lot
easier than putting your whole arm in the water just to see where you are
planting. I don't know, maybe I'm ass backwards but my tank was previously
filled with water and I know I don't have leaks, I also decided to plant
the largest plants that will go in the back ground first. Either way it is
your choice, yes I did get a little wetter, but hey as far as I'm
concerned might as well get used to it now since my hands will always be
in the tank in the future pruning and doing other stuff.
Now that the tank is full of water and your plants are ready; you now
have to dig a hole in the sand to plant them.
When you dig the hole, scoop out enough to accommodate the root
structure plus a little extra depth. Plants with tapping roots like Vals
need a deep narrow hole, where as plants like Echonidorus species need
deep and wide holes so that you can spread the roots out when planting.
Now that the hole is dug, place the roots of the plant deep in the hole
so that the root ball is lower than the surface of the sand by at least
1". Fill in with the sand from around the hole.
After filling the hole back up with sand, gently grab the whole plant
by the base and pull up slowly until you see the rootball again.
A little trick to use for planting small plants is to use tweezers.
Gently shape the roots by pulling them downwards so they look like the tip
of a small paintbrush. Gently grab and squeeze by the ends with the
tweezers and plunge into the sand. Again plant deeper and pull back up to
see exposed rootball.
Here is a shot of my tank half planted. All of the large background
plants have been put in. There are the foreground plants still to go.
Here is the Left side of my tank fully planted.
Here is a close up of the left side.
A shot of the Middle left side fully planted.
The Middle right side fully planted.
The Right side fully planted.
The tank fully planted. As you can see I don't have a proper hood at
the time of this shot. I have made a DIY one and that will be another
article (a shorter one hahaha)
I hope you have enjoyed this step by step article and have found it of
some value to you in planting a gravel / sand substrate planted tank.
Below you will find a listing of Links to various sites that I think are
I have to thank a good friend for helping me with this Article. Without
his help, you would not be reading this. With much appreciation and thanks
not to mention patience. Thanks much Fred:)
This site has many uses. It is the home page of one of the world leaders
in Aquarium plants. Here you can research plants and you will find
articles and many links to other sites.
This is one site that you will definitely keep going back to over and over
again. The list would be to long to write down on what you would find at
this site but here are some things: How to set up a tank, plants, algae,
hardware, DIY stuff (lots), fish, links etc, etc.
This site is the home page of the aquatic-plants mailing list. A lot of
what you will see as entries in the Krib comes from this mailing list.
Plant search engine
Frode Roe's home page. Dutch style planted aquariums and discussion board
on planted tanks.
Just a place to go to get inspired
Aquarium lighting company
Aquarium lighting company