How To Setup A Low Tech Planted Tank?

Low Tech Planted TankThe truth with a low tech planted tank is that anyone, no matter how expert or non-experienced he is, can easily set it up.  We are going to guide you through the whole process.

But in this article, I will solely focus on the technique through which you can effortlessly set-up your low tech planted aquarium.

Steps To Set Up A Low Tech Planted Tank

  • Ideal tank size for low tech planted aquarium setup.
  • How to choose the proper substrate?
  • How to plant?
  • Proper Lighting Strategies.
  • Filtration
  • Inexpensive Fertilization.
  • Do’s and Don’ts Of Maintenance.

Low Tech Planted Tank Setup Guide

Here below we have explained all the steps in depth so that you can follow them through while building your own tank.

What Is The Ideal Tank Size For Low Tech Planted Tank?

There is no ideal size for a low tech planted tank although people generally set them up on small fish tanks or aquariums because of easiness.

Most of us choose bigger tanks in hi-tech setups as they will tend to require heavy filtration and maintenance.

The best choice if you are starting out, would be a small fish tank of 5 gallons or 3 at most.

How To Choose The Proper Substrate For Your Low Tech Planted Aquarium?

If you want the best substrate for low tech planted tank, go for this one . While choosing a substrate always keep in mind that, the more porous your substrate is, the better for your plants. As porous medium will provide enough aeration for the roots to grow healthy.

Some of the porous substrates with high cation exchange capacities like Fluorite, Eco-complete, and Onyx sand are the most useful ones. You can have any of them to set up an ideal environment for your plants to thrive in.

In case, you want to go for a different substrate, or already have one in your stock then make sure the grain size of the substrate is between 2 – 5 mm.  As it is the ideal substrate size for a low tech planted tank. 

If you choose a substrate that has gravels larger than 5 mm in diameter, it may cause some serious problems.

  • Excessive gaps between the gravels.
  • Poor rooting of plants, as the roots will fail to anchor the substrate.
  • Nutrients from the mulm or fertilizer tablets will dissolve out.
  • Main water column will get exposed to excessive amount of ammonia, nitrates and other harmful substances from the substrate.

On the other hand, if you choose smaller grained substrate than 2 mm, then also, some issues may arise in your low-tech planted aquarium.

  • It will create a compact substrate for the waste materials to enter deep within.
  • Roots will not able to penetrate.
  • Deep sand beds will create anaerobic zones hence absence of proper oxygen.
  • The water flow and dissolved nutrients cannot penetrate well.

Although, regarding biological changes, the anaerobic zones can be beneficial. As anaerobic bacteria will not be able to turn nitrate into nitrogen gas and release into the low tech planted aquarium. But if you choose to plant near them, the proper growth of the plants may cease, due to the unsuitable penetration of the roots into the substrate.

Things To Keep In Mind While Using Soil As A Substrate 

Although soil is a viable choice because of its nutritional benefits, you just cannot use soil from anywhere, as there are certain risks with it.

  • You don’t know the constituting parts of that soil, so do your research carefully.
  • It may contain toxins or parasites if the soil is contaminated hence keep this in mind too.
  • Many soils leech a large amount of ammonia into the water. Clearly, you need to have the soil from a reliable source because ammonia will increase algae build up as well as will be harmful to your aquatic lives.
  • As the nutrients will phase out over a certain time period, it is crucial to supplement your low tech planted tank with some additional fertilizers.

Overall, I am definitely not saying that you cannot use soil, in fact, the soil is a great substrate for plants, but make sure you are using safe materials. There are also nutrient-rich soil packages available on the market from trusted brands. So if you are unable to trust your source, you can buy a soil packet online from trusted brands like Fluval.

How To Start Planting?

Right from the start, you need to plant heavily.

Make sure, from the top of the tank only 10-15% of the substrate can be visible. Other parts will be covered by plants.

It will give you the below benefits –

  • Plants will help in soaking up the nutrients in your low-tech planted tank.
  • They will rapidly cycle the tank by using up ammonia from decaying plant matter and fish waste.

Don’t think it will be expensive, as there are many affordable and fast growing stem plants available on the market. Always stuff 50% of your tank with fast growing plants, so that the above actions come into play as soon as possible. Having a high biomass is crucial and healthy also.

Once the plants have grown big and your low tech planted aquarium has the proper environment to sustain them, you can phase out some of the plants, and add some new one. And drastic pruning and replanting can lead to huge amount of algae formation, so make sure to do them once in 3 months.

Proper Lighting Strategies For Low Tech Planted Aquarium

Lights are very crucial for low tech planted tanks as the plants will need proper lighting for photosynthesis. But don’t think that more exposure to bright lights will enhance the growth of your plants. Instead, they will give rise to algae.

So, following the Watts per hour rule will be the best solution. And for low tech planted aquariums it works efficiently.

1.5 watts fluorescent light per gallon will be the ideal start. Make sure not to go above 2 Watt Per Gallon.  In case, you are using spiral CFLs, then stick to 2 – 2.5 Watts per gallon. LED Grow lights will also be the right choice as they are energy efficient and durable.


Photoperiod is the duration up to which you are keeping your lights on. It is crucial to maintain the period because excessive lighting can increase the growth of algae. For the start, you may stick up to 6 hours. After a couple of weeks, you can increase that around 8-9 hours.

But any fluctuation in that period will higher the chances of algae formation. So, if you feel like, you cannot manage the timing on your own, then the automatic light timer will be the best equipment to add in your low-tech planted tank. 

How To Handle Filteration Of Low Tech Planted Aquariums?

Filters with an adequate rate of water flow will limit the chances of stagnant water, hence, all of the nutrients and essential fertilizers will be equally distributed to every corner of the tank.  And for this task, you can only rely on power or hang on the back filters.

The 3-stage power filters clean the water biologically, chemically and mechanically. So, without any doubt, this filter will keep your tank properly cycled and suitable for plants. These filters are a good solution to filtration for low tech fish tanks. 

How To Fertilize The Plants Of Low Tech Tanks?

For a 5 gallon low tech planted tank, you can use the 1/4 Teaspoon of Seachem Equilibrium (Calcium + Magnesium) once a week, or once in two weeks. As this is one of the safest and most reliable fertilizers on the market for the planted aquariums. For smaller tanks, you can calculate the dosage.

As, an alternative to the Seachen Equilibrium, you can use Seachem Flourish, CSM+B or TMG. To add CSM+B you need to make a stock solution of 1 tbsp or 3 tsp in 250ml.

1ml of CSM+B trace solution – once in a week for a 5 gallon tank will be the perfect amount for low tech planted aquarium set up. 

NPK Ratio:

As the low tech planted aquariums face the lack of CO2 augmentation, the rate of plant growth becomes slower. It clearly means that plants will use fewer nutrients from the tank. So, in some cases, plants may survive on their own from decaying plant matters and fish wastes.

But, you solely cannot rely on waste products, as the ratio of nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) needs to be in proper scale, otherwise, the plants may cease to grow. So, to mitigate this issue, you can dose N, P, K and trace small amount of them once in every week or twice a week, depending on the number of plants.

To maintain a proper amount of each of the fertilizers in the tank, it is recommended to stop fertilizing once in every couple of months. So that the plants can use up all the remaining fertilizers.  In this way, the tank will have the ideal environment for the plant growth.

Do’s and Don’ts Of Maintenance For Nano Low tech Planted Tanks

Lastly, here are some maintenance tips, you might follow for the betterment of your low tech planted aquarium. 


  • Occasional pruning is advised.
  • Only top up with water.
  • Use fertilizer once or twice in a week.
  • Make sure to skip fertilization once in a couple of months.
  • Do major water replacement after major pruning or re-plantation.
  • Use mulm from a planted tank.
  • Maintain the photoperiod.


  • Do not increase lighting.
  • Do not perform major water changes.
  • Do not stock a large number of fishes in one go.
  • Do not do deep gravel vacuum.

Video Guide

Bottom Line:

Being an aquarist myself, I know how overwhelming it seems at the beginning for the novice to cope up with the rules and regulations of setting up a low tech planted tank. So I have tried to keep the guideline as simple as possible. Make sure to follow each instruction for better results.