Zig's Planted Tank Setup from the ITFS Fish Show 2007

Example of setting up a Planted Tank …

Setting up a Planted Tank …

Summary of Zig’s post 40 gallon layout!”


The spec for this tank :

40 gallon 30x18x18 inch DIY tank
Filtration Eheim 2215
Lighting 2x55W power compacts 1x18W T8
CO2 via 5kg fire extinguisher
PH controller
DIY external CO2 reactor
CO2 rate - 1 bubble per second

This tank is setup for over 2 years now so would be considered a mature setup, about 6 months ago I did a total strip-down on this tank, removed all the plants and totally cleaned the substrate and just started again as outlined below, its a good idea every year or so to do this in a planted setup it stops the substrate going stale, just use the same grit/gravel though, no need to change that just make sure its totally clean to start again.

The substrate for this tank is very basic, just ordinary horticultural grit from a garden centre, about €4.99 for a 25kg bag if memory serves me correctly, this stuff will scratch your glass if not careful but the grain size is very good for a planted setup, 2-3mm. I've grown most carpeting type plants in this tank with little issue, glosso and HC grow very well in this substrate, hairgrass seems to grow very slowly though, this is probably more down to the low KH in the water around here.

The only thing I did here was add a handful of ordinary moss peat beneath the substrate when the tank was setup, just a very light sprinkling is all that’s needed, less than a fistful would be enough for this size tank, I also squeezed some mulm or fish waste from a mature filter and then covered the whole thing with the grit and added water. This basically helps to kick start a bacteria colony beneath the substrate which quickens its maturity by several months and helps give you a better chance of avoiding a prolonged period of algae with a new tank setup, but its a very basic substrate overall. Its also a good idea to use a mature filter when ever possible with a new planted setup, or if the filter is new try and seed it first of all from an existing cycled setup, all of these small easy to do things will help reduce algae at start-up.

The fertilisation routine is the same as the other tank using the PPS Pro formula for NPK and for trace I use another powdered fertiliser called CSM+B (complete secondary mix+boron).

This setup was started on the 13 May and needs some work yet, the ferns were probably about half the size when added to the tank first of all, these were grown out earlier in a different setup. Under high light ferns will grow quite fast.

Just started out with some dried out driftwood branches I collected some time earlier from a lakeside, set up a temporary table and worked from there. The jug in front contains moss which will be tied later to the driftwood.

This setup came together quite quickly; this is the basic initial design/arrangement from that day.

hmmm bolbitis, nice man

Added the bolbitis and tied the moss, the bolbitis is a water fern so must be removed entirely from the rock-wool and tied to a surface, if you bury the roots of any fern it will rot.

Tied up the rest of the branches with moss, added the bolbitis, and added ferns I had grown out previously in this tank, the initial planting was now done and this was the backbone of the scape I would now work with. The water was fresh so I added fertiliser and cranked up the CO2.

So this is how this aquascape looks today, I added more hardscape (rocks) and tweaked the positioning of the branches around a bit better, I now have to decide on the final planting of the foreground which will probably be Glossostigma (glosso), plants for the background I have not yet decided on, I may add some Vallis type plant to branch over the arrangement so far from the background or I may add some Ludwigia arcuata which would do the same thing more or less, but this would add a red accent which could look ok as well, I may also remove all the rocks not sure how they are fitting in, it may look better just a green seamless carpet not broken by the rock when the final plants all grow in.

Anyway thats it, I'd say about 5 weeks and this aquascape will be done.

The fish go in at the end to suit the final layout, will the layout be all green or will there be red in it, these sort of things need to be decided first of all and then you add the fish to suit. That’s the theory anyway.

It’s probably better to not add fish until you are finished anyway, doing these sort of tanks with fish in them is stressful for the fish, you need to do a lot of moving things around until you are happy with the layout, I have done tanks before with fish in them and its better not to do it like that, better to remove them if you can, probably fairer on the fish this way.


Additional Notes :

  • I just use an ordinary heater, undergravel heaters are not necessary at all in a planted setup, nobody really uses these any longer, the makers cannot back up the claims that they have any benefit to plant growth. Tropica (biggest aquatic plant nursery in Europe) did extensive tests with substrate heaters some years back and found they made no difference at all, and I guess if they did they would probably use them.
    Other notable scientific based planted aquarists have also done extensive tests and found no difference either.
    Interestingly Peter Bradly a writer for PFK magazine on aquatic plants is about to set up an experiment to try and disprove Tropica et al that they really are beneficial to plant growth, he is convinced that they are. I would say he is on a hiding to nothing with that one myself but it should be interesting anyway, he will set up a blog in the next couple of weeks on the PFK website. Personally I would say the only thing he will achieve is to prolong the myth further.


  • I dont know what type of tree the branches came from. I found them beside a lake out in the countryside, it wasn't pine anyway that’s the only wood I probably would not use, it would definitely break down fast. The wood was totally dried out when I found it.

    In the past I have also used driftwood from beaches, I just boiled it first of all and never had a problem. I have never had a bacterial bloom using driftwood/bogwood, sometimes you can get a type of growth from them for a few weeks after putting them in the tank but boiling them before hand solves that issue as well.

    Bogwood can be hard to use effectively but not impossible, one of my best layouts was done with bogwood also this years ADA winner used bogwood so not impossible at all, try using cable ties and tie the pieces together and then use moss to hide the joins/cables etc and that way you can get different shapes.

    I just use cotton (synthetic?) thread to tie the moss, it attaches by itself after a month or so but I don’t bother to remove the thread there is no need, when the moss gets to long just give it a haircut with a scissors and it grows back exactly the same.

    But tbh getting good hardscape materials is quite difficult, it’s half the battle really, I’m always on the lookout for good material rocks/wood etc finding stuff for free is always good but bloody difficult most of the time.

    In the USA they have a wood called manzanita wood which grows in the deserts over there so that’s what most of those guys use, in Asia they use mangrove roots which are freely available in all the lfs over there, these are pretty cool probably the best, in Europe basically we struggle, bogwood is standard fare in nearly all the lfs over here as you already know so we just gotta be more inventive, keep your eyes peeled would be my best advice gotta be lots of good spots in west Cork for potential aquascaping material.



  • Cedar is toxic so that is out as well. Just in case somebody comes across it. Plenty of it in the bogs in West Cork.


  • I'd say if you coat any driftwood in epoxy there is a good chance it won't sink and would need to be weighed down permanently.