This is paraphrased directly from Ecology of the Planted Aquarium (First Edition) by Diana Walstad on how she herself sets up a tank, with my additions in brackets:
The easiest way of starting a planted tank is to -
1.) Layer the bottom with 1" - 1.5" of dry soil. [This part isn't in the book, but it helps greatly if you let this layer of soil air out AT LEAST overnight in order to get rid of as much ammonia as possible. Some people actually let the soil sit around for a month. Also, try to get black earth soil - no fertilizer or compost. Also, it would be a good idea to mix in some crushed oyster shells or coral with the soil to serve as buffering agent if you have soft water.] Then cover the soil with about 1" of gravel. [Should be standard medium-sized gravel. I tried using large gravel (pebbles) because I liked the look and this allowed the underlying soil to stain the water. ]
2.) Then add 3" of water to the tank. [Use shallow dish to deflect water so that gravel doesn't get messed up.]
3.) The next day the tank can be planted. [Push plant roots deep into the substrate. Cover any exposed soil with gravel.] More gravel can be added to cover the soil. The cloudy water can be siphoned off and the tank refilled with new water.
4.) Ms. Walstad usually lets the tank run overnight with the heater, lights, and filter on. The next day water conditioner + fish can be added. Water may be initially cloudy but will subside within two days.
^ I went about it this way and had crystal-clear water right away. I didn't add any fish that soon though.
Last edited by RandomFish; 08-15-2010 at 10:09 PM.