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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hello! I am very very new to planted tanks and I have been researching for hours with many things very unclear to me about the process.
I haven't been able to find a step by step or beginners guide on how to set up my (not NPT) planted tank so I have so many questions. Any advice or answers are HUGELY appreciated. ^.^

What I have:
I have these supplies but have not begun putting it together. I will completely set the tank up before I purchase the betta.
5.5 gallon tank with 16 inch hood+led lights, 25w heater, filter, thermometer, air pump+air stone, pebble-like rock gravel, plastic plants+misc decor, Prime water conditioner, bottle of 10% ammonium hydroxide, hikari pellets, API Master Test Kit. What else do I need to buy?


~Do I have to fully cycle my tank before I put my live plants in? Or can I set up the plants before I cycle the tank?
~What are the optimal water conditioners or fertilizers that you recommend?
~What plants would be the best for a beginner like myself? Which plants work the best with rock gravel?
~Specific instructions for certain plant species?
~Is it necessary for me to purchase snails or shrimp in addition to my betta? If so, what are the responsibilities that come with doing that?
~My tank kit came with a 16 inch hood with led lights, no listed wattage. Do I need to purchase any different types of lights to plant my tank?
*Once I have everything established with the fish, what is the required maintenance(water changes, vacuuming, etc) that I need to perform regularly?*


Im extremely sorry for the insane amounts of questions I have, and I know that my amateurism is annoying :( If I can get answers to at least some of these questions it would help me very much. Thank you for your time.
 

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What I have:
I have these supplies but have not begun putting it together. I will completely set the tank up before I purchase the betta.
5.5 gallon tank with 16 inch hood+led lightsWhat kind of light is it? Some LEDs are great whereas some are barely getting light in it., 25w heater, filter, thermometer, air pump+air stone, pebble-like rock gravel, plastic plants+misc decor, Prime water conditioner, bottle of 10% ammonium hydroxide, hikari pellets, API Master Test Kit. What else do I need to buy? Depending on the plants that you get root tabs could be something that you'll need because the gravel has no nutrients in it.


~Do I have to fully cycle my tank before I put my live plants in? Or can I set up the plants before I cycle the tank?Put those plants right on in anytime. Personally, I like to set everything up before I cycle so that there is something to actually look at. The cycle will not hurt the plants, if anything I've seen that plants can actually help the cycle go quicker--depending on how many plants there are in the tank.
~What are the optimal water conditioners or fertilizers that you recommend? The conditioner you've got is my favorite so you're good there. Otherwise it's up to the plants that you want and the lighting system that you have. High light (intense/strong/very bright) needs lots of fertilizers and generally CO2 to balance everything out; whereas, low light (not intense/barely there) doesn't need really any fertilizers--depending on the plants. I'd check the lights that you have then get plants. If you want root feeders like vals or crypts you're going to need root tabs, which will need to be replaced every few months.
~What plants would be the best for a beginner like myself? Which plants work the best with rock gravel?I would suggest:
Java fern--needs to be tied to something, i.e. cannot be planted or roots will rot and decay. Low light, a really beautiful plant, in my opinion.
Anubias--very similar to java fern. Cannot be planted, low light. There are several types of this but generally they're pretty hard to kill.
Crypts.-- many different types of crypts out there. I would suggest sticking with wendtii, balansae, and spiralis for beginners. I've had them all and they're great. Some of my favorite plants. These are root feeders and will NEED root tabs.
Mosses--attach to stuff, let it float, do whatever you please with this stuff. It's low light (I'd stick with java moss to start with, it's nearly impossible to kill), and super easy. This stuff is great because it'll become a breeding ground for microorganisms and my bettas have always loved picking at them and eating.
Ancharis--one of the most basic plants out there. I don't know if this thing even dies? It's used in ponds a lot so it's good with temp. fluxes. You can plant this or let it float. It's as low light as you get.
Wisteria/Water sprite--plant in the gravel and let it grow, and grow, and grow.(I've had mixed outcomes with these, but most seem to grow it well.)
~Specific instructions for certain plant species? Generally if you google the plant's name there are a list of requirements that come up for it. I've listed a few plants with their basic requirements. After you've planted them it's pretty much trimming them and pruning and finding the balance in the tank as to not be overrun by algae.
~Is it necessary for me to purchase snails or shrimp in addition to my betta? If so, what are the responsibilities that come with doing that?Necessary? No. Snails are pretty nice to have around. I would go for a nerite as they don't breed and you won't be overrun with babies as you would with the other types out there. They just help to eliminate algae. Shrimp are amazing little buggers, (I love them so much) but having them in your tank is completely dependent on your betta. Also, get ghost shrimp at your own risk as I know of some people that have gotten the wrong thing and the shrimp turned into a vicious prawn... There are so many types of shrimp, but I'd stick with neocardina shrimp (red cherry, blue, yellow, orange, brown, striped). For wither of these options I would wait until after the tank has been established so there is some algae to eat from. I don't do anything for the shrimp or snails besides make sure some food goes down to them.
~My tank kit came with a 16 inch hood with led lights, no listed wattage. Do I need to purchase any different types of lights to plant my tank?Do you have a link to the tank so we could see what kind of light you have? If it's not the best I would suggest getting a CFL and having that light your tank. That's how I do most of my tanks. Super cheap and super effective!
*Once I have everything established with the fish, what is the required maintenance(water changes, vacuuming, etc) that I need to perform regularly?*
Water changes: once a week or every other if you're feeling up to it, and whatever the tank needs. This is typically 25-50% of the water depending on what the reading of nitrates is. I NEVER do a full tank change unless something really bad has happened. And even then there is still about 10% left. It's hard to do a full change when the plants are established.
Vacuuming: I generally do this when I do a water change. I also rinse out the gunk from the filters when I do the water change.
I also test the water once or twice a week.
My responses are in the green:). If you have any more questions just ask! It's really no bother. It's much better to know everything right away than to trial and error your way through! Best of luck:-D
 

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Discussion Starter #3
OH MY GOODNESS AquaKai wow...... thank you SOOO incredibly much for answering so thoroughly! I really appreciate it!

I have attached a picture of the Top Fin aquarium starter kit and the hood it came with. I now see that the lights are pretty terrible, only one small strip that attaches to a tiny spot on the hood. I highly doubt that they are usable, so what should I do?

Thank you so much for the run down on the plants! I think I will most likely go with the Anubias, Java Ferns, mosses, and ancharis?
~So once I set up the tank fully with the plants in, can I just dose the ammonia to 4ppm just like a regular fishless cycle? Or will that affect the plant?
~The idea of putting a shrimp in sounds so great haha :) Does a shrimp disturb the chemical balance or stall the cycle? And how would I get the betta and shrimp used to eachother?
~When it comes to the plant maintenance, do I have to trim or groom them on a regular basis?
 

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OH MY GOODNESS AquaKai wow...... thank you SOOO incredibly much for answering so thoroughly! I really appreciate it!

I have attached a picture of the Top Fin aquarium starter kit and the hood it came with. I now see that the lights are pretty terrible, only one small strip that attaches to a tiny spot on the hood. I highly doubt that they are usable, so what should I do?

Thank you so much for the run down on the plants! I think I will most likely go with the Anubias, Java Ferns, mosses, and ancharis?
~So once I set up the tank fully with the plants in, can I just dose the ammonia to 4ppm just like a regular fishless cycle? Or will that affect the plant?
~The idea of putting a shrimp in sounds so great haha :) Does a shrimp disturb the chemical balance or stall the cycle? And how would I get the betta and shrimp used to eachother?
~When it comes to the plant maintenance, do I have to trim or groom them on a regular basis?
Hahaha, I had hoped that it had been thorough!

Okay, for the lighting. I don't think that the lights are going to do too well. I would suggest going to WalMart and getting a light that clips onto the side of the aquarium and use a CFL bulb (daylight, 6500K). I have two of these on my 20g and have had many more on other tanks. They work perfectly!

Yup. The plants are not going to be effected at all by the ammonia. Just do a normal fishless cycle:)

I would wait until after the cycle to put the shrimp in. I don't know any way to guarantee that they are going to get along. I'd just make sure that there are plenty of hiding spots, which the moss would definitely give them. Maybe try putting the shrimp in first, or taking the betta out and rearrange a few things to stop it protecting "it's" space. However, I'm not 100% sure even those would work. They work for other fish but bettas can be a bit more stubborn;-)

Trim/groom the plants as often as you like. I like to let mine grow out into a jungle look, but others don't like things getting out of hand. The only one you're going to have to watch would be the anacharis. It'll grow and grow. You just cut it wherever you want then either plant that piece back in the gravel or let it float. That's how you make more of that plant. The other plants won't grow too quickly so you may not even need to trim them! I rarely do anything to my ferns or anubiases.
 

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Excuse me while I make this sound a lot more complicated than it is. You just have so many options!

What else do I need to buy?
You're going to need fertilizers for those plants. Specifically, a bottle of Seachem's Flourish (no, don't bother getting the biggest size, a little goes a long way) and probably some root tabs. Also, your plants.

Don't mix Flourish (fertilizer) up with Excel (liquid CO2). Although having both will make your plants grow faster, Flourish is the one you need.

Do I have to fully cycle my tank before I put my live plants in? Or can I set up the plants before I cycle the tank?
Nope, unless your tank water is straight ammonia, the plants don't care. They'll eat up any stray ammonia that's in there. Put them in straight away.

What are the optimal water conditioners or fertilizers that you recommend?
Prime and Flourish. I use soil, so I can't recommend a particular brand of root tabs. You can also make root tabs with stuff you can buy on Amazon.

What plants would be the best for a beginner like myself? Which plants work the best with rock gravel?
Research all your potential plants, especially (since it's winter) the ones you can buy and pick up locally. (Some plants sold in pet stores aren't fully aquatic, and will rot if completely submersed. For example, lucky bamboo and peacock ferns.)

If you don't have root tabs, then don't get heavy root feeders like cryptocorynes and swords. The Internet will tell you which is which.

Cryptocorynes (crypts) are good for beginners if you do have root tabs. They require little care. The only thing is that they don't like being moved around, so if you want to play with your aquascape, steer clear.

Other good plants: water wisteria, water sprite, java ferns, green cabomba, bacopa, certain species of ludwigia, rotala rotundifolia, guppy grass, anacharis, Amazon swords, any kind of anubias, any kind of moss (e.g. java moss), any kind of floating plant (e.g., duckweed, dwarf water lettuce, red root floaters), hornwort, ambulia, banana plants, tiger lotus, myriophyllum mattogrossense, marimo moss balls

...phew. Those should all be relatively easy if you have the right ferts and about medium light, and should fit reasonably well in your tank. There are a few species of cryptocoryne that will grow to take up much of your 5g tank (do research on prospective species--a smartphone in the pet store is your friend), but maybe you want to make one of these your central feature.

You can also have lucky bamboo growing in your tank as long as part of it sticks out the top, and you can have philodendron or pothos vine cuttings rooting inside the tank, and those help keep the water clean too.

Best plants for keeping water clean: floating plants of any sort, fast growing stem plants like water wisteria or guppy grass, and things that have to poke out the top of the tank I think are supposed to be really efficient too. Depending on how fast your java moss grows, that may be a good one for this too. Fast growing plants = efficient at sopping up ammonia and nitrites.

Slow growing plants like java ferns, anubias, or crypts, on the other hand, won't have too much of an effect on water quality. They'll still help, but can't be relied upon.

Also, smaller floating plants like duckweed can get in the way during water changes. You may want to opt for something like dwarf water lettuce or hornwort instead.

Wow, that was a long answer.

Specific instructions for certain plant species?
Never bury the rhizomes of java ferns or anubias.
Avoid moving cryptocorynes.
Anacharis tends to melt if you use liquid CO2 like Excel.
A lot of stem plants can be left floating, but will also cheerfully root if you bury them in the gravel.
You can tie mosses to driftwood or rocks with cotton thread, or just leave them floating for your fish to snuggle up in.
Again, watch out to make sure you don't buy semiaquatic plants without knowing what you're getting into and being prepared to poke them out of the top of your tank.

Is it necessary for me to purchase snails or shrimp in addition to my betta? If so, what are the responsibilities that come with doing that?
Nah. You can if you like, but it's not necessary.

Shrimp can be sensitive to water condition so you need to keep things clean for them, but with plants, you're a little safer on that front. Snails or shrimp may be eaten/attacked by your betta, with the exception of nerite snails which are well protected. If you have plenty of algae in the tank, they'll eat that. If not, consider buying them some algae wafers and giving them a chunk every now and then. Snails aren't that sensitive to water condition, on the whole. Shrimp are. Ergo, snails will help cycle your tank, while shrimp will just die if the thing isn't clean enough as it cycles.

My tank kit came with a 16 inch hood with led lights, no listed wattage. Do I need to purchase any different types of lights to plant my tank?
Don't buy any plants that need high light, that's all. The basic plants ought to be fine.

*Once I have everything established with the fish, what is the required maintenance(water changes, vacuuming, etc) that I need to perform regularly?*
You can do water changes a little less. Don't do 100% changes. Add fertilizer once or twice a week according to the label. (Half a dropperful should do it for a 5g tank.)

IF you want to make things extra fancy (NONE of this part is necessary)...
http://fish-etc.com/aquascaping-main/aquascaping-a-planted-aquarium
You don't have to go all-out like the tanks in the pictures, but you can make things look nicer by following the Rule of Thirds and so on. It might be interesting to you, at least. Don't let yourself be overwhelmed by all that stuff, though.

The question you didn't ask:
Where do I buy all this? I barely have any of those plants at my pet store.
One of your best resources is this forum. There's a marketplace section for trading. In particular, I want to direct you to this guy: http://www.bettafish.com/showthread.php?t=412258
If you ask about it, he might be willing to sell you a beginner plant package at a reasonable price. Umar has stuff that the pet stores don't, and one of his stated goals in making that online plant store is to help newbies explore the different kinds of aquarium plants out there. You may have to wait a while for another of his packages to become available, but he's got a good rep around here and his prices are solid.

There are also tons of other forum sellers available who don't have Umar's selection, but will still be willing to sell you beginner plants at a good price. Some people even give away plants for the price of shipping (usually $6).

You could also buy from any number of online plant stores, but they tend to be expensive (especially with shipping). But they're still fun to browse and they show you what's out there.
 

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I don't think that light's gonna do much. Follow AquaKai's advice and get a clip on light that will take standard size light bulbs. Clip it to the side of the tank, or the table the tank will sit on.

Then you need 6500K "daylight" light bulbs. You might find them marketed as seasonal affective disorder light bulbs? Basically, they replace sunlight because they're the right color temperature (that's what 6500K refers to).
 

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Discussion Starter #7
AquaKai:
Thank you so much for all of your tips and advice!

myexplodingcat:
Okay thank you for all of your helpful answers!
I will be sure to be careful about the semi-aquatics, and will definitely research extensively the ones I consider. Thank you for the referral to Umar's store and different forum sellers, I will check them out!
 

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Just wanted to add that if you use a clip on light, you'll need to get a transparent cover for the tank (so the little guy doesn't try to jump). You have various option, however, if you do explore the option of purchasing a glass canopy, just be aware that you will need the Marineland canopy as the Aqueon ones do not fit that tank.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Just wanted to add that if you use a clip on light, you'll need to get a transparent cover for the tank (so the little guy doesn't try to jump). You have various option, however, if you do explore the option of purchasing a glass canopy, just be aware that you will need the Marineland canopy as the Aqueon ones do not fit that tank.
Ah yes I was wondering about that, thank you! I will look into that :)
 

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Speaking about clip on lights, My tank's lid is just a plastic pane and doesn't have any place to put a light bulb.

I was looking on amazon for clip on lights and I found these:

CFL Clip on Fixture:
Woods 0151 18/2-Gauge SPT-2 Clamp Lamp with 8.5-Inch Reflector, 150-Watt, 6-Foot Cord
Light Bulb for Clip on:
Low wattage light bulb
FL Tube T8 Fixture:
Tube FL T8 Fixture
I don't really know tank lighting, so I can't find a T8 Tube FL Bulb:

LED Lighting:
Kohree Aquarium Flexible Tank Lamp LED White & Blue Light 85-265V
 
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