Hobbies: Live-Plant Freshwater Aquarium (Set Up & Maintenance)

This year for my pandemic Birthday (April 13, about a month into isolation/quarantine) my dad surprised me with an off-the-wall gift idea – offering to buy me a fish tank and providing his knowledge on starting a live-plant aquarium. It was a no-brainer…Hell yes!

For context, my dad has been keeping a couple live-plant aquariums, and he has spent a lot of time on YouTube teaching himself how to build and maintain a thriving ecosystem. Would I ever buy myself a fish tank one day? No. Would I ever take the time to research the start-up of one? No. However, I was very interested in having one for apartment aesthetic. Plus, I thought it would be extra cool to look at after smoking cannabis (and it is).

I am writing this post for a few reasons:

  1. More than two co-workers asked me about the steps for starting one up.
  2. I had a few friends ask me about starting one up.
  3. I need to start blogging about my hobbies more because I have A LOT of them.
  4. After doing light research, I didn’t find one single post, YouTube video, etc. on how to start one up and address certain concerns along the way! It’s all in bits and pieces on the Internet, which is a pain in the ass.

I am going to break down the process into two categories of things you will need to purchase: SUPPLIES (one-time purchase essentials and upkeep purchase essentials) & OTHER (things that are based on preference such as tank, plants, fish, food, etc.). Following those lists, I will provide SET UP & MAINTENANCE directions, which will help you being mindful on timing. Because it’s a live-plant fish tank, in order to build and maintain a sustainable ecosystem, you won’t be adding an fish for at least a month or two. Don’t let that deter you; the whole process in itself is exciting, and the payoff is well worth it!


See below for all one-time purchase essentials, as well as essential purchases that will need to be replenished as-needed. I was able to purchase all of my supplies on Chewy & Amazon and included links where applicable. Please support your local pet store if you are able to!




*Check what start-up supplies comes with your tank purchase! It will likely a variation of the above that specifically fits your tank’s filter. Some of the products pictured above came with my tank purchase…I can’t remember which, sorry!



Do your research. Tank size will depend on your space, and what your table/surfaces can support. You want to keep in mind lighting and filters with your tank purchase.

I got the Fluval Edge 2.0 Glass Aquarium Kit, which is available in 12-gallon and 6-gallon options (black or white). I got it purely based on aesthetics, and it also happens to have a great light and filter.


Again, do your research. You will want to consider porous decor, so healthy bacteria can grow. My start-up included the below, if you want to compare/substitute. I picked the below based off of aesthetics AND beneficial bacteria growth. The rule of thumb is 1 pound of substrate per gallon of water.


Research and pick what you like! Some grow fast, some grow slow.


Research and pick what you like! Keep in mind freshwater, unheated aquarium options. I started with snails, then added in fish. See SET UP & MAINTENANCE below! You DO NOT want to add fish right away.

If you add snails, be mindful of how they breed. The best option for me was Zebra Nerite Freshwater Aquarium Snails, as they lays eggs, however, they do not hatch in freshwater, so it’s easy to avoid overpopulation.

Some fish that I have had between startup and now have included Roseline Shark (a.k.a. Denison Barb), GloFish Tetra, Mosquito Guppy (from a local lake..I think this is illegal, whoops), Silver Lyretail Molly, and Neon Tetra. Be mindful of the size of the fish, as well. My GloFish ate the smaller Neon Tetra.


*Will differ depending on type of fish you get. I have a variety of fish, and they all love the below!


*Please remember to read directions on all supplies above and integrate into the timeline that I detail below!

Order tank, sturdy table and stones first! When you order a tank, keep in mind a good filter and lights.

I got this tank; purely personal preference, but you can YouTube fish tank reviews.

Next, plants!

The tank is pretty much going to be set up all in one shot when the plants arrive (I personally thought it was easier that way – you can get it up and running in one swoop).

VERY IMPORTANT: Always rinse ALL tank items – stones, decor, sponges – in de-chlorinated water (add red “PRIME” solution in picture). Chlorinated water kills. Rule of thumb: if it goes in the tank, needs to go through de-chlorinated water, AND the water in the tank needs to be de-chlorinated!

Once the tank is set up, it’s time to get beneficial bacteria growing. Put some fish food in to rot, get a worm from outside (make sure it’s smashed/dead first so it doesn’t burrow in stones) and let nature take its course. This invisible process will take up to a month to do! You can’t rush the process, so might as well sit back and enjoy the sight of your plants.

After a month of that, I introduced snails.
Waited a month, introduced two fish.
Waited a month, introduced more fish.

VERY IMPORTANT: Bacteria needs to build so it can feed off the fish waste (sponges, porous decor, rocks/stones). If there is too much fish waste and not enough bacteria, it makes water PH levels toxic to fish…pretty much like drinking your own piss! Ew!

Once you add fish, you will want to do a 25% water change 1x a week to avoid stringy algae and other variations that snails don’t eat.

And voila! You have yourself a live-plant, freshwater aquarium!

Resources I found helpful along the way:

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