Beautiful freshwater nano planted aquarium

Nano aquariums are a popular choice among aquascapers due to their affordability and ease of maintenance. These small yet captivating aquatic environments are perfect for beginners who want to start their aquascaping journey on a budget, and they offer exciting new opportunities for seasoned aquarists. In this article, we'll guide you through the process of setting up a freshwater nano aquarium step-by-step.


Selecting Your Tank

What is a Nano Aquarium? Generally, a nano aquarium refers to tanks under 20 gallons, though some might consider tanks under 30 gallons as nano. Choose a tank that fits your space and skill level. For beginners, an all-in-one aquarium kit is a great choice, while experienced aquarists might enjoy the flexibility of choosing their own equipment to build their setup.


Setting the Scape

Choosing a Substrate

The substrate plays a crucial role in the development of your freshwater nano aquarium. If you plan to heavily plant your tank, opt for a nutrient-rich planted substrate. For a few plants, gravel or sand with root tabs can also work well. If you're unsure which substrate to choose, check out our recommendations in this post.

Adding the Substrate

Depending on your chosen substrate, you might need to rinse it first. For sand, keep the depth to no more than one inch to prevent anaerobic pockets that can release ammonia. With gravel, you can vary the depths easily. For soil, if you want to add elevation, place lava rock in mesh bags before covering with soil. This method gives you the height without excessive nutrients.

Setting Up the Hardscape

With the substrate in place, it's time to add rocks and wood. Driftwood and spider wood between 6-15 inches are great options for nano aquariums. For a natural look, choose one type of wood and use at least two pieces for flexibility in your aquascape. Similarly, have slightly more rock than you need. Aqua Naturals' 15lb options of Dragon Stone and Seiryu Stone are perfect for nano setups.

Planting Your Nano Aquarium

Start with easy plants like Anubias and Java Ferns, which don't require soil nutrients and can be glued to rocks or wood. If you want a carpet or stem plants that feed from the substrate, now is the time to plant them. Use plant tweezers to place tissue cultures properly, about two inches apart. For mature plants, place taller ones in the back and low-lying ones in the foreground.


Lighting for Nano Planted Tanks

Good lighting is essential for plant growth. Choose a nano tank lighting solution that suits the aesthetic of your setup. For non-app-controlled lights, use an outlet timer and start with 6-8 hours of light per day. If algae builds up quickly, reduce the lighting period until your aquarium stabilizes.

For heavily planted tanks, premium lights that have more power and spread, like the Freshwater Blade or Freshwater Prime from AquaIllumination, will give you better performance and more versatility in control of your lighting spectrum. Premium lights, coupled with proper CO2 injection, are also desirable for those who wish to grow lush carpeting plants.


Filtration for Nano Aquariums

A good filtration system is crucial for maintaining water quality. Options include hang-on-back (HOB) filters, canister filters, and sponge filters. Canister filters, with a flow rate of 140-160 GPH, are ideal for nano aquariums and can be hidden under the tank for a clean look. The Neo Flow Premium Lily Pipe Set with built-in flow reducer is perfect for nano setups.


Best Fish for Nano Aquariums

After your aquarium has completed the nitrogen cycle and water testing shows no ammonia or nitrites, it's time to add fish. There are many suitable fish and shrimp for nano aquariums. For recommendations, check out this video by MJ Aquascaping for the top 10 nano fish!