Aquarium advice

How to Setup a Nano Planted Tank – Nano Fish Stocking

Nano planted aquarium

Why Setup a Nano Aquarium?


A lot of aquascapers and fish keepers have a big interest in small aquariums. All fish tanks are essentially a miniature environment, so setting up an especially small nano aquarium can be a fun new challenge to take on. To most fish keepers, a nano tank means 20 gallons and under. Some people choose these smaller sized aquariums due to size requirements, your desk at home may only be able to fit a certain sized aquarium. Although some people just choose to have a smaller tank as they generally prefer the nano aesthetic. Some fish keepers only keep small micro fish species that do not grow over one inch long. Also shrimp keepers regularly use nano sized aquariums for their shrimp. Small tanks mean quick water changes which can make maintenance less time consuming! If you are a beginner 20 gallons and larger is a great size to start with as your water parameters will be more stable and you will be able to keep a decent variety of fish. Generally, most smaller nano aquariums are more suited towards an experienced fish keeper who has experience cycling and maintaining aquariums.


Livestock Choice is Important

Large aquariums generally have more consistent water parameters due to the large water volume being more stable in terms of temperature and dilution of toxins. Therefore, if you plan to keep a smaller ‘nano’ aquarium it is important to know that you will have to do more frequent water changes to keep your nitrate and the overall water quality in check. Also because of the small tank size be sure to research the livestock species you plan keep and make sure their adult size will be suitable for the tank. Please see the livestock recommendations section below for more information on stocking a 20, 10, 5 and 3 gallon nano aquarium.


Setting Up the Nano Aquascape


Overall setting up a nano aquascape is very similar to a larger sized aquascape just scaled down, with a few exceptions. Once you have picked your tank and have a rough idea of how you want the scape to look, my first piece of advice is to fit the internal equipment such as your filter and heater. Once these are in place you can build your hardscape around these, try to cover your equipment as much as possible as it can easily be distracting in such a small tank if care is not taken here. From there you can add your live plants, research plant species before you buy as some species grow large and can easily fill a tank. You will need an aquarium light to grow plants. Stick to species that have small or thin leaves as this will help create a sense of scale making the inside of your nano aquarium look a lot larger than it really is. If you prefer a slower growing easy setup then Java Moss, Anubias Nana and Microsorum can be great choices if you have a less powerful light. If you have intense lighting and additional CO2, then carpeting plants such as Monte Carlo do well and have very small leaves which help add a sense of scale. My personal favourite plant choice for a nano planted tank right now is Vallisneria, this easy to grow plant is a perfect choice for a simple jungle look and the thin leaves maintain a sense of scale. After a few months Vallisneria can completely take over a tank creating a stunning yet simple look. Once your tank is planted, slowly fill it with dechlorinated water, the slower the better as you do not want to disturb your new scape. Be sure to cycle you filter before adding any livestock.

Livestock Recommendations


Livestock options vary depending on the dimensions of your tank, a 24 inch, 20 gallon aquarium is suitable for most small schooling fish such as Cardinal Tetras and Cherry Barbs and even some small bottom dwellers such as Corydoras. A 20 gallon is a great beginner option for a planted community aquarium with multiple species. A 10 gallon is suitable for only the smallest of schooling fish such as Ember Tetras and Micro Rasboras species. A 5 gallon tank best suits a single male Betta, a single Pea Puffer or a colony of Cherry Shrimp. Below 5 gallons can be very tricky to stock as the swimming space is limited, it is hard to fit all the necessary equipment and it is much harder to keep water quality in check. Keeping any fish in a tank under 5 gallons is not advised. Some people have successfully kept Cherry Shrimp and smaller snail species in tanks below 5 gallons but please keep in mind these can be difficult to maintain and you will still need a cycled filter. I have seen a few successful planted Cherry Shrimp tanks in the past which were around 3 gallons and had a healthy breeding colony of Cherry Shrimp, keep in mind as numbers increase you may need to give some away. Remember you can always go bigger than these recommendations as this will give your livestock more room, you may also be able to mix species if they are compatible! For example, you could stock Ember Tetras, snails and a colony of Cherry Shrimp in a planted 20 gallon with no problem.


Patience and Research


Ensure you research your livestock plan and have patience when cycling your nano aquarium before adding livestock. Check out blog articles, videos and forums to get an idea of what is achievable, most people are happy to offer advice if you have questions. Your local fish shop is another great source of information. Always put the fish first, make sure your setup is at least the minimum recommended size suggested online, check a few different sites as some are more reliable than others.



Have fun setting up your nano planted tank. Nano aquascapes may the perfect desktop aquarium. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us, our friendly expert team is always happy to help. AQUAnatur offer a range of nano planted tank products such as glass aquariums, filters, heaters, lights and plants.

By Alasdair McPhail

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