Last edited: 11/08/22
This is going to be another one of those blog posts of mine that will be updated periodically as I work on and document a project. I have to move and rehome some aquariums that I’ve had set up in my condo for many years. I am donating some of my aquariums to schools and/or nonprofit organizations to make room for me to rehab my condo because it has mold damage from the upstairs neighbor having a serious water leak this past August.
The main way I’ve been using my aquariums over the last few years is to over winter plants and animals from my pond and the small water garden I kept before I had a pond. I need a place for the animals and plants from my aquariums to stay while I’m working on moving them. I’m currently staying with my Dad at his house because last week he had surgery and he needs some extra help for awhile. While I’m here, I’m reviving the aquarium I set up many years ago for my late brother. It’s been empty and dry for awhile, but I’m going to bring it back to life to make space for the plants and animals while I do my moving and setup tasks.
It takes time to set up a new aquarium and make it safe and healthy for aquarium life. If this is something you want to try, follow me as I set up a new aquarium, or two, or three so you can see how it’s done. Allow yourself about 30 days from the time you fill up the tank with water to the day you add the fish. You are almost guaranteed success if you follow my steps – they are based on decades of experience.
While I’m working on documenting my process from beginning to end, you might also enjoy an older article I wrote that includes information that can be applied to all fresh water aquarium keeping.
READ: Create an Indoor Water Garden
Also here is an article I wrote about water quality in ponds. Even though the scale is different, concepts about nutrients in the water and types of filtration are basically the same. Reading it should give you a good overview about the topic of water quality.
READ: Help – My Pond is Full of Algae!
How to start up a freshwater aquarium
Tools and materials needed:
2 large aquarium safe buckets
Aquarium safe silicone sealer
Ammonia test kit
PH test kit
1. Test the aquarium, used or new, for leaks. Place it outside or on a basement floor that can get wet near a drain. Make sure it’s on a hard, level surface. The water will be very heavy when the tank is full so the surface must be level in order not to damage the tank. You can temporarily place it on it’s stand if you’re using one.
Check the aquarium in a day or so to make sure all seams are dry. If it’s free of leaks, empty the water out and proceed to Step 2. DO NOT move the tank with any water in it. If there are leaks, get some aquarium safe silicone sealer to patch the leaks after thoroughly drying the area you are patching. Follow the directions on the silicone sealer packaging about curing times and such.
2. Place the aquarium on the stand in the spot you have chosen. If all goes well, this aquarium will sit in this spot for many months or years so take some care in where you place it. Near an electrical outlet is convenient for running your equipment such as lights and filters. Near a window is usually not recommended because the excess light might cause algae growth. However if you are growing plants with a high light requirement, you might prefer to put it by a window. If you do get algae, it’s annoying but not the end of the world, I’ll tell you how to fight it later.
It’s best to use a designated aquarium stand unless you are placing it on a sturdy piece of furniture that you are certain will hold the weight. In my example I’m using our old buffet which has held 30 gallon aquariums in the past for many years, so I know it will take the weight safely.
3. Add aquarium gravel. The safest gravel to use is pre-packaged and intended specifically for aquariums. Rinse the gravel before adding to get any dust particles out.
Add only enough gravel to barely cover the bottom – deeper gravel will be harder to keep clean.
4. Fill the aquarium with tap water.
Once the aquarium is filled with water, we have to take some steps to make it ready for aquatic life.
Remove Chlorine and Chloramines
It’s important for the water to be agitated a little bit so that gases can exchange at the surface, except for the few special cases where certain plants and animals prefer very still water. Oxygen needs to get into the water, and toxic gases need to get out. If your filter agitates the water enough, you don’t really need to add an additional device for making bubbles. On the other hand, I think bubbles are so beautiful that I’m happy to go through the extra trouble and expense to add them.
If you have chosen a type of filter that uses an air pump, if the pump is strong enough you might be able to add a valve and bleed off some of the air to divert to a bubbler device. You can also just get another small air pump to run the bubbler.
What are some examples of a bubbler, also called an aerator or airstone? There are wands, molded stones, and porous tubing in various sizes and shapes you can choose from. This picture shows a couple of different kinds that I’m using right now. To prevent crumbling, soak air stones in water for 24 hours before running air through them.
Do you need to worry about PH?
It’s far easier to just choose plants and animals that like your water conditions than to try to use chemicals to manipulate the PH. If you get plants and animals from clubs or other hobbyists in the area using the same tap water and they don’t manipulate their PH, then you don’t have to worry about it. I haven’t tested my water for years – because I keep just a few species that I know can live in our water, it isn’t necessary.
Whatever plants and animals you end up adding to your aquarium, find out if they have any special temperature or PH needs before you get them. Then you can be sure to group plants and animals together that like the same conditions. Then if there is a need to alter your PH you’ll be prepared. There are test kits and chemicals available at pet supply stores to help you monitor and change the PH if necessary.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Aquarium Plant Species Profiles
Submerged Aquarium Plants
Anubias – Araceae
I have a few of these that I got from an aquarium store in the 2010s. They have very low light requirements and grow slowly.
Coontail – Ceratophyllum demersum
This grows well for me in both my pond and in aquariums with good lighting. I left some in my pond over last winter and it survived with a small heater keeping a hole in the ice and keeping the water from freezing over completely.
Egeria, Elodea and Hydrilla look very similar. They live mostly submerged but flower just above the water surface.
Brazilian Waterweed – Egeria densa
This grows well for me in both my pond and in aquariums with good lighting. I left some in my pond over last winter and it survived with a small heater keeping a hole in the ice and keeping the water from freezing over completely. I found my original specimens in Missouri in the Current River.
Canadian Pondweed – Elodea canadensis
Native to North America but has been introduced to other continents (Perry 85). A perennial commonly sold in pet stores for aquariums, also known as Anachris. Needs a lot of sun. (Atkinson and Mathison 53).
Hydrilla verticillata – looks very similar to and is related to Elodea (Perry 88). I don’t think it’s as pretty as Elodea and Egeria, because the leaves are more sparse making it look more leggy.
Floating Aquarium Plants
Duckweed – Lemna
I grow two sizes in my ponds and aquariums, Lemna minor and Lemna major. They are very beautiful grown separately, together, or with other floating water plants such as Azolla. The different sizes, colors and textures can be stunning when allowed to grow naturally in a patchwork fashion. If grown you must take care not to let it blanket the water surface completely or it might interfere with the gas exchange at the surface and cause a damaging lack of oxygen in the water. If you need to remove excess duckweed, that is a bit of extra maintenance you have to do, but there is a bonus – the tiny plants make excellent feed for vegetable-eating animals, or it could be a very nutritious addition to your compost or worm bin.
Water Fern – Azolla
Water Hyacinth – Eichhornia crassipes
Emerging Aquarium Plants
Arrowhead – Sagittaria
Creeping Jenny – Lysimachia nummularia
I have the gold leaved variety ‘Aurea’ which is a gorgeous lime green color. This is a truly amazing plant. It will grow in regular garden soil as long as it gets enough moisture. I first bought it because I saw it being used a lot as ground cover when I went on a house tour. I fell in love and got some. It makes an excellent aquarium plant too if you can give it enough light and grow it in an emerging situation such as on a waterfall or in a refugium or bog setup. It does fabulously well in the shallow, rocky, “stream” portion of my outdoor water garden too. It looks beautiful trailing out of containers.
Papyrus – Cyperus papyrus I bought two Papyrus plants at the beginning of this past summer to put in the “river” portion of my pond. The grower calls one “Prince Tut” and the larger one “King Tut”.
Parrot Feather – Myriophyllum
Pondweed – Potamogeton
Works Cited and Further Reading on Indoor Freshwater Aquariums and Other Indoor Growing Situations
Bailey, Tom and Nevin. “Pet Fish Talk.” Pet Fish Talk, 2002-2022, web.archive.org/web/20220522003017/https://petfishtalk.com/. Accessed 28 October 2022.
Boruchowitz, David E. The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 2001.
Brackney, Susan M. The Insatiable Gardener’s Guide: How to Grow Anything & Everything Indoors, Year ‘Round. Five Hearts Press. 2003.
“Field Guide.” Missouri Department of Conservation, 2022, mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide. Accessed 27 October 2022.
Julian, T.W. The Dell Encyclopedia of Tropical Fish. Dell Publishing Co., Inc. 1974.
“Plant Directory.” University of Florida / IFAS / Center for Aquatic & Invasive Plants, 2022, plants.ifas.ufl.edu/plant-directory/. Accessed 27 October 2022.
Sakurai, Atsushi, Yohei Sakamoto and Fumitoshi Mori. Aquarium Fish Of The World: The Comprehensive Guide to 650 Species. Chronicle Books. 1993.
Van Patten, George. Gardening Indoors: the Indoor Gardener’s Bible. Van Patten Publishing. 2002.
Windelov, Holder and Jiri Stodola. Aquarium Plants: A Complete Introduction. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. 1987.
Works Cited and Further Reading on Outdoor Water Features and Water Gardening
“Aquatic Plants.” Chalily, 2022, www.chalily.com/product-category/aquatic-plants/. Accessed 28 October 2022.
Art, Henry W. A Garden of Wildflowers: 10 Native Species and How to Grow Them. Storey Communications, Inc., 1986.
Atkinson, Susan and Suzanne Normand Mathison, Editors. Garden Pools Fountains & Waterfalls. Sunset Publishing Corp. 1989, 1974, 1965.
Elving, Phyllis and Suzanne Normand Eyre, Editors. Container Gardening. Sunset Publishing Corporation. 1998.
Perry, Frances MBE VMH. The Water Garden. Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. 1981.
Wieser, K. H. and Dr. P. V. Loiselle. Your Garden Pond: Practical tips on planning, design, installation and maintenance. Tetra-Press. 1986.
White, Hazel and the Editors of Sunset Books. Landscaping Small Spaces. Sunset Books, 2001.