Design Step 1


The very thick layer of substrate in my nano planted aquarium (2.9-gallons) is EcoComplete. For now all future setups will have a thick layer of this substrate. Picture: My 2.8 gallon.

Used and Trusted

As you can see from the picture, I love EcoComplete substrate. Something interesting about it: It comes drenched in water when you open the bag. Open the bag and the substrate is already wet. You can buy it by tapping the picture.

a bag of EcoComplete substrate

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Aquarium plants pearling and a pink ramshorn snail

Design Step 2


The only “chemicals I’ve added to this tank are DIY CO2 and our very hard tap water. The hard water has the calcium that the snails need to form their shells. Picture: My 2.8 gallon.

Design Step 3

“Aquarium Cleaning”


Don’t clean a low-tech planted aquarium too often. I think I have changed out about one gallon of water during the last year. I.E., I don’t do traditional aquarium cleaning. The picture is of my 10 gallon planted aquarium. There are no fish that I can remember.

Design Step 4

“Aquarium Cleaning Part 2”

Let snails or shrimp clean your small planted aquarium while you put your feet up and relax. My “cleanup crew”, the Ramshorn snails do all the cleaning except for the occasional hair algae, which I pull out by hand.

The picture is of my 2.8-gallon aquarium.

Another picture of my nano small aquarium tank

Design Step 5 

“Feeding your aquarium inhabitants = fertilizing your plants.”  

By feeding your snails or shrimp you feed (fertilize) your aquarium plants. My snails get fed a generous portion of fish food daily and the leftover food and the waste from the snails provide additional nutrients for the plants. The snails in the picture are chowing down on bloodworms.

The picture is of my 2.8-gallon nano.

Design Step 6

“Some plants won’t survive”

Some plants won’t survive in a nano planted aquarium. Don’t worry about it. Replace the dead or dying plant with a different plant. In this picture the red plant in the back is dying. You can tell this because it is covered in black hair algae. Shortly after I took this photo I replaced the red plant with a different plant. My 2.8 gallon. If you look closely you can see the hang on filter “hanging on” the back of the aquarium.

Design Step 7

“Use an aquarium filter”

Use a filter: I believe that a filter is necessary as a place for beneficial bacteria to thrive. This aquarium (my 10 gallon) has a sponge filter ran by a powerhead. The sponge gets cleaned if the water flow goes down. I’m careful not to harm the bacteria on the sponge in the filter when I clean it.

Picture: My 10 gallon planted aquarium.

Design Step 8

Use CO2 and a CO2 indicator

Give you plants the extra help by using CO2. A CO2 indicator will keep you from killing your fish/snails/shrimp. The picture shows a CO2 indicator in my 10 gallon. The blue color is telling me to add more CO2.

The picture is my 2.8-gallon nano aquarium.

You can get more information about CO2 by reading this article

Used and Trusted

I used DIY CO2 for about a year in my frestwater planted nanos. I liked the fact that it was inexpensive. Below is the CO2 generator I used and loved. When you buy this you will need citric acid (vitamin C) and baking soda, at least a pound each. You will also need two, 2 liter plastic soda bottles.  Tap the picture to buy one.

DIY CO2 generator device

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Design Step 9

“Light Energy”  

This is what I know about my aquarium plants. This works for me. 

Figure out how much light energy your plants need. Give them that, but no more than that. So, whether a super bright light is used for a short time or a less bright light for a longer time it’s all the same to the plants. When they’re “full” they’re done for the day. If you keeps the lights on after that, algae begins to grow.

Something else I know. Having some algae in a planted tank is normal. Why do I think this? Consider these plants in their natural habitat. There will algae in the water. There will be some algae on the plants. So, some algae = no worries.

This is my 10 gallon.

Hi! I'm Don. I've kept aquariums of all types and sizes over 30+ years now. I am sharing what I've learned. Bookmark this site so you can keep up on what's new and interesting in planted aquariums.