Starting a planted aquarium can seem a little overwhelming and expensive at first. Especially if you are a student or don't have a lot of money. I'm here to tell you that you don't need all the latest brands and equipment. This guide is for people who have some experience in fish keeping.

You can start one today and find out if this hobby is right for you! If you end up liking it, you'll gain some experience to get more expensive equipment when you can afford to! 😊

Big 3 (~$100)

  • 10 gallon fish tank (take advantage of $1/gallon sale at petco) - $10
  • NICREW Light - Approximately $20, check link for latest price
  • Azoo HOB filter 150 - Approximately $18, check link for latest price
  • 17.6 lb bag of Fluval Stratum Substrate - Approximately $50, check link for latest price
  • Outdoor Timer (if you have smart plug, even better) - $5-10

This is basically all the major hardware you'll need for around $100!! This equipment will form the backbone of your planted aquarium! *If you live in a cold area or need higher temperatures for certain fish you want to keep, get a 50 watt heater.

Next up we need some plants and hardscape (if you're interested in rocks or wood)! Find out if you have a local planted tank groups around your area to get cheaper plants. If not, I recommend ordering them from IF you have a local fish store that sells plants, even better!

Some great plants to start with ($50-100)

  • Christmas or java moss (slow/moderate growing)
  • Water Wisteria (fast growing)
  • Bacopa Carolinia (fast growing)
  • Floating Plants (frog bit or dwarf water lettuce)
  • Anubias (slow growing) - Tie this to a rock or wood with string/rubberband
  • CRYPTOCORYNE (fast growing) - Comes in a lot of color varieties

When starting a planted tank, remember you want to have a lot of plants on day 1 with fast growth rates! If you only have slow growing plants, algae will take over and your plants will get starved out for nutrients.

It is a huge beginner mistake to start with a few clumps of plants! You have been warned.


  1. 💩 Throw your substrate in the 10g tank and dampen with some water
  2. 🌱 Plant your plants! Use your fingers or tweezers (gently) to put the roots into the substrate - You can also buy some stainless steel tweezers made for planted aquariums if your budget allows it
  3. 🌊 Fill with water, plug in filter
  4. 💡 Set your light fixture on top and set the timer for 6-8 hours a day
  5. 🌀 Cycle your tank with your preferred method and add fish when ready (if you don't know what cycling is, please research before adding any livestock like fish or shrimp!)

It's as easy and cheap as that! Remember. The key to starting a planted tank is having a lot of plants in the beginning so algae doesn't dominate.

In my opinion, it's better to be lacking in nutrients from having too many plants than it is to let algae grow to the point of OUTCOMPETING your plants for nutrients.

There's a lot of information in this hobby and this is just a simple starting point. There are tons we can get into such as nutrient deficiency, dosing fertilizers, CO2, PAR, aquascaping, design, etc but this setup should work and you can learn as you go! Definitely check out forums and join a local club as you learn more in this hobby. 😊