How to set up a Freshwater Aquarium

How to set up a Freshwater Aquarium

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In this month’s blog we’ll discuss how to set up a freshwater aquarium. This will cover just the basics and we highly recommend that you talk to an aquatics specialist at a local pet store or aquatics store to find out more information on different filters, lights, heaters, etc.

Having a tropical freshwater aquarium is a lot of fun and can be quite relaxing to watch and learning how to set up a freshwater aquarium doesn’t have to be super complicated.

how to set up a freshwater aquarium

First, purchase your aquarium and stand. For our purposes today we’ll use the example of a 55 gallon tank, but the same basic premise works for 10 gallon, 25 gallon, etc. Once you’ve got your stand and tank find the perfect place in your home to set up the aquarium. Be sure of this because you don’t want to have to completely dismantle everything and move it after you’ve added water and fish! You’ll need 5 – 7″ of space between the back of the tank and the wall for the filter.

Next, add gravel to the bottom of your tank.  The amount you’ll need will depend on your aquarium size and, obviously, the size of bags you’re buying.  One rule of thumb is that you’ll need about 1.5lbs of gravel per gallon of water.  You want about a 2″ base of gravel for a freshwater aquarium. You can also use an online calculator to help you figure this out.

Third, add your water. To keep the gravel from being moved around, you can sit a small plate or tray on top of the gravel and pour the water onto the plate, allowing it to then spill out and over without basically creating a hole in your gravel base.  If your tap water has chlorine added use a neutralizer to remove that from the water.

Then assemble and add your filter and heater. We stock a wide variety of Fluval, Aqueon, and other canister filters and heaters and can help you choose the best one for your size and type of aquarium. Hang the filter on the back of the tank, find a spot for the thermometer where you can easily monitor it, and then attach the heater. It should be placed near the filter input, just below the water line.

how to set up your freshwater aquarium planted tank

And now for the fun part: it’s time to decorate! Live plants are a great way to add interest to your aquarium. It’s also been found that live plants help to reduce stress in your fish, so we really recommend choosing some live plants. Broadleaf ones like Swordplant are good for fish to hide under. Angelfish, for example, enjoy being able to hang out in dimly lit areas, which broadleaf plants provide. Then add some other plants like java moss or anubias plus some driftwood and perhaps, if there’s room, some larger rocks or even a fun skull or castle. Fish like to play, but they also need room to move about.  Again, we can help you figure out the best mix of decorations for your sized aquarium.  Make sure to rinse all of your plants first.  Let the aquarium sit for 24 hours to warm up.

Finally it’s time to add some fish, lights and a canopy! At first just add a few: 3 or 4 2″ fish, or 10 smaller 1″ fish.  Give these guys about a month to help the aquarium get back to zero ammonia and nitrate levels.  After this time you can begin to slowly add more fish to your aquarium. In general the number of gallons you have = the number of inches of fish your tank can handle. So, a 55 gallon tank can handle about 55″ of fish.

Good starter fish for your freshwater aquarium include: angelfish, rasboras, tetras, danios and rainbows! We’ve got them all.  We hope this has helped you figure out how to set up your freshwater aquarium. For more information email us at