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New 10 Gallon Walstad Natural Planted Tank setup »

A Walstad Natural Planted Tank


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This post is going to be a collection of notes and thoughts on the natural planted tanks ( or walstad natural planted tanks.) I have recently run across this approach and am really interested in giving it a try and likely will give it a try with the new 10 gallon tank. Some interesting initial notes on the concept are as follows: potting/topsoil and then gravel to hold that down. This is going to be a heavily planted tank. Cycling should not be an issue if it’s heavily planted enough. Filtration is also something that may not need to be done unless wanted for better filtering or water circulation. Lighting can be natural sunlight if situated near a window or artificial. Water changes will likely need to be infrequent. (6 months? from what I read.) Now this is appealing on several levels including the obvious lazy tank owner level…. 😉 but the concept behind it is a bit more interesting to me.


That concept is of creating a relatively balanced ecosystem. The soil provides nutrients for the plants and so do the fish and extra fish food, the plants filter ammonia and any available nitrates out of the water. In a lot of ways our current five gallon tank has been close to the concept of a natural planted tank in the sense that we have had plants in there that have soaked up available nitrates and have been able to go long stretches between water changes (zero nitrates even after months of living fish in the tank with the same water…) We have simple aquarium gravel though and it seems that we have had trouble getting some of the faster growing plants to survive well without adding nutrients. (Assuming that the problem is not lack of light as we have about 4 watts per gallon….)

So, in some ways when we had java moss/java fern and one fish we had a fairly balanced aquarium. I’d like to see more though and I think the natural planted tank is the way for me to go. I’ve seen many forum threads talking about dosing fertilizers and co2 to feed plants with traditional setups and quite frankly it’s all too much trouble, guesswork, expense and margin for error. The natural planted tank by contrast seems elegantly simple and more along the lines of what I would have time to tend.

So, how do you start a natural planted tank? From what I’m reading the first step is that you are going to cover the bottom of a tank with about 1 to 1 and 1/2 inches of topsoil or potting soil mix. You want to make sure that there are no added surfactants or fertilizers to the soil mix. Usually the cheaper mixes are the ones you would want to look for at the large home improvement stores. Now this soil is sometimes recommended to be amended with crushed oyster shell to increase hard water nutrients. It’s suggested to first do a “bottle test” of the soil to see if it leeches any coloration into the water. You should put your soil in a jar and cover with about an inch of gravel and then carefully add water (avoiding disturbance of the soil.) It’s suggested to avoid soil or amendments that would add peat or fertilizer to the soil.

In placing in the aquarium it’s suggested to leave the soil out in a thin layer overnight to offgas ammonia and then add gravel along the edges, add your plants and then gravel around the plants to help anchor them. Of course you will want to test the water after you’ve let the tank sit overnight. From reading peoples experience with setting up these tanks you may have a tank that can immediately host fish. Of course, if it’s a larger tank you have a bit more leeway to do so anyway. Keep an eye on the water parameters though because some plants and soil types might offer different results. Some soils may release more ammonia into the water.

Here is a good writeup on the natural planted tank and an example of the model that I’m following.

–update 1/9/11 – 9pm —

Got a new 10 gallon tank today and all the required ingredients to start a walstad npt (natural planted tank).

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January 8, 2011 - 3:09 PM
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