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How to use potted aquatic plants in your aquarium fish tank.
Potted Plants in an Aquarium
Potted Plants in an Aquarium

Why add potted plants to your fish tank?

Live plants come with a lot of benefits for your aquarium: they eat ammonia, they look better than fake plastic plants, they inhibit algae growth, and they create a more natural environment for your fish. More benefits of live plants are discussed in this post about pothos in the aquarium. But not every aquarium has a good substrate or the right conditions for planting live plants.

In breeding or quarantine setups you might want to run a bare bottom (like the tank pictured above). If you keep boisterous cichlids that like to dig, no plant is safe in a regular substrate. Maybe you need to be able to move plants around between aquariums easily. An easy solution in these cases is putting potted plants in your fish tank.

Lotus in a Shallow Pot
Lotus in a Shallow Pot

What kind of pots are safe for aquarium use?

The first step in adding potted plants to your aquarium is choosing the right containers. You have a lot of options here. Standard terra cotta clay pots, that are not painted or glazed, are safe for use in an aquarium. You can also use plastic plant pots, or upcycle any plastic container that is the right shape and size for your goals. A (thouroughly washed) yogurt container or plastic tupperware can hold substrate as well as any pot.

Various Aquarium Safe Pots
Various Aquarium Safe Pots

When choosing a container, keep in mind that some plants are heavy root feeders and will need some space for their roots to grow, while others can be planted in a shallow substrate. For example, java fern does not need any substrate at all, so you can use a very shallow pot to hold it in place. Plants like jungle val and amazon swords will want a deeper pot with a good quality substrate.

What substrate to put in aquarium plant pots?

Any aquarium substrate that you would use in your fish tank can work for potted aquatic plants.  For root feeding plants, I recommend using some organic potting soil (sift and rinse it thoroughly first) capped with aquarium gravel.  This will supply the plants with nutrients for years, while keeping them contained.  This method works particularly well for valisneria, which will quickly take over a dirted tank if not contained.  

Another option is to use regular aquarium gravel and add a few root tabs to the substrate to supply nutrients.  Aquarium Co-op sells root tabs and other planted tank supplies.  You can find root tabs on Amazon as well.  These will need to be replaced every few months for the best results, but luckily theyre cheap.

Root Tabs for Aquarium Plants
Root Tabs for Aquarium Plants

Rinse the pot or container before adding substrate.  If it has large holes in the bottom, cover or plug them with some plastic (like a bottle cap) or mesh before the substrate goes in.  This will prevent dirt or gravel from spilling out the bottom of the pot when it is lifted.  A few small holes in the pot's bottom is actually ideal for a lot of plants, because their roots will be able to grow out through the bottom and pull more nutrients from the water column.  

Potted Crypt
Potted Crypt

Adding your potted plants to your aquarium

Potted Plants Being Rinsed
Potted Plants Being Rinsed

Once you've chosen a container and substrate and planted your plants, make sure you rinse the plant and the pot in some fresh water to remove any dust from the substrate before adding it to your aquarium. The greatest benefit of potted aquarium plants is you can re-arrange them easily, moving them around as often as you want. Dont hesitate to try a lot of different plants in a lot of different configurations!

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You can easily run air to any outdoor pond or tub with this cheap combination of tools.

Solar Pond Air Pump

You can easily run air to any outdoor pond or tub with this cheap combination of tools. A USB powered air pump run by a small solar panel with USB outputs is all you need! The video below shows my setup running on my 100 gallon guppy tub - which you can read about here.

Setting up Solar Powered Pond Aeration

These little USB air pumps can drive a steady stream of air to the bottom of a 2.5 foot deep, 100 gallon stock tank. 

USB Nano Air Pump

Such small air pumps use very little power, so a single solar panel hung in a sunny spot can run one for most of the day.  While this setup won't provide aeration at night, it will increase air exchange during the hottest part of the day.  This helps prevent the tub from becoming stagnant and keep the water oxygenated for the fish.

Look for a cheap 20 watt solar panel - like the one shown below - that has USB ports as its power output. Then you just have to plug the air pump into the panel, and place it in a sunny spot. I hung my solar panel on the side of shed, and it powers the solar pond air pump for 10-12 hours a day during the summer.

Solar Panel / Air pump

Start backyard tubbing with your own 100 gallon stock tank! These are great for small outdoor ponds. The rubbermaid construction will last for decades, and they are much cheaper than a similar size aquarium.

Guppy Tub 2020
Guppy Tub 2020

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This DIY LED Bucket Light was inspired by a similar build by The King of DIY on Youtube. It only cost about $15 to make, and the entire project took less than an hour.

This light hangs above my 40 gallon Lake Tanganyika shell-dweller aquarium. It uses a single LED bulb, which puts out plenty of light for a shallow 40 breeder layout with no plants.

LED Bucket Light
LED Bucket Light

Materials

All materials needed for this build are listed below, with links to buy them on Amazon.

  1.  1 x two gallon bucket (any color or style)- link
  2.  1 x clamp light (with 5.5 inch reflector) - link
  3.  1 x LED bulb - link
  4.  2 x eye bolts - link
  5.  1 x chain - link
  6.  1 x shelf bracket - link

I had all of the hanging hardware and the LED bulb laying around already. Most of these materials can be swapped out for something similar. For example, you could replace the bucket with a plastic pot.

How to Build a DIY Bucket Light

clamp light

1. Take apart the clamp light:

First remove the clamp. They are usually held on to the base by a thumb screw and come apart easily. Unscrew the metal reflector from the light as well, so that you have just the light socket base and the power cord.

2. Drill a hole in the bottom of the bucket

just large enough for the light socket to pass through, but not as large as the black plastic base. Insert the light socket into the hole as show below. Screw eye bolts into the base of the bucket.

Bucket Base

3. Assemble the light:

Insert the metal reflector into the bucket and screw it onto the plastic base. Install an LED bulb appropriate for the wattage and size of the light socket. The light is now complete.

Inside of Bucket Light
Inside of Bucket Light

4. Hang the light.

This step is pretty straight forward. Attach the chain to the eye bolts and hang it from your ceiling or wall.

DIY Bucket Light in use
DIY Bucket Light in use