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How to Cycle a Fish Tank With Plants? (Step by Step Guide)

Cycling a fish tank with live aquarium plants is very natural and one of my favorite ways of cycling a new tank.

When you cycle a tank with live plants you are essentially creating a natural ecosystem in your fish tank.

In this article, I’m going to show you exactly how to cycle your fish tank using plants.

After setting up your aquarium, add a lot of fast growing live aquarium plants in the tank. Also, add some fertilizers. Once you start seeing a lot of new growth on the live plants, you can conclude your fish tank has cycled.

Overall, cycling a fish tank with live plants is a very simple process. However, there are some details you’ll need to keep in mind (which I’ll cover in this article) to cycle your fish tank successfully.

How to Cycle a Fish Tank With Plants? (Step by Step Guide) image

How to cycle a fish tank with live aquarium plants?

planted fish tank with cycle diagram and text overlay "cycling with plants"

Now I will tell you the exact step-by-step process of cycling a fish tank with live aquarium plants.

What you will need to cycle a fish tank with live aquarium plants?

Let’s start with the things that you will need to cycle your fish tank with live plants.

1. Fishtank

Let’s start with the obvious one, you’ll need a fish tank to cycle the tank.

There are a few things you should know about the size and shape of the fish tank before choosing the fish tank.

The size of a fish tank is very important. You should choose the size of the fish tank according to the fish you are going to keep in your fish tank once the fish tank has cycled.

Many beginners make the mistake and they choose a very small tank. 

The thing is when you get the fish for your fish tank, in the beginning, the fish is very small but the fish can get pretty big very quickly.

For example, if you get goldfish for your tank, in the beginning, the fish is very small but it can get pretty big.

The longest goldfish in the world is 18.7 inches!

The ideal tank size for goldfish is a minimum of 20 gallons and it can go as large as 50 gallons depending on the type of goldfish you want to keep in your fish tank.

That’s why it is very important to research the ideal tank size for the fish you are going to put in your fish tank before you get the fish tank.

Besides, some fish like rectangle tanks and others can live in any tank.

Tip: When it comes to tank size, usually, the larger the tank the better it is. Because in large tanks the water parameters don’t change as quickly as in smaller tanks. So large tanks give you more time to fix the problem and adjust the water parameters. Overall, large tanks are more forgiving than smaller tanks.

2. Filter

Cycling a fish tank means creating an automatic filtration system in your fish tank.

Still, you will need an aquarium filter for your fish tank.

The reason being, when you cycle your fish tank, you create a biological filtration system in your fish tank.

But to keep your fish tank clean you will also need chemical and mechanical filtration. And this is what an aquarium filter provides in your fish tank.

Besides, an aquarium filter also provides a great place for beneficial bacteria to form their colonies which will further improve the biological filtration in your fish tank.

I recommend AquaClear Power Filter. It is a very reliable filter and it comes in different sizes so you can choose according to your tank size. 

You can check out its reviews and price at the latest Amazon here.

3. Dechlorinator

Tap water is generally treated with chlorine to remove impurities from the water and make it drinkable.

But chlorine is harmful to aquarium fish.

So if you are going to use tap water in your fish tank then you will need to dechlorinate it before adding it in your fish tank.

You can easily dechlorinate your tap water using a dechlorinating agent.

I recommend Tetra AquaSafe Plus dechlorinating agent. It is specifically made for fish tanks.

You can check its reviews and price at Amazon here.

4. Aquarium water test kit

During your fish tank cycling process, you will need to regularly test the pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate level in your fish tank.

Testing these water parameters will tell you how you are fish tank cycle is going and when your fish tank cycle has completed.

Ammonia and nitrites are harmful to the fish. A high amount of these toxins can be deadly for the fish.

That’s why even after your fish tank cycle has completed you should regularly test the water parameters to make sure that your fish tank doesn’t contain ammonia or nitrites.

And if it does contain then you can take measures to remove the ammonia or nitrite from your fish tank.

You can easily test pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in your fish tank using an aquarium test kit.

There are a lot of aquarium test kits available in the market.

I recommend API freshwater master test kit.

This is a water-based test kit so it is very accurate. And it is pretty popular in the aquarium hobby.

You can check its latest price and reviews at Amazon here.

5. Aquarium water heater

The ideal temperature range for the beneficial bacteria (the bacteria which is responsible to cycle your fish tank) is between 65° Fahrenheit to 85° Fahrenheit (18° celsius to 29° celsius).

If the temperature of the water of your aquarium drops below 65° Fahrenheit then the beneficial bacteria will not grow in your fish tank.

This can stop the nitrogen cycle!

That’s why it is very important to maintain the temperature in your fish tank between the ideal range.

To maintain the temperature in your fish tank, you can install an aquarium heater in your fish tank.

I recommend Orlushy Submersible Aquarium Heater. It is a very reliable aquarium heater. It comes in different sizes so you can choose the heater according to the size of your fish tank.

Besides, it also comes with a thermometer so you can easily keep track of the temperature in your fish tank.

You can check its latest price and reviews at Amazon here.

Live aquarium plants are not very demanding and most of the live aquarium plants can do well in most temperatures.

However, you should avoid extreme temperatures because it can affect the live aquarium plants in your fish tank.

Besides, the fish you’ll add in your fish tank will also have an ideal temperature range. 

And you will need to keep the temperature in the ideal range to maintain a healthy environment for the fish in your fish tank.

6. Live aquarium plants

To cycle your fish tank with live aquarium plants, obviously, you will need to keep some live aquarium plants in your fish tank.

How to choose live aquarium plants to cycle a fish tank?

There are a few things you should keep in mind while choosing the live aquarium plants for cycling your fish tank.

Choosing or not choosing the right live aquarium plants to cycle your fish tank can be a difference between your fish tank cycle getting completed within a week or after three to four weeks.

1. Choose fast growing live aquarium plants

When you cycle your fish tank with live aquarium plants, you should choose fast growing aquarium plants. 

I’ve already written a detailed article containing the best fast growing aquarium plants. You can check it out here.

The fast growing live aquarium plants need a lot of nutrients for their fast growth.

Though ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates are harmful to the fish, they are actually nutrients for the live aquarium plants.

So when you keep fast growing live aquarium plants in your fish tank to cycle the tank, the plants will absorb ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate much faster for their fast growth. This will help to cycle your fish tank fast.

2. Choose hardy and undemanding live aquarium plants

The problem with demanding and delicate live aquarium plants is that they need very precise water parameters according to their needs in the fish tank.

Besides, you will also need to provide them a lot of nutrients through fertilizers.

If you fail to provide them the nutrients and ideal water parameters then they will die.

When you want to cycle a fish tank with plants, you may not want to deal with maintaining the precise water parameters and providing all the essential nutrients to the live aquarium plants.

You just want to cycle your fish tank as soon as possible with the plants.

That’s why while choosing the live aquarium plants for cycling your fish tank make sure to choose hardy and undemanding plants that can do well in a wide range of water parameters and are not very demanding it comes to nutrients.

7. Aquarium light

To cycle your fish tank using live aquarium plants, obviously, you will need to put some live aquarium plants in your fish tank.

But to grow those live aquarium plants you will need to provide them the ideal environment in your fish tank.

And lighting is one of the most important factors that contribute to the growth of live aquarium plants.

Usually, the light that comes with a fish tank is not sufficient for the live aquarium plants.

That’s why you will need to get an aquarium light that is specifically designed to grow the live aquarium plants.

These lights have the right color spectrum and intensity to grow the live aquarium plants.

If you are just starting then I recommend a Finnex Stingray 2 Aquarium LED Light. This aquarium LED light is very cheap and reliable.

You can check its latest price and reviews at Amazon here.

8. Aquarium plant fertilizer

When you want to cycle your fish tank with live aquarium plants, you want the live aquarium plants to grow fast in your fish tank so that your fish tank cycle can get completed as soon as possible.

But the live aquarium plants need nutrients to grow in your fish tank. And when you put the live aquarium plants in your fish tank it doesn’t contain any nutrients for the live plants.

That’s why you will need to add nutrients in your fish tank.

You can easily add nutrients in your new fish tank for the live plants using aquarium plant fertilizer.

I recommend Seachem Flourish Freshwater Plant Supplement

This fertilizer contains all the essential nutrients that live aquarium plants need to grow in your fish tank. And it is pretty popular in the aquarium hobby for good reasons.

You can check its latest price and reviews at Amazon here.

9. Ammonia source (Optional)

When you cycle your fish tank using live aquarium plants, the point when you started to notice a lot of new growth on the plants you can conclude that your fish tank has cycled and is ready to add fish into it.

However, if you want to be a hundred percent sure that you are fish tank has cycled and contains enough beneficial bacteria and the plants are consuming ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate then you can add a few drops of pure liquid ammonia in the fish tank. And after one day test the water of your fish tank for ammonia.

After testing the water if you notice that your fish tank contains 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, and 0 nitrate or some nitrates then you can conclude that your fish tank has cycled.

I recommend Fritz PRO – Ammonium Chloride. It is specifically made for fish tanks.

You can check its latest price and reviews at Amazon here.

10. Beneficial bacteria bottle (Optional)

If you want to instantly cycle your fish tank then emptying the beneficial bacteria bottles in your fish tank is the way to go.

After putting the live aquarium plants you can empty a beneficial bacteria bottle in your fish tank.

The beneficial bacteria bottles, as the name suggests, contain beneficial bacteria which is responsible to cycle your fish tank.

So essentially, you are adding the beneficial bacteria in your fish tank which will instantly cycle your fish tank.

I recommend FritzZyme 7 Nitrifying Bacteria. A lot of people had a good experience with it.

You can check its latest price and reviews at Amazon here.

How to cycle your fish tank with live plants (The exact step-by-step process)

planted fish tank with cycle diagram and fish

There are two ways to cycle a fish tank with live aquarium plants.

  1. Cycling the tank with live aquarium plants only.
  2. Cycling a fish tank instantly using beneficial bacteria bottles with live aquarium plants

Now let’s start with the first method

Cycling a fish tank with live aquarium plants only

As the title suggests, in this method, we are going to use only the live aquarium plants to cycle the fish tank.

  • First of all, we will need to set up the aquarium. 
  • To set up the fish tank, first of all, add dechlorinated water into the tank.
  • Now set up an aquarium filter in your fish tank
  • Also, set up an aquarium heater into the tank.
  • Now before putting the live aquarium plants in your fish tank, you’ll need to disinfect them to make sure that they’re not bringing any harmful bacteria, virus, or pests in your fish tank. I have already written a detailed article where I show 5 ways to disinfect the live aquarium plants. You can check it out here
  • Once your live aquarium plants are disinfected add them in your fish tank.
  • Then set up an aquarium light on your fish tank.
  • Now add some aquarium plant fertilizer into the tank. You can either use liquid aquarium plant fertilizer or you can add root tabs if you are have planted root feeder aquarium plants in the substrate of your fish tank. Also, in the beginning, don’t add too much fertilizer in the tank.
  • Now you will need to wait for 2 to 3 weeks to see new growth on your live aquarium plants.
  • The point at which you started to notice a lot of new growth (which generally happens after two to three weeks after putting the live aquarium plants in the fish tank) at that point you can conclude that your fish tank has cycled and now you can add fish in your fish tank.
  • If you want to be 100% sure that your fish tank has actually cycled and is safe for the fish then you can add a few drops of pure liquid ammonia (less than 5 PPM) in your fish tank and wait for about 24 hours. Test your aquarium water after 24 hours. If the test shows that your fish tank contains 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, and 0 nitrate or some nitrates then you can conclude that your fish tank has cycled. And now it is safe to add fish in your fish tank.

Cycling a fish tank using beneficial bacteria bottles and live aquarium plants

planted fish tank with "instant cycle" text overly

Using this method you can instantly cycle your fish tank.

  • First of all, you will need to set up your fish tank.
  • To set up your fish tank add dechlorinated water into the tank.
  • Then set up an aquarium filter and aquarium heater in your fish tank and get it running.
  • Once your fish tank setup is completed, now you will need to add the live aquarium plants into the tank. But before adding the live plants in your fish tank make sure to disinfect them to make sure that they are not transferring any harmful bacteria, virus, or pests in your fish tank. I have already written a detailed article where I show the five ways to disinfect live aquarium plants. You can check out the article here
  • Once the live aquarium plants are disinfected now it’s time to add them in your fish tank.
  • Then set up aquarium lighting on your fish tank.
  • Now empty a beneficial bacteria bottle in your fish tank.
  • And add some aquarium plant fertilizers into the fish tank.
  • Once everything is set up and added now you can add fish in your fish tank.
  • If you want to be 100% sure that your fish tank has cycled, then before adding the fish in your tank you can add a few drops of pure liquid ammonia (less than 5 PPM) and then wait for about 24 hours. After 24 hours test your aquarium water for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate using an aquarium test kit. If the test shows 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, and 0 nitrate or some nitrate reading then you can conclude that your fish tank has cycled. And now you can add fish in your fish tank.

Should I Do a Water Change During Fishless Cycling?

Tips to successfully cycle your fish tank with live plants

planted fish tank with "cycling tips" text overlay

Overall cycling your fish tank with live aquarium plants is a very simple process.

However, there are a few details that you will need to keep in mind while cycling your fish tank.

I am going to share the details now and also share with you some tips to cycle your fish tank the right way.

1. Don’t add a lot of fish at the beginning

Once your fish tank has cycled, in the beginning, you should not add a lot of fish to the fish tank.

The reason being, though your fish tank has cycled, it still doesn’t contain a lot of beneficial bacteria to convert all the waste produced by a lot of fish into less harmful nitrates.

You should start with 2-3 fish and then over time, you can add more fish in your fish tank.

When and how many fish you should add later in your fish tank?

It really depends on the size of your fish tank and the type of fish you want in your to add in your fish tank.

2. Feed the fish lightly at the beginning

When your fish tank is just cycled it doesn’t contain a lot of beneficial bacteria.

So the small number of beneficial bacteria and plants in your fish tank cannot convert a lot of bioloads produced by the fish into less harmful nitrates.

To avoid a lot of bioload in your fish tank, in the beginning, you should feed the fish in your fish tank very lightly.

Ideally, you should feed the fish in your fish tank only once a day for 1 to 2 weeks.

After two weeks, start feeding your fish twice a day and regularly test your aquarium water to see if you notice any ammonia spike in your fish tank.

After feeding twice a day if you saw any ammonia spikes then cut back on the feeding to once a day for another one to two weeks.

If you don’t notice any ammonia spike then you can keep feeding your fish twice a day.

3. Make sure to quarantine the fish before adding it in your tank

New fish can transfer harmful bacteria or viruses into your fish tank.

That’s why it is very important to quarantine new fish before adding it in your new fish tank.

If you don’t already have a quarantine tank then you can easily set up one and cycle it instantly using filter media from your cycled aquarium.

Quarantine tank setup can be as simple as a tank with a filter and heater.

Also, you should keep the fish in the quarantine tank for at least a week and treat it with medications even if you don’t see any signs of disease just to be sure that when you add it in your display tank it will not bring any harmful disease in the tank.

How Do You Keep a Quarantine Tank Cycled? (Answered)

4. Remove dead or melted leaves from the fish tank regularly

Once you have added live aquarium plants in your fish tank, you should regularly check on them and remove any dead or melted leaves if you noticed any.

This is important because if you didn’t remove the melted or dead leaves then it will rot in your fish tank which will produce ammonia in your fish tank.

5. Test the aquarium water regularly for at least three to four weeks

Once your fish tank has cycled, you should regularly test your aquarium water for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate for at least three to four weeks.

And even after three to four weeks, it is a good practice to test your aquarium water regularly at least once a week just to make sure that it doesn’t contain any ammonia.

Conclusion

Overall, cycling your fish tank with live aquarium plants is a very simple process.

Just keep in mind the tips I have mentioned while choosing the live aquarium plants for cycling your fish tank.

Also, keep in mind the details I have shared with you in the article to cycle your fish tank as soon as possible.

I hope you found this article helpful.

If you do, please share it with somebody who can benefit from it.

Happy fishkeeping!

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