There’s no doubt about it:
Planted goldfish tanks sure are gorgeous.
And with both live plants and fish working together in a symbiotic relationship, each benefiting the other…
… It just gets better and better!
But how do you get started?
Today I’m going to help you learn just that!
1. Choosing Your Flora
You’ve probably seen pictures of beautiful planted aquascapes that look like something out of a dream.
They can take months to mature.
Put a couple of goldfish in there and in a week or so and they’ll mow down just about everything.
Goldfish love soft, tender plants.
So unless you manage to somehow get these plants to multiply faster than the goldfish will eat them…
… You’re buying some expensive goldfish salad!
What do you do?
I recommend choosing plants goldfish WON’T eat.
Admittedly, there’s not many.
First, it’s a good idea to choose your goals before you choose your plants.
Do you want a bare-bottom tank with low-maintenance plants?
Anubias and Java fern are going to be good options, as they don’t require a substrate or added ferts.
Need something to remove nitrate?
Want a heavily planted tank that looks like a jungle?
A combo of Vallisneria as a background plant plus Amazon swords in the mid-ground can help you achieve your goals.
(You’ll probably want to be sure to pick hardy, low-maintenance beginner plants that don’t have a lot of demands.)
As the aquarist, it’s your tank – and your rules.
Pick out what you love and what you think will work best for your setup!
Small goldfish are less likely to destroy plants than big jumbo ones with massive mouths.
Fancy goldfish also seem to be less hard on some plants than slim-bodied ones.
Some plants are nutrient hogs and can end up out-competing others for food.
These are probably best kept by themselves.
2. Selecting Lighting for Plants & Fish
Full-spectrum lighting is important to both fish and plant life.
In goldfish, light is used for vitamin D production and skin pigmentation.
Plants need it for growth and overall health.
Without enough light, both your fish and plants will suffer.
Many aquarium lamps need to be replaced yearly because the UV rays stop emitting.
Not so with LED!
A good quality LED light will give your tank what it needs until the bulbs physically burn out.
How much light do I need?
Different plants have different light requirements.
Some plants don’t need much at all, like Anubias and Java fern.
Others get fried in high-intensity light.
So how long you leave your light on during the day depends on what plants you have.
Typically, 8-12 hours a day is the norm.
Not all plants need added ferts (meaning they can survive on fish poop only), but many need more than that – on a weekly basis.
There are two ways to fertilizer plants:
- Root feeding
- Liquid fertilizer dosing
Root Feeding Tips
Root feeding initially seems tricky in a goldfish tank, because if you use a bare-bottom substrate obviously there is no where for the plant to be rooted, and sand does not supply any nutrients out of the box.
Dirted tanks work for many planted tank enthusiasts, but in my experience (and in that of others) they are really a horrible choice for goldfish.
You can put root tabs in sand.
(Exactly what is in those is questionable to me.)
But one thing that works regardless of your substrate AND is totally natural for fish is using glass jars with suction cups filled with dirt and capped with gravel or sand. I make sure to mineralize the soil as well (more on what I use for that later).
Plus it looks amazing!
This is better (in my opinion of course) than using pots because pots get waste trapped underneath them and… yeah, mainly they are a pain to clean around. If they have a big opening and not much plant in there the waste gets trapped in the pot too, contributing to detritus buildup and higher nitrates.
Liquid dosing is ideal for plants that don’t root.
Liquid Fertilizer Dosing Tips
I’ll admit it:
I’m not too crazy about the commercial plant fertilizers I’ve seen out there on the market.
On just about every brand I’ve come across, the ingredients are something I’d hesitate to put in with my fish.
(And exactly where are their ingredients coming from??)
But just about all aquarium plants will do much better when they are given the minerals and trace elements they need.
And not all plants take kindly to being planted in dirt – some will actually die.
That’s why I use pure calcium bentonite clay for fertilizer.
It contains more than 60 minerals, trace elements and electrolytes – in an all-natural form.
Including the ones plants love…
- … And many more!
Gardeners rave about calcium bentonite being a single complete fertilizer for their plants.
And get this:
Another added bonus is these trace minerals are also an important part of goldfish health.
One reason many goldfish keepers change their water so much is because they know they need to replenish these minerals, which are used up by the fish over time.
Kill two birds with one stone. 🙂
Calcium bentonite is also a trade secret of koi owners, who have discovered that using it in their ponds causes more intense color in their fish’s pigment.
The same is true for goldfish.
Oh, and if that’s not enough…
… Calcium bentonite clay also possesses antibacterial properties.
Regular use helps to keep your tank healthier by reducing bad bacteria in the water.
Without further ado, here’s the recipe:
My Easy Secret DIY Plant Fertilizer & Goldfish Water Mineralizer
- 1/8 tsp. calcium bentonite clay per 25 gallons (I use this kind)
- 1/2 C water
In a container with a tight-fitting lid, shake the clay and the water together until the clay is suspended. Pour contents gradually around aquarium surface. The cloudiness will subside in a few minutes.
Seriously, it’s THAT easy.
5. Choosing Your Substrate…
… Is actually not as important as you think.
For plants, anyway.
This is because there are workarounds to challenges like keeping rooting plants in a bare-bottom tank.
(Aka glass cups filled with soil and capped with gravel or sand.)
Obviously, if you want a grass-carpet effect on the bottom (like I did at one point) pots probably aren’t gonna cut the mustard.
But then again, that grass will probably be lunch in 24 hours.
I found the closest thing that would work to get that effect (for me anyway) was lots of little Anubias nana petite glued to rocks and arranged side by side.
That can work on sand or bare-bottom.
Some goldfish keepers use something like Flourite or ADA Aquasoil.
The thing is…
It lowers the pH.
It can be hard to clean.
And I’m leery that the goldies will choke on it.
So personally I would stick with sand or bare-bottom.
Gravel is just a no-go in my book, period.
To plant some rooting plants in sand you really need 2″ deep substrate.
As long as the plants grow lots of roots that’s probably fine.
Quarantining New Plants
Any object or living creature that has been in a tank with other fish has the possibility to transmit disease.
The more “harmless” hitchhikers like pond snails are common.
While not as dangerous to your fish, they can quickly become an out of control (and tricky to eradicate) problem in your tank.
Many sellers make sure to get rid of snails prior to selling their plants, but not all.
But it gets worse:
Parasites and their eggs can also be brought in with new plants.
How do we make sure they are safe?
You can do two things to ensure the plants are disease-free:
- Isolate the plant for 28 days minimum. Without a host, parasites will die off.
- Use a 1 hour MinnFinn bath at regular strength to kill off parasites and most parasite eggs (washing the plant thoroughly in tank or tap water is also a good idea). I have not tried this with all plant species but it has never harmed any of the ones I tried it with.
Thoughts on CO2
Honestly I don’t use this in my planted tanks.
Frankly, most plants that need this to grow well will probably become a goldfish salad anyway.
You’ll probably see better growth with the goldfish-friendly plants with the addition of CO2, so if you want to use it go right ahead.
I prefer to invest more in buying fish food 😛
Or just choose hardy plants that don’t require CO2 injection.
Wrapping it All Up
I hope you found this article useful.
Are you planning to set up a planted tank in the near future?
Got some fun ideas?
Share them with me in the comments below (I love hearing from my readers)!