How to Cycle a Planted Aquarium – The Fastest Method
Now that we have a good understanding of one of the most important cycles in Nature, the Nitrogen Cycle, we will now be discussing the many ways of how to cycle a planted aquarium.
From the previous article, we touched on the significance of having live plants when cycling our aquariums, how plants consume otherwise lethal substances to our faunas (fish/es, snails, and shrimps), and how they can help finish the cycling of our aquarium faster. So we will focus on planted aquariums only.
Table of Contents
The Fastest Method
Step by Step
Aerate Your Water Always
Important! Fish Stocking
The Fastest Method
We already discussed the fastest way of cycling your new planted aquarium. That is to use your old filter media, gravel, soil, hardscapes, and even part of the old water from your old aquarium to your newly planted aquarium.
This method is what I did when I set up my first planted aquarium. Just make sure that your old aquarium is not infested with algae. Your fish/es have no disease like ick, fungal infections, or parasites because it will certainly be carried over to your new aquarium.
Also, please make sure that you use the same water source as your old aquarium to ensure that your beneficial bacteria and faunas will not be affected due to different water parameters.
Fortunately, these beneficial bacteria are not too picky with pH and water temperature. Still, the one thing that could kill them fast is using chorinated water (chlorine is lethal to faunas too). So use a dechlorinator or water conditioner first before using the water from your faucet. We discussed the water sources that are safe for our aquariums here.
You can even ask help from a co-hobbyist friend, but there is a caveat in this. Like the points I mentioned above, please make sure that your friend’s aquarium is not infested with algae and fish diseases to avoid cross-contamination.
API Tap Water Conditioner
Step by Step:
1. Before you do this method, plan it ahead. Make sure that you can finish the transfer and aquascaping within the day, if possible. Start early.
2. Position the new aquarium stand, then the aquarium, and your equipment (filter, lighting, electrical outlet, and extensions, etc.). Make sure that you have ample light to work on your aquarium, or if you already have your lighting fixture, position it on the top-rear part of your tank so you can work freely at the front and sides of your aquarium.
3. From your old tank, get a portion of the old water so you can set aside your fish for now in a bucket or basin or another aquarium (if you have a spare) using a fishnet. If you have a new filter for your newly planted aquarium, you can use the old filter and filter media for your fish while prepping your old substrate, doing the aquascaping, and this is also a good opportunity to set up your new filter for your new tank. If you will be using your old filter for your new tank like I did, at least it is still running to do the filtration and aerating the water for your faunas until you transfer them to the new tank.
4. From your old tank, get a portion of the old water and put it in a bucket or basin so you can rinse your old gravel or aquasoil, removing the accumulated detritus in it before placing it on your new aquarium. If the old water is not enough to rinse it clean, you can use a chlorine-free water source like a deep-well or pre-conditioned water with a dechlorinator or water conditioner from the same water-source as your old tank. Do not use your fingers to rub, brush, or abrasive products. Just rinse them once to remove some of the accumulated detritus. Make sure that your old substrate is always wet until you use it so as not to kill-off your beneficial bacteria living on it.
5. I recommend to use your old soil, aquasoil, or gravel as the bottom layer of your substrate. Since we will have a planted aquarium, use your new aquasoil for the top layer but not too deep so as not to suffocate the beneficial bacteria in the old substrate below. Aim for 2-3 inches at the front, then 3-4 inches to the back of the tank, so your substrate looks like a wedge. This will also create the perception of depth in your aquascape.
6. Rinse also your old filter media and hardscapes (rocks and driftwood). Do not use your fingers to rub, brush, or abrasive products. Just rinse them once to remove most of the accumulated detritus. Have them set aside for now. Do not dry them out until you transfer them to your new tank because it will kill your beneficial bacteria. So put them for now in a bucket or basin submerged in chlorine-free water or old tank water.
7. Once the substrate is in place, position your rock and driftwood placement according to the design/aquascaping style you have in mind. Pour chlorine free-water just enough to wet the substrate. You can use a plate or plastic sheet to disperse the water so as not to disturb your substrate and ruin your design.
Iwagumi Style Setting Up Aquascaped by Joshua Jose Cube Magpayo Philippines
9. Once you are done with your aquascaping, fill the tank with chlorine-free water. The safe water sources for our planted aquariums are discussed here. If you still have some old water from your old tank, provided that it is free from floating debris, which you certainly caused earlier while you are prepping the old substrate, you can use it along with your new chlorine-free water.
Be careful not to disturb your scape and substrate by using a small saucer, plastic sheet, or using your hand while pouring the water. This is to spread/disperse the water splashes and decrease the current.
10. After filling-up your new aquascaped tank with chlorine-free water, and if you are using a new filter, transfer your old filter media from your old filter to the new one, assuming you already set up your new filter’s intake and outtake tubes into your new tank.
If you haven’t set up the new filter, then, by all means, do it now at this stage.
If you are using the same filter, transfer it along with the old filter media, then set it up on the new tank, start the filter.
Avoid drying out your filter media.
Aerate Your Water Always!
So always provide lots of surface water agitation in your aquarium, not just during tank cycling, but every time, and even when injecting CO2 (balancing your CO2 injection and providing water surface agitation is discussed here). This can be achieved by the out-take tube of your filter or using wave-makers or using aquarium/computer fans directed towards your water surface.
Your beneficial bacteria always need oxygen to break down the toxins in our aquariums. Your faunas need oxygen, and your plants can give off oxygen when they respire during lights on, but our plants need oxygen during lights off too. And because your water temp is cooler by blowing air into your water surface (evaporative cooling), the capacity of your water to hold dissolved oxygen increases.
Aerating your water via aquarium fans will cool your water temperature and improves the nutrient and CO2 intake of your plants plus mosquitoes hate laying their eggs in moving water. And even if they manage to do that, your faunas can take care of the larvae. Some if not most algae hate cool waters and moving water looks more natural than stagnant.
My Planted Aquarium Fans
11. I usually wait 1-2 hours with the filter running on the new tank before transferring the fish. Don’t worry. Depending on how hardy is your fish, they can survive with no filtration even longer than that. I know it is difficult to imagine how our fishes survived the long, arduous journey, in plastic with no filtration, from the farm to the fish retailers. But if you have a spare submersible pump, by all means, use it to aerate the water while waiting.
12. Transfer your fish/es one by one by using a fishnet. Monitor them for another hour or two. Make sure that there are no unusual behaviors from your fish like darting uncontrollably or being lethargic.
My Telescopic Fish Net
I did these steps 3 times in a span of one month because I have to re-scape 2 times using the same tank. My first reason was I had to change my scape to accommodate my Bonsai. The second reason was due to a mistake: I had put fishes (Gold Barbs) that are very destructive to my mosses, and they are tough to catch, so the process of catching them ruined my scape.
I can remember the only casualty is one red Mickey Mouse Platy fish because it jumped from my basin where they are temporarily held. That was during the second re-scape. I had to give the Gold Barbs to my co-hobbyist friend, who was willing to adopt them.
My Hardscape Diorama Style Bonsai on the Right Created for Me by Jeremy Navarro – I Learned a Thing or Two from him and did a Small One on the Left Using Whatever’s Left
I want you to keep in mind that don’t be tempted to add more new fishes immediately to your new tank, most especially if the new one is much bigger than the old tank. Your existing beneficial bacteria’s population was established based on the previous number of fishes you have.
Adding more fish quickly after you did the transfer means you don’t have enough beneficial bacteria than before, and your old fishes and new fishes are at risk. Please try to add more fish, 1-2 fish gradually, then monitor for a week, rather than abruptly, adding 10 new fishes the next day. And like I always said, don’t overstock.
Too many Cichlids – but this could be a very large tank, and a stable one already, with great filtration systems that can handle all those organic waste. The different types of filtration are discussed here and why other hobbyists can get away with overstocking and sudden ammonia spikes.
Using your old filter media, substrate, and hardscapes is the fastest way to cycle your newly planted aquarium. You should plan it ahead with the steps I outlined.
Just make sure that your old aquarium or a friend’s aquarium is not infested with algae, and the fish/es have no disease like ick, or fungal infections, or parasites because it will certainly be carried over to your new aquarium, cross-contamination.
Also, always use clean chlorine-free water not just during tank cycling, but every time during water change or topping-off if the water level gets lower. The water sources that are safe for our aquariums are discussed thoroughly here.
I hope you enjoyed this article and if ever you have additional questions or want to share your experiences with this method of tank cycling, please leave a comment below.
Next, we will be discussing the traditional and modified traditional way of tank cycling.