The Not-So Secret to Starting a Planted Tank

Updated: Oct 6

A customer came into the store wanting to start a planted aquarium. He mentioned how planted aquariums brought him a sense of calmness and how peering into them was a nice reminder to appreciate nature. This is exactly why most people start a planted aquarium. However, it can be a daunting task to go from nothing to enjoying a mature, thriving aquascape of your own. In browsing the store, he asked a simple question. “What do I need to get started?” Now we certainly could have gone down the rabbit hole of discussing the appropriate tank size, importance of a filter, and right wattage for a heater, which are all critical components needed to “get started”, yet those items are easily identified. What I believe the customer was asking was, “What is the most important piece of equipment needed to successfully start a planted tank?”

The reason why I say this is because I think back to the days of when I started this specific hobby. As kids, many of us owned an aquarium and the critical components: tank, filter, and heater were all there. Yet, as I got older and wanted to transition from fish keeping to creating a planted tank, the equipment that required a drastic change was the light. Back in those days, we did not have the selection of LED lights that we have today, rather, I remember retrofitting my existing hood with a compact fluorescent while mounting the ballast behind my stand. I was quite proud of my work and managed to achieve over 2 watts per gallon! I managed to find a picture of the ballast and connections that I used in the past.

photo credit: Club Reef

In the end I was able to grow various species of rotala, ludwigia, cryptocoryne, vallisneria, java fern, anubias, and even a small batch of glosstigma elatinoides. I didn’t even start with CO2 injection until some years later.

Now, coming back to the conversation with this customer, I immediately called out the importance of the light. I made no reference to lumens, spectrum, PAR value, or spread, I simply showed him the lights I currently used in the store and mentioned if you want to successfully start a planted tank, you needed:

A reliable, good quality full spectrum light and that Twinstar S-series lights were the ones that I have had the best success with.

The reason that I did not beat around the bush and discuss the needs of low-tech setups vs high-tech setups or to start out with a low-end light was that I found most people who get into the hobby:

  1. Enjoy it so much that they commit themselves for many, many years

  2. Initially fail, spend hours, days, weeks, months to eventually come to the conclusion to either quit or invest in a better light

  3. Eventually upgrade to a high-end light after initially purchasing a low-end light because they want to be more creative with their aquascapes

In the end, it almost always leads to investing in the best light anyway. Yet, in this case you actually save money because you aren't buying multiple lights. Even as people start with low maintenance plants, the lights today can be dimmed so that algae can be controlled and with the low wattage and longevity of LED bulbs, the Twinstar light is the last light you’ll ever have to buy… Well, until you purchase a larger tank.

I recognize that many people enjoy the trials and tribulations of setting up a planted aquarium and feel a greater sense of accomplishment once they achieve the right setup. However, why not be set up for success in the very beginning? There is plenty of manageable failure you'll experience throughout this journey but the truly enjoyable part is creating the aquascape. Let’s all get to that point faster so that you can start enjoying your world without worry.

Twinstar S-Series lights offer one of the best combinations of total Red and Green for effective plant growth, vivid brightness to allow for clear viewing, all while consuming a minimal amount of power. What's even better is that the version III lights are really all you need even as new versions come out. There is not much more you can do when it comes to pure light quality. And with the version IV now available, you can finds version III lights at a discount, such as the sale we are having in our store today.

Come check them out:

Please Note: I know there are many comparable lights such as ADA or Chihiros brands that are just as good. I have personally just found a lot of success with Twinstar, yet I would recommend those lights as well.