20 Gallon Low Tech Planted Tank (Setup Breakdown)

By: Billy | November 13, 2023 | Planted Tanks

I’ve wanted to build a 20-gallon planted tank for a while. So I decided to document my journey to help anyone out there feeling overwhelmed. If you’re just looking for a step-by-step guide on how to set up your tank, check this article.

First things first, below is a summary of my setup.

So, why did I pick a 20-gallon tank?

20-Gallon Tank

Well, my first tank was a Marineland 5-gallon portrait, which I stocked with Neon Tetra. I went to my local chain pet store and they told me I could stock plenty of Neon Tetra in my 5-gallon and it ended up being a disaster. Obviously, this was my fault, as I should’ve done more research on Tetras.

I noticed them acting aggressively towards each other, which I knew was a sign that something was wrong. I knew I needed a larger tank for them to feel comfortable.

After some research, I went for the UNS 60s 20-gallon aquarium because I wanted space for more fish. This is my second UNS rimless tank, and I’m a big fan. I don’t think I could ever return to an aquarium that isn’t rimless… I love how clean they look!


I went for the Tidal 55-gallon filter, which is a hang-on-the-back filter (HOB). It’s always a good idea to get a larger filter if you can. I went with the Tidal since I heard a lot of great things about it. I’ve had it installed for over two years now and have had no issues. I would gladly buy it again.


There’s a total of eight Neon Tetra and twenty cherry shrimp. I picked these with intention because of the colors. The vibrant blue of the Neon Tetra contrasts nicely with the bright red/orange shrimp. They school nicely together.

neon tetra


Since my tank is low-tech (no C02 injection), I went with hardy plants. Starting with the foreground, I used Pearl Weed (Hemianthus Micranthemoides). This isn’t the hardiest plant, but I saw it at my local store, and they said it was easy to grow. However, looking back, I wouldn’t have got it. The roots are so thin, that when I was trimming, they easily were uprooted.

I then scattered some Anubias Nana throughout the midground. I glued two of them to the pacific wood arch. Then two of the larger ones I put at the base of the arch. Anubias are incredibly resilient plants and I’d recommend them to any beginners.

For the background, I used six Java Fern (Microsorium Pteropus). I tried angling it towards the center to draw attention to the pacific wood arch. Creating a visually compelling composition is one of the main reasons I love building planted tanks. Java Fern is another hardy plant that is beginner-friendly.

aquarium plants


The light is the Fluval Planted 3.0 (15inch). I decided to stick with Fluval since I’ve had a great experience with their Planted Nano light. You can find cheaper alternatives, but the main selling point for me is their app.

You can connect to it via Bluetooth on your phone, customize the light levels, and have it automatically turn on. This way you don’t have to manually turn it on and off daily. It just depends what your budget is…

fluval light


Fluval stratum substrate is what I’ve been using, and it works well. For this setup, two (8.8lbs) bags were enough.


Pacific wood mixed with small Estes Pagoda Stone. The centerpiece is two pacific wood mixed to form an arch.

20 gallon planted tank hardscape


Some issues I ran into and how I solved them.

White Fungus Algae

The first issue was the opaque white fungus/bacteria on the pacific wood. This appeared just a few days after I set up the tank. I would brush it off almost every single day, but it kept coming back. The solution was adding 20 cherry shrimp because they feast on it. It’s nonexistent now.

Pearl Weed Issue

Another challenge I ran into was trimming the pearl weed. The roots are incredibly thin, making it easy to unroot them. I don’t think I would get it again because of this.


I've been building freshwater aquariums with my dad since a young age. A few years ago, I shifted my focus to low-tech planted tanks. My goal is to share my experience to help make yours easier.