5 Gallon Planted Tank (Setup Breakdown)

By: Billy | August 2, 2022 | Planted Tanks

5-Gallon Tank

I went for the Marineland 5-gallon Portrait aquarium. It’s easy to set up, taking out a lot of the guesswork for beginners. However, there are a few things I don’t like about it.

You can find my thoughts in my review of it.

Planted 5-Gallon Tank


I went to a chain pet store and picked up some Neon Tetras. They recommended stocking it with 5; but after some research, that’s too many for a 5-gallon. They’re a schooling fish, so they feel most comfortable in larger groups (minimum of 6). They act aggressively towards each other, so I’m in the process of moving them to a 10-gallon.

One of the main mistakes I made was not researching the native environment of Neon Tetras. I would’ve probably just gone with a beta fish if I did.

Other nano fish options for a 5-gallon are…


I started with the stock light that came with the Marineland Portrait kit. It ended up not being powerful enough for the majority of my plants. Plus, you have to turn it on and off manually. Since I was somewhat inconsistent with the lighting and its lower power, most of my plants died.

I replaced it with this Bluetooth Fluval light, which has been amazing. You can download their app on your phone, connect via Bluetooth and program it to go on/off automatically.


I went through various plants before I found ones that worked with a low-tech tank. I forget some of the original plants I used because I got them from my local pet store.

Below are the two types that worked well for me…

Noticed how I ended that with “for me”? Your local water chemistry has a lot to do with how your plants will do. The above plants might not work if your water is harder. I’ve learned that it’s a lot of trial and error with plants.


The substrate is from Fluval. It does the job, but (I believe) with almost every substrate, it is now depleted of nutrients. I think that is because my plant’s growth has slowed significantly.

I bought some Easy Root Tabs from Aquarium Coop and put them in the substrate. My plants are now growing at a normal speed again.


If you’re stocking tropical fish, you’ll likely have to buy an aquarium heater. This cheap one from Amazon works well. I installed it in the back of my tank on the first day, and it’s still going strong.

I haven’t had any issues with it.

Bottom Line

It can be an overwhelming project to set up your first planted aquarium.

Hopefully, outlining all the components of my first planted 5-gallon tank can help you get started quicker.


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.