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Ok, let’s talk about fish. The three main types of fish in the hobby are Tropical Community, African Cichlids, and Gold Fish. I want to first preface this with the fact that I am a huge fan of tropical community fish for aqascapes, but this doesn’t mean you can not put whatever fish makes you happy at the end of the day. The old school rule of thumb is 1 inch of fish for every gallon of water. Now using this rule, your tank can get crowded pretty quickly. If you do end up getting a lot of fish just make sure that your filter has antiquated turn over (10x the volume in your tank an hour) to and enough biomedia to process your fish's waste into nitrates. If your tank is properly cycled and you have enough beneficial bacterial, you should never see any ammonia or nitrites in your water. So just be mind as to not overstock, and or add too many fish too quickly. Only add 5-6 smaller schooling fish, or 2-3 larger fish each week in something like a 30 gall aquarium once a week. Remember to give your filter and biomedia a few days to catchup to the new bioload on the aquarium.    


In my opnion, Chilids tend to not make great Aquascaping fish. They like to pick up the substrate and spit it out looking for leftover food after feeding. This is terrible for when plants are trying to get rooted and all day every day they are being sucked up and spit out by these beasts. They can make for beautiful fish in amazing aquariums, but reserve them in my mind for hardscapes (aquariums with just wood and rock formations). My only acceptation is with Discus fish, however, they tend to not like high light tanks.


Again in my humble opinion, these fish do not belong in a delicate aquascape. They are known to get very dirty or produce a lot of organic waste which throw off water parameters very easily. They are also quite clumsy and will thrash when they feel like they are stuck which can uproot plants or knock over delicate wood formations we’ve created. They are best reserved for large gravel aquariums where the entire tank can be syphoned and cleaned out as needed.

Tropical Community

As you were warned, these are my favorite fish for a planted aquarium. Within these fish, I separate them into two categories, worker-bees and decorations… there maybe some overlap in there ;) Worker-bees can help you keep your tank clean and help get rid of algae, while prettier décor fish can help provide a color contrast to you plants.


On the worker-bee side of things, most of the wild life I am going to recommend do better with a partner of their species. I like to partner them up and get two of each at minimum. Here is what I recommend:

  • Siamese Algae Eaters (Crossocheilus oblongus) – Not to be confused with “flying foxes”, these are great at eating up brown diatom algae and hair algae. They are a little spaztastic which make them efficient at removing algae. Better than Otocinclus in my opinion.

  • Shrimp/ Amano or Red Cherry Shrimp – These little guys are a great natural clean-up crew. They will go through your tank and eat just about anything left in your tank. This accounts for algae, left over food, parts of decaying plant matter, even dead tank mates. Do you research on these little guys as they have very specific water conditions they thrive in. You’ll also not want to mix neocaradina with caradina, again, as the water parameters they require are very different.

  • Corydoras Catfish (aka Cory Cats / Corydoras) – These bottom feeds are very similar to Shrimp in the fact that they will go through your substrate and clean up any leftover food.

  • Clown Loaches (Chromobotia macracanthus) – These beautiful fish are bottom feaders but they are really known to help keep a snail problem from arising. Snail can be pests in a planted tank and Clown loaches will eat them prior so long as the snails don’t get too big.

  • Assassin snails (Clea Helena) – These stone cold killer are famous for their insatiable appetite for snails. If you have clown loaches and their snails are getting too big for them to eat, hire 3-4 assassin snails for every 30 gallons and your assassin snails will get rid of the problem for you.

Decor Fish

But seriously now, what tank would be complete without some amazing contrasting colors swimming around in your lush planted tank. Here are some of my favorite you should look into:

  • Denison Barb (aka Rose Line Tetra / Sahyadria denisonii) – These amazing fish love to school and their red strip contrasts the green in our tanks well. Watch out though, they can get up to 6-8 inches easily and love to swim. So I would not recommend them for tanks lower than 30 gals.

  • Boesemani Rainbow (aka Rainbow Fish / Melanotaenia boesemani) – These fish get their name from their amazing rainbow coloring. Again these guys will school together and love to put on a show. These fish can also get bigger, like up to 4-6 inches when mature.

  • Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) – Neon tetra, or even Cardinal Tetras, are great schooling fish which stay really little. Some hobbyist have tanks with just 50-60 of these guys swimming around. Again, their reds contrast well with the greens in out tank, and under certain light the seem to have a glowing appearance to them.

  • Angel Fish (Pterophyllum) – These majestic beauties come in all sorts of silvers, yellows and black colorings, however, they can get quite big and when they do they can be aggressive towards smaller fish. This can be a problem because you get the when they are all small and cute, but then they grow up and start eating other fish. These are best kept with other Angelfish, or bottom dwellers and they will take cover in lower plant cover.

  • Discus Fish (Symphysodon) – This is the only fish I would recommend out of Chichlid family. I have heard that they are not a fan of high light and also require softer water paraments. They can grow up to 9 inches in diameter, can live up to ten years and tend to be aggressive to smaller fish. The reason they ended up on the list is they are amazingly beautiful and when they have their own larger planted aquarium with just Discus, it has an amazing esthetic.

Wife’s honorable mentions:

  • Crawfish

  • Dwarf African Frogs

  • Baja Shark

  • Redfin Shark

  • Tiger Barb -  These spaztastic fish are quite enteric darting around the tank during feeding time. They come in bright warm color, have markings similar to a tiger, and stay relatively small in smaller tanks. They make great additions to any tank size.

Overall, I would suggest that you stay away from aggressive fish. An angelfish that gets too large can go around eating your other precious fish. Also think about the size of how big the fish will get. Smaller fish give you aquascape a grander scale. Most fish will start out pretty small, but can grow to be 5-8x larger than when you first got them. So just makes sure you know what a full-grown version of your baby fish is going to look like.

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