How To Setup A Planted Betta Fish Tank! (Beginner-Friendly)

Betta fish are more popular than ever and I often see people looking to set up their first planted betta fish tank.

I decided to publish this step-by-step guide on how I recently set up a beginner-friendly planted betta fish tank to try and help as many of my readers as possible.

I have tried to keep everything as budget-friendly and beginner-friendly as possible so everyone can successfully build a betta tank their fish will love.

Quick Summary

  • Tank Size: Minimum 5 US gallons.
  • Substrate: Cheap sand or gravel.
  • Hardscape: Lightweight, porous lava rock.
  • Plants: Easy epiphyte plants like Java Fern, Anubias, Bucephalandra, moss, and floating plants.
  • Accessories: Sponge filter, Fluval T50 heater, Seaoura SR-616 light, lid.
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 72-86°F, pH 6-8, Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, Nitrate <20.

What Makes This Betta Fish Tank Setup Beginner-Friendly?


  • Easy Plants
  • Looks Good
  • Low Maintenance


  • Limited Plant Selection
  • Tanks Often Look Similar
  • No Fast Growing Plants

This betta fish tank setup is beginner-friendly, focusing on easy epiphyte plants, affordable lava rock, cheap lights, and a basic filter.

This approach keeps costs low while providing excellent results, making it ideal for those new to the fish-keeping hobby.

If you’re new to the hobby, I recommend following the method in this article for your first tank.

The Aquarium

My 8 US Gallon Cube Tank
My 8 US Gallon Cube Tank

The optimal tank size for a betta fish is often debated, but I recommend a minimum of 5 US gallons (19 liters).

I will be using an Aquael Shrimp Set 30 as it’s one of the best betta tanks in Europe. It has a volume of 8 US gallons (30 liters), making it an excellent choice for bettas and it includes all the basic accessories you need including a fitting lid to prevent your betta fish from jumping out.

If you are in Europe, I highly recommend it and have a full review of the tank here.

Readers in North America can get the Aqueon 10-gallon rectangle tank for cheap and with a cheap lid, its perfect for betta fish.

Adding Substrate To The Tank

Decorative Substrate
Decorative Substrate

Since this tank only uses epiphyte plants, there’s no need for a nutrient-rich substrate because these plants feed from the water column.

This allows us to use cheap sand or gravel, keeping costs low and offering a variety of substrate color options.

For this betta tank setup, I chose cheap white gravel to contrast with the black lava rock used for the hardscape.

Sloping The Substrate
Sloping The Substrate

I add the gravel to the tank, creating a slope with more gravel toward the rear. Sloping the substrate has two advantages.

From an aquascaping perspective, the higher substrate level at the back creates the illusion of depth, making the tank appear larger.

Practically, the extra gravel at the rear helps disperse the weight of the rocks over a wider area, reducing the risk of the tank glass cracking.

Adding The Hardscape To The Tank

Lava Rock
Lava Rock

Hardscape typically consists of rocks, driftwood, or a combination of both. For this tank build, I will focus on using rocks.

I love using cheap lava rock in my aquariums; I have it in both of my guppy tanks and will likely use it in most of my future setups.

Here are the main advantages of using lava rock in your tank:

  • Lightweight: Lava rock is very lightweight compared to other rocks, reducing the risk of cracking your tank glass over time.
  • Cheap: Most aquascaping stores sell rocks by weight, so the lighter the rock, the more you get for the same price.
  • Porous: Lava rock’s porous nature increases the available surface area for beneficial bacteria, helping to maintain stable water parameters.
  • Inert: Black lava rock is inert, meaning it won’t alter the pH, gH, or kH of your tank water.
Adding Rocks To The Tank
Adding Rocks To The Tank

When placing lava rock in my tank, I always start with the larger pieces at the back and then work my way forward.

This approach is especially useful for tanks with epiphyte plants, as it provides ample anchor points in the rear and midground for your plants.

It also helps you see how much space remains for smaller hardscape pieces as you move forward.

In my experience, it’s much easier to adjust the position of a single large piece of hardscape than many smaller ones, making this method a time-saver.

Choosing The Perfect Plants

Choosing The Right Plants For Your Tank
Choosing The Right Plants For Your Tank

Choosing plants for this betta tank setup is straightforward since we are focusing on epiphyte plants.

We are not using CO2 injection high-power lights so the following plants are perfect:

  • Java Fern
  • Anubias
  • Bucephalandra
  • Moss
  • Floating Plants

I took a trip to my local aquascaping store and these are the specific plants I purchased for this build:

  • Java Fern India Green Gnome
  • Anubias Angustifolia
  • Anubias Coin Leaf
  • Anubias Nana Coin
  • Anubias Petite
  • Bucephalandra Red Scorpio
  • Bucephalandra Sintang
  • Bucephalandra Theia Green
  • Taiwan Moss
  • Salvinia

Adding The Plants To The Tank

Planning The Plant Placement
Planning The Plant Placement

It’s a good idea to arrange your plants in their intended locations to visualize how they will look before gluing them in place.

If your plants didn’t come in pots, you can use small pieces of paper to get a rough idea of where you want everything to go.

I typically try two or three different layouts at this stage before moving on, as most people, including myself, glue their epiphyte plants in place.

My video clip below demonstrates how I anchor my epiphytes onto my hardscape.

Adding Plants To The Tank

Apply a small amount of glue to the roots of the plant rather than the rhizome to avoid problems.

If too much glue gets on the rhizome, it may cause the plant to melt and not grow back.

It’s best to use aquarium-safe glue, but Gorilla Glue Gel can be used with minimal issues as long as you let it cure fully before submerging it in water.

Plants In The Tank
Plants In The Tank

My photograph above shows the current layout for this tank build.

Most of the plants are glued in place, but I wedged some of the Anubias variants between rocks as it was easier.

Hiding Spots In The Tank
Hiding Spots In The Tank

My photograph above shows the two main hiding spots I added to the tank for my betta fish.

The space at the rear of the tank still has clear glass behind it, so the fish may not feel comfortable there.

Fortunately, the cave area in the middle of the tank is surrounded by rocks on all sides, and plant leaves cover most of the area above, making it a good hiding spot.

I highly recommend adding some hiding areas for your betta as they appreciate having a place to retreat.

In my experience, bettas often choose a random leaf to hide under rather than a designated hiding spot, but I still like to ensure there are intentional hiding areas in the tank.

Lids, Lighting, Heating, And Filtration

Tank Accessories
Tank Accessories

A lid, heater, filter, and light are essential accessories for a basic betta fish tank.

My tank comes with most of the necessary items, but the stock heater is not strong enough to maintain the 70°F/26°C water temperature I prefer, so I will upgrade to a Fluval T50.

I’m not a fan of the stock filter either, so as I covered in my article on the best filters for bettas, I will be upgrading to a cheap sponge filter.

Here are some recommendations for the essential accessories for betta tanks:

  • Filter: Cheap sponge filter
  • Heater: Fluval T50
  • Lighting: Seaoura SR-616
  • Lid: Cheap netting

A add the various accessories to my betta fish tank and make sure they all work.

Filling The Tank With Water

Tap Water Conditioner
Tap Water Conditioner

Filling your betta tank with water is usually straightforward in this type of setup, as you don’t have to worry about disturbing the substrate or dislodging plants.

However, there are a couple of potential issues to be aware of:

  1. Floating Lava Rocks: Some lava rocks can trap air, causing them to float. This can be easily fixed by filling your tank in stages, allowing the rocks to soak up water and stay submerged.
  2. Dislodged Plants: Plants wedged into the hardscape may float out of place. If this happens, you can simply reposition the plant once the tank is full.

Following these tips should help you fill your tank without any major issues.

Adding Water To The Tank

When adding water to your betta tank, use a diffuser to reduce the chances of sand or gravel splashing onto the hardscape.

I use a simple siphon and bucket when filling my nano tanks, and my siphon has a diffuser attachment that works perfectly.

If you’re pouring water directly from a bucket, get a cheap colander to pour through. The tiny holes in the colander will disperse the water flow over a wide area, reducing the chances of problems compared to pouring water directly from a bucket.

Once your tank is filled, it’s important to use a dechlorinator to neutralize chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals commonly found in tap water.

Now that my tank is filled with water, I can add the Salvinia, my chosen floating plant and it will quickly propagate and cover the surface.

Adding Salvinia
Adding Salvinia

Cycling Your Betta Tank

Cycling The Betta Tank
Cycling The Betta Tank

Cycling your betta tank before adding your fish is an essential but often overlooked step.

New tanks experience spikes in ammonia and nitrite levels, which can reach toxic levels unsafe for fish. It can take up to six weeks for beneficial bacteria colonies to form in the tank, but this waiting period is crucial for the health and safety of your betta fish.

The fishless cycle involves using a product like Dr. Tim’s ammonia solution to simulate the bioload your betta fish would produce. Follow the instructions on the bottle to correctly dose your tank, allowing beneficial bacteria colonies to develop and safely process the toxins from fish waste.

During the cycling process, I highly recommend using a chemical test kit, as they are more accurate than test strips. Once the beneficial bacteria can process a fresh dose of Dr. Tim’s at 2ppm down to 0ppm ammonia and 0ppm nitrite within 24 hours, it is safe to add your betta fish.

Even after adding your betta, continue to check the water parameters regularly and monitor for any spikes to ensure the tank remains safe.

My table below shows the recommended water parameters for betta fish.

Water Temperature72-86°F (22 – 30°C)
Water FlowLow
Betta Fish Water Parameters


The Complete Betta Fish Tank
The Complete Betta Fish Tank

In conclusion, setting up a beginner-friendly betta fish tank doesn’t have to be daunting or expensive.

By following the step-by-step guidance provided, enthusiasts can create a beautiful, low-maintenance aquatic environment that not only supports the health and happiness of their betta fish but also adds a touch of nature to their space.

The addition of plants and the careful selection of tank accessories ensure a balanced ecosystem, offering an enriching experience for both the fish and the keeper.