How To Setup A Walstad Method Cherry Shrimp Breeding Tank!

As the popularity of Walstad Method aquariums and cherry shrimp keeping continues to rise, I wanted to publish this step-by-step tutorial to help you quickly and easily set up your own Walstad cherry shrimp breeding tank.

This tank relies on fast-growing stem and floating plants for natural filtration, ensuring safe and stable water parameters for your shrimp.

These plants also offer grazing areas for your cherry shrimp to feed and provide hiding spots for baby shrimp, which increases their survival rates.

Supplies

Supplies For A Walstad Cherry Shrimp Tank
Supplies For A Walstad Cherry Shrimp Tank

You can substitute many of these supplies with whatever you have on hand, and the best part is that most of these items are cheap and easy to find.

I’m using a 25-liter (6.6 US gallon) tank, but this method works well with most popular aquarium sizes.

I will use cheap topsoil for the nutrient layer, a cheap sand/gravel mix for the capping layer, and the cheapest tank accessories I can find.

When it comes to plants, I will use:

  • Rotala Rotundifolia
  • Becopa Caroliniana
  • Eleocharis Parvula
  • Christmas Moss
  • Salvinia Auriculata

Rotala Rotundifolia consistently does well in my tap water and grows fast enough to maintain safe and stable water parameters for my shrimp.

If you don’t have Rotala Rotundifolia, other suitable fast-growing stem plants include Limnophila Sessiliflora, Hygrophila Polysperma, and Pearlweed.

Salvinia Auriculata is a great floating plant that works well in all of my aquariums but it also helps to maintain water parameters.

If you don’t have Salvinia, other plants like Red Root Floaters or Duckweed can also work well.

Testing The Hardscape

Testing The Hardscape
Testing The Hardscape

I prefer to test a few different hardscape layouts while the tank is still empty.

This can help identify any potential issues you might encounter later and only takes a few minutes.

Driftwood and rocks are the two most common types of hardscape, but I will also be using some stainless steel grids in this tank but more on that later.

The driftwood is just two pieces of cheap bogwood left over from another tank, and I won’t be using any rocks for this setup.

Once you find something you like, you can move on to the next stage of the tank setup.

Adding The Substrate

Top Soil
Topsoil

Walstad method tanks use cheap topsoil as the nutrient-rich layer of substrate, which is then capped with cheap sand or gravel.

The topsoil supplies essential nutrients for plant growth, while the sand or gravel cap locks these nutrients in and prevents any spikes in water parameters that could harm your shrimp.

The capping layer also prevents the soil from floating around in your aquarium, keeping everything neat and tidy.

Sieving The Soil
Sieving The Soil

Sieving the soil is optional but highly recommended, as it removes debris from the topsoil before adding it to your shrimp tank.

Although sieving the soil is optional, it is highly recommended because it removes debris from the topsoil before adding it to your shrimp tank.

Adding Soil To The Tank
Adding Soil To The Tank

I plan to use moss in the mid and foreground, which will feed directly from the tank’s water column. Therefore, I only need to add soil to the background where my stem plants will grow.

I left the hardscape in the tank for this stage so I had a rough idea of where my soil needed to go.

Aim for a 1-inch layer of soil in the areas you plan to plant to ensure your plants get all the nutrients they need.

Some people cover the entire base of the tank with soil, even in areas without plants, but this can cause problems in certain setups. I prefer to add soil to the areas where root-feeding plants will be placed.

Adding The Capping Layer
Adding The Capping Layer

Once I had added the soil, I removed the hardscape and added the capping layer.

I used a mixture of sand and gravel because it was cheap. However, in my other Walstad tanks, I have used various types of sand, fine gravel, and even some coarse gravel.

They have all worked well but you have to add a capping layer that is 1 inch deep.

It’s important to completely cover the topsoil with your capping layer to lock in the nutrients and prevent direct contact with the water column.

Adding A Back Film
Adding A Back Film

Adding a background film is optional, but if you choose to use one, install it at the beginning of this stage before adding the soil.

I don’t use expensive aquascaping backgrounds; instead, I use cheap privacy films for windows and doors from Amazon. They work perfectly well and are usually about half the price.

Removing Trapped Air

Removing Trapped Air
Removing Trapped Air

At this stage, I like to add a small amount of water to the tank. This makes planting easier and helps remove any trapped air from the substrate.

You’ll see air bubbles rising from the substrate, indicating that the trapped air is being released.

Some people prefer to leave their tank overnight before proceeding to the next stage, I find that most of the trapped air typically escapes from the substrate within an hour or two.

Because of this, I usually spend time working on the hardscape or preparing the plants before continuing with the tank setup.

Prepping The Hardscape

Prepping The Hardscape
Prepping The Hardscape

Moss mats are quick, easy, and cheap to make. In most cases, the moss will grow within months, providing your shrimp with grazing and hiding spots.

I purchase stainless steel grids from Amazon and add some moss to them. After spreading a thin, even layer of moss on the grid, I secure it by wrapping thread around it multiple times.

Java moss, Taiwan moss, and Christmas moss all work well, but I usually prefer Taiwan moss or Christmas moss for their appearance over Java moss.

Adding Moss To The Hardscape
Adding Moss To The Hardscape

I hold some moss against the driftwood and wrap thread around it to secure the moss in place, then add the driftwood to the tank.

Shrimp love grazing on moss, making it a valuable addition to any shrimp tank, especially if you’re looking to breed them.

Adding The Plants

Adding The Plants
Adding The Plants

Walstad method shrimp tanks rely on plants for natural filtration, so selecting the right plants is essential.

I typically categorize my plants into two groups: primary plants that aid in filtration and secondary plants that are decorative or used for grazing.

The primary plants for this tank are Rotala Rotundifolia and Salvinia Auriculata, while the secondary plants are Bacopa Caroliniana, Eleocharis Parvula, and Christmas Moss.

Adding The Eleocharis
Adding The Eleocharis

I plant the Eleocharis Parvula in the substrate directly behind my driftwood to complete the midground of the aquarium.

Shrimp seem to enjoy grazing on the algae and biofilm that grows on Eleocharis and I constantly see cherry shrimp on it in my other aquariums.

This is an optional plant and you can replace it with other plants if needed.

Adding The Bacopa Caroliniana
Adding The Bacopa Caroliniana

Next, I add the Bacopa Caroliniana to the tank, placing two clumps on either side of the background.

I am adding Bacopa Caroliniana to the tank as a test to see how it performs in a dirted setup. You can skip this plant and add more Rotala Rotundifolia if you prefer.

Bacopa Caroliniana is a very slow-growing stem plant that offers minimal benefits for natural water purification. Additionally, I rarely see shrimp grazing on it in my other tanks.

Adding The Rotala Rotundifolia
Adding The Rotala Rotundifolia

Finally, I plant the Rotala Rotundifolia at the back of the tank, as it will be the primary plant for natural water purification.

I have used Rotala Rotundifolia in several Walstad method tanks, and it’s consistently performed well.

It grows quickly enough to naturally purify the tank water, particularly in a cherry shrimp tank due to their low bioload, yet not so fast that it requires weekly trimming.

My video below goes over several other plants that work well in Walstad tanks that you can use in this type of tank.

Filling The Tank With Water

Filling The Tank With Water
Filling The Tank With Water

Next, I fill the tank with tap water using a bucket, taking care to avoid disturbing the capping layer of substrate and exposing the topsoil.

At this stage, I strongly recommend adding a dechlorinator product to your water. It will remove chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals, making the water safe for shrimp and beneficial bacteria.

If you live in an area with soft tap water, you may need to add some shrimp-specific salt. Various products are available but aim to get one designed for cherry shrimp (Neocaridina shrimp) that increases kH and gH.

If the gH is too low, the carapace can become too elastic, and if the gH is too high, it can become too tough, preventing the shrimp from molting, often resulting in their death.

I aim for a kH of 3-10 and a gH of 6-10. This ensures a stable pH for the shrimp and provides the necessary minerals for healthy molting.

Adding The Tank Accessories

Adding The Tank Accessories
Adding The Tank Accessories

There are a wide variety of tank accessories available on the market, but I prefer to keep my Walstad method shrimp tanks as low-tech as possible.

Initially, I added a light, a heater, and a cheap USB water pump. However, I eventually removed the heater and water pump, as I didn’t find them necessary.

Heres a quick breakdown of the initial job of each accessory:

  • Aquarium Light – Provide a light source for the plants to photosynthesize and grow.
  • Aquarium Heater – Maintain a stable water temperature for the shrimp in the tank.
  • Water Pump – Provide water flow to gently move nutrients around the tank.

Cherry shrimp (Neocaridina shrimp) generally prefer a temperature range of 65-80°F (18.5-27°C) but can tolerate slightly lower temperatures.

They should easily make it through the winter at room temperature in most homes, so I didn’t see the need to keep a heater in their tank.

Cherry shrimp naturally circulate water as they move, so I decided to remove the water pump as well.

Adding Floating Plants
Adding Floating Plants

Now that the tank is full of water and has accessories, we can add our floating plants.

I’m a huge fan of Salvinia, it grows quickly, helping to naturally purify water and, my shrimp enjoy hanging upside down on it and grazing on the algae and biofilm that grow on it.

Red Root Floaters and Duckweed can also be effective in this type of tank, but I prefer to use Salvinia.

3D Printed Shrimp Shelves
3D Printed Shrimp Shelves

I also decided to get some 3D-printed shrimp shelves from Etsy, although these are optional.

My initial idea was to add moss to the shelves by wrapping thread around it to hold it in place, providing additional grazing space for my shrimp.

Letting The Tank Grow In

Letting The Tank Grow In
Letting The Tank Grow In

Allowing the tank to grow in and cycle is very important, with a recommended waiting period of 4-6 weeks.

This allows the plants to establish themselves and handle the ammonium and nitrate that develop, while also allowing beneficial bacteria colonies to form to manage the ammonia and nitrite.

At this stage, you can add an ammonia solution like Dr. Tim’s Ammonia to help the tank cycle faster, but in my experience, this is not necessary.

The topsoil will release some initial nutrients into the water column, kick-starting the growth of beneficial bacteria and supporting the low bioload of shrimp.

This waiting period also allows algae and biofilm to develop in the tank, providing a food source for your cherry shrimp when you add them.

Water Test Kits
Water Test Kits

If you have the test kits available, I highly recommend testing ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, gH, and kH levels of your aquarium at the end of the waiting period to ensure the water is safe for your shrimp.

I aim for the following ranges:

  • Ammonia – 0ppm
  • Nitrite – 0ppm
  • Nitrate – Less than 10ppm
  • pH – 6.7-8.0
  • gH – 6-10
  • kH – 3-10
  • Water Temperature – 65-80°F (18.5-27°C)

If you don’t have test kits, the beneficial bacteria colonies should manage the ammonia and nitrite, while the live plants will handle the nitrate. However, confirming the other water parameters can be challenging without testing.

Once the tank’s water parameters are safe, it’s finally time to add your shrimp.

Adding Cherry Shrimp

Adding Cherry Shrimp
Adding Cherry Shrimp

I will be adding 50 cherry shrimp to this tank, as I have an established colony in another tank that needs rehoming.

If this is your first cherry shrimp tank, try to add at least 10 shrimp at this point. Adding ten shrimp will give you a good chance of getting at least one male, as female shrimp tend to have better color and are more popular in the pet trade.

Don’t immediately add your cherry shrimp to the tank; they need to be acclimated to the water parameters in their new home.

You can purchase drip tubes on Amazon, but I prefer the pipette method. Place your shrimp in a container with the water they arrived in, then use a pipette to add a few drops of tank water every 10-20 minutes over a period of 3-6 hours.

Cherry Shrimp Grazing
Cherry Shrimp Grazing

It’s normal for some of your shrimp to rapidly swim around the aquarium when initially added to it. Over the coming hours, they should calm down and start grazing on the algae and biofilm in the tank.

In the video below, I share some of my favorite foods to feed my cherry shrimp. I highly recommend target feeding them a small amount of food at least three times per week.

Breeding The Cherry Shrimp

Breeding The Cherry Shrimp
Breeding The Cherry Shrimp

Breeding cherry shrimp is very easy, and the most common issue people face is ending up with a tank full of female cherry shrimp.

A single male can easily breed with all the available females in the tank, but female cherry shrimp tend to produce more eggs when they have protein in their diet.

I like to give my shrimp Fluval Bug Bites as they are high in protein and my shrimp seem to love them.

There is some research into the optimal temperature ranges for shrimp breeding but my cherry shrimp seem to breed constantly regardless of water temperature.

Walstad method tanks have a significant advantage over setups that use filters, as many baby shrimp can get crushed in the impeller of certain popular filter types.

If you don’t have baby shrimp in your tank within 2-3 months, it’s likely due to a lack of male shrimp rather than any other issue.

Try to obtain another 5-10 shrimp, ideally from a breeder who can confirm that you have a couple of males, and add them to your tank.