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my 9.5g pond style tank - creating a sustainable houseplant propagation tank

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My 9.5 gallon household plant experiment

My apologies for this very image heavy thread but I like taking pictures of my tanks and I have no where else to share them. Sorry.


Photo taken March 15, 2022

Hey all! It has been quite a while since I've been active on here. Life got busy and I kind of took a passive break from the hobby where I was sustaining my existing tanks but not really much else. I was inspired last year to make a new build and I documented my journey. The tank itself I bought a couple years ago and it had been sitting unused in its original shipping box. My ultimate goal was to only use supplies I already had. Sorry in advance to what is going to be a very long post but I've got months of content to share at once. Most photos are taken on my phone and are questionable but I did try to take some with my camera as well so quality is kind of all over the place.

If anyone here happens to remember me somehow then you know that I love plants and I love combining my love of houseplants with my love of aquariums. This build is no different.


Before I go into detail there are a few problems that I have been having with the tank. They're "good" problems but problems still. I'll go into more detail on how I've been trying to solve them but the biggest is that the large amounts of plants are just stripping the water of its minerals and nutrients. Also tannins. I always forget about tannins.


Tank Specs

Size: 9.5g  17.7"Lx11"Wx11.8"H

Filtration: water pumped over a log through plants, basically just plants

Heat: more temperate, it ranges from 72-77F

Stocking: initially I was open to anything that could handle sub 77F temps


Tank Build

October 13, 2021

I knew that I wanted a lot of emersed growth so I could grow cuttings from my houseplant collection out of it to root. I set up the driftwood in a way that would allow me to set up a small pump to pump water over the wood as the form of filtration. My ultimate goal was to have the plants growing on this driftwood to filter the water.



I got lucky that they all kinda fit together and there was one pretty wide/broad pieces that already had a hole perfect for a water fall.


For the substrate I used a mix of eco-complete, fluorite, safe-t-sorb (already seeded from a different tank), and fluval stratum. I basically threw a bunch of extra substrates I had together but I wanted a courser, more natural looking blend that could absorb nutrients from the water well.


I used some seiryu stone I had to add some dimension and help secure the driftwood.

Below are my notes screenshots where I drew my plan. I love using this on my phone since I can quickly snap a photo and mark it up to help myself visualize what I want the outcome to be. The mister ended up not working, the plant growth and moss covered it up too much and I kinda can't access underneath the driftwood anymore to adjust it (or the pump, also a future problem for me).

IMG_2615.jpg.9a8497d14c8fc93d2b6210ac7f354f54.jpg IMG_2614.jpg.f34e69873f9071bbabcb59f1b7451ed4.jpg


I used the rocks to hide the small pump underneath the driftwood and I added some java moss to the opening to help angle the water flow correctly. My hope was that the moss would attach to the driftwood and I can use that as the base to grow plants off of. You can see that there is very good flow across the length of the wood and it pours off in two spots (this is foreshadowing to some future problems once this moss did attach itself).


The is a day after I first filled it and yes, there are tannins. Now I did not want this to become a black water tank, at all, but it happened. Smart me would have taken it apart and boiled the driftwood but I was lazy and figured it would eventually go away. It did not. I now have another black water tank.

I am using poth-o-carry, i personally like them and it's an easy way to plop cuttings into the tank. I ended up adding a third one later on.



October 18, 2021

I added my first batch of plants and I am letting you all know that the dwarf papyrus, rabbit foot fern and holy basil eventually did not make it. The papyrus did well until I cut it back and it never recovered. The holy basil crisped up pretty quickly, I should have stuck with a standard variety but I like experimenting. The rabbit foot fern was already on its way out (clearance bin from a big box store, love experimenting with those since its only a couple bucks if it doesn't work) and me shoving it in moss and a higher humidity environment was a hail mary that did not work.


My other mistake that didn't really become apparent was that I really should have potted that big elephant ear somehow to contain the roots. I've grown a lot of different alo/colocasias and I really should have known better but I thought it would be alright.


I did add some more moss to the driftwood. it's a mix of java, subwassertang, and riccia flutens. 



October 20, 2021

I decided to add a few cuttings I took of some pilea glauca "aquamarine", tradescantia zebrina, and a few others. RIP to the pilea, it did not die but you never see it cause it's hidden under everything. The zebrina took over the driftwood naturally.



I also shoved some baby elephant ear bulbs I took from my outdoor plants and shoved them into the moss. This actually has been working long term with keeping the roots more contained and the leaves smaller and more manageable.


November 25, 2021

Over a month later and the zebrina is starting to form a nice cover. Take note of the sad looking moss, once it converts it really looks cool. Lots of melt back and such from the plants which is to be expected as well, there will always be a period of ugly before the plants adjust. 


I also wanted to highlight this publyx splash, you will see it in recent photos and it has grown. This was a clipping from an old plant my mum got rid of a while ago. It sat in a jar of water for a long time not really growing.


The elephant ear bulb threw some leaves out. I also added a snake plant cutting to root, some aloe cuttings, various pothos cuttings, and a good sized air plant. This was when I decided to start throwing different cuttings in to see which thrived and which didn't do too well.


Elephant ear roots when they're not planted and are forced to only get nutrients from the water. Still a lot but much more manageable.


The pilea flowered, given that it has only been a month since it was a fresh cutting that's kinda impressive in my opinion. It still regularly flowers for me alongside the zebrina.


The tank also looked bare inside for me so I ended up taking a medusa statue I had in a different tank and moving it to this one. This is my favorite addition and has had the unplanned effect of the statue slowly appearing out of the water as the water evaporates.


Yes, the basil is gone. It got crispy within a couple weeks and I ended up pulling it. The papyrus is still doing very well and this might be the last time the pretty pilea is that visible. 

December 6, 2021

The tank is not this dark in person and you can still see the green plants inside but the dramatic lighting difference means cameras make it dark.


The tank is not this dark in person and you can still see the green plants inside but the dramatic lighting difference means cameras make it dark.



December 13, 2021

Up until now I only had snails in the tank. I was asked to take in a couple pea puffers so I decided to make them the inhabitants. The issue is that I very rarely saw them, they were very shy and with how dark the tank is they may as well have not been there. This photo also gives a nice glimpse into my elephant ear root problem. In a way the black water aspect of the tank makes the roots fit in much better with the overall vibe but I gave up on trimming them. I think trimming them encouraged them to grow even more.

Rare glimpse of one of the puffers, I later add more fish which really helped bring them out. Also so sorry about the quality, it was dark and my phone just butchered the photo (I did have to do like 10x zoom too). Those roots are everywhere.





December 15, 2021

The fateful day I noticed mealies on the elephant ears, the dwarf papyrus, and some others. The cuttings that had obvious mealies were removed but my only option with the papyrus was to chop it down, so I did. It unfortunately never recovered from this but I was able to get the mealies under control. The elephant ears were all chopped down as well but that honestly does nothing to slow elephant ears down.



December 29, 2021

Full tank shot as of now. The elephant ears pushed out new leaves quickly and everything else is settling in nicely. The moss is still in the process of converting.

This site keeps auto rotating my vertical photos randomly and I can't figure out how to fix it. Sorry.



January 5, 2022

New year means adding some more cuttings. I went around my plant room and clipped whatever I thought would adjust well. I also added some more riccia to the driftwood.



March 16, 2022

I ended up adding more cuttings over the last couple of months but I didn't really take photos. I wanted to share a photo drop of how it is looking now before I go into the problems I am having and how I plan to fix them.

Since January I did end up adding quite a few fish in and this has made the puffers more comfortable. I initially added in 5 celestial pearl danios someone rehomed to me alongside some guppy/endler hybrids and some baby platies. This last saturday I impulse bought a trio of gardneri killis at a local swap event that I also added. I'm hoping they help control the fry population a bit as well since these are breeding out of control.

The second purpose of adding way more fish in was because I could not keep up with fertilizing this tank. The two puffers and hundreds of snails were not enough and I was dosing easy green constantly. Hopefully the large bioload helps a little and it seems to be working well.


I picked up this painting from a local artist and it felt like a good place to hang it.


I am really happy that I added that statue in, before I would have to stay on top of evaporation since it made it look somewhat unflattering but now you can watch the statue slowly reveal itself which is fun.


I have a very strong full spectrum light hanging for the emersed growth and it is blasting this tank. The statue has grown a nice layer of algae and the plants are thriving under it. 


corner view of the tank, you can see just how dense all of the growth is.


The publyx from before, you can see it extended in the back as well from where I trimmed this original cutting into two.


I've been trying to add different colors and textures to the tank.


This is the back of the tank, I never removed the papyrus stumps in the hope that maybe they'll come back. Their roots were also pretty big so pulling them is gonna make a massive mess in the tank.


That snake plant cutting has not only rooted but made a baby of its own!


I took off the air plant to show the plants hidden behind.


I know I keep harping about this statue but it may be my favorite tank decoration I've had and I feel like this tank was made for it. The previous tank it was in I ended up rehauling as well. You can see the converted moss on the right piece of driftwood which I think adds a really cool touch aesthetically and functionally.


All of the moss as converted on the main dirftwood.



A small glimpse into the ever growing livebearer colony. There has to be 30+ of them at this point + lots of new fry swimming on top yet my nitrates barely show on the strips so I still have to dose easy green 2-3x a week.


Some plant highlights.








I will be hiding that cord somehow.



I will be posting a comment with my troubleshooting, problems, etc. I took notes for a while where I was testing marine reef salt to help buffer the water and I'll type them all out tonight. 


As always I'd love to hear feedback, comments, etc. If you have any questions I can try to answer them as well. I hope you all enjoyed my ongoing journey and I really will try to be more active on here.

Edited by yannachka
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  • 5 months later...
On 3/16/2022 at 8:03 PM, yannachka said:


I am using poth-o-carry, i personally like them and it's an easy way to plop cuttings into the tank. I ended up adding a third one later on.




What an amazing write-up!  I'm glad I stumbled upon it. 😄 Just an amazing canopy. 

Edited by Matt_AKA_Poth-O-Carry
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