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6 Tips for Setting Up a New Fish Tank

55 Gallon Aquarium Fish Tank Ensemble

1. Maintain Balance Before Adding Fish to a New Aquarium

Once you've set up your new tank, you'll probably be anxious to fill it with fish, and that's natural. But it's important to be patient and go slowly. Remember that an aquarium is a living system, and it takes time to establish the balance that will keep its inhabitants thriving. Introduce just a few fish at first and wait a week or two before adding more to give the essential bacteria that filter the water time to grow. Test your aquarium water for ammonia and nitrite, and only add more fish if the levels are zero.

Not sure how to test and maintain the water quality of your freshwater aquarium? Check out our blog on The Nitrogen Cycle & Optimal Water Chemistry.

2. Decorate Your Aquarium for the Fish

Decorating your aquarium helps your fish feel at home, and it's fun too! Some fish like open spaces to swim, while others need cover to relax and put on their best colors. Do research to find out what type of habitat your fish like and decorate your aquarium accordingly. The first fish to inhabit the aquarium will claim the best spots, so add decorations gradually with each new fish purchase, to give the newcomers a place of their own.

3. Don't Worry if Your Fish Hide at First

Your first fish may hide a lot. Don't worry, that's normal. Being caught in a net at the store, placed in a bag and ending up in a new place tends to be scary for most fish. Make sure there are enough decorations in the aquarium to make them feel safe. Another reason fish hide is that when they don't see other fish swimming around, they think there's a predator lurking about. Don't panic, as you add more fish and decorations, they'll come out!

4. Aquarium Lighting Should Be Used to Create a Day and Night Cycle

Your fish need to rest! Put your aquarium light on a regular on/off cycle to give your fish some down-time and prevent unsightly algae growth. If your light doesn't have a built-in timer (many do nowadays), a standard light timer from the hardware store will do just fine! Planted aquariums need 10 to 12 hours of light, while non-planted tanks do best with 6 to 8 hours.

5. Clean Your Aquarium Regularly, Just Not Right After Setup

Your aquarium will need regular cleaning eventually, but not right away. It's best to allow it to settle in and find its balance during the first few weeks. Avoid disturbing the gravel during water changes for the first month or so, as this may disrupt the beneficial bacteria that are trying to get established. The same applies to your filter – gently rinse hang-on filter cartridges if they need it, but otherwise try not to disturb filter media and do not change it for the first few weeks.

6. Do Your Research Before Buying More Fish

It can be hard to remember what types of fish you have, so keep a list of fish you've purchased and bring it along when you go shopping for new ones. Your local aquarium expert can help you select compatible tankmates. Remember, schooling fish are happiest in groups so it's best to buy them in groups of 5 or more. Other species may prefer to be in pairs, trios or by themselves. Always ask about this, as well as how big they get and what type of food they eat.  Wait several weeks to add scavengers, as a brand-new aquarium may not offer them enough scraps to forage on.

Aquarium keeping is an enjoyable and rewarding activity. Setting up a new aquarium isn't difficult, but for long-term success it's important to go slowly, be patient and research all fish and equipment before purchasing.

You can get a jump on your fish research by reading our care sheets.

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