5 Gallon Shrimp Tank Tutorial (Live Plants & Guppies)

by Kevin

Red cherry shrimp in a planted aquarium.

How To Set Up a 5 Gallon Planted Shrimp Tank

A 5 gallon aquarium is the ideal size for a freshwater shrimp tank.

This article will show you how to set up your own planted shrimp tank in 12 easy steps.

For those who enjoy watching video tutorials, see below:

And for those who prefer written tutorials, keep reading.

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Alright, let’s get into it.

Step 1: Select Your Tank

Example of a 5 gallon rimless, low-iron aquarium.

For this build, I chose a 5 gallon tall rimless, low-iron aquarium.

The specific measurements are 9.8 X 9.8 X 11.8 inches (25 X 25 X 30 cm), which means this tank is taller than it is wide or long.

Rimless, low-iron tanks are my preferred type of tank for small aquarium aquascapes.

They allow you to view your shrimp and tropical fish through impressively clear glass.

After picking out your tank, make sure you have a stand or sturdy side table for it to sit on.

Because rimless tanks do not have plastic supports, or “rims,” it’s a good idea to place a leveling mat under your tank to distribute pressure.

For this particular build, I decided to skip the leveling mat and instead use bamboo display stand, which comes with a light that attaches to the board.

This stand, with the attached light, is perfect for anyone looking for an elegant and convenient way to display a small tank.

Non-slip rubber bumpers are provided and are essential for preventing the board from slipping or sliding off whatever surface it is on.

Also, the light included with the display board is excellent.

I’ve been using it for a couple months and I like its intensity, and the plants are thriving.

Step 2: Fill an Aquarium Filter Bag With Substrate

Filling an aquarium filter bag with substrate.

The purpose of the filter bag is to elevate the substrate in the back of the tank, adding depth and visual appeal.

A sloping hill in the back of an aquarium provides far more visual interest than a flat tank bottom.

The substrate inside the filter bag also provides an ideal place for beneficial bacteria to colonize.

I often fill my filter bags with Eco Complete Substrate, but almost any aquarium safe gravel or pebbles will work.

Step 3: Position the Filter Bag and Cover It

Covering aquarium filter bag with substrate.

Place your filter bag near the back of the back of the tank.

Leave about an inch between the back of the tank and the substrate-filled filter bag.

I used the entire 10 pound bag of Eco Complete to cover my filter bag and create a small hill.

I chose to stick with one type of substrate for this build, but mixing in another substrate (like Fluval Stratum) also works well, and will give the tank a slightly different look.

If you want to learn more about other types of substrates, and if they are appropriate for planted tanks, check on my article on the best substrates for planted tanks.

Step 4: Select Your Spider Wood

Aquarium spider wood.

Spider Wood is an aquarium safe driftwood with leg-like branches that look like…spider legs (use your imagination).

A quality piece of Spider Wood normally has 3+ branches, or legs, while a basic piece of sider wood looks a small stick.

For a planted 5 gallon, I recommend finding 2-4 pieces of quality Spider Wood, but the exact number of pieces you need depends on size and how you plan position them.

Once you have your Spider Wood picked out, I strongly recommend boiling each piece.

Boiling not only cleans the wood, but also helps it sink.

Spider Wood is notorious for floating once water is added to the tank (I’ve experienced this a number of times).

To make sure your wood actually sinks after boiling it, consider placing it in a bowl or bucket of water.

Step 5: Position Your Spider Wood

Positioning spider wood in an aquarium.

Place your Spider Wood toward the back of the tank, but leave some room between the wood and the back of the tank.

Having the wood positioned on top of the hill, with a couple pieces placed downslope, gives a natural look. But everyone has their own preferences, so experiment with different placements and take some pictures, which you can review later before making a final decision.

Often removing a piece of wood helps the the design come together more than adding another piece (I have a tendency to crowd my planted tanks).

Step 6: Add Aquatic Plants

Adding aquatic plants to an aquarium.

For this beginner-friendly planted shrimp tank, I chose 3 of the easiest aquatic plants to keep alive.

1)  Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

2) Anubias

3) Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala)

Java Ferns have tall pointy leaves, making them an ideal background plant in a 5 gallon aquarium.

The great thing about Java Ferns is that they are rhizome plants, and do not need to be rooted in substrate.

They can be left attached to wood with thread, fishing line, or superglue gel.

Another option is to tuck the roots and rhizome of the Java Ferns in between your spider wood, which is what I did for this setup.

Anubias are also rhizome plants, and complement the Java Fern’s tall leaves with thick, dark green leaves.

I also used Brazilian Pennywort for this setup.

The round leaves of the Pennywort contrast perfectly with the other two rhizome plants, adding visual appeal to the tank.

Because Brazilian Pennywort is a stem plant that needs its roots secured in substrate, it is less forgiving than Java Fern or Anubias, but it still a hardy, low maintenance aquatic plant.

One note about buying aquarium plants. If you are sourcing your plants from large chain pet stores, or ones that do not specialize in aquariums, be aware of exactly which plants your are buying.

Sadly, many of these place sell non-aquatic plants (like lucky bamboo, peacock fern, and spider plant), which the unsuspecting aquarist places in their tank and watches helplessly as the plants turns brown and dies.  

Step 7: Add a Heater and/or Filter

A heater and sponge filter for a 5 gallon tank.

In general, I recommend adding a heater to any aquarium intended for tropical fish or invertebrates.

If you happen to live in a tropical climate, a heater may not be necessary, but for me, a heater is needed.

For this planted tank, I used an Eheim Jager heater.

While not especially small, this heater is more reliable than many of the mini heaters available online.

As for aquarium filters, I prefer sponge filters for small tanks, especially tanks with shrimp or other tiny inhabitants.

Does this tank need a filter?

This tank could easily be set up as a “no filter” tank, with frequent water changes helping to remove the waste that the filter would normally help process.

But, this build was designed to be simple and low-maintenance, so I added a small sponge filter.

The added benefit of a sponge filter is that aquarium shrimp like to sit on it and pick little pieces of debris and algae off it, it’s like a buffet for them.

Step 8: Place A Piece Of Plastic Over Your Wood & Plants

Plastic to protect plants and wood from being dislodged in an aquarium.

This step may seem trivial, but placing plastic over your plants and spider wood will help prevent them from getting dislodged when you add water.

Bubble wrap works well, but thicker plastic bags also work.

Step 9: Add Water

Filling an aquarium with water.

Slowly pour water the plastic protecting the contents of your aquarium.

Once your tank is nearly full, remove the plastic and secure any wood that has floated to the surface and replant any loose plants.

Step 10: Let Your Tank Cycle

Example of a cycling planted tank.

Cycling your tank means letting it sit long enough for nitrifying bacteria to establish a sufficiently large colony.

Once the nitrifying bacteria are settled, they will help remove the harmful chemicals produced by fish waste, breaking it down into less harmful substances.

Check out my article on the nitrogen cycle if you want to learn more about cycling your aquarium.

Step 11: Add Fish

Red Cap Kohaku guppies in a planted tank.

For my shrimp tank, I chose to add 4 male Red Cap Kohaku guppies.

Guppies make great tank mates for freshwater shrimp because they are peaceful (but they may nip at your shrimp out of curiosity).

Other excellent tank mates for shrimp include algae eaters like Otocinclus and Nerite Snails.

Keeping a shrimp only tank is also a great option, although I like keeping fish with my shrimp to add liveliness to the middle of the tank (shrimp like to stay on the bottom).

What ever fish you decide to add to your shrimp tank, make sure your tank is cycled before adding them, and acclimate them to the temperature and water parameters before releasing them into your aquarium.

Step 12: Add Shrimp

Adding cherry shrimp to a planted tank.

Adding shrimp to your tank is about as easy as adding fish.

Again, make sure your tank is fully cycled (no ammonia or nitrites, and low nitrates).

Let your shrimp acclimate to your tank water by floating them in your tank or using the drip method.

To prevent stress to your shrimp, consider keeping your aquarium light off when you release them into the tank.


Setting up a planted tank for freshwater shrimp tank can be intimidating, but the steps are no different than setting up a tank for tropical fish, like guppies.

If you follow the steps outlines above, and maintain your tank with frequent water changes, a lively and healthy tank is easily achieved.

If you want to learn more about freshwater shrimp, check out my article on beginner freshwater shrimp.

And, if you want to see another shrimp tank setup, check out my article on aquascaping a 2.5 gallon jar for cherry shrimp.

If you are new to planted aquariums, check out my planted tank guide.

Finally, if you want to learn more about which fish are best kept in a 5 gallon tank, check out my article on the best fish for a 5 gallon tank.

As always, stay zen.