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Hi, I’m David. After just a couple of months of working with NT Labs, I have already been inspired to keep my first fish: a betta. Keeping and caring for Benny (yes, I have named him) was an entirely new process for me, and it was quite intimidating, but some time has passed now, and I believe that I have learnt enough to pass on a little bit of knowledge to you. In this article, I will guide you through the setup of your betta’s aquarium, explain some technical stuff, and show you the correct way to add fish into your aquarium (whilst this article is based on my experience with a betta fish, the steps taken can apply to all freshwater fish). 

So, let’s begin…


Like dogs and cats, all fish species are different, requiring different: living conditions, tank mates, etc. When your fish’s surroundings reflect these differences, your fish will flourish. A bit of research into each of the following conditions could make a wealth of difference to your fish’s wellbeing:

  • Temperature
  • Hardscape textures/materials (do your fish need somewhere to hide?)
  • Plants
  • Tank mates (when keeping multiple fish or fish that cannot be kept alone)
  • Filter type (external/internal filter, adjustable flow etc)
  • Light levels (make sure to keep watch of this as too much light can cause a spread of algae)
  • Algae eaters (most tanks will need some)

Male betta fish can be very aggressive, and their long, flowing fins can easily be snagged by sharp textured materials, causing injury. Therefore, it was necessary for me to find suitable tank mates, and lots of soft materials to fill the tank with. I chose shrimp, and lots of big leafed plants.


Once you have decided on your fish and the conditions that it will need, it is time to decide on your style. There are so many styles of aquascaping out there that it can be difficult to know which style you want/which you are capable of as a beginner. In the NT Labs office, we have four different styles of scape: a nature scape, a biotope scape, a jungle scape, and an Iwagumi scape. You can watch the tutorials for how we created these on our YouTube page, which should provide you with some inspiration:

The nature scape and the biotope scape were completed by more experienced hobbyists, but the jungle scape and the Iwagumi scape were both completed by beginners. These two scapes are definitely a realistic source of inspiration for someone new to the hobby. More specifically, the jungle scape is perfect for a betta fish.


When aquascaping, starting from the bottom and working your way up is the way to go. 

I found that using a thin layer of aquarium substrate on the bottom of my tank and another layer of aquarium soil above that was the best foundation for me. The substrate on the bottom acted as a soil for the plants’ roots whilst the soil on top stopped ammonia from the substrate seeping into the aquarium water. Ammonia outbreaks can be very dangerous for your fish, so I’d recommend checking that you have the substrate and the soil the right way around.

On top of the soil will be your hardscape materials. Figuring out the composition that you want is one of the more exciting parts of the process, but it can also be one of the more frustrating. Be prepared to change the composition of your hardscape until you like it… and this could take a while… (It is also worth noting here that wood will need to be soaked prior to scaping until it is wet through. This will ensure that it doesn’t float when the time comes to add it to the water.)

Once your hardscape composition is decided, it is time to begin planting! Most aquarium plants will need to be planted firmly into the soil. A good way to do this is a ‘stab-and-wiggle’ technique where you grab the roots of the plant with your tweezers, stab it through the soil, wiggle it around in the substrate, and bury it with more soil. Other plants, called epiphytes, do not require planting. They can simply be attached to hardscape materials with glue or string. A quick google search of your plants’ name will tell you whether it is an epiphyte or not.

Your aquascape is now ready to be filled with water – slowly. Syphoning the water through some airline tubing (you can find airline tubing from your local aquatic store) will slow the flow down to a much kinder pace that doesn’t uproot any plants or affect the hardscape. If you need to, you can even make the drip slower by tying a knot into it. 

You must also make sure that any water that goes in to the aquarium is dechlorinated. You can use NT Labs Tap Water Safe for this.


Once you have set up your tank, the rest of the work is down to your filter in its cycling process. If you are unfamiliar with the filter cycling process in aquariums, I will explain it in a nut shell:

The water chemistry of the aquarium takes a while to balance itself out. It begins as uninhabitable for fish, and over 2-3 weeks (usually), it will become habitable. This balancing out of the water chemistry is what we refer to as the cycling process, which you can kick-start by dosing your aquarium with the beneficial bacteria of NT Labs Filter Starter

To ensure that the aquarium filter is cycling correctly, you can use a test kit to test your water chemistry. The NT Labs Aquarium Lab Multi-Test Kit will test all of the essential water parameters (Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, pH, GH and KH) in just 10 minutes, and it has extremely accurate results. When the results from your tests match the results on the test kit’s packaging, your filter has cycled and the water is safe for your fish.

For reference, your cycling process should look like this: your Ammonia readings will spike, then, as they decrease, your Nitrite will spike, followed by a decrease in Nitrite and an increase in Nitrate. The entire process should finish with a decrease in Nitrate and all of the parameters evening themselves out.

To find out more about this filter cycling process, also known as the Nitrogen cycle, click here.


It is important for such small, sensitive animals like fish to be introduced to their new homes properly. Here are a few simple steps for the safe introduction of any freshwater fish, including bettas, to an aquarium:

  1. Add NT Labs Filter Starter. This will prepare your filter for an increase in bioload (living organisms in your aquarium) by boosting the levels of beneficial bacteria.
  2. Turn off aquarium lights to avoid stress.
  3. Float your fish whilst still in the bag for 10 minutes, allowing them to acclimatise to the water temperature.
  4. Cut open the top of the bag and fold it in on itself so that it floats. Then, periodically add half a cup of aquarium water to the bag every 10 minutes, allowing your fish more time to acclimatise to their new water quality parameters.
  5. Once the bag is approximately half aquarium water, half water from the fish’s bag, gently release your fish into the aquarium water. You can do this in one of two ways, either: gently pour the whole bag into the tank from water level, or net the fish out of the bag and gently release them into the water. We recommend the latter method. It will prevent water contamination.
  6. Keep your aquarium light switched off for an additional 10 minutes so that the fish are not disturbed straight away. NOTE: Whilst your fish settle in, make sure to observe them and eliminate any issues. Potential issues include: continued erratic swimming, bullying by other fish, or loss of equilibrium (fish being upside down or leaning to one side).
  7. After 2-3 hours, feed your fish their preferred NT Labs Pro-f food.

These instructions have been taken from our YouTube video on the same topic, click here


And voila! You have successfully set up a welcoming and stimulating environment for your fish. Here is a few pictures of my betta, Benny, settling in to his new home. He loves it.

Hopefully this article has helped you to understand how to set up and aquascape a tank for your first betta fish. If you follow this guidance, or one of our tutorials, make sure to show us on our Instagram page: @NTLabs_Official. We would love to see your results! 

Tagged in: Indoor

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