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Setting up first viv (45 AGA) got some q's
Hi I'm planning to build my first vivarium... I'd like to use a 45 AGA (tall). I want to have 1) a black foam style background, 2) a waterfall, 3) LOTS of plants. Plan to get 4-6 leucs in there.

I'd like to hear some recommendations regarding the waterfall. What pump can I use? In the past it seems like powerheads (in my old reef) constantly needed to be cleaned or fiddled with. Has this been a problem in other's vivs? What kind of pumps do others use? Do I need a way to access the pump for maintainance?

Also, I'm thinking about separating half of the tank with plexiglass underneath the substrate to allow a dryer area for terrestrial plants. The other half I envision a pool like area. I want it to be inconspicuous tho... (i.e. blends in so you cant see plexiglass). Any suggestions?

How can I plumb the waterfall? I'd like to have a Hose embedded in the background? Has anyone done a similar thing?

What should I do for heat? I live in IA... Winters (especially this one!) can get cold. The house can dip to the low 60s. Will a combo of the lights and a submerged aquarium heater maintain adequate warmth?

Finally I'd like to put lots of plants in there. I'd like to have some driftwood coming out of the background (and/or sides) to give the Viv some 3D appeal and lots of substrates for terrestrial plants (orchids especially). Any suggestions for how to attach these? Lighting suggestions?

I'd really appreciate any tips or suggestions. Also feel free to show pics! They're worth a thousand words!

Matt and Jackie
Hi Matt and Jackie.
Welcome to the forum.

That size tank will be good for a small group of leucomelas. You can create different elevations and layers in the tank and the leucs will utilize most all of the tank.

More often than not trying to separate water with plexiglass is a waste of time.

Once you get the vivarium completed with your lights running, you might be surprised at how warm the tank will get. I doubt you will need to supplement with a heater.

There are a lot of options for attaching plants to your background, depending on what you use for your background
You can incorporate planting pockets into your background by using tree fern pots, or plastic mesh pots.

Why is plexiglass a waste of time? I see a lot of people planting with lots of water beneath the substrate-won't this drown the plants? Also, what's with the clay balls? Do they work like semi-hydroponics?

Also, I'm concerned about winter dips in temperature at night after the lights are off... I assume the heater would seldom run, but it would be nice to have on cold winter nights.

Sorry for so many question, but appreciate answers to any of them!

Our experience with plexi is that silicone will not stick to it in the long run, and the plexi will bow and flex.
What you are probably seeing is what is called a 'false bottom'. This is where the substrate is elevated above the water. Basically what you are doing is a version of a hydroponics system. The Hydroton (clay balls) is a PH neutral fired clay pellet that is used n hydroponics. The surface of the clay pellet is conducive for good bacteria to grow.

Keep in mind that even though the room temp may dip to 60-65, the temp in the take probably will not come close to that. It takes longer for land to cool than air. Night time temp dips are normal.
Welcome Matt and Jackie,

It is really a fun hobby to get into. I see that Cindy has given you some great advice, and I will try to answer a couple of your questions as well. I purchased my Leucs from Cindy, and they are all 4 doing great.

For the pump in the waterfall. I have had great experience with a cheap pump from Harbor freight. I have used it for more than a year without ever touching it in my first viv. ... mber=45303
or this one should work well if you want even more waterflow, and it seems to be on sale. ... mber=45305

I find that the 66 gph provides plenty of water movement, and it goes on sale a couple of times a year for $4.99. I use a 4" irrigation pipe for access to the pump in case I ever need to clean it out.

For lighting suggestions, it is best to have the measurements of your tank.

I do use an underwater heater in my setup, as it can dip down to the high 50s in my drafty old house. I unplug it during the summer. I keep about 3 1/2" of water in this viv. You will need at least 2" for the pump, and I like a little extra due to the heater as well.

The next link is to my construction journal on another board. ... sc&start=0

The two main things I would do differently is to make the stream bed out of the black irrigation tubing, and there is not really a need for leca on top of the eggcrate. Also, I would have made more land area if I would have started this out for dart frogs.

I see what you mean now. I like the idea of the hydroponic clay balls. I did some reading and was amazed what it does for orchids... I may get some for my non-viv orchids too! My new plan is to separate the pool from the clay and surface substrate using some larger, inert rocks instead of plexiglass. They'll take up some space to reduce the amt. of clay balls, look good and will hold the balls back well. Sound OK? What do most use for a surface substrate and how do I keep it from getting into the clay and "dissappearing"?


I really liked your post on the "other" board. It really helps when others take the time to record this in detail. How much head-height does that pump have? Also, I'd like to see how you plumbed it up to the waterfall (or any recent pics for that matter).

How cold does your tank get? I'm afraid my house temps may get into the high 50's too. I'm still with you, I think the heater backup is a good idea. Is that enclosed in an eggcrate box? What temp do you keep it at?

Also, what things did you use the silicone on? Did you do cover the ENTIRE back of the tank with it? What is the purpose?

Also, is your false bottom just to enclose and protect your heater and pump?

One final question... I'd like to do the great stuff trick but make it a bit more 35 so I have lots of attachement sites for plants. Any suggestions? Also, I'm thinking about sinking some short pieces of wire into the great stuff with the ends sticking out to ease attachment of epiphytic bromeliads and orchids. Anyone ever try this?

Thanks again everyone and keep the comments coming!
toad and bunny Wrote:Cindy,

What do most use for a surface substrate and how do I keep it from getting into the clay and "dissappearing?

We have a custom blend substrate we use, it is the same that we sell on the website.

We use fiberglass window screen material. We place a piece cut to size on top of the egg crate to prevent the Hydroton from falling through, then we place another piece cut to size on top of the Hydroton, then we add our planting mix.

There are a lot of different ways to set up a tank. In the 9 years we've been setting up tanks, we've tried different methods. This is the method that works best for us.
what is the purpose of the eggcrate at the bottom? To hold more water, but use less hydroton?

Thanks cindy, sorry for so many questions, but this is really helpful!

the eggcrate elevates the Hydroton and substrate above the water. The eggcrate is placed on pvc spacers cut to length, and notched for water to flow through.

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