Setting Up a Blackwater Aquarium

posted in: Setup Guide | 0

The Original Habitat of most fish from South America include stagnant waters, where the pH is low, water is tea colored, and there is a lot of leaf litter including tree branches etc. and hardly any plants. Fish from such habitats include various types of tetras, dwarf cichlids like Apistogramma Sp., Angelfish, Discus Fish etc.  

I recently set up a blackwater aquarium for my Apistogramma Agassizii, and I’ll give you some details as to how you all can do it.

Setting Up a Blackwater Aquarium


You need clear sand, or fine gravel for the substrate, it works best to have sand. Chose a whitish or brownish shade for your substrate. You don’t really have to get it really thick as there won’t be any plants.


For the hardscape of the tank, use dried branches of trees, twigs, etc. and make sure you have treated the wood properly by boiling/soaking in water. 

Fishes to stock – Blackwater Aquarium

You could stock either the South American Blackwater Fishes or the Asian Blackwater Aquarium Fishes. Here is a list of fishes that you can stock in your Blackwater Aquarium:

South American Blackwater Fishes

  • Tetras
  • Dwarf Cichlids like Apistogramma Sp.
  • Angelfish
  • Discus Fish
  • Hatchetfish
  • Corydoas
  • Farlowell
  • Laoricarids
  • Blackwater Neons

Asian Blackwater Aquarium Fishes

  • Barbs
  • Danios
  • Red Tail sharks
  • Knife fish
  • Gourmais
  • Glass catfish
  • Asian clown and dwarf loaches,

Leaf Litter

 Leaf litter is an important part of a Blackwater setup. People use Maple Leaves, after boiling. I have used Indian Almond Leaves, after boiling. Indian Almond Leaves give out tannins which stain the water to a ‘yellow-brown tea colour’ Add them to the base and between the wood. 


Water Colour

pH and Colour are the Hallmarks of a Blackwater Aquarium. It can both be achieved either by Peat, or the Leaves and wood OR a ready-made Blackwater Extract.

Indian Almond Leaves - Blackwater Aquarium
Indian Almond Leaves – Blackwater Aquarium

People add Peat to the filter so that the water is stained and the pH is lowered to slightly acidic. Indian Almond Leaves stain water over time, or you can always add home-made Indian Almond Leaf Extract, which would stain the water. Wood over time releases tannins that again stain the water.
You can find Indian Almond Leaves (Catappa Leaves) on Amazon.

If all this sounds too much to keep up with you can always use a ready-made ‘Blackwater Extract’. Do read the instructions properly for the dosage. 

Whatever it is if you already have fish in the aquarium make sure you do not change your pH too fast. Take it slow.  


Aim for subdued lighting, use spotlights, and avoid very bright lights.


 It’s not necessary to add plants, but you can always add floating plants. This will give the tank a cover from the light. If you do want to add some plants, try some low light plants, like Amazon Swords etc. though I wouldn’t recommend it.

You should have a set up that looks similar to this. Color intensity can vary, and hardscape design is up to your creativity.

If you have any questions, or if you have anything to share about your aquariums, do leave a comment, and don’t forget to share this post.


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