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Cookie Cutter Setups for 10-Gallon Freshwater Aquariums

Everyone loves 10-gallon fish tanks because they are small enough to sit on a kitchen counter or kid’s bedroom dresser but big enough to give you many options to choose from. Whether you are interested in schooling fish, breeding fish, or oddball animals, there’s something for everyone. Most of these tropical fish do require a heater and filter, so review our 10-gallon aquarium checklist if you are not sure what to get. Then once your aquarium is set up and has begun the cycling process, take a look at our list of recommended combinations that you can mix and match.

10-Gallon Tank with a Centerpiece Fish

betta fish with mystery snail and shrimp


A centerpiece fish is a colorful or unusual-looking fish that really captures the attention of the viewer, and it is oftentimes paired with smaller schooling fish. We also like adding a clean-up crew consisting of some bottom dwellers and algae eaters to help keep the aquarium looking nice. Pick one bullet point from each subcategory below to put together your ideal community tank:

Centerpiece Fish (pick 1)

Middle-Level Fish (pick 1)

Bottom Dwellers (pick 1)

Algae Eaters (pick 1)

For a 10-gallon aquarium, we suggest starting with approximately 6 aquatic plants to help beautify the fish tank, purify the water from toxic waste chemicals, and provide enrichment for the animals. To make sure you can see all of the plants in the aquarium, pick some short plants to put in the foreground of the tank, slightly bigger plants for the midground, and tall plants for the background. Most of the choices below are for low light tanks, but the plants marked with an asterisk (*) specifically do best in high light tanks.

Foreground Plants (pick two or more)

Midground Plants (pick two or more)

Background Plants (pick two or more)

10-Gallon Species-Only Tank

skittles tank of cherry shrimp


Instead of keeping a community tank with many different animals, sometimes it can be quite rewarding to set up an aquarium with only one species. It allows you to focus on breeding fish, observe unique behaviors only seen in single-species setups, and care for harder-to-keep animals that have specialty requirements. Pick one of these species for your 10-gallon aquarium:

Single Species Colony

Most of these animals are easy to spawn in a colony setting, but if the adults are prone to predating on the offspring, make sure to provide plenty of hiding spots. We highly recommend using live plants with dense leaves or roots as shelter for the fry. However, note that certain species like shell dwellers enjoy digging, so plants that must be rooted in substrate may not be as suitable for their aquarium. (All of the plants in the list below do not require substrate.)

Dense Plants for Breeding

10-Gallon Aquascape

aquascape with school of neon tetras


If you are designing a beautiful aquascape and want the emphasis to be on the plants rather than the animals, then a centerpiece fish may not be the right choice. To keep the attention on the gorgeous foliage and hardscape, let’s pick a schooling fish for the upper half of the aquarium, bottom dwellers for the lower half, and a few algae eaters to keep the plants clean.

Top to Mid-Level Schooling Fish (pick 1)

Bottom Dwellers (pick 1)

Algae Eaters (pick 1)

As for aquarium plants, consider the type of aquascape style you plan on using — such as Iwagumi, nature, Dutch, or jungle style. Many of these designs may require you to get more than just six plants in order to accomplish your vision. Read this article to take a look at three different kinds of easy-to-build aquascapes for your next planted tank. As before, plants intended for higher light aquariums are indicated with an asterisk (*). 

Foreground Plants

Midground Plants

Background Plants

Cookie cutter setups offer a lot of customizability so that you can pick the perfect fish, invertebrates, and plants that fit your personal preferences. However, if you’re looking for a more concrete set of stocking ideas, we have several articles to inspire your next 10-gallon aquarium. 

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