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Pretty little glass ecosystems with a gorgeous fish swimming about the roots – you know you love your fish, but are you doing what’s best for him?

Most of these little items of the topic are bought because you saw one, though it was just adorable and had to have one yourself. You’d think it’d be better than any aquarium you could set up for your new finned friend but in reality, it is one of the worst things you could do. There are better alternatives to the lily vase and I hope through visiting Healthy Betta we can help to show you why (and how to get started).

Lily Vase: Not a Home for Bettas

Sure, the lily vase setup is very attractive. The blooming plant is quite a nice attraction for the eyes and the betta is the little surprise swimming around at the roots. Colorful rocks or glass marbles top off this aesthetically pleasing centerpiece of conversation.

What people do not know is that the fish at the bottom is suffering a slow and agonizing death. Instructions say not to feed the fish, to keep the plant at the top, that there is no need to change the water. In all rights, this is the equivalent of you being locked in a porta-john with no food. Doesn’t sound to enticing, does it?

In this series of articles, we here at Healthy Betta hope to bring you up to date on the wonderful betta fish and help you understand why you should not purchase the lily vase setup. We also want to introduce to you other vase setups that are much healthier for your betta.

If you are reading this and are thinking “oh my, I’m killing my fish,” the best thing you can do at this very moment is get up, go to your vase and remove the plant.

Your fish will thank you for it.

To Feed or Not to Feed

Lily vase for betta

The most appalling feeling came over me when I read the instructions for the lily vase setup. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

There is no need to feed your fish as the roots will supply nourishment.

For someone that is not familiar with the habits of the Siamese Fighting Fish (commonly called betta), this might sound reasonable. After all, the betta is native to the rice paddies of Thailand. But the above statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Even though the betta hails from rice paddies, they are meat-eaters. They need the proteins and vitamins found in meat. In the wild, they eat mosquito larvae, small bugs, worms, and anything else that wiggles passed.

In captivity, the betta should be fed betta supplemental pellets (Betta Bio-Gold is popular) or a betta flake food. Both provide the proper nutrition your betta needs to grow and live a long and healthy life.

You might have seen your betta nibble on a root or two when watching him. This is because he is starving. Anything looks appetizing when you are hungry. Even the folks on “Survivor I” ate rats!

When picking out a portion of food, keep in mind that bettas have a tendency to be picky. You might have to try several different brands and types of food before finding one that your betta will like. Do not feed them blood worms or brine shrimp on a regular basis. These are considered a treat and if fed to regularly can cause constipation.

You should be feeding your fish at least one pinch of flakes a day or 6 pellets (I feed mine 2 pellets at a time, 3 times a day).

Distilled vs. Tap Water

Distilled water is good – for humans.

Bettas need the natural minerals found in water to feel ‘alive.’ When water goes through the distill process, these minerals are removed.

Yes, when using distilled water you do not have to do anything to it but drop the fish in. No, your fish is not better off because you use distilled.

I have heard many instances where a person changes from using distilled water to tap water and it seems as if someone has breathed life into their little fella.

Now, when changing over from distilled to tap, you have to do a few things. First of all, you must gradually acclimate your betta to the new type of water. You can do this by doing a partial water change (take a cup out, add a cup in) and keep doing so until the betta is used to the new water type.

Also, because there is chlorine in tap water, you will need to purchase a water chlorine remover. Go to your local pet store or fish store and ask.

When treating water, it is always best to age the water. Aging means setting aside the water in gallon jugs and adding the chlorine remover (and any other conditioners you choose to use for your betta). Let the water set out overnight. The next day, when you do your water change, the aged water is close to the temperature of the existing water in the tank/vase/container. Now you can change the water and safely drop your fish back in without any stress beyond being in a smaller container during a water change.

*** Remember, only use hot water to rinse out tanks!

rinse betta tank

Water Changes – a necessity

Bettas are hardy fish. They can take a lot, even dirty water. But not changing your betta’s water is one of the cruelest things you can do. All fish practically live in their waste – bowel and food waste that is. Most fish tanks come equipped with a filter that helps keep that problem down by sucking up the floating feces and food debris.

These little un-filtered vases do not have a filter and the plant is not going to help keep the water clean. Your little buddy is living in the dirt. Because the vase is so small the water should be changed 100% at least every 5 days.

There is a more in-depth article here at Healthy Betta in the general care section but for those of you who will more than likely not go searching for it, here are the basics:

  • Change the water 100% in the equivalent of for every 1 gallon of water, you get a week off. Therefore a one-gallon tank/vase needs to be changed 1 time a week, 2 gallons, every 2 weeks, and so forth. When you get into larger tanks (2 gallons or more) be sure to do partial water changes in between the 100% changes. This can be done by syphoning the dirt and debris from the rocks and then adding water to fill the tank or removing a gallon of water and adding a gallon.
  • Be sure to use conditioned tap water
  • Make sure your little betta is safe in a covered cup during the water change
  • Do not use soap to clean the container – only hot water
  • Save a little of your betta’s bubble nest to return to the clean tank
  • Rinse and drain the rocks/marbles until they run clean water

Doing all of the above will help maintain a clean living environment for your betta.

Check out other areas of Healthy Betta to find more care instructions.

For Rent, Small Efficiency Vase

It is true that bettas, especially males, have a tendency to be a tad bit territorial. They will fight with other fish and do better alone. This does not mean they need no space.

The lily vase setup only holds approximately one-half gallon of water. To maintain a happy betta, you will want to make sure they have at least one gallon of swim space. Just because he is territorial does not mean he cannot be territorial of more space than the vase. In fact, I have seen people move their betta from a lily vase setup into a larger vase and the betta is notably more happy – swimming laps. They seem to flare more and start making bigger bubble nests.

From my personal experience, 2 gallons or more is ideal for the betta. In college, I maintained a 10-gallon tank with just a betta and plecostomus! Charlie was a very happy fishy!

The lily vase is just too small. The betta does not have enough room to exercise or prance around all flared out. They generally just lay within the roots of the plant with their fins closed.

Yes, the betta could even survive in the little cups at the store for the rest of their life – but would you enjoy living in a one-room apartment for the rest of yours?

lily vase as betta-house

Labrynth Lung Means Surface Air

Bettas are a little more anatomically advanced than your average freshwater fish. They have what is called a labrynth lung. It is a small organ located near the top of its gills.

This lung enables bettas to breathe air from the outside. The only thing bad is that their gills are not quite as able as a regular freshwater fish at filtering air from the water. This explains why you can keep a betta in a container with no filter and no air supply.

When you place your friend in a lily vase then plop the plant on top in that little plastic holder, essentially you are eliminating their air supply. Some air gets through but not enough to keep the betta healthy.

Removing the plant altogether is best but if you insist on having this particular plant in the vase you need to keep the water away from the bottom of the plastic rest and insert a straw through the roots and snip it off. This helps airflow even though it isn’t as free as it should be.

If you want a live plant, try another type that lives in water but does not require plugging up the entire opening.

The plant is preventing your fish from breathing properly. One more reason the lily vase is only killing these wonderful fish

Live Plant, Rotting Risk

The idea of putting a plant and fish together is an idealistic one. Not only do the instructions of the lily vase setup ignore the care of the betta, but they also ignore the care you must give to the plant.

Bettas, like all aquatic life, can only undergo so much stress. All fish have a “stress layer” that helps fight infections, bacterial growth, and other problems that can occur. When put in the vase, due to the lack of oxygen, food, and other general care issues, the stress layer breaks down making your betta susceptible to many other conditions like bacterial and fungal growth.

This might not present a problem at first but due to the lack of care to the plant, you have now created quite the can of worms.

Every time a leaf turns brown on top, a root dies. Because the cluster of roots is so thick you might not see this and because the instructions tell you not to clean the vase, the rotting root goes into the water and begins to grow bacteria and fungus.

These new growths then begin to attack your betta. Having a weak stress layer, the betta now can get ick, fin rot, and many other problems that will kill him.

Not a pleasant thought, is it?

Removing the plant and clipping roots will not solve this problem as the bacteria is already present in the water. By removing the plant and cleaning the vase regularly, you will help your betta build his stress layer again and help fight against any infection he might contract.

Great Betta Vase for Betta

betta tank setup

Now that you have read the entire lily vase article and want to help make a home for your betta, I am prepared to tell you about a lily vase setup that is great for the betta. Only I guess I cannot say it’s a lily vase setup – it’s a vase setup.

First, concentrate on the vase/container. Walmart has some nice 1 gallon round goldfish bowls for around 3 dollars. These would work great. If you are more willing to spend money or search for it, a large glass vase works fantastic and there are some very unique shapes. I have DOS in a 2.5-gallon glass vase I got from dumpster diving (odd hobby, I know!). Make sure you wash any container you get with hot water. If you have a dishwasher with a heat dry setting, use it. Don’t put soap in though – just wash it in hot water.

Now the container is set. For the bottom, you can use any aquarium rock or glass pellets. Again, make sure you rinse them with hot water before using them.

As for water, always use conditioned tap water. Age the water appropriately. When filling your container, make sure to leave at least one inch at the top. Bettas can jump!

Now, in order to prevent the whole rotting root issue, use a nice silk plant. Buy one that will not stick out of the water at the top. Before you purchase it, do the pantyhose test. If the edges of ANYTHING you put in the water can snag a pair of pantyhose, don’t buy it! This applies to plants and any decorations you might use. Silk plants are soft and will not snag pantyhose, therefore they will not tear the betta’s fins.

Bettas do like to hide away. If you have room in your container, buy a small hidey-hole. There are even plastic rock setups with silk plants attached that you can purchase for under 10 dollars.

The actual setup is complete beyond the fish and food. Overall, you can spend just under 25 US dollars to set up a betta in a safe and healthy container. Below, find a table that totals the average items needed for your betta (prices rounded up).

ItemsCostItemsCost
Container $5.00 WaterFree
Rocks $2.00 Food $2.00
Plant/Hidey Hole $10.00 Chlorine Remover $5.00
How to set up a healthy betta container?

Something that adds a nice touch to any setup and also helps prevent the betta from jumping is to buy a floating lily flower. It is silk and can be found in many colors. It adds a nice topper to the tank but allows the surface area around the floating decoration to be free for the betta to breathe.

They cost around 2 dollars for a small one and can be found at your local fish store and in many cases, a local pet store. This is not a necessity and is not listed above but I guarantee you’ll get more compliments on that one decoration than anything else. I do!

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