Stock a Reef Tank for Less

Stock a Reef Tank for Less

It is entirely possible to stock a reef tank with corals without breaking the bank, and there is more than one way to chop a carrot (that’s a cruelty-free way of saying that there is more than one way to skin a cat).

You can make an amazing tank for less money than most.

Why would we encourage you to spend less money? We’re not. We welcome you to spend gobs of money with us. But we’d like to help folks succeed in reef keeping. And for anyone who would like to spend less, here are some ways to do it.

Buy Inexpensive Corals

There is a seemingly endless variety of corals available. You CAN find ones you like that are inexpensive. With a little discipline, you can selectively buy mostly inexpensive corals. A handy way to do this is to set a target for your coral purchases. If any one coral exceeds the target price than just ignore it. You’ve created a nifty way to control what you look at and what you’re willing to buy.

Keep a Small Tank

There are special challenges to keeping a small tank, but there are a host of benefits to the reef keeper. One of those benefits is that it is cheaper to stock a pico, nano or smallish tank because there is simply less space to fill.

Have a Theme

Having a theme sharpens the mind and is a quick shortcut to building an attractive composition with less total things. In this case that would mean you can stock a tank that looks great with less corals if, for instance, you only choose pink and green corals. Perhaps you choose only anemones. Perhaps you choose to highlight acropora.

The reduction of competing elements will allow your tank to feel cohesive with less total corals in it.

Carefully Aquascape to Use Less Corals

It takes discipline, and probably lots of time with your arms in the tank moving things around, but you can make a beautiful, interesting and artful display with less corals.

If you choose to do this think about the elements of the tank other than corals alone that contribute to the aquascape: rock, sand, negative space, accent lights, macro algae, fish and other inhabitants.

Even things we might normally consider ugly or boring can contribute to the overall presentation of the tank in interesting and even beautiful ways. Stands, lights, light supports, return piping, cables, control equipment and even heaters can be employed to increase the appearance of a tank.

There are so many sources of inspiration for an approach like this in other areas. Haiku poetry, bonsai tree keeping, shaker furniture, minimalist painting and modernist architecture all have something to say about ‘less is more.’

Focus on Soft Corals and LPS

Soft corals and some LPS have a few benefits that are (usually) kind to the wallet. Most of these corals are just less expensive. And this is especially the case when you consider their cost relative to their size. You can fill up a lot of tank space for not much money with neat leather coral, nepthea, and euphyllia.

A bonus attribute, these corals is that many are usually easy to keep.

Keep a Pest Tank

Speaking of easy-to-keep corals….

Corals, and coral-like-things, that are considered pests are usually considered pests for the primary reason that they grow fast and can take over a tank, or portion of the tank. But this very attribute means that pesty corals and things can fill up your tank with amazing texture, and movement and color with relative speed and ease.

Corals and things that are considered pests or invasive are usually really inexpensive because they typically grow quickly and people don’t want them.

These pests include xenia, green star polyps (GSP), macro algaes (depending on the chemistry of your tanks), some zoanthids, some mushrooms, kenya trees and more.

Place Big Orders During Big Sales

Many sellers offer sales that are semi-permanent and are basically just part of their real price. But then there are big sales. Sales that offer big discounts can yield some excellent savings. What better time to place a large order?

If you and your tank can absorb a hearty influx of corals all at once than this is an excellent way to save some money. Not only will you save because of the sale, but you’ll also save on shipping. The cost to ship small orders is prohibitive and is less significant for larger orders. Sellers reflect this reality in free shipping programs that start after a certain price threshold is met. We do this at Corals Direct too – extending it even further by adding a discount that keeps going after you reach that threshold with our Free-er Than Free Shipping. (We also do this because we’d like to send you LOTS of happy coral).

Grow Slow

Keep your water stable, and your tank happy, and you’ll grow your frags into big healthy colonies. This is a long-term approach and may mean living without a full tank for years. It works, though.

A successful way to do this is to keep playing the long game. Set, for instance, a timeline that spans years. Maybe buy new corals every quarter or every 6 months. Maybe buy only the smallest frags (that are still large enough to survive shipping and acclimation) and look forward to watching them grow and grow.

Give Up

You don’t have to give up, but you can. You can decide to spend plenty of money buying a lot of awesome corals. This is a reasonable approach in many cases. If you can spend the money, and decide to do it, you can fill a tank of any size overnight, or snatch up some super sweet corals from time to time as you find them.

For many people keeping a reef tank gets expensive and corals are part of the expense.

The good news is that it is possible to do it either way – expensive, inexpensive or somewhere in between – and there are many strategies to choose from. Chop that carrot how you’d like!


About Us

We sell a growing selection of aquacultured and hand-selected frags and colonies at

We built Corals Direct to serve you! Let us know how we can help you select and grow excellent corals in your own slice of reef.