Need some advice post-new-tank-disaster

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Aquarium Advice Newbie
Feb 7, 2024
North Carolina
I've been wanting to get into aquarium keeping for years, and I finally sprung on it about 3 weeks ago today. I let my excitement get away from me and made the huge mistake of not doing nearly enough research beforehand, and disaster ended up striking a few days later. Initially, I purchased a 10 gallon tank with basic blue gravel, various fake plants, a fake rock cave, a basic rgb led tank light from walmart, an appropriate filter and heater for the tank size, a tank thermometer, some API tropical fish flakes, and a bottle of water dechlorinator/conditioner.

I set up the tank, and the same day I stocked it with two zebra danios, two pristella tetras, two hifin platy, and two assorted snails. Two days later, throughout the duration of the day, 5 of the fish and both of the snails died for reasons that were a mystery to me. Since then I have been doing research almost every single day, and it is apparent to me that after testing the water for ammonia and it returning a result of 3+ ppm, the fish and snails died to the high ammonia levels due to my failure to cycle the tank prior to adding them, and it likely didn't help that I bought two schooling species in such low numbers.

In an attempt to keep my last remaining hifin platy alive, about a week or so ago I added some Tetra Safestart, and a couple very small whispy plants from a friend's established betta tank, along with a couple bunches of rotala macandra and anacharis from the pet store. I've been doing daily water changes (30-50%) to keep the ammonia levels down and testing the water with strips every day for pH, KH, and GH which have all been in good standing since the start, for Nitrites and Nitrates which have not shown up at all yet, and for ammonia which usually hovers around 0.25-1.5 ppm between water changes.

In the last week, most of the rotala has turned brown and rotted away so I removed them. The anacharis has melted a little and doesn't seem to be growing, but looks mostly ok since it has a tiny bit of new-looking yellow growth on the ends. The platy continues to live, and I've been feeding him twice a day with a mixture of tropical flakes and dried bloodworms. I plan on getting a gravel vacuum to help with the water changes and clean up some of the detritus on the bottom, and might get some driftwood since I removed the fake plants when I planted the real ones.

My planned stocking setup for this tank in the future is 6 neon tetras, 2-3 amano shrimp, and the one lone hifin platy if he's still alive by then. I still haven't seen any nitrites or nitrates yet. Is there anything I can do to help my current situation or should I just keep up the water changes and wait for the tank to cycle? :thanks:
Patience is key. It can take a couple of months for a tank to cycle. The safestart might help speed things up a little, but is more likely to do nothing useful.

Feeding twice a day is too much in an uncycled tank. Feeding every 2 days would be better.

The plant melt is a normal stage many aquarium plants go through when first introduced to an aquarium. You might lose all the original growth but new growth is what you should be looking for after a few weeks in their new environment.
Thank you so much, I'm prepared to be patient and wait as long as needed. I'll ween off feeding him to every 2 days, and see how things look from there (y)
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