Nano reefs are a great way to introduce yourself to the aquatic world, or challenge yourself as an old hat.
Small in design, but mighty in pay off, you can create some beautiful, vibrant, and practically hypnotising landscapes in this compact space!
Knowing where to start though is a challenge all in itself. Finding the best corals for nano reef environments is a tricky business.
Luckily for you, the tricky hunting has been done for you! Below we have the best corals for nano reefs, along with a handy buyers guide to help you get your tank up and running! We also have an FAQ section to answer all your burning nano reef questions.
Happy reading, or should I say, happy reefing?
In a hurry? Check out our top pick to grab your corals and go!
OUR TOP PICK
TruBlu Supply offers great coral to work with. You get 1 inch, roughly 5 Polyps, of ORA Orange Zoanthid.
The soft coral grows quickly and has glowing orange skirts with marbled yellow centers.
They require medium to low lighting and moderate to strong flow.
They require space between other corals, so it's best to include a small amount of this, or make it a feature of your reef. Thanks to its semi-aggressive nature, the space will stop the coral from overtaking other colonies in your reef.
Other than that, the coral is easy to take care for, great for beginners. It requires a minimum of 10 gallons of water, making it perfect for your nano reef!
The size makes it ideal for a nano reef and will offer you a vibrant color coral to add to your tank.
The customer service is great too, with free replacements or a refund sent to you if something goes wrong during transit.
- Bright colors
- Great customer service
- Decently priced
- Easy to care for
- Perfect size for nano reef
- Needs space between other corals
An alternative option for those looking to pad out their space is Real Reef’s live rock. Designed to survive in saltwater aquariums, this reef rock is completely natural and can help to provide some space between your corals.
This reef is light and porous, full of holes and crevices, making for a visually interesting addition to your reef.
It comes in a variety of sizes, ranging from 4-12 inches, and 3 weight options: 20, 40, and 60lbs, offering a size and weight to suit all aquariums and budgets. For a nano reef we recommend opting for the smallest size and weight.
Made with natural shades of pink, purple, and red, this rock replicates the look and feel of coralline encrusted on rock, giving a deep sea feel to your reef! For those perhaps looking to add more dimension into their reefs, or simply aren’t in a position to buy coral, this is a lovely addition for your reef.
They are also low maintenance and don’t need any cleaning beforehand, you can add it straight to your tank!
- Great alternative to live coral
- Comes in multiple weights to suit your needs
- Designed for saltwater aquariums
- Multiple sizes to suit your tank
- Can be added straight to the tank
- Not live coral, this has been dried
Another beautiful coral frag comes from TruBlue Supply. The dragonballs coral is part of the zoanthid family, and features a stunning vibrant purple color.
Complemented by its yellow and orange, the intricate design will add depth to your reef.
Dragonballs coral is great for surviving in nano reefs, needing only 22 gallons of water, so you are sure to see great results with this coral.
The round ball design on the coral will add an interesting dimension to your reef. They survive well on plankton, and moderate light making them easy to care for.
This particular branch of coral can be difficult to source due to its breeding, and those looking for a challenge may find this difficult to breed themselves.
- Brightly colored
- Decently priced
- 1 inch with 5 polyps
- Great for smaller tanks
- Easy to care for
- Breeding can be difficult
This decently priced coral provides you with 1 inch of coral to add to your own nano reef.
The coral typically encrusts, but its surface has architectural growth across its surface which make it a highly desirable piece of coral to have in your reef!
Its bright green color is sure to attract attention to your reef and will require moderate to high lighting, so it's best to place it with coral of similar needs.
To maintain this coral, feeding it calcium, trace elements, and strontium will promote good health for the coral.
This coral is known for being semi-aggressive, meaning you do run the risk of it overtaking other coral colonies you have growing.
It's best to allow space between this coral and others, as alongwith its semi-aggressive nature, it has poor defences against other aggressive corals.
- 1 inch of coral
- Vibrant green color
- Suitable for nano reefs
- Encrusts but also provides architectural growth on its surface
- Survives well under moderate-high lighting
- Can be aggressive and overtake other corals
CARIBSEA’s life rock provides another great alternative to your nano reef. This 20lb weight is ideal for your nano reef as well, with 1-2 gallons allowed per 1lb in weight.
What's great about this rock is you can break it into smaller pieces to move around your tank, or split over a few tanks if you desired.
The natural purple color resembles that of aged natural coral, great for adding dimension to your reef.
This is a great alternative for those who aren’t in a position to buy coral, but are looking for a realistic rock piece for their reefs.
Customers were particularly happy with the delivery of the rock, and the ability to break pieces off or glue together. It allows for a diverse creation suited to your reef and its individual needs.
- Network of micro and macro pores create perfect environment for nitrifying bacteria
- Arches and tunnels to help with aquascaping
- Ideal weight for nano reefs
- Pieces can be broken off to rearrange if needed
- Pieces can be glued together if needed
- Not live coral, reef building purposes only
Best Corals For Nano Reef Buying Guide
Not too sure where to start?
Follow our handy buyers guide to help you make those decisions quicker.
With corals, there is usually a learning curve to ensure their survival in your nano reef. There’s a range of choices available we will look at to find the best kind.
Generally corals are split into two categories: soft corals and hard corals. Soft corals are a great option for beginners, as they are easy to keep water quality tolerant. They are a good coral to get you through the learning curve that is coral keeping.
Soft corals come in a wide range of shapes and colors which will add movement to any aquarium.
Hard corals operate differently to the soft corals we just looked at. Hard corals create skeletons out of limestone, a hard substance that will eventually become rock.
They are known as reef-building corals and need tiny algae known as zooxanthellae to survive. As they work to provide the majority of structure on coral reefs, they can exist with soft corals in your nano reef. Below are some of the soft and hard corals that survive best in a nano reef.
Best Soft Corals For Nano Reefs
Toadstool and Leather Corals
Otherwise known as mushroom corals thanks to their shape, they are great for any nano-aquarium. The toadstool coral has a brown base with whiter colored polyps, hence the mushroom name! The leather corals may be a bright green that while pop-under any aquatic lighting!
These corals can grow quickly in a short period and do well in virtually any location.
If Toadstool and Leather Corals are happy, long thin polyps will extend or from their surface. Take this as a good indicator things are doing well in your nano-reef!
Another fast-growing option that is easy to keep is the Clove Polyps. These soft corals aren’t the most bright in color, but their movement makes up for that ten-fold!
These coral have long tentacles which wave in a water current and will easily grow and encrust on rocks.
Their length does mean they are often victims of stings from other corals so they will need a little more space.
They survive best in aquariums where they are routinely feeding microplankton diets and the tank is dosed with iodine and other trace elements.
One of the easiest corals to start with, Xenia Polyps work extremely well in a nano reef. They come in a few different species, with Pom Pom, or pulsing Xenia as the favorites as the heads continually rise, making for great watching!
What’s great about these corals is that they require minimal light and water current, so there’s little to worry about.
These corals do well when fed microplankton or other filter-feeding diets. They also like a small amount of iodine and trace elements added to the water.
Xenia polyps multiply easily in any aquarium and are one of the first corals recommended for hobbyists, especially those who want to learn how to frag through cutting.
Zoanthids are hardy and colorful, with the perfect polyp size for a nano reef. Thanks to their small size they are great for replicating a mini reef.
They are not without their challenges, as they are prone to stinging other corals they come into contact with. They are also difficult to control, as when they grow they will spread onto neighboring rocks and can be tough to remove.
When this happens you have two options: you can clean the coral off the rock by peeling and scraping, but take care as the neurotoxins in these corals can make you sick! Or you can allow them to colonize the neighboring rocks and then sell or trade the rocks with your hobbyist pals! This does mean your tank will need to be aquascaped regularly and have new rocks added.
For those after a one coral wonder tank, zoanthids are great to pop in and watch them spread and grow!
Best Hard Corals
Hammers and Frogspawn
These resilient corals can survive in a nano reef providing that you give good attention to the water quality.
Hammers and Frogspawn coral are easily pruned, meaning you can control the future growth, handy in a nano reef! Some of these corals can produce sweeper tentacles which can be reduced by opting for small coral specimens and isolating them enough that they don’t come into contact with other corals.
Branching varieties of Montipora are a great coral to keep in a nano reef. They are non-aggressive and can be pruned as needed, allowing space for your other corals to flourish.
Provide the corals with adequate water and light quality and they will grow lovely. But beware the one you pick, as a frag of M. capricornis can grow to the size of a dinner plate as quickly as a year! Make sure you pick a variety of this coral that you can prune easily or won’t grow as large!
Corals need light to survive. Often additional overhead lighting will be needed to provide the right amount of light for your corals.
The lighting amounts described are: low, moderate, and high. The lighting needs will be detailed on the description of the corals. To make your job a little easier it's best to opt for corals that require the same amount of light, especially for your nano reefs, as there will be little room to change the levels of light.
Those new to nano-reefs and coral keeping may be wondering what else do I need? It can be overwhelming, and of course, affect any budget you may have set aside for this.
Making sure you have a suitable tank filled with either RO/DI water or distilled water is essential. As corals traditionally survive in salt water, those without access to natural sea water will need to purchase reef aquarium salt mix as well.
Live rock will be needed to help the coral encrust, with some great options included in this article! Unless you are opting for a bare bottom aquarium, sand will also be required, which you can purchase easily.
A powerhead or wavemaker is also another extra to consider.
Thermometer and refractometer are worth investing in also, so that you can keep your nano reef at the appropriate temperature for your corals. As well as these a filter and heater are worth having to help maintain the temperature and quality of the water.
Lighting for your reef will also be needed. It’s worth getting good quality lighting, as this will help maintain your corals. Be sure to check how much light they will need, as this can vary as we’ve seen with our different types of coral.
There are more items that you can purchase such as screen covers, back up heaters, and an automatic top-off system for evaporation. However, these items are not necessary, and for those starting, it’s best to just get what you need until you are invested or looking to expand.
When adding corals into your nano reef it's worth considering the aggression of these corals. That does not mean which coral is more likely to swing a punch, but relates more to their growth.
Corals that grow quickly and wildly can grow onto other corals and their rocks and overtake them, leaving you with a tank full of one coral. If that is your goal then great, but for those looking for a range of corals, consider spacing corals out, with rocks and space between different species.
Lookout as well for corals with tentacles that can sting other corals and remember to allow space for these to prevent that too. Most species should list their aggression levels so you can find the best temperament of corals to suit you and your reef.
Nano reefs may be small in size, but in the price they are mighty! The cost can mount up quickly, especially if you are new to the business and are having to purchase everything.
It's best to set a clear budget before you begin your search and stick to it as closely as possible. Remember that you will need to factor in food for the corals too, with most descriptions telling you which food they like best! Despite the range in price, you can get a coral to suit most budgets.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a nano reef?
A nano reef is a tank that is 30 gallons or less in size. These are viewed as a great introduction tank to beginners, or a challenge for more experienced hobbyists.
Typically nano reefs are used for live coral, and the small space makes it an interesting challenge.
Because of their size too, all the small details on anything in the tank will stand out, making it great fun to work with and view.
With coral in decline in recent years, it can be difficult to get your hands on some
What water should be in my tank?
Coral typically exists in the sea, so generally, salt water is the best to use in your nano reef.
Those without access to fresh seawater can purchase a saltwater mix to ensure that it’s appropriate for your coral to thrive.