Sorry in advance if this is a bit of long post, but I have been doing lots of research and want some feedback.
So I recently managed to score a 180L fish tank on gumtree and wanting to make it a real feature. Tank setup up currently involves an external canister filter, light and air pump. I am wanting to make it a planted tank given the many benefits of having plants and have been told to do a plant cycle to get my tank ready (makes sense to me and gives me a good opportunity to see if I can keep the plants alive and cared for before I start adding fish).
The current light I have is a fluro with a slight purple shade (pretty sure it is a colour enhancing tube) and runs the full length of the tank (1.2m), now I will probably have to change the tube as I read that they should be changed every 6-12 months and I don't know how old this one is. Wanting to know if the same lighting will be sufficient for low maintenance plants or whether it is worth getting a brighter tube or LED (I do have a small budget at this point though).
The tank also didn't come with a heater and so I am thinking of picking up two 200W Aqua One heaters (with one set slightly lower as a backup), does anyone know if they have the failsafe backup/ won't overheat as my sister lost her fish that way.
When it comes to getting the plants, I am thinking of the Java Fern on driftwood (a fair amount) central, with some anacharis bunched together to the side and clumps of anubias (maybe nana?) in the foreground. Trying to keep the plants in the category of hard to kill and low maintenance. I do have the option also of my substrate being either cleaned white playground sand I bought from bunnings or some of my dads leftover gravel (fairly fine - maybe 1-2mm). Which option would work better with the selected plants and do I need anything else besides a bit of Seachem Flourish? Also, if I go with the sand, how do I air it out to avoid gas pockets without damaging the plants (don't want to accidentally damage any root systems or move them around too much)? I know online suggests MTS but I once ended up with them accidentally in a tank and they overtook it, was not a fun experience and I would prefer to avoid a repeat.
When it comes to stocking (once the tank is cycled and I am comfortable with the plants) I am thinking of stocking the tank in stages with:
7 Cherry Barbs (apparently these aren't aggressive like other barbs)
4 Julii Cories - the ones sometimes referred to as leopard catfish
2 Bristlenose plecos
2 Pearl Gourami (I have read it is best to get females to avoid aggression)
2 Pictus Catfish
Just wanting to confirm that these would all get along with each other and the plants and that I am not overstocking my tank. Also, would the Cherry barbs school? Otherwise would the Cardinal tetras be better if I want a group of schooling fish?
Thanks in advance for the help - I can't wait for the day it is all set up!!