Aquarium Plants; General Care (Basics), Substrate, Ferts, CO2, Lighting, Dips and other Factors.
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*FILTERS (Filtration):Admittedly "best" is a loaded word, as there are many filters that will work, however as you read further in this article you will see that some filters can and will effect chemistry, parameter, ferts, etc. more than others, thus having a positive or negative influence on your aquatic plants.
So what you want is a filter that will keep ammonia and nitrites at absolute 0 while preserving some bio available minerals, nitrates and CO2. This filtration capacity must occur even when organic wastes may suddenly spike (such as due to plant deaths, fish deaths, over feeding, temporary blackouts, etc.).
For this reason Wet/Dry, many HOB, and even many canister filters are not always the best choice for planted aquariums (especially for the "Walstad Method").
Wet/Dry in particular will strip CO2, as will many canister filters (although proper set of your canister filter products such as Matrix or Purigen along with limited water spray in return can help).
As per the "Walstad Method" (basically a twist on was known by old timers as the "German Method"); this method depends upon the plants to do most of the work for maintaining the aquarium chemistry (as for as the Nitrogen Cycle ONLY) while the aquarium keeper only provides circulation and cleanings ONLY when necessary.
My personal experience and knowledge of aquarium chemistry suggests that at least a simple Sponge or more advanced FB Filter should be used for best results if using the "Walstad Method". HOWEVER, this depends upon your fish, shrimp, etc bio load versus the amount of plants.
In a heavily planted aquarium with a low bio load, basic water circulation may be all you need if following this method. BUT, despite some commentary to the contrary, a tank WITH a high bio load (& this often includes large snail populations), a good bio filter is a MUST!
Please see further in this article as per the "Walstad Method" and Aquarium Chemistry as it pertains to: Basic planted aquarium water parameters.
Back to Filters:
Based on my head to head controlled tests in the 1990s, I found Quality Sponge Filters and Fluidized Filters met the requirements of aerobic bio filtration that best fit a planted aquarium environment. While other filters may work fine (for those of you questioning this who have other filters); the facts of low CO2 stripping along with high aerobic bio filtration volume and response to sudden spikes placed these two filter types ahead of others.
It is also important to compare apples to apples if you are considering a sponge filter over say a canister filter. For instance a low quality sponge material Lees #13390 Sponge filter is not going to come close to say a SunSun 402 filter for a 60 gallon aquarium, however a high volume Hydro Sponge #5 will compare reasonably well without some of the draw backs (the Hydro Pond #2 or a stacked Hydro Sponge #5 will actually out perform the before mentioned canister filters).
Throwing the better yet for planted aquarium Fluidized filter into the comparison; the smallest TMC Fluidized Filter; the model #600 will easily outperform the before mentioned and similar canister filters.
Similar comparisons can be also made to many HOB filters as well.
An Internal Filter (or two) such as SunSun HJ-1542 can be added to compliment your Fluidized Filter (or Sponge filter).
The Sponges in most such as the HJ-952 can be removed for adding carbon, Purigen, etc. for added chemical filtration (Purigen can be used to remove water yellowing tannins if necessary).
Obviously I am pushing Sponge and Fluidized filters, however this does not mean you cannot keep a very successful planted tank without these filters; nothing could be further from the truth if this is assumed from this article.
What I am saying is to consider these two filters, their simplicity, effect on water parameters, and the many professionals/hobbyists that use these with top notch results.
The Sponge Filter is especially worth considering if you have shrimp in your aquarium as many planted aquarium keepers often do.
Unlike most all other filters, the sponge filter cannot "suck up" juvenile shrimp. If a sponge filter is used with shrimp present, I suggest the air powered method, not a powerhead, as it is possible for the power head to accidentally become disconnected and then be a danger to the shrimp (an air pump also provides a more gentle vertical current that is better for shrimp).
Please reference these articles:
*Sponge Filtration; Facts & Information
*Aquarium Filtration, Filters
*Freshwater Aquarium Filter Suggestions
*Do Bio Wheels Filters work as Claimed?
Water Circulation is a related aspect of your planted aquarium. By default most filtration also provides circulation, whoever some filters provide more than others and circulation many not be fully adequate with some filters (such as a Fluidized Filter).
Consider too that most of the natural environments we are duplicating with our planted aquariums (which often include fish such as Discus or Cardinal Tetras) do not have constant heavy circulation. I have had better experience with these aquariums by providing many "dead" spots with little (or even no) water current.
Contrast a planted/Amazon River aquarium with a reef aquarium which should have much more water current.
A relatively new water pump "Type" is the propeller pump, which is my choice for planted aquariums (especially with Ram cichlids, Discus, and similar South American fish). This design provides a much softer widespread flow versus the more common high focused current of popular power heads.
As well this design will not drive out CO2 as much as other pumps if positioned lower in the water (although traditional power heads can be optimized as well, just not as readily IMO).
As a side note, propeller pumps or traditional power head pumps MAY not be a good choice for planted tanks with shrimp, especially since juvenile shrimp can get sucked into the intake screens.
3-4 watts per gallon is a VERY basic principle for which modern lighting technology has out dated, however it is still a reasonable starting point as long as the other important factors are considered as well.
Although with high end LED lights this lighting parameter is basically useless (please note I mean "high end" LEDs such as the AquaRay, not the cheapie LEDs such as Rio Mini Sun or Marineland Double Brite as well as many others).
Besides watts per gallon these other factors are also quite important:
The watts per gallon is part of the lighting equation as stated above, however it is highly inaccurate when taken by itself. Many in the aquarium hobby industry still go by this outdated generalization which leads me scratching my head with all the advances in lighting technology. Taken together, the first FOUR points (plus Watts Per Gallon) are the most critical, but no one of these should be a sole determiner of the lights.
The “watts per gallon formula” was based on older T8 & T12 lights, many of which were not of optimum PAR/Kelvin and are severely lacking in the area of lumens per watt.
As well useful light energy is something that is often missed and is an area where new generation LED light cannot be beat, although the new generation T2 and to a lesser degree T5s are also relatively strong in this area. Lumen Focus and Restrike is an area that the LED and Metal Halide are the kings of with almost all light energy directed where the light needs to be, in your aquarium.
For MUCH more expanded information about lighting (including more in depth explanations of the above subjects), please read this article:
“AQUARIUM LIGHTING, Information & Facts”
Generally around 12 hours per day of lighting is best (if multiple lights are used, time on and off can be staggered such as 12 hours for half and 10 hours for the other half of lights), I recommend using a timer as well for more reliable lighting on/off time.
Suggestions for Lighting your Planted Freshwater Aquarium:
The relatively new SHO (Super High Output) CFL use 65, 85, & 105 watts however these awesome bulbs put out the equivalent of 325, 425 and 525 watts respectively (pictured to the left and below in a photo shop example of placement)!
Honestly for any aquarium plant keeper who is remotely handy in DIY projects, the SHO lamps are hard to beat, especially for tanks over 50 gallons.
Many in the Green house industry have already discovered this lamp for its plant growing capabilities, which for the price there is simply no equal for planted aquariums (the aquarium hobby/industry is much slower to catch on in so many technologies and this light is a major example of this)!
Bluntly this is the lamp that should be used by any serious planted freshwater aquarium keeper.
For example in a 5-6 foot long 125-150 gallon aquarium, four 85 Watt 6400 K SHO staggered in four separate incandescent single sockets will provide ample light in the correct PAR for healthy plant growth. I would also stagger the time on/off time for half these lamps with two on for 12 hours and two on for 10 hours.
The advantage of this light system besides high lumen and PAR light output is the low set up cost compared to most other lighting systems. The negative is these lights are not as consumer ready for applications and require some DIY to install either incandescent sockets or a pendant.
Please click on the picture above to enlarge for a better view of the diagram displaying approximate SHO lamp placement in a planted freshwater aquarium.
This shows four lights, although for aquarium 4 feet or less in length, two lights is generally adequate (only one light for 2 feet or less in length).
Better yet is mounting via a reflector
Before I seem to be over hyping the relatively new SHO technology, there are other excellent planted aquarium light choices as well.
The new generation T-2 lamps/Fixtures are also great plant lights with over 70+ lumens per watt, lower wasted light energy (less wasted than SHO & other CFLs) and very compact size.
For example two 13 Watt 6400 K T2s are excellent for a 20 gallon with high light requiring plants. Multiple T2s can be interconnected for larger aquariums so as to require just one outlet so that for instance you could have four 13 Watt 6400K T2s for a 60 gallon with medium light requiring plants.
I should also note that there are also many excellent T5 fixtures available for planted freshwater aquariums, although T5 technology is not quite as good as T2 in lumens per watt (they are a slightly older technology), the T5 is still vastly superior to most available T8 and T12 lights still available.
The newest technology yet would be the LED light such as the TMC Aqua Ray with latest generation (patented) CREE XB-D Power LEDs.
Although initial cost is high (but much lower than they were a year prior to this update), the 50,000 hour lifespan and lowest energy usage pays for these lights in the long term. Couple that with the highest lumens per watt, the lowest wasted light energy and the highest focused lumens and you have a real top notch planted aquarium light that requires only .6 watt per gallon for high light requiring plants!
My personal recommendation is a GroBeam “Natural Daylight” or a combination with the “Marine White” LED Fixtures (for deeper aquariums, mixed with GroBeam).
For instance just two GroBeam 600 Strips can create enough light for a 60 gallon low/medium light planted aquarium (I would add 3-4 GroBeam 600s or 2 GroBeam 1500 Ultimas for high light plants).
The picture to the above/left shows a 60 gallon aquarium hood with (4) 6400K T2s and (4) GroBeam 600 LED Lights on the top and a 40 gallon with JUST ONE GroBeam 600 LED (please click to enlarge for a better view).
Other "high end" LED options include:
*A single Mini 400 is excellent for "high light" planted aquariums under 20 gallons.
*The TMC Colour Plus for low to medium light planted aquarium or high light when used 1 to 1 or 1 to 2 with the GroBeam.
The Colour Plus brings out the color of fish and plants better than any other LED available, without as much potential of unwanted algae growth due to the over use of blue emitters by some competing LED Lights.
Another option in LEDs for those looking for plant capable output is the PAR 38 self ballasted screw in lamps. It is noteworthy that not all PAR 38s are created equal as per newer generation CRee emitters at exacting 6500K daylight.
The PAR 38 LED Light pictured here has a newer generation CRee emitters and is placed over one end of a 40 gallon planted freshwater aquarium and is simply installed into a standard incandescent light fixture.
Obviously two are necessary for this size tank (36" in length), but this picture is meant to demonstrate the output of just one of these PAR 38 LEDs.
Finally for reasons of simplicity and economics the CFL lights are also an excellent choices for low to medium light planted freshwater aquariums. Both these light types come highly recommended for planted aquariums under 45 gallons.
*SUBSTRATE;This is provided by a good sandy base and careful cleaning so as to not disturb this. The roots are support symbiotic bacteria that aid in Nitrate assimilation and other processes.
For healthy plants I would suggest any of the following; a substrate of #1 sand mixed with Flourite, Onyx Sand, ADA Aquatic Substrates, or maybe Eco Complete about 3-5 cm deep with a layer of #3 gravel on top about 2 cm deep or simply mix with #0 sized sand. This combination works well for plant roots, ease of vacuuming the top layer ONLY (where plant roots are), and for better bio filtration.
The total depth of sand, plant substrate or any combination there of should be about 3-5 inches for most rooted aquarium plants.
For an old DIY method I have used for a substrate on a budget, one can substitute Eco Complete or similar with a DIY sandy top soil/compost, by preparing the soil thus; Gather aged compost mixed with a sandy top soil (although not good a source of iron, adding a nail or similar to this compost as it ages can add some iron), then add water then rinse and strain to remove large debris until the water runs relatively clear (do not over rinse or you remove nutrients).
I then will let it sit in the open for a few days (A 10:1 bleach solution can be used, although some recent experiments of mine suggest this will destroy valuable organic nutrients, although this will not affect mineral nutrients). The sand that is left is what you mix with your plant roots, please note that although an inexpensive route to go, this ‘homemade plant substrate is not as good as Flourite or similar substrates.
Another substrate suggestion is SeaChem Onyx Sand, this product is carbonate rich with high amounts of Calcium and Magnesium and is specially suited for plants that prefer large amounts of these minerals such as Anubias or in tanks that are supplied by a water source that is very mineral poor (the use of Wonder Shells and Buffers can help as well).
Please be careful when vacuuming with many plant substrates as it is easy to suck these up vacuums and many will mistake these often lighter than gravel substrates as waste (this is especially common with inexperienced aquarium keepers, sadly many of these inexperienced aquarium keepers make statements at Yahoo Answers or YouTube that this substrate represents a "dirty" aquarium often confusing others that do not know better). Not all substrates are light but many are, so extreme care should be exercised with these light substrates such as "kinking" the tubing from the vacuum bell or simply avoiding areas of plant substrates.
See "Aquarium Cleaning"
Other sands for use as a substrate for planted freshwater aquariums:
Pool Filter sand and “play sand” are commonly recommended and used for planted aquariums as well.
There is a lot of mis-information both pro and con as to the use of these sands for planted aquariums.
To start with these sands are primarily silica sand with play sand being more dusty. Some have stated that silica sand is unsafe for use in either freshwater or saltwater, however nothing is further from the truth as silica sand is 99.0-99.9% SiO2 and is considered "totally insoluble" in water according to the US MSDS. The fact is that your aquarium glass is made primarily made from this ingredient and would also be dangerous to your fish if this were true.
The second aspect of the use of these silica sands (the con), that is often promoted by advocates is that these sands provide nutrients necessary for plant roots. This is definitely not true as well and is NOT a reason to use pool sand or play sand as already stated these sands are primarily SiO2 and do NOT have other minerals such as iron that are important to plant roots!
Please reference this article:
Pool Sand Composition
*Another method is to use product that is already a primary gravel/sand substrate such as the use Baylee's Better Bottom substrate. This is similar to my method of using #1 sand mixed with clean compost or #1 sand and/or #3 gravel mixed with Azoo Plant Grower Bed, Flourite or similar.
The advantages of this product are; inexpensive, it looks nice (since it is primarily rock), and it is simple to use with many nutrients already added.
The disadvantages is the amount of nutrients is lower than the use of the before mentioned plant grower substrates, as well adding additional nutrients would obviously be necessary at some point (although one can use Baylee’s Substrate and then add Plant Grower Bed or Flourite later).
Transplant is an important consideration in keeping healthy aquarium plants. The environment (pH, GH, KH, nutrient mix, light conditions, etc.) are not going to be similar in your aquarium as where his plant was uprooted (without much care I suspect too). Extreme shock and sterile gravel are going to play havoc with the initial transplant in to the aquarium.
This shock can last a long period of time (this varies by plant, water environment, and transplant method), after this period the plant will eventually start to grow new leaves and begin to grow.
*BIO AVAILABLE CARBON; CO2 and a Proper Gas Exchange:
Gasses such as Oxygen and CO2 are added/ subtracted from the aquarium via surface agitation. Generally speaking it is oxygen that is added and CO2 that is subtracted. CO2 is organically (naturally) added via fish respiration or other biological activity/decomposition.
Often many "Hands On" advanced aquarium keepers will utilize the most advanced Pressurized CO2 system (as well as complicated Fert delivery). While this might be the way to go for certain hobbyists, from my experience (as well as other experienced pros) many of these time extensive and expensive methods do not have a big payoff with results when time and costs are factored in.
In fact, as a generalization just utilizing good lighting, filtration, and basic ferts as well as simple natural CO2 generation methods will produce at least 70-80% of the results of much more advanced methods!
As well, if your intension is only low to medium light plants, at most I have found only liquid products such as Flourish Excel to be necessary, but usually nothing more be added in a healthy aquarium eco-system for these plant types.
You can add to the bio available carbon/CO2 as noted above through a product called Sea Chem Flourish Excel (probably the most simple way in my experience) or a CO2 generator/system, which vary greatly in cost and CO2 delivery.
This is where there is a lot of misunderstanding, the key is bio available. This why I find Flourish Excel CAN be a useful product as this is bio-available organic carbon when used in conjunction with good lighting and ferts (fertilizers).
However, my experience as well as others experience with Flourish Excel has been mixed, with SeaChem Flourish Excel rating a 6 on scale of 10 when compared to a professional CO2 injection system at a 10 in his scale.
However for those who want a simple way to boost CO2 without the hassles of any type of CO2 system especially with low/medium & even high light plants, this product is hard to beat (use with a drip system is also a consideration).
For more information about Flourish Excel from a Sea Chem question and answer fact sheet, please follow this link:
SeaChem Flourish Excel FAQ
Flourish Excel Drip System Example:
Another way to utilize SeaChem Flourish Excel for bio available carbon (CO2) in a better staggered way than all at once is a calibrated drip system.
In this experiment I was able to get 20 drops per minute.
I measured 20 drops and this was equal to a ¼ tsp. So 4 minutes would equal 1 tsp. There are 6 tsp in one fluid ounce. So at this rate you will go through a ounce in 24 minute. Add the correct dosage for your aquarium size then add the water (RO or DI water is best to mix with Flourish).
Example: For a 50 gallon planted aquarium you would add one capful (5 mL) Flourish Excel, then depending upon how long you would like to stagger the drip would determine the amount of water. For this example I would suggest 20 oz. of water to mix for 8 hours of drip (24 minutes per ounce x 20 ounces water/Flourish Excel solution).
With larger containers, longer dosing times can be achieved, however even though Flourish Excel can remain active for 24 hours, from my experience I would suggest 8 hours for best results (keeping mind that CO2 is not utilized after dark).
Please see the picture above for an example of this DIY Organic Carbon Drip System.
CO2 is also provided by fish and other aquatic inhabitants through respiration, however true nitrifying bacteria use carbon dioxide (CO2) for their source of carbon thus depleting CO2 in the aquarium (please reference this article for more:
“Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle”).
You can sometimes tell if aquarium plants are photosynthesizing by observing the plants.
When small bubbles form on the leaves of plants it is a sign that photosynthesis is occurring. This is commonly referred to as pearling.
To Increase CO2:
• Add a CO2 system such as the basic Jungle Fizz Tabs, Floramat System, Hagen, DIY yeast, or a more advanced CO Reactor system.
I personally do not care for the yeast based CO2 system as they are often no more effective than the Fizz Tabs or Floramat with a lot more hassles. For a more advanced system with a reactor, diffuser; a Pressurized CO2 is the next step up.
• Utilize bicarbonates or carbonates such as SeaChem Alkaline Buffer, Baking Soda or similar KH Buffers; then either allow for SeaChem Acid Buffer (which utilizes proprietary bisulfate salts which are superior to methods that utilize phosphates) to immediately stabilize pH & counteract the KH Buffers and produce CO2 as part of the chemical reaction.
Slow acid production with Pillow (Frog) Moss, Almond Leaf, Peat, or Driftwood can also be used to stabilize pH & counteract the KH Buffers and produce CO2.
If ample acid buffers exist, often just the additoin of an Alkaline (KH) Buffer will react with the Acid Buffer and produce CO2.
Below describes the production of CO2 when Sodium Carbonates (KH Buffer) are combined with Sodium Bisulfate to produce CO2:
>NaHSO4 (Sodium Bisulfate), Na2CO3 (Sodium Carbonate/Baking Soda)
>(HSO4) (Sulfuric Acid) + H2O -----> (SO4)2- + (H3O)+
>2(HSO4)- + (CO3)2- (Carbonate)-----> ?
>CO2 and H2O will be formed.
Often this above chemical reaction is naturally occurring in planted aquariums with little aquarist intervention, as long as the aquarium is well balanced with alkaline & acid buffers both natural (such as Pilliow Moss for Acid) and added (such as SeaChem Alakline Buffer for Alkaline).
The result renders the use of CO2 generators or products such as Flourish Excel unnecessary.
• Add Flourish Excel
Flousish Excel can be quite simply dosed along with other liquid "Ferts" (fertilizers/plant nutrients) by figuring your weekly dosage mixed with water and adding to upside down soda or water bottle with an air line that has a control valve so that you can regulate the speed of the drip into your aquarium.
Generally I use a quart of water with the variable being higher amounts of Excel and Ferts in this mix as per the aquarium size and plant demands (see also the "Ferts"/Nutrients section of this article).
• Cut back on surface agitation, especially power head venturis or air stones. These however can be set to go on at night by using a timer when plants use oxygen, not CO2. Keep in mind that circulation is still necessary just watch the surface agitation where CO2 is exchanged for oxygen.
• Be careful of organic buildup that can deplete CO2 via nitrification. Thorough and regular water changes are a must for more reason than this alone.
• Some bio filters can add to organic build up (Under gravel, and poorly maintained Wet/Dry & Canister Filters).
As well many bio filters such as Wet/Dry can "wear off" your CO2. For this reason the use of Sponge Filters or better yet, Fluidized Sand Aquarium Filters (or both) is advised in planted aquariums utilizing additional CO2.
Effect of light on CO2:
• If the light is very intense and there isn't a corresponding larger amount of CO2, the light can harm your aquarium plants such as rough deposits on the leaves known as biogenic decalcification.
• Too much CO2 without a corresponding amount of light will affect your aquarium plants ability to photosynthesize, and can also harm your fish (fish will be gasping at the surface due to poor oxygen/CO2 ratios in the aquarium).
• A balanced tank will generally have more plants than fish.
Further Biogenic Decalcification Information:
Biogenic decalcification is also problem in systems with high carbonate hardness where there is insufficient CO2 in solution. Adding Peat or Almond Leaves can help with this aspect of biogenic decalcification, as well cut back (but do not eliminate) sources of minerals such as Ferts of Wonder Shells.
A number of species of aquatic plants (such as Elodea/Anacharis) can absorb the bicarbonate ion, keep the CO2, and excrete hydroxide. They tend to live in crowded conditions where there is not much flow-through of water, and, in good light, they can raise the pH to 10. They often precipitate calcium carbonate on their leaves.
Effect of Aeration (air stones etc.) on CO2.
Aeration whether it be air stones and/or breaking of the surface tension via the splashing effect of a HOB filter is essential for fish to provide necessary oxygen, HOWEVER this can also “drive off” important CO2 that you are adding to your tank for plants via a CO2 generator or even via normal respiration of fish.
The other problem is since plants themselves use oxygen at night, this can be deadly to fish when photosynthesis of plants ceases, so here are a few suggestions:
• Whether or not you add CO2 to your tank, in heavily planted aquariums the addition of a timer for the control of an air pump running one or more air stones that is set to turn on when the lights go out can help greatly with this problem.
I would NOT recommend placing a filter on a timer as this can cause destruction of nitrifying bacterial colonies, so if these filters are creating too much aeration that drives off CO2 during the day, I would suggest changing the configuration until your CO2 levels are where you want them and then use an air pump to regulate CO2/Oxygen levels.
• For high end CO2 units, these too should be set to no longer add bubbles of CO2 to your aquarium after your light go out. For the High end DIY CO2 system pictured below, I would either physically turn of the CO2 at night or purchase a valve (similar to those use in irrigation) that closes the valve on the CO2 canister using a timer.
With high end systems combined with high end lights such as SHO (Super High Output) Lights I recommend running have the lights for 12 hours and the other half for 8-10 hours. At the same time, set your pressure valve to diffuse some CO2 after the first lights turn on and then open further after all lights are operating (the amount of CO2 needed will need to be determined by testing and trail and error).
• For more basic CO2 units such as the Floramat (or Jungle), simply only diffuse CO2 into the “mixing chamber” early in the day so that it is depleted or if using the bubble method, the air pump used here can also be on a timer. Yeast based CO2 systems are more difficult to regulate in my experience, but depending on your yeast based system, adding yeast (or tablets such as the Jungle system) early in the day should allow for enough time for CO2 generation to cease by late in the day.
CO2 GENERATORS, Basic, DIY, Professional:
As for CO2 generators, there are many ways of going about this; a DIY, a store bought CO2 generator/ reactor, or a CO2 bottle unit.
Entry level Planted Aquarium Co2 Systems include:
Sanders Floramat CO2 Generator . For newbie’s (and even advanced aquatic plant hobbyists) I find the Sanders model the most foolproof (although currently unavailable due to aerosol shipping restrictions).
*Jungle Fizz CO2 System; this system uses fizz tablets instead of the CO2 canister as in the Sanders Floramat. As with the Floramat, agitating water under the pure CO2 bell will increase the rate of CO2 absorption.
Better though is to utilize the Sponge Pre-Filter method shown in the next section which works well with the Fizz Tabs.
*Hagen Natural Plant CO2 system; this system is popular with many plant keeping aquarists, however (in my experience/opinion) this system is over rated & over priced (for a yeast method).
The "steps" used in the diffusion process of the Hagen unit do not increase CO2 absorption any more than the other basic CO2 kits/systems such as the Sanders Floramat or Jungle system (especially if the DIY diffuser noted in the next section is employed with the Jungle Fizz or even a homemade yeast method). As well, these steps tend to clog with algae and even small snails in some instances.
In my opinion this is a more gimmicky device (the ladder that is) and is not as reliable in CO2 delivery, however that does not mean that this CO2 system does not work either, as it does.
As a positive, although I have not used a different diffusion method such as the DIY method noted later in this article, this type of DIY diffuser could likely be added to the Hagen CO2 system in place of the ladder/steps and although expensive when compared to DIY yeast methods, the Hagen yeast packets are quick and simple (but then so are the Fizz Tabs by Jungle too).
*Homemade Yeast Methods; There are many ways to produce CO2 via the use of yeast and sugars which includes a another method that utilizes Jell-O (Gelatin) for CO2 production.
With these yeast methods the traditional method of diffusion utilizes air line tubing and a limewood air stone or ceramic air stone and for even further/better diffusing of the CO2, the limewood (or ceramic) air diffuser is placed inside a sponge (as pictured in the Diffuser/Reactor Section following this section).
This method of diffusion can be used with the Jungle Fizz tabs too, although it generally diffuses better than with a traditional diffusion bell/chamber by the manufacturer.
Further Information about the Gelatin Method. Please see this pdf download: Gelatin CO2 Method
For a DIY yeast powered CO2 Unit:
DIY Yeast CO2
Advanced CO2 Systems;
The Water-Plant CO2 system with Disposable cartridges is a definite step up from the previously mentioned CO2 systems and DIY methods, yet without the hassle and expense of the professional CO2 systems.
This system has a pressure regulator, and top notch diffuser as with many pro systems, but is much simpler.
Probably the best choice for all but the most die-hard of advanced planted aquarium enthusiasts.
Professional CO2 Systems:
For more advanced/Pro plant aquarists (especially larger aquariums over 100 gallons), I would not use a yeast based system; I would go with an Advanced CO2 reactor that utilize pressurized CO2, CO2 reactors, diffusers, pumps with a venturi and filters such as a canister filter.
Please click on the picture to the left for a better view of such a system.
The CO2 system to the left is a top of the line professional system for advanced planted freshwater aquarium keepers. This product is sold by a company not affiliated with this website, however we recommend this type of COs system for those who desire a more advanced plant keeping CO2 System that are not sold by this website or those affiliated with us.
CO2 DIFFUSERS/ REACTORS
There are many ways to diffuse CO2 into your aquarium from ceramic air stones, limewood airstones, CO2 bells/chambers, as well as DIY gravel vacuum conversions or converted Pre Filters as pictured here.
This Sponge Pre-Filter method was introduced to me by an aquarium plant enthusiast friend in 2007, but I forgot about it until Sept. of 2011 (after a similar method reminded me about this and I thought I would put one together myself).
This utilizes a Filter Max #2 Pre-Filter, with a small hole drilled to add a Lees air line control valve, then an airline check valve as close to the airline control valve as possible.
From the check valve the airline goes to the source of the CO2, whether a Jungle Fizz Tablet Bottle (which is what I used to give it a try), Yeast CO2 generator, gelatin, or in my friends case a fully pressurized CO2 tank with a regulator.
You then connect a relatively slow pump such as the Rio 200 (138 gph) to what would normally be the pump pick up, but in this case, the flow is directed downward so as to trap the CO2.
While as of this article update, I have not used this method of much consequence, my friend has and has noted marked increases in his CO2 using the same generator method, with the only difference being this DIY diffuser.
Further Commentary as per CO2 Systems:
CO2 Generators can greatly improve your planted aquariums growth and over all plant health. However I also do not want beginners to feel these are a must, as with many devices in aquarium keeping (such as UV sterilizers or Protein Skimmers) these are a useful tool. What is frustrating to me is the misinformation though both for and also against.
One argument against these CO2 units is that running CO2 on planted tanks is not “natural”. This is the same arguments against UV Sterilizers (which I can boldly say I have researched VERY extensively).
However the aquarium is a closed environment and in this environment it sometimes necessary to use artificial means to achieve certain results such as strong plant growth with CO2 units or disease prevention, healthy Redox, and “unnaturally clear” water with UV Sterilizers.
Some plants such as Rotala Macrandra are nearly impossible to grow without CO2 Units. CO2 Units also help with “flattening” plant growth within the aquarium where otherwise some plants grow only to the surface with thin stem to seek out CO2 in the air.
Another advantage of CO2 units (of any type) is that they will help with weaknesses in other areas of plant care such as low organic carbon and other nutrient availability.
The bottom line is I recommend them (or at least a supplement such as Flourish Excel), but they are not essential.
If you are a beginner and these devices seem overwhelming, try products such as Flourish Excel and follow some of the tips earlier in this article as to raising CO2.
Also the Jungle CO2 Fizz Tabs is a reasonably good CO2 unit for beginner plant keepers, however for really serious planted aquarium keepers the CO2 Reactor systems (many BETTER systems can be DIY) are hard to beat.
MORE ABOUT CO2
Of coarse there are dangers as well of diffusing too much CO2 into your aquarium, which can be dangerous to your fish, as levels over 30 ppm should be avoided!
3 ppm of CO2 is standard (as an established scientific fact), 10-25 ppm CO2 is considered optimum for the use of CO2 Units.
This of course is a subject of ongoing debate; here is an outside article discussing optimum CO2 levels:
The Krib: CO2 Concentration
You can calculate CO2 levels (which can only be controlled by adding or subtracting CO2 produced by your CO2 unit, not by kH or pH) using this formula:
CO2 (in ppm) = 3 times KH (as measured in degrees of carbonate hardness ONLY, not Phosphates!) times a factor of 10 deviation (+ lower/ - higher) form a PH of 7.0.
Example: a KH of 1 with a pH of 6.0 would produce a CO2 level of 30 (1 * 3 * 10 = 30). A KH of 1 with a pH of 8.0 would produce a CO2 level of .3 (1 * 3 * .10 = .3) For conversion of KH; 17.9 ppm = 1 dKH.
Please note that the presence of ANY phosphates will make this calculation fail.
One more note, pH will climb during peak photosynthesis, especially in tanks with low hardness (yes hardness, not KH!)
Another way to test CO2 is with CO2 test kits (as well as droppers discussed below).
Here are the recommended levels for a planted aquarium with different KH levels.
*10-15 ppm (mg/L) at 5 dKH (90 ppm KH)
*15-30 ppm at 10 dKH (180 ppm KH)
*30-40 ppm at 15 dKH (270 ppm KH)
Here is an interesting CO2 Chart and Calculator for the relationship between KH and pH as it relates to CO2 in planted aquariums:
(Please click to Enlarge)
CO2 Drop Checker;
Here is an excellent article about another more accurate method of checking CO2 when your aquarium water column has other sources of alkalinity such as high phosphates, or if you use products which are high in phosphates (like phosphate plant fertilizers, pH-up or pH-down, which have phosphate buffers):
The Drop Checker by Walter Reed
For a balanced discussion about CO2 generators, I recommend this group:
*PROPER NUTRIENTS OR ‘FERTS’ (including minerals):
Brief Overview; Plant nutrients include nitrogen and phosphorous from fish food and waste and potassium that we add through the addition of nutrients or "ferts" as many planted aquarium hobbyists refer to these nutrients as.
Some trace elements including calcium, magnesium, and iron are also essential. In the case of Iron, too much in the water column can and often will cause algae problems (I prefer Iron to more available in the substrate.
Nutrients (Ferts) can be added to the substrate water or both. Deficiencies in Calcium can cause leaf curling or growth deformations.
Here are basic planted aquarium water parameters (and some suggestions for these elements/nutrients):
Let me first note with the popularity of the "Walstad Method" method of aquarium keeping, that there is one mistake/misconception is that the plants in a closed environment will sustain all chemistry with maybe a water change a few times per year.
This misconception often leads to depletion of essential KH Buffers and equally if not more important Positive Mineral Ions.
The FACTS ARE in this CLOSED System; without the addition of KH Buffers and mineral supplements your fish' health WILL BE COMPROMISED, despite claims of some.
Read a Aquarium Chemistry and Aquarium Redox for a better understanding of WHY.
*GH: 100 ppm or sometimes higher (this is more important than many realize for planted aquariums; “during photosynthesis, a rise in pH can occur in low alkalinity water (20 to 50 mg/L) or in water with moderate to high bicarbonate alkalinity (75 to 200 mg/L) that has less than 25 mg/L hardness”).
This is an often misunderstood aspect of aquarium plant keeping as so much anecdotal information that is out of date with more current aquarium/plant bio chemistry information. Not only do plants need many of the minerals found in “GH”, but just as important potentially dangerous pH upward swings can occur if your GH is much below 50 ppm during plant peak photosynthesis.
For example, I observed a pH of 6.8 in the morning and then a pH of 7.4 in the afternoon when GH is low or almost non-existent. Please see the link lower in this section for a University Study about the subject of GH/pH stability during photosynthesis.
*KH: 50 – 100 ppm; important for good CO2 assimilation. I recommend Sea Chem Alkaline Plant Buffer in combination with Sea Chem Acid Buffer for use in planted aquariums that tend towards low KH. Please note, an acid buffer is often not necessary in planted aquariums due to natural buffers already present.
See: Aquarium Chemistry; KH Buffers (very important!)
*CO2: 20-25 ppm; Sanders Floramat CO2 Generator and diffuser or other CO2 unit, Sea Chem Flourish Excel
*NO3: 5-30 ppm; Fish waste/food and proper aquarium maintenance procedures, Potassium Nitrate (KNO3)
*K+ (Potassium): 10-30 ppm; SeaChem Flourish , fish food (adequately fed)
*PO4: 1.0-2.0 ppm
Anything higher can feed algae more than plants; for this consider products such as Phos-Zorb or NPX Bioplastics (which must be used in a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter)
*Fe (Iron): 0.2-0.5 ppm; Supplied by Azoo Plant Grower Bed or similar, Plant tablets such as Jungle, or best by specific iron supplements such as SeaChem Flourish Iron.
Symptoms of iron deficiency in plants can be chlorosis (yellowing) of the tissue between veins and short and slender stems (most often in new growth). Plants such as Rotala and Ludwigia will often not display red colors when iron is lacking (clay/laterite substrate can help in the case of these plants).
*Ca: 100 ppm +; Supplied by Wonder Shells, SeaChem Equilibrium, water changes, SeaChem Flourish
*Nitrates; .10 to .15 ppm is the general consensus for nitrate levels in a planted freshwater aquarium so as to allow for adequate nitrates for plant growth, but not too much for high algae growth.
Although I have not performed controlled tests, my observations are that too low of nitrate levels will stunt plants and possibly even encourage certain algae (such as Green Spot), while higher nitrate levels will encourage algae to out perform plants and take over an aquarium.
Methods to Introduce Nutrients to your Planted Aquarium:
There are many such methods and so I will not provide anything close to an exhaustive list, rather provide a few suggestions as well as an excellent outside resource.
(1)Many nutrients can simply be supplied by products such as Flourish Root Tabs (or other brands).
These provide most important nutrients directly where most plants with established root systems need them.
In the case of trace elements, Wonder Shells can be a simple source.
(2)Liquid Nutrients; these can be the simple regular dosing of Flourish (which as with root tabs is a non specific basic over nutrient supplement) or a bit more complicated with individual nutrients such as Flourish Iron, Potassium, etc.
For simplification, especially when using multiple specific nutrients/ferts as well as Flourish Excel, a simple dosing system where by figuring your weekly dosage mixed with water and adding to upside down soda or water bottle with an air line that has a control valve so that you can regulate the speed of the drip into your aquarium.
Generally I use a quart of water with the variable being higher amounts of Excel and Ferts in this mix as per the aquarium size and plant demands. The picture/link to the left gives an example of a control valve I use.
As an example for a 60 gallon aquarium using Regular Flourish & Flourish Excel, I would 5 ml of Flourish and 40 ml of Flourish Excel to this quart of water, then establish a drip rate for one week. Generally establishing the drip rate is the most difficult aspect of this method and I usually experiment 4 to 5 pounces of plain water (one days worth) until I get it about where it is empty in a day.
I personally think this dosing system works as well as any other system and is worth while at least giving a try.
(3) PPS Pro (Perpetual Preservation System); this system is very easy to use and is designed especially for aquascapers who want a system that is performing well, does not need much testing and tweaking and also works with all lights and substrates, little or no water changes and large water changes.
See this much more in depth article:
Perpetual Preservation System
Further, More in Depth Explanation of Aquatic Plant Nutrients & Methods:
*Maintaining a moderate level of GH (100 ppm >) is not only important for fish, it is important for plants as well. Calcium and Magnesium which are both found in GH are very important to plants. Deficiencies in Magnesium will inhibit the plants ability to produce Chlorophyll causing pale leaves.
It has also been shown that carbonates produced by plants during hours of peak photosynthesis can raise pH substantially which can be harmful to fish present, however this is modified by an adequate GH level.
Interactions of pH, Carbon Dioxide, Alkalinity and Hardness
Also KH (Carbonate Hardness is important for proper assimilation of CO2 as I have observed in many of the aquariums I have maintained. When the KH has dropped below 50 ppm (3 dKH) Carbon Dioxide use goes down which results in retarded plant growth (an often increased algae growth). Baking Soda can be used in a pinch here, however I recommend more complete buffers such as Sea Chem’s Alkaline Plant Buffer.
Although, not directly about aquarium plants, this article has good information about the very misunderstood topic of positively charged minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and their bio availability:
Ions, Nutrition and all that “Scary” Chemistry
For more about Calcium and Magnesium, as well as KH, please read this article:
“CALCIUM, ELECTROLYTES, AND MAGNESIUM IN AQUARIUMS”
Or for more information about the often misunderstood relationship of GH to other aspects of water chemistry, including photosynthesis, please read this outside source:
Interactions of pH, Carbon Dioxide, Alkalinity and Hardness
*I need to emphasize that feeding a proper fish food (one based in aquatic ingredients, less cereal, and less "by products") will help in that there will be more minerals and other nutrients available for the plants after the fish is through with digestion.
A good example is Spirulina 20. For more about quality fish food ingredients, please read this article:
Quality Fish Food (Proper Aquatic Nutrition); What ingredients are needed for proper fish nutrition, growth and health.
*Use of Activated Carbon and its possible effect on plant fertilizers. This is an often controversial subject, however the simple facts are that only chelated nutrients such as iron or minerals that have lost their positive charge can be removed by activated carbon.
Please see this in depth article for a much better understanding of the positives and negatives of activated carbon use: Aquarium Answers; Activated Carbon
When cleaning your planted aquarium, do NOT over vacuum (this differs from a non planted aquarium despite some rather uninformed YouTube comments I have read, where by many do not understand that many planted aquarium methods/traditions require different, little, or no water changes).
Try and leave some organic mulm behind for eventual nitrate production. Also do NOT rinse your bio filter media such as sponges as thoroughly as you would in a non-planted aquarium as again this will aid in necessary nitrate production. A planted tank will also tend to consume more of your KH due to bio decomposition and the resulting acid production, so keep a close check on this parameter (GH is not depleted as readily, but still gets used by plants and de-composition).
*Filtration & Nutrients/Ferts: Some filter types also effect nitrates and in the end plants; Fluidized Filters are about the most efficient aerobic bio filters bar none without some of the side effects of some bio filters such as UG Filters or even wet/dry of increasing DOC or organic mulm.
The Fluidized filter (as well as a Sponge Filter) do not strip CO2 as many bio filters can, especially wet/dry filters.
For this reason I have found the Fluidized Sand Bed Filters followed by Sponge Filters to be about the best filters to use for planted freshwater aquariums in part due to lack of these problems while supplying adequate nitrates to plants.
For more about nutrients, please refer to our Algae section further down in the article.
*Good water circulation is important for gas exchange (CO2, Oxygen). Water circulation is also useful to avoid stagnant spots. This said too much surface agitation can drive off necessary CO2.
However often a timer is recommended that turns on an additional air stones at night when plants will use oxygen and NOT CO2. This is especially important if your aquarium has a CO2 system that continues to add CO2 at night which can be poisonous to fish at night as the plants will not use this CO2.
*I also recommend algae eating fish to control the inevitable algae. I recommend Otos for small or community tanks or Plecostomus for larger aquariums.
*A pH of between 6.5 and 7.8 works best in my opinion.
*NEW PLANT DIPS:
It is always a good idea to dip your plants prior to addition to your aquarium to prevent addition of strains of algae, disease, and unwanted snails.
• Flourish Excel which contains aldehydes can be used in a 20 minute dip at 20 ml. per 40 L (10 gallons). This is effective for algae, many diseases and somewhat for snails.
• Bleach used in a 20 parts water to 1 part bleach for 2-3 minutes for delicate plants and 4-5 minutes for broad leaf plants; followed by a quick dip in sodium Thiosulfate or other de-chlorinator/ water mixture.
• Potassium Permanganate in a solution of water and enough Potassium Permanganate to turn you water pink for 20 minutes is also effective for many algae, diseases and usually snails.
POPULAR AQUARIUM PLANTS (Some to have and NOT to have).
• Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demerson)- Easy to grow fully aquatic plant, aids in nitrogenous waste removal (they are literal "nitrate sponges". Hornwort prefers neutral or alkaline waters. The one negative with this plant is that the Hornwort commercially available is not a true tropical plant and needs to be adapted slowly for aquarium use. This plant can be either floated or planted (weights are useful for initial planting). In the Tropical version (which is not commonly available) this plant is considered a strictly a floating plant.
*Low to moderate light requirements
This is also a plant that MAY be kept with Goldfish as goldfish tend to not bother this plant. The needles of this plant are usually too spiky for the goldfish to eat
• Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana)- Easy to grow, tropical (from SE Asia), low light plant. A little goes a long way. The thinner this plant is spread over rocks and driftwood, the better it will root itself and the healthier it will look as it grows on your decor. This can take over your aquarium substrate in particular.
*Low to high lighting requirements (high is necessary for strong growth, especially if used in breeding environments or Amano tanks)
*Java Moss has wide tolerances as well; growing in temperatures between 64 - 86 F (18 - 30 C) & pH between 5.0 - 8.0
• Dwarf Anubias (Anubias nana)- Easy to grow, tropical (from West Africa), any light, prefers a rich soil (sand) base. Dwarf Anubias is one of the easier plants to grow. This plant is so hardy that it can even survive out of water. Dwarf Anubias needs very little light and isn't very specific about water conditions. The only negatives are that they grow quite slowly and are vulnerable to beard algae. As in all Anubias species, they are grown from a rhizome (horizontal stem of a plant that often sends out roots and shoots from its nodes).
*Lighting Requirements low
*Anubias Nana have wide tolerances; growing in temperatures between 70 - 86 F (21 - 30 C) & very wide pH between 5.0 - 8.6
• Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)– Easy to grow, tropical (from SE Asia), prefers low light, needs no soil. The Java Fern is quite undemanding and simple to cultivate, even doing well without extra nutrients or Carbon (CO2). The Java Fern is also an ideal plant to use in aquariums that have burrowing fishes, as these fish will usually not bother this plant. This plant should not be buried in the gravel (which also makes them ideal for UG filters), but rather placed on rocks and driftwood, leaving its roots loose in the water column. Java Ferns reproduce by daughter plants that are born on the edge of the leaves of the mother plant and grow off of this.
Another possible plant for goldfish
*Low to moderate light requirements (depending upon the species of Java Fern with the common Microsorum pteropus requiring only very low light while the Philippine version requires moderate lighting)
*As with Java Moss, Java Ferns have wide tolerances as well; growing in temperatures between 64 - 86 F (18 - 30 C) & pH between 5.0 - 8.0
• Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides)– Easy to Grow, tropical (from Tropical Regions), does well in average light and simple substrates (sand/ gravel). A great plant for removing excess nutrients in the water, new leaves unfurl from the base of the plant into lacy fronds. Needs regular trimming to stay looking nice. Be aware fish love to munch this plant, but it grows fast.
*Will survive in low light, but thrives in moderate to high light
• Anacharis/Elodea (Egeria densa)– Relatively easy to grow plant that is a good beginner plant. The Anacharis has branching stems covered in bunches of linear, slightly curled leaves. The Anacharis can be anchored in the substrate by its roots or will also grow when floating freely. This plant does well in both cold and warm water and is excellent for livebearers, although caution should be used with goldfish as they often will nibble at Elodea/Anacharis.
The Anacharis does best in moderate lighting with added nutrients and added CO2 (Flourish Excel is often adequate), under optimum conditions this plant will grow rapidly and added much oxygen during hours of photosynthesis.
• Amazon Sword (Echinodorus amazonicus)- Moderately in difficulty to grow (from Brazil). Amazon Swords require high lighting and rich substrates (such as Azoo Plant Grower Bed ). These plants are relatively hardy and take root easily once they adjust to the new tank. Amazon Swords can be potted (like house plants, in an aquarium) and in aquarium gravel, as both ways work very well. They have large root systems that can overwhelm other aquarium plants.
• Narrow Leaf Sagittaria (Sagittaria Subulata)- Sagittaria Subulata is an easy to grow rosette plant that will thrive in most planted freshwater aquariums. The plant typically grows to a height of 8 inches (up to 16 inches in high light aquariums).
Narrow Leaf Sagittaria will grow quickly and propagates via runners which will form a dense grouping producing 2 - 3 leaves and one runner per month.
To achieve strong growth the substrate should contain iron and with strong lighting less of a factor.
Use of products such as Flourish Root Tabs is an easy and reliable way to provide a healthy substrate with proper nutrients.
* Sagittaria Subulata will thrive in a wide range of pH and water hardness, including brackish aquariums. These plants originate from South America & the Eastern U.S.
• Dwarf Lily (Nuphar stellata)- Easy to moderate difficulty to grow (patience is required for these). These are usually sold as bulbs as there are true lilys that have leaves that vary from green to brown to shades of red. The growth of these plants parallels Banana Plants (which is another type of Dwarf Lily). Often these Lily bulbs are sold by stores such as Walmart as Assorted “Aponogeton Bulbs” (usually dry) and many will never sprout (usually anywhere from 1/5 to ½ may not sprout).
These are actually better to keep under low to moderate light, otherwise you will end u with large green common lily that looks more appropriate in a pond than an aquarium.
Also Plecostomus do NOT do well with lilys (they will usually eat them faster than they can grow.
These bulbs should not be planted, although plant soils such as Azoo Plant Grower bed can be added to the area around the bulb to aid in nutrients for the sprouting plant.
• Wendtii, Red (Cryptocoryne wendtii)- Easy in grow (from South-east Asia). These are excellent beginner plants that only require low light, tolerate soft to very hard water, and very wide pH range 6.0 – 9.0
• Aquarium Banana Plant (Nymphoides aquatica)- Easy to moderate grow (from SE USA). Banana Plants require moderate to high lighting with no special substrate requirements. Usually an easy plant to grow and to take care of. Banana Plants adapt to most water conditions. Do not make the mistake of burying these plants too deep. Banana Plants send leaves up 8-12 cm high approximately every 4 to 5 days it will also grow replica plants. A good plant for the beginner or serious hobbyist.
• Rotala Macrandra– Moderate to difficult to grow (from the Far East; Laos, Vietnam, ECT). Rotala Macrandra requires strong light, soft water (pH 5-7), CO2, and pruning to thrive and look their best in aquariums. Without CO2 these plants will tend to send thin stems to the surface and never really fill out.
• Cryptocoryne lutea ( “Giant Mother Plant”)– Moderate difficulty to grow (from Southeast Asia), Needs to be planted and fertilized. Many have had success with this plant in regular gravel. Crypt Lutea may go through a period of die-off when first planted, but recovers after a couple of weeks. This plant spreads its roots very far, so if you remove it, be careful to not pull it too hard or you will may destroy the root structure.
Crypt Lutea tolerate wide variances in temperature, hardness, pH and lighting which makes this plant easy to grow in many different tank environments. As noted earlier, transplant & ferts are the more difficult aspect of this plant.
• Plants I generally recommend not to have;
Any terrestrial plant adapted to aquariums (plants that can't be grown submersed indefinitely) such as Mondo Grass, Purple Waffle, Aluminum Plant or Peace Lilies. I will make the exception that the above plants make excellent bog plants when the roots are kept under water (absorbing nutrients for better tank health) while the leaves are out of the water.
One more exception would be the use of Dracaena (Dracena) when properly prepared and potted, please see this outside article: “Planting a fish Tank with Unusual Plants (Terracotta with Terrestrial)
Other plants I do not recommend are Cabomba as these non-tropical plants have high light requirements and tend to be difficult in warm aquarium environments which often results in this plant breaking apart and causing a mess.
PLACES TO PURCHASE LIVE PLANTS ON LINE:
We now currently no longer have any website we can recommend to order plants online from, however any suggestions and why are welcome!!
When it comes to algae control in a planted tank this is also noteworthy as even though added carbon (CO2) will often help plants out compete algae, thus retarding unwanted algae growth, if algae grows out of control as soon as added carbon is removed, there are likely other problems contributing to this, including;
*Unusable/ unavailable nutrients (micronutrients and macronutrients). Here is a list of important nutrients (listed in recommended added solution, not ppm as stated earlier in the article):
Potassium (often available as Soluble Potash)- .37%, Iron- .32%, Sulfur- .27%, Sodium- .13%, Calcium- .14%, Magnesium- .11%, Nitrogen- .07%, Nitrogen- .07%, Available Phosphate- .01%, Boron- .009%, Cobalt- 0004%, Copper- .0001%, Zinc- .0007% Molybdenum- .0009%,.
Here are a few sources: Sea Chem Flourish, PMDD , Regular Wonder Shells, Jungle Plant Tabs . Not all these sources have all the required nutrients many can be mixed as you find your own success.
Much has been published lately about the addition of PO4 (phosphates) to control algae, however I believe this is only partially correct and based on some false assumptions; PO4 along with NO3 and Potassium are important Macronutrients that need to be in balance. I have found that simply changing water will (assuming proper mineralization of new water) will control algae by adding all these macronutrients.
What is happening is that algae are much better equipped than higher plants to compete in conditions of low nutrients, however the addition of these nutrients allows much better competition. Adding only PO4 does not bring these macronutrients into balance and even though many claim this solved their problem, they have not run a control group to see if this was only part of the equation.
*Poor substrate for healthy plant growth (only certain plants!). Make sure your substrate is rich in Iron (Fe). Iron is the most important trace element; your tank substrate should contain a reasonable amount of Iron. Liquid iron will, if over dosed, favor Hair algae. It can be added through tablet Iron rich fertilizers and through substrates like Azoo Plant Grower Bed , Laterite and Fluorite
*Important! - Poor lighting that does not allow plants to compete with algae. Although when more light is added more nutrients including CO2 are needed. I do not agree with the method of darkening a tank for a few days as plants often have higher light requirements than algae (in part due to their complexity), this only gives the algae more time to out compete plants!
As well poor or low lighting encourages Brown Diatom Algae and too much actinic light can encourage the growth of BBA algae of plant growth.
It is noteworthy that strong blue light will cause plant growth to be more compact and bushy and will also tend to promote algae growth. So for the best plant growth with the lowest green algae growth, it is best to balance 2/3 red to 1/3 blue light emissions.
*High or too low Nitrates. Nitrates should be above 15 ppm for plants, but not above 40 ppm as I have seen in many aquariums with excessive algae growth (although high nitrates is rarely a problem in tanks with healthy plant growth). Too low and plants will starve for this important macronutrient.
* Aquarium Cleaning Frequency. Often increasing the frequency (even twice or tree times per week) will improve conditions in the aquarium so as to allow plants to out compete algae. In part this improves the macronutrient balance as discussed above (as well as improvements in Redox and lowering DOC). I however do not recommend increasing the amount of water changed.
*Trim plants of dying, decaying, or algae covered leaves, even if this removes much of your plants. This is much like pruning in your garden. This forces plants to generate new and healthy leaves that will often do better at out competing algae.
*Algae Eating Inhabitants Red Cherry and Amano Shrimp (among others) can reduce many types of algae (including BBA). As well Nirite Snails are excellent for many types of algae, including Brown. Finally Oto Cats and many different algae eating fish such as Bristlenose Plecostomus are excellent for some types of algae.
See the section further in this article about algae eaters.
*Dip your new (or even established plants, although this will cause a temporary shock to established plants) in Sea Chem Flourish Excel , this product can be used as a quick dip solution (about 30 seconds) for plants to kill algae. I recommend diluting with about 5 parts water with 1 part Flourish Excel, however I have not established an exact dilution as of yet, so any feedback from readers is appreciated.
Also the dosing of Flourish Excel in your aquarium can be effective for algae control as well. Flourish Excel contains a polymerized isomer of glutaraldehyde trademarked as polycycloglutaracetal by SeaChem and is the active ingredient in this product, which is a fertilizer for aquatic plants. It is claimed that it provides a bioavailable source of carbon for higher plants that is not available to algae. Though not marketed as such due to federal regulations, the algaecidal effect of glutaraldehyde kills most algae at concentrations of 0.5 - 5.0 ppm.
Hydrogen Peroxide can also be used as a dip/bath (or even added directly to the aquarium), this can be especially effective for the control of BBA (Black Beard Algae) & Cyanbacteria. When added directly to the tank, this is best at a rate of 2 oz. of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide per 10 gallons. HOWEVER this is best done without shrimp (such as Cherry Shrimp) present, as this will generally kill them. As well many fish are sensitive to Hydrogen Peroxide, such as Cory and Oto Catfish, so my preferred use is as a dip/bath.
As well Corkscrew Vallisneria are sensitive to Peroxide and killed.
For plant baths, I would recommend about 4 oz. of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide for approximately 30 minutes. For a 30 second dip, about a 5 to 1 solution of Hydrogen Peroxide applied by basting the plants with the solution (this solution can be increased if results are not satisfactory).
Please see this outside article for more about the use of Hydrogen Peroxide as an algaecide: The Krib; Hydrogen Peroxide as an Algae Treatment
As well please read this article for about the use and risks of Hydrogen Peroxide: Hydrogen Peroxide
If you have any questions/reservations to the use of Hydorgen Peroxide as a plant dip/bath, etc. for algae, I would recommend using the Flourish Excel mentioned earlier as although not as effective for killing the algae, it is also much less harsh on certain plants or fish either. As well for certain algae I have simply controlled using other methods noted here or in more depth in this article: Aquarium Algae
*Improper GH and KH levels (or mineralization, especially GH). Here is a quote:
“The release of carbonate converted from bicarbonate by plant life can cause pH to climb dramatically (above 9) during periods of rapid photosynthesis by dense phytoplankton (algal) blooms. This rise in pH can occur in low alkalinity water (20 to 50 mg/L) or in water with moderate to high bicarbonate alkalinity (75 to 200 mg/L) that has less than 25 mg/L hardness.”
Interactions of pH, Carbon Dioxide, Alkalinity and Hardness
*A poor Redox Potential which is often improved by better and more frequent water changes and proper mineralization such as Calcium, Magnesium and sodium as stated above. Also the addition of UV Sterilization
Here is a common algae in Aquariums
Black beard algae is a form of "red algae" in the genus Audouinella that commonly attaches to edges of plant leaves or drift wood and is more common in low CO2 water conditions, that are low in minerals, carbonates, and pH (although these algae will also grow in alkaline, high pH waters as well). As stated above, many good aquatic husbandry methods will aid in combating this algae
Physically removing rocks and wood that have these algae on it and then scrubbing it off will also give plants a better chance of utilizing nutrients and over coming these algae. The use of Sea Chem Flourish Excel has been shown to be effective for some in control of this algae. The reason behind this is that Flourish Excel formula is Aldehydes based which are effected by oxidation which is another indicator of the importance of VERY regular but often small water changes (as much as 5-10% per day) to bring about a healthy Redox (among other methods of Redox control). This admittedly is only a theory at this point, however I have observed vastly better algae control (all sorts of algae) in ponds where the Redox is stable.
I will finally add that most true algae (not Cyanobacteria) compete with plants for the same nutrients and light, so battling algae is often very difficult, however from my experience with ponds in particular it is often a war than cannot be totally won but certainly can be checked by keeping nutrients away from algae (such as substrate nutrients) while providing them to plants and understanding that algae are more simple life forms than plants and have less complicated needs, so addressing the more complex needs of higher plants will allow them to out compete (sometimes this is as simple as removal of as much algae as possible to give the plants a foot hold, although this can also be a much more difficult task).
For further reading in the subject of algae, Please see this Aquarium Answers Article (post): “Aquarium Answers; Aquatic Algae”
I also recommend this outside article: Aquarium Algae
POPULAR PLANTED AQUARIUM ALGAE EATING INHABITANTS;
* Shrimp- such as cherry shrimp.The Red Cherry Shrimp (also known as cherry red) is a popular shrimp in the aquarium hobby.
Picture is of a "berried" female carrying eggs.
This shrimp is one of the better fresh water algae eating shrimps. Red Cherry Shrimp are fairly easy to care for. As with most shrimp, they are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrite, so it is of great importance that the aquarium they are in has been established and cycled for a while. They prefer water around 70°F-80°F but it is reported that they can survive in water as cold as 50°F (not recommended). Most pH ranges suitable for aquarium fish will also work well for the Red Cherry Shrimp.
For more Cherry Shrimp information, I recommend reading this article: Cherry Shrimp - Neocaridina denticulata sinensis
*Oto Catfish (genus Otocinclus)Popular non destructive algae eating catfish that usually mixes well in a planted community tank. Oto Catfish tolerate a wide pH range of 5.2-7.5 and prefer a temperature between 68 to 82 F (20- 28 C). Otos grow to 1.5” (4 cm).
This page has a video of Oto Catfish being caught in the wild: Aquatic Videos
Apple Snails Apple Snails can live together with most fish species and they can be used to keep the aquarium clean of algae. Not all apple snail species are a good choice for aquaria as their voracious appetite for aquatic vegetation will often result in your aquatic plants being decimated.
A Better choice for planted tanks: Nerite Snails
Nerite Snails are an easy snail to keep. I would recommend you keep them in water with a pH above 7.0 and a GH over 150 ppm is best for these snails being that these are snails that breed in marine or brackish water (Wonder Shells are good for this). Even if these snails lay eggs in your freshwater tank, they will not hatch unless you provide brackish or marine water which keeps these snails from over populating. Nerite Snails almost exclusively eat algae and do not seem to harm plants at all and can clean up very heavy algae growths in a month or two.
For more about snail identification, please see this site: Various Freshwater Snails
Please be careful as to anecdotal and faddish advice in the care of aquatic plants and this is an area of aquarium keeping (along with reef keeping) that has a lot of advice floating around that is based more on opinion than facts or true research. This is also not to say this article is the only way to keep plants, that is my point there are many successful ways of keeping aquarium plants, just be careful of statements such as yeast based CO2 generators are the only way to go when in fact less glamorous methods such as Floramat works quite well (and is used by many in the aquarium maintenance community where it is more important uses economical methods that work over “popular” methods). Also nitrifying bacterial cultures do NOT survive in liquid form at room temperatures well at all. This why I know more in the Aquarium Service community that use Azoo Plant Grower Bed over Eco Complete as this is an un needed gimmick not to mention Azoo Plant Grower Bed is cleaner and more complete (although the complete statement itself in anecdotal based on mine and others in the service communities experience).
ALSO as to CO2 or carbon, this is ONLY ONE ingredient in healthy plant growth (and algae control as well). This point is often missed even well funded terrestrial plant studies have shown that added CO2 will not increase plant growth without proper nutrients, substrate and light (the importance and what constitutes good Aquarium lighting is often misunderstood). Added carbon in the form of SeaChem Flourish Excel will also improve the effectiveness of a CO2 injection system or eliminate the need altogether (depending on other variables).
Here is an excellent article about a CO2 drop checker:
*The Drop Checker by Walter Reed
Recommended Forum for Plant Keepers:
Here is an interesting Blog I recommend reading:
Another excellent resource (I do not agree with 100% of the conclusions, but this is a well written and educational article):
As noted in the "Overview" section of this article, plant care is not my aquarium specialty (my expertise is more in Aquarium electrolytes, UV Sterilization, filtration, diseases and disease prevention). That said, a person (many consider a Guru) made ridiculous, inflammatory, & simply incorrect remarks about Redox.
I have spent many years of research about Redox and its effect on fish and the aquatic environment in general. It was brought to my attention that he has made rather anecdotal and misinformed statements about this subject rather than engage in informed debate (typical of the aquarium industry to shoot itself in the foot this way), so while I still think his site is useful for plant care, my opinion of his other aquatic knowledge has taken a major hit and I would advice others to be wary as well.
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