A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO PLANTED TANKS!

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WyldFya

Baryancistrus demantoides
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Dec 23, 2005
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There are a few things to consider when thinking about a planted aquarium. I will cover these things in depth, and look at a few things that have worked for me and have not worked for me. There are three primary factors to having a healthy planted aquarium.
Lighting is one of the most important factors in the growth and development of your plants. The lighting can effect the growth of a plant dramatically. Different plants will need different amounts of light. If you have accessibility to the lumen output this will be a better gauge of how much light is being put out by the lights that you have. However if you do not know the lumen rating of your lights, then the wattage can give a basic level known as ‘watts per gallon’ (WPG). When choosing your plants, make sure they are for the proper lighting level. These levels can be broken up into three sections.

The first section of lighting is low light. These plants will grow with a minimal amount of light. Approximately 1-2.5 WPG will do. These plants include some cryptocoryne, anubia, echinodorus (swords), bolbitis, microsorium (java ferns), and vesicularia (java moss) species. The second section of lighting is medium light, which will need approximately 2.5-4 WPG. Plants included are several aponogeton, crinum, echinodorus, hydrocotyle, riccia, and vallisneria species. Finally, high lighting, which will be 4+ WPG. Plants included are sagittaria, salvinia, ludwigia, limnophila, lemna, hygrophila, eichhornia, echinodorus, cabomba, bacopa, aponogeton, and alternanthera species. Many plants can go up to higher lighting, but none can go down.

There are several types of lighting available that are not going to have a high enough lumen rating to do much good. Incandescent and florescent bulbs will be very ineffective for most plants. The watts used to lumens put out will be a waste of energy. Compact florescent, metal halide, LED, and high output T5 will all be good choices depending on the size of the tank. Compact florescent lights are very commonly used, as are the high output (HO) T5 lights. Metal halides can be a great light to use, and are often used in very serious setups. The spectrum of the bulb is very important as well, as you cannot buy a standard florescent twist bulb and use it on your planted tank. There are new light bulbs popping up everyday, and some are useable for planted tanks. One final option for lighting is the natural approach. Having the tank is a place where it can receive sunlight all day long. With this method your nutrient and carbon dioxide levels will have to be very precise.

How long do I keep my lights on? Well for plants lighting can be anywhere from eight to fourteen hours. The amount of light will vary by keeper, however, much less will result in slower, and sometimes stunted growth. Beyond fourteen hours you will again be wasting electricity, as the plants will stop growing. Lighting can also be the bane of your planted tanks existence if your nutrients are not balanced to the lighting.

Nutrients are needed in order to keep your plants growing well. The three primary nutrients for your aquatic garden are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Other important nutrients are iron and magnesium. There are several types of fertilizers that can be used in your aquarium. Dry fertilizers are a common occurrence as they are cheap, and often give the keeper more control over specific nutrients. Next is the liquid fertilizer is the easiest to find in your local fish store. However, these can be very expensive, and often have lower amounts of nutrients, and are a clump deal. Finally there is the root tab. These are ideal for plants that draw most of their nutrients through their roots. IT IS CRITICAL that these nutrients be chelated. If they are not they can bind to other elements, and become too large for you plants to use.

Substrates can also supply a large amount of nutrients, and a high quality substrate is very important. Many manufacturers make a plant substrate now, and are readily available at many local fish stores. Your substrate needs to be a medium to small grain. If the substrate is too large you will often have trouble rooting plants to the substrate. Sand is a very good choice for a substrate medium. Layering substrates is a very good method. Using different substrates to supply different nutrients, will be very beneficial for use, but not required. Be very careful if you do choose to layer your substrate though. It is essential to have the grain size get larger the closer to the surface you get. If you have sand on top of a medium grain substrate you can trap very harmful gasses in you substrate to accumulate.

The final part to the triad is carbon dioxide. There are a few things to look at when looking at carbon dioxide. The first is the rate of loss. Surface agitation will cause much of the CO2 to be exchanged, and therefore lost. Fish will be a natural source of CO2. This however is often not enough, and supplementing CO2 can become necessary. CO2 can be supplemented in a few ways, including pressurized tanks, chemical reaction, and biological reaction. CO2 is often a very big inconvenience, but the results can be very satisfying.

Pressurized tanks can be very costly. The primary method is the use of a CO2 regulator, bubble counter, solenoid and reactor or diffuser. This can quickly have your head spinning. Relax… this method is not as difficult as you might think. A more detailed post about regulator sets will follow later.

Chemical reaction is often just as expensive for initial setup as a pressurized aquarium, and for larger tanks, can be much more costly. I have little experience with this system, and am not willing to put up the money to learn about it.

Biological reaction is the cheapest and easiest to use. This system can be purchased in most LFS, or manufactured at home using a few simple items. The most common method is a small canister with yeast, and sugar. This is a closed system that supplies CO2 to a diffuser.

Most plants used in the hobby will be tropical, and need warmer climates. The same is true about your substrate. Keeping your substrate warm, will help with growth, but is not required. Root cables are very effective at keeping the substrate warm, however this is another electrical source in your tank.

WyldFya :thumbsup:
 

WyldFya

Baryancistrus demantoides
MFK Member
Dec 23, 2005
20,791
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132
Moscow, ID
There are a number of fish that can be kept with your planted tank. I have had so many over the years, but have been the happiest with the most simple. A common occurrence is the discus planted tank. This is a very popular look as the discus can really stand out against the forest of plants. Just about any fish can be kept with plants, the key is just figuring out which plants can go with which fish. Even large carnivores can be easily kept in a planted tank. The hardest fish to match to plants are fish that dig, or burrow.

The first thing to look at when choosing fish for your aquarium is, what will they do for the tank. These fish have two distinct roles in your aquatic garden, aesthetic purposes, and for pest/algae control. Many fish are commonly found in planted tanks, but are hardly ever seen. Algae control can be a very big issue if your fertilizer regime has not be set. Many species can be a big help in this problem. Otocinclus are a great addition to any planted tank, but can also starve once the fertilizer regime has been settled. Other algae cleanup members include: hillstream loaches, redtail black sharks, rainbow sharks, mollies, loricariids, and siamese algae eaters all will do different types of algae. Amano shrimp and ghost shrimp can also help with these problems, however they are a delicacy to many fish. The loricariid, or pleco, is often passed over for fear that they will destroy the plants. This, however, is a common misconception. If your plants are properly housed in healthy conditions they will grow faster than the loricariid can keep up with.

Aesthetic fish are mostly just for looks, however, they will also supply some nitrogen for the plants to feed on, as well as carbon dioxide. Many fish can be kept in planted tanks for their looks.

There are several invertebrates that also can find a good home in your planted tank. Malaysian trumpet snails are a good snail to have for your tank. These little guys can help free toxic gasses that get trapped in your substrate. Many shrimp will find a good home in your tank, and will live a very happy life. Be wary of snails for the most part though. Although MTS are very helpful, many of their relatives can be devastating to a planted tank. Few snails can be housed with your plants, and most will destroy your plants. Even though you may only put in a couple, soon that population can become hundreds, and you just invited them to a banquet.

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WyldFya

Baryancistrus demantoides
MFK Member
Dec 23, 2005
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Moscow, ID
There are many parts to a pressurized CO2 kit, and they can range from very basic, to fully automatic, with all the bells and whistles. At first glance these contraptions and setups can send your head spinning. Relax, this is much easier than it initially looks. There are a few basic parts that are required for this system. In the following section I will cover the different parts, and options available, and basic use of them.

The initial and most important part to pressurized CO2 is the tank of CO2 itself. This can often be purchased locally, most frequently at your local welding shop. Another location to check for these is any location with kegs of beer, as they will also have CO2 tanks for rent. I recommend buying rather than renting. Renting is always an option though.

Regulator
This part will regulate the pressure that comes from the tank, into a more manageable flow rate. Some regulators that are intended solely for use on aquariums will be set, and very difficult to adjust, or permanently set. This unit will attach directly to the CO2 tank. It is critical that you have a gasket between the regulator and the tank to avoid leaks. Some regulators will be fine with just the gasket, others will recommend the use of teflon tape.

Bubble Counter
The bubble counter is a simple container which consists of in input (where the CO2 is being supplied from), and an exhaust. The unit is filled with water. This is installed inline after the pin/needle valve, and will enable you to visually check how much CO2 is coming out from the regulator.

Pin/Needle Valve
The pin/needle valve is vital to adjusting the flow rate even more. This will very slowly adjust the opening in which the CO2 passes. You can visually check the rate with your bubble counter.

These four parts form the basic structure of pressurized CO2. It is very important when delivering CO2 from any source to your tank that you use the proper tubing. Standard vinyl tubing will be slowly eaten away by the CO2 itself. Silicone can be used, however you will lose a considerable amount of CO2. The best is a CO2 rated tubing, available at many aquatic plant stores online.

Solenoid
The solenoid is not essential to pressurized CO2, however, it can save a lot of money in the long run. The solenoid is a simple unit, that runs on electricity, and will cut off the supply of CO2 to your tank when unplugged, or when on a timer, will shut off. As CO2 is not needed at night, this can easily be put on the same timer as your lights.

pH Monitor/Controller
The pH monitor is a simple unit that will constantly monitor your pH. A pH controller is a similar unit, however this will control your solenoid, and can shut off your CO2 at pre-determined levels. This is important as when you inject CO2 into your tank, your pH will drop, and the more CO2 you inject the lower your pH will become. Without the controller you can be in danger of dropping to dangerous levels, and even lethal levels.

CO2 Reactor/Diffuser
The reactor is a unit powered by a pump of some type, be it canister or powerhead. These are simple units, which simply allow the water more time to combine with the CO2 before entering the tank. The CO2 diffuser is in essence very similar to an air stone, however, these will release much smaller bubbles. Another form of diffuser is a simple ladder, or spiral that will keep the CO2 in the tank for longer times to enable the maximum amount of time for absorption. The final method to diffusing the CO2 into the water is a powerhead with a 1/8” input. Placing the CO2 into this slot will allow the powerhead to form very small bubbles.

The reactor or diffuser is a must, and cannot be avoided with either the simple biological reaction CO2, or any pressurized CO2 method. The pH controller/monitor, and solenoid are completely optional, and your tank can live happily without them, however they will make your life much easier.

Once your unit is assembled and pumping carbon dioxide into your tank, you are one step closer to having a lush jungle inside your glass box. You are not done though! You have to be very careful not to get your CO2 concentrations too high, or you may risk losing fish, and inverts. CO2 levels can be kept at fairly high levels. ~50-80 ppm is a very good range for most fish, and higher can be done depending on the types of fish you are keeping. If you see rapid gill movement it is time to back it down. When using pressurized CO2 it is a good idea to have a reliable pH and KH test kit readily available.

One thing to watch out with CO2 injection is that at night when plants stop photosynthesizing, they begin to respire, which means that they will use oxygen. If you are injecting CO2, and do not have any O2 being injected, nor enough surface agitation, you can quickly kill off an entire tank of occupants. A simple bubbler and air stone set to come on when lights go off is a simple solution to this problem.

CO2 is easily gassed off. It is very important that with CO2 injection that you do not have any surface agitation, or bubblers.

WyldFya :thumbsup:
 
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WyldFya

Baryancistrus demantoides
MFK Member
Dec 23, 2005
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Moscow, ID
There are many things to consider when you scape your tank. First you must decide which route you wish to take with your tank. Also, physical structures are also a great way to bring depth to the tank, and to break up the plane that plants can grow on. Plants can be broken up into three primary groups, foreground, mid-ground, background.

Foreground
These plants are generally short, growing to a max height of 6". They will generally inhabit the front of the tank. Foreground plants can consist of two different types, ground cover, and rosettes.

Midground
These plants are generally going to find homes in the middle of the tank. This area of the tank is always one of the hardest sections to decide on, and can be mid height plants, or short plants placed on

Background
These plants are going to be in the rear of the tank. Generally background plants are very tall, and will reach the top of the aquarium.

Structures
Driftwood and rocks are often a good starting place. Searching for just the right piece can be very difficult, but with the right piece can make a beautiful tank a stunning tank.

Contrast or Similarity
When deciding on the plants you have, a plan should be in position, be it similarity or contrast. Similarity can come from plants that are very similar, such as grasses, or plants from the same body of water. Contrast can be in the form or unique plants, color differences, leaf variance, or regional difference. Either way a focal point is needed.

WyldFya :thumbsup:
 

WyldFya

Baryancistrus demantoides
MFK Member
Dec 23, 2005
20,791
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132
Moscow, ID

John N. said:
On Aquaria Central

Estimative Index Fertilization Method

Let’s cut to the chase. People want to have a lush planted aquarium with as little work and money as possible. When it comes to fertilizing the aquarium finding an easy, cost-efficient way can be quite a predicament – but it doesn’t have to be.

The Estimative Index (EI) popularized by Tom Barr is a straightforward fertilization method for dosing nutrients in a planted aquarium without the need for monitoring water parameters. This method works on the basic principle of supplying more nutrients to plants then what they actually consume during a week’s timeframe. At the end of each week, the hobbyist “resets” the aquarium and nutrient levels by performing a large waterchange that flushes out the system. This whole process creates an “estimative” amount of nutrient levels that are more than adequate for plants to grow healthily.

The Estimative Index method works best with high light and heavily planted aquariums, but can work with lower light levels and less plant mass by reducing the frequency or amount doses in the suggested regimes. It assumes the aquarium will have adequate CO2 of 30 ppm or above. In both high light and low light situations, the hobbyist will dose fertilizers daily according the instructions below, and do a weekly 50% water change.

The primary fertilizers used in any planted aquarium are the macro nutrients – Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), Potassium (K), and the micro/trace elements (Plantex CSM+B, Seachem Flourish, Tropica Plant Nutrition). Iron (Fe) can also be supplemented if desired, but in most cases not necessary.

How do I use these fertilizers and the Estimative Index?

Fertilizing via EI is simple. Every other day dose the prescribed macros elements, and on the off days add in the trace/micro elements. Perform a 50% waterchange at the end of the week. By following one of the commonly used dosing programs below for your specific tank size you can ensure your plants are getting what the need throughout the week.

10-20 Gallons
1/8 tsp KNO3 3x a week
1/32 tsp KH2PO4 3x a week
1/32 tsp K2SO4 3x a week
1/32 tsp (2ml) traces 3x a week

20-40 Gallons
1/4 tsp KNO3 3x a week
1/16 tsp KH2PO4 3x a week
1/16 tsp K2SO4 3x a week
1/16 tsp (5ml) traces 3x a week

40-60 Gallons
1/2 tsp KNO3 3x a week
1/8 tsp KH2PO4 3x a week
1/8 tsp K2SO4 3x a week
1/8 tsp (10 ml) traces 3x a week

60-80 Gallons
3/4 tsp KNO3 3x a week
3/16 tsp KH2PO4 3x a week
1/4 tsp K2SO4 3x a week
1/4 tsp (15ml) traces 3x a week

100-125 Gallons
1 1/2 tsp KNO3 3x a week
1/2 tsp KH2PO4 3x a week
1/2 tsp K2SO4 3x a week
1/2 tsp (30ml) traces 3x a week


Example of a dosing program for a 29 gallon tank.


*K2SO4 is not required for dosing unless you need the extra Potassium (K). This K is found in KN03 and KH2P04. Dosing these two according to above will yield sufficient K levels. Therefore, one will be fine dosing only KN03 and KH2P04, and Plantex. However, if one finds the need to supplement the K2SO4, there is no harm by dosing this chemical as part of your fertilization regime.

Where can I buy the fertilizers and chemicals?

Aquarium Fertilizers can provide you with the necessary chemicals for dry and liquid dosing of the above. For micro - trace elements, Plantex CSM+B, Seachem Flourish, and Tropica [/color]Plant Nutrition are equivalent to each other. For the Seachem and Tropica brands visit Drsfostersmith.com and Bigalsonline.com.

One pound bags of each of Aquarium Fertilizer Chemicals will last at least 1 year:

· (Trace) Plantex CSM+B
· (N) Potassium Nitrate KN03
· (P) Monopotassium Phosphate KH2P04
· (K) Potassium Sulphate K2S04 (optional)


Special Notes:

Providing optimal CO2 levels of at least 30 ppm are necessary for plants to prosper and out-compete algae. If algae issue arise, remove all visible algae and infected leaves. Recheck CO2 levels, and possibly reduce and adjust the lighting period.

Direct dry dosing into the tank is perfectly fine. Many dosing straight into the tank, or they dissolve each chemical in water before adding.

Making a Liquid Stock of Plantex CSM+B is more often mixed into a bulk liquid solution since some find it more convenient to dose their trace elements this way. The recipe for this solution is 1 tablespoon to 250ml water is equivalent to: 20 ml = 1/4 teaspoon of dry Plantex. This solution is stored in refrigerators to prevent mold from forming within the container. For making stock solutions for NPK use Chuck Gladd's Conversion Calculator.

Small dosing teaspoons (smidgen, dash, pinch) can be found at Linen & Things, Bed Bath and Beyond, Wal-Mart, dollar stores, eBay and other online retailers. To identify the specific measurements of your smidgen, dash, pinch set, a 1/8 tsp should fill a ¼ tsp in 2 tries, 1/16 tsp in 4 tries, and a 1/32 tsp in 8 tries.

You will see results right after the first week of dosing. Your plants will grow faster and your plants will look healthier. Keep with the dosing program, and you'll see your planted aquarium become a nice looking showpiece for your home.

-John N.
AquaScaping World Magazine
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