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Old 02-27-2019, 05:01 PM   #1
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Aquascaping mistake

Hi there, planted tank keepers,

I want to try making my first aquascaped tank, and I think I've already made a serious mistake that will cause me to tear everything down. Not a great loss, as I don't have any plants or fish yet, but I did spend a lot of time getting the rockwork just right and adding soil and sand. What I'm learning from reading through this board now is that using organic potting soil was probably a bad idea. Not only is it very messy (I put it in four days ago and the water still is dirty brown within a day of changing it), but I have been reading that, if laid too deep, it can develop pockets of toxic gas where the soil is insufficiently aerated.

Well, for my aquascape, I wanted mountains, and I used a hollow plastic frame to help shape them rather than piles of rocks. As a result, there are areas in this tank where the dirt is piled up to ten inches high. I can't imagine that bodes well for the future. So....I guess I have to tear it down and start over, right?

If that is the case, I have two questions:

First, how do you keep sand in the shape of a mountain, even with a rock frame underneath? It seems as though it would just slide off. At least the soil could be formed into a mountain and sort of stick together.

Second, is it true that you only need liquid ferts for a low-tech planted tank, even if you use an inert substrate? What if you want to try an easier type of carpeting plant, like Monte Carlo or Dwarf Sag? Does the same hold true?

Any other thoughts are welcome. I am completely new at planted tanks and a bit flummoxed. I have never been very good at keeping plants alive even on dry land. My previous tanks are in my gallery: sand out of a bag and resin Greek and Roman ruins. Aquascaping is a big leap for me, so I appreciate any ideas.
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Old 02-28-2019, 11:26 AM   #2
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Sand can work, you can cut up inert pieces of plastic to use as substrate supports. Youtube "thegreenmachine". He uses substrate supports in all his tanks. I have used them with good success. You can also strategically place rocks to act as barriers to help keep sand in its place.

Yes, all you need is water column fertilizer. Root tabs can help, but they are not necessary.
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Old 02-28-2019, 11:07 PM   #3
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10" of soil under sand might be a big problem, yes. I did a dirted tank and had amazing success for 2.5 years with the plants. Fish suffered because of the setup and my constant replanting. That was awful. If you are going to do dirt, do the layout ONCE and then LEAVE IT BE. Don't move plants around.

I have a very strong preference for ecocomplete or fluorite in my tanks at the moment. Never have trouble with it and it grows plants well. Substrate supports (you can get plastic 'cardboard' at Lowe's, in the spot where they keep the yard sale signs and plastic sheets/screens/etc) can help. Clever use of wood, pieces of slate, rocks, even foam PVC pipe or clay pots can all work. DIY and Build Journals are great; same on Youtube.

Also remember that you can use different substrates in the same tank. Different stuff to build your mountain and then finer sand in the foreground.

I strongly suggest using root tabs for plants like swords and cryptocorynes. They will thrive with root feeding.

Plain water column fertilizers such as Seachem's Flourish are excellent. I recommend using Trace and Iron as well. You can get a 'starter pack' of ferts and liquid carbon for reasonable prices. It'll last you a long time. Start out with a longer interval between fertilizations and watch for algae.

Keep us posted, and look at the bright side. At least you didn't screw up a bunch of the substrate that's $50 for 9L bags.
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Old 03-02-2019, 07:29 AM   #4
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Thanks, both of you, for the confirmation of the mistake and recommendations to fix it. Lots of really good tips and guidance here--I appreciate it very much.

I plan to tear down this weekend and start over using sand and some of these ideas for substrate support. It'll be fun.
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