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Old 11-20-2022, 03:30 PM   #1
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Red face High Nitrate Levels & Dying Plants

Hello all - I'm new to the advice forums and hope someone can give me some things to consider when dealing with high nitrate levels. Here are the details on my setup: I have a 55 gal tank with one 5" golden algae eater, two plattys, one glo tetra, 6 cardinal tetras, 3 rasboras, one danio, and three salt & pepper corys. I run a sponge filter (6" diameter) and have an additional air stone. My light is an LED Hygger I got off of Amazon. I was running it on the 24 hour mode until I had an explosion of green hair algae, at which time I reduced the light to 6 hours a day. I added water sprite in April, and a java fern (a large one) in August.

The water sprite I originally had floating and it seemed to be doing quite well until about a month ago. I tried planting it in my rock substrate but the roots completely melted. The java fern has been struggling since I got it. Since I use RO water, so I starting to dose Seachem Equilibrium when I do water changes (added per dosing instructions to new water only) and started using Easy Green fertilizer from Aquarium Co-Op. I also use Seachem Prime (also dosed and added to new water only). I've gotten the hair algae more under control since lowering the amount of light, but it's still showing up on my plants. The java fern doesn't seem to be responding to the increase in minerals/fertilizer. My water sprite is completely melting and dying.

Also, my nitrates are consistently high - like 80ppm. I do weekly water changes but those dang nitrates are still too high. I thought plants were supposed to help with this but maybe I just chose the wrong plants.

Overall my fish seem ok, but I did lose one platy two weeks ago. Banging my head trying to figure out what to do... Will fertilizers and/or Equilibrium raise nitrate levels? I really want to have live plants, but can't figure out what I'm doing wrong.

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Old 11-20-2022, 04:01 PM   #2
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Java fern is a slow growing plant, so the nitrate it takes up isnt going to be enough to make a noticable difference. Water sprite will take up more nitrate than java fern does, but your tank isnt that heavily planted, so i wouldn't expect the plants to do very much.

Plant melt happens when you take it from emersed growth to submerged growth. Emersed plants get their carbon from atmospheric CO2, and when you submerge that plant, you cut off its carbon source and it draws on its carbon stored in its leafs to survive. Hence the melt. New growth will be adapted to its new environment and can get carbon from disolved CO2 or carbonate hardness in the water, depending on the plant. All your original plant may melt and die, but its new growth you need to look for. Are you seeing any new growth?

Equilibrium doesn't contain any nitrogen, so shouldn't effect your nitrate.

Some fertiliser does have a decent amount of nitrogen in them, and easy green is one of those. I believe 1 dose of easy green will increase nitrate by 6ppm. Omitting that isnt going to make a huge difference to your nitrate unless you are dosing several times a week.

High nitrate is usually caused by high ammonia. So look at where ammonia might be coming from. Overstocking? You appear to be quite lightly stocked. Over feeding. How much are you feeding and how often? Might your substrate be leeching ammonia into the water? Is your tap water chloramine (rather than chlorine treated)?

Have you tested your tapwater for nitrate? Its not uncommon to have quite high levels of nitrate in tapwater.

When are you measuring your nitrate? Before or after your water change? Does a water change bring it down and then it increases over the week until the next water change. How big a water water change are you doing?
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Old 11-20-2022, 04:18 PM   #3
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I was seeing new growth on both the java fern and the water sprite but that has decreased on the java fern and completely stopped on the water sprite. I purchased the java fern from my local fish store and it was submerged. I can't speak for the water sprite as I ordered that off of an online vendor. Maybe I need to add some faster growing plants from my local fish store so I can make sure they were submerged to begin with.

I am feeding a pinch a day of flake food and about 12 nuggets (they're about 1/3 the size of a pencil eraser) of sinking dried shrimp daily. I do skip a day once or twice a week, though. The fish I have in there take care of this amount completely in 2-5 minutes.

Water source is reverse osmosis well water. I tested it recently with my API kit and it showed zero ammonia & nitrates.

As far as testing goes, I test immediately before my 30-50% weekly water change, and then again mid-week. How much I take out depends on how high the nitrates are - if they are at 80ppm I do 40-50%, otherwise just 30%. Nitrates are usually at around 30-40 by mid-week.
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Old 11-20-2022, 04:36 PM   #4
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It takes months for a plant to transition. Unless the plant has come from an established display tank its unlikely to have been kept in a submerged state in a store long enough to transition. Its just not commercially viable to cultivate and sell submerged plants. My local store takes the plants from the wholesaler, removes them from their packaging, puts them in a tank for the purposes of selling them, and they are usually gone within a week.

If you are looking at plants to solve your issue you either need terrestrial plants above the tank with the roots down in your tank, floating plants, or if you want high growth submerged plants, you should look at a high tech setup, with injected CO2, high intensity lights, and planted substrate. A low tech set up wont properly support fast growth plants.
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Old 11-21-2022, 05:12 AM   #5
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Hi and welcome to the forum

Why are you using reverse osmosis instead of straight well water?
What is the GH, KH and pH of the well water?
What is the GH, KH and pH of the reverse osmosis water after you add the minerals?

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You need a picture on the back of the tank to make the fish feel more secure. you can buy aquarium backings online or at any pet shop. Or use coloured card, newspaper, even a plastic bin liner. Darker backgrounds generally show off fish better.

Your coloured Glo tetra should be in a group of at least 6 (preferably 10) or more. All the tetras and rasboras should.

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As Aiken mentioned, you don't have many plants in the tank and Java Moss is slow growing and doesn't use many nutrients. Water Sprite is normally very good at using nutrients and is normally fine being planted. If there is a sudden change in temperature or water chemistry (GH, pH), that can adversely affect plants and might be a cause, especially if you are using reverse osmosis water. It might not have enough minerals to stabilise the pH and KH.

The reduction in lighting times could be the issue with the Water Sprite. It's a surface plant that loves light so if you suddenly reduce the photoperiod by a few hours, that might have affected the plants. If you have enough Water Sprite on the surface, you shouldn't have any nitrates or algae growing on plants under water.

You could try adding 10 or so Water Sprite plants and increase lighting times to 8-10 hours a day. See how they do and how the filamentous algae does. Once the floating plants have grown, you could increase the lighting times a bit more if they aren't growing as quickly as you like. These plants normally occur in environments where they get a good 10 hours + of light per day so 6 hours might not be enough. Plus they get full sun when growing in the wild on the surface.

I wouldn't add fertiliser to a tank with Java Fern, with the possible exception of an iron based liquid aquarium plant fertiliser, and even that might not be needed. The Water Sprite will love any fertiliser but should be fine without any or an iron based one. I used Sera Florena and never had any issues with filamentous algae or high nitrates.

Regarding the nitrates, stop adding fertiliser for a few weeks and see how the nitrate level goes. If it still increases a lot, take a few handfuls of substrate and put them in a bucket of clean water that has 0 nitrates. Leave the substrate in the water for a week and check it for pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. If you have nitrates, then the gravel/ substrate is a contributing cause. If the nitrates stays at 0ppm, then the gravel is not the cause and you should look at the food you are adding.
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Old 11-21-2022, 07:57 AM   #6
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Thank you Aiken & Colin. This is all really good info. I am planning to add additional rasboras, but the glo tetra was a leftover from a tank in my daughter's room - not really interested in getting any more of those.

I use my RO filter because my well water goes through a water softener/RO process. Our water is very hard... my PH is a solid 8.2-8.4. I currently don't have a testing kit that measures GH & KH, but will check out Amazon today.

It could be that reducing the light and adding equilibrium may have been the demise of my water sprite. I do still have a few sprigs of it floating... we'll see if it can come back. I am also interested in getting some red root floaters. Any experience with those? Is there a different floating plant that you would recommend?
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Old 11-21-2022, 10:06 PM   #7
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Does your well water go through a water softener or an actual reverse osmosis unit?
There are water softeners that screw onto the outlet of taps and these use an ion exchange resin to remove calcium and replace it with sodium. This is fine for people but the sodium can build up in aquariums and cause problems to soft water fishes and some plants.

A reverse osmosis unit normally consists of a number of plastic housings that contain various filters, which remove minerals and chemicals. These are normally plumbed into the water pipes but some can be fitted to taps. A good quality and properly functioning reverse osmosis unit will remove 99% of minerals and chemicals from tap water and you are left with almost pure water.

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You might be able to trade in the Glo tetra at the pet shop and use the credit to go towards some more rasboras. Just call the shop first and ask them if they do trade ins. Just say you have one left from a previous tank and don't want it. Can you get a credit for it to use towards other fish.

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Red root floaters are usually pretty good. Those, Water Sprite and Duckweed are generally the 3 main floating plants that do extremely well in most aquariums. Duckweed can be a pain to control because it is small, but I like it, other people hate it. Water Sprite and red root floaters are bigger and easier to control.

Avoid Water Lettuce and Water Hyacinth, they don't do well in aquariums due to lack of light and good airflow.

Don't add any new fish until we sort out the current issue. New fish can introduce diseases and simply add to the current issue.
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Old 11-27-2022, 01:11 PM   #8
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Our well water goes through a double tank water softening/purification system. The first tank is the softener, and the second tank is an RO filter. We have naturally occurring arsenic in our ground water as well as very high iron, so this is the reason for both tanks. The RO system does eliminate all the good minerals, hence the need for equilibrium. I even re-mineralize my drinking water with mineral drops!

Good idea on the trade in possibility... I will talk to my LFS next time I am in!

On the upside... my nitrates are lower this week. I did not fertilize last week and removed all dying plants leaving some water sprite sprigs floating. Those are now growing roots, so hopefully those continue to come back. I'll continue to monitor my nitrates each week and will fertilize only if they dip below 20-30ppm.
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