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Old 11-26-2022, 12:15 AM   #1
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Advice on starting a planted tank

Hey!

I got a 20 gallon tank a few years back, and embarrassingly didnít know much about fish keeping so I sorta just threw in some cheap plastic decorations that looked nice, and the prettiest (freshwater) fish I could find. And naturally it didnít go to great, and so I looked in to ways that could help improve my aquariums health and soon stumbled on the benefits of a planted tank. I realize that a more natural environment for my fish could really make them healthier, but Iím just not quite sure how to go about it. Here are some questions I have:
1. What type of sediment is recommended for aquatic plants? Can I just use the gravel I have currently, or do I need nutrient rich soil type stuff?
2. Will my filter uproot the plants? I know that it can be hard to get new plants to take a firm root, and Iím afraid that my filter will suck them right out.
3. I did try purchasing a plant when I first got my tank, but it pretty much just turned brown and died, any ideas why this might have happened?
4. Kind of obvious but where do I start? I donít have many fish in my tank currently, because Iíve wanted to get a planted tank befor taking on more fish. I just have 3 guppies, a loach, and a two small Plecos, as well as an empty 10 gallon tank I could house them in temporarily.

Also sorry if I sound really stupid, I really should have looked into planting a tank right from the start, but I didnít, and now Iím asking for some help getting a re-start.

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Old 11-26-2022, 03:45 AM   #2
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1. What type of sediment is recommended for aquatic plants? Can I just use the gravel I have currently, or do I need nutrient rich soil type stuff?
Different types of plants require different substrate. Most plants wont need any more than your gravel. Some plants dont need substrate at all.

There are floating plants. Rhyzome plants that attach to rock or driftwood and dont need to root into substrate. And then rooted plants that need something for their roots to get into. Some plants have higher nutrient requirement than others. Low demand plants will be fine in gravel, but might do better if you add some root tabs to add some additional nutrients around the plant. Higher demand plants will do better in a soiled substrate.
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Old 11-26-2022, 03:49 AM   #3
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2. Will my filter uproot the plants? I know that it can be hard to get new plants to take a firm root, and Iím afraid that my filter will suck them right out.
Planting an already set up tank is more difficult to do than planting a tank that is empty of water. Its more a buoyancy issue than the filter. Plants will want to float up while you are trying to keep them down. Its doable, ive planted an established aquarium, just needs a bit of patience and periodically replant things if (and when) they get free.
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Old 11-26-2022, 03:56 AM   #4
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3. I did try purchasing a plant when I first got my tank, but it pretty much just turned brown and died, any ideas why this might have happened?
Plant melt is normal. Commercially cultivated plants are grown emersed, rather than fully submerged. They have access to atmospheric CO2 for its carbon needs and will grow quicker so are more commercially viable. You take that plant put it in your aquarium and cut off its CO2. The plant goes into survival mode.

It starts to draw on its carbon in its leafs to sustain itself and the leafs melt and die. New leafs are more tolerant of its environment though and can get its carbon from dissolved CO2 in the water or the waters carbonate hardness (KH). You might lose all your original growth but you should look for new growth.

Or it could be that you chose a high demand plant that a basic aquarium cant support. It might need a nutrient rich substrate, high output lights and injected CO2 to survive which a basic aquarium setup doesn't provide.
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Old 11-26-2022, 04:11 AM   #5
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4. Kind of obvious but where do I start? I don’t have many fish in my tank currently, because I’ve wanted to get a planted tank befor taking on more fish. I just have 3 guppies, a loach, and a two small Plecos, as well as an empty 10 gallon tank I could house them in temporarily.

Also sorry if I sound really stupid, I really should have looked into planting a tank right from the start, but I didn’t, and now I’m asking for some help getting a re-start.
I would start with some simple, low demand aquarium plants.

Marimo moss balls are very simple. Just get a couple and drop them in the tank.

Get a couple of rhyzome plants like an anubias and a java fern. Just superglue them to a piece of aquascape. Or i tie wrap them to a plant weight and just pop the plant behind a piece of rock or driftwood to hide the tie wrap. This way i can move then around easily if i want to, or remove them to give them a periodic trim.

If you want to add a rooted plant, amazon sword and crypts are low demand and will do fine in basic gravel. They might benefit from root tabs and your plants in general might benefit from an all in one plant fertiliser.

Plants need some light, but you dont want too much light or you will get excessive algae. 6 to 8 hours light per day from a standard type aquarium light is normally the right amount for low demand plants.

Don't be afraid of plant melt. As said its normal. Remove dead or dying growth so the plant can direct its resources to new growth. You will need to give a plant at least a couple of months to tell how well it will do in your aquarium. Some plants might thrive while others dont do so well. Keep the ones that thrive and concentrate on have those in your tank.
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Old 11-26-2022, 04:18 AM   #6
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This is a link to episode 1 of a series of videos on setting up a low tech planted tank.

https://youtu.be/66Xt4qglbNc

I find thomas' videos very entertaining and informative. He does go into a bit of technical detail if that's your thing and he does use some specialist substrate, but as said standard gravel and aquarium lighting will be fine if you select simple, low demand plants.
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Old 11-26-2022, 07:15 AM   #7
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Hi and welcome to the forum

You don't need any special substrate for most aquarium plants. In fact a lot of plant substrates can release ammonia for months after you use them and this can mean it takes longer before fish can go into the tank. After a few years, the plant substrate stops releasing nutrients and you end up with mud.

Just use a normal aquarium gravel or sand, whatever is in the tank currently. Add some live plants and use a liquid iron based aquarium plant fertiliser.

Have a read of the following and if you still have questions, ask.

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AQUARIUM PLANTS 1.01

TURNING LIGHTS ON AND OFF
Stress from tank lights coming on when the room is dark can be an issue. Fish don't have eyelids and don't tolerate going from complete dark to bright light (or vice versa) instantly.

In the morning open the curtains or turn the room light on at least 30 minutes (or more) before turning the tank light on. This will reduce the stress on the fish and they won't go from a dark tank to a bright tank instantly.

At night turn the room light on and then turn the tank light off. Wait at least 30 minutes (or more) before turning the room light out. This allows the fish to settle down for the night instead of going from a brightly lit tank to complete darkness instantly.

Try to have the lights on at the same time each day. Use a timer if possible.


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TWO LIGHT UNITS
If you have two light units on the tank, put them on timers and have one come on first, then an hour later the second one can come on. It will be less stressful for the fish.

In the evening, turn the first light off and wait an hour, then have the second light go out.

If the lights have a low, medium and high intensity setting, have them on low in the morning, then increase it to medium after a couple of hours, and then high for the main part of the day. In the evening, reverse this and have the medium setting for a few hours, then low. Then turn the lights off.


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LIGHTING TIMES
Most aquarium plants like a bit of light and if you only have the light on for a couple of hours a day, they struggle. If the light doesn't have a high enough wattage they also struggle. Try having the tank lights on for 10-12 hours a day.

If you get lots of green algae then reduce the light by an hour a day and monitor the algae over the next 2 weeks.
If you don't get any green algae on the glass then increase the lighting period by an hour and monitor it.
If you get a small amount of algae then the lighting time is about right.

Some plants will close their leaves up when they have had sufficient light. Ambulia, Hygrophilas and a few others close their top set of leaves first, then the next set and so on down the stem. When you see this happening, wait an hour after the leaves have closed up against the stem and then turn lights off. It's worth investing in a couple of these plants just to see how they do. They are generally good in most aquariums and give you a rough idea of if you have enough light on the tank.

Plant lights should have equal amount of red and blue light and a bit less green light.


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LIST OF PLANTS TO TRY
Some good plants to try include Ambulia, Hygrophila polysperma, H. ruba/ rubra, Elodia (during summer, but don't buy it in winter because it falls apart), Hydrilla, common Amazon sword plant, narrow or twisted/ spiral Vallis, Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides/ cornuta).
The Water Sprite normally floats on the surface but can also be planted in the substrate. The other plants should be planted in the gravel.

Ambulia, H. polysperma, Elodia/ Hydrilla and Vallis are tall plants that do well along the back. Rotala macranda is a medium/ tallish red plant that usually does well.

H. ruba/ rubra is a medium height plant that looks good on the sides of the tank.

Cryptocorynes are small/ medium plants that are taller than pygmy chain swords but shorter than H. rubra. They also come in a range of colours, mostly different shades of green, brown or purplish red. Crypts are not the easiest plant to grow but can do well if they are healthy to begin with and are not disturbed after planting in the tank.

Most Amazon sword plants can get pretty big and are usually kept in the middle of the tank as a show piece. There is an Ozelot sword plant that has brown spots on green leaves, and a red ruffle sword plant (name may vary depending on where you live) with deep red leaves.

There is a pygmy chain sword plant that is small and does well in the front of the tank.


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GROWING PLANTS IN POTS
We use to grow some plants (usually swords, crypts, Aponogetons and water lilies) in 1 or 2 litre plastic icecream containers. You put an inch of gravel in the bottom of the container, then spread a thin layer of granulated garden fertiliser over the gravel. Put a 1/4inch (6mm) thick layer of red/ orange clay over the fertiliser. Dry the clay first and crush it into a powder. Then cover that with more gravel.

You put the plants in the gravel and as they grow, their roots hit the clay and fertiliser and they take off and go nuts. The clay stops the fertiliser leaching into the water.

You can smear silicon on the outside of the buckets and stick gravel or sand to them so it is less conspicuous. Or you can let algae grow on them and the containers turn green.

--------------------

We did plants in pots for a couple of reasons.
1) I was working in an aquaculture facility and we grew and sold live plants to shops. Some of the shops wanted advanced plants in pots so we did that.

2) Plants like sword plants love nutrients and have big root systems so they needed more gravel and big pots. When given ideal conditions these plants would produce lots of runners with new plants on and we got more plants to sell.

3) Most of the tanks only had a thin layer of substrate that was nowhere near thick enough for plants to grow in so having them in pots allowed us to grow plants in tanks with minimal gravel in the tank.


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TRUE AQUATIC VS MARSH/ TERRESTRIAL PLANTS
Lots of plants are sold as aquarium plants and most are marsh plants that do really well when their roots are in water and the rest of the plant is above water. Some marsh plants will do well underwater too.

Hair grass is not a true aquatic plant, neither is Anubias.

Some common marsh plants include Amazon sword plants, Cryptocorynes, Hygrophila sp, Rotala sp, Ludwigia sp, Bacopa sp. These plant do reasonably well underwater.

True aquatic plants include Ambulia, Cabomba, Hornwort, Elodia, Hydrilla and Vallis.

The main difference between marsh plants and true aquatic plants is the stem. True aquatics have a soft flexible stem with air bubbles in it. These bubbles help the plant float and remain buoyant in the water column.
Marsh plants have a rigid stem and these plants can remain standing upright when removed from water. Whereas true aquatic plants will fall over/ collapse when removed from water.


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IRON BASED PLANT FERTILISER
If you add an iron based aquarium plant fertiliser, it will help most aquarium plants do well. The liquid iron based aquarium plant fertilisers tend to be better than the tablet forms, although you can push the tablets under the roots of plants and that works well.

You use an iron (Fe) test kit to monitor iron levels and keep them at 1mg/l (1ppm).

I used Sera Florena liquid plant fertiliser but there are other brands too.


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CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2)
There is no point adding carbon dioxide (CO2) until you have the lights and nutrients worked out. Even then you don't need CO2 unless the tank is full of plants and only has a few small fish in.

There is plenty of CO2 in the average aquarium and it is produced by the fish and filter bacteria all day, every day. The plants also release CO2 at night when it is dark. And more CO2 gets into the tank from the atmosphere.

Don't use liquid CO2 supplements because they are made from toxic substances that harm fish, shrimp and snails.


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PLANT SUBSTRATE
Some pet shops sell aquatic plant substrates that are meant to improve plant growth. Most don't do anything except add a lot of ammonia to the water and eventually turn into a brown mud on the bottom. Since the majority of aquatic plants take in the nutrients they need via their leaves, having a plant substrate is not going to help much. There are exceptions to this and laterite (red clay) can sometimes be added to the gravel to increase the iron level for the plants taking in nutrients via their roots. But for most plant tanks, all you need is gravel on the bottom of the tank.
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Old 11-26-2022, 12:26 PM   #8
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Oh, that makes sense. Thanks!
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Old 11-26-2022, 12:31 PM   #9
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Thank you for all your input, I found it very helpful and informative! I will totally check out the video link you sent, Thanks again!
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Old 11-26-2022, 12:38 PM   #10
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Wow, thank your for all that information! That answers all my questions and then some. If any more questions pop up I’ll be sure to ask. Thanks again
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