I would raise the water level to reduce the splash. The surface agitation will remove the CO2
you are adding. Adequate CO2
is important with higher lighting. I did DIY for a year then got a pressurized system (more consistent CO2
As for ferts, you might want to check out dry ferts from Greenleaf Aquariums (http://greenleafaquariums.com/aquarium-fertilizer.html
). Comprehensive and economical.
Pretty much any stem plant can be used along the back wall. I would go for 4-6 different species. With a variety of colors, leaf structures and shapes available, you could mix it up with contrasting colors and textures. For instance, go for an alternating green-red-green theme along the back. As for the fore ground, contrasting colors works well too. My favorite is star repens and AR mini. Technically both of these are stem plants and not true carpets, but they can be kept low via trimming.
I started out primarily with crypts and swords and when I upgraded my lighting I transitioned to stem plants because of the varieties.
As mentioned above, I would use some type of barrier (plastic cutting boards cut to fit) to keep the sand slopes in place.
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