There are several factors that distinguish high tech and low tech planted tanks. I believe the primary factor is the use of injected CO2
(as opposed to diy CO2
). Other devices that are considered high tech include automatic pH controllers and automated fertilizer dosing systems. These devices help promote a stable environment and can be useful if one cannot always be present attend to the tank's daily needs.
Growing plants successfully requires a balance between light, carbon dioxide, and fertilizers. The amount of light strongly influences the need for the other two. Simply put, more light there is, then more CO2
and fertilizers are needed. Less light, then less CO2
and fertilizers. Low tech tanks typically operate with less light than high tech tanks. This decreases the need for CO2
and fertilizers. There is always CO2
present in the water by way of biological respiration and the surrounding air. Plants in a low tech setup can make use of this CO2
High tech tanks with medium high to high lighting can go awry much quicker than a low tech tank. Maintaining a balance can quite tricky. When things get out of balance, plant health can suffer and opportunistic algae can gain a foothold.
Dirt/soil can be used for a planted tank but it is not mandatory. Substrates such as CaribSea EcoComplete is a relatively inexpensive substrate that plants do well in. Though it is thought to be inert (does not contain an abundance of fertilizers), it has a high CEC (cation exchange capacity) which "attracts" compounds that are favorable for plant growth. Sand can also be used. Both of these substrates will benefit from the additional of root fertilizer supplements.
With planted tanks, vacuuming the substrate is not always recommended. It can lead to root damage and nutrient loss in the substrate.
Your questions changed while I was posting this message. You can cycle with or without plants. Plants can affect the cycle by consuming the very things you are trying to measure while cycling a tank. By doing so, they can help prevent a dangerous buildup of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. This is often termed a silent cycle. Of course, the appropriate buildup of beneficial bacteria is needed regardless of whether you choose to do a fishless or fish-in cycle. If you are doing a fishless cycle, then when the tank can convert a measured amount of ammonia (2-4 ppm
) within a 24 hour period then it's safe to add fish. This can take several weeks. If you are doing a fish-in cycle, then stock lightly, measure the parameters frequently, and perform water changes as needed.
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