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Old 01-19-2015, 12:23 PM   #21
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Beautiful tank oh my word it puts my first planted tank to absolute shame great job.

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Old 02-07-2015, 01:50 PM   #22
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People ask me what I am doing to keep my plants thriving. It's really very simple. The 3 most important factors for keeping plants healthy are:

1) Carbon source
2) Light intensity
3) Nutrients

In the following posts I will go over each of these.
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Old 02-07-2015, 02:53 PM   #23
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1) Carbon (CO2) source

You can measure the amount of CO2 using a device called a drop checker. You can buy a drop checer for about $10 at amazon dot com or ebay. Most drop checkers will come with a blue liquid that turns green when CO2 levels are at 30 ppm. Manufacturers recommend that the liquid be replaced every month but in my experience it works fine even after 5 months. I know that it works properly because it changes color appropriately whenever I perform my weekly 50% tank water change.

The ideal CO2 level is 30 ppm. Higher CO2 levels can kill fish within minutes. Lower CO2 levels will cause plants to grow slower or not grow at all.

You can add carbon (CO2) to your tank using four possible ways:

a) Pressurized CO2 tanks - most expensive method, costing about $200 in initial investment plus $20 to $60 a year in tank refill costs depending on tank size.
b) Yeast fermentation - cheapest method, but very labor intensive and smells terrible to some people, causing them to give up after 6 months.
c) Glutaraldehyde - about 40% as good as the first two options, and also kills algae, so it's a great supplement that you can use in addition to the first two options.
d) Fish respiration - this costs nothing but it's almost impossible to reach ideal CO2 levels unless your tank is overcrowded (in a bad way) with fish.
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Old 02-07-2015, 03:02 PM   #24
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Let's look at these carbon sources in detail:

a) Pressurized CO2 tanks

When people talk about high tech setups, they are referring to the use of a pressurized CO2 tank. You can find Mudraker's awesome step by step guide on building a pressurized CO2 system using this link:


Briefly, the high tech pressurized CO2 hardware includes:

1) tank cylinder - houses the CO2 in liquid form
2) regulator - control system that releases the gas from the cylinder
3) high pressure gauge - tells you how much CO2 is remaining inside the tank cylinder
4) low pressure gauge - tells you the working pressure is inside the regulator chamber
5) bubble counter - shows you the amount of CO2 gas entering your tank in units of bubbles per second
6) needle valve - precisely regulates the number of gas bubbles per second
7) check valve - prevents water from entering into and destroying your regulator
8) solenoid - electronic device that turns your CO2 regulator on and off
9) timer - automatically activates your solenoid on and off at your specified times
10) CO2 diffuser or reactor - allows the CO2 gas to dissolve quickly and efficiently into the water
11) CO2 resistant tubing - special tubing resistant to CO2 acid damage, connects the bubble counter to the diffuser/reactor.

You can buy each piece of hardware from amazon dot com, with higher end models available from greenleaf aquariums dot com. Expect to spend a total of at least $200 for the most basic setup PLUS $20 to $60 per year in CO2 refill costs. Here is an approximate breakdown of how much each part costs:

1) CO2 tank cylinder - $65 to $100 for 5 pound and 10 pound models respectively. Larger cylinders needs to be refilled less often.
2) regulator kit with solenoid - $90 to $500
3) bubble counter - $15 to $25
4) check valve - $10
5) CO2 resistant tubing - $10
6) timer - $5 to $20
7) CO2 refill - $20 to $30 per refill for 5 to 10 pound cylinders. Refill frequency will depend on your aquarium size, cylinder size, and number of hours the solenoid is turned on. On my 125 gallon tank, a 10 pound cylinder will last about 6 months before requiring a refill, with the solenoid turned on for 8 hours a day.
8) CO2 diffuser or reactor - $5 to $40
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Old 02-07-2015, 03:53 PM   #25
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A CO2 diffuser is a device that looks like a white colored airstone that breaks up the CO2 gas into tiny bubbles as they are released in to the aquarium. This allows the CO2 to dissolve quickly and efficiently into the water. When shopping for CO2 diffusers or reactors, remember to consider the amount of labor and maintenance that may be required. Many CO2 diffusers need to be cleaned every week or two in order to prevent clogging, and some people like myself may consider this too inconvenient or impractical in the long run. A cheap disposable airstone cannot be used in place of a real CO2 diffuser because air stone bubbles are too large and will not efficiently dissolve CO2 gas into the water.

A CO2 reactor is a clear cylindrical tube or pipe that traps CO2 air bubbles. Water turbulence within the tube breaks up the bubbles to dissolve CO2 into the water. CO2 reactors require no maintenance and can be just as effective as CO2 diffusers. Most commercial CO2 reactors are designed to work inline through a canister filter, which is something to consider if you are shopping for a planted tank filter. The commercially available CO2 reactors were not large enough for my big Fluval FX6 Canister filter, so I built my own CO2 reactor using items from the hardware store by following these helpful youtube guides:


There is also an electronic device called a "pH controller" that can activate your solenoid in place of a timer. The pH controller uses a probe in your aquarium to continuously measure pH. The pH controller will then activate or deactivate your solenoid based on the pH of the water, given that pH is related to the amount of CO2 dissolved in the water (CO2 is an acid). A pH controller costs about $300 and its proposed advantages include stabilization of CO2 levels throughout the day, prevention of CO2 overdose which can kill fish, and potentially reducing labor by not having to check CO2 levels.

After months of research I felt that this device would only add maintenance labor while adding very little value or safety. The pH probe needs to be cleaned and calibrated every couple of weeks. Plants do not need CO2 when the lights are off so there is no point activating the Solenoid when lights are off. Fish cannot possibly be gassed to death if you do not alter your selected needle valve setting which should be at 30 ppm CO2 just as the lights come on. I hardly even check my CO2 levels because they have been very stable every day for the past several months, which is expected because my needle valve setting has never changed.
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Old 02-07-2015, 04:04 PM   #26
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b) Yeast fermentation

I find this method too time consuming and impractical. It works great for small aquariums but for my 125 gallon tank it's not really a viable option. You can find info on yeast-based systems all over youtube. Just search for "yeast CO2". There is also a nice guide in this link:

Beginner's Guide to CO2 Injection in the Planted Tank - Aquarium Advice

c) Glutaraldehyde

Glutaraldehyde, commonly referred to as "glut", is a liquid most commonly sold in stores as Seachem Excel. There is a similar but less expensive chemical called Metricide 14 Day on Amazon dot com and ebay which is what some people use. The 1 gallon jug of Metricide 14 comes with a small plastic bottle of activator solution which you do not need and should be discarded. Be aware that Glut is a highly toxic substance, so avoid inhalation or direct contact with skin, eyes, and mouth. Seachem Excel is apparently much less toxic to humans than Metricide 14, which is something to consider especially if you have children or pets that might tamper with this stuff. The typical dose is 0.5 ml per gallon (5 ml = 1 teaspoon). Higher concentrations may kill fish, although some people have reported no problems with concentrations as high as 1.0 ml per gallon. Glutaraldehyde has a half life of about 12 hours, meaning half of the amount that you deliver will no longer be present after 12 hours due to chemical degradation, even if you do not have any plant or fish in your tank. The degradation is caused by contamination with other elemental substances in your tank. The degradation is not related to exposure to light. For these reasons, it is important to administer glutaraldehyde daily, every 24 hours, at the moment when the lights turn on. This way you are exposing the plants to the maximum concentration of Glut when the lights are on and the plants are most likely to consume it. It is important to change about 50% of the water once a week, every week, to prevent the gradual build up of any toxins that might be harmful to fish. Finally, be aware that Glut is toxic to 3 plant types, specifically vallisneria (vals), anacharis, and moss (all mosses). These 3 plant types may develop resistance to Glut if the dose of Glut is very slowly increased over the course of several months, starting at 1 mL per 10 gallons, dosed daily, with weekly 50% water changes.
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Old 02-07-2015, 04:22 PM   #27
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2) Light intensity

Light intensity for aquarium plants is best measured in units of PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation). The amount of PAR is affected by the brightness of the light source and the distance from the light source to its target. Cutting this distance in half will increase light intensity by about 4x, whereas doubling this distance will reduce the light intensity to about 1/4. This is known as the Inverse Square Law. For this reason you need a light source that is 4x more powerful if you go from a 12-inch tall aquarium to a 24-inch tall aquarium. If using fluorescent bulbs, be aware that quadrupling the number of T5 HO light bulbs does not necessarily increase light intensity by 4x. In fact, quadrupling the number of T5 HO bulbs increases light intensity by only 2x rather than 4x. This phenomenon is caused by the fact that each bulb is positioned at a different location, rather than a single point souce.

When shopping for lights, find out how much PAR the light will deliver at the actual height (vertical depth) of your aquarium. If the light manufacturer does not provide PAR information in their product specifications, then the item probably has very low PAR. Terms like "lumens", "candles", "double bright", "super bright", "plant light", and "reef ready" are all pretty much meaningless for the purposes of aquarium plant lighting.

Some plants require only 30 PAR to thrive (called low light plants), whereas others may require 90 PAR or greater to grow well (called high light plants). The higher the PAR of your light fixture, the larger the variety of plants you will be able to keep. Generally speaking, lights with higher PAR will cost more than lights with lower PAR. If you are on a tight budget and cannot afford high PAR lights, don't worry because you can still keep a large variety of beautiful low light plants.

T5 HO fluorescent bulb fixture versus LED light fixture

Buy the highest PAR light that you can afford. Fluorescent bulbs come in many sizes (T5 HO, T8) and spectra. LED lights also come in many flavors. In the end, the most important thing to look for is PAR value. There is almost zero electricity savings going from fluorescent to LED given the same amount of light intensity. As of 2015, the most powerful aquarium LED fixtures deliver more PAR than the most powerful aquarium T5 HO fluorescent fixtures. LED fixtures are generally much more expensive. LED bulbs last longer although many LED vendor warranties are only for 1 year. Considering the price premium associated with LED fixtures and the theoretical longevity of LED bulbs, it is a good idea to choose an LED vendor that is willing to stand behind their product with a 3 year warranty.
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Old 02-07-2015, 04:33 PM   #28
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Plants use up nutrients when the lights are on, even though most of their growth actually occurs when the lights are off. Turning lights on while depriving the plants of carbon or nutrients will result in poor plant health and algae formation. It would be like forcing a horse to run when it hasn't been fed for a week.

The ideal light duration is anything between 6 to 12 hours per day, with most people using around 8 hours per day. I keep my lights on for a total of only 6 hours per day, and this was enough for my carpet plants to fully coat the foreground of my 125 gallon tank within a month. Increasing the light duration has been associated with increased algae growth.

Increasing the duration of light can never replace a lack of light intensity. That is, if my plants require high PAR but my light fixture has low PAR, then increasing the light duration to 16 or 20 hours per day will still result in poor plant growth.


Some people use a siesta period, whereby the light duration is broken down into two parts. For example, the lights might be on for 3 hours, then off for 9 hours, then on again for 3 hours, then off again for 9 hours. Some people believe that a siesta period helps prevent the growth of algae, and that algae grows faster with a long continuous duration of light rather that short intermittent durations of light. I know for a fact that algae CAN still grow rampant despite using a siesta period if CO2 is lacking. It is possible that without a siesta period algae would grow even more rampant.

I use a lighting schedule to suit my lifestyle and is as follows: Starting at 6:30am, lights come on and stay on for 3 hours, then off for 12 hours, then on again for 3 hours (starting at 9pm), then off again for 6 hours. This allows me to enjoy the tank before I go to work and again right before I go to bed, also giving me time to dose my glut and ferts around 9pm.
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Old 02-08-2015, 11:56 AM   #29
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LOW LIGHT PLANTS - Require 15 to 30 PAR of light intensity

Low light foregound plants:
Aegagropila (moss ball)
Staurogyne (star repens)
Taxiphyllum (moss)

Low light midground plants:
Cryptocoryne (crypts)
Microsorum (java fern)

Low light background plants:
Aponogeton (bulb plants)
Echinodorus (sword plants)
Hydrocotyle (pennyworts)
Vallisneria (val)

MODERATE LIGHT PLANTS - Require 35 to 50 PAR of light intensity

Moderate light foreground plants:
Hemianthus (baby tears)
Micranthemum (monte carlo)

Moderate light midground plants:
Alternanthera species
Bacopa (moneywort)
Blyxa (asian grass)

Moderate light background plants:
Hygrophila (wisteria)
Lysimachia (jenny)

HIGH LIGHT PLANTS - Require 60 to 90+ PAR of light intensity

High light foreground plants:
Eleocharis (dwarf hair grass)
Marsilea (clover plants)

High light background plants:
Ludwigia (if red)
Rotala (if red)
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Old 02-08-2015, 02:26 PM   #30
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3) Nutrients

Plant fertilizers are made up of 4 major components:
a) Nitrate
b) Potassium
c) Phosphate
d) Micros/Traces (iron, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, boron)

There are a few sources for these fertilizers:
a) fish waste products (costs nothing but more difficult to quantify)
b) buy them in liquid form at the pet store (most convenient but most expensive)
c) buy them in dry powdered form (economical and very effective but requires some labor)


If you buy bottled fertilizers from the pet store or online, just follow the manufacturer instructions. Make sure that you buy different bottles of fertilizers to encompass nitrates, potassium, phosphate, and micros. Your plant will not do well if one of these nutrients is lacking. You cannot buy a single bottle containing all these nutrients because they interact with each other and cannot be mixed beforehand.


The dry powdered form will cost much less, and all you need to do is add distilled water. You can buy dry fertilizers from many places including greenleafaquariums dot com, theplantedtank dot net buy and sell forums, amazon, and ebay. Buy a 1 gallon jug of distilled water from your local grocery store for $1. You will also need a digital scale which you can buy online or from walmart for $10. Find a scale that can toggle between different units (grams, milliliters, and pounds) with a maximum capacity of up to 10 pounds.

The dry powdered fertilizers that you need to buy are the following:
a) KNO3 (potassium nitrate which supplies nitrate and potassium)
b) KH2PO4 (potassium phosphate which supplies phosphate and potassium)
c) K2SO4 (potassium sulfate which supplies potassium)
d) CSM+B (micros)

Obtain a 1 liter plastic bottle. Use a measuring cup to fill the plastic bottle with 900 mL of tap water. Use a sharpie marker to indicate the water level at the 900 mL volume. Now throw away the tap water. Prepare a total of three 1 liter plastic bottles in the same manner, marking the 900 mL level on all 3 bottles. Make sure the bottle cap is not made of metal because it may interact with and degrade the fertilizers.

Bottle 1: This will contain your Nitrates
Add 117 grams of KNO3. Fill the bottle with distilled water to reach the 900 mL mark that you had previously drawn with a sharpie marker. Shake up all the bottles until all the powder is dissolved. Store this bottle in room temperature.

Bottle 2: This will contain your Phosphate and Potassium
Add 42 grams of KH2PO4 phosphaste. Add 48 grams of K2SO4 potassium. Fill the bottle with distilled water to reach the 900 mL mark. Shake up all the bottles until all the powder is dissolved. Store this bottle in room temperature.

Bottle 3: This will contain your Micros
Add 32 grams of CSM+B. Fill the bottle with distilled water to the 900 mL mark. Add 20 ml of glutaraldehyde (see carbon source section) to inhibit mold. Shake up all the bottles until all the powder is dissolved. Store this bottle in your refrigerator permanently to further inhibit mold.

This is the reason why we are only filling the bottles to 900 mL instead of 1000 mL. If you fill the bottles to 1000 mL, it will be much harder to shake and dissolve the contents. I have also learned that if you make the solutions more concentrated than the recommendations I provided above, then it becomes more difficult to dissolve the powder. It is best to use distilled water instead of tap water to prevent the trace elements in tap water from interacting with and degrading the fertilizers.


The dosing method I use is called Estimative Index dosing which was originally developed and described by living legend Tom Barr. There are dozens of guides and calculators online that differ slightly from each other. The general rule of thumb is to provide the fertilizers on alternate days:

Day 1 - nitrate, phosphate, potassium (from bottles 1 and 2)
Day 2 - micros (from bottle 3)
Day 3 - nitrate, phosphate, potassium (from bottles 1 and 2)
Day 4 - micros (from bottle 3)
Day 5 - nitrate, phosphate, potassium (from bottles 1 and 2)
Day 6 - micros (from bottle 3)
Day 7 - 50% water change
Day 8 - Same as Day 1, repeat all over again.

Do not mix phosphate and micros on the same day because the interaction between those solutions in high concentrations will cause some fertilizer degradation. For this reason, the micros solution is administered by itself on specified days. The best time to deliver the fertilizers is the moment when the lights come on. Remember to also deliver the glutaraldehyde at the same moment.

The nitrates are in a separate bottle from the phosphate and potassium so that you can control the nitrate level and prevent fish toxicity. Nitrate concentration above 40 ppm in your tank is toxic to invertebrates (shrimp, crayfish) and some fish (e.g. neon tetras, dwarf cichlids, discus). Measure your nitrate levels using a nitrate test kit and reduce your nitrate dosing accordingly to stay under 40 ppm. You can buy nitrate test kits from you local pet store or amazon dot com, and this test kit is also included in the API freshwater master test kit. The amount of nitrate present in your aquarium will depend on fish quantity (fish indirectly produce nitrates), plant quantity (plants consume nitrates), light duration (more hours of light means more nitrate consumption), and how much nitrate fertilizer you are adding. Plants in general are not harmed by too much nitrates, even if you hit 200 ppm nitrate which is more than 5 times the normal dose. You may even notice that plants look healthier and have larger leaves when nitrate concentration is very high.

The Day 7 water change is necessary to remove any toxins that have built up from fertilizers that were not completely consumed by plants. I schedule the Day 7 water change when the lights are off and the plants are not so actively consuming fertilizers. Specifically, I change the water a few hours before the lights come back on in Day 1, and I replenish the fertilizers the moment when lights come on.


For my 125 gallon tank, I use the following amounts on their respective days:
Bottle 1 (Nitrate) - 60 mL
Bottle 2 (Phophate and Potassium) - 60 mL
Bottle 3 (micros) - 60 mL

If you have a smaller tank, then use a proportionately smaller amount. For example:

For a 55 gallon tank, use the following amounts on their respective days:
Bottle 1 (Nitrate) - 30 mL
Bottle 2 (Phophate and Potassium) - 30 mL
Bottle 3 (micros) - 30 mL

For a 30 gallon tank, use the following amounts on their respective days:
Bottle 1 (Nitrate) - 15 mL
Bottle 2 (Phophate and Potassium) - 15 mL
Bottle 3 (micros) - 15 mL

For a 20 gallon tank, use the following amounts on their respective days:
Bottle 1 (Nitrate) - 10 mL
Bottle 2 (Phophate and Potassium) - 10 mL
Bottle 3 (micros) - 10 mL

Note that 1 teaspoon = 1 mL, and 1 tablespoon = 15 mL.


If you have a lot of red colored plants, it may be beneficial to increase your iron dosing. To do this, simply purchase DTPA Fe (DTPA iron or ferrous DTPA) in powder form just like all the other dry fertilizers. Then add 47 grams of this DTPA Fe powder into bottle 3 which is your CSM+B micros bottle. Do everything else the same way (no need to change the volume of solution that you pour into the tank).
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