Idiot proof plant recommendations

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Aquarium Advice Newbie
Oct 4, 2023
I seem to have trouble growing plants and need some recommendations for something simple and idiot-proof. I'd like to get something tallish for the background and something short for the foreground that would be good for shrimp in the future.

I have a 20 gallon long with 6 Corys, 9 Cardinal Tetras, 1 Honey Gourami, 2 Nerites and the beginnings of a Ramshorn infestation.

I've got an Aqueon hood with 1 day white LED that runs for 8 hours daily. I use Seachem Flourish twice a week, Excel daily, Advance every other day. My substrate is gravel mixed with eco-complete.

pH is 7.5, gKH is 4, dGH is 9, nitrates between 10 - 20 ppm.

I've tried a variety of plants, but aside from a few hardy ones, most are dead/dying.

What's currently doing ok:
1 Anubias (originally 2, 1 died)
1 African Water Fern
3 Java Fern
2 Dwarf Water Onion
Java Moss

What's struggling:
1 or 2 Bucephalandra Brownie (originally 3, 1 confirmed dead)
3 Red Root Floaters (originally a handful)
2 Cabomba (originally 5 stems)
Monte Carlo

What's Died:
Dwarf Hair Grass
Alternanthera Reinickii
Rotala H'ra
The plants that you say are doing OK are the ones that are low demand and will do well in most aquariums. Beyond that you will probably need specialist lighting, substrate and injected CO2. Amazon swords and crypts are other plants that are low demand and will do well in most aquariums.

Essentially if plants do well, keep those. If they dont, remove them unless you are prepared to do whats necessary to provide for higher nutrient, light and CO2 demands.

Your KH is on the low side. Most of these commonly kept aquatic plants use KH for their carbon needs and not CO2. You might consider something to buffer the KH, or more frequent water changes to replenish it if your aquarium is chock full of plants and KH is getting depleted.

A word about excel. Liquid CO2 additives are poisonous to fish. Its gluteraldhyde, which is normally used to sterilise medical equipment. In aquariums it acts as a mild algaecide, and provides zero CO2. You have to be careful not to overdose, its a fine line between no real harm, and killing everything. Due to the negligible benefits, is it really worthwhile dosing this given the risk? These CO2 products should be removed from the aquarium hobby IMO, they offer no benefit beyond a small algae control.
Thanks. I didn't think KH was a problem as the levels have been holding steady between water changes so I didn't think anything was being consumed by the plants. Wouldn't increasing the KH without doing anything else increase the alkalinity of the water?

While I've seen some posts about fish getting killed due to overdosing Excel, it was always by an extremely large amount. That said, I haven't seen any difference in the 2 months I've been using it so I might was well stop using it.

I did notice that the Cabomba stem I placed in my Quarantine tank is doing fine and that tank has less lighting than my main. Water parameters are similar, but the one difference is that I did a diluted hydrogen peroxide dip on the Cabomba that went into the main tank so I think the concentration I used was too high and/or kept it in the dip too long.
Im not saying that KH is a problem, just that your KH is low and that a lot of plants use KH for their carbon needs. Aquatic plants often do better with higher KH. Increasing it might help, might not. Thats the thing with keeping plants, there isnt a magic bullet that makes things work. Adjust something, see if things improve or get worse over a period of a couple of months. Adjust something else, again see what happens. It might take years to get things dialed in.

KH contributes to alkalinity, so increasing KH will increase alkalinity. Most KH tests actually test for alkinity they are so close to being the same thing.

As to excel. Many people use it to treat algae by deliberately overdosing and many people miscalculate by only a little and see everything die. Its easily done. A 50 gallon tank, when you take account of aquascape, substrate etc, might only have 35g of water in there. So if you dont take account of that in your dosing, you could already be overdosing by a significant margin. Accidently overdose more than you normally do, and you could easily be 2x overdosed which is where people start to see it effecting their fish. Why add a substance that is known to be poisonous to fish when there is no benefit?
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