How to Properly Grow Aquarium Plants!
What you need to know!
Balancing light, nutrients, water chemistry, water flow, and biological for healthy fish and plants.
Light levels depend on what light fixture you use, how tall your aquarium is, what plants you want to grow, and what fits your budget. Most aquariums come as a set with standard flourescent lighting. These lights have very poor reflectors, and very low watts and light output. I recommend at least 2-3 watts per gallon for most planted aquariums that are of standard height (18-24 inches) and where you want to be able to grow plants with beautiful colors and variety. Light levels over this basic guideline are unnecessary and require more work to achieve a balance. The more light, the more the system is driven in terms of plant growth and nutrient requirements. I use roughly three watts (these plants can grow in less light, ex.2-2.5 watts per gallon with good relflectors, most T-5's have good reflectors) for growing light loving plants, 2 - 2.5 watts per gallon for plants that take medium to high light, and 1.5 to 2.0 for lower light requiring plants like Anubias, Java Fern, Bolbitus, Cryptocorynes, and moss. My favorite lights are the new T-5 light fixtures with good reflectors, they are less energy demanding and produce little heat. You do want every area of the substrate lighted, especialy bright to be the foreground or front glass area due to shorter foreground plants needing the most light. I like to on larger aquariums use two light fixtures over versa top glass, one in the front and one in the back to sufficiently cover all areas that are 18 -24 inches wide. Each of these fixtures need only have two bulbs in them of around 6500K to 6700K or Kelvin temperature. If you are only twelve inches wide like a 55 gallon aquarium you can get by with one four foot fixture usually. The optimum illumination time is approximately 10 - 12 hours for most plants.
You must have some form of CO2. Why?
CO2 is beyond comparison the most important of all plant nutrients and this is why it needs to be present in reasonable concentrations in planted aquaria. In general, the CO2 produced biogenically in respiration is insufficient to sustain the photosynthesis of aquatic plants that are strict CO2 users. Thus, some sort of CO2 fertilization is required in order to grow the more difficult and demanding plants. We recommend a CO2 level in the planted aquarium of 15-40 mg/L, although less will show positive effects with most plants.! I strive for 30 mg/L. It is often a much more difficult and expensive task to provide adequate light over the plant aquarium. Both fluorescent light and highpressure-quicksilver lamps may produce sufficient light if supplied with effective reflectors but in deep aquaria (more than 20 in.) is very difficult to offer enough light to small light demanding foreground plants. Based on proven documentation, we suggest commencing CO2 addition before any other action is taken! We believe that even at very modest light intensities you will experience a conspicuous change in plant performance in your aquarium.
Sources for CO2
You have several options for CO2, liquid CO2 being the cheapest in the short term. Products that provide carbon in different ways are available; Seachem Excel which is a liquid carbon is one, you can grow plants successfully with this option providing the light level is not too high. Effective at lower light levels, as light increases the next option would be better. Plant Gro Co2 Natural System operates on tablets being added to provide CO2 to the water. Downside; you need to keep buying tablets. The next method is a sugar yeast fermentation system, you can make your own or buy a more sophisticated system like the Red Sea Biogenerator on our site. Downside; you cannot control output of CO2 evenly without monitoring levels and you must use sugar and yeast at a certain ongoing cost. The last method is the most expensive initially, but the cheapest in the long run which is CO2 gas system with a CO2 bottle, regulator with needle valve and solenoid (allows automatic on and off), and provides the most consistent levels of CO2. A 20lb. bottle will last 12 - 16 months (set it and forget about it) in a 55 -75 gallon aquarium and a refill will cost roughly 17 dollars. I recommend starting CO2 gas on a separate timer three hours before the lights come on, and shutting it down an hour before the lights go off. Contact me to help you decide which option is best for you.
Fertilizing Water Changes Water Chemistry Water Flow Biological Our Help
Fertilizing is the third most important consideration for a planted aquarium. You must give the plants in addition to CO2 the macros; Nitrate (Fish waste is primary source), Phosphate (Fish food is primary source), Potassium, (comes in micronutrient liquid fertilizer like Tropica Master Grow)) and Iron (comes in micronutrient liquid fertilizer like Tropica Master Grow) Micronutrients (also comes in liquid fertilizer Tropica Master Grow). Without any one of these the plants go into a starvation mode and begin to put out ammonia which then attracts and "wakes up" algae spores and induces them to grow. Levels for nitrates should be around 8-10 MG/L or PPM's, levels for phosphate should be around .75 to 1 MG/L or PPM's. Iron at roughly .1 to .2 MG/L or PPM's, dose micros according to directions on bottle. If you cannot maintain these macro levels with fish food and fish waste then you can add commercial preparations like SeaChem's Flourish Nitrogen and SeaChem's Flourish Phosphorus. Also, try to achieve potassium levels at 20 PPM'S, you can dose Seachem Potassium for that. I recommend the Estimative Index method for fertilizing, where you give the plants everything they need in slight excess, contact me if you need to know more about this method.You can contact me at HELP for more information or help.
Water Changes are an important consideration for a planted aquarium. Change at least 25 to 50 per cent of the water at least once a week to help remove organic buildup and waste, fish and plants release waste products that should be removed with a change weekly, and also clean your filter in old aquarium water from the change every other week. Also clean up any leaf debris that is floating or laying on the bottom. If you can change fifty percent of your water once a week even better!
Water Chemistry deals with the hardness in terms of General Hardness, (GH) which has to do with calcium and magnesium minerals and is measured either in terms of parts per million or in German degrees of hardness which is calculated by dividing parts per million by 17.9 to get German degrees. So if your water was 179 parts per million, German degrees would be 179 divided by 17.9 which equals a 10 German degree of hardness. GH hardness is not so critical, especially with gas CO2, it is PH that we do not want to be high(8.0 or above, CO2 injection will lower this). Carbonate hardness is the other factor and measures temporary hardness, it buffers your water so that PH does not swing to rapidly and you want this at roughly 2-5 German degrees or 35 to 90 parts per million.
Water flow is important for a planted aquarium because you want to contact all of the plants with CO2 and nutrients to maximize their growth and eliminate "dead spots". We want a circular flow starting from the top back of the aquarium to the front top glass of the aquarium which then travels down the glass, back across the substrate in front to the back of the substrate and back up the back glass. So with a spray bar or outflow from a cannister filter place it dead center in the back of the aquarium, with a hang on again dead center in the back. For a planted aquarium ten times the gallons per hour is the ultimate flow rate. You can use a liquid humic acid additive to watch the flow and make sure it is covered the full length of the aquarium from back to front. If it is not, then I recommend a power head addition, Hydor Koralia works the best, pointed back to front on top to those areas not covered by the filter.
Bacteria is what cycles your aquarium, specifically to cycle an aquarium is to establish a bacteria population in the filter and substrate so that ammonia is converted to eventually, nitrate. You need fish urea to start that process. Ammonia is what wakes up algae spores to their active state which is flagellate algae. Sooooooo it does not make sense to put the plants in before the fish if the aquarium is not cycled as the resulting ammonia spikes that will arise before the bacteria is established will certainly cause algae to "wake up" into the active state and with light and nutrients available begin to grow. You can cycle your aquarium in eight days using Seachem Stability, put all of the fish in anytime during that eight days, and then add the plants. Running an aerator during the non light hours helps to boost oxygen content for the bacteria population.
We are here to help you with your questions and to get started the right way with our beautiful plants and expert advice! Let us help you create your own underwater garden delight today. There is nothing quite like watching beautiful fish swim around and through a beautiful lush planted aquarium!
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