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10. The Freshwater Planted Tank
 Many hobbyists dream of keeping a beautiful, healthy planted tank. There is a daunting array of products on the market boasting to “make your tank thrive.” Which products do you need? How should you use them? When should you use them?

There are a number of ways to create the “ideal” planted tank. The simple guidelines below describe a reliable method and tested products for setting up a planted tank. By following these guidelines and carefully selecting products, from day one, even the beginner can culture a healthy, enchanting planted wonderland.

The Equipment
Filtration
Good Better Best
Hagen AquaClear Box Filters and Seachem Tidal Filters- This is a good filter that has room for Purigen and media of your choice. Always select a filter at least one size up from the size recommended by Hagen.
Optionally, two smaller filters can be used for increased efficiency and as a fail-safe should one filter go down.
  SICCE Canister Filters
These are great, dependable canister filters at better pricing than most. They come pre-packed with media and extra tubing. These filters are quiet and with regular care will perform for many years.
  Trickle Filters
Large tanks and ‘ultimate’ tanks can be set up with Aquarium Life Support Systems trickle filters. These efficient units must be used with a siphon box or drilled tank and are, hands down, the best filters for any system.

Lighting
Good Better Best
Aquatic Life Lighting Fixtures
Two rows of lights minimum. These are T8 and produce more lumens than standard T12 lamps. These lamps are limited to moderate and low light plants. See the
Plant Guide for details.
  Freshwater Marquis T5 HO 2 Lamp Fixtures with Timers These fluorescent aquarium light fixtures employ the latest leading edge technology for both the novice and experienced hobbyist. The built-in Digital Timer makes it easy to control the lighting.

The Freshwater lighting system features two 6000K Daylight lamps to create a balanced light output, including peaks in the blue and red spectrums that matches the chlorophyll absorption peaks in plants, and at the same time enhances fish coloration. German-made individual lamp reflectors direct maximum light output down deep into your aquarium, and Aquatic Life Marine lamps use phosphors that replicate what corals, plants and fish receive naturally. Electronic Ballast built into fixture makes installation easy. Adjustable width Aquarium Frame Mounts safely support fixture above the aquarium. Anodized matte finish provides visual appeal and years of life.
  Kessil LED Lighting and Accessories
Kessil LED Grow & Aquarium Lights are cutting edge lighting fixtures combining efficiency and the newest lighting technology to deliver potent and effective solutions for gardens and aquariums.

Kessil is drastically transforming the way LED lighting is used in the aquarium industry. Featuring an intense, point-source LED aquarium light, Kessil`s specially designed optics focus and direct light both efficiently and effectively. Not only do these long-lasting LED aquarium lights save energy, they eliminate excess heat that is characteristic of traditional broadband sources.

A360WE Tuna Sun Wide Angle LED Aquarium Light
is perfect for planted freshwater aquariums.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
CO2 is the difference between a planted show tank and just a tank with plants
Good Better Best
Flourish Excel Flourish Excel is a source of bioavailable organic carbon. All plants require a source of carbon. This is typically obtained from CO2, but may also be derived from simple organic compounds (such as photosynthetic intermediates). Therefore, one can derive a substantial benefit with the use of Flourish Excel either alone or in conjunction with CO2 injection. Flourish Excel also has iron reducing properties which promote the ferrous state of iron (Fe+2), which is more easily utilized by plants than ferric iron (Fe+3). Flourish Excel is an integral component of Seachem's plant products and is recommended for use with the entire Flourish line as well as our Flourite and Onyx Sand substrates. It contains no phosphate or nitrate.
  CO2 Life - CO2 Injection System CO2 Life is the new, patented, fertilization system which doesn"t require any bottles or other external equipment. It works using a carbon cartridge which ensures a continual and consistent release of carbon dioxide by electrolysis and does not create sudden pH changes to the aquarium water. CO2 Life is available in 2 models: for aquariums from 10-40 gallons SIC118 and 25-75 gallons SIC119.

Fertilization by CO2 is a natural process. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is fundamental for healthy and luxuriant growth of plants in the aquarium. CO2 is a key molecule, though it is lacking in most aquariums. CO2 is critical to photosynthesis, the process by which light energy is converted to chemical energy that is stored as carbohydrate and sugars in plants. Plants require light energy, CO2, and H2O to make sugar. Aquarium plants, unlike terrestrial plants, cannot capture free CO2 from the air. For photosynthesis to proceed, aquarium plants must capture CO2 from water using more complex methods, but the process is the same. Photosynthesis produces a by-product critical to life in both aquatic and terrestrial environments - oxygen.
  Ista Professional CO2 Supply Set ISTA 1L Professional C02 Supply Set: Take your planted aquarium to the next level with professional quality C02 system easy enough for beginners! Arrives complete with regulator, bubble counter, diffuser, tubing, & refillable C02 aluminum canister.

• Ista"s CO2 cylinders safety standards are approved by Technical Inspection Association (TUV).
• Supporting base keeps CO2 cylinder in position avoiding any potential damage to the CO2 regulator.
• Pressure reduced vertical type CO2 regulator assures constant and accurate CO2 dosing rate.
• Unique top quality ceramic promises the most even and delicate CO2 diffusing effect.

Included in set:
• 1 cylinder (1L) full weight pressurized CO2 liquid
• 1 cylinder supporting base
• 1 CO2 regulator
• 1 CO2 bubble counter
• 1 CO2 diffuser
• 1 flexible tube
View All CO2 Systems

Gravel
Plant the aquarium with a gravel base of 3-6”. Large gravel is not suitable for planted aquariums. Start with at least 1lb per gallon of tank volume. Add more if needed.

Use substrate additives with a third of the gravel and place as the bottom layer in the aquarium. The rest of the gravel is placed on top of the mixed gravel to a total height of 3-6". Use small substrate for the base - 2-4 mm diameter particles is best.

Flourite by SeaChem or  Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate may be used either as the base coat for the above application or for the gravel layer.

A thin layer of sera Substrate works great under any gravel. Flourish Tabs also help supplement gravel.


 
The Method
Plant the Aquarium
1. Partially fill the tank. Dechlorinate and plant the aquarium right away with plenty of fast growing oxygenating plants like Hygrophila, Sagittaria, and Vallisneria. Remember to trim bunch plants approximately 1" from the bottom and remove all dead material. Avoid leaves in the plug or below the surface of the gravel. See the Freshwater Plant Guide, Solution 11, for more details on oxygenating plants to select.

2. To enhance the Nitrogen Cycle, use a good quality bacteria starter like Activate Freshwater
.

3. Add very few fish but add Otocinclus Catfish, Amano Shrimp, Mollies and or Flying Fox.

4. Remember, it is normal to lose some of the initial fish and plants. The goal is to establish some healthy, fast growing algae-fighting plants while cycling your aquarium. See the
Nitrogen Cycle article for more information on this important process.

5. Add a small amount of Phosphate Remover by AquaLife to the filter. Use a high grade activated carbon like
Pelleted Carbon by AquaLife. Planted tanks require more carbon than ordinary fish tanks. CarboPhos by AquaLife is a good, convenient mixture of both phosphate remover and carbon. These all should be placed in filter bags.

6. Begin monitoring pH. Initial pH readings will be high. Lower pH with CO
2 doses. See notes below.

7. Maintain water temperature at 72-73°F initially and later at 75-76°F once the tank is established. Allow 6 weeks for the tank to stabilize.

8. Do not use fertilizers until plants have become established and show signs of root growth.


Important Information about CO2 and pH
If aquarium plants are doing well small bubbles begin to form along the margins of the leaves within 1-2 hours after the lights and CO2 are started. If no bubbles are observed and CO2 levels have been increased the problem is usually lighting or filtration.

Ideal pH in a planted tank is 6.8. Natural fluctuations of pH occur during the day and values as high as 7.5 do not harm plants. pH levels are lowest lin the morning before the lights are turned on, rise throughout the day and are highest level in the evening before the lights go out. The greater the difference between the lowest and highest pH levels the higher the conversion of CO
2 and the better the plants are doing. The high range tends to drop as the tank becomes established.

Ideally, adjustments to pH should be made by increasing the amount of CO
2 introduced into the system. Chemicals to lower pH should be avoided in the plant tank, however, values above 7.5 may require attention. Should pH adjustment become necessary, use only Acid Buffer by SeaChem. Assuming water changes and water conditions are kept up, Alkaline Buffer by SeaChem can be used to raise pH. Never make drastic changes in pH! Any change in pH should be made gradually over a period of several hours to days.


Other Water Quality Parameters
kH Ideal range: 3-4 degrees. Adjust with Acid Regulator and Alkaline Regulator by Seachem
gH Ideal level: 2°. Soften with deionized or R/O water and peat or use Equlibrium.
Iron Ideal level: .1ppm After addition of Fluorish Iron, wait for it to drop to .05ppm before adding more. Do not exceed .2ppm. Test with sera iron Test.
Nitrate Ideal level: 0 Practical level: 10ppm or less. Reduce with small, frequent water changes.
Phosphate Ideal level: as low as possible. Adjust with Phosphate Remover by AquaLife, and/or R/O water adjusted with Equlibrium.

Algae Problems
Algae in aquariums is unavoidable. An overabundance of algae is unsightly and sometimes unhealthy in the planted tank. Algae control is achieved by proper filtration, water movement, live load balance and water chemistry. The main cause for algae growth is almost always phosphorus. Phosphorus is often found in tap water and like nitrate, is also a by-product of the fish load. Natural balance in the plant tank is achieved by the ratio of algae eating animals and fast growing vascular plants that compete with algae for nutrients. Here are some tips:
• use Phosphate Remover if you are using tap water
• use R/O water
• keep Otocinclus catfish
• keep Siamese Flying Fox
• keep Algae Eating Shrimp (tiny ones may be eaten by aggressive fish)
• keep them from Day 1

To help with algae problems, use Algone and
Flourish Excel.

Once the tank is set up, plant the tank right away to get oxygenating and rooted plants established as quickly as possible.
Once nitrate and phosphate are in check reduce fertilizer and/or iron supplements until algae is in check.


Snails and Other Pests
Clown Loaches and Dwarf Cichlids can do some serious damage to a nuisance snail or leech population.  

Supplement Schedule
3-6 weeks • Good - use sera Flore or
• Better - use
Flourish by Seachem, or
• Best - use Aquavitro line sold at authorized dealers
after 1 month • use Purigen by Seachem to polish water and reduce organics. Use as necessary.
after 2 months • begin using less carbon. Reduce to small quantities and replace it every other month. If iron levels are hard to maintain, discontinue carbon unless water is yellow or has an odor. Purigen also helps and does not affect valuable trace elements. These elements are replaced with products like Flourish by SeaChem.
after 3 months • use Flourish, Flourish Excel if growth of plants is an issue. Use at half doses. If iron levels are hard to maintain use Flourish Iron to raise levels
after 6 months • start using 1/4 doses of Flourish Potassium by Seachem. If better growth is noticed continue. Potassium can be a problem if everything else is in check and plants are not thriving. Use Flourish Tabs every 3-4 months.

 
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