Breeding healthy plants is not fundamentally different or more complicated than breeding healthy fish. All you need is to realize that, like fish, plants are also living beings who will be fine if their basic life requirements are met. Just as among the fish there are species that can tolerate worse conditions or mistakes made by a novice breeder, also among the plants there are the species that are very delicate and recommended only for experienced breeders. This article describes a simple, inexpensive way to set up a planted aquarium. But first let’s get to know some details regarding the choice of tank and its equipment.
As you know, aquariums are sold in all possible sizes and shapes. The most important thing when choosing a tank is its height – it shouldn’t be too high. This is due to the loss of light intensity that falls on the plants as the water depth increases. For a beginner tank, a height of 30 to 45 cm seems most suitable and a volume of 50 to 200 liters, which provides space for a wealth of plants without spending too much money. The next detail that is worth paying attention to is the length of the aquarium. Since the best type of lighting for simple planted aquariums are fluorescent lamps, and fluorescent lamps are sold in standard lengths, the tank should be only slightly longer than the fluorescent lamp (never shorter). This reduces lighting costs and optimally illuminates the entire tank.
Standard lengths of fluorescent lamps
Length (cm) 45 60 75 90 105 120 150
Power (W) 15 18 (20) 25 30 38 36 (40) 58
Appropriate lighting is one of the most important factors for a planted aquarium. The most general guidelines for simple planted tanks regarding lighting recommend lighting 10-12 hours a day and using at least 1 W of lighting for every 2 liters of aquarium water. So if you have a 120-liter aquarium, you should use at least 60W lighting (3×20 W or 4×15 W fluorescent lamps). There are fluorescent lamps of different manufacturers and types on the market, but any type of “Full-Spectrum” or “Daylight” will do its job well and there are much cheaper than specialist fluorescent lamps available in aquarium stores. So if you are going to invest in specialist fluorescent lamps, that’s good, but you can also mix specialist and ordinary fluorescent lamps or use only ordinary fluorescent lamps.
It is not recommended to use an undergravel filter (UGF) in a planted aquarium, because this type of filter weakens the growth, damages the roots, limits the selection of the substrate and the use of substrate additives. If your aquarium has an undergravel filter already installed and you want to put there many plants, that’s fine. Try it, and if you don’t get the results you want, consider disabling the filter, (this must be done carefully, especially when the tank had this filter for a long time and a lot of dirt accumulated in the ground). If you are rearranging your aquarium, you should give priority to external filters. In small tanks, internal filters do their job well and are not too expensive. Bucket filters are the perfect solution for large tanks. Cascade and “Wet-Dry” filters are not recommended, because the increased contact of water with air causes excessive escape of CO2 dissolved in water, which as shown below is a very important factor.
The ideal substrate for a planted tank is gravel of 1-3 mm grains, laid on the bottom in a 5-8 cm thick layer. If you are going to decorate a natural-looking aquarium, you should choose a natural-looking substrate (usually in shades of gray or brown). The substrate should also be neutral, i.e. it should not cause changes in the pH or hardness of the water. Highly recommended are substrate additives containing iron absorbable by plants, e.g. clay, pinia clay and peat balls, or buy ready-made substrates typically for plants.
CO2 fertilization is another basic factor in plant growth, because it is one of the basic ingredients involved in photosynthesis. CO2 molecules dissolve easily in water and each aquarium contains a certain amount of CO2 dissolved in water. Depending on the tank (type of filtration, water parameters, quantity and type of fish, etc.), the natural CO2 content may be sufficient for the needs of plants or may be a factor limiting plant growth. In this case, the amount of CO2 dissolved in water should be raised artificially. There are very expensive and sophisticated sets on the market for CO2 dosing but for the novice grower there is another effective and inexpensive solution: a DIY yeast reactor. It can be made from a solution of water, sugar and yeast, which is poured into a bottle and introduced with a hose and aeration stone into the aquarium.
Like other living creatures, plants need a variety of minerals for life. The three basic ingredients for each plant are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K), so garden fertilizers are made from these ingredients called macroelements. However, aquarium water tends to accumulate large amounts of nitrogen N and phosphorus P in the form of ammonia, nitrates, phosphates, etc. And the excess of these components can cause a number of problems (fish poisoning, algae growth, pH changes, etc.), so aquarium fertilizers should only have high potassium content K. Of course, a number of other elements in small quantities are necessary for good plant growth. These components are called microelements: Fe, Zn, Mg, Mn, S, B and others. There are many good commercial fertilizers for aquarium plants that contain all the necessary ingredients for plants. You can simply buy them and feed them to plants.
Arrangement of the aquarium
In fact, the fun starts here. Of course, there are a lot of various schemes on how to arrange an aquarium but isn’t it better to do it yourself? You will definitely enjoy it more.