You’re ready to take your aquarium to next level and create a live-planted system. Good for you! However, even seasoned aquarium hobbyists admit that maintaining a live-planted tank is not as easy as it seems. Many happy hobbyists have felt utterly defeated by live-planted systems that in spite of heroic efforts went down hill fast. There is hope. Success with planted tanks comes with good old fashion prep work and commonsense maintenance. Here are some steps that are often over looked but can better your chances of creating a thriving planted ecosystem.
Check Your Equipment First
Before you run out and buy new plants, it’s important to get your house in order first. Visually inspect all your existing aquarium equipment. The filtration system and plumbing should be checked for any signs of a leak. If a leak is caught early, it’ll save you time, headaches and money on lost plant life. The heating element should be also be inspected for any damage and checked against the aquarium thermometer. Reference the heating element against the aquarium thermometer to ensure a stable temperature. Lighting is critical to planted systems so inspect the lighting system thoroughly. If a light timer is used, make sure the lighting cycle is dialed in and on time because off-schedule lighting cycles can have adverse effect on plants. If you’re using a CO2 system, the check valve should be inspected to prevent back flow of water. Also check for air leaks to ensure the CO2 gas is being implemented properly and not wasted. The bubble counter of a CO2 system needs to be inspected to ensure the right amount of CO2 is added to aquarium water. Too much CO2 will harm fish; not enough CO2 will result in lower growth rates of plants. And finally, all electrical connections should be clean and free of dust and debris, and any bad connections should be fixed immediately.
Testing the Water
Regular water tests will reveal all kinds of secrets as to the health of your system. Testing for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate will indicate if the aquarium system is receiving the proper amount of food. A spike of ammonia, nitrite or nitrate indicates that there are more organics present in aquarium water for the filtration system to remove. Ammonia and nitrite levels should always be at or near zero. Nitrate levels can be present in low numbers and will help you determine how much water you need to change. Also, potassium and iron are often added to planted aquariums for growth and overall health of aquarium plants. Testing for potassium and iron will determine how much of each supplement should be added to ensure appropriate amounts are present for the plants to utilize.
A pH test is another important task for maintaining planted tanks and help determine if CO2 levels are ideal for plant growth. While it depends on what type of plants you have, a healthy pH of 7 is about the average. Remember that larger pH swings can be deadly to fish, so play it safe and perform a pH test twice a day to determine the actual pH window. The pH of a planted system changes in a 24-hour period. When plants are photosynthesizing during the day they release oxygen and while they respire at night, they release carbon dioxide. The result is a higher pH during the day and a lower pH during the night. To determine how high and how low the pH window is, a pH test should be done before the lights turn on and after they have turned off.
Stay Ahead of Pesky Algae
Algae is enemy number one and a prolific grower in planted aquariums. Be sure to routinely scrub the aquarium panels with an algae pad and if algae is present on plants remove the algae by hand. There are also a number of aquatic creatures that keep algae under control. Algae-eating shrimp such as Amano Shrimp or Japonica Shrimp keep populations down and the Otocinclus Catfish is popular choice as well. Keeping these creatures in small numbers will greatly reduce algae populations in a planted aquarium. Never let an algae population get out of hand. If there are signs of algae, take care of it immediately because it will only get worse.
Keep Plants Trimmed
Plant growth is a good thing but too much growth may lead to unwanted results. Trimming plants will not only help maintain the expected look of the planted aquarium but allow all the plants an equal opportunity to grow. Some plants grow faster than others. By trimming the faster growing plants, the slower growing plants are given equal opportunity to thrive and grow. A fish net is a great tool for capturing plant clippings. Be sure to remove as much if not all clippings. Plants clippings left in the aquarium will rot and decay resulting in poor water quality. A well manicured planted aquarium looks much better than an overgrown messy jungle.
Maintain the Aquarium Filter
Cleaning an aquarium filter is essential for planted systems. Mechanical filtration media should be rinsed and replaced if signs of wear are present. If mechanical filters are not rinsed, the trapped organics and debris will not leave the system and eventually affect water chemistry. Chemical filtration media should be replaced when exhausted. The capacity of chemical filtration is stated on a manufacturer’s package. Biological filtration media should be kept free of organic and debris buildup. Cleaning biological filtration media can be done using a fish safe container and aquarium water. A properly maintained aquarium filter improves its function and the health of an aquarium system.
Water changing is performed to remove excess amounts of organics typically in the form of nitrate, and the amount of water to be changed or the frequency of water changes is determined by testing aquarium water. Aquarium filters do not reduce the presence of nitrate, which is why routine water changes are necessary. High levels of nitrate lead to unwanted algae growth and fish disease. Planted aquariums do best when filtered water is used. Tap water typically contains unwanted traces of chlorine, chloramines, high levels of phosphates and who knows what else. Phosphates encourage algae growth so eliminating unwanted phosphate levels keeps algae under control.
Fertilizers and Supplements
The addition of fertilizers and supplements is necessary for good plant. There are dozens of fertilizer and supplement products available for planted aquariums. Regardless of what you choose, be sure to test for their presence in the water before adding more. Too much of either will result on excessive algae growth; less is more in the case of fertilizers and supplements.
The Wipe Down and Final Tweaks
After all maintenance is performed perform any last tweaks, wipe down your glass box and enjoy your beautiful planted aquarium. If you’re ready to start a planted system, truAqua carries a full line of Aquatop products such as lighting for planted tanks, high clarity glass aquariums, accessories and more.