Wednesday, January 16, 2019

5 Tips for Starting Your First Planted Aquarium

So you’re wanting to make the switch from fake to live aquarium plants, and you’ve already done a bunch of research on lighting, substrate, and so forth. I’m going to let you in on the 5 things I wish I knew about planted tanks that most beginner tutorials never cover. I'm not talking about basic level 1 knowledge like “Put your lights on a timer,” but more like level 2 stuff that you don’t figure out until way later when you happen hear a random comment in a 4-hour live stream.

Now I really like the natural look for my aquariums, which I initially tried to imitate using fake plant decor. However, I eventually decided to try live plants because everyone was going on and on about how great it naturally improves water quality, and you know me, I’ll try anything that saves me time.

Fish tank with natural-looking fake plants

Tip #1: New planted tanks will get algae

The first thing I learned is that planted tanks don’t necessarily save time (at least at first). With my fake aquarium decor, I never turned on the lights unless I was standing directly in front of the tank because my parents taught me not to waste electricity. That also means I never had algae growth. The fact is new planted tanks will get algae and that’s normal. In the beginning stages as your plants are getting settled, you’ll have to spend the time removing algae regularly, scraping down the walls, and keeping on top of water changes to reduce excess nutrients.

One time I let my newly planted betta tank go for two weeks without a water change, and when I came back from vacation, I had a massive brown algae explosion! Lesson learned, for sure.

Algae in a new planted betta tank

Tip #2: Don't fertilize as soon as you get the plants

Contrary to your natural inclination, don't fertilize right after you set up your new planted tank. Because the plants are still in shock and getting used to the new water parameters or substrate they’re in, they’re not going to grow a lot at first. Once they’ve gotten settled in and a little more rooted, then start slowly adding your root tabs and water column fertilizers – maybe at quarter or half strength at first, and then gradually increasing it to a balanced amount. Excess nutrients in those early days will lead to more algae.

Using Seachem Flourish tabs in a planted betta tank

Tip #3: Fast growing plants die quickly & slow growing plants die slowly

Speaking of which, you often hear people say that you should use fast growing plants in your newly planted aquarium so they can suck up the excess nutrients very quickly and starve out the algae. Well, just remember tip #3: fast-growing plants tend to die quickly, whereas slow-growing plants will die more slowly. As you’re learning how to grow plants underwater, slow-growing plants are a little more forgiving and will give you some time to react to those yellowing leaves you see and adjust accordingly, and usually they’ll recover and bounce back. Whereas fast growing plants will just die and then you’re out the money.

sad and happy buce in planted aquarium

Tip #4: Plants will die, but consider it money well-spent

With regards to moolah, just start with the expectation that plants will die on you, even the beginner ones that are supposedly bulletproof. I have killed java fern, anubias, vallisneria, and even a floating plant. I mean, some of these things are practically invasive if you hear people talk, and yet I’ve managed to massacre them all for one reason or another. Part of me was like, “Wow, I just flushed $30 down the toilet.” But the advice I heard was, “Consider this learning experience like a workshop.” You might spend $30 on a workshop to learn about planted tanks, right? So this is just the hands-on, real-world version of it in your home, where you get to learn from your mistakes first hand and do things differently next time.

dying, disintegrating dwarf water lettuce in fish tank

Tip #5: Get your plants from local fish auctions or hobbyists that live near you

Rather than spending the big bucks on plants that have been shipped to a fish store or are purchased from an online retailer, try buying from local hobbyists. Plants sold that way are generally much cheaper, you don’t have to pay for or possibly have them damaged in shipping, and they’ve usually already been acclimated to living in water parameters similar to yours. Sometimes certain plants just won't thrive in your water. But you know what, your fellow fish keepers living in the same area know what plants do work, so follow their recommendations and ask for a few clippings from their tanks.

ludwigia repens or broadleaf ludwigia in a planted tank
My new ludwigia repens I bought from a local aquarist ğŸ˜

In my plant keeping journey, I’ve definitely seen the amazing impact live plants have on reducing my nitrate levels in aquariums, and with the help of these level 2 hints, I've been a lot more successful keeping them alive. Huge thanks to my fellow aquarists for sharing their knowledge. Because of them, my eyes have been opened to so many beautiful species that I can’t wait to try!

Related Links
How to Set Up an Easy Betta Planted Tank
Bucephalandra Care Guide
Plant Dip for Snails

Question of the Day

What tips do you wish you knew before starting your first planted tank? Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you next time!

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