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Healthy planted tank 2021 05 31 040840 — The 4 Principles to Create Thriving Planted Tanks

The 4 Prin­ci­ples to Cre­ate Thriv­ing Plant­ed Tanks

Issue 007/ May 30, 2021
So you strug­gle with cre­at­ing tanks that look like the ones you see on Insta­gram. That’s okay! Fol­low these prin­ci­ples for a healthy, vibrant plant­ed tank.

Ask any expe­ri­enced aquas­cap­er what they’d sug­gest to cre­ate a sta­ble, vibrant tank, and you’ll like­ly get a thou­sand dif­fer­ent answers, rang­ing from super-spe­cif­ic dose X dry chem­i­cal at Y con­cen­tra­tion, then dose Z…”, to the gener­ic water changes are impor­tant” type response.

But all the rec­om­men­da­tions can be reduced down to a few sim­ple, proven prin­ci­ples that can be added to your rou­tine with­out much effort. These are prin­ci­ples I’ve prac­ticed for years, and have giv­en me great suc­cess with var­i­ous tanks. Here they are, in no par­tic­u­lar order:

Swap to RODI water as soon as possible

I can’t empha­size how dras­ti­cal­ly this changed my tank’s main­te­nance require­ments and appear­ance. Pre­dictable water para­me­ters makes trou­bleshoot­ing and inves­ti­ga­tion so much easier.

If you use tap water, humor me and mea­sure the TDS of the new water you put in your tank for the next few water changes. If your water is like most pub­lic water sys­tems in the Unit­ed States, it’s going to fluc­tu­ate by 50ppm or so.

For humans, that’s com­plete­ly fine; what­ev­er’s being added/​removed (remem­ber, TDS might as well be short for Total Dis­solved Some­things) isn’t going to cause issues.

For an aquar­i­um, that’s 50ppm of some­thing—you have no idea — that you’re putting in your tank with every sin­gle water change.

With RODI water all those prob­lems go away.

For exam­ple, I know100% — that after rem­iner­al­iz­ing my RODI water the total TDS is 171ppm. I can essen­tial­ly tell when I need to do a water change based on the TDS val­ue — it rarely gets above 200ppm, since I do water changes 3 times a week.

Again, I can’t over­state how effec­tive this is for tanks. Is it hard? Ini­tial­ly, yes. A main­te­nance rou­tine turns it into some­thing you can do in 5 min­utes or less.

This is the #1 most effec­tive prin­ci­ple to sta­ble, vibrant tanks.

It also makes the next prin­ci­ple into an easy rou­tine, instead of a tri-week­ly headache:

30% water changes, 3 times per week

No mat­ter how often I tell peo­ple this, I always have a large por­tion of lis­ten­ers dis­miss me imme­di­ate­ly over this prin­ci­ple, say­ing that nobody has time for that’, or that’s a waste of effort; you don’t need to change water that much’.

I counter with this ques­tion: how much time (and mon­ey) do you spend fight­ing or pre­vent­ing algae and poor growth — scrub­bing, clean­ing, research­ing? What if that time just… went away?

That can hap­pen, and (bar­ring sig­nif­i­cant error in your tank) it’ll dras­ti­cal­ly reduce or elim­i­nate algae and growth issues. When it comes to aquat­ic plants and pre­vent­ing algae, noth­ing beats con­sis­tent, pre­dictable water.

Chang­ing water on this sched­ule makes it very, very hard for algae to take hold, since any spores released into the water (or caught from the air) are soon removed by a water change. Mean­while, your plants are get­ting con­sis­tent water para­me­ters and con­stant fert dos­es, which results in stronger growth… which uses more of the avail­able fer­til­iz­er in the water.

It’s a one-two punch: it’s hard­er for algae to grow, and eas­i­er for plants to push vig­or­ous growth.

Don’t miss that point from the para­graph above — con­sis­tent water para­me­ters is a key point to plant growth. When water para­me­ters sig­nif­i­cant­ly change, they need to accli­mate their process­es to the new con­di­tions, and that takes ener­gy away from vis­i­ble growth.

Enough fer­til­iz­er to thrive, but no more

In my expe­ri­ence, the most com­mon mis­take begin­ners make is over-fer­til­iza­tion, which makes for a very sen­si­tive tank. Even a lit­tle extra light (such as ambi­ent light from a sun­ny room) can dis­rupt the tank’s nutrient/​light bal­ance and cause an algae bloom.

The Esti­ma­tive Index method is noto­ri­ous for caus­ing this, and that’s why I cau­tion begin­ners that use the EI method that they should real­ly stick to the water change sched­ule, because that’s crit­i­cal to ensur­ing there’s no buildup of nutri­ents and reduc­ing the like­li­hood of algae blooms.

When find­ing the right dose for your tank, it’s always eas­i­er to start low­er and incre­men­tal­ly increase the dosage than to start with a larg­er dose and con­stant­ly fight/​clean large algae blooms. While under fer­til­iza­tion can cause algae (by not allow­ing plants to effi­cient­ly use the avail­able nutri­ents and out­com­pete algae), over*-*fertilization caus­es much larg­er algae issues, and can cause them with­in hours.

When I’m test­ing a new fer­til­iz­er, I usu­al­ly start with the low­est rea­son­able dose. You can use tools like Rota­la But­ter­fly­’s Fer­til­iza­tion Cal­cu­la­tor to find what that rea­son­able dose actu­al­ly is.

In terms of which prod­uct to use, these days I most­ly stick with Trop­i­ca Spe­cial­ized, since I rarely have fau­na in my tanks.

Plant heavy, right from the beginning.

Anoth­er com­mon mis­take (even from mod­er­ate­ly-expe­ri­enced aquas­cap­ers) is a desire to save mon­ey’ by plant­i­ng less in the ini­tial setup.

This is a crit­i­cal mis­take, exact­ly because of the pre­vi­ous principle—

Few­er plants use less nutri­ents, leav­ing them in the water for algae to use.

Order (and plant) as many spec­i­mens as you rea­son­ably can right at the very begin­ning of a build. That gives you the best con­di­tions to cre­ate a thriv­ing tank envi­ron­ment where algae nev­er has the chance to occur.

But what if you can’t afford enough plants in the species that you want to use? A rea­son­able prob­lem; some rare plants can be quite expen­sive for those with small­er budgets.

Drop in a fast-grow­ing plant (floaters are a great choice here) to suck up’ the nutri­ents that aren’t used by your oth­er plants. (Note: this can hin­der the growth of your desired species, if they’re not able to uti­lize the nutri­ents fast enough.)

Hav­ing a large plant load in your build also intro­duces a for­give­ness’ to your tank. It will be very hard for nitrates to build up in a heav­i­ly-plant­ed (and rea­son­ably healthy) tank. A stray bit of sun­light in the after­noons isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly the end of the world (par­tic­u­lar­ly if you fol­low the ear­li­er prin­ci­ple of enough to thrive, but no more”).

What are your must-fol­low’ prin­ci­ples for healthy tanks?

Tag @ScapeLyfe on twit­ter with your best prin­ci­ple for build­ing healthy tanks. Shar­ing is car­ing, and helps us keep writ­ing and cre­at­ing aquas­cap­ing content.

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