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It can be difficult for a beginner to know how to incorporate plants into their setup with the amount of conflicting information out there, but a professional aquascaper breaks it down and makes it easy for anyone to start a planted tank.
Many new hobbyists transition from keeping freshwater fish to a planted aquarium. This is often inspired by the fantastic planted aquarium images available, as well as the aim of keeping live plants that look more impressive than plastic plants and keep the aquarium healthier. Indeed, live plants benefit the aquarium by providing more natural refuges (and even food) for fish and fry, oxygenating the water by day, absorbing excess nutrients, and/or releasing allelochemical defenses that may, to some extent, control algae.
Approaches to Plant Keeping
When most beginners attempt to keep plants, two approaches and outcomes are common. In the first approach, the budding planted aquarium keeper proceeds directly to the local fish store (LFS), purchases a few appealing varieties, and plants them in their current substrate. A few months later, the aquarist is often left with spindly, yellowing, or wilting plants commonly plagued with algae. Replacing these becomes expensive and irritating, and often the hobbyist returns to hardscape items and artificial plants.
The other is the ambitious aquarist who researches planted aquariums online or through other means and is inundated with conflicting advice and complex terminology relating to the requirements of their desired species. The second approach often yields more success, as forum members will recommend hardier plants and easier, low-tech ways to maintain them, but the influx of baffling information can make some wary or hesitant to learn more, preventing their development as an underwater gardener and aquascaper.
Not everyone has the time, patience or finance to set up and maintain a high tech planted aquarium. Tom Messenger prepares a realistic alternative in a step-by-step guide.
Because of our changing lifestyles many prefer aquariums that demand low maintenance and can suit more modest budgets. The example set up here is designed to fit that particular bill.
The plants chosen are mainly slower growers, such as Java fern, Microsorum pteropus, Cryptocoryne sp. and Amazon swords, Echinodorus spp. With the exception of the Java fern, these also feed heavily through their root system, especially when compared with the fast-growing stem plants.
Stems will require the majority of their nutrients through the water column, because of their comparatively weak root structure, but these root feeders love a nutri ent rich substrate in which to spread their roots.
Have you ever tried to uproot a large Echinodorus? Their roots can often span the whole length of the aquarium in their search for food and are nigh on impossible to remove once they have done.
Once the plants become established in this aquarium and begin to spread, it will hopefully create a nice wild, jungle feel. Bushy Cryptocoryne mingling in with the E. tenellus, with Vallisneria twisting its way through tall Echinodorus draping over the surface will create the perfect environment for our tetras.
To provide the nutritional needs of these plants, we chose standard aquatic potting soil as the substrate. This will contain many of the requirements, making them readily available to the plants’ roots.
All the plants used in this set-up, again with the exception of the E. tenellus, can be grown using only a low level of lighting. E. tenellus prefers a higher amount of light, but will be fine under medium lighting.
A very general way to determine the light requirements of individual plant species lies in leaf formation. Plants with wide, darker green leaves will often cope better in lower light than those with thin, light green or even red coloration.