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Success With Aquatic Plants  Pt.  2



Bob Fenner & John G. Pitcairn                           


Previous: Rationale, Buying, Keeping

Next installment: Success With Aquatic Plants 3: A Good Selection

To continue where we left off from the last installment; live aquarium plants are an under-developed viable part of aquatic life keeping. Here we'll describe appropriate keeping and displaying techniques for aquatic plants. 

Set Up: 

Your aquaria and/or tubs for aquatic horticulture should be off your centralized fish filtration system, if you have one.  

Your live plant display should include: 

1) Tanks/tubs of up to eighteen inches or greater depth. 

2) Two to three inches of washed natural gravel. 

3) More than adequate (3-4 watts per gallon) fluorescent and/or incandescent lighting.

4) The lighting on timers to provide 12-16 hours of light per day.

5) A box or sponge or low volume outside filter.  


Introduction of New Plants: 

Once your plant tanks have become established as you do for  fish aquaria, via use of "old" gravel, bacteria starter culture or aging for a few weeks, you're ready to order/buy and place your plants. Please see the third piece in this series on Plant Selection for suggested species to try and others to avoid.  


The authors have a divided opinion on the necessity and efficacy of treatments to reduce/eliminate unwanted pests and parasites brought in with aquatics.

J.G.P. believes that most plants should simply be rinsed under tap water, examined for snail eggs, leeches et al.. These and dead and dying leaves are removed by hand and the plants are put in the tanks.

B.F. takes a more cautious, conservative perspective. He advocates doing JGP's activity & sterilizing the outside of the plants with the following technique:

A simple, effective and inexpensive method of eradicating snails, hydra, leeches and other undesireable hitchers involves using a dip of alum (alumininum sulfate) and water. Alum may be purchased at your local drugstore.

1) In a "fish" bucket, dissolve about one tablespoon per gallon of alum in some room temperature tap water. 

2) Soak your new plants for 20-30 minutes. 

3) Rinse them under the same temperature tap, crushing off dead leaves and scraping off snail eggs with your nail.

4) Do not let plants dry out; get them into water ASAP.



Floating "bunch" plants such as parrot's feather, water milfoil, hornwort and anacharis may or may not be banded together loosely with and weighted down by a lead strip.

Rooted plants; sagittarias, vallisnerias and cryptocorynes and sword are individually placed in the gravel. Some people suggest wrapping the roots, if they're long, around your finger and "dragging" the root-mass under from a little further away to where you want them to end up. We like to simply push most of the root material softly into the gravel, leaving the crown of the plant exposed. One other absolutely critical note: do not allow gravel or sand to get in between the leaf stems of your plants. This will surely kill at least those leaves if not the whole plant.

Floating plants: such as hyacinths, water lettuce, duckweeds and water sprite may be left at the surface of planted plant tanks if they are not so dense that they block out too much light. A better exhibition for floating plants is to display them in their own tank  or tub, drained down part way to prevent burning from their light source. 


Water Changes: 

Should be done on a regular, periodic basis, probably on the same schedule as your fishes. About 20% of the water should be vacuumed from the bottom with a gravel vac and replaced with treated tap-water. 


Should be added at this time as specified in part 1. 


Lamps should be date-of-installation labeled with an indelible marker and replaced at yearly intervals, whether they "light-up" or not. 

Algae Growth: 

Can be a problem considering the amount of light and nutrient that should be made available to your plant tanks. Biological control is the ticket here. The assiduous use of non-bisexual snails; ramshorns, mysterys (Ampullaria) are appropriate technology; ramshorns are the best. Some fishes are useful as well; the smaller south-american sucker-mouth catfishes, family Loricariidae, such as the genera Otocinclus and Hypostomus. Avoid giant species like the more common pond-raised giant Pterogoplichthys which are too disruptive. Actually, any suckermouth catfish under two inches will do except bushy-nose species that eat plants instead of algae.

Algae film on the front glass and leaves may be wiped off periodically by hand. Avoid using copper-based, simazine or organo-phosphate type algicides as these have decidedly negative impact on your live plants. Under no circumstances should these algicides be used with live aquarium plants; they are extremely toxic to them. Salt treatments in plant tanks are also a no-no.

If you must treat at a tank remove the plants or fishes and sterilize the plants and place them in a non-treatment tank. 

Moving Your Plants: 

Don't do it! Almost all plants do better if not disturbed. If plants must be moved, it is a good idea to plant those individuals in shallow, inert pots or trays and move the containers instead of disturbing the roots of the plants themselves. 

End of Part 2: 

Tastes for particular species and their display will vary per your particular area. Check out your local grower/suppliers and other aquatic gardeners for input. 

Previous: Rationale, Buying, Keeping

Next installment: Success With Aquatic Plants 3: A Good Selection

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