Please visit our Sponsors

All "framed" images are linked to desktop sizes.

We ask that, before submitting a query, you refer to Neale Monk's: Before You Write; A Checklist of Common Problems with Freshwater Aquaria, Bettas, Goldfish, and Freshwater Turtles (Terrapins), Tips on Asking Questions, Ask the WWM Crew a Question, FAQs on FAQs. EDFP, TBPFWFAQs, Last Few Days Accrued FAQs, Subscribe to the Daily Pics

Axolotl at the Shedd Aquarium, 2013

Freshwater Pix Archive Link
Planted Tanks FAQs
Updated 1/4/2017

Other Specialized Daily FAQs Blogs: General, Ponds, Brackish, Last Few Days Accrued FAQs,
Daily Q&A replies/input from the WWM crew: Rick Novy, Sue Garrett, Darrel Barton,
Neale Monks, Marco Lichtenberger, Sabrina Sharp, Eric Russell, Chris Perivolidis, Chuck Rambo, Bob Fenner, are posted here. Moved about, re-organized daily Current Crew Bios., Not so current Crew Bios

New Print and eBook on Amazon

Betta Success
Doing what it takes to keep Bettas healthy long-term

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Where are the South American aquatic epiphytes?       1/4/17
Dear WWM,
Thank you so much for being there. I am indebted to your website in my endeavour to become a better hobbyist. And so are life forms in my tank in turn.
<Thanks for the kind words.>
An inquiry: I wonder why don't we come across any commonly available aquatic epiphyte from South America like the Java Ferns and Anubias of the Old World? A quick search on the interweb returned Utricularia humboldtii - almost a force fit into this niche.
I would be grateful if you could help me with a starting point to find more, as most of the common and popular 'planted tank' sites are surprisingly silent on this. This apparent rarity feels intriguing as many environs in the two Worlds are rather similar and should present similar opportunities for species to evolve and exploit.
<The question really isn't whether amphibious or aquatic epiphytes exist in South America, but whether they get imported. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any commonly traded epiphytes similar to Anubias or Java Fern, but there
are some mosses. The North American coldwater species Fontinalis antipyretica ("Willow Moss") is fairly widely traded in the US, less so elsewhere. Fissidens fontanus ("Phoenix Moss") is another North American species, more subtropical though, and adapts better to tropical tanks than Willow Moss. Vesicularia montagnei ("Christmas Moss") is perhaps the
commonest truly South American species. Originally from Brazil, it's rarely seen in aquarium shops but more regularly available online. Then there's good old Riccia fluitans ("Crystalwort") that's been grown by hobbyists as a floating plant for decades, but can be grown attached to bogwood if a bit of effort is made to tie it down first. It's worldwide distribution justifies its inclusion in pretty much any aquarium. Finally, there's an undescribed moss known in the trade as Amblystegiaceae sp. "Manaus", usually traded as South American Moss or Queen Moss. It's rather rare and expensive, but popular with the Amano Aquarium crowd. Frankly, all these mosses look very similar to me, so if Java Moss was the only thing on sale near you, I'd have no qualms using it as a "stand in" for a true South American moss. But that's just me!>
Best wishes and regards
<Epiphytes are not really the quintessential South American biotope. Most of the tetras and cichlids we keep come from the seasonally flooded forest areas (which is why South American exports are strongly seasonal, generally August to December). So if you want something truly Amazonian, perhaps thinking about evoking a flooded forest is the way to go. Lots of sunken wood, silica sand substrate, leaf litter -- all these would be typical.
Actual greenery that grows all year around under the waterline is actually pretty uncommon except for a few lakes and such, where things like Vallisneria would be more typical. Even your classic Amazon Swordplants are marsh plants, underwater for only part of the year. Hope this helps, Neale.>
Re: Where are the South American aquatic epiphytes?       1/4/17

Dear Neale,
Thank you for the detailed response as always.
<Most welcome.>
I was not really looking for such epiphytes to sculpt an 'authentic' biotope as personally I am not a stickler for such micro level perfections.
<In which case...>
I am comfortable with equivalents like Anubias and Java Ferns primarily because they are much easier and forgiving allowing me to fuss less and devote more time to enjoy the whole aquarium.
<...do exactly this!>
My personal (mostly with S American small fishes) tank has lots of 'botanicals' like Catappa leaves, seed pods, floaters, etc. and love the more natural lightly tannin stained look. And yes, all the mosses look very similar to me too.
I was more interested to know if there were larger aquatic epiphytes with 'broader leaves' (not only the moss types) from South America and if yes, where to find a little more about them. This was not only as an aquarium hobbyist but out of general curiosity.
<So far as I know, there aren't. As I understand it, most exports of aquarium plants come from Southeast Asia, where they're either farmed or collected. Some farming goes on in Europe and elsewhere in greenhouses, but these are largely established species. Relatively few "new" plant species enter the hobby each year. Most of the "new" plants are hybrids or varieties produced on farms.>
Thanks again for your time and valuable inputs.
<And to you, too. Neale.>

Unidentified white Fuzz in freshwater planted tank. That moves!      12/17/16
My tank has been running for well over six months now. It is home to one small freshwater clam, ten black crystal bee shrimp, and two Otos. I have it planted with sedge, dwarf hair grass and dwarf baby tears. A few days ago I noticed Hydra beginning on one side of the tank, they spend their time eating the Cyclops that live in my tank as well. I've also been noticing this white fuzzy like algae growing on my plants. It doesn't seem to harm my plants in any way but it slowly covers the plant. I spent some time staring at it yesterday and moved my planting tweezers to touch it, and all of it on the plant I touched, retracted. After a few seconds it slowly came back out. I have no idea what it is. It's not hydra, because it simply looks like a sheet of fuzz covering a plant. Yet it retracts in a similar way to hydra. I'm to sure what it feeds on. It could be photosynthesis, or it could eat debris in the water, like a filter feeder. It's covering some blades on the draw from hair grass and some of the baby tears. So far that's it. I would like to find out what it is and if it's harmful.
I attached a photo of the fuzz on some dwarf baby tears that are the carpet. As well as a photo of my taller dwarf baby tears.
<It's hard to tell from the photo, but if it really does retract when touched, then some sort of Hydrozoan does seem likely, though there are freshwater bryozoans as well. You really need to examine specimens under a microscope, or at least a hand lens. Hydrozoans tend to look like jellyfish on stalks, whereas freshwater bryozoans have distinctive polyp-like
subunits with a horseshoe-shaped feeding apparatus covered with tiny tentacles. Bryozoans are harmless, but hydrozoans can pose a threat to tiny fish and shrimps, potentially anything the size of a newborn guppy or less. These aside, various red algae very commonly form hairy or fuzzy coatings on plants, but despite their name, the freshwater varieties are rarely red in colour. Red algae are difficult to control, and best physically removed and then suppressed by optimising conditions to favour the growth of plants instead. Fungi are the classic white fuzzy coatings, but they're normally
seen on decaying organic matter (such as wood) rather than healthy plants.
Removing whatever it is that's rotting is the best way to control fungi.
Cheers, Neale.>

algae problems     12/7/16
<Four megs of pix, no data, using WWM>
Hi there I'm emailing about an issue with my 65g tank. I moved a community of tetras, platys, cories and 2 female baby Bettas into it about 2 months ago. It's a combination of sand and gravel substrate. I'm struggling with an algae I can't seem to get rid of. It was suggested to do a 3 day blackout and a 50% water change and I just was curious if you had other suggestions. Thanks so much!
<The usual check on nutrient sources, removal, competition, predation. READ here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/plantedtkssubwebindex/algcontags.htm
and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

Hello and Thank You. FW maint.; plt sel.      11/2/16
Dear Neale,
You probably do not recognize my name or email address but you have been in correspondence with my husband Tom Sisk.
<Yes; do recall.>
I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your support in setting up our aquarium tanks. It was quite a struggle until you pointed us into the right direction with the filters. Without this guidance I would have given up.
Daily water changes and dying fish was just getting too much.
<Oh boy, yes!>
That is history. No more ammonia, no nitrite just the pesky nitrate. I do water changes once weekly now with nitrates hovering around 10 ppm.
<This sounds much easier to manage.>
We have 6 pretty big baby mollies, big enough to swim around with the big girls. (Big girls equals 5 female mollies; also one male platy named Max; one Pleco of undetermined gender called Harvey). Yesterday I saw a couple of very young fray. Strangely enough they look black even though we do not have a black Molly. We will see...
<Indeed! Being hybrids, Molly offspring can be unpredictable, even more so if you buy adult females that might have mated with males other than the ones in your aquarium.>
Also got my sword, Fred, two female companions which together with the nitrate leads to the question about floating plants. Do you have a recommendation in regards to floating plants fit for a 20g tank and a pretty high pH of 8.2?
<The two I'd look at first are Amazon Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum) and the floating form of the Indian Fern (Ceratopteris thalictroides). Sometimes the latter is sold in the non-floating form that has fine, ferny leaves rather than the flat, floating leaves we're after. Don't worry, although the finely divided, fern-like leaves won't be happy and may die back, they'll be replaced with the proper floating form. Trim any above-the-waterline fine ferny leaves that appear, and you'll mostly get a lovely green mass of floating leaves extended a couple of inches below the waterline. I like these two species because they do well under aquarium hoods. Most other floating plants get "burned" under the lights, and don't thrive. But these two species are pretty good.>
(The mollies, Max and Harvey share the 38g tank. Fred, his two girls, four Fabio's, and Junior, the Pleco live in the 20g tank. Both tanks are well within the 1 inch fish per gallon rule at least for now. )
<Quite so. Long term though, Bristlenose Plecs are better choices for tanks below 55 gallons; whereas Common Plecs really need more than 55 gallons, if not 75+.>
Regards, Maria
<Thanks for writing back, and glad you're enjoying the hobby! Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Hello and Thank You      11/2/16

Thank you, Neale. I will check out the plant suggestion.
One clarification: both Plecos are Bristlenose. I just do not know whether the are female or male. I am suspecting they are both female because they do not have pronounced bristles.
<Understood, and thanks for the clarification. Most people who say "Plec" or "Pleco" are describing the big Pterygoplichthys species. So it's good to know you're keeping the much smaller Ancistrus. Sexing isn't too hard for
adults, but young specimens of either sex can be lacking in the bristle department! Cheers, Neale.>

CO2 FW set up question      /RMF      8/31/16
I am setting up a freshwater planted tank, 120 gallons with CO2. CO2 includes tank, regulator, needle valve, bubble counter and reactor (DIY with maxi-jet, recirculating to venturi on pump). Lighting will be something along the lines of Finnex Planted + 24/7 fixtures.
I also will have it set up to a left over Digital Aquatics controller with Ph probe.
Is it better to use the controller/Ph probe (which, yes, will be calibrated before starting up) and run the CO2 dosing off a set Ph level (probably something in low 7s), or run the CO2 based off the lighting timer?
<I'd run the pH monitor AND a timer on it... operating/adding the CO2 during "lights on" hours or inside of these hours. Running CO2 when the lights are off can be tricky to deadly; driving pH down if buffering is off>
I haven't decided on plantings, but I have tended to lean towards medium/low light plants. I was hoping with the CO2 and sufficient lighting to maybe branch (pun intended) into some higher intensity plants.
Thanks for the help.
P.B in S.D.
<Oh, BobF in San Diego.... Will ask NealeM to resp. separately>
re: CO2 FW set up question      8/31/16

Unfortunately, running the solenoid off both timer and ph controller isn't an option. Sounds like running off light period and keeping an eye on PH is probably way to go?
<On during lights on then. BobF>
CO2 FW set up question /Neale       8/31/16

<Hello Paul,>
I am setting up a freshwater planted tank, 120 gallons with CO2. CO2 includes tank, regulator, needle valve, bubble counter and reactor (DIY with maxi-jet, recirculating to venturi on pump). Lighting will be something along the lines of Finnex Planted + 24/7 fixtures.
I also will have it set up to a left over Digital Aquatics controller with Ph probe.
Is it better to use the controller/Ph probe (which, yes, will be calibrated before starting up) and run the CO2 dosing off a set Ph level (probably something in low 7s), or run the CO2 based off the lighting timer?
<I would say using the pH probe. If the pH isn't right, fish can die; if the CO2 doesn't match light intensity, you just have less the perfect plant growth. Because pH changes as photosynthesis rate changes, pH and light intensity should track each other. Specifically, when plants do more photosynthesis (because there's more light) the pH goes up as dissolved CO2 (an acid) is removed from the water. Your pH meter should detect that and add extra CO2 as required.>
I haven't decided on plantings, but I have tended to lean towards medium/low light plants.
<In which case CO2 might not be needed. Overdoing CO2 when the plants aren't growing fast enough can cause a variety of problems. CO2 isn't needed at all for low-light (= slow growing) plants such as Anubias, Java ferns and Java moss.>
I was hoping with the CO2 and sufficient lighting to maybe branch (pun intended) into some higher intensity plants.
<Understood. Just ramming in a few high light intensity plants into a tank with low light plants doesn't always work though. Things like Anubias tend to get covered with algae unless positioned in relatively deep shade, and fast-growing plants will overwhelm slower growing plants if positioned in brightly lit areas. Some careful planning will be required here! There are various plant-specific forums on the web, such as ukaps.org, and I'd run your ideas past those folks before spending too much money or time on your project.>
Thanks for the help.
P.B in S.D.
<Welcome, Neale.>

So on the algae control; planted FW sys.      5/18/16
I read the post you referenced.
Currently I have two RGB LEDs running for about 8.5 hours. Also doing CO2 daily and Leaf Zone fert weekly.
So, my plan is to knock the lighting down to 7.5, CO2 every other day and leaf zone bi-weekly. Is that aggressive enough?
<How are you metering and measuring the CO2 injection? Better to introduce this slowly at first, and only during day/light periods. What plants are you growing? Can you send along a well-resolved image of the system in a
moderate file size? Need to know these particulars in order to render you a useful response. Please read re CO2 use and the plants in your care (on WWM) ahead of writing. Bob Fenner>

Bucephalandra question       5/10/16
Hello all! I'm trying to learn a little more about Bucephalandra plants.
<Had to look up myself:
A lot of the pictures I have seen show a beautiful iridescence, but most of these were out of the water shots (i.e., the plant was wet but not submerged). I've seen one or two pics of submerged Bucephalandra that seemed to show the same iridescence. So, are only emersed plants iridescent?
<Appear to be so in good health>
Does it depend on the variety? Lighting? Water conditions?
<On all three I'd wager>
I haven't been able to find much information about this aspect of Bucephalandra so I hope you can help!
<Please see the Google citations linked above.>
Thank you,
<W. BobF>

Suitability of bamboo in freshwater tank         4/5/16
Hello. Re:
How about if grown emerged? I.e., roots/lower stalk in the tank, leaves in the air.
<I have use dried bamboo as ornament in freshwater systems; and seen other people do the same and even keep (shorter term... maybe weeks) live bamboo.
Bob Fenner>
Re: Suitability of bamboo in freshwater tank         4/5/16

Meaning that the live bamboo doesn’t last more than a few weeks, even if the leaves are above the waterline?
<Don't think it makes much difference... but maybe a few months max before wilting altogether>
My thought had been that bamboo is often grown in rock-filled pots, the roots covered in water:
<Have seen this as well>
I’d wondered if this technique could be extended to a aquarium.
— Scott
<These plants... need air, like all terrestrial embryophytes... I suspect this is their principal undoing when submersed. BobF>
Re: Suitability of bamboo in freshwater tank     /Neale         4/6/16

I’ve been pursuing this question with some plant/gardening specialists. They asserted:
"Lucy Bamboo actually should be grown in water. If potted in soil they can become infected easily with a fungus or bacteria such as Root Rot. Growing in water you can keep a close eye on the health of your plant and it's roots.” So there may be a sweet spot where growing it mostly emersed would work.
<Let's put this particular dog down. There's an easy way to tell if a plant is adapted to living entirely below water. It will lack woody tissue and have soft, floppy leaves. Lucky Bamboo, Dracaena braunii, fails on both those counts. It has woody stems and stiff leaves. Therefore it's clearly adapted to holding itself up against gravity, something true aquatics don't have to do. Dracaena are adapted to dry environments, which is why damp soil can cause them to become infected with fungal and bacterial infections. No different to things like cacti and yuccas. But they can be grown hydroponically, i.e., with bare roots in water, at least for a while. Nonetheless, "in the wild" Dracaena braunii lives in well drained soil, and isn't, so far as I know, a plant that grows with its roots and stems in the water but its leaves poking out.
There’s another issue I’ve been trying to resolve: whether or not bamboo can be a problem for inverts like shrimp. Some say yes, but offer no reason why.
— Scott
<See above; but short term, dead bamboo works, so can't see any reason why live bamboo would cause any problems. Cheers, Neale.>

LED lighting for 55 gallon tank        3/25/16
I tried to find info on how much LED light for a 55 gallon planted tank. I have Myrio, java fern, Anubias, hornwort, baby tears, java moss and swords.
<Interesting mix of plants, and quite possibly a source of problems.
Myriophyllum will certainly want a lot of light, and Hemianthus callitrichoides likewise. But the Anubias, Java Fern and to some extent Java Moss are plants that dislike bright light (i.e., become covered in algae!) and do better if the light is either subdued or else filtered through overhead vegetation. If these low-light plants are predominant,
they'll do little to outcompete algae, which means too much light can cause problematic algal blooms.>
I have had my tank running for about 8 weeks. Testing every 5 days using API test strips. All levels test out within freshwater range. I have 5 guppies and 12 zebras, all appear healthy and happy. I am dosing with liquid CO2 daily and API Leaf Zone weekly. Over the last week or so I have seen brown algae developing.
<See above. Basically, ask yourself if the Myriophyllum in particular is growing fast enough it needs weekly pruning. If it is, then it (and perhaps additional) fast-growing plants should keep algae in check once the tank is settled. I find Vallisneria great for this. However, if the Myriophyllum isn't growing all that fast, nor the Hemianthus, then chances are they're not getting enough light. Anubias and the other shade-tolerant plants grow slowly (that's how they handle low light levels) but therefore don't need a lot of nutrients, hence not competing with algae. Make sense?>
I am wondering if I have been giving the tank too much light. I am running one Current LED Plus and one Current LED Pro + for 8 hours a day at full power. Is this too much?
<Again, see above. Extending the duration of light almost never helps, and in fact leaving the lights on too long tends to tip things in the favour of the algae. So again, if the plants aren't growing rapidly on 8-10 hours per day, then there's not enough light. Flip side, reducing lighting isn't going to massively improve things either. "Siesta" periods of 1-2 hours with the lights off between two 4-5 hour stints of the lights on does work nicely though.>
Also, are there other ideas for controlling algae or is it about experimentation?
<Somewhat. Each tank is different. But usually, it's a question of providing as much light as needed to get fast-growing green plants zipping along happily. That may also mean adding CO2 and mineral nutrients, but I stress, these two are not even 10% of the recipe for success! Plants need the right light intensity first, last and always. CO2 and minerals are the icing on the cake, the difference between good growth and spectacular growth. They're never the difference between slow growth and good growth; the thing needed for that is light.>
At this point I am thinking of stopping the CO2 and fertilizer to see if the condition stabilizes but also thought I should reduce lighting to 5 or six hours per day.
<See above.>
Thanks for any help you can lend and sorry if this info is already available on your site.
<I'm going to direct you to one of the better planted aquarium forums, here:
There are others too, but when it comes to the technology, these guys are pretty good. I'd also direct you to Orphek, a company that specialises in aquarium LEDs and makes decent systems tailored to planted tanks, something
not all the LED makers do, most focusing on marine tanks.
That said, a bright light planted tank isn't far off the required wattage for an equivalent reef tank, the main difference being colour temperature, plants tending to look a bit washed out under the very blue lighting favoured for corals and anemones. So going with, say, 50-75% the wattage you'd use for a reef tank of similar size, and a colour temperature closer to 6,500K rather than 10,000K sounds about the right sort of starting point. Have bcc'ed our LED expert James for more. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: LED lighting for 55 gallon tank             /JamesG addn.         3/25/16

Hello Neale, Briggs,
I have read Neale's reply and he is spot on. However, all LED lights are not created equal, it is important to always look at the spectrum the light produces. A high wattage LED light doesn't do much good if the spectrum does not favor aquatic plant growth. Here is an example of what I feel is a very good spectrum for aquatic plant growth. (Attachment)

PAR is also important and of course the amount needed will be based on the type of plants you are keeping and the depth of the tank. Quality LED Lights are not inexpensive so my suggestion is to do your homework before
you decide to buy. If a company cannot furnish a spectrograph or PAR figures for a light, it's best to steer clear of them. PAR information should also show the distance the measurement was taken at.
*James Gasta*
Sales Consultant
Orphek LED Lighting

Re: LED lighting for 55 gallon <planted> tank         4/5/16
Hey thanks for the timely response. I also have a bunch of other plants (Needle leaf, water lily, bunch of others I don't know the name of). All are doing well except the Myrio, which is living but not growing particularly fast. I think I just don't have enough light.
<Almost certainly true, though in bright light some plants also need CO2 to grow well.>
As other plants are doing fine, I am not going to change anything.
<Prudent. Definitely my approach to aquarium gardening: try a bunch of stuff, and rip out (or at least don't buy again) those plants that aren't happy.>
Re the algae, I knocked the lighting back to 7 hours a day and everything cleared up. I think I cracked the code on appropriate lighting, or they were just diatoms.
<Sounds good.>
Now my problem is snails. I read your FAQs and it looks like my options are a loach (have guppies so that is a no go), manually removing (no way!) or assassin snails. My one question is would 20 of them be enough to keep the
snail population in check for a 55 gallon tank?
<Likely so.>
And what is the bio load that 20 assassins would have on my 55 gallon?
<Minimal. Probably the same as a single Danio. Low metabolism.>
Best website ever for extensive info about keeping an aquarium.
<Glad you think so! Cheers, Neale.>

Aquarium substrates; for planted tank; UG filters for same     3/5/16
<Hey Sarah>
I'm looking to set up a 30gal freshwater planted aquarium. I have some basic brown gravel but was wondering if that was the best option for planting live plants. I'm considering using EcoComplete or even mixing the two.
<A good product...>
What are your thoughts/suggestions?
<Am a huge fan of SeaChem's Flourish...>
I am using an undergravel filter <Mmm; then do blind pot your planted plants... almost all do poorly with UG
filters along with an overhanging tetra filtration system. Would it be unavoidable to use the EcoComplete with an UGF?
My goals for this project is to create an environment focused more on the aquascape than fish, but still plan on including fish in the system.
I'm still very new to all of this, so I'm looking for a solid, basic setup that won't limit me to only growing certain kinds of plants or fish.
<Either remove the UG filter or don't hook it up>
Also, I would like to assemble some pieces of driftwood to create a centerpiece. Any pros/cons or directions I should be aware of in attempting that?
<See; as in read on WWM re... the search tool; on every page>
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
Aquarium substrates /Neale     3/5/16

I'm looking to set up a 30gal freshwater planted aquarium. I have some basic brown gravel but was wondering if that was the best option for planting live plants.
<Depends on the plants. Anything attached to bogwood (Anubias, Java fern, ava moss) couldn't care less. Anything floating won't care either. Some plants are so adaptable they'll happily grow in gravel, such as
Vallisneria. The hardy Amazon Swords are fine too, provided you stick the odd fertiliser pellet into their roots every few weeks or so. But for sure there are some delicate or greedy plants that prefer something richer than
gravel. The downside is that if you have slow-growing plants and/or too much light, the nutrients in the substrate have to go somewhere... and they end up encouraging algae!>
I'm considering using EcoComplete or even mixing the two. What are your thoughts/suggestions? I am using an undergravel filter along with an overhanging tetra filtration system. Would it be unavoidable to use the
EcoComplete with an UGF?
<By definition you can't use anything other than gravel with an undergravel filter. Even if you could, it'd be pointless. Flowing oxygenated water (necessary for the filter bacteria) will oxidise mineral nutrients too,
making them unavailable to the plants. So if you're going to have a fancy pants substrate, it needs to be relatively oxygen-poor, and that means no flowing water going through it. Make sense?>
My goals for this project is to create an environment focused more on the aquascape than fish, but still plan on including fish in the system. I'm still very new to all of this, so I'm looking for a solid, basic setup that won't limit me to only growing certain kinds of plants or fish.
<Here's the thing: ecosystems are very difficult to create in small aquaria. In most aquatic habitats algae, not plants, dominate -- and few aquarists want to grow algae! So you instead have to think of the tank as more like a garden, and your job is to balance substrate, lighting, and plant choice in such a way that the plants grow well but without so much light or nutrients that algae use up the excess.>
Also, I would like to assemble some pieces of driftwood to create a centerpiece. Any pros/cons or directions I should be aware of in attempting that?
<Actually, using bogwood to support epiphytic plants is the idea way to plant a tank with an undergravel filter. Anubias, Java fern, Java moss and if you can get it Bolbitis provide some really contrasting shapes and
colours. Alongside these floating plants can be used to moderate lighting and inhibit algae. Both floating plants and epiphytes absorb nutrients from the water, not the substrate, and as such do just fine with undergravel
<Welcome, Neale.>
Re: Aquarium substrates; reading; and how     3/5/16

So would it be a better idea just to start with the gravel and see if the plants will take? It sounds better to utilize fertilizer pellets than to battle too many nutrients.
<.... these are complex issues.. Let's have you start reading here:
From the top down>
I've always been advised to use an undergravel, but it's sounding like it's not the best option for a planted aquarium.
If I opted to remove it, how would that play out with cleanings and longterm care? Is it more efficient to use both as I originally intended?
<Keep reading... BobF>

Algae issue (Too much light?)      2/1/16
Hi Crew,
<Hello Leif>
I'll try to keep this short but thanks in advance and for all the help your website has given to me over the years.
I have recently (approx. 3 months ago) set up a new tropical freshwater planted aquarium. The lighting system that I'm using is an ex shop display twin lamp ballast for 2 x 55w CFL (long single ended double tubes with 4 pin connections) which I've retrofitted in my aquarium hood. (I salvaged it from a skip and it works great!). It has 2 x 55w 6500K bulbs.
The tank is only 80 litres (21 US Gallons). It has various plants which I have tried to identify and believe they are Cabomba, Myriophyllum, Ludwigia, Dwarf Sagittaria, Bacopa and a few others that I'm yet to identify (all bought on eBay as a "selection pack"). I have also added some Hairgrass (Eleocharis parvula) and Java Moss. There are 2 large pieces of
(shop bought) Mopani Wood and some smaller pieces of dried drift oak (collected myself). The substrate is inert (as far as not altering the pH) river gravel. I have a DIY CO2 system that gives me, on average 2-3 bubbles every 5 seconds. Plenty of water flow (but not in such a way as to constantly knock the plants around), a canister filter with filter floss, bio media and carbon and a small power head which acts as a DIY CO2 diffuser. I am adding a plant fertiliser (aquarium specific) which says on the bottle "A plant food that contains essential trace elements including iron. The formula in this plant food is nitrate and phosphate free so avoids encouraging unwanted algae."
<Mmm; well... plants do need a modicum of N, P, K... from fish foods, wastes then here I take it
Temp is 23C, Ammonia/Nitrite both 0. Nitrate hardly registers (under 5ppm).
No detectable Phosphate in tank or source water. KH is relatively low (about 5) and the pH hovers around 7.2.
I have no fish yet, just a few snails that came in on the plants.
<Mmm; back to the question of balance here... You WANT to encourage the vascular (real) plants over noisome algae... NEED HPO4 likely>
My issue is algae. Every day I'm having to suck it off all the plants (using 6mm tubing) and large strands growing across the back of the
aquarium. It covers the substrate within 24hrs of cleaning/water change.
Most of the plants appear to be growing well (sending out runners/shoots/roots etc.) but are also becoming smothered in algae. The dwarf Sagittaria seems to be slowly dying. I feel that if I don't clean them every day that they will all die due to algae smothering. I'm changing about 10-15 litres of water every day while sucking the algae out. The water is aged, de-chlorinated, aerated, temp matched etc.
I'm thinking maybe I have too much light?
<Possibly a factor, but right off hand, very secondary to the likely incomplete chemical feeding/nutrition here>
I tried removing one of the bulbs but it caused the other bulb to go out as well, which I believe means it is wired in "series" rather than "parallel".
I don't know if any of the crew knows much about digital ballasts for two lamps being rewired to work with just one lamp?
<Mmm; would need to know a bit more re the ballast/s... are they doubled here in the fixture? Likely just wiring one would do for a single lamp; but... this is not the route I would take here. You COULD borrow/use a PAR or PUR meter to determine (at depth/s) just how much usable/useful light this fixture is providing, BUT I would go the route of either adding a
complete fertilizer making (see the Net re Poor Man's DUPLA drops....) or buying such (a fave, the SeaChem line); and/OR adding some small group of fishes (and their foods) to ostensibly provide the same; AND I'd turn off or way down the CO2 for now... it is likely more than the system can use. I want you to dream/think of a/the "balance" here, in this system; twixt energy input, chemicals availability, and the carbon added... where is it going under the present circumstances? How to re-direct it to your desired plant growth>
Any input or thoughts would be much appreciated.
Thanks for your time.
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
Re: Algae issue (Too much light?)      2/2/16

Thank you for your valued input. I'm reading now re PMDD.
<Heeee! Oh yes>
Food for thought!
Thanks again.
<Welcome. BobF>
Follow up to Bobs sound advice + Worm I.D. (Freshwater planted tank)    2/28/16

Hi Bob, Just a quick follow up and question. I contacted you at the beginning of Feb regarding algae control in a 21 Gallon planted aquarium. I couldn't understand why I was battling with algae so much despite not being able to detect Nitrate or Phosphate. Plants were growing well but were becoming smothered in algae. I suspected too bright lighting (2 x 55W 6500k CFL). Your advice was to add a complete N, P, K fertiliser in addition to the Iron/mineral supplement I was already using and/or some small group of fishes to provide this. Well, you were spot on. I have been using a slow release type fertilizer with N, P & K and the algae has now become much more manageable, so thank you again for your insight.
<Glad to help>
Who would have thought it? Adding phosphate to an aquarium to battle an algae problem!
<Ah yes; aiding the purposeful, desired photosynthates to thwart the unwanted. In some ways it does seem counter-intuitive>
I also now have 4 Otocinclus who are doing great, with round little bellies (i.e. not starving!). This leads to my question. I seem to be having a bloom of tiny thread like worms ranging in size from 3 - 10 mm in length and just a fraction of a mm in width. They are free floating (not attached to glass or plants). While researching I kept coming across people mentioning Planaria. I have an old microscope and on closer inspection I don't think these are Planaria. I suspect they are some kind of Oligochaeta or Tubifex worms.
<Yes to the group, possibly the family, genus. In all cases, not problematical... these too shall pass; cycle out>
Due to their movement (and my ancient microscope) I am unable to get a decent photo, but have been able to make a short video of them which I put on YouTube last night
 (https://youtu.be/IBTBdy8OhW0  ). 
If you wouldn't mind taking a quick look and letting me know what you think I'd appreciate it.
<Def. Oligochaete... like the tempo of the accompanying music>
There's hundreds of them, I suspect as a result of not being predated by the Otos who prefer algae/aufwuchs. Many thanks for your time. Your advice has really helped me out. Leif
<Welcome. Again; these worms will go in time. I urge simple (though at times difficult) patience. Cheers, Bob Fenner>

T5 lighting? For planted tank    1/27/16
Hi Neale,
I have several aquarium kits that I've had going for a long while with the budget lids. Last year a light fixture went out and I purchased another budget light fixture which is now gone out also. I went to aquarium shop and it doesn't have the replaceable parts (i forget what she called them) and she said she cannot fix a starter. She recommended T5's which she has on order. She had some very expensive ones already there for $171 but the ones on order run $100. Then the guy at the shop started showing me how well the valls and the swords do with the T5s. They don't even use CO2 injections and there is only minimal algae and thriving plants and happy fish!
<Neither of these are demanding plants... at least not Vallisneria generally nor the "easy" Amazon Sword species most commonly traded.>
When their filter died one night, he said you could still see all the bubbles from the valls which were providing natural aeration  <http://www.bing.com/search?q=aeration&FORM=SSRE > and filtering when they came in the next day. Many of their simple display selling tanks look like showcases at this store and they were all using T5 fixtures.
<Indeed; but part of this is that T5 has increasingly replaced T8 on mid price aquaria. The German 'Juwel' range for example switched over from T8 to T5 some years ago.>
I am probably going to buy a T5 seeing as I already bought a chunk of the beautiful purple crinkle plant they had partially submersed in one of their tanks and love the idea of having more plants and it's time to invest up, but I wanted to check with you all first in case you had any comments or recommendations on T5. There is so much material here on lighting, and I
am working a long week 11 days without a day off so not much time to research, and since my light is not working I'm in a real crunch to replace it as this under-cabinet fluorescent lighting piece which I placed over the plastic hood for a temporary fix is dim and insufficient encased in a plastic strip.
I am wondering also before I purchase if it is typical for light fixtures to break after a year?
<Nope. The tube may well have a useful life of a year, that's true; but the rest of the system should last a decade or two. Some older units have capacitors that blow and need replacing; these look like small (inch or two tall) cylinders that unscrew out. But the rest should work many years.>
My other one lasted several years, maybe 3, but the more recent one barely a year. If I invest in this T5 which costs more, will it probably also be more durable?
<From a good brand, yes; I would be wondering about the manufacturer(s) if you've been having trouble, and also how the tank is maintained or sited... e.g., excess UV light could cause problems, damp as well... so maybe better ventilation?>
Everyone else has sold out of fluorescents and replaced with LEDs which I understand do not do quite as well with plants and haven't been as extensively tested.
<The LEDs are cheap to run and do work well, hand should have a long lifespan but unfortunately a high cost initially. Much written about these on WWM.>
I guess brand could matter too... but I have no idea about lighting other than I now have a little extra money to invest and I'm ready to enjoy a more heavily planted tank and use swords and Val.s to shade my thriving Anubias to keep them happy in their new environment.
Thank you Neale,
<With this selection of plants too much light could cause algae problems, so the medium-bright performance of T5s makes a lot of sense. Would read some online reviews with regard to brands, but sticking with familiar brands shouldn't be a bad choice. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: T5 lighting?       1/28/16

Thank you, Neale. I will take those things into consideration when I purchase my new lighting. The cheap store brand didn't have capacitors rather an enclosure for a starter, and I'm hoping to find one that does have capacitors for the T5's as my local fish store carries them and if my current light unit had them I wouldn't be in a dilemma today. Though, it does give me an excuse to upgrade to the better lighting.
<Understood. Good luck with the shopping. FWIW, I use T8 tubes, rather than T5, and they're effective enough with Vallisneria and other undemanding plants. So I wouldn't rush to spend money... read reviews, reflect, shop around.
Cheers, Neale.>
RE: T5 lighting?      1/29/16

Thanks Neale. I will check T8. It would be nice if it were a little less expensive.
<T8? Should be very cheap indeed. Old school fluorescent tubes. Interpet, Hagen, all sorts of decent brands. T5 is more expensive, LED is much more expensive.>
When I searched the purple crinkle plant I discovered that contrary to the pet store employees' opinion, it isn't meant to be under water all of the way...just partial submerged is alright.
<Hemigraphis alternata? Yes, a pot plant. Sold to unknowing aquarists by disreputable retailers. An old con. Treat as any other houseplant.>
If it's hanging over the edge of my tank then I don't need to worry as much about its requirements as sun comes through the windows and if it ever starts to look unhappy, I'll pot the plant and set it in front of the window.
<For sure. I grow some Tradescantia in a tank on a windowsill, with just the stem in the water. Lots of roots have grown now, and many leaves. It seems happy like that!>
Do partially submerged plants do alright rooted in Fluorite?
The pet store had it in dirt hanging over into the water but I prefer not to use dirt, unless I guess I could put a layer of gravel over the dirt and let it unclog itself in a bucket before adding it to the tank.
<This is possible, or even to part fill a flowerpot, put the plant in, top off with gravel to keep the soil secure, then place in the aquarium. I have some Vallisneria growing this way because the catfish uproot anything more natural. But still, Hemigraphis alternata isn't an aquatic plant. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: T5 lighting?        1/30/16
Thanks Neale.
<Most welcome! Neale.>

Re: Contaminated Tank?  Duckweed      12/16/15
Hi Neale, looks like the duckweed took care of it! I read it does wonders for constipation and I agree! I seen the poop go from mucus white to mucus light green to normal in less than 24hours!
<Ah, good news!>
Now I just have to figure out how to keep a supply going. I put in a small breeder box in the tank and plan to let that grow out and then add a little duckweed at a time to the main tank.
<Should work. Duckweed is/can be a pest. It grows crazy fast!>
I don't want to run a second tank for plants. How do other people keep the supply going?
<For most folks, removing Duckweed faster than it grows is the challenge.
Duckweed can be grown on a windowsill though. It is extremely adaptable, even paper cups will do (standard practical in UK high schools) provided it gets good sunshine and doesn't get chilled. A large glass bowl, jar or pitcher might be more practical than paper cups though. Grows outdoors very quickly as well, though not during cold winters.>
I read so many times that the goldfish out compete the plants. Like it's not possible to keep the supply of plants in with the fish. In addition, I went by the local fish store and they discouraged me from having live plants available as a food source in the tank all the time. The clerk said the water quality would be bad. You agree?
<Nope. Plants, assuming they're alive, are good for water quality.>
I have the one small fish in 20 gal.
Thanks again
<Sounds like you're doing all the right things. Keep at it! Cheers, Neale.>

Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: