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Why have a Planted Tank?

Online Aquarium Fish Magazine | Why have a Planted Tank?

There are several reasons for wanting real living plants in your aquarium. To start with, plants can help the environment in the tank by removing the nitrates from the water as well as oxygenation, help to reduce algae growth and they look good as well.

Artificial plants have their uses too, but real plants, well tended and arranged well can make an aquarium simply stunning!

Before you decide on whether to go for a planted tank, check that it is the right option for you. Are the fish you will have in the tank going to eat or uproot the plants? What type of plants do you want' Is there enough light for the types of plants you want to grow. Is the substrate suitable for plants? Do you have enough time to tend them? What about Co2? Will you need to feed the plants? What about cleaning the tank after it's planted? Can you get the right plants to make it look good? There are many factors to consider achieving a successful planted aquarium.

Let's look at this subject from the top:

What types of fish are best suited to a planted aquarium?
You need to research this very well, as a mistake here can ruin all your hard work. Goldfish are well known for ruining plants, as they love to eat the roots, so are not suitable, and many other species will cause damage to plants as well. So the first stage of planning is what type of fish. So you have chosen some fish to go into the aquarium, now,

What type of plants do you want'
With a vast range of plants available, you will need to select a combination that work well together both for appearance and also environmental aspects. It will not work if you choose some plants that need very strong light, combined with plants that need a lot of shade, unless you can create the shade in the tank. There are also colour considerations and the overall effect that you want to achieve is very important.

Ok, the plants are chosen, so,

Is there enough light'
Your tank may look bright and well lit, but the lighting is crucial to plant growth, and it has to be the right type of lighting. Here you need to consult the various sources online and in shops to find the correct lighting for your tank, the right power output, the right frequency range and maybe you?ll need to change the number of fittings you have too! Lighting is another common cause of failure.

Is this starting to look expensive? It can be, so budget carefully. Fish, plants, lighting, all arranged, what's next'

Is the substrate suitable?
You now know what plants you are going to use, so now you need to choose the substrate for them. Some will be happy with gravel, others will need special aquarium plant substrate such as Flourite, some may need sand, yet others could need a compost base. Research is the key all the way through this. Once you know what plants you are looking at, the substrate needs to suit them. Bear in mind that some plant substrates can be very expensive, so choose wisely.

Are we getting the idea yet' A planted aquarium is not just a matter of throwing a few plants in and letting them get on with it. Many people term this now as aquascaping, and it has become something of an art. You can spend a little or a lot, depending on the final effect you want, but it's not to be hurried in any event!

Do you have enough time to tend them?
Why should plants need to be tended? Remember that an aquarium is a closed environment. In there, many things can make a difference to the quality of the water even to the extent of polluting it so much that the fish die. Rotting leaves and plant matter are a big source of pollution in aquaria. Tending the plants is simply making sure that any dying leaves or stems are removed promptly, not left to rot, and making sure that the plants stay healthy and looking good. One plant can take over the tank very quickly, while others take time to grow, so one of the tasks is to keep everything in balance during the growth, and maintain that balance in maturity.

What about Co2?
All plants need carbon dioxide to photosynthesise and grow. In the tank, plants only have a limited amount of Co2 in the water to work with. The more plants you have, the more need there is for Co2. Co2 is a difficult gas to keep in suspension in water. It escapes from the surface even with the gentlest current disturbing the water, and is very difficult to get back into the water again. It cannot be bubbled in like oxygen, it has to be absorbed slowly through long time contact with the surface or forced in through a reactor. There are many DIY methods of adding Co2, as well as some very good commercially produced systems. Most of the time, this is something that is added after the aquarium is finished and growing, so just keep it in mind for later on.

Will you need to feed the plants?
Most plants need food to grow. Some of the food comes from the fish waste, but other nutrients will still need to be added occasionally. This really is part of the tending of the plants, so it will become part of that routine, but still needs to be considered.

What about cleaning the tank after it's planted?
How can you clean the tank when it's full of plants? The simple answer is, carefully! A gravel vacuum doesn't work very well when there are roots and plants growing out of the gravel, and with other substrates you can't use this method either. Cleaning the bottom of the tank if you over-feed your fish can be very difficult and take a very long time. If you get the balance right, it's not necessary very often, which makes it easier.

Can you get the right plants to make it look good?
This depends on what your local supplier can supply or whether you can get them online or from other sources. Most local stores that stock plants don't know a great deal about them, so always go in ready with the answers and know what you're looking for. Be careful that the store doesn't try to sell you something that is not suitable for your needs too, as they will tend to try to push what they have, rather than what you want.

So, you've made up your mind that you want a planted tank. But having made all the choices and planned everything out, you now need that tank in the corner of your living room, which is already full of fish! Can you build the aquarium with it stocked? Not a chance! You have to move the fish, drain the tank, clean it out and then make a start, or else buy a new tank, stand and everything else to go with it, and find room to put it! Welcome to the world of MTS (Multi-Tank-Syndrome!)

Ok, so let's assume you have got everything worked out and a tank to work with. Now you have to put it all together and get it to look like you planned. First off, add the chosen substrate, background, rocks, ornaments, air features, filter, heater and lastly, the water! It's gone all cloudy! Yep, you need to let the water settle and the substrate return to the bottom so that you can see what you're doing at the back of the tank! After about a week or so, the water still isn't clear, so you turn to chemicals to help, like filter-aide to settle the dust.

At last! The water is clear and you can see the bottom. Now for the plants. Add them just as you planned, leaving room for growth, of course. When you have finished putting the plants in place, you stand back and admire?.. nope, not right'. Move a couple around, check again, and so on until you have roughly what you're looking for. It will look quite sparse to start with, since the whole aim is to grow plants, not to plant enough to fill the tank straight away!

Add a little plant food and a little fish food and get the cycle underway. You can't just add the fish to a new tank, it has to do the nitrogen cycle first, but you all know that already, don't you? This is the first chance you get to see your plan in action. The lights are on, the water clear(ish) and the filter running. At this stage it is not difficult to move things around and re-arrange. Leave it a couple of weeks and the roots start to take hold, then it becomes much more difficult. While the tank is cycling you have the opportunity to fine-tune the d?cor.

The tank is now cycled and the plants are going?. Yellow! What's wrong now? Remember I mentioned the Co2 earlier, this could be a good option now! It could also be a case of things not being right for the plants, maybe the light is not on for long enough, or for too long, maybe it's just not bright enough for the depth of the tank, or maybe it's just the roots settling in before the plant greens up and grows. There could be several reasons for the plants not looking their best, these are just a few and you have to look to eliminate one by one.

But at least you can start to add the fish now, and the tank is really looking something like you want. Only time and experience will take it from here. You have to nurture the plants and tend to them, care for them and then love the results. Nature has a way of surprising us all at times, and many times it's been the planted aquarium where nature does work miracles.

You have probably spent a whole month or more putting this together, many hours of work, lots of money, and for what' You can end up with a complete failure, or a stunning display tank with fabulous plants and a full complement of fish to really show your skills.

Is there a trick? No
Are there any guarantees? No
Is there a secret' No
Is luck involved? Most definitely!

About the Author

Tim Gautrey and I am 49 years old. I live in Holyhead, North Wales, U.K. and have been keeping fish for many years. It was only last year that we branched into tropical fish and over the last 12 months have built up from just one small tank and two goldfish to 15 tanks, over 400 gallons of water and over 140 adult fish as well as hundreds of babies! Keeping fish can be a chore, a pass-time, a hobby or a passion... It's a Passion for me!

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