Am I Starving My Plants? Suggestions Welcome.

  • #1
I have 4 planted 10G tanks, each with a betta. They are nearly a year old. I have tested the water at one week after a water change and nitrates rarely climb above 5 (ammonia 0, nitrates 0, pH stable at 7.8-8, KH around 4 dKH, TDS varies between 140-200). Temp is 78-79. Substrate is gravel in 3 of them and flourite in one.

Lights are on for about 8 - 10 hours in a dual photoperiod, just stock LED, and all my plants are low light (anubias, java fern, a few Amazon swords and crypts (root tabs for those) and some dwarf val. The plants aren't really faring well except for the anubias which have remained a deep green and look healthy. The others seem yellowish and have limited growth. I'd expect slow growth from the crypts and the anubias but the others?

My Java ferns are getting brown spots and the anacharis keeps melting. I am doing weekly water changes 25%. Gravel is vac'd 1/2 the tank every other water change. They all have sponge filters rated for 40 gals but the air is turned way down to limit turbulence for the fish. I still get good movement at the top of the water for air exchange.

Because of the low bio-load, should I be supplementing with ferts? If so, what would you recommend? If not, what else am I doing wrong? Any suggestions are appreciated.
  • #2
I'm thinking it's the stock light that's hurting them as lights that come with the tank can't really grow plants. Adding a liquid fert for additional nutrients wouldn't hurt though none of those plants you have need them. I would start with the lighting and go from there.
Paradise fish
  • #3
I think a couple things other than what el337 said about the lighting.
1) the sponge filter may deplete all available CO2 and may cause your plants to suffocate. But this is only common with high light tanks with more demanding plants, so this may not be the case.
2) this is probably the main reason other than the lighting. The heat. The optimal temperature for most aquatic plants is between 72-74F, with some preferring more or less. Anacharis for example are from subtropical climates and therefore do their absolute best at 68F. In fact, I only know a few people who can grow them in temperatures above 75 with much success.
Crypts aren't subtropical but are from cooler temperatures like 72-76F. But I've heard of them be fine in higher temperatures, so I bet it's the lighting. Java ferns aren't sensitive to higher temperatures... Did you bury the rhizome?
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  • #4
Thanks to you both for your replies. I've never had any algae problems except for the Flourite tank which had massive diatoms but is now under control - could I up the period to 12 hours? I did say stock lighting but I bought the 3 of the tanks alone and then purchased LED lights - 2 of one kind and an Aqueon fixture but I really should go check out the watts/lumens/PAR to see if they are too dim. I have glass tops on 3 so maybe I'll try setting the light the few inches down straight on the glass. Failing that, maybe some clip on lights with CFLs..? Putting the 55 together is also putting a dent in my wallet so as much as I'd like new lighting I guess I'll have to pick which tanks!

Paradise fish I did wonder about the temps - I may have to move some of them to my planned 55 that will have much better lighting and likely lower temp, depending on stocking. The fish seem much happier at 78 so reducing it is not an option.

Funny you mention about the sponge filters - I converted all the tanks to sponge filters about 4 months ago and before that the anacharis at least was doing better. Is there anything I can do to mitigate the CO2 depletion? By having them agitate the surface I was hoping to improve gas exchange, but have I made it worse? I had been researching DIY CO2 but I worry about how it will affect my pH which, while high, is at least stable. Ugh, this is like a pushme-pullyou. The fish are my primary concern so I will just have to figure something out with the plants - my fish do seem to prefer live ones (yes, I have have put fake ones in like hair extensions to try to keep it from being so bare, I admit it!).

Lastly, all the ferns are tied to driftwood, but good thought. They are producing babies but the main leaves just keep getting brown spots. Me and my brown thumb, argh! Thanks for your thoughts!
Paradise fish
  • #5
Hope you know that lighting a 55 gallon tank will be much harder to do than a shallow 10 gallon. Therefore I highly suggest a LED with at least 6500K color temperature or a CFL of the same spectrum.

Raising the surface agitation will only be beneficial to the fish, but as bettas can breath atmospheric air this won't be any more helpful to them. But honestly, I don't think you need to worry about the CO2 or gas exchange unless you plan on getting carpet plants.

I understand the primary concern to the fish. I completely agree. Therefore I suggest getting a better plant than anacharis, or float them.

Have you been adding root tabs every three months? They need to be added continuously, especially for heavy root feeders like swords and crypts.

As for your java fern, the brown spots just means that the leaf has run its course and is now propagating. Usually the older leaves do this. You can cut it off to promote the rhizome to grow new leaves.
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  • #6
Hope you know that lighting a 55 gallon tank will be much harder to do than a shallow 10 gallon. Therefore I highly suggest a LED with at least 6500K color temperature or a CFL of the same spectrum.

Absolutely, thanks for that. The stock fixture I got with this new-to-me 55 gallon is rubbish (basically 30w total of T8 lighting). I would prefer LED so I'm trying to find a Canadian supplier of the Finnex 24/7 but tough. The way it's going I may try the Current USA Satellite Plus Pro - I like the ramp up/down feature a lot for the fish, not sure I will use all the other features, but it's over $300 so saving those pennies. I am well versed in colour spectrum and CRI, perhaps not so much for plants as for parrots, who really need 5000K and better CRI than most hardware store bulbs can provide. Both the Finnex and Current USA have decent reviews for planted tanks - I expect to get the 48-60" fixture once the Christmas toll on my bank account recovers, lol.

I understand the primary concern to the fish. I completely agree. Therefore I suggest getting a better plant than anacharis, or float them.

I was just researching plants again and looks like hornwort might do nicely. It will like my hard-ish water, can withstand the higher temps, and hopefully won't blow needles everywhere. I am fine, in fact prefer, just floating it anyway - none of the anacharis is planted.

Have you been adding root tabs every three months? They need to be added continuously, especially for heavy root feeders like swords and crypts.

Yes, although I do admit I've been lax about it for this month. Putting that on the "to do today" list!

Great to know about the java fern, thanks! I'll get the scissors out today while I'm at the water change. Thanks again for your reply.
  • #7
HI CraniumRex

A few pictures of your plants could help, a common cause for chlorosis (yellowing) of plants is a nutrient deficiency....but which one? Seeing pictures of some of the plants that are affected, both new and older leaves, can help us determine if the issue is nitrogen, iron, magnesium, or another nutrient that is causing the problem.
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  • #8
Thanks SeattleRoy - lights are off for a few hours but I'll take some when they come back on.
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  • #9
SeattleRoy here are some photos from 2 of my tanks.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 5.36.20 PM.png
Here is Flappy hogging the photo, but the anacharis and java fern in his tank look not too bad but I do think they look to yellow-ish compared to how they looked when first put in between 5-7 months ago.

This is the one tank with "stock" marineland lighting - it's pretty dim. I do have an anubias "coffeefolia" in his tank also that I just adore - looks so good you'd think it wasn't real.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 5.36.09 PM.png
Here is the Anacharis in tank #2 - better light (36 LEDs, 30 white and 6 blue). Pardon the hair algae...

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 5.36.00 PM.png
My Nana petite - seems to be yellowing a bit

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 5.35.30 PM.png
Poor crypt (I think - I don't actually remember the name of it - the leaves have a tiny bit of bronze coloring on the margins but it just looks pale to me). To the left is my pitiful Amazon sword - no worries about it overtaking the tank anytime soon LOL. I feed them both with API root tabs, though probably not often enough.

Let me know what you think and thanks.
  • #10
HI CraniumRex,

Good news you probably don't need a new light! You have a couple of plant deficiencies going on in your tank; calcium (Ca) and magnesium (Mg). Do you see the leaf tips 'hooking' downward on the anubias, cryptocoryne, and even the anacharis? Calcium deficiency.

Do you see how the older leaves on the Cryptocoryne have yellowed (chlorosis) except in the area of the leaf veins; that is called interveinal chlorosis. Do you see how the anubias leaves have 'cupped' downward along the long leaf margins? Both are symptoms of a Magnesium deficiency.

How do you fix it? Simple solution is adding calcium and magnesium to your tank. Seachem Equilibrium provides calcium, magnesium, potassium, and a little iron and manganese. I suggest starting with 1 teaspoon per 10 gallons with will increase your hardness by 2.0 dGH. If you do a water change add 1 teaspoon per 10 gallons of new water added. Now the hard part.....wait for two weeks continue everything else as you have been.

The existing leaves will change very little or possibly not at all, the damage has been done. Watch your new leaves as they emerge for the next two weeks, do they look greener, healthier, are new leaves happening faster? There should be little to no leaf tip "hooking" occurring on the new leaves. If the new growth looks good are on the right path. As your leaves mature you should not see the any inteveinal chlorosis or "cupping" occur.

Questions? Just ask!

Symptoms appearing first or most severely on new growth (root and shoot tips, new leaves)

A. Terminal bud usually dies. Symptoms on new growth.

2. Necrosis occurs at tip and margin of leaves causing a definite hook at leaf tip.
Calcium is essential for the growth of shoot and root tips (meristems). Growing point dies. Margins of young leaves are scalloped and abnormally green and, due to inhibition of cell wall formation, the leaf tips may be "gelatinous" and stuck together inhibiting leaf unfolding. Stem structure is weak and peduncle collapse or shoot topple may occur. Roots are stunted. Downward curl of leaf tips (hooking) occurs near terminal bud. ammonium or magnesium excess may induce a calcium deficiency in plants... calcium deficiency

Differentiating between calcium and boron deficiency symptoms: When calcium is deficient, there is a characteristic hooking of the youngest leaf tips. However, when boron is deficient, the breakdown occurs at the bases of the youngest leaves. Death of the terminal growing points is the final result in both cases.

Symptoms do not appear first or most severely on youngest leaves: Effect general on whole plant or localized on older, lower leaves.

A . Chlorosis general, no interveinal chlorosis. Effects usually general on whole plant.

C. Interveinal chlorosis. Interveinal chlorosis first appears on oldest leaves.

1. Older leaves chlorotic, usually necrotic in late stages. Chlorosis along leaf margins extending between veins produces a "Christmas tree" pattern. Veins normal green. Leaf margins may curl downward or upward with puckering effect. Necrosis may suddenly occur between veins. Potassium or calcium excess can inhibit uptake of magnesium...magnesium deficiency

When the external magnesium supply is deficient, interveinal chlorosis of the older leaves is the first symptom because as the magnesium of the chlorophyll is remobilized, the mesophyll cells next to the vascular bundles retain chlorophyll for longer periods than do the parenchyma cells between them. Leaves lose green color at tips and between veins followed by chlorosis or development of brilliant colors, starting with lower leaves and proceeding upwards. The chlorosis/brilliant colors (unmasking of other leaf pigments due to the lack of chlorophyll) may start at the leaf margins or tips and progress inward interveinally producing a "Christmas" tree pattern. Leaves are abnormally thin, stems are brittle and have a tendency to curve upward. Stems are weak, subject to fungus infection, usually leaves drop prematurely.
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  • #11
Wow, thank you SeattleRoy - you are the Plant Master!

I will give the Seachem Equilibrium a try - what a great <ahem> excuse to go to the LFS.

I do have one question - my KH is 6.5 - 7 drops, which my test kit said equated to about 3.94 dKH - I think I have the measurement term correct, there seem to be so many. Will the change in GH have any effect on the pH? My GH is 120. I'm trying to wrap my head around water chemistry and my spidey senses tell me that improved KH will only serve as more buffering capacity and the pH should remain stable, but I'm no chemist and I'm less clear on GH affecting pH. I'm also planning a 55 gallon and am trying to match my fish to my water, though many have said my high-ish pH is okay for most species provided they were captive bred and the pH remains stable.

Thank you so much for the extra info on chlorosis and calcium, magnesium deficiencies. I know from gardening that plants tend to get stringy and leggy without enough light - could that be said to be the same with aquatic plants? I will check the plants in the other two tanks for the same symptoms and treat everyone. Thank you again!!

I will try to be patient - poor plants really were starving and I'll be happy when they are happier.

<edited> - I re-read your post and saw that Equilibrium raised GH, not KH. Ugh, I am not a very good student!!
  • #12
HI CraniumRex,

Adding Equilibrium should only in increase your General Hardness (dGH) because it contains no carbonates. Carbonate hardness (dKH) is what effects PH; an increase of carbonates in a tank from limestone, crushed coral, etc results in an increase in the PH.

I am glad to help, add this thread in a couple of weeks and tell us how things are going! -Roy
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  • #13
SeattleRoy I was prompted by your guidance to look up the water quality in my city.

I found this:

Alkalinity mg/L as CaCO3 73-88
Calcium mg/L 27.6 - 34.4
Magnesium mg/L 7.78-8.78
Hardness mg/L as CaCO3 101 - 122

If I have this right, then mg/L = ppm and to calculate dKH and dGH x 0.056
dKH roughly 4
dGH roughly 6.2

I read in a planted tank forum (so take with a grain of salts, hahah pun intended) targets are:
Mg 7-10 ppm
Ca 30 ppm

Would you agree with the targets (not going to venture into the Mg/Ca ratio thing here, my head will explode). Also, I think this was post for high-tech set up and mine isn't even low tech, more like ghetto tech...

Anyway, I'm all for trying the Equilibrium, I'm just wondering if my city water has close to these levels, could it be that I'm not changing the water frequently enough or enough volume? Currently at every 7 days (or so) with 25% volume.

Thanks for being my plant sherpa guide.
  • #14
HI CraniumRex,

Actually, plants don't care if they are in high tech or low tech; they just need sufficient nutrients and light to grow. I'm on many of the planted aquarium forums;,,,, and a couple of others. Depending upon the dosing method, Estimative Index, PPS, PPS-Pro, PMDD you will find an assortment of recommendations for all of the nutrients including NO3, K, PO4, Fe, Ca, Mg, B, Mn (I'm sure I am missing a few - lol). Typically the recommended range is approximately 10-30ppm for Ca and 2-5ppm for Mg but some ranges are higher and some are lower. So which one is right?

First I have to remind myself regularly that all plants do not have the same requirements. The plants in our tanks come from all parts of the world where water can be hard, medium, soft, acidic, alkaline, warm, cold, sunny, or shady. What may be the correct amount of a nutrient or conditions for one species it likely to be too much or not enough for another species.

I have been an avid gardener for many decades and involved with planted tanks for about 10 years. What I found was the same deficiency symptoms that plants show in a garden are almost exactly the same at they show in my tanks. Actually it makes sense since many of our aquarium plants are actually species that are found in the riparian and marsh zones along rivers and have adapted to live submerged or emersed; cryptocornes and anubias species are two good examples.

All I can share is what I have learned from my experience. The plants can typically tell us what they need if we know what the various deficiency symptoms look like. Although I grew up in the Midwest I now live where water is very, very soft (dKH<1.0; dGH=1.0-2.0) and am very well acquainted with Ca and Mg issues. I have helped several folks on the various forums with exactly the symptoms you have and resolved the issues but all I can do is suggest a course of action.

I will try to answer your question which is to paraphrase: "If I have 30ppm of Ca and 8 ppm of Mg why should I need to add more?"

I have a background in chemistry and I think it has to do with molecules, ions, and molecular bonds (how they bond together). (You asleep yet? - lol) Almost all of the Ca and Mg in our water is bonded to carbonate ions (CO3 −2) as calcium carbonate (Ca2+CO3 -2) molecules and magnesium carbonate molecules (Mg2+CO3 -2). Our plants uptake calcium and magnesium in their ionic form as Ca2+ and Mg2+ so for our plants to utilize the Ca and Mg in our water the carbonate bonds to the Ca2+ and Mg2+ must be broken. Unfortunately the carbonate bonds to Ca and Mg are very strong and difficult to break, especially in alkaline conditions. When we add Equilibrium to a tank we are adding calcium and magnesium in the form of sulfates (Ca 2+SO4 2-) (Mg 2+ SO4 2-). Breaking the bonds between the calcium and magnesium ions from the the sulfate to which they are attached is much easier which makes more Ca and Mg available to our plants for uptake.

All I can suggest is give it a try for a few weeks, I think you will like the results. Post back here and let us know how things change (or don't). -Roy
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  • #15
SeattleRoy - not asleep, keep it coming!!

I am here to learn and deeply appreciate you sharing your experience. I am very interested in water chemistry - what started as my daughter begging for a betta and a 3.5 gallon tank has sort of exploded into 4 x 10G tanks and live plants which I'm clearly having trouble making thrive. Sorry, didn't want to sound like I was questioning your advice (I actually went and bought the Equilibrium before I even posted my question!) just trying to make sure I don't just follow advice, which is not to say I don't appreciate it, only that I really do want to understand it. I annoy doctors with the same approach, lol.

Now I'm planning the 55 and I want to do it right. It's been sitting there empty since mid-December and I haven't even put water in or substrate in it -- so many things to consider!!

I think I'm trying to pull it all together and while patience isn't one of my strong suits, I know I have so very much to learn. The more I read, the more I know I don't know much!! Thank you for taking the time to explain to me about how Equilibrium makes the Ca and Mg available - I had to stretch back pretty far to my last university Chem class, but I believe I understand what you wrote. Basically my rather alkaline water makes it such that the Ca and Mg cannot easily be broken away from the carbonate ions - the Ca and Mg are "there" but not in a form that can be used by the plants. Enter Equilibrium.

We are at Day 1. I'm excited to see how the plants respond! I will definitely keep you posted.

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