Cycling with plants

  • #1
I have 45g tank that I'm trying to cycle without any luck so far. No matter what I do I can't get ammonia up. It's been 10 days since I had fish in there and ammonia stays under .25 I think my live plants are using all ammonia as fertilizer and that's why I get such a low readings. No problem I figure I'll add more fish but at the same time more plants came in that I ordered over a week ago from the internet so I couldn't waste those neither. So now its day 10 I have 9 fish in the tank and around 15 live plants and my ammonia is still under .25 Right now my water is

ammonia - less then .25
nitrite - 0
nitrate - 0
Ph - 7.2

I didn't do any water changes since there is nothing to dilute in my tank until I get some ammonia I don't think I will. I'm thinking about getting more fish since what I have is not producing enough ammonia.
I read on some website about a guy that was heavy on live plants and he always starts with live plants too and his tank cycles without any spikes in ammonia or nitrites but that was just one person so I don't know if I should believe it.

I guess I'm just looking for some clarification from people that are more experienced then me.
Thanx in advance.

My tank:
4 - zebra danios
2 - small angels
2 - swordtails
1 - platy
  • #2
i'm no expert....i've only cycled one tank, but mine didnt show any ammonia or nitrites, then last week showed really low levels of nitrates which are remaining constant. I was rather concerned at the time, but now accept that so long as the levels aren't high and my fish are ok, then all is well!!I have 8 plants in a 15gal and have 8 fish in there at the mo which is the max I can fit. so I accept your theory that the plants maybe "buffer" the toxins and reduce the spikes typically seen. be interesting to see how well other planted aquariums cycled.

just started cycling my new tank, plants coming tomorrow. fish may move in next week if all is well. not done any readings yet, but it may prove/disprove the theory of plants and cycling!! be interesting to see!!
  • #3
Hello everyone

Just a quick question to whoever may have an opinion on this: I've set up my 75 gallon planted tank on March 4. This weekend will mark a week since the tank has been running. I am cycling with fish food. The question is: Should I perform weekly water changes in a cycling planted tank? Or wait with the water changes until it is cycled?

I've already asked about it on Plant Geek, but I'd like to ask for your opinion as well.

( Just to recap: The tank has Eco-Complete substrate and 1.73 wpg of lighting. )

Thanks for any help
  • #4
I did 10% water changes when I cycled my planted tank but I didn't use fish flakes. It was complete in about 3 weeks, but I would at least top off weekly and do 10% water changes weekly, maybe not gravel vacuum but get some fresh water in.
  • #5
What did you use to cycle your tank?
  • #6
Just some live plants and some gravel from my old tank. Worked out fine and since I was in no rush it was no big deal to wait.
  • #7
Hmm, maybe I should stop adding fish food and just take some gravel from my old tank, and that's it.
  • #8
are there any fish (or other critters) in the tank? or just plants?
  • #9
I would just add some media from the 30
  • #10
Media from the other tank will definitely speed things up a bit, but the bacteria in the gravel from the other tank will still need ammonia to feed on so I would continue adding the fish food.
You could always add the gravel from the other tank then put a larger amount of fish food in the foot of a panty hose tie it up and hang in the tank. The ammonia doesn't have to be low because there aren't any fish in the tank. The higher the ammonia goes the faster the tank will cycle. Your plants will suck the nitrates right up.
Just a thought.
  • #11
All righty, thank you all

About the water changes: I should be performing them weekly, right? How large water changes would you recommend?

Griffin, no fish, just plants (well, + about 5 snails 1/10 of an inch in size, lol). That's why I am adding fish food to the tank (because there are no fish wastes in there).

Also, another idea and question:

I've been actually running 2 filters on my 10 gallon tank: 1 established Whisper Tetra filter, and the other new Aqua Clear filter. I want to replace the Tetra Whisper with the Aqua Clear. The Aqua Clear has been running on the 10 gallon tank for a month and 9 days. Do you think it's safe by now to take off the Tetra Whisper filter?

I have been thinking to simply hang the mature Tetra Whisper filter on my 75 gallon tank to speed up the cycle. One problem though: The 10 gallon tank has A LOT of green algae in it. Will they transfer to my 75 gallon tank via the Tetra Whisper filter?

What do you folks think?
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
I wouldnt recommend cycling with fish food. There is no need for it and it will add large amounts of phosphates which has a good chance of creating algae problem later on. If you have enough plants just cycle with fish. Live plants love ammonia and you will go through a silent cycle. Your plants will use up ammonia and nitrite as your tank grows bacteria colony large enough. You will never see any ammonia or nitrite spikes as suggested. When I started my 45g I put in a lot of wysteria and amazon swords. I had over 10 plants and I think around 5 zebra danios. My ammonia and nitrites barely showed up on my test kit so I added few more fish and few more and next thing you know I had nitrates and no spikes at all. There isn't that much info on a silent cycling but it works great as long as you have more plants then fish. That's if you are planning on having planted tank. I love my plants just as much if not more then my fish
  • #13
OK This thread is over a year old...does anyone have more input? I was looking to see if this question was addressed somewhere.
I'm planning to start the setup on a new 90g tank next week and want it to be a planted tank...wanted to know when during the cycle I should add plants...does it matter?
Do I need to be concerned with the volume of plants I add, like fish?
Does it make a difference if I cycle with or w/o fish when adding plants.

Suggestions are appreciated.

My horses water trough needs more gold fish (they eat the skeeter larva) so I'm planning to get feeders at the lfs to use for cycling then when done put the surivivors in the horses tank.
  • #14
If you start the tank up with plants you can generally get away with cycling with fish. Detailed info:
  • #15
HI horsensnowrider...welcome to this link will answer ALL your cycle questions... we don't reccomend cycleing with fish...its not fair to them to have to breath this poision...that link will help ALOT ....goodluck!
  • #16
Although if a tank is stuffed full of fast growing plants they will keep the ammonia sucked up and you may never see ammonia or Nitrites (this is called a silent cycle) we still don't recommending cycling with fish.
  • #17
I just started my first planted tank the other day, and am doing the cycling with household ammonia method. It is already planted and I was curious as to whether the plants NEED fertilizer during the cycling due to the absence of fish??
  • #18
HI and Welcome!!
good question. I use root-tabs on my plants, but when I was cycling my 55 gallon I didn't add any during the 5 weeks it took to cycle. I did a fish-less cycle with shrimp and also added a bit of fish food each night. I only had one large plant and it did fine. I was a bit concerned because the tank was very smelly with the shrimp and then very cloudy!!!! Sturdy plant I guess. I imagine because there are so many new bacteria thriving it may not be necessary during cycling, but I may be very wrong.
  • #19
I actually added a few pinches of fish food about an hour ago because I read that it is somewhat suitable for fertilizing. I've already ordered some KNO3 and KH2PO4 and flourish, but they won't arrive for awhile. Would buying some Leaf zone and flourish root tabs today be a good idea?
  • #20
What sort of plants do you have? some, like Java Fern are very tough indeed. If you plan on fertilizing your plants anyway then certainly purchase some, but I don't think you need to buy fertilizer just for the cycling process. I actually have plants in a 75 gallon that thrive despite my obvious neglect.....I have a huge Amazon Sword and a Ozelot Sword in that tank and they seem to thrive on the left-over fish good goodies and the bio-waste. I do use root tabs in my 55 gallon for my Red Melon Sword. I am not familiar with the KNO3.... is that for carbon dioxide?
  • #21
I have a beat up java fern from one of those petsmart tubes, anubias, crypt and amazon sword. The lighting is only a 15w t-8 and i'm contemplating upping the wattage to at least 20. I've heard amazon sword need a lot of nutrients through their roots, so that is what makes me nervous. KNO3 is potassium nitrate, used in the EI method of fertilizing
  • #22
It can depend on the type of plant or plants you have. Slow growing anubias and java ferns would be likely be fine without added ferts, while the tank is cycling, and you could look at adding them after the cycling is done, if they need it. Faster growing plants, such as a lot of the "stem" plants may require ferts added to the water, to prevent any deficiencies and iron hogs such as sword plants, would probably thank you for a root tab.

I don't think ferts will affect your cycle, but you may want to remove any carbon from your filters, because they can reduce the amount of ferts that stay in your water.

Edit: Sometimes I type too slow. lol

Because your lighting is so low, I don't think you will have to worry about ferts.
  • #23
I ended up getting the leaf zone and some root tabs, but I also have some top fin bacteria supplement I got awhile ago. I have since read that using products like tetra safestart and cycling supplements on a fishless cycling tank is counterproductive, as the products just directly reduce the levels of ammonia without really adding bacteria colonies. Does anyone know if this is true for this particular product?
  • #24
Yes you should use fertilizer during cycling, I would not start cycling your aquarium before you have added some decent substrate fertilizer; I would first of all suggest a flourite substrate as it has nutrients in it that the plants use and will not affect your water. If you don't have the money I would suggest adding a layer of pure laterite to your substrate in the middle. Be careful when buying cheap fertilizers as some will change the quality of your water. As far as Java ferns go I would buy a small piece of drift would and attach it with a little bit of fishing line or string. Please be aware that the more light you have the more nutrients and Co2 You will need for your plants. There has to be balance, I have had better results with a pressurized Co2 system as its more consistent than a DIY system.

With the plants you have I would suggest around 2 watts/ Gallon. People may say you need more than that but as long as you have a sufficient source of nutrients and Co2 more them you will have great success.

Tetra Safe start is the BEST Thing to use for cycling as it will almost instantly cycle your tank. It is the only cycling additive (I believe) That uses the correct bacteria for the tank. Other cycling additives contain bacteria that will die off around a week after you have added it, This is why many suggest continuous/ Short term use of the product.

I haven't had the best experiences using a cocktail of liquid additives (No deaths, But some dodgy readings). I like to keep fertilizers in the substrate.
Just some things that have worked for me.
Hope it helps
  • #25
Good morning,

I have moved your thread to the Aquarium Plants section of the forum to help you to receive more responses.

  • #26
I've never used ferts in the first month of setting up a tank. There's no need. That's with high light/high demand plants as well as low light. The plants are much less demanding of nutrients during the first few weeks because they have to adapt to their new environment. During that time they are not trying to use nutrients etc for producing new growth but are simply more focused on staying alive & establishing a healthy root system. That is something that very few people realise & allow for.

Ammonia is the prefered source of nitrogen for most aquarium plants & there is obviously plenty of that while a tank is cycling. Low phosphorus & potassium won't make any great difference during cycling & the rest of the trace element are usually in adequate supply directly from the tap water. If you want to add ferts it won't do any harm but don't expect to see any benefits unless the plants were already suffering deficiency symptoms before you planted them.

DIY co2 can be very consistent if you set it up right & use more than one yeast generator bottle. Seeing as the tank is already set up I see no point in making any new substrate recommendations.
  • #27
Luckily I had already gotten flourite (took over an hour to rinse)
I couldn't seem to find many high-wattage 18" fluorescent bulbs in petsmart at least, I got a flora-glo t8, only 15w. Would bumping it up to 25-30w really be best?
  • #28
Flouro tubes come in standard wattages for a given length so you can't increase the number of watts just by changing the tube. That's why you could only find 15w tubes. You would need to add another fixture or change the fixture altogeter to allow you to have more watts.

With the Sword I would be inclined to double your current lighting to give you 30w. Depending on what type of Sword you have you may need more but 30w is what I would consider the minimum light for any Sword over a 20gal tank. Not all Crypts are low light plants either so more light may benefit those to depending on exactly what variety they are.

The short version is yes I would increase the lighting by adding another fixture.

Swords are heavy root feeders but that is easily taken care of with the use of substrate fertilizer tablets. Seachem Flourish Root Tabs are the best all round root fertilizer. Place one in the substrate at the base of each Sword every 3 months. API are also good but need to be replenished every month rather than every 3. The API tablets are very high in iron though & are excellent for coloured Swords, like Ozelot or Ruby Red.
  • #29
Thanks for the advice, I'm getting a nice double light fixture tomorrow to bump it up to 2WPG. With this light, what would be a good fert and DIY co2 regiment?
  • #30
When I'm setting up my 55 gallon, I was wondering, is it possible to cycle just with live plants? Obviously I don't want to cycle with fish, but I'm hesitant about using pure ammonia. Also, I'll be buying things bit by bit over the next few months, starting with the filter and heater next month. Will my tank cycle during this course on its own as long as there's a filter and heater running? I'll be using TSS when it's ready for fish, which should be in April.
Brandon Bennett
  • #31
I cycled with live plants; no problems at all. Though, I did wait about a week after I added water for everything to settle down.

Plants love ammonia. I will say that my ammonia never got that high at all and I had no Nitrite. With the first sign of ammonia, the water almost immediately started producing small amounts of Nitrate. It was difficult to discern what exactly was going on with my water until figuring out that the plants were sucking up much of the ammonia spike that you would normally see without plants.

I didn't use ammonia either as I feared putting it in my tank. I used fish flakes, and media from my established tank.
  • #32
To cycle a tank you need ammonia (either liquid or fish produced). If you remove the ammonia source, the beneficial bacteria will starve and die off.

So, you can cycle the tank with ammonia, but once it is cycled it continues to need the ammonia. You could do the fishless cycle and once the cycle is completed, add the fish.

The tank will not cycle if you just have a heater and filter, because of the lack of ammonia.

I think I read on this site that you can cycle with plants, but I'm sure someone else will give you a more informed answer.
  • #33
Like stayted you will need some source of ammonia, this can be in the form of pure ammonia, fish food, frozen shrimp ect. Have your heater running and filter going and toss in some organic material and let the bacterial party begin! As far as cycling with plants you would need a densely planted tank to achieve this. Plants will help though as they take in ammonium and nitrates. Aside from this they also give nitrifing bacteria new substrates to colonize.
  • #34
If you are planning oncycling with plants it is a good plan to use fast growing stem plants and to plant heavily. Water wisteria, water sprite and limnophila sessiliflora work well as they grow quickly with low light.
  • #35
Just having plants won't cycle your tank. I know this has been said, but it needs to be clear; the only way to cycle your tank is with an ammonia source. If you plant heavily enough, the plants will soak up the ammonia before it can even be turned into nitrite, but still, you can't have a cycle without an ammonia source.

If you're planning on planting heavily, you'll be fine to do a fish-in cycle. Like Cygnus said, be sure to have plenty of fast growing plants. Water wisteria and water sprite are great choices and will grow quickly in any light, any substrate.
  • #36
I'm definitely getting some of the wisteria, several people have recommended it as a beginner's lowlight plant, and it's very pretty. I was also considering adding a couple snails to provide ammonia for cycling. I just don't feel really comfortable handling undiluted ammonia. I'll also be starting with TSS about 24 hours after I've added fish, and since I'll be adding just a few juvie guppies to such a large tank, the bioload probably won't be very heavy.
  • #37
I've used pure ammonia to cycle 3 tanks now, and great results every time. Much better than when I used fish food. I don't know that a snail will produce enough to cycle a 55 gallon.
The ammonia is also easier to control how much ammonia you are putting in, versus the fish food method.

Edit: you are planning a fishless cycle, and then to use TSS after adding fish? You won't need the TSS if the tank is already cycled.
  • #38
Believe me when I say, you cannot get undiluted ammonia and if you did somehow aquire it you'd probably be getting a visit form Homeland Security. When people say to use pure ammonia, what they mean is to use ammonia solution that contains nothing other than ammonia and water, as opposed to bottled ammonia that also contains detergents, perfumes, surficants etc.

As mentioned you need to either cycle fishless with an ammonia source (pure ammonia, a piece of shrimp left in the tank to decay, or fish food left to decay but those last two methods are messy and can smell) or use SafeStart and fish.

When using SafeStart you add the fish and the SafeStart at the same time, since the SafeStart needs the ammonia that the fish produce.
  • #39
Ah, I see. I was getting confused lol. So I should just cycle with the SafeStart, then? But can I add the plants once I have the heater and filter set up? It would be nice to be able to have something in my tank while I'm buying things bit by bit lol
  • #40
You can add plants without a heater, but they do need water circulation so I wouldn't go without a filter for too long.

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