NEED HELP: New Freshwater Planted Aquarium with high pH and rotting plants

  • #1
To all experienced members, seniors aquarist,

First of all, I do apologize for the long post. However, I would try to keep it as concise and short as possible to cover all the required details

I'm a newbie to this forum as well as to the Aquarium World. Recently I bought my first aquarium and planned to start a planted freshwater community like most other newcomers. With hardly any experience (I only have 3 Betta fishes in different Betta bowls), I started with an Aqueon 38G aquarium kit. I got the kit from the local Petco along with the stand at a very good deal and it included the following.
1. 38G Aqueon Tank (36" L, 12"W, 20"H)
2. Aqueon Power Filter (most probably 30 G capacity)
3. Heater
4. Deluxe Fluorescent Hood with Full Spectrum Aqueon 24" light bulb
5. And few other small items.

As I was planning for a low-light low-tech moderately planted aquarium with just a drift wood in the middle, I chose the substrate as CaribSea EcoComplete Planted and CaribSea Instant Aquarium. For the 38G Tank I put 2 bags of CaribSea Eco-complete at the bottom and on top of it I put the Instant Aquarium as it was belly safe for the bottom feeders. That gave me about 2.5 - 3 inches depth of substrate and I put some Seachem Root tabs inside the substrate approximately in 4-5 inches radius.

Other additional items which I fitted with the Aquarium are:
1. One Fluval C3 50 G capacity HOB filter
2. Changed the Full Spectrum Aqueon light with a 20 watt Life-Glo 2 Fluorescent Bulb
3. Put an additional Current USA 36 Inches Satellite Freshwater LED Light

After completing the set up, I put the following plants in my tank.
1. Few Micro sword, few hairgrass for the foreground
2. Few Ludwigia, bacopa, moneywort and Amazon Sword for the mid-ground
3. Few Jungle val, italian val for the background
4. A week and half later I added couple of Red Flame Sword for the mid-ground and couple of Staurogyne Repens (baby tears) for the foreground.

I have been using the following fertilizers for the plants
1. Seachem Excel - Every Alternative day (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)
2. API CO2 Booster - Every Alternative day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
3. Seachem Flourish Iron - Every Alternative day (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
4. Seachem Flourish Potassium - Every Alternative day (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)
5. API Leaf Zone - Once a Week Sunday
6, Seachem Flourish Phosphorus - Once a week Sunday
7. Seachem Flourish Nitrogen - Once a week Sunday
8. Seachem Fourish Advance - Recently started this one, as of now using daily for the past one week

Now coming to the issues which I have been facing..

1. Very High pH - The county water here is naturally hard and even though I use Aqueon Water conditioner and Seachem Prime, still the pH level is pretty high approximately in the range of around 7.8-8. An aquarium specialist in the local PETCO store advised me Seachem 7.0 Neutral Regulator which I used for 3-4 time over the span of 2 weeks (once in every 3 days) and that might have reduced the pH little bit (From 8 to 7.8 I should say) but it's still quite high.

2. Rotting Plants - This is the biggest issue.. It's been almost a month since I've set up the tank and put the plants in. I lost almost all my moneywort, bacopa, and microsword, hairgrass. Amazon Swords are surviving somehow.. Only Vals are doing ok as of now. Also the newly introduced (I put them couple of weeks back) Red Flame Sword and Staurogyne Repens (Baby tears) are still looking green.

I'm really clueless and helpless and need your expert advise and guidance on how would I keep the rest of the plants alive. I'm pretty sure I've been doing something wrong, but don't know what..

  • Is the High pH could possibly be the reason for these plants to die?
  • Or is there a lack of light? Should I put one more LED light along with the currently running Fluorescent and LED?
  • Am I doing too many fertilizers for these plants?
  • Or the issue is with the substrate?
  • Also how would I bring the pH level down? Should I continue using Seachem 7.0 Neutral Regulator?

I test my water with API Freshwater test kit almost every other day and also got it tested a few times in Petco, Petsmart and the LFS. Apart from High pH none f them mention about any other abnormality like high nitrate, nitrite or ammonia or anything else.. I've attached a few pictures of my aquarium, tried to capture the best possible view to depict the issue. The foreground has become almost grey/brown with dying, rotting hairgrass, only a few sprouts of greens are available.. The mid-ground is relatively in better condition. Again in the background, quite a few stems are rotting..

I would sincerely request you to take a look at these pictures and provide your valuable expert suggestion so that I can keep the remaining plants alive.. Thanks a lot!


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  • #2
HI Aqua Guy,
Welcome to the forums!
I have planted tanks, I do not use any plant treatments at all in my tanks and my plants are healthy and green as. Who told you to use all those chemicals for the plants? I think your killing them with the chemicals to be honest. And if you had fish in there, all those chemicals would do them harm I would think. If you already have a led and fluro light, that is plenty of light for them. Hopefully someone more exp with this situation can chime in and help you more soon
  • Thread Starter
  • #3
Thank You for your response Sabrina.. Well, actually when I went through different online videos (in Youtube) or forums, I saw many people suggesting these Seachem line of products as good fr plants.. I also mentioned these to my local fish store and Petco guys and they also agreed these fertilizers would be beneficial for plant growth.. However, I agree, all these contain chemicals and might do some harm to plants or fish - BTW I do not have any fish in my aquarium yet, still waiting for the cycle to complete, probably another couple of weeks or so..
  • #4
Hello New...

Didn't read all your post. However, from your subject line I can tell you a couple of things about aquarium plants. Go with easy to grow plants. Anubias, Java fern, Hornwort, Anacharis and Water sprite. The first two can be attached to a piece of driftwood or porous lava rock with cotton sewing thread and just dropped on top of the gravel or whatever bottom material. The others, just drop individual stems into the tank. None of these plants require planting or special fertilizers.

Plants prefer lower pH, acidic water and the fish, just the opposite. If you use a piece of driftwood, it will lower the pH of the water and the plants will grow better. Don't spend money on more demanding plants. They'll need high end lighting and fertilizers. The plants I listed will grow in low light and just use the fertilizers the fish provide.

Be sure and change half the tank water every week and feed a variety of low phosphate foods. The fish will take care of fertilizing the plants and the healthy plants will provide clean, oxygenated water for the fish.

My advice is, wait until you have some success with the easy plants before you get into the more complicated ones.

  • #5
General alleviation of worries with what I know and have experienced but ph is fine and you should avoid messing with it as much as possible and just go for maintaining a stable one especially once you add your fish.
I myself have a planted community @ a ph of 8 and only do excel and flourish comprehensive with a planted+ for lighting.
Substrate is probably fine so I think it's something more with lights and your fert regimine...could also be the plants weren't the best specimens when planted either.

Hopefully some of the more lighting and fertilizer experts can help chime in.
  • #6
Okay so first agreed ph is fine, better to get your KH and GH reading versus the ph.

Secondly your lighting, the aqueon light is pretty useless and won't help your plants very much so you honestly may as well scrap it. The current USA led light is 1500k lumens, not very high and I'm linking the article I used to learn more about what the heck all that meant. Par on this lighting is only 21, so it's a bit lower than I initially thought. You've got low-moderate lighting and you're way overfertiziling hence why you're seeing so much algae growth.

So you're dosing co2 everyday, way too much. The only thing I see immediately needing the co2 is the DHG, and without high lighting doesn't matter if your using ferts it won't carpet or grow well and will rot.

You're also dosing iron, potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen but you haven't mentioned any tests for your water as to what your base levels are? So are you assuming about what your water chemistry is like?

I would dose excel 1/week and API leaf zone 1/week (not together maybe wed and friday). Now if you test your iron levels and everything else and you see a deficit then you can add in what you need, but imo if you're using tap water it's unlikely you need any of this. You aren't running co2 so you're basically providing way too many nutrients, the plants can't absorb them so it begins to grow algae.

How long are these lights running for the plants? I'm thinking this is another reason you're having some problems.
  • Thread Starter
  • #7
oldsalt777, Aludar and lfabb - Thank You for all your valuable suggestion and advice. I would try to answer your queries as per best of my knowledge so that you can get more details about the Tank and the plants.. Sorry, I might have missed out a few important points while writing my post.
@ - I agree with you and to be very honest, I tried to put the low-tech, low-light required plants only in my tank. As this is my first ever aquarium and I'm pretty novice about this hobby, I wanted to take the easiest way. Having said that, I searched a few forums, websites (Like That Pet Place etc) and watched quite a few videos in youtube to decide on these plants.. I got all the plants from ThatPetPlace and even though some of the plants which you mentioned were in my list, unfortunately I couldn't find them available..
Rather than using the Seachem chemical any more, I was thinking of using Catappa leaves to lower the pH naturally (to a moderate level like around 7.4) as I don't really have much space left in my aquarium for a driftwood. Could you please suggest if that would be beneficial?
Aludar, @ - I agree with you, lights might be an issue and after going through suggestions from both of you, I believe the light which I'm providing to my tank (It's 20"H deep) might not be adequate for the number of plants and the kind of fertilizers I'm using.. As the light might not be reaching far down to the bottom of the tank for the smaller Hairgrass and Baby tears..

Having said that, may I ask your suggestion on

> Whether you feel I invest in one more Current USA Freshwater LED light strip? (Don't want to spend any more but then if that's the only way around then I have to)
> Or else, I should reduce the use of fertilizers and if yes to what extent? As I'm not inducing CO2 gas from outside I have been using the API CO2 booster and Seachem Flourish Excel.. So should I use them twice or thrice a week?

As all of you are suggesting, pH level of 7.8-8 is not a concern, then do you suggest the GH and KH level might have some impact on the plants? Sorry I'm a novice and might sound very foolish with this question but want to understand if I should start testing the GH and KH level as well and if yes, what should be the ideal reading for them for plants?
@ - I didn't do any chemical testing of tap water apart from the usual API Freshwater testing which tests pH, High pH, Nitrate, Nitrite and Ammonia.. I also got the Tap water tested in some of the local Petco, Petsmart and also in LFS. I'm not sure how to get the water tested for Iron, Potassium, Phosphorus and Nitrogen level.. Is there a kit available for testing the same? Please let me know..

As per as the plants are concerned, as O mentioned in my initial post that these plants are there almost for the past 4 weeks and I put the Current USA Freshwater LED probably 3 weeks back. I switch on the Dusk mode at around morning 9AM and change to Bright Sunlight + Life Glo 2 Fluorescent light at around 10AM.. Then I keep the lights on till around 7PM in the evening and put on the very low moon light from 7PM till 9PM.. From 9PM till next day morning 9AM I completely switch off all the lights. Please let m know if I'm over lighting or under lighting my plants..

Once again, I really do appreciate all your assistance and valuable suggestion/advises and would try to follow the same to get healthy and green plants. Thank You!
  • #8
So understanding lighting is tricky. With your current set up you've got about 20 par based on the height and total lumens of your light. Since it's an Led light reduce that by 7% due to the splash shields they have. That leaves you honestly with a really low light, not ideal for the plants you have. Adding another of the same light will not increase your par by much considering the depth the light is penetrating. If you want my opinion and love your plants, upgrade to a planted+. Planted+ offers par for your height of 20" closer to 45-50 par, huge difference. Now you're pushing moderate lighting. You can also always look into high intensity output fluorescents but I'm assuming based on your current lighting you'll be sticking with led's.

When I started my own planted tank I did further research about those dusky, blue lights. Stop using them, the blue lights actually encourage algae growth.

GH and KH are a test kit from API. Certain plants can use carbon from your KH like Vals. GH as long as it's 3 degrees will be okay for the plants but it's good to know as certain plants do better in soft v hard water like hornwort cannot thrive in soft water.

You do not need to add anything to lower your ph. The plants will adjust knowing the GH and KH are much more important.

As far as the ferts go currently with your lighting I don't see the need for any honestly. You've got a low lighting so the plants will not thrive very well and the plants that will do well do not require co2. If anything just add the API leaf 1/week to the water column since you do not have fish creating ammonia.

Seachem does in fact make tests for what you're currently dosing. Without running co2 those aren't necessary even dosing excel. If go about upgrading your lighting you would still only need to dose excel 1-2 a week (depending on your nitrate reading) and API leaf 1/week.

If your nitrates become high it's an indication for you not to dose ferts. Plants feed off of ammonia not nitrates so high nitrates means plants aren't consuming all the nutrients in the water quickly enough. My rule of thumb is if nitrates are below 10 I dose ferts (I'm using seachem flourish and root tabs with a planted+).

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