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Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 4:01 pm
by cpardy
Hello all,

Well I've spent a lot of time browsing over this forum, and I was wondering if someone could post a basic outline or list of what someone would need when starting a planted tank. Just the plain out basics, like a checklist maybe. I know it could go in all directions on what the particular person is looking for for their tank and what they plan on keeping.

Substrate? - I've figured out from reading that flourite is good to have, because it contain nutrients
pH? - somewhere around 6.8 ish? is that right?
Light? - Now this is where I start getting confused. How many watts per gallon for what type (ie low or high) How do you figure this out. And what color temperature is best (kalvins)
CO2? - this is where you really lose me. Just starting out, do I need it. Or would I be better off just jumpin in toes first, and correcting problems with too less CO2 when I need to. Also could someone point out what systems are available, and how they work? it's all crazy confusing to me.

Thanks All. I know, I know, they're wicked newbie questions. But a re-cap in one place would be great for the rest of us planted beginners. :scared: :P

~ Christina (who's working on a profile and avatar)

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 5:34 pm
by freshfish
Those are excellent questions, and ones that everyone just starting out in planted tanks should be asking. :thumb: is an excellent resource for setting up a planted tank; Steve Hampton, who put together that website, is on staff here and a very well respected figure in the world of Planted Tanks. I think you'll find lots of great info on there. :D

First of all- there are some general "guidelines" about selecting the light fixture that matches your tank and your goals- but one of the things that has made it more complicated today than it used to be say 5 years ago is that there are so many more brands and models of fixtures and bulbs on the market that it can easily get confusing and overwhelming... the "rules" don't work quite as well as they used to because of the great variations between brands of fixtures.

But let's start with the basics.

Lighting is what tells plants how quickly to grow. Without enough light, plants will die. Most "standard" tanks with setups straight from the store don't really have enough light to support a planted tank.

However- the more light you add to a tank, the more nutrients you need to add to support plant growth. Without the right balance of nutrients, plants will become deficient, and algae will start getting the upper hand in a tank and can quickly choke out the plants.

CO2 is one of the most important nutrients in a planted tank. In a "low light" tank, it is usually not necessary to supplement CO2; the livestock in the tank supply enough for the plants through their natural respiration, since the plants are growing more slowly. It often is not necessary to dose any fertilizers in the water column, as the plants can obtain what they need through the waste from the livestock.

In a "moderate" or "high" light tank, the plants are triggered to grow more quickly- and so not only need additional CO2, but also the right balance of macro and micro nutrients to support healthy growth.

There really isn't an "ideal" pH for a planted tank... there are some specialized plant species that do require soft water, but those are really the exceptions to the rule; most plants can adapt pretty easily to a variety of water conditions as long as the parameters aren't too extreme (anything between 6.5 and 7.5 should grow the vast majority of plants).

So right off the bat, you kinda need to decide on your goals- setting up a low light, low tech tank where plants will grow more slowly but maintenance will be much less, or setting up a moderate/high light tank, where you will need to also set up CO2 and dose ferts, and maintenance will be much more.

My personal advice to anyone starting their first planted tank is to go with a low light setup first. It may take a bit more patience for the plants to grow and fill in- but that time also gives a person a chance to notice and learn how to correct any issues before they become big problems. In higher lighting, things happen so much more quickly and there's so much involved with getting the right balance of CO2, ferts, etc that problems can get very overwhelming very quickly.

If you want to give us the specs of your tank (gallons and dimensions), and what your goals are in regards to low or high tech, and livestock, we can help you pick out some options that will work for you. :D

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 5:42 pm
by kb46
IMO the best way to learn is by getting your feet (or in our case, hands) wet! Uncontrolled algae is probably the planted tank-keepers biggest nightmare. Your best bet at avoiding algae problems is to start with a low tech tank and work your way up through the steps as follows:
1. Low tech, ie. lighting in the range 1.5-2 wpg, plants rely on the CO2 that is naturally dissolved in the water only
2. Carbon supplementation via liquid (eg. Excel) or injected CO2, plants have access to more carbon but no increased light to fuel algae blooms
3. High tech, ie. high lighting, CO2 injection

The best part about starting low tech is that you needn't have a massive wallet or be a chemistry professor to get it right first go! Then it's just a matter of upgrading as your budget and skills expand, if that's what you want to do. The biggest negative about starting with a low tech tank are the range of plants that will thrive in low-light conditions is more limited. It is, however, possible to create fantastic looking planted tanks whether you use low-tech or high-tech equipment.

Substrate - Although a good substrate is beneficial to all planted tanks, it isn't essential. You can achieve great results with no special substrate - supplementing root feeding plants with fertiliser tabs and adding liquid fertilisers to the water. I've found coarse river sand (grains 1-3mm) is the best medium for planting in and commercial planted tank substrates have a similar grain size. There are two types of planted tank substrates - those without organic matter, eg.Flourite, Eco-complete and those which have organic matter as well, eg. ADA amazonia II (Freshfish's currently struggling with this).

pH - Most plants aren't too fussy about pH and hardness, especially those suited to low tech tanks. pH control becomes an issue when you use injected CO2. KH is somewhat important in that if affects the CO2 concentration in the water. Unless your water is great for rift lake cichlids straight out of the tap, pH and KH probably aren't going to be an immediate problem so you can learn about them as you go.

Light - IMO you are best to start out with 1.75-2 wpg. Any sort of lighting is fine - power compact fluoros, T8 fluoros and T5 fluoros will all do the trick. Plants utilise light best from bulbs with Kelvin ratings between 5000K and 10000K. "Cool daylight" and triphosphorus are the best ones to choose if you can't find the Kelvin rating.

CO2 - I'll leave to someone else. I don't use CO2 injection with my tanks.

Hope this has helped you get a bit of a start,

PS Freshy has pipped me at the post with her response but since I've typed it anyway I posted mine!

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2009 7:58 pm
by LynnJ
I say take a look at the above web page I was lucky enough to start there it linked me here and has great info. plus some other good links

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2009 1:29 pm
by Crazygar
Game Plan - what are you trying to achieve?
Look - what look do you desire?
Plan it - draw it out. Its easy and it does not have to be a the Vinci
Size - How large is the tank? Bigger the better, leaving more options open

Once these 4 are done, you can move on. The most expensive part of each system would the lighting, filtration and obviously the substrate (depending on tank size). Remember to design your tank to your fish not your fish to your tank. There is a big difference here. But first, planning is required.

Location in your home is also important, not near heaters, registers, open windows or direct exposure to sunlight. A place where you can see it and enjoy it but the fish won't be disturbed all the time. I've always kept a large "show tank" in my living room. Since, I spend most of my time in the kitchen or Office.

If its somewhere out of sight, you'll not be working on it as much. Best to keep it in a location where you see it constantly.


Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 1:47 pm
by cpardy
Thank you everyone for all your great information. I'm starting to clear thing up in my head. (doesn't really mean much :rofl: there's not much in there to clear)

Game Plan - To revive my mothers (same house) tank so the lone loach will have a better life, and since it's the first thing you see when you walk into the house, to make it a presentable garden. My mom has a great green thumb, so I figured I'd give her something new to work with. (she needs a bit of a fresh hobby, I feel watching a fish tank is better than a tv for 18 hours out of a day) We talked about it, so it's cool, it's not like I'm forcing the idea on her and she's actually interested (YAY) especialy since I'll be maintaining it.

Look - My thoughts of a look is a beautiful natural river look. Different height levels. I've got a sweet piece of wood from the local aquarium. A few found pieces of drift wood sticks, and some lush foliage in the background, a bit of sand-and natural rock in assorted sizes out front.

Plan it - "draw it out. Its easy and it does not have to be a the Vinci" HAH it's harder than you think when your an artist... I can't just do simple sketches, it'll turn into a 1"scaled miniature version of the tank. Oh, wait a minute... I've already made a bunch of those. it's my other hobby

Size - I'm going to use what I've already got. WAS going to downsize actually, but decided against that cost wise. It's a 20 high with the original hood and light fixture.

Now for me money is an issue... just got laid off. I know another light fixture is the proper thing to do. BUT... right now it's not as feesable to me than getting a much needed heater. SO my options are to make a light fixture. I've been eyeing the single bulb kitchen flourecents, the under the counter types. I can build just about anything, so I'm not worried about the fabrication, its just the question of the wattage that's got me all confused. :dontknow:

My new buddy that works over at Uncle Neds has recommended this fixture: Hagen 24" double T5 high output but it seems too expensive for my budget right now.

My other question about lighting is that the tank does see the morning sunlight until about noon. Could this be just enough to let me get by with the stock fixture I have on it right now? Unfortunately moving the tank is not an option.

For substrate I have bought a bag of brown flourite, which I think will look nice mixed with various sizes of natural gravel, and I was thinking a bit (not too much) play sand. On the upper planter level I'm thinking of putting more flourite than the mix because this is where most of the plants will be going.

Okies I think I've covered everything for now. 8)

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 6:23 pm
by freshfish
Sounds like a good game plan for starters to me! :thumb:

What are the dimensions on the tank you want to go planted? Sounds to me like low tech, non-CO2 is going to be right up your alley, and I bet we can help you figure out the perfect lighting.

I'm a big fan of T5HO- but you'd definitely need to get CO2 going on the tank to keep up with that level of lighting. You can have a great planted tank without that, though.

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 6:47 pm
by oceansunltd
Be aware that on the third Monday of each month the BOSTON AQUARIUM SOCIETY meets at the New England aquarium. Doors open at 7 PM. There is usually a talk, refreshments, and a dynamite auction. You can buy or trade all kinds of plants, fish, and stuff you won't find in ANY shop (except maybe Uncle Ned's-he's had stuff I'd never seen before). Meeting is free and open to all. There is a website also at

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 8:17 pm
by cpardy
Oh that is SO cool! :thumb: Thanks for that link!

Yeah uncle ned's has some really cool stuff.

Ok, so my thought is to make it a low tech tank for now, I can always build up if I decide to. I don't think I'm ready for a CO2 tank just yet (I don't think I have room for one either) So yup, we'll stick to low tech. :think:

Tank Dimensions are: 16.5" High 33.75 Long" 12.25" Deep

I also read that that Hagen fixture will only use their lights. I'm not sure if I want to be confined to that in the long run. At least if I build a fixture, then if the tank goes south... I can buy kitchen cabinates to put the lights under :shrug:

Now I just gotta find the big lobster pot to boil the wood in. I was hoping on making it to the beach this week to get some more rocks to use in the aquascape, but with below freezing temps here, it doesn't look like I'm going there any time soon. I've used almost all of my stones in my cichlid tank so I keep telling my self "I will not tear that tank apart for rocks I will not." so far I seem to be listening. :secret:

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:17 pm
by oceansunltd
Don't boil the wood. Have a dishwasher? Run it in there a couple times with no soap. Scrape any soft areas out with a spoon. Don't go crazy-it's wood. Semiclean is fine.

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:21 pm
by freshfish
Shoot I had a post typed out and lost it... grrrrrr

Those tank dimensions look off to me- is that a typo and did you mean 23.75" L instead of 33.75"? If you've got a 34" long tank, that's going to present some fixture challenges...

What is on the tank right now? I assume a "standard" hood and single T8 bulb. Have you checked out the watts on the bulb?

And what's your budget for lighting?

BTW- I just checked out your website and you do some AMAZING stuff! A nano tank might be RIGHT up your alley... :)

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2009 3:07 am
by Crazygar
Loaches (most) prefer faster water movement (a bit of a stronger current) which will inhibit plant grow (outgassing Co2). There are some lovely designs on how to make a "Loach Friendly" Aquarium if you are interested. Sometimes, you don't need a planted a tank to keep things interesting.

A great start is "Peter Hiscock - Aquarium Designs by Nature" which is a killer book. The second is visiting "Loaches Online" and check out their "Loach River Tank".

An Aquarium can be as complex or basic as you require, just remember the needs of the inhabitants. I find myself (and many others) excluding fish on the basis of not reaching the proper environmental conditions.


Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2009 11:07 am
by cpardy
:unsure: I did mean 23.75" on the length of the tank.

As for my loach... the water in that tank is pretty much standing still... I don't think he'd be quite annoyed if it stayed the same way. He's probably about 6 now. So I would think he's used to it. (how long do they live?)

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Fri Jan 16, 2009 11:40 am
by oceansunltd
I saw a tank in Montreal a few years ago that had 20 year old Clown Loaches-they were about 10-12" long. We brought in a shipment of large wild loaches a few years ago, and the biggest was 26" long. He lived about 8 years when the customer got tired of the monster fish and sold him ( he had paid $1100 to me for him). I lost track after that. But I think a 35-40 year lifespan is about right from what I've read of their growth in the wild.

Re: Plantkeeping for a Beginner Questions

PostPosted: Sat Jan 17, 2009 12:53 am
by Crazygar
In the wild some are considered "sport" fish along with being food.