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by Tom Sarac
Aquatic plants have many benefits for the aquarium environment. They provide a natural source of shelter and security for the fish and invertebrates. During the process of plant growth, oxygen is produced via a process called photosynthesis. The plants covert light and carbon dioxide into oxygen, which is essential for any animal inside the aquarium, including beneficial filter bacteria. Higher oxygen levels mean more active fish that are more resilient to disease.
As well as carbon dioxide, plants use up other potentially toxic nutrients such as ammonia, nitrite, nitrates and various heavy metals. A healthy and well-maintained planted aquarium will also rarely see algae problems.
Perhaps the most popular reason plants are added to the aquarium is to enhance the aesthetics of the environment. This is commonly known as aquascaping, which is now a very popular part of the aquarium hobby.
Aquarium plants have varying requirements depending on the species. Some can be grown in very basic set-ups without the need for much lighting or additional feeding. Others require high lighting levels, carbon dioxide injection and plenty of other nutrients via liquid fertilizers.
It’s important to choose your plants according to your aquarium set-up. Think about the demands of the plants, as well as their eventual size. It is possible to modify an existing aquarium to make it more plant-friendly. For instance boosting the lighting can be easily achieved simply by adding reflectors to the existing fluorescent tubes, or by changing the tubes if they are more than 12 months old.
LED is becoming more popular in planted aquariums and is now a proven technology. Hagen’s Power-Glo and Life-Glo T5 fluorescent tubes and the Aqualife & Plant Performance LED are great for enhancing plant growth and coloration in fish.
To guarantee better plant growth, carbon dioxide (CO2) injection can be added. Plants are made up of around 40% carbon, and the most effective way to supply an additional source of this is via CO2 injection. CO2 Kits are an ideal source and are easy to install and maintain. Plants require other nutrients such as potassium, iron and other trace elements. Nitrogen and phosphorous are also a very important sources of food but these can be provided sufficiently by fish food and waste. Plant Micro Nutrients is an ideal product suitable for the planted aquarium. To feed the plant roots, a nutrient-rich substrate (gravel/sand) is recommended. There are specialist active soils available such as Plant & Shrimp Stratum, or root-tab style products can be added to target feed particular plants if you are using a plain gravel/sand type substrate.
TIP: Plant your aquarium as densely as possible. Use fast growing weeds such as Hygrophila polysperma and Limnophila sessiflora in new set-ups as these quickly establish a healthy environment and help to prevent algae.
Aquascaping is the art of arranging plants and decor in the aquarium environment. After installing your substrate, the most effective way to create an aquascape is to first choose your decor such as wood and rocks, and position them carefully. It is often best not to position them perfectly centred in the aquarium, but off to one side a little. This provides better aesthetic balance.
Choose decor that complements the dimensions of the aquarium. If you have a tall tank, then choose suitable tall pieces of wood or rocks. Take plenty of time to position the decor and try as many combinations and positions as it takes until you are entirely happy. Attaching ferns, Anubias and mosses to the decor is a great and simple way to create a high impact and natural-looking design. These plants also tend to do well with lower lighting levels, making them suitable for beginners. Plant taller plants such as Vallisneria in the background.
Cryptocoryne wendtii and its many varieties is a great choice for the mid-ground in most-sized aquaria. It is slow-growing and undemanding. An open sand or gravel foreground can be very attractive and is easier to manage than demanding carpeting plants.
Algae is the number one reason people give up on fishkeeping. Planted aquariums can provide an algae-free environment but only if certain guidelines are met.
Ensure good water quality by using a good quality and well-maintained filter. Don’t overstock with fish or overfeed. Change at least 25% of the aquarium water every week and clean filter media with old aquarium water. Use a good quality de-chlorinator such as Fluval Water Conditioner. Ensure any major disturbance of the substrate is followed immediately by a water change.
To find out more about aquascaping, visit the United Kingdom Aquatic Plant Society website at www.ukaps.org.
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