An Oasis of Green
A planted aquarium can be as stunning as the most elaborate reef aquarium ever dreamed of being. It can also be as elaborate and high tech but it doesn't need to be. If you are starting a new aquarium from scratch there are several things you can do to optimize your success. Plants need three basic things to thrive in an aquarium, appropriate lighting, proper water chemistry, and carbon dioxide. Some species of plants, such as anubias, will do well in almost any conditions and are a good choice if you just want to add some life to an average tank. Most species however will fare much better with an environment tailored to their needs. Lets start at the bottom with the substrate. Most plants are going to do better with a finer gravel, not sand however. Pebbly gravel is harder to root in and sand tends to go anoxic. The gravels specifically marketed for plants work best as they are not only the optimal grain size but are typically made from clay based materials that will be a long term source of iron and nutrients. You will also want a deeper layer than in a typical tank, usually 2 to 4 inches. Next is the filtration system. You will want a system that does not degas the water of CO2, more on that momentarily. Nothing that bubbles or overly agitates the water. This is one of the few places where canister filters are the best choice. Hang ons and sumps WITHOUT bio balls can also be used. Next is the water. In a typical fish tank tap water is fine but for plants RO, reverse osmosis, water is best. It has no unwanted nutrients and is soft with a neutral PH. Our tap water is fairly hard with a higher PH and is loaded with unwanted nutrients that algaes will take full advantage of. A remineralizer such as "RO Right" should be used to put back the good stuff the RO removes. The next big piece of the puzzle is lighting. Most plants are going to need high output lighting to survive and do well. Your basic light just isn't going to do. This will need to be tailored to your aquarium for optimum results and we can help you choose the right one. Just be prepared, the light will likely be the most expensive part of your set up. Now as promised, CO2. CO2 is vital for plant growth. With the right set up supplemental CO2 wont be necessary for most plant species, but all species will do vastly better with its addition. There are several ways to go about this. Chemically you can add a product like Seachem's Flourish Excel which is a liquid CO2 product you add to the water. This needs to be done daily however for best results. Second is a yeast reactor which produces CO2 through the action of yeast just like when making bread. There are commercially made units that are pretty slick or you can make your own with plans found online. While inexpensive, GREAT care must be taken when using these however as they put the CO2 into the water at a very irregular rate which can cause wild PH fluctuations. BAD thing, especially if you're a fish. The best method is to inject CO2 gas from a canister into the water with an electronic controller. While expensive upfront this type of system delivers precise PH and CO2 control with auto pilot ease. The other nice thing is long term they are very inexpensive to operate. CO2 canisters cost only a few dollars to refill and last for months, depending on the size of the tank of course. Once again, as with all tanks planning and research is the key to success.