Brown Algae - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-06-2002, 03:46 PM Thread Starter
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Excuse me if I sound frustrated but I'm really at wits end.

No knowing anything about tank cycling and pH or anything I kept killing fish and ended up at The Loach Forum. Those guys have been great and taught me so much that I now have a great tank. And their beautiful pictures of planted tanks encouraged me to switch from plastic to live so I now have 7 species of plants. The only problem is I have brown algae and it's getting worse. It looks awful and I'm sure it's killing my plants. Where it's very heavy on the rocks it looks black in case that helps identify it.

With the Forum's help, I replaced my incandescent hood with a fluorescent one. It came with a 9000+k Aqua-Rays bulb. A LFS also told me that while my fish would feed my plants for now (while they were small), since there was no Iron in my tap water I needed an Iron supplement.

The Forum suggested that both the lighting and the Iron could be the problem so I bought a Hagen Life-Glo 6700k bulb about 3 days ago and stopped the Iron supplement at the same time. I have since done two 25% water changes to help get rid of the Iron, but was then told that it would deplete so quickly that further water changes were not necessary.

I am happy with the new bulb. I like the brightness and the white color. But I also hoped that the old bulb might have been part of the algae problem and that was one of the reasons I spent the money for the new bulb.

Perhaps I need to give the new bulb and the stopping of the Iron supplement more time, but I'm sure the Brown Algae has grown worse in since I changed these factors. Temp is 79-81, Nitrates less than 10, no Ammonia or Nitrite, and pH is about 7.6 (7.4 from the tap).

It is SO frustrating to have learned so much and now be on the verge of giving up. Any help would be much appreciated!

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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-06-2002, 05:26 PM
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This brown algae, does it flake off very easily when brushed with your hand, or does it take some work to remove?

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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-06-2002, 05:32 PM
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Don't despair, algae problems are common, but the solution is quite simple. You need to do one of two things:

1) eliminate Phosphates and Nitrates altogether and maintain a pristine environment in which algae cannot grow by doing massive, frequent water changes


2) Encourage plant growth to the point where the plants can consume the nutrients before algae can, and sustain those conditions.

May I recommend the second option? It may take a little time, but it's worth the effort. You're headed in the right direction, increasing available light and stocking the tank with many plants of several varieties, but we need to know a few more things.

First off, what size is the tank? What we are first concerned with is adequate light intensity, not light coloration or spectrum. Stick with whichever of the two bulbs you have tried looks best to you. But you want to have at least 2 watts per gallon. So if you have a 15 watt light bulb over a 20 gallon tank, you'll need two more in order to achieve the kind of light levels that plants can flourish in, and outcompete algae. Let us know your tank dimensions and we can help you choose a lighting system to fit your budget.

After there is adequate light, the second most important key to plant growth is Carbon Dioxide (CO2). With the amount of light you have on the tank, algae doesn't need very much CO2 to flourish, but plants do. If you supplement CO2, the plants will grow, and choke out the algae. You can do this in several ways, from a Yeast generator to pressurized CO2 systems. Run a search on this forum for CO2 and read, read, read. You'll see how important this ingredient is for eliminating algae and growing lush plants.

After lighting and CO2, the rest of the nutrients are easy. NO3 is present in your water and the bioload of fish you provide should sustain those levels. Iron is a good additive, but plants can't use the iron without good levels of CO2 and light. There are several other micronutrients you could also concern yourself with, but I suggest you begin with the basics - light and CO2 and if the plants don't respond to that, you can look into some other supplements.

The best advice I can give you towards using plant growth to eliminate algae is read, read, read. Primarily on CO2 and the "Lighting" section of this forum.

Welcome to the board!

- Sam P -
plantedtanker in limbo - all tanks currently in storage
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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-06-2002, 09:29 PM
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Well as you can see Gulfcoastaquarian seems to have covered pretty much everything that you would need to know so I only have one quick thing to add: if you do determine it to be brown algae (to determine this check to see if it is easy to rub of, if it does rub off easy then it is very likely brown algae) then I suggest you pick up some otocinclus. They will gobble it up in a week. They stay pretty small so you can get quite a few (for a 20 gallon 3-4).

Hope this helps! Kyle

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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-06-2002, 11:27 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all your input. I'll see if I can answer your questions:

-- Type of Algae: I wouldn't say the Brown Algae flakes off easily, but I when I just replanted my Anubias I rubbed the leaves and where I did it came off. I was able to do it lightly enough not to harm the leaves.

-- Size of tank: My tank is only a 10 gallon. Here is a complete description of it here if there's something else to know about it that might help:

10 Gallon Tank:
-- Gravel: 10 lb Kordon Wonder Rock Pebble Beach (small pebble)
-- Rocks: Layers and caves created with something that looks like light green slate
-- Lighting: 1 15 watt 6700k Hagen Life-Glo 18" flourescent bulb 14 hours/day
-- Heater: ProQuatics HydroSafe 50 Watt by Hydro
-- Thermometer: Hagen Nova LCD strip on outside of tank (A-1227)
-- Filter: Marineland Penguin Mini with charcoal removed from cartridge
-- From tap with pH of 7.4; tank pH is 7.6 (not adjusting)
-- Adding 1 drop Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Tap Water Conditioner/gal
-- 79 degrees at night; 81 with lighting during day
-- Changing 25% every 4 days with siphon cleaning
-- Rinsing filter cartridge at water changes
-- Testing pH, Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates weekly
-- 3 Black Neon Tetras (medium)
-- 1 Red-tailed Shark (1 1/2" 10/2)
-- 2 Clown Loaches (1 1/4" 10/02)
Fish food, in order of frequency of use:
-- Tetra TetraMin Tropical Flakes, The Rich Mix
-- Hiraki Sinking Wafers
-- Today's Freeze Dried Blood Worms
-- Hiraki Algae Wafers
-- Echinodorus tennellus (Narrow Leaf Chain Sword)
-- Sagittaria subulata (Dwarf Sagittaria)
-- Anubias barteri v. Nana (Anubias Nana)
-- Hygrophila difformis (Wisteria)
-- Cryptocoryne wendtii
-- Cryptocoryne lutea
-- Ceratopteris thalictroides (Water Sprite)
Plant food (stopped using 11/3 due to Brown Algae):
-- Supplementing water change with 5 drops/gal Hagen Plant Gro Iron Enriched 0.15-0-0

Everyone at The Loach Forum has been so nice and so helpful, but it's almost difficult to post there. They are relentless in telling you that you need a bigger tank. I agree with them 100% that it would solve many of the problems I've experienced, but I guess I'm just stubborn about learning to keep a 10 gallon before I go bigger.

-- Lighting: My one 15 watt bulb doesn't fit the 2 watt per gallon requirement, or does it? I understand that my new Life-Glo bulb was so expensive because it is "high intensity" with its built-in reflector.

Also I didn't mention that I'm keeping it on 14 hours a day.

-- CO2: Many people that post at The Loach Forum have really beautiful planted tanks and say that while adding CO2 is great it isn't necessary. I was therefore not planning on doing that with my little 10 gallon and so I have learned nothing about it.

I will be glad to do a search and read posts on the subject, but first can you please tell me just how necessary it is? And if it is necessary, what method might be good for a 10 gallon?

-- Iron: I wasn't added only Iron, it was an Iron supplement with other ingredients (nutrients, not food). Nevertheless, could this have contributed to the Brown Algae problem?

-- Buying some Otocinclus: It was also suggested that I might have brought on or enhanced the Brown Algae problem by being overstocked, so I just gave away three Glowlight Tetras. I currently have three medium size Black Neon Tetras; two 1 1/4" Clown Loaches; and one 1 1/4" Red-tailed Shark.

So I am very concerned about adding new fish. If it would really help, I guess I might buy two small Otocinclus and give away something else. I am so impressed with beautiful pictures of planted tanks that right now I am more interested in plants than fish.

I did ask about using algae eaters to solve this problem and it wasn't advised. No one recommended Otocinclus, but they said Plecos were good but too messy for my small tanks and they liked Siamese Algae Eaters but I can't find any in my area.

I would rather not resort to using fish to eat the algae but if it works as well as Kyle suggests maybe it would be a good idea.

-- Haze in water: Lastly, to tell you everything... there is a bit of a haze in the water. From a little distance it looks clear as can be. But up very close, under the bright light, it looks like the water is full of VERY TINY bubbles. But they don't float to the top.

Just thought I should mention everything in case it could be a factor.

Thanks so much, Peter
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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-07-2002, 01:07 AM Thread Starter
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Is anyone familiar with the product Algone? It sounds too good to be true... eliminating algae without harming plants. It does sound a little "snake-oil" but there are sure a lot of good testimonials.

Also I don't like the idea of something you have to put in the water being a long-term solution. But until my plants get going enough to compete with the algae, I thought it might help.

And what about the other anti-algae products sold at LFSs?
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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-07-2002, 04:05 AM
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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-07-2002, 04:15 AM
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I think everyone with an aquariam has had an outbreak of algea in some sort. First off, I want to tell you that any of those anti-algea products aren't good. Don't beleive what you here or read. The stuff in them can harm your fish, and mess up your parameters also.

As far as your fish, I hate to tell ya but I think your a bit over crouded. Red Tailed Black Sharks are very territorial and require at least a 20 gallon long for them to swim. 2 Clown loaches is pushing it also, unless there reall small, but it's not too healthy to keep them in a 10 gallon. BUT, tetras, your black neons, are fine. I suggest taking back your RTBS, and loaches, and adding some more neons, or some other sort of smaller fish.

Otocinclus Affinus are so AWESOME! I would totaly prefer them over pleco's. Besides, a pleco could never live in a 10 gallon. They get way to big. Oto's though, would do very nice in a 10. I suggest 3 or 4.

My tank was covered in brown algea. I had just planted 2 large swords, large rubra, and other various plants, and they were completly covered in brown algea. My oto's are really cleaning up the tank. It was so bad, that I couldn't see into through the glass.

One problem could have been since it has occured in the cycling process, that might be your problem? Ammonia spikes would cause that and that's normal. Overfeeding your tank, and too much lighting would also be a problem. I suggest turning the light to 10 hours for right now.

I think I might have run out of space, I'll keep checking in on this and will try to answer all your questions.

Hope this helps, and welcome to the awesome plant board,

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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-07-2002, 07:45 AM Thread Starter
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If the Otos really will help (until the plants are able to compete with the brown algae) maybe I'll try a couple to start. The Red-tail Shark's one of my favorite fish but I think I'll give it back to the LFS.

FYI I'm not worried about size or territories at this point. The two Clowns and the RTS are as small as you can buy them and get along great. All sleep in the same cave. And I plan on getting a bigger tank very soon... if I can just learn to keep this one first!

Thanks, Peter


My tank was completely cycled so that didn't cause the Brown Algae. My longer post, above, mentions many other factors I suspect. Also I'll try 10 instead of 14 hours of light. I don't know how much live plants need. ???
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-07-2002, 12:49 PM
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Brown algae is actually not algae (per-se), they are diatoms. Otos will do a great job of cleaning. I would HIGHLY recommend that you read this link on brown algae. My most recent outbreak of Brown algae was 3 months happened when I setup and had my new 29 gallon fw tank running. There was no fish, just plants. It comes from having too much silicate in the water...nothing you can do about it...all tanks usually get the "brown algae".
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post #11 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-07-2002, 01:22 PM
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Agreed, Steve. Even well-maintained lush planted tanks get some algae. You'll always need some sort of algae-eating crew. Unfortunately, algae usually thrives in the same conditions that plants do, so it's difficult to achieve a balance that eliminates algae. But it's not impossible.

I personally wouldn't give back your red-tailed shark unless it outgrew your tank. And perhaps by the time it is large, you'll want to try a larger tank. But your ten gallon tank is an excellent place to cut your teeth and learn how to maintain a planted tank. You've got some good low-light plants (with the exception of the dwarf swords) that can grow rather well in 1.5 watts per gallon. The reflector and efficient bulb helps maximize the amount of light you're getting, so stick with the light setup you have for now.

But I will encourage you to give CO2 a try. You probably already have everything you need to give it a try.

- Empty 2 liter soda bottle
- Glue airline into hole drilled in cap.
- Insert 2 cups of sugar into bottle.
- Insert 1/4 tsp of yeast
- Fill 3/4 with warm water

Stick the airline tube into your tank. An airstone helps, and if you put the airstone underneath your filter intake, it will take the CO2 gas created by the yeast consuming sugars and chop it into fine bubbles, where it can be absorbed by the water.

How important is CO2? Well, for low-light tanks, you can usually get away without it. Especially with only a few plants. But when you have a good number of plants in a tank, they will consume the CO2 quickly and this will limit their growth. It seems you're really becoming fascinated with lush plant growth so I strongly suggest you give it a try. The yeast mixture will last a few weeks before you have to dump it out (it stinks!) and make a new batch.

Plants not only consume nutrients but they can consume toxins and expel oxygen into the water, which will provide a healthy environment for your Sharks and Loaches. I've found that I can keep a much higher bio-load with lush plant growth than without.

Can't hurt to try it out!

- Sam P -
plantedtanker in limbo - all tanks currently in storage
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post #12 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-07-2002, 03:59 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the info; I am considering all you've said.

For my next step I think I'll buy two small Otos today and see what happens. Because I am concerned about being overstocked, I think I will give away my Red-tailed Shark.

It is one of my favorite fish, but I've learned that the best way to keep them is in a tank with other agressive fish - like Tiger Barbs -- where they are all strong enough to stand up for themselves. So maybe that can be another tank another day.

Right now I want to do whatever is necessary to be successful with the planted tank I have.

Oh, and by "dwarf sword" I assume you mean the Narrow Leaf Chain Sword. You're right on... it's doing the worst.
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post #13 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-08-2002, 12:31 AM Thread Starter
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Wow, I couldn't believe how I could just watch the little Otos clean the Brown Algae off the leaves! Great idea!

For GulfCoastAquarian or anyone else:

I need to learn about CO2, but when I searched this forum there were just too many hits. Is there a good tutorial you know of?

Especially one that talks about the home made solution you describe. Like what actually happens... do bubbles just start coming out? Will any glue work? Can it cause too much CO2 for my little 10 gallon?

I'm willing to do the research and reading but a pointer in the right direction might help a lot.

Thanks so much, Peter
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post #14 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-08-2002, 12:59 AM
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CO2 was a bit mysterious to me at first. If you go to Yahoo, or Google, just search "DIY Yeast CO2" without the quotes, and tons of stuff will come up that will explain it to you.

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post #15 of 20 (permalink) Old 11-08-2002, 03:40 AM
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Don't you love the oto's?

I absolutley am in love with my five in my 29 gallon. It will take some time for them to get it all off. And when they do get it all off everywhere, they love a chunk of cucumber. Oto's are great!

I do not inject co2 right now in my tank, but I'm buying a pressurised system over the holidays. I do not know much about systems, so therfor can't help you out on that one

But I'm so glad you love your oto's.

Keep me updated,

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