Here are pictures of a tank from 2015. An example of how the state of the tank makes all the difference.
For years I ran this tank with water column fertilizers. It was up and down. Since it was a service tank I was there every Wednesday, no questions asked.
Everything that could be done to keep this tank clean was done. Will not describe all the products and practices. They were dumb because the basics were not in place.
The tank transformed to a very clean, very fast growing tank once the water column nutrients were reduced, and the Ca:Mg was adjusted properly with the proper material (Dolomite). Prior adjustments of the Ca:Mg ratio with CaCl2 and MgSO4 were borderline successful.
Once the tank gets in the "proper mode" you can see it - the water becomes extremely clear, the plants start to grow very healthy looking, and the stability of the system is unbelievable. And this is all done with LESS fertilizers, LESS water changes, and way less other maintenance as a result (removing old leaves, scraping algae here and there, filter maintenance, etc)
Thanks for the extra info. You mentioned something I've thought was the cause of a lot of problems with my tank here. The Ca to Mg ration. I have a GH of 4 and KH is non-existant. I think my Ca to Mg is off, and I often have stunting and crinkled leaves.
I now add a teaspoon of GH booster to the tank at water change. Is that enough do you think to get the proper ration? My thoughts are plants don't use a ton of this, so adding that extra bump weekly should in theory work, assuming the GH booster is mixed to a proper ration.
Any thoughts there or should I just get Ca and Mg separate and mix my own?
I hope you see were I'm going with that post - I'm looking for the people that have started to see the new direction of this hobby - the real Natural tanks, not what ADA promoted as such so they can sell their products.
Help me out if you feel so. Get some powdered Dolomite powder off ebay. It is a supplement for humans - some kind of health benefits from eating it. If you buy that powdered Dolomite you will have a guaranteed clean product AND I guarantee you that you will see amazing change in your tank.
An easier way to get Dolomite is to go to a pile of rocks that road workers place under asphalt. That is dolomite. But it is in form or rocks and you can't control the amount you add very well. Years ago I had setup a tank with these rocks as a substrate. Out of ignorance I learned a lesson - these rocks grew plants at an amazing rate. But they fogged the water - I had too much of it. I could not see but 4-5 inches into the tank. But the plants grew super fast - 6-8" sword leaves in 6 hours! I also had other plants, stems included (Rotala, and others). In a month and a half I trimmed so much plants that the local pet store gave me $40 credit as soon as they saw them. That is a story about the benefits of Dolomite.
So give Dolomite a try.
GH booster is a mix of chemical that will supply Ca and Mg but not in the proper form. Yes, it will work in some tanks - mainly tanks that do not have critical organics accumulation. I've ran such tanks in the past and the growth rate of stems was unbelievable (some plants shot 16" in 36 hours!). But the tank required constant maintenance. And as usual - shutting down if you can't take care of it for several days. That is the ultimate proof of an unstable tank. Believe it or not at least some of the ADA distributors have the same instability problems. These are the guys that show cool looking showrooms full of Japanese copy-cat tanks.
And yes, a tank that runs fast and healthy with the incorrect nutrient dynamics will be inferior to a tank that is properly supplied with nutrients - because of the work involved to maintain the tank in a good shape and because of the inherent instability of such improperly run tanks.