signs of low nitrogen but nitrates test OK? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-04-2019, 03:11 AM Thread Starter
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signs of low nitrogen but nitrates test OK?

Hi! I'm a relative newbie -- I've had a low-tech, low/medium light planted tank about 9 months. I dose with Flourish and API Leaf Zone on different days once a week, and use root tabs a couple times a year.



Things seemed to be going reasonably well, but then in recent months I'm seeing a major increase in yellowing older leaves and some browning, and also lots of what I think is hair algae. From reading online and looking at photos of various plant problems it seems to suggest a nitrogen deficiency.


But my nitrates test around 10-20, sometimes up to 40 before a water change.


Does that mean it would be a mistake to dose nitrogen (potassium nitrate)? If that's a bad plan, what should I do instead? I can post photos of leaves if that would be helpful.
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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-04-2019, 02:22 PM
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Hi @dorian444,

If it is the older leaves developing chlorosis (yellowing) is not likely a nitrogen deficiency; a nitrogen deficiency typically will effect both old and new growth.

Are you doing weekly water changes? If so how much?

Can you post some pictures if not only the plant (plants) showing the symptoms but others as well?

Do you know any of the water parameters for your tank?

pH -

dKH -

dGH -

Nitrates (ppm of NO3) -

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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-05-2019, 12:35 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for your reply, @Seattle_Aquarist!

I do weekly water changes of about 20-25%.

pH used to stay at 6.8, this week was at 6.6. Rotting plant leaves, I think.

I don't have a kit to test dKH or dGH. Is there one you recommend?

Is "Nitrates (ppm of NO3)" different than the nitrates number I posted of 10-20, sometimes up to 40 before a water change? If it's different, how do I test for that number?

I'm attempting to post four photos. The first plant is the one having the hardest time. I removed several all yellow leaves earlier today, before taking this photo. I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember what kind of plant it is -- it had been darker green and vibrant for a long time. (Java fern? Cryptocorynes?)

The grass-like plant is also looking less healthy than it used to.

The plant with the long thin leaves is looking pretty good.

The plant that I think is pennywort is hardly growing -- very tiny leaves, very little growth.

Sorry if my photos leave a lot to be desired!

Bump: Oh dear, I didn't realize it would post the photos sideways! They are oriented correctly when I open them on my computer!
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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-05-2019, 04:09 AM
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Quote:
Hi! I'm a relative newbie -- I've had a low-tech, low/medium light planted tank about 9 months. I dose with Flourish and API Leaf Zone on different days once a week, and use root tabs a couple times a year.
Look at your bottle of API leaf zone. It has only 2 plant nutrients. potassium, and iron. This is only 2 of the 14 nutrients plants need to grow. The complete list of nutrients plants need is nitrogen, potassium, Calcium, magnesium, phosphate, sulfur, Chlorine (in the form of chloride stalts) Iron, manganese, boron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and nickel.

I encourage you to get a GH test kit so you can monitor your calcium magnesium levels. But based on water quality reports I have seen from the area, I think that you will find that your tap water is very soft and your GH level will be very low. I believe you will need a GH booster to insure you have enough. Increasing your GH to 2 degrees above your current levels. API GH / KH test kit is a decent one. Your Flourish comprehensive does list Calcium and magnesium but the levels are very low

I would get a GH test kit, and then if needed use Seachem Equilibrium to insure good GH and KH levels. discontinue Leaf Zone. It isn't doing you any good.
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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-05-2019, 04:16 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks so much! I've ordered the API GH / KH test kit. Very interested to see what I'll learn!

I think I started using Flourish + Leaf Zone as recommended by other planted aquarium enthusiasts. Do most people frown on Leaf Zone?
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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-09-2019, 07:51 PM Thread Starter
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@Seattle_Aquarist and @Surf: I got my API GH / KH test kit and ran the tests (a few hours after water change). My KH is 17.8 and GH is 71.6 PPM (which I believe equals 4.2 gpg?).

I would love your help interpreting what this means in terms of the symptoms I'm noticing, especially some plants with yellowing leaves and a decent amount of hair algae.

I have a community tank. From what I'm reading in various articles online, it looks like my hardness is fine -- reasonable for community tank, planted tank, and shrimp (I was hoping to add some amano).

Do my test results mean my KH is too high? Based on the fish I have plus my interest in amano shrimp, it looks like the ideal GH for me would be higher, more in the range of 103-215.

My questions so far:

1) Would you recommend Seacham Equilibrium to help my plants? Or no, because it's designed to raise hardness and my hardness is OK?

2) When my tank was new I used to use peat moss in my filter to lower pH. Now that it's better established pH has been stable and about where I want it, so I've removed the peat moss. Should I return to using it to see if that will bring my KH down?

3) Now that I'm using Flourish as my only regular fertilizer for plants (and stopped using Leaf Zone), should I increase to twice a week?

Thank you!!!
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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-09-2019, 08:37 PM
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Hi @dorian444,

Are you saying your KH = 17.8 ppm and your GH = 71.6 ppm? This would equate to about 1.0 dKH and 4.0 dGH. Is this correct?

If so you have very soft water, not unlike my water here in Seattle which is <1.0 dKH and about 2.0 dGH. Soft water can be a challenge for planted tanks since it have very little in the way of minerals that plants need for good growth, especially calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-09-2019, 08:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dorian444 View Post
@Seattle_Aquarist and @Surf: I got my API GH / KH test kit and ran the tests (a few hours after water change). My KH is 17.8 and GH is 71.6 PPM (which I believe equals 4.2 gpg?).

I would love your help interpreting what this means in terms of the symptoms I'm noticing, especially some plants with yellowing leaves and a decent amount of hair algae.

I have a community tank. From what I'm reading in various articles online, it looks like my hardness is fine -- reasonable for community tank, planted tank, and shrimp (I was hoping to add some amano).

Do my test results mean my KH is too high? Based on the fish I have plus my interest in amano shrimp, it looks like the ideal GH for me would be higher, more in the range of 103-215.

My questions so far:

1) Would you recommend Seacham Equilibrium to help my plants? Or no, because it's designed to raise hardness and my hardness is OK?

2) When my tank was new I used to use peat moss in my filter to lower pH. Now that it's better established pH has been stable and about where I want it, so I've removed the peat moss. Should I return to using it to see if that will bring my KH down?

3) Now that I'm using Flourish as my only regular fertilizer for plants (and stopped using Leaf Zone), should I increase to twice a week?

Thank you!!!
How many drops did it take to make the solution change colors?
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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-10-2019, 02:40 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by varanidguy View Post
How many drops did it take to make the solution change colors?

1 drop for KH, 4 drops for GH.

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Originally Posted by Seattle_Aquarist View Post
Hi @dorian444,

Are you saying your KH = 17.8 ppm and your GH = 71.6 ppm? This would equate to about 1.0 dKH and 4.0 dGH. Is this correct?

If so you have very soft water, not unlike my water here in Seattle which is <1.0 dKH and about 2.0 dGH..

Oh, I had come to the conclusion that GH of 71.6 ppm was hard based on this link (which was the top hit for "water hardness scale" in Google: https://www.wqa.org/learn-about-water/perceptible-issues/scale-deposits . Maybe it's different for aquariums?

So what steps you would recommend I take?
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-10-2019, 08:55 PM
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Hi @dorian444,

Although I see signs of insufficient magnesium in several species, most notably the Cryptocorynes, only the plant with the thin leaves in the second picture currently shows signs of insufficient calcium. If it were me, I would add sufficient Seachem Equilibrium to your tank to increase the hardness by 2.0 dGH.

Do an initial dose of one (1) teaspoon per 10 gallons. This will add about 10.6 ppm of calcium (Ca), 3.2 ppm of magnesium (Mg), 30.8 ppm of potassium (K2O), plus some manganese and iron. Thereafter, when you do your weekly water changes add 1 teaspoon of Equilibrium per 10 gallons of new water added to the tank.

Now the most difficult part for me, waiting. Because magnesium is the most prevalent symptom we see, and magnesium is a mobile nutrient, it may take several weeks for improvement to be noticed. Watch the new leaves as they emerge, the margins should have less 'waviness', the new leaves will likely be greener and straighter. More importantly, as these new leaves mature they should not have the "cupped' shape with the margins curled under. Do not watch existing leaves, they will not improve and may actually continue to decline.

Also, I strongly suggest going to a more balanced 'all-in-one' fertilizer if you don't want to learn the Estimative Index (EI) method of dosing dry fertilizers. If your pH remains on the acid side (pH<7.0) I suggest NilocG.com Thrive, dose as recommended and monitor your nitrates (NO3) so the stay at 20 ppm or higher. Questions, just ask! -Roy
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post #11 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-12-2019, 01:14 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you, @Seattle_Aquarist, I'm following your recommendations! So my goal should be to get to about 6.0 dGH? Test KH and GH once a week for now?

I dissolved the Equilibrium in some water from the aquarium before adding it. It didn't all dissolve, though -- is it OK if some of it is powder/small chunks when i pour it in?

And am I correct that when calculating dosing for anything, I should base it on the actual number of gallons of water in the tank, which is typically less than the tank size because substrate, decor, etc take up space?
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post #12 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-12-2019, 03:40 AM
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Hi @dorian444,

Yes, target about 6.0 - 7.0 dGH; testing once a week after dosing and everything has dissolved is good....just be consistent.

The small chunks / pieces typically dissolve in 24 hours or so.

I find that in my planted tanks that the water volume is typically 80% of the tank volume.

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post #13 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-13-2019, 02:29 AM Thread Starter
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OK, thank you @Seattle_Aquarist! Fingers crossed!
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post #14 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-24-2019, 09:08 PM Thread Starter
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Hi @Seattle_Aquarist! It's been a couple weeks and I've implemented your advice, but I think I need to do some tweaking so I thought I'd check in for your wisdom.

There are major changes in my parameters when I tested today:
pH 7.4 to 7.6 (had been stable around 6.6 to 6.8)
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate 40 (had been 10-20)
KH 1
GH 8 (went from 1 before starting with Equilibrium to 7 last week to 8 today).

I'm thinking I'll reduce how much Equilibrium I'd been adding at each water change. I had been adding 1 tsp per 10 gallons. Would you reduce to 1/2 tsp or 3/4 tsp per 10 gallons?

Also, you had said you recommended NilocG.com Thrive if my pH was staying on the acid side. I made the switch, but now my pH isn't acid anymore. Advice? Reduce my dosing? (I'd been putting it in twice a week -- I could cut back quantity or frequency.) Or switch to different ferts?

Thanks in advance!
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post #15 of 20 (permalink) Old 04-24-2019, 11:57 PM
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Hi @dorian444,


Have you seen any difference in plant growth? Could I see a couple of pictures of the plants you showed previously please?

Equilibrium should have no effect on your pH, it contains no carbonates. Have you added any new stones / rocks?

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