Problems with plants....... - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 05:20 AM Thread Starter
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Problems with plants.......

Hi Everyone,


I'm not new to the aquarium hobby but I am getting back into it after a long time away (25+ years).

In the past I've had 55g tanks and the fish & plants did outstanding. Now because of the available room I only have one small tank, a std. 15g. w/ hood & flourescent light.

The Fish, bought them about 8-9 weeks ago:

6 Neon Tetras
3 Celestial Pearl Danios -aka CPD's

Future additions:

12 to 18 Red Cherry Shrimp
2 Otocinclus
3 more CPD's
Replace some of the plants

Here's my tank specs:

Substrate: Eco-complete 2"-2 1/2" front 3 1/2" to 4" in rear
Filtration: Aqua Clear #30 150gph max w/additional sponge on intake to keep small critters out of the filter.
Lighting: 1-15w 18" flourescent tube (other info unknown)
Heating: Visi-therm 100w submersible
Temperature: 78-79 degrees "F"
Co2 System: none
Fertilizer: none

Water specs using API Freshwater Kit + GH/KH kit

Ammonia 0 ppm
Nitrites 0 ppm
Nitrates 0 ppm
pH 7.4-7.6
GH 107.4 ppm
KH 89.5 ppm

Plants:

Java Fern
Cryptocoryne spiralis (or a variation of it)
Corkscrew Vallisneria
Cabomba,green
Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria Subulata)
Egeria


So far the Java Fern is doing ok (growing on cypress driftwood) as is the Crypto.Sp, however, I have lost almost all of the Vallisneria, 2/3rds of the Cabomba, about half of the Sagittaria, and most of the Egeria.

At first the Vals started with yellowing leaves after being planted about a month. Then the Egeria started followed by the Cabomba.

The light is on about 8-10 hours per day with 25% declorinated water change weekly.

I would use fertilizer but I don't know which to use. In the past I always had excellent results.

Is it possible that the plants have used up the available nutrients & minerals in the tank? I'm open to any suggestions,ideas, or solutions to this problem.

Regarding fertilizers, I wouldn't mind using them if I knew what the tank needed. There are so many products to choose from its a little confusing!

One last thing, does the "water softener pillow" work or is it a waste of money?



Thanks,

Martin
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post #2 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 06:41 AM
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Hi Martin. ^_^

If your test results are correct in that you have 0 Nitrates, then yes it may be time for some ferts.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin_G View Post
I would use fertilizer but I don't know which to use. In the past I always had excellent results.
For a little more cost than buying a commercial liquid fertilizer (like the full set of SeaChem products, or Tropica Plant Nutrition+), you can buy 1lb bags of all the dry chemical ferts you will need, and they will last you a very long time (I share the extra with friends). Aside from being economical, dry ferts are more versatile since you dose them directly to tank with small measuring spoons, mix your own liquids, or make your own root tabs. Some places you can buy dry ferts from include: aquariumfertilizer.com, greenleafaquariums.com, and bobstropicalplants.com just to name a few.

For a small low-tech tank like yours, you can try dosing EI once per week or two (or as necessary to obtain the desired levels)
~ 1/8 tsp KNO3 (N) - NO3 range 10-30 ppm
~ 1/32 tsp (2ml) Trace - Fe 0.2-0.5ppm or higher
~ 1/32 tsp K2SO4 (K) - K+ range 10-30 ppm
~ 1/32 tsp KH2PO4 (P) (On a different day than the trace) - PO4 range 1.0-2.0 ppm
If you have soft water you can also use GH Booster, but if you have hard water you may not need it.
More detailed thread on EI dosing.

Or you can try the dosing outlined in this thread which uses a mix of dry ferts & a SeaChem product, and is specifically geared towards low-tech/non CO2 tanks.
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post #3 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 07:16 AM Thread Starter
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Hi AP,

About 5 days ago I had an identical reading of 0 ppm of Nitrates and the GH/KH reading was higher 5 days ago too. Its a little bit lower now but the readings indicate that I still have moderately hard water.

Almost two weeks ago the Nitrates were between 20-30 ppm. Since I'm planning on getting Red Cherry shrimp I can't have over 10 ppm of Nitrates.

The plants dying out started about three weeks ago but I don't know what the readings were since I recently bought both kits.

I wonder if my lighting isn't at least partially responsible since the lighting is at the 1 watt per gallon.

Here is a company I found online. They have different lighting kits .

http://www.ahsupply.com/36-55w.htm

My goal is to have part of the tank planted moderately heavy so the critters have a place to hide if needed, especially the shrimp.

I might do exactly what you have done for ferts later on, but what can I do right now in the interim to help reverse whats happening before I lose them all?

Although most plants aren't terribly expensive they aren't free either! LOL!


Thanks,

Martin
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post #4 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 08:05 AM
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There are people here who dose EI and have healthy shrimp, but if you're really worried you could always try smaller doses at a time (adjusting to more frequent dosing if necessary). Plants do need Nitrate to grow, and Eco-Complete does not supply it. If your fish aren't supplying enough the plants will suffer.

As for the light, unless you want to go with pressurized CO2 I'd advise against the AH supply CFL's. Check out: https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/li...t5-t12-pc.html If you really want to upgrade, a fixture with two T8/T5's, or a single CFL (of lower quality than AH Supply), raised above the tank may do the trick. Before you go buying a new light though I'd suggest checking out: https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/lo...-tell-low.html , and see what kind of lighting people are using on their tanks of similar size. See? No reason to burn twice the power. ~_^
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post #5 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 02:03 PM
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i'd stay away from the water softener pillow, i've heard bad things, and it's easier/cheaper to buy RO water if you have to. I get mine from my local grocery store.

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post #6 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 03:34 PM
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Your lighting sounds a little low to me or maybe it's just old because as I understand it this combo was working for you in the past. AH supply is great but be careful because if you add too much light things start to change, rapid growth, algae, etc. With no C02 and old substrate maybe some root tabs would help, it sounds like you may have run out of nutirents and micros like K and Fe can be in short supply if leaves start to yellow are getting holes, etc. Here are some articles worth reading on low light and non C02 methods: http://www.barrreport.com/showthread...on-CO2-methods and http://www.barrreport.com/showthread...-learn-it-well

BTW EI dosing is for heavily planted tanks with CO2 and medium to high light and folks looking for rapid growth, it a tank with low light and no C02 there is slow growth and no need to have a lot of nutrients available, your looking for weekly dosing, root ferts, or a nutrient rich substrate like ADA AquaSoil.

Aquarium Pharm makes a cheap little filter that works well on small tanks and if your water is really hard it might last a year before you have to change the cartridge on a 15 gallon tank, look here; http://www.thatpetplace.com/pet/group/11278/product.web


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post #7 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 06:24 PM
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Hey Martin, I just looked up your thread, and I'll answer your questions here.

Yes, your lighting is low side, but if you stick with "low light" plants you should be fine. If you do decide to upgrade your lighting, you'll also need to add CO2 to your tank and put together a regular fert dosing regimen. You may need to dose ferts now, but if so, not in the same amounts you'd need if you up your lighting.

If you can post up some pics of your tank I think that may help. (There's several different ways to upload pics, I personally use an account from www.photobucket.com and then link the pictures over as the forum has a storage limitation otherwise.)

My own low tech 10gal that you asked me about has just a standard 15 watt T8 bulb (I think it's an 8000k) and Flourite substrate. The tank isn't up and running ATM, but it did very well with low light plants like crypts, java ferns, mosses, Rotala rotundifolia, and hygros. I've never done well with plants like Cabomba or Egeria in my tanks, though- I personally consider those "medium light" plants, though others have had more success with them in low light setups than I have.

If your rosette plants (crypts, Sagittaria) are not doing well, I'd recommend trying some root tab fertilizers. I agree with everyone else that it sounds like the nutrients are bottomed out in this tank, and that's probably at least part of the reason the plants are no longer doing well.

I'd also recommend replacing a T8 bulb at least yearly, so that may be part of the problem.





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post #8 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-11-2011, 07:45 PM Thread Starter
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Would anything made by Seachem such as "Flourish" be worth getting?

And with root tabs....is there a specific brand I should use, OR is there a brand thats proven to work that you or other members are familiar with?

How much can I up my lighting to where I can have medium light plants? IMO 1 watt per gallon is rather anemic! I'll check out DIY Co2 system too so I'll know about it should I need it.

My first preference would be to use a flourescent tube since I already have the fixture.

If I need CFL's where should I go for "fixture parts" such as sockets?


I'll try to get pics up by this evening.



Thanks to everyone for their suggestions,ideas & links! I found the other Planted Tank info suggested by AP to be most helpful so far! I have not had a chance to check out the other links yet but I will before the day is over with!

Regarding my substrate Eco-complete, its less than 4 months old. There's right around 30 to 35 lbs. in the tank as we speak.
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post #9 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-12-2011, 02:33 AM Thread Starter
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Here's the pics I promised...

The first two pics were taken just before fish were added in late April and this was the first batch of plants. Pics 3,4, & 5 were taken this evening after I've lost a number of plants, mostly Corkscrew Vals, 2/3rds of the (green)Cabomba, and alost all of the Egeria.

The Jave Fern started turning colors (most likely algae) about 4 days ago. Substrate depth is about 2.5" in front and up to 3.5" to 4" in back.

When the tank had all of the plants in it, the filter & heater were hidden from view but had room around them to be able to function. Also, pics 1 & 2 show low water. I did this while I was arranging the tank, then filled it to the top.


Thanks,

Martin
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post #10 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-12-2011, 04:12 AM
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Looks to me like the major issue here is brown (diatomacious) algae. A Nerite snail might be a good investment, or a small school (3-4) Otocinclus catfish if you're sure the water parameters are stable (they can be sensitive).

Seachem makes some decent root tabs.





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post #11 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-12-2011, 04:27 AM
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After looking at your photos I would first suggest making doubly sure that your Nitrate results are accurate. Hobby grade tests are not always very accurate, especially Nitrate tests, and even more so without calibration to compare to. While you don't have a significant bioload at the moment, I'm not sure that your current number of plants and in their current condition would consume all excess nitrogenous waste. Granted, since you do have experience in the hobby, you may not be over-feeding your fish. ~_^

It does appear that you have some brown (diatom) algae, which are very normal in a new tank setup. In theory this algae may be triggered by immeasurably small spikes of NH4. Many new tanks go through some algae phase however, so don't be too bummed out by it. You can try gently removing it from some of the plants with hardier leaves, and remove sickly leaves (if possible) as dying leaves won't really do the plant much good anyway. ETA: Also +1 vote to the suggest for nerites. They can't successfully reproduce in freshwater (although they may lay unsightly eggs on your driftwood), and they are good at cleaning diatoms off hard surfaces.

The Seachem Flourish line of products are fine, especially if you are more comfortable with liquid dosing. I have used their liquid Iron supplement, Excel, and several other products by Seachem, and never had a reason for complaint. As far as root tabs go, there are people here who make good NPK + trace root tabs like OverStocked (RootMedic tabs), and pfertz, but you can go with Seachem products there too if you prefer to buy local (Note however that Seachem Root Tabs have a much lower percentage of N,P,K than the above)

Finding the "just right" amount of lighting without expensive meters can seem a little daunting. Going overboard = algea, but the good news is that as long as you don't go too far overboard there are ways to reduce the amount going into your tank. Raising the fixture off of the tank, using a bit of window screen, tinting the cover, etc are all methods you can employ. Furthermore choosing the right lighting period helps.

Unfortunately I'm not enough of a DIYer to give you good advice on modifying your current hood. You may want to ask some people in the DIY sub-forum for tips and advice.

ETA: Your substrate shouldn't be used up at four months, so I doubt that is the is the issue. As for DIY CO2, done well it can make an improvement, even expand the number of plants that will thrive in a low to moderate lit tank, but it can be inconsistent, and a bit of a hassle. There are several different methods that people can employ to get a really great looking planted tank, and you have to find the right one for you. I love lauraleellbp's tanks, but the "el natural" method doesn't work great for me, so I go with non-CO2 EI dosing instead. Same thing for plants too, you just have to figure out what works best.

Last edited by Aphotic Phoenix; 07-12-2011 at 04:50 AM. Reason: Additional Info
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post #12 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-12-2011, 05:28 AM Thread Starter
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Hi AP,


I'm using the API Freshwater Master Kit and the other API kit for GH & KH . The Master Kit has 4 glass test tubes, chemicals for testing the Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, High pH, and Low pH ppm levels.

It comes with detailed directions and a white plastic card with different colors w/ ppm numbers for all of the tests. This kit is one step below their "Professional Kit" which will also test Saltwater aquariums.

Since I don't have a saltwater tank I couldn't see spending an extra $40.00 just to have a kit I'll never use.

The GH & KH "hardness test kit" comes with 2 glass test tubes, and detailed instructions.

I've tested twice in 5 days and I got the exact test results for the Ammonia,Nitrite, & Nitrates which was "0 ppm" . There was a slight difference in the pH level (dropped slightly on 2nd test) and it dropped slightly on the GH & KH.

About 2 to 2 1/2 weeks ago the Nitrates were in the high 20's to low 30's ppm. Ammonia & Nitrites were both 0 ppm.

I refuse to use paper strips for testing. IMO they can be very inaccurate and are a waste of money.

With the plants, I've kept up with pruning dead or dying leaves and removing dead roots.

When feeding the fish,they're fed a "pinch" of food once a day. This is roughly equal to what they can eat in 3 to 5 minutes.

I'm not very bummed out over the algae, but the plants dying is another matter, especially when they appeared to be doing OK in the beginning. The tanks that I had years ago needed to be pruned weekly because the plants went nuts! Everything I put in the tanks grew fantastic! This took place with "zero" water changes, no test kits, and vacuuming the sand once a month (average about 3-4 weeks) or when needed.

And now with the plants I feel like my "green" thumb has been cursed!


HTH,

Marty
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post #13 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-12-2011, 05:58 AM
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API tests are fine, but please understand that these tests are not perfect. Snippet from a person working for API:
"Liquid Nitrate Test Kits from any manufacturer can have a common problem
with their last test solution. For some companies, it is bottle number
3, but for us it is bottle number 2. One of the ingredients wants to
solidify out of liquid solution. If the test bottle sits for any period
of time, this can happen. If this does happen and the test is performed
without Bottle # 2 mixed properly, then you can get a falsely low
reading. I would try tapping your Bottle # 2 a few times on a table or counter
top. This should loosen-up anything that has solidified. Then I would
shake this bottle for about 2-3 minutes, to really mix it up. Try the
test again and hopefully this will fix your problem. With regular weekly
usage, this bottle should only need to be shaken for 30-60 seconds."

Logically, if the plants were not doing well before the drop in nitrate reading, does it seem more likely that they would be the cause of your nitrates going from 20-40 to 0 in a two week period, or your test solution separating?

So lets focus more on some of the variables that could be effecting your plants by comparing what is different from your previous set-ups and the new.
- What size was your old tank? (Height matters most in this regard in comparison to lighting)
- What kind of lighting did you have on your previous set-ups?
- Are you using the same kinds of plants or different ones?
- Are you living in a new area with different water?
- Are you treating the substrate differently? (In regards to cleaning it)
- How does your stocking level compare to your previous tank?
Plus anything else you can think of.
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post #14 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-12-2011, 06:35 AM Thread Starter
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Hi AP,



- What size was your old tank? (Height matters most in this regard in comparison to lighting)

My old tanks were primarily two standard 55 gallon tanks. I don't recall the dimensons as this was easily 25 + years ago. I had two smaller tanks set up for quarantine (new fish) and second was for sick fish. one was a 10g & a 20 g with filters & no plants. The 55's had plants.

- What kind of lighting did you have on your previous set-ups?

First I used incandescent then went to twin 48" tube flourescent.

- Are you using the same kinds of plants or different ones?

Some are the same like Corkscrew Vals & Egeria, some are different.

- Are you living in a new area with different water?

I live about 5-6 miles away from where I had the 55g's.

- Are you treating the substrate differently? (In regards to cleaning it)

In the past I used medium to fine grain sand sold by an LFS back then. Now I used Eco-complete for the 1st time.

- How does your stocking level compare to your previous tank?

By comparison I had many more fish overall per tank plus they were larger. Filtration in both 55's was provided by two Metaframe Dyna-Flo filters using floss & carbon

I'll recheck the Nitrates again later today. Before using I shook up some of the bottles but I don't remember doing it for the Nitrate test. This time I'll make sure I do it.

The test results did seem kind of strange at first but after I got the same reading 4-5 days later I didn't think anymore on it.


HTH,

Marty
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post #15 of 22 (permalink) Old 07-13-2011, 06:27 AM
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Well a standard 15 gallon is ~13 inches tall, while a standard 55 is ~21 inches. If your 55's had a single 2x tube fixture on them, your previous tanks had less light than your current tank does now. If they had two 2x bulb fixtures, then your 55's had a little more light than your current tank. Mind you these are rough guesstimates since different fixtures and bulbs produce more PAR than others.

We've established that nutrients may not be the issue.

So we can move on to CO2, which might be an issue due to two variables:
1. Organics allowed to decay in the substrate can produce usable CO2 for plants. In NPT systems the soil can come preloaded with some of these organics present, but EcoComplete would not. The question here is of course if lack of CO2 from this source can make a significant difference in this instance, and decaying organics can become problematic if in excess.
2. Fluctuations in CO2 levels due to waterchanges may be the culprit in this instance since tap water can have much higher levels of CO2 than typical tank water. Plants use an enzyme called RuBisCO to for CO2 transportation, but this enzyme is complicated and taxing to produce, so the plant tries to only produce as much as necessary. Unfortunately this "calibration" is not a quick process, so when the levels of CO2 fluctuate, plants may waste resources and energy trying to catch up, which is one of the reasons why waterchanges are discouraged in low-light aquariums. Before you stop doing waterchanges however, it's really important that you have a significant enough mass of plants. NPT's for example are suggested to have no more than 25% of the substrate visible from a top-down view. You have to plant heavy from the beginning, not wait for stuff to fill in.

As a final note, while it is possible for water sources to vary between towns 5-6 miles apart from each other, and or they've switched water sources & water treatment, but seems somewhat unlikely. BTW, do you live in an apartment complex or township that might do some water softening? It seems unlikely, but have seen a few cases on forums where people rack their brains trying to figure out why plants won't grow, and it turns out the person in question has a water softening system. XD
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