substrate to go into tank without removing the water? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-02-2013, 01:08 PM Thread Starter
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substrate to go into tank without removing the water?

I already have an established tank but until today I've not had any live plants. I bought some without understanding their needs and now I want to plant them up properly. All the websites ive looked at say to empty my tank out to put a substrate in but i have fish so this isn't practical. Is there a substrate that i can put into my tank while it still has water in? Not too worried about the state it will make the water as I'm also getting a new filter in a few weeks so I don't mind putting a strain on my current one. Thanks
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-02-2013, 01:15 PM
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-02-2013, 02:10 PM
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I think this process is going to be very stressful for your fish. It's also going to be tough to get the old substrate out without making a huge mess if you don't empty the tank. You may also end up with the tank cycling again. Why not just set a day aside to do it the right way?
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-02-2013, 03:35 PM
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Petco is running a 1.00 gallon sale right now, go get a second temp 10/20g tank. Put some of your current tank water in it. Move the fish over to it and do your substrate change. I have 10 5 gallon buckets from Ace hardware. More than enough to pull my water out and store it while I make changes/adjustments to my tank. It all goes back in, water is cloudy for a few days but clears up.

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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-02-2013, 04:06 PM
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You don't need a real tank to do this. Any large plastic container is fine. I use the bins that are kept in the garage for food storage and wash/bleach them after. Even though I have a 180 gallon tank my fish do just fine in a 40 gallon bin with the spare HOB filter and a heater for several days.

What is your current substrate? Plants can grow in just about any substrate that holds them down but look better if the particles aren't too large. You can put plant tabs in plain gravel or sand to enrich it for heavy rooters if you like. Plant specific substrates are oversold, get it if you prefer the look with your plants but it isn't necessary.

Mostly you need an appropriate amount of light that is regulated with a timer and some plant food. If the tank is low light then using the usual bottle that contains iron and potassium is sufficient.

Have you seen this link? May have some helpful pointers.

If you decide to change the substrate then remove fish to the chosen temporary tank along with tank water, the filter and the heater and any decorations. Empty the tank completely but leave in the mulm that collected at the bottom. Put in your new substrate with any fertilizer and the hardscape. Plant. Gently fill part way with dechlorinated water. Water looks horrible, right? Now drain that water out down to below the substrate by digging a little hole at one corner. You just rinsed the substrate surface but are preserving some of the valuable mulm below the surface. Now do your final fill by completely covering the tank with bubble wrap or stuffing with newspaper or plain paper and filling very slowly until half full. Very careful remove the paper/plastic and finish filling the tank.

I'd wait to make the change until you get the new filter so you have time to decide and study up on exactly what you want to do and how to accomplish it all. Remember to run both filters on the tank for a while so the new one gets well seeded. Just get the timer on the lights and plant food in the tank for now.

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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-02-2013, 04:10 PM
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-03-2013, 05:05 AM
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Much better to remove the fish and do it right.
However, if you cannot, there is a way to do this. It takes time.

1) Deep vacuum the best you can with every water change throughout this procedure. Do a couple of extra vacuums in the week before you start.

2) Make sure the new material is really well rinsed. Rinse water should be just about perfectly clear.

3) Scoop out some existing substrate. The cleaner it is (especially deep down) the less crud will get into the water.

4) Scoop the new material into a container like a tupperware storage, perhaps 1 pint to 1 quart size. Lower the container into the tank slowly so the tank water can fill the container with the substrate. Lower the container as close as you can to the bottom of the tank and dump the substrate. You might only do 2-4 containers at a time.

5) Rinse the filter media in water removed from the tank for a water change and reuse. If you can add a bit of fine floss (polyester quilt batting or equal) this will help remove particles.

Here is why:
There is a lot of beneficial bacteria living on the current substrate. When you remove that gravel you are removing bacteria. Then more bacteria needs to reproduce and there may be small spikes of ammonia or nitrite until the bacteria population catches up.
Also, no matter how well you vacuumed, the removal may cloud the tank. The mulm that is stirred up can trigger an ammonia spike, just when you are removing the very bacteria that deal with ammonia.
Also, no matter how well you rinsed the new material some fines remain and will cloud the water. Then the fish must breath this soup. Very irritating to the gills.

So, for all these reasons I would do no more than about 25% of the tank in one go, and smaller % is better.
Then monitor the tank for ammonia and nitrite, be prepared to do water changes. Make sure the conditions have stabilized, the bacteria population back up to the proper levels before doing the next change.


Do it all in one day, and add Nitrospira bottled bacteria to replace the bacteria you are removing with the old substrate. Read the label and do not waste money on anything else.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 07-06-2013, 01:38 AM
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I can't remember who it was, but someone used to post a youtube link where someone used a soda/water bottle to add substrate.

Their main concern was avoiding cloudiness, but it looked like it would work well enough for adding substrate to a currently set up tank.

Here's a similar vid I found, showing the same concept:

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