My first planted tank, lots of questions - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 01:06 AM Thread Starter
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My first planted tank, lots of questions

Hi, this is my first post here. I am new to aquariums in general and planted aquariums in particular, and am in need of some help to ensure that I set up my first planted tank properly. I think this is going to be a loooong post, apologies in advance for the length :-)

My first tank was a simple 10-gallon with some minnows, and things have gone pretty well with that so I feel I'm ready to set up my next tank. It is a 20-gallon long, which I plan to populate with a variety of low-light plants. For fish, I hope to have cardinal tetras, otos, panda corys, and some shrimp (after the tank cycles of course).

I have been doing a ton of research, but it seems like the more I learn the less I know. If I may, I'd like to lay out my plans here and see if I'm way off track about anything, and/or neglecting any important areas.

The 20-gallon long will have an Aquaclear Power Filter 50 (200 gph), Eco-Complete Substrate, and hooded lighting of 20 watts. I plan to set it up and plant immediately, then do a fishless cycle by adding ammonia and monitoring (I found an excellent post on here with step-by-step instructions of how to do this).

The plants I'm considering are Anubias, Java Fern, Java Moss, and Crypts. My questions:

1) Are those good plant choices for a low-light tank? Are there others that would be good too? I don't plan to use CO2, I want to start out low-tech and low-maintenance.

2) Will the Eco-Complete (and then later the fish) provide all the nutrients the plants need, or do I need to use fertilizer too?

3) How many plants should I get for the tank? I would like it to be pretty heavily planted.

4) I have read that carbon filter material isn't so good for plants (or good in general really), but I am confused about it. Should I not use carbon at all in my filter? It accepts 3 kinds of media -- sponges, carbon, and those little tube things -- so I can mix-and-match media (I think), eliminating the carbon if necessary.

5) When I'm doing the fishless cycling, will the straight ammonia harm the plants? Should I cycle first before adding them, or is it okay to add the plants on the first day and then proceed through the cycling instructions?

6) I have learned that some plants get their nutrients from the substrate, while others get them from the water. Would it be okay for me to plant all of my plants in/on the substrate, or do I need to attach some of them to decorations instead? I do know not to bury any "rhizomes," but would it work to put any rhizomes atop the substrate?

7) As far as decorations, I fear I might have made some poor choices in this regard. I have chosen two decorations that look like roots/branches, but they're not real -- they're some kind of resin material. I ordered them from Drs Foster & Smith. Real driftwood just seemed too complicated for my level (boiling, soaking, etc). Are these fake decorations okay? If I attach plants to them, will the roots grow on them or no, since it's a fake resin material?

8) The stand I got for the tank is a metal (steel) "arch" stand. I have assembled it, and now I'm not so sure about it. It's supposed to be suitable for both 29-gallon and 20-gallon-long tanks; will it really support my tank okay? The top shelf is exactly the dimensions of the aquarium, and the aquarium itself only contacts the stand along its edges (this is the tank design really, it has a black "frame" type thing so that the actual bottom glass is slightly raised from any surface). Not sure I'm making sense, I will post a picture if I can figure out how. I'm just wondering if this stand is totally stable, or not.

I have tons more questions, but I'll save the rest for later because this post is already so long.

Thank you so much to anyone who can help me. I am very new to this, and very excited, and want to do everything properly from the beginning.
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 04:57 AM
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1) watch out for your crypt melting, but yes they are good choices. 2) the nutrients from the fish and substrate should be enough, depending on what your lighting type is. 3) up to you. 4) this is for people who have fast growing plants that eat ALL impurities in the water. If you are wanting low-tech low-maintenance and using the aforementioned plants then you will want the carbon. 5)Plants will dig the ammonia. and the nitrites. and the nitrates. and everything in between. Put them in! 6) as long as the rhizome is uncovered and you check to make sure the anub hasn't grown another one every couple weeks, it can be lightly planted in the substrate. 7)Roots will not grow on these decor, but fear not. You can still attach with waxless dental floss or the like. These are however super hard to clean algae off without the right tools. Eventually you may get to the point where your tank is so full up with plants, you can just take them out without much of a loss. 8) stands that leave aquarium bottoms unsupported are fine. The water disperses the weight along the sides and complete volume of the aquarium. If the seals are fine in the aquarium, your stand should do fine.
Hope this helps!

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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 06:11 AM Thread Starter
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StaleyDaBear, thank you very much! Especially the explanation about the carbon; all the info I'd read about that had been very confusing.

So now I have some new questions lol.

1) Re: number of plants -- I plan to order them online, and am just afraid of grossly under- or over-ordering. Ballpark, how many are good for this size tank -- I was thinking maybe 15 total?

2) Now I am thinking the fake decor is a bad idea for sure. I don't like that nothing will ever actually grow on it (except algae!). How difficult is real driftwood, as far as getting it ready? I've read that it has to be boiled for a few hours, then soaked for days or weeks. How does one boil a very large piece of driftwood, without an enormous pot? Is there an easier way?

3) How scared should I be about snails coming in on the plants I order?

I've been poking around on the forum more, and I've learned that I've not ordered enough substrate. I ordered one 20-lb bag of Eco-Complete, but it sounds like I need two bags for this tank. A 2-inch layer is best, right?

I really want to set everything up properly from the beginning, and I definitely want to avoid having to "undo" poor decisions later. So I'm willing to go as slow as necessary to get things right.

Thank you again for the help.
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 06:56 AM
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1. Fifteen is a vague term. Please break down the amount for each, and which type of Anubias you will be purchasing. Still, as StaleyDaBear stated, this is more of a personal decision since we do not know how you want or plan to have your tank set up.

2. Real driftwood is quite simple to implement. You can find a used piece from another aquarium owner so it may already have lost all of its tannis and may already be soaked enough to sink. If not, then boiling, soaking, etc., is mainly for removing tannis and to sterilize. If you want some REALLY nice looking driftwood, look here:

3. Be very afraid. But seriously, there is nothing wrong with a few pond snails and/or ramshorns; however, you can dip your plants before adding them to your tank to kill any possible snails + eggs. There are a few ways to do this.

Go with two bags of Eco-Complete. Do keep in mind that this substrate is basically inert but has a high CEC (ability to absorb nutrients in the water). Only your Crypt(s) will be taking in nutrients from the substrate and you can always add root tabs.

As for carbon, many of us much prefer Purigen made by a company called Seachem. Purigen only needs to be recharged (easy task and is described in the instructions) every six months, though after each recharge, it lasts a little bit less longer. You can get about five-seven recharges out of it. Besides that, it works similar to carbon (better IMO) and does not remove the nutrients used by plants. On this note, carbon and Purigen will remove tannis from the water while either of those two are active.

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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 09:16 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you, dj2005!

Regarding the plant numbers, I genuinely don't know. I want a pretty heavily planted tank, but I've no idea how big the plants will get over time or how long it will take for them to grow (especially in a low-light setup). These are the specific types I am thinking of now; the numbers of each are basically wild guesses. If anyone has ideas and suggestions, and/or if I am way off-base in these ideas, I welcome the input:

4 - Anubias Nana
4 - Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
3 - Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis acicularis)
3 - Cryptocoryne wendtii
2 - Cryptocoryne spiralis
2 - Hygrophila Angustifolia
1 - Moneywort (Bacopa monnieri)
1 - Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)

Will all of these even work in my setup? Are the numbers reasonable? I want the tank to look fairly lush from the beginning, because I expect growth to be rather slow with my lighting.

As for the driftwood, wow thank you for that link!! Those are some beautiful pieces, and I have also looked at the full gallery on the person's site. I see some stuff there that is exactly what I hope for my tank, and also according to the site it just needs to be rehydrated so it will sink (i.e. doesn't require the boiling/sterilization)? Thank you for pointing me in this direction.

A question about the Purigen: Should I look into incorporating that from the beginning, or should I let the tank cycle first with the regular carbon? It sounds like it would be fine to cycle with it and use it from the get-go. Also, I forgot to mention before, the water conditioner I will be using is Prime (not sure if that matters).

This site is huge, I keep finding more and more info here but feel like I've barely made a dent.

Thanks again for all the help, I appreciate it very much. The amount of information available about all this is overwhelming, and sometimes conflicting (or just plain confusing), so I am very grateful for the specific answers and guidance.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 12:21 PM
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I had a 20 gallon tank with a single 15 watt bulb back in the 'dark' ages. The crypt should do well and I had some sort of apon that grew, went dormant and grew again a couple times before giving up. This was long before anubias and java fern were commonly available. Both plants were lucky finds. Generally amazon swords, vals, anacharis and hornwort were the only plants around and did not survive the low light/nutrient levels of my tank.

You do need fertilizer. If you dosed Excel at low levels and very small amounts of the macros, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium plus the micros the plants ought to do well indefinitely. That or check out the low tech forum for other ways to feed the plants. Wisteria in particular needs potassium to look good. My 15 watt 20 gallon tank had 10 fish, one was an angelfish, the plants never were fertilized and they needed it.

I would take the Bacopa and hairgrass off the list. Wisteria is cheap and worth trying. Not sure about the Angustifolia's survival in low light and it grows very tall for a smaller tank.

Here is a list of many common aquatic plants that might help.

Personally I like snails and have since I was a small child. One was my very first pet! They get to nuisance levels when overfed and prefer algae to eating plants. I suspect they eat dying leaves and without close observation it looks like they are eating healthy plants. I haven't had every sort of snails though, only the small free ramshorn, pond and Malaysian trumpet snails.
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 12:25 PM
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Those plants are all good, however I haven't had much success with either blyxa or hairgrass in my low-tech setup. If it starts looking sickly or dying, take it out and throw it out. The only thing that will help is more light and thus more co2. You cant put purigen in before the tank is cycled and it will not affect your cycle. And this hobby is like punching a brick wall with a baby arm. You're never going to make a dent, but thats the fun!

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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-04-2010, 10:30 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you, Kathyy and StaleyDaBear! I have modified my list based on your suggestions and that very helpful link:

5 - Anubias Nana
3 - Anubias Barteri
4 - Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
4 - Cryptocoryne wendtii
4 - Cryptocoryne spiralis
1 - Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
1 - Hygrophila Angustifolia

That is a total of 22 plants. Is that enough for the tank to look fairly thickly planted from the beginning? I don't have high hopes for the two Hygrophila plants but will give them a try.

It's interesting that you mention Hornwort -- at first I was looking at getting some Hornwort, but changed my mind because I read that it often "falls apart" and makes a huge mess. It sounds like it wouldn't have thrived anyway, so thanks for that additional info.

I will acquire the Excel fertilizer. I assume that since it goes into the water (vs the substrate), it will fertilize ALL the plants, whereas an in-substrate fertilizer would feed only the plants rooted in the substrate (is that right?).

I don't mind having a few snails (sounds like I won't have much choice lol), I'm just envisioning a tank chock-full of snails and definitely don't want that!

I have been looking into driftwood more. It seems like any driftwood I get will have to be soaked for a long time, and possibly boiled too.

I'm still feeling uneasy about the stand, so I took a picture of it to post. It just seems like a little bump could send the tank toppling over, but it is specifically designed for my size tank so I guess it's okay? Here is the picture, does it look like it is solid enough that I don't need to worry about it:

Thanks again for all the help and suggestions, I appreciate it very much.
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-05-2010, 07:52 AM
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The stand will be alot sturdier with the wieght of the tank on it. The wisteria should be fine. I had some of that I couldnt kill if I wanted to it seemed.
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-05-2010, 07:43 PM
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I have found that nearly every snail that rides on the plants are Malysian Trumpet Snails. You see a few here and there, and a night they burst out in a multitude and go to work. these are actually really beneficial so enjoy them
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post #11 of 11 (permalink) Old 06-07-2010, 04:52 AM
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I think that if you're careful, you can keep your tanks snail-free. Whenever I get new plants I leave them in a bucket of tap water for a day or two, sometimes longer, then check them carefully for snails and eggs before planting. Maybe I've just been lucky but I don't have snails in any of my tanks.

You are doing a great job of researching and planning out your tank. Both your plant and fish stock lists look good to me. I hope your Panda Corys do well. They're the only fish I've been unable to keep alive, not sure why. Makes me sad because they're one of my favorite fish. They're so cute!

I'm looking forward to hearing how your tank progresses. Good Luck!
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