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post #1 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 06:06 PM Thread Starter
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Guide to the Planted Aquarium

Guide to the Planted Aquarium, Part I
Phil Edwards, MS

[Author's Note:]This guide was written in response to seeing numerous comments lamenting the lack of a comprehensive "good" and up-to-date guide to planted aquaria. After reading this some folks pointed out that it's probably not so great for beginners so the Beginner's part was taken out. This is now just a Guide to the Planted Aquarium intended for hobbyists of all levels. Some points for beginners will be left in though. I still hope many beginners will get a lot out of the various parts and find clarity where some of us "old folks" had to search through card catalogs and microfiche.

It will be written in numerous parts with Part I being a listing of terms, their definitions, and a brief overview of general planted aquarium concepts and hardware. More detailed discussions of specific topics mentioned here will be posted in the appropriate sub-forum with links included here as they get written. This document is intended as a reference and not something to be digested in one sitting.

The first three sections are definition heavy. If you're looking for something a bit more readable which explains concepts, start with Section IV. Remember, there will be a test.

This is an original work by the author and may not be used in part or in whole, linked to, or otherwise transmitted without written permission of the author and proper reference/citation. (Take a second and ask, I'll likely say yes. I just like to know where my stuff is being used -Phil).

Part II, Nutrients and Nutrient Supplementation-

Part I, Section I - Technical Terms, Acronyms, and Their Definitions

Section I addresses scientific/technical and general aquatic chemistry related terms commonly or semi-frequently used (and misused) in the hobby. It is not expected that every aquarist, particularly beginners, use or understand all terms listed below. Many of the terms listed are of an advanced nature used in discussion of specific aspects of planted aquarium keeping and are included for completeness. Where possible, the technical definition will be put first with common-use definitions or explanations following. Rather than listing terms alphabetically, terms are grouped by general concept to make relating those concepts and terms easier.

pH- The negative log of the power of Hydrogen protons (Hydronium ions) in a solution. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 where 7 is neutral. Lower than 7 is acidic and higher than 7 is basic. In general terms pH describes the acidity or basicity of water. Alkaline is commonly used to in the aquarium hobby to refer to water with a pH greater than 7 but is something of a misnomer, see Alkalinity below.

KH- Carbonate Hardness. Measured on a degree scale (dKH), KH quantifies the concentration of Carbonate (CO32-) and bicarbonate (HCO3-) in a solution.

Buffering Capacity- The ability for a solution to resist acidification. This is commonly used interchangeably with KH and Alkalinity. It's more of a qualitative rather than quantitative term.

pH/KH/CO2 relationship- The relationship between KH, pH, and the amount of CO2 in solution. Addition of CO2 to water creates carbonic acid (H2CO3) which acidifies the water. Comparing pH with KH allows for calculation of CO2 concentration in solution. The relationship is only valid when no material or compounds which reduce pH are present.

- General Hardness. Typically measured on a degree scale (dGH) of calcium (Ca2+) and Magnesium (Mg2+) in water. Can also be measured in ppm.

Alkalinity- The total capacity for a solution to neutralize an acid (resist acidification). Total Alkalinity (actual Alkalinity) is comprised of all basic ions in the water; carbonate, bicarbonate, phosphate, Sulfate, etc. Carbonate (CO32-) and bicarbonate (HCO3-) are typically at much higher concentration than the other ions in solution so Alkalinity is commonly used to refer to KH.

ppm- Parts-Per-Million; the concentration of one part of the solute being measured in one million parts solvent relative to the amount of solute. Typically used to measure concentration of plant nutrients. Commonly used interchangeably with mg/L. 1 milliliter is one one-millionth of a liter as is 1 milligram one one-millionth of a kilogram. 1 milliliter of water has a mass of 1 milligram and so 1 liter of water has an equivalent mass of 1 kilogram, allowing mg/L measurements.

mg/L- Milligrams-per-Liter. This is a common means of quantifying the concentration of a solid solute in a liquid solvent. For every liter of solvent (water) there are XYZ milligrams solute. Typically used to refer to the amount of plant nutrients in the aquarium.

meq/L- Milliequivalents-per-Liter. Another means of quantifying the concentration of a solute in solution. The meq refers to the past use of the term Equivalent multiplied by 0.001 to make numbers easier to work with since Equivalents as a measure can be large numbers.

Qualitative- A subjective comparison. “I like cake more than pie.”

Quantitative/Quantifiable- A measurable amount or comparison that can be described numerically. “I added 20 ppm nitrate to my 80 gallon tank.”

Solvent- Any material which will dissolve certain solutes. In aquariums this is typically water.

Solute- Any material which will dissolve in certain solvents. In aquarium these are typically CO2 and fertilizers.

Solution- The mixture of a solvent and a solute or solutes. Commonly used to describe the amount of a chemical in water. For example “I made a fertilizer solution” or “the amount of XYZ in solution”.

Element- A naturally occurring or man-made material in its pure (non-ionic) form. Calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are all elements.

Molecule- An electrically neutral combination of two or more atoms held together by electrical/covalent bonds (shared electrons). Sodium Chloride (NaCl) is a molecule.

(Chemical) Compound- A material consisting of two or more atoms held together by various types of chemical bonds. Pure water (H2O) and Glucose (C6H12O6) are compounds.

Ion- An atom or compound with a positive or negative electrical charge. Elements are frequently found in ionic form in solution such as ionic Iron (Fe2+) and ionic Calcium (Ca2+).

Cation- An ion with a positive electrical charge, ie Ca2+

Anion- An ion with a negative electrical charge, ie phosphate (PO43-).

Salt- For the purposes of this document a salt is defined as the combination of two or more ions, typically one or more cations and an anion, into a stable molecule. Magnesium Chloride (MgCl2) and potassium nitrate (KNO3) are salts.

Carbohydrate- An organic compound consisting of various combinations of C, H, and O. Plants use carbohydrates as an energy source as well as structural materials. Glucose and starches are examples of energy source carbohydrates and cellulose and lignin are structural carbohydrates.

ATP- Adenosine Triphosphate. Molecule used as the source of energy for aerobic metabolism.

NADPH- Nicotinimide Adenine Dinucleotide Phosphate. Used as the reducing agent in the dark cycle of plants to fix carbon and form glucose. Also used in the reduction of nitrate into ammonia.

Mole (mol)- 6.022 x 1023 (6,022 with 20 zeroes following it) units of a quantifiable item. A mole of humans would be 6.022 x 1023 people. Relates to aquariums via PAR/PPFD.

Biochemical- Chemical processes which occur in all living things. Photosynthesis is a biochemical reaction.

Geochemical- Chemical processes which occur in or on the earth and do not include biochemical reactions. Ground water dissolving the rock it flows through is a geochemical process.

Biogeochemical – The combination of biological and geological processes in which both living and non living things play a part. The global carbon cycle is a biogeochemical process.

Oxidation- The scientific term for a chemical losing an electron.

Reduction- The scientific term for a chemical gaining an electron.

Aerobic- Metabolic processes in which oxygen is used to oxidize substances. Typically used in aquatics to refer to an environment with sufficient oxygen to meet the metabolic needs of the organisms within.

Anaerobic- Metabolic processes which proceed without oxygen. Typically used in aquatics to refer to an environment lacking in, or devoid of, oxygen.

Oxic- The scientific term used to describe environments which have enough oxygen to support aerobic metabolism.

Hypoxic- The scientific term used to describe environments with low levels of oxygen.

Anoxic- The scientific term used to describe environments devoid of oxygen.

TDS- Total Dissolved Solids. The quantification of all dissolved organic or inorganic solutes in a solution. Solid particles small enough to pass through a filter with a 2 micron pore size are usually included in TDS. Typically measured by specific conductivity in units of S/cm (microSiemens per centimeter).

Inorganic- Typically defined as chemical compounds that lack Carbon or certain types of carbon bonds. Common examples are nitrate, phosphate, Sulfate, etc. However, carbonate and bicarbonate are considered inorganic as they are produced naturally through geochemical reactions.

Organic- Typically defined as chemical compounds containing carbon and/or chains of carbon. Glucose, chlorophyll, proteins, oils/fats, and humic/tannic acids are organic compounds.

Substrate- Strictly, any surface that living things can grow on. In aquariums substrate typically refers to the solid material(s) on the bottom of the tank into which plants are inserted.

Labile- Easily accessed and/or broken down. Typically used to refer to organic compounds such as proteins, oils/fats, and acids. Humic and tannic acids that leech from new wood are labile.

- Not easily accessed and/or broken down. Typically refers to organic material or an inorganic matrix which is left over after labile materials have been mineralized or dissolved. The gas which accumulates in CO2 reactors is called recalcitrant gas.

Mineralize- The breakdown of labile organic materials in soil into forms which are available to plants. In the aquarium hobby this generally refers to the saturate-dry-saturate-dry cycle of preparing soil as a substrate amendment. It also refers to the breakdown of organic particles in the aquarium and filter, though it is not commonly used in this context.

Absorption- The acquisition and incorporation of dissolved materials into an organism. Plants absorb dissolved nutrients.

Adsorption- The process of dissolved materials attaching to the surface of a an electrically charged particle. Dissolved organic compounds adsorb onto activated carbon.

CEC- Cation Exchange Capacity. The number of exchangable cations per dry weight that a soil is capable of holding at a specific pH value and are available for exchange with an aqueous solution. In aquariums this is commonly used to refer to the substrate rather than soil as used for terrestrial horticulture. CEC is a generally unnecessary property in aquariums as water isn't draining through the substrate and leaving the system as in terrestrial horticulture. As a substrate property, a high CEC is useful when mineralizing soil as it helps to retain Ca, Mg, and K during the mineralization process.

“Organics”- A colloquial catch-all term for the conglomeration of all dissolved and particulate organic materials in an aquarium. It doesn't differentiate between types of compounds/materials and has no practical means of measure, whether qualitative or quantitative. Typically used as “Your organics are high” when certain algae start growing or water clarity is reduced.

DOC- Dissolved Organic Carbon/Compound. The total amount of organic compounds dissolved in a solution. Typically measured in ppm. DOC is the result of the physio-chemical breakdown of physical material containing organic material (food and feces) or excretion of organic compounds (phytochemicals, etc)

Phytochemical- Chemicals produced and exuded by plants. Typically organic compounds such as acids or poisons. Nicotine is a phytochemical.

POC- Particulate Organic Carbon/Compound. A solid and undissolved organic material. Feces, uneaten food, and dead leaves are examples of POC.

BOD- Biological Oxygen Demand. The total amount of dissolved oxygen required for aerobic organisms to break down organic materials in a given amount of time. Quantified in terms of milligrams of oxygen consumed per liter over a given period of time.

This has commonly been referred to as “aerobic” in the aquarium hobby and is the reason people use aerators to increase oxygen concentration in their tanks. If BOD exceeds available dissolved oxygen then the system will become hypoxic and eventually, anoxic. BOD is primarily important in planted aquaria with soil amended substrates aka “Walstad Method” or “MTS”. BOD in soil amended substrates effects biogeochemical reactions which determine the oxidation state and availability of certain plant nutrients.

COD- Chemical Oxygen Demand. The total amount of dissolved oxygen required in chemical oxidation reactions. This is usually used in association with organic material which is assumed to be able to be oxidized into CO2. It is typically measured in mg/L, where mg is the amount of oxygen consumed per liter of water. Along with BOD, COD in soil amended substrates effects biogeochemical reactions which determine the oxidization state and availability of certain plant nutrients.

ORP- Oxidation-Reduction Potential. A measure of the tendency of chemicals to gain electrons and, as such, be reduced. In aquariums ORP is commonly used as a proxy for the concentration of oxygen in the water.

Redox Potential- See ORP. Measured in Volts of milliVolts on a negative scale with zero (0) being low and very negative being high. As aquatic soils and aquarium substrates become increasingly anoxic, elements in the substrate are more likely to be reduced.

Reduction-Oxidation (Redox) Reaction- The chemical reaction in which one chemical loses an electron to another chemical. The donor is oxidized and the receiver is reduced.

Photoperiod- The amount of time light illuminates plants for the purposes of photosynthesis. “I have an 8 hour photoperiod.” would mean the aquarist has his or her lights on for eight hours.

PAR- Photosynthetically Active Radiation. A measure of the amount of light energy available for photosynthesis measured in Watts-per-square-meter (W/m2).

Photosynthetic Photon Flux Density (PPFD)- In recent years quantifying the number of photons in the 400-700 m range (spectrum of light used in photosynthesis) colliding with a known area over a given time, PPFD, has been used. Typical PAR meters used by hobbyists these days measure PPFD rather than the original W/ m2 PAR measurement. PPFD is quantified in moles or micromoles of photons per square meter per second ()mol/m2/sec.

CRI- Color Rendition Index. Strictly, CRI is the ability of a light source to accurately reveal the colors of an object in relation to an ideal or natural light source on a continuum with 100 being perfect color rendition. CRI is commonly misused when referring to color temperature.

Color Temperature- A means of describing the appearance of light using a Kelvin scale ranging from 1,000 to 10,000. The lower the rating the more red “warm” the light appears. The higher the rating the more blue “cool” the light appears. Natural sunlight has a Kelvin rating of 6500 to 6700 accounting for variance in angle of illumination relative to the point of measurement.

Emersed/Emergent [Growth]- A means of growing aquatic plants above water hydroponically or in saturated soil to capitalize on the high concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is an industry standard for suppliers of aquatic plant nurseries. It is commonly used by hobbyists as a low-cost method of maintaining plant collections or get plants to flower for identification.

Submersed/Submergent [Growth]- The form of an aquatic plant when grown underwater. Also used to generally describe populations of aquatic plants, aka “Submersed Aquatic Vegetation.

Stomata (plural)- Openings in leaves through which gas exchange occurs.

Obligate- Requiring a set of conditions to live. Vallisneria obligate aquatic plants.

Facultative- Able to live under multiple conditions. The majority of aquarium plants are facultative in that they can grow above and below water and generally require emergent growth for some portion of their life cycle; typically for reproduction.

PMDD- “Poor Man's Dupla Drops”. A formula developed in the mid-90s by Paul Sears and Kevin Conlin for making a nutrient solution similar to the original, and expensive, Dupla Drops sold by the German company of the same name. The original intent of Sears and Conlin's research was to develop a method of fertilizing plants while limiting P in the system, as it was commonly thought that P was a major contributor to the proliferation of algae at the time.

PPS and PPS Pro- Perpetual Preservation System. A system of nutrient supplementation developed by a hobbyist named Edward designed to maintain certain concentrations of plant nutrients in the aquarium based on an aquarium's unique needs. As described, the method requires regular testing to determine system-specific consumption rates do then come up with a regular dosing regimen. The original PPS was intended to be used in aquariums which receive no to few water changes. PPS-Pro was later developed to reduce or do away with the need for regular testing.

EI- Estimative Index. Described by Tom Barr, EI is a method of nutrient supplementation based on the use of dry inorganic nutrient salts and/or liquid solutions. The concept behind EI is providing all plant nutrients in excess of their needs to prevent nutrient limitation and thereby maximize plant growth. Rather than determining system-specific dosing like PPS, the EI method uses general amounts of each nutrient based on ranges of tank volume to determine dosing amounts. For example, adding 1 teaspoon of KNO3 to a 75 to 90 gallon system to achieve an estimated concentration of NO3-.
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post #2 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 06:18 PM Thread Starter
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Part I, Section II -Plant and Algae Specific Terms and Shorthand References

Buce- Species from the genus Bucephalandra.

Crypt- Species from the genus Cryptocoryne.

Sword [Plant]- Species from the genus Echinodorus. So named due to the superficial resemblance of their leaves to sword blades.

"Monte Carlo"- Refers to the Monte Carlo variety of Micanthemum.

HC- Hemianthus callitricoides, a common carpeting plant.

DHG- Dwarf Hairgrass, the common name for Eliocharis acicularis.

Glosso- Glossostigma spp., most commonly G. elatinoides.

Stem Plant- A plant which grows as a single stem with leaves growing outward from the stem. May or may not have secondary stems growing off the primary stem. Ludwigia spp. and Rotala spp. are stem plants.

Rosette Plant- A plant which grows multiple leaves from a single growth point, usually a tuber or corm. Cryptocoryne spp. and Aponogeton spp. are rosette plants.

Epiphyte- Literally, a plant that grows on another plant without harming it. Derived from the Greek epi meaning upon and phyton meaning plant. In the aquarium hobby plants that grow on a structure rather than in the substrate are referred to as Epiphytes. Anubias, Bucephalandra, Microsorum, and the various species of mosses are examples.

Stolon "Runner"- a stem which grows near the surface of the substrate from which other complete plants grow. Glossostigma elatinoides spreads by runner.

Rhizome- A thick and durable modified stem from which leaves and flowers grow. The genera Anubias, Bucephalandra, and Bolbitis all grow from a rhizome.

Corm- A bulbous modified stem typically covered with scale leaves used to store energy reserves. Plants from the genera Aponogeton and Nymphaea grow from corms.

Tuber- A bulbus root structure used to store energy reserves. Potatoes are tubers.

Genus Abbreviation- Abbreviating the genus epithet of a plant species using the first letter of the genus rather than fully writing/typing it out is common practice. The abbreviation A. is a common reference to the genus Anubias.

Genus Abbreviation and Cultivar or Variety Name Combination- Using an abbreviated genus epithet and cultivar or variety name is common practice. "I want to put some A. petite on the wood." refers to using Anubias nana 'Petite' in the aquarium.

Genus as a Reference- Referring to a genus rather than species is common practice. "I'm going to put some Anubias on the wood.". Usually used when one is unsure which species will be used.

Cultivar- A man-made variety of a plant created by selective breeding for a specific trait. Cultivar names are properly referred to using apostrophes before and after the type name. Anubias barteri 'Petite'.

Variety- The botanical rank below species or subspecies which typically refers to a geographical type or growth habit particular to that type not seen throughout the entire species. Varieties are properly referred to using the abbreviation var. between the species and variety name. May or may not have the variety name in quotations. Cryptocoryne crispatula var. balansae, C. crispatula var kubotae, and C. crispatula var. tonkinensis are varities of the species Cryptocoryne crispatula.

sp. or spp.- Abbreviation for species where sp. is singular and spp. is plural. Commonly used when the species epithet is unknown.

Algae (plural)- General term for aquatic protists. Usually used in reference to nuisance organisms.

Alga (singular)- Reference to a particular type or species of aquatic protist. The definitions below use the term algae as that is common parlance even though the name may refer to a single alga.

BBA- Black Beard Algae. Refers to an alga in the genus Cladophora. Tends to grow on hard structure and damaged leaves/stems. Commonly considered the worst alga one can get in an aquarium.

GSA- Green Spot Algae. An alga that grows in a small green circular shape.

Diatoms- A large group of single-celled protists with a silicate shell which commonly form a dust or filament throughout an aquarium. Most commonly occur in newly set up systems.

Staghorn Algae- A filamentous algae from the genus Compsopogon.

GDA- Green Dust Algae. A green alga which forms a dust or light coating on hard structures and plant leaves.

Cyano- Cyanobacteria. A large group of photosynthetic bacteria which tend to form a thick coat or mat on plants and substrate.

Hair Algae- A green filamentous alga that if left unchecked can quickly overgrow an aquarium. The tendency of this alga to grow in tightly grown plants with delicate leaves makes it hard to physically remove. Ornamental shrimp are reputed to eat this algae to a greater or lesser degree.

Green Water- A pelagic alga that causes water to become turbid with a green hue as it proliferates.
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post #3 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 06:32 PM Thread Starter
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Part I, Section III- Aquascaping and General Aquarium Terms

Aquascape- The layout of plants or plants and hardscape materials in an aquarium.

Hardscape- Non-plant items such as rock and wood used to create physical structure during aquascaping. An aquascape may be comprised completely of hardscape and not include plants. However, as this is a discussion of planted aquaria, it is assumed that plants will be used in aquascape creation.

Dutch- Strictly, a planted aquarium that conforms to the rules set by the Nederlandse Bond Aqua Terra (NBAT) organization ( Recently, any planted aquarium in which the plants are placed in discernable groups has (incorrectly) been called Dutch.

Aquatic Garden- A planted aquarium with discernible aquascaping, yet which does not follow a single school of aquascape design. Aquariums which are colloquially referred to as Dutch that do not conform to the NBAT rules are examples of an aquatic garden.

Amano/Nature Aquarium- An aquascape set up in the style first promoted by Takashi Amano. The original concept was to capture the essence or recreate the impression of a natural scene. Emphasis was placed on the joint use of hardscape and plants. This was somewhat revolutionary in Western countries where the Dutch/European aesthetic heavily influenced aquascaping. In recent years the term “Nature Aquarium” has come to refer to most aquascapes that make heavy use of hardscape and (often) interplanted species as opposed to the grouping found in Dutch aquariums.

Biotope- An aquarium designed to specifically recreate a discrete natural environment containing animals and plants distinct to that location.

Jungle- A planted aquarium with no discernable aquascape and/or with a multitude of plants are placed wherever there is space. Often, the plants are not trimmed/groomed to a specific style and are allowed to get overgrown.

High-Tech- A term originally used to describe aquariums that used pressurized CO2 and high amounts of light relative to what was available at the time. In recent years the term has come to refer to any planted aquarium with high light, CO2 injection, and fertilizer supplementation.

Low-Tech- A term usually used to refer to aquariums with relatively low light and minimal or no plant nutrient supplementation.

“Walstad”- The term used to describe the use of soil underneath a sand or gravel cap as the substrate in planted aquaria as described by Diana Walstad in her book “Ecology of the Planted Aquarium”. In recent years the term Walstad Tank has come to refer to any planted aquarium which uses soil as a component of the substrate.

MTS(1)- Mineralized Top Soil. The end result of the mineralization process of natural or commercially available top soil for use as a substrate amendment. Originally described by Sean Murphy and Aaron Talbot, this method adds clay and mineral supplements to the mixture rather than using soil alone. The term “MTS tank” is commonly used in association with Walstad type tanks, the difference being “MTS tanks” are able to sustain high light better than Walstad style setups.

MTS(2)- Multiple Tank Syndrome. The colloquial term for the desire to keep more than one aquarium and the wish to continue adding more.

MTS(3)- Malaysian Trumpet Snail. Livebearing snail which lives primarily in the substrate and is used as a means of cleaning and mixing the lower portions of the substrate. Frequently used in soil amended tanks.

DSM- Dry Start Method. A method of growing plants emersed to increase biomass/coverage prior to filling with water.

Nano Tank- Very small aquariums; generally regarded as being 10 gallons or less in volume.

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post #4 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 06:42 PM Thread Starter
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Part I, Section IV- Balance or "I have an algae problem, HELP!"

One of the most common, if not the most common, questions asked by beginners is "Why am I getting algae?". The answers given vary widely based on different aquarists' experiences and knowledge, yet they all can be distilled into a single reason: balance. This section will be a discussion of the the concept of balance, with particular attention to balance of inputs required for plants’ survival, health, and growth as well as biological/ecosystem balance.

What is balance? The general concept of balance encompasses multiple factors; light and nutrient input and ecosystem age/maturity. Light and nutrient (including carbon) input will be discussed first as input imbalance is a very common occurrence, especially among, but not limited to, beginners.

Think of a three-legged stool; when all of the legs are the same length the stool is stable. In planted aquaria the three legs of the stool are light input, carbon input, and nutrient input. As long as the three are added in equal amounts relative to each other, inputs to the tank are balanced. When one of the legs is longer than the others (excess input) or shorter than the others (insufficient input) then the stool is unstable. In planted aquaria an imbalance in input is most commonly revealed when algae begin to grow. To emphasize, input balance means that inputs are in the proper amounts relative to each other. In the following paragraphs each input will be discussed separately.

Light- Light is the driver of plant metabolism. The more light input a planted tank gets, the faster the plants are going to metabolize and try to grow. In many ways, light input is the factor to which carbon and nutrient input must be in proper relation. If carbon and nutrient inputs aren’t high enough to support the growth light is driving, then the plants won’t be able to produce the materials they need to grow. Excessive light input is the most common cause of imbalance created by beginners. Seeing all of the beautiful aquariums using a lot of light is both inspirational and motivating, but is also a potential pitfall. The majority of aquarists who successfully keep aquaria with high light also tend to be experienced and know how to handle that much input.

Carbon- Important enough to merit individual discussion, carbon is the building block of life on Earth and is central to every organic compound that science knows of. As such, it’s essential to nearly every aspect of plants’ biochemical and metabolic processes. Photosynthetic pigments, proteins, amino acids, glucose, and plants’ cellular and structural materials are all organic compounds. With carbon in such high demand by plants insufficient input will cause plants to die.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that supplementing carbon in proper proportion to light input is critical. Worth mentioning is CO2 addition and concentrations relative to light input. Unlike liquid carbon sources which may be harmful in larger doses; it is generally safe to add more CO2 than is needed relative to light input, up to the point where the livestock of the tank begin to suffer. In comparison to liquid carbon sources, plants have evolved to assimilate CO2 as their primary carbon source.

Some plants, especially obligate aquatics such a Vallisneria, are adept at breaking down carbonate minerals in the water to access the carbon or CO2 contained within the structure. This is known as biogenic decalcification as the most commonly utilized forms contain a calcium ion. This is a fairly energy intensive processes and for aquarium purposes is not a recommended means of carbon acquisition.

Inorganic nutrients “Ferts”- The third leg of the stool, inorganic nutrients are one of the most commonly misused and often misunderstood forms of input. Rather than being “plant food”, inorganic nutrients are those elements needed to a greater or lesser degree to support essential biochemical/metabolic processes and as necessary components of tissues and essential molecules. For example, magnesium (Mg) and nitrogen (N) are the central elements of the chlorophyll molecule and phosphorus (P) is needed for energy production. Like CO2 inorganic nutrient input must match light input. With increased light comes an increased demand for nutrients to sustain the light-driven growth. The continuum of insufficient nutrient input is typically seen as follows: poor growth, beginnings of algal growth, signs of nutrient deficiency, algal proliferation, then plant death.

As the planted hobby in the US has matured and more people do real scientific, and semi-scientific (hobby/citizen-scientist level) inquiry into plants’ nutritional needs an increasing variety of supplementation regimens have sprung up. Whichever method one chooses; commercial lines or one of the DIY methods, meeting the nutritional needs is of high importance.

To summarize input balance; light is the driver which dictates the demand for carbon and inorganic nutrient input and is the factor which the other two must be balanced against. As this is a beginner’s guide, it is highly recommended to start out with less light than one might think is needed until a firm grasp on supplementation and the basics of plant care are obtained. Doing so will give a wider margin of error and help avoid problems later.

Biological/ecosystem balance is the second part of overall system balance/maturity. It includes input balance as well as plant growth and microbial proliferation. When a planted aquarium is first established it is highly unstable and susceptible to the slightest change or imbalance in input. The filter is still immature, plants may still be in emersed form, haven't begun growing much yet, and the microbes in the tank and substrate haven't established. All of these contribute to overall instability. As the microbes in the filter and substrate proliferate, the plants switch to submersed form and start growing, the ecosystem is more able to process waste and dissolved nutrients. It is worth mentioning that the vast majority of planted aquariums are open systems which will never fully reach true equilibrium (inputs are greater than exports); especially if they contain fish. However; a fully established and mature aquarium ecosystem is able to handle variations in input and disturbance; trimming, uprooting, etc., better than an immature system. This is the central concept of biological balance. Once plant growth and overall biomass is in relation to inputs and the microbial community is large enough to process the majority of organic waste, a planted aquarium can be said to be balanced.
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Part I, Section V- Filters and Filtration Media

Hang on the Back (HOB) Filter- Any filter where the unit fits over the rim of the tank with the filtration chamber on the outside and the intake on the inside. The pump mechanism pulls water up through the intake tube where it then passes through filter media and overflows back into the tank. Commonly used for nano setups.

Canister Filter- A canister filter is a complete unit which includes a sealed filtration chamber, integrated pump, and intake and outlet tubes. The intake feeds the filter via gravity/siphon with the pump mechanism pushing the water out rather than pulling it into the canister. Some recent designs allow for the canister to sit next to the tank, but this is uncommon. Very common type of filter for planted systems.

Sump/Wet-Dry/Trickle Filter (Sump)- An unsealed/open container which sits under the tank and is gravity/siphon fed by an overflow mechanism. Unlike canister filters which are sealed and have intake and outlet devices as an integral part of their design, sumps typically require the purchase of a separate pump and water feed device. Water enters the filtration chamber top, flows over a perforated plate (trickle plate) before draining “trickling” over/through the media below then into a reservoir area. A pump then pushes the water back into the aquarium. The term wet-dry comes from common use in fish aquaria where a portion of the filtration media is exposed to air and a portion is underwater. Due to the belief that sumps cause CO2 loss they weren't commonly used for planted tanks in the past. As more aquarists have shared positive experiences with sump filters in recent years they are becoming more common.

Overflow- An internal or external device which drains water via overflowing. Internal overflows have a shield which forces water to flow up and over “overflowing” the plate prior to being drained. Internal overflows require the tank be drilled to allow drainage whereas external overflows do not. External overflows have an in-tank box into which water flows and feeds into an external overflow box.

“Durso Drain”- A modification to the original internal downdraft design of an open standpipe. A U intake is attached to the top of the drain standpipe where the intake is under water. A hole is drilled at the top of the U into which an air inlet tube is inserted to prevent gas lock and allow water to flow freely. It was originally designed by a reef hobbyist named John Durso as a means of reducing noise from overflow drains. Since the advent of the Herbie and Beananimal designs the Durso design has been used less and less by hobbyists, but is still the industry standard for aquarium manufacturers.

“Herbie”- A two-drain system (opposed to the single-drain Durso) in which the primary is at full siphon (no air enters) and the secondary drains the excess from the primary. In order to achieve full siphon the primary drain is restricted via a valve until water just barely trickles into the secondary drain. This is quickly becoming the standard method for overflow design in the planted hobby. Originally described by a reef hobbyist with the screen name Herbie.

“Beananimal”- A three-drain system where one is run at full siphon, a second drain then handles the excess from the full siphon drain, and a third is available in case the primary siphon gets clogged. This system typically requires a side of the tank be drilled and an internal overflow box be built around the drains. First described by a reef hobbyist with the screen name Beananimal as an improvement on the Herbie design.

There are three general types of filter media; physical, biological, and chemical each of which address different water purification needs.

Physical media trap particles which then are removed from the system during filter maintenance. Over time, physical media become additional biological media as bacteria colonize it to access the trapped particles. Sponges, floss, and micron socks are examples of physical media. When using HOB or canister filters, it is best to have coarse physical media be the first thing raw tank water contacts and fine media be the last. This typically means the fine media will be on top where it can be easily accessed and cleaned or replaced without having to remove the rest of the media.

Anything in the filter which houses beneficial bacteria that biologically treat water can be considered biological media. However, the term biological media typically refers to those materials which have been designed to have high surface area for bacteria to colonize. While not specifically designed as physical media, biological media often accumulate physical particles and need to be cleaned regularly to maintain good water flow. To minimize debris build up, it is important that biological media be placed after physical media and not be packed tightly to ensure maximum water flow. Bioballs, ceramic rings and balls, and pumice are examples of biological media.

Chemical media are materials which utilize the media’s chemical properties to address specific water quality issues. Activated carbon, ion exchange resins, and organic adsorption resins are all types of chemical media.
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post #6 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 07:12 PM Thread Starter
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Part I, Section VI - Lighting

There are numerous brands of commercially made lights and various DIY options available. No brand or DIY options will be discussed here, only the type of light.

Fluorescent- Not too long ago T5 lighting was the top-of-the-line technology and remains the favorite of many hobbyists. Benefits include a wide array of spectrum-specific bulbs, maturity of the technology, overall availability and affordability of fixtures and bulbs. Only recently have higher-end fixtures included dimming features so many of the mid-priced or older fixtures are only on/off. If the fixture has options to control groups of bulbs rather than the whole array, then some of the on/off disadvantage is mitigated. Other drawbacks include cost of bulb replacement and higher energy use than LED.

Power Compact (PC) fluorescent lights had their heyday approximately 10 to 15 years ago, until T-5 technology emerged they were a common choice for high light systems. Some manufacturers (notably ADA) still support PC lights for general use. PC lighting still sees use in fixtures for nano aquariums or all-in-one systems, but for the most part the technology has run its course. The same goes for Very High Output (VHO) fluorescent.

Standard fluorescent lighting (T-8 and T-12) was the most widely used light technology for decades and continues to be viable for aquariums that have plants which don’t require a great deal of light. Benefits include low cost of fixtures and bulbs due to the widespread use in industrial and office lighting. Drawbacks include low variety of color temperature (6500K etc.) and low PAR compared to T-5, halides, and LEDs.

Metal Halide and HQI- Once the cutting-edge technology for high intensity lighting in reef systems, metal halides saw modest use in planted aquaria. Once HQI technology emerged, some major brands began utilizing it and some (notably ADA) continue use to this day. They’re a powerful source of light and are still useful for deep tanks which need high illumination at depth. Other benefits include the maturity of the technology and plant specific bulb availability. Drawbacks include high heat generation and energy consumption. With T-5 and LED technologies available, halide and HQI lighting has become nearly obsolete except in use for very deep aquaria and by certain brands.

LED- Quickly becoming the light type of choice, Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology and fixtures for the planted market have improved over recent years. Benefits of LEDs include low energy use compared to light output, customizability (dependent on brand), multiple types of fixture (strip vs pendant, etc.) and a wide variety of price points. Drawbacks include a small number of manufacturers making fixtures with spectral output specific to plant needs and the general immaturity of the technology. While improvements have been significant, the technologies used for LEDs still need time to develop fully; especially in the planted aquarium realm.
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post #7 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 07:23 PM Thread Starter
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Part I, Section VII- CO2 Supplementation

Many aspects of CO2 supplementation have been addressed in previous sections. This section will briefly and specifically address CO2, not liquid carbon additives. CO2 supplementation methods, hardware, and best practices are topics of never ending debate. Going back to the section on tank balance, carbon supplementation is of great importance to successfully keeping aquatic plants. This can take many forms from a simple airstone or venturi powerhead used to add CO2 from the atmosphere in the simplest of setups to elaborate combinations of pressurized cylinders and dissolution chambers in tech-heavy systems. Supplementation method is a factor which is heavily influenced by the aquarist’s goals and desires for his or her aquarium. In recent years, with the profusion of manufactured injection systems and items, use of CO2 gas has become a hobby standard for those wishing to keep lushly planted and/or heavily aquascaped systems. While not necessary in every planted system, it is the author’s opinion that direct CO2 injection is an essential part of all but the most basic planted aquaria. Means of injection is up to the taste of the aquarist as long as minimums are met.

What are the best practices regarding CO2 supplementation? Use as much as is needed to meet a systems needs. A good rule of thumb is to maintain 25-40 ppm in the typical moderate-to-high light system. Systems with lower light input may require less, with 15 ppm being the author's recommended minimum concentration.

Common types of CO2 diffusion devices-

CO2 Diffuser- A device which is used inside the aquarium to supplement CO2. The diffusion plate is typically made of ceramic or glass with very fine pores used to produce small bubbles to improve dissolution.

CO2 Reactor- A device either filled with a physical medium or integrated perforated plates into which CO2 is injected. The purpose of the media and/or plates is to reduce velocity, create turbulence, and break up large gas bubbles to improve dissolution. Reducing in-chamber velocity uses a gas' tendency to rise in water to keep the gas in the chamber as long as possible. They are typically installed vertically with input at the top and output at the bottom. CO2 is injected at the top to increase dwell-time and maximize dissolution.

Cerges or Dwell-Time Reactor- A type of CO2 dissolution mechanism “reactor” described by a European (Russian?) hobbyist named Serge. Rather than depending on turbulence to increase dissolution, the design uses a large chamber with an internal tube to increase dwell-time and thereby increase dissolution. The purpose of the tube is to draw water from the bottom of the chamber as far from the point of gas input as possible to minimize the amount of gas leaving the chamber. Like general CO2 reactors, the Cerges reactor capitalizes on gas bubbles' natural resistance to downward flow. The original, and most commonly used, design has the gas entering at the top of the chamber where it get caught in the flow stream and dissolves. As gas bubbles dissolve they are less and less able to resist downward flow, eventually get entrained in the current, and exit the chamber. The goal is to achieve complete dissolution and have only gas enriched water exiting.
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post #8 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 07:36 PM Thread Starter
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This is a work in progress. Let me know if I missed any terms or whatnot that may need to be added. Please keep in mind that detailed discussion of individual sections/topics will be posted in the appropriate sub-forum. Part I is meant as a general introduction only.


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post #9 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 09:00 PM
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Thanks for posting these. Are these old archives from FishNet? Also want to know more about the pseudo Dupla drops.
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Starting small, keeping it simple..(?)
250 gallon stock tank, "pond"
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Thanks for this,
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Great work!!!

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post #12 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-25-2017, 09:06 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by GrampsGrunge View Post
Thanks for posting these. Are these old archives from FishNet? Also want to know more about the pseudo Dupla drops.
Thanks GrampsGrunge. Everything posted was written by me; it's all original content.

Originally Posted by NickAu View Post
Thanks for this,
You're welcome Nick, I've been thinking about doing something like this for a while. I did one for a different forum back in 2005, but a lot's changed since then and I've learned a lot more in the way of science.

Originally Posted by Dman911 View Post
Great work!!!

Thanks Dan!
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post #13 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-26-2017, 01:40 AM
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Originally Posted by GrampsGrunge View Post
Thanks for posting these. Are these old archives from FishNet? Also want to know more about the pseudo Dupla drops.
Dupla was a company that made a lot of high end planted tank equipment way back when. The equipment was extremely expensive, so it never really caught on in the USA. The original company has been sold or merged a few times, and the name still exists. You can see them here (offsite) - Dohse Aquaristik GmbH & Co. KG

As for the PPDD, you can see information about the various mixes people used here (offsite) - James' Planted Tank - PMDD

This was a mix of ferts you dosed every day. I would say that by today's standards there are better ways of doing things, but the method would still work well.
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post #14 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-26-2017, 01:53 AM
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Sorry for interrupting before, it was before you said not to comment. Was thinking it was a one post deal. Read this all and its a pretty lovely little article! Good job
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post #15 of 35 (permalink) Old 02-26-2017, 02:27 AM
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I enjoyed reading the concise and very readable definitions, explanations and history. There were several I've seen often but never knew precisely what they meant or the history (PAR and PMDD being two examples). Good work, looking forward to reading more.

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