For some reason this topic reminded of the song “Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”. For those too young to remember it, it contains the answers to most of life’s questions. Don’t know why but while I was compiling this list that tune kept weaving through my thoughts.
So I’m no expert, and still have much to learn, but here are some thoughts from my personal experiences so far. As always, your mileage may vary.
Decide what you want from the tank before you get started. High/Med/Low tech. It should drive every other decision.
Know how much PAR your lights produce, or buy/position lights to produce a particular PAR. PAR level drives every other decision. And both too much and too little light is the root of many problems.
Low tech tanks with low tech plants need VERY, VERY little light.
If your light is medium or high, you will benefit from CO2. In general, High/Med light + no CO2 = algae farm.
Plants need ferts to grow to their fullest. Most problems I see are the result of too little, not too many ferts.
In my experience, high level of ferts does not cause algae.
One point pH drop from CO2 injection is commonly suggested........but more is better. Very high tech 1.2 to 1.4 is common.
Bubbles per second is meaningless.
Excel/Glut is NOT a substitute for CO2. And it provides no benefit at all in a balanced tank.
Don’t use test kits for pH, they are terribly inaccurate. Get a pH meter and learn how to calibrate it. Accurately measure the degassed pH of your water. It is essential to dosing CO2. Take it seriously. Even small swings can make large differences in a high tech tank full of fast growing stems.
EI dosing is a wide guideline and starting point. Your tank may be need more/less of any/every macro or micro nutrient. No shortcut, trial and error is the only way to learn.
None of the successful planted tankers that I follow use EI levels of ferts. It could be more, it could be less, but rarely levels referred to by charts. In fact, sometimes pretty wildly different. You need to find out what works in YOUR tank.
Make an effort to learn how to read your plants. If you pay very close attention, they will let you know if they like what you are providing.......and if they don't. This takes time, experience, and effort. Even subtle changes can effect plant happiness.
Dosing macros and micros on opposite days makes little or no difference. I know many (myself included) who dose micros daily, and personally I front load all macros. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Learn how to use and buy dry ferts. Liquid ferts are expensive, and rarely have the actual combination of nutrients that are best for your tank.
If you get really serious, roll your own micros. It's easier than you think. CSM+B can be the root cause of many problems.
Take the time to learn either the Zorfox or Rotalabutterfly calculators. Don’t think in tsp/tbs, start thinking in PPM.
Keep logs and records of everything you can think of, and make notes on how plants respond. Without a timeline of changes, you will never understand what causes changes in your tank.
Use the journal section here to find tanks that demonstrate success and have goals similar to yours. Read them carefully. And don't be afraid to reach out to those folks. Most here are very generous with their time and knowledge, and are happy to share their experience with you.
Light/CO2/Ferts are often debated. Maintenance is equally or more important. Regular water changes, filter cleanings, gravel vacs, removing dead or decaying plant matter, pruning and controlling plant mass……..in general, uber clean conditions is your best defense against algae.
Make water changes as easy as possible. I went to an extreme and just flip a switch. Not for everyone, but the easier you make it, the more likely you are to do it, and the more successful your tank will be.
When starting out, more plants is better than less. Many say their tank is heavily planted, but very few are. Very lightly planted tanks are very difficult to get into balance. Load up on plants right from the start.
Once you are successful at growing plants, managing plant mass becomes important. A tank can almost choke itself from letting growth get out of control. Plants enjoy a little elbow room between species.
Get everything else right first (light/CO2/Maintenance) before tweaking ferts. If you don’t, it will have minimal effect. Chasing problems with fert dosing is rarely successful, and only works when everything else is optimized.
Make changes slowly, and only change one parameter at a time. Easy to say, difficult to do. If you keep jumping around with everything, you will never understand the effect of anything.
If you are not serious about regular maintenance, and don’t enjoy getting your elbows wet, don’t go high tech. When you learn how to grow plants, maintenance only becomes more important and you need more of it. Plants growing an inch a day are not a myth. You will be trimming more than you ever imagined.
Think growing plants, not defeating algae. Healthy growing plants are the absolute best defense against algae. In my experience, most algae is the result of poor maintenance, too much (or not enough) light, and too few ferts.
You can't please all the plants all the time. Some will thrive, some will fail. Usually makes no sense. Best to let it go and stick with ones that like the soup that are serving. Trust me, I've banged my head against the wall too many times. Life is easier if you accept that fact.
Don’t shy away from plants that are labeled “difficult”. Some of my “difficult” plants are the easiest, and some of the "easiest" plants are the most difficult for me.
Surface agitation and aeration is your friend. More is better. Your fish and plants will thank you.
Good flow does not mean plants waving around frantically. Think wide gentle flow. And more flow rarely if ever cures anything.
And if you only remember one thing, it’s that “Everybody’s free to perform maintenance”!
Trust me on that one.
P.S. Forgot to add that Rainbow Fish are a perfect companion to a planted tank!!