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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-09-2019, 10:00 PM Thread Starter
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Newbie First Planted Tank

I am starting my first planted aquarium. I have a 40 gallon breeder tank. I plan to begin this weekend with substrate and a few plants and cycle for about 6 weeks. Maybe add more plants along the way. After the tank is well cycled, I will add fish slowly. Planning a school of about 20 Tetras. Perhaps Neon or similar. An Angel fish and some bottom feeders and algae eaters. Hoping to have a very healthy tank that is heavily planted.

After I get this tank going, I plan to start a planted 10 gallon tank with a shrimp colony. If I can get a good breeding colony going in the 10 gallon tank, I may transfer some to the 40 gallon and see if I can get a colony going there if the do not all get eaten. Or maybe start a shrimp colony in the 40 gallon tank before I put any other fish in there. And then transfer some to the 10 gallon once the colony is well established in the 40 gallon. Although doing that would delay adding fish to the 40 gal.

Any thoughts would be welcome.
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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-10-2019, 12:58 AM
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Welcome!

Plants are a fun aspect to the hobby.

What are your plans for lighting, substrate and fertilizer? Getting something out of balance tends to be what stops most people from keeping plants.

You can certainly plant slowly over time, just be aware that you are more likely to run into algae issues if you don't have enough plants in your tank.

It takes a few months before you can expect shrimp to breed in a new tank. So if you want to establish a breeding colony in the 40 gallon before adding fish, be aware it will be like 6+ months before fish are in that tank. Then you add an Angel and they are likely to be dinner.
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-10-2019, 11:45 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the reply.

Substrate, filtration, lighting and first plants are the main decisions I have to make now. Planning to go to local store this weekend and get their advice. Buy what I need from them and start the cycle. I have just the tank now. I need everything else.

I am thinking I would get just a few plants to start the cycle. Then add plants as I learn more and develop a plan for the tank. Also probably add some rocks and driftwood. But I am also wondering about the impact on the substrate of adding plants. Is it better to plant everything at once? Or can I start with a few plants and add more over time. Hoping that if I get some good plants established, the will grow over time and fill out the tank. I would then trim as necessary to keep things under control.

Hopefully by the end of November, I will be ready to add critters. I like the idea of something breeding in the tank. And I like the idea of a food chain. But those might be ideas for a future tank. My main objective at the moment is to learn about keeping plants. If I try to do too much I might end up failing at it all. So focusing on the plants is probably best.

I have three critter ideas:

1. Basic mellow community tank as mentioned in my initial post is probably safest option.
2. Micro critter food chain. Shrimp, snails and tiny fish. More complicated?
3. Breeding colony of Guppies with plants that would provide suitable hiding places for fry and a natural food source for the fry. Maybe add a predator when the Guppy population gets too large. Or sell excess Guppies. Or perhaps trade excess Guppies for supplies or other fish. Thinking that maybe I would trade 50 of my Guppies for 5 of their Guppies to introduce genetic variety.

Option 1 is probably most sensible to keep the critter part simple and focus on plants. But I like the idea of a more complex ecosystem. I will probably do that next if this goes well.

I think the fish store I am working with is reputable and I will get good advice from them. But I am sure there is a lot to learn and the more educated I am, the better they will be able to help me. Anything you can suggest would be most welcome.
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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-11-2019, 08:05 PM
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You definitely want to plant heavy from the start, no doubt about it.
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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-12-2019, 02:23 PM Thread Starter
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You definitely want to plant heavy from the start, no doubt about it.
Thanks for the reply. Why do you say that? Is adding plants later disruptive to existing plants? Or is there some chemistry issue at work?
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-12-2019, 04:43 PM
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You definitely want to plant heavy from the start, no doubt about it.
Thanks for the reply. Why do you say that? Is adding plants later disruptive to existing plants? Or is there some chemistry issue at work?
It's common knowledge, keep reading and learning. More plants up front equals less chance for algae; they use the ammonia produced during your initial cycle.
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-12-2019, 06:33 PM
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You definitely want to plant heavy from the start, no doubt about it.
Thanks for the reply. Why do you say that? Is adding plants later disruptive to existing plants? Or is there some chemistry issue at work?
It is a true that more plants means less algae but it's not a deal breaker. You can stick one anubias in a tank and call it a day. There will be algae but still manageable.

If you want to have plants that propagate then consider getting fast growers. Plants like vallisinaria and fast growing stems plants (ludwigia and rotala to name a few) easy to propagate and can fill up a lot of a tank quickly.
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-13-2019, 08:22 PM
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You definitely want to plant heavy from the start, no doubt about it.
Thanks for the reply. Why do you say that? Is adding plants later disruptive to existing plants? Or is there some chemistry issue at work?
It's common knowledge, keep reading and learning. More plants up front equals less chance for algae; they use the ammonia produced during your initial cycle.
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You definitely want to plant heavy from the start, no doubt about it.
It is a true that more plants means less algae but it's not a deal breaker. You can stick one anubias in a tank and call it a day. There will be algae but still manageable.
One Anubius? Good luck with that. No offense but that's bad advise.
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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-13-2019, 09:06 PM Thread Starter
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One Anubius? Good luck with that. No offense but that's bad advise.
What I take from what both of you are saying is that planting heavy from the beginning capitalizes on the plant friendly conditions during the cycling process. it would seem that this is a great opportunity to give plants a chance to get established and at the same time minimize algae growth.

On the other hand. I do not have to put any plants in at all. I can put as few or as many as I want and make it work. As a newbie, a limited number of plants appeals to me to keep it simple. Perhaps I will find that putting in fewer plants makes it more complicated rather than simpler due to algae management issues and more difficulty adding plants later.

I think mboley is saying planting heavy will probably workout better for me.

I think minorhero agrees with mboley's statement, but is saying I can make it work with as few plants as I want.

I do not see those two positions as being in conflict with each other.

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment. Both perspectives are useful to me.

Whatever I do, it won't be perfect and I will learn from it.
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-17-2019, 09:54 AM
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I am thinking I would get just a few plants to start the cycle. Then add plants as I learn more and develop a plan for the tank. Also probably add some rocks and driftwood. But I am also wondering about the impact on the substrate of adding plants. Is it better to plant everything at once? Or can I start with a few plants and add more over time.
You'll definitely want to add all the plants at once. Lots of plants during cycling helps combat the risk of algae outbreak which is more likely to happen during cycling by providing competition. Also, plants will uptake Ammonia as a nutrient, they prefer Ammonia before Nitrates as their Nitrogen source. Another positive thing plants provide during the cycling process is getting rid of Nitrates which will start to build up as well because they will uptake those too. With a cycled tank having enough nitrifying bacteria to break down Ammonia into Nitrates and then enough plants in my tank to uptake and remove those Nitrates I've gone 6 months without a water change in my 2.5 gallon tank. A heavy and diverse range of plants in a tank along with other diversity in the system like snails and shrimp to break down uneaten food, consume algae and break down fish waste and dead plant matter into nutrients can create a very balanced system.

I recommend cycling your tank with your fish in it. The only reason you wouldn't want to do this is that if you are introducing so many fish that the ammonia builds up to higher than 3ppm before a 24 hour period. Most of the time this isn't the case. I use something called "biological booster" it's a liquid that you add that has millions of pre-loaded nitrifying bacteria in it to give your tank a jump start with the process. You'll need to test ammonia everyday (First week I sometimes do AM PM testing for a few days so I know it can go 24 hrs without getting to dangerous levels) and perform a water change daily as well for the first week for sure, then after that test ammonia everyday and if it reads higher than .5ppm perform a water change. Third week, same thing, test ammonia everyday and only change the water if there is a reading on the test kit. You'll end up changing it 2-4 times the third week. Fourth week same as third week. As long as you are performing water changes like this (not letting ammonia reach dangerous levels) your fish will be fine.

I think you'll find managing one tank as a beginner enough fun and challenge. I would recommend focusing on one tank at first, getting that balanced and stable (which can take many months), you don't want to get overwhelmed and overlook one tank because of problems with another, it can happen easier than you think. For me, I was going to create a 5 gallon planted tank 3 months ago, but my 2.5 gallon tank started to have algae problems and show signs of nutrient deficiency. Troubleshooting and solving those two problems took all my attention away from planning my 5 gallon tank because I was so focused on fixing the issues in the other tank. I didn't have a choice either, you can't put algae and nutrient deficiency (or any problem really) on hold because if untreated will just get worse and harder to solve. After a month of testing various variables I finally found the problem to be phosphate deficiency. Plants did better and algae went away. A word of warning, problems in this hobby VERY RARELY come with an easy fix. Each aquarium is it's own complex ecosystem.

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Substrate, filtration, lighting and first plants are the main decisions I have to make now.
Lighting is an important question, so is substrate. Depending on whether or not you go with high light or not will change how you manage your tank. High light will require some form of Carbon fertilization, whether that be with pressurized CO2 or liquid Carbon, which is, as many will point out, definitely not as good as pressurized CO2 and some plants don't like it -it will kill them. I use it myself in my small 2.5 gallon with high light and it works great. With high light and no form of Carbon input it's very easy to have algae problems, plus, if you're not going to use CO2 or liquid Carbon why even have high light? It's not like the plants can utilize it for photosynthesis because they require CO2.

I would recommend an active substrate for a beginner. An inert substrate requires fertilization because it contains nothing for the plants. Balancing a fertilization regime can be tricky sometimes but they do make good all-in-one fertilizers like Thrive. However, active substrates that are like soil will have many more benefits than inert substrate. You will not have to dose fertilizer, which means less maintenance (no daily or weekly dosing, less monitoring, measuring, and experimenting) and less expense (many hobbyists make their own in bulk due to the cost of fertilizing). Soil-like substrates are made to contain everything plants need but sometimes you do dose a little of this or that depending on plant needs and uptake speeds. Active soil-like substrates will also contain lots of beneficial bacteria that will do a host of great things for your tank as they break down organic matter within the rich substrate. The bacteria, while doing this, will also create lots of CO2 for your plants, much more than you might think. Think of the benefit of natural substrate as your own CO2 system. As Diana Walstad (creator of the Walstad Method and author of the book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium) discovered you can have a very heavily planted aquarium with no liquid carbon or pressurized CO2 injection. She found that most of the CO2 that was being created for the plants was being produced by bacteria in the substrate. She claims (I'm unsure if it has been proven) that nothing is better or provides more of what plants need than organic potting soil, and it makes sense, as it's real natural soil, and that's what plants live in in nature. However, I would not recommend using organic potting soil for your first tank, it can get messy. There are substrates that are "in the middle" of straight up potting soil and inert substrates out there, I use Fluval Stratum. Fluval Stratum is essentially soil but it's in little balls and compared to potting soil not messy or hard to work with in a tank. A downside to these soil-like substrates is that they will eventually run out of nutrients and need to be replaced, usually in about 2 years whereas an inert substrate, with proper cleaning and maintenance doesn't need to be changed because well, it's just rocks, gravel, sand or something similar.
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Last edited by nothreat33; 10-17-2019 at 10:21 AM. Reason: i keep adding things because I suck at writing
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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-17-2019, 11:42 AM
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Thanks for the reply.
3. Breeding colony of Guppies with plants that would provide suitable hiding places for fry and a natural food source for the fry. Maybe add a predator when the Guppy population gets too large. Or sell excess Guppies. Or perhaps trade excess Guppies for supplies or other fish. Thinking that maybe I would trade 50 of my Guppies for 5 of their Guppies to introduce genetic variety.

Guppies breed fast... by fast I mean 20 new fry every few days- LOL. Selling them? unless they are really pure strains you will find you cant even GIVE them away fast enough.... The fry dirty the water quickly, so in essence you will be giving away fry (with no color) which most will just use as feeder fish (which is a shame because sometimes they can be really beautiful).


Quarantine is a MUST- so ensure you have a separate quarantine tank if you are going to be 'trading' for new, otherwise you will potentially have to be dosing the tank with chemicals that could hurt your shrimp, snails or plants.


Adding a predator 'sometimes' works- but more often I see them just rip the fins to shreds but the fish still remains. So then you have wounded fish everywhere....



I am a endler breeder- but I have had guppies in the past. So pretty- until it get overpopulated and destroyed my planted tank with all their waste and more babies than I could keep track of. Endlers also breed substantially- but not as easily or fast as Guppies.

We all posted within minutes but in addition:
1) I never cycle with fish- Just add ammonia.
2) You can plant one plant that is fast growing (ludwigia)- or you can plant the entire tank. I think it is always easier to plant most things at once. Then fill the tank
3) Ensure that your hardscape is inert as possible dependent on water quality
4) Check your tap water parameters BEFORE its in your tank (then you know if you have soft or hard water and then check again after it has 'degassed' (place it in a cup or bucket and let it sit overnight). That will often determine what hardscape you should have.
5) If you are new to the hobby I recommend a substrate like eco complete.
The aquasoils are a bit of drama- and more than likely you will change things around in a couple months and aquasoils are messy and initially very dangerous to fish (I have aquasoils, eco complete, gravel and sand in multiple tanks). But Aquasoils are not what i consider a 'beginner' substrate.
6) Invest in a balanced fertilizer like Thrive. Dose the water column. I am not a fan of 'fert tabs' as you cant control it. Also ensure to get 'Flourish Excel' it will help your plants and help to control algae. Its worth it.
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Last edited by livebearerlove; 10-17-2019 at 12:02 PM. Reason: I didnt write enough as my caffiene has not kicked in yet
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-25-2019, 11:24 AM Thread Starter
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Great comments. Thank you.

I have decided to hold off on the Endlers and Guppies for now. Try to keep things as simple as possible.

I am setting up a 10 gallon quarantine tank.

I am adding Phosphorus, Nitrate, Carbamide nitrogen and Ferric Iron twice a week in a formula provided by my local fish store.

I have found plants to be considerably more expensive than I thought. I have added about $80 in plants, but that is not as much as I thought it would be. This includes 25 stems of Hornwort which I expect to grow fast so hopefully it won't take too long to be heavily planted.

I am going to re-read these great and detailed posts. Lots of great stuff. Thanks very much for the help.
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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-25-2019, 12:50 PM
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Yep, plants can be expensive--I've spent more on plants in 5 mos than I have on anything else--the tank included. But you're smart to plant heavily at first to outcompete algae. What all did you end up getting? Any pics to share?

Hornwort supposedly has an allelopathic effect against algae. It also grows stupid fast--mine would completely fill up the top third of the tank if I was away for a week or two. The downside is that it can easily shade its lower parts so that it starts shedding needles--which are hard to completely clean out and can fuel algae & cyanobacteria outbreaks. So keep ruthlessly trimming off the bottom parts and let the top parts grow. Now that my tank has stabilized after 5 mos I've removed nearly all of it, but keep a little around for shade and to shelter guppy fry.

My biggest mistake was starting out at 8hrs/light a day thinking it would help the plants get a good start. Which it did--but so did the algae. After cutting it back to 5, then 6 hrs a day I eventually got things under control. The initial nutrient release from my potting soil underlayer didn't help matters. Floating plants can do double duty by reducing light, and they're the most efficient at soaking up nutrients during the cycle. Water sprite (Ceratopteris thalicitroides) is a great beginner plant because it can be a floater, or planted in the substrate and is a fast grower. Had trouble finding some because I think it's banned in some states. Ditto for Hygrophila "Sunset"--colorful and a super fast grower. Living in Florida you might be able to collect some of this stuff in the wild and save yourself some money.

Do you have any critters yet to control the algae? I've always found snails useful during cycles--they'll help control algae, and serve as a good barometer of water quality because they'll head to the top en masse if there are problems. If you're not starting a shrimp colony, I'd still consider some cheap ghost shrimp (50 a pop @ Petco) . They're great scavengers of algae, any dead leaves you miss (like all those hornwort needles), leftover fish food, and even dead fish for that matter. And if you're having algae issues otocinclus make a great first fish that stay small & reliably vegetarian unlike plecos and some other fish sold as algae eaters.

@livebearerlove is right about guppies--they breed like, well, guppies. But if you have the right predator they'll gobble up the fry & leave the adults alone. I've always kept angels with guppies--the fry make a nice live food source so the angels grow fast and gets them in spawning condition quickly. Guppies & otos were the first fish I added to my new tank, but it wasn't the guppies but rather the snails that were total poop machines. Never realized snails could create so much waste--I was vacuuming out massive quantities every few days. A couple of pea puffers & assassin snails kept those under control. It's all a balancing act.....

Good luck and keep us posted on how it goes for you.
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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-25-2019, 12:56 PM
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This includes 25 stems of Hornwort which I expect to grow fast so hopefully it won't take too long to be heavily planted.

Oh Dear! 25 stems?! ok. that is a lot- I think mine grow 2 inches a week. So heads up! make sure you have good scissors for trimming.
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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-25-2019, 01:29 PM Thread Starter
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I am planning to secure hornwort to the bottom. Maybe leave some floating. For now it is all floating.

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Oh Dear! 25 stems?! ok. that is a lot- I think mine grow 2 inches a week. So heads up! make sure you have good scissors for trimming.
It does not look like a lot at the moment. But I understand that once it starts growing, it grows fast.

This is my first tank. Trying to keep things as easy as possible.

Hopefully the hornwort will help keep algae at bay.

I would like to use Otos as my algae eaters, but I understand I should wait up to six months to let the tank stabilize before adding.

Also considering shrimp, but understand they are also sensitive and need an established tank.
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