Questions from a reef guy - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-28-2020, 10:52 AM Thread Starter
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Questions from a reef guy

I have been into salt water tanks for 7 years, thinking about a planted tank. I cannot find a single one stop shop for all the questions I have so I joined up this forum in the hopes some guru can answer most of my queries

1. Is bigger still better when it comes to planted tanks because I like the look of the book shelf tanks but if a larger tank provides benefits I would consider that. In reefs bigger water volume is more forgiving when it comes to parameters and easier to maintain

2. Since it is water with fish I assume phosphates and nitrate/nitrite still plays a role ..not Alk, Calcium and Magnesium. Nitrites in reef tanks is taken care of by giving bacteria space to grow via rocks or bio balls, Nitrates which is mostly poop through protein reactors and Algae as in some form of algae growth outside of the tank in a controlled manner, Phosphates either by chemicals or through algae . Carbon I am guessing is used in fresh water as well so a carbon reactor will polish water in both cases.. So is carbon dosing - Vinegar/vodka for nitrates, GFO reactors for phosphates, refugiums or algae turf scrubbers for nitrates and phosphates a viable option in planted tanks ? If not what is used for nutrient export and creating a stable environment. Are hobby test kits for nitrites/nitrates/phosphates used in planted tanks ? Which brings me to the next question.

3. Reefers either do water changes or dose minor trace elements consumed by corals if they do not do water changes and in very limited cases they do it for nutrient export or rather when starting out most use water changes. I hear water changes are very important in fresh water set ups, but is it as nutrient export or because of some other reason. Can ordinary tap water be used to just automatically change x amount of water from the tank in regular intervals or does it need processing before the water is changed.

4. Temperature salinity, major elements Calcium, Magenesium, Alkalinity..keeping these stable is the holy grail in reef and that is done by taking the natural sea water as a baseline. Depth at which different varities of coral grow determines their ideal PAR requirements. How does one set baseline parameters in planted tanks since fresh water bodies in Asia are different from South America and plants will need different parameters to survive as will fish. How is it determined that the ideal phosphate/nitrate/ PAR from lights should be x amount or does it even matter ?

I have been reading about some of the legends in the planted tank scene and while I see heaps of info about carbon dioxide, aquascaping, dry start and soil vs no soil I cannot seem to find much info for parameters to target, PAR ranges for different plants, pros and cons of small vs big set ups, areas that can be automated or am I just overthinking because I have been doing reefs


Ultimately I'd like a crystal clear and healthy tank. I don't like the overgrown garden look and prefer the green peaceful valley look with a few fish so if anyone can point me to the right direction and give some pointers and resources specifically towards helping me attain what I want I would appreciate it. Since I come from a reefing background I do understand the pain it takes and the conflicting schools of thoughts that exist with hobbyists

Thank you in advance to anyone who replies
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post #2 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-28-2020, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by shaidas View Post
I have been into salt water tanks for 7 years, thinking about a planted tank. I cannot find a single one stop shop for all the questions I have so I joined up this forum in the hopes some guru can answer most of my queries

1. Is bigger still better when it comes to planted tanks because I like the look of the book shelf tanks but if a larger tank provides benefits I would consider that. In reefs bigger water volume is more forgiving when it comes to parameters and easier to maintain
Bigger water volumes are easier to keep certain parameters BUT will be significantly more maintenance. This is kind of the opposite from reefs. A smaller tank will have much less you need to worry about in terms of cleaning, trimming etc. If you like the look of a smaller tank you should just go with that.

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2. Since it is water with fish I assume phosphates and nitrate/nitrite still plays a role ..not Alk, Calcium and Magnesium. Nitrites in reef tanks is taken care of by giving bacteria space to grow via rocks or bio balls, Nitrates which is mostly poop through protein reactors and Algae as in some form of algae growth outside of the tank in a controlled manner, Phosphates either by chemicals or through algae . Carbon I am guessing is used in fresh water as well so a carbon reactor will polish water in both cases.. So is carbon dosing - Vinegar/vodka for nitrates, GFO reactors for phosphates, refugiums or algae turf scrubbers for nitrates and phosphates a viable option in planted tanks ? If not what is used for nutrient export and creating a stable environment. Are hobby test kits for nitrites/nitrates/phosphates used in planted tanks ? Which brings me to the next question.
Its a LOT easier for freshwater. Nitrogen cycle is all you need to worry about for the most part. Bacteria turn ammonia to nitrite and then to nitrate which is plant food. Medium to heavy planted tanks will need nitrate added, they will use up all that is provided naturally. Phosphate is not something we really worry about. Plants use it up and its very difficult (I hesitate to say impossible, but its pretty close) to have too much unless you are doing something really weird. Carbon reactors are a no go for us. We add co2 if you are a 'high tech' tank and some folks add a liquid carbon product (typically seachem excel) either for algae control or for plant benefit but we don't bother with anything else. Again its not needed the plants eat most of the waste products you would be concerned about. For the rest, water changes.

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3. Reefers either do water changes or dose minor trace elements consumed by corals if they do not do water changes and in very limited cases they do it for nutrient export or rather when starting out most use water changes. I hear water changes are very important in fresh water set ups, but is it as nutrient export or because of some other reason. Can ordinary tap water be used to just automatically change x amount of water from the tank in regular intervals or does it need processing before the water is changed.
Water changes are done to stabilize certain parameters. Your fertilizing routine will determine how often you need them and also whether you are using tap water or RO. If you do EI fertilizer dosing you will be doing 50% water change every week. If you are dosing pps-pro or another method you might be doing less often. Either way you are not going to want your TDS to climb up too high. If using heavy tap water then topping off will get your tds too high. If you have city water with chlorine or chloramine then you will want to treat it with a dechlorinator. Once folks figure out there parameters then yes, people get into a routine of just changing x amount and adding Y amount of ferts and tada done. Checking parameters every so often to make sure things are still where you think they should be and also watching your plants etc will tell you what you need to know.

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4. Temperature salinity, major elements Calcium, Magenesium, Alkalinity..keeping these stable is the holy grail in reef and that is done by taking the natural sea water as a baseline. Depth at which different varities of coral grow determines their ideal PAR requirements. How does one set baseline parameters in planted tanks since fresh water bodies in Asia are different from South America and plants will need different parameters to survive as will fish. How is it determined that the ideal phosphate/nitrate/ PAR from lights should be x amount or does it even matter ?
Plants are described in terms of low, medium, and high light. Typically a plant can always go higher in light, this describes the minimal amount of light needed to keep the plant alive. Annoyingly there is not a total consensus on what low, medium, and high light actually mean.... Generally though low is considered 15-25 par, medium 25-50, and high is 50+. Some will say high is 80+ etc. Anyway bottom line is that you will determine what light you need based on what plants you are growing. Generally high light is for tanks that either have a lot of algae eating critters or have co2.

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Originally Posted by shaidas View Post

I have been reading about some of the legends in the planted tank scene and while I see heaps of info about carbon dioxide, aquascaping, dry start and soil vs no soil I cannot seem to find much info for parameters to target, PAR ranges for different plants, pros and cons of small vs big set ups, areas that can be automated or am I just overthinking because I have been doing reefs


Ultimately I'd like a crystal clear and healthy tank. I don't like the overgrown garden look and prefer the green peaceful valley look with a few fish so if anyone can point me to the right direction and give some pointers and resources specifically towards helping me attain what I want I would appreciate it. Since I come from a reefing background I do understand the pain it takes and the conflicting schools of thoughts that exist with hobbyists

Thank you in advance to anyone who replies
CO2 injected is extremely helpful for planted tanks but not required for many plants (there are others that definitely DO require co2. CO2 injected tanks grow in MUCH faster, like 10x faster then non co2 injected tanks (aka 'low tech'). It sounds like you are interested in iwagumi style tanks. Those pretty much all require co2 (there are exceptions but generally speaking). So you should consider that when making your decision if you like that style of tank.

Hopefully this is helpful.


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post #3 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-28-2020, 04:32 PM
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I'd recommend reading and understanding the entire 2hour Aquarist website by Dennis Wong. I was a reef guy too; for me the size of my tank was determined by the volume of water I was willing to change on a weekly basis. 60 gallons was it for me. I dose a little leaner( PPS Pro method)and only change 15 gallons a week. This is one of my tanks; the SPS equivalent for fresh:

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post #4 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-28-2020, 11:17 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks minorhero, you pretty much gave me exactly what I was after, much appreciated. Beautiful tank mboley , I will definitely have a read of Dennis wong. Thank you
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post #5 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-29-2020, 12:21 AM
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Good advice above.

We have a large number of former reefers on the board here. Who knows, you may find you know some of them. I think most will say that planted tanks are also complicated, just in a different way.

And much of what is gospel in reefs is counter intuitive to growing plants. So there is a learning curve, and it's not as easy as some would expect. Getting a planted tank dialed in takes time and patience.

The Dennis Wong site is great one to start with. I also recommend finding tanks that demonstrate success in a style similar to what you hope to achieve. Study their methods, and it will give you a good blue print to follow. But even then, no two tanks are the same, so still expect some trial and error and bumps and bruises along the way.

Welcome to the board, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with. I think you will find there are lots of helpful folks here, and a good sense of community. The board is a little quieter in the middle of summer, but gets busier in the fall.

FWIW, here is my tank. Not corals, but still pretty colorful.



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post #6 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-29-2020, 04:47 AM
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I was a reef person for years. Still post on R2R. It’s really all the same to me as far as how complicated it is, just depends on what you want. I can set up a small salt take with a couple of fish and a coral or two, easy. Same with plants. But if you’re wanting to get results like a professional aquascaper or have a complex reef set up, it’s going to take time and patience and learning. As the post above said getting colors from plants and the right parameters isn’t easy.

Too me, a planted tank brings out a more artistic ability than reefs, reefs are more technical.

The great thing about a planted tank is it will be less money than corals and saltwater fish. A little less on the equipment too. But if you’re like me and want a ‘magazine tank’ the learning curve is just as hard which as a former reefer you know that means lots of failures and patience lol. Good luck!
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post #7 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-29-2020, 07:41 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks guys, that tanks looks mint Greggz, excellent colours there. Yes fishnovice33 has to be a magazine tank, no point in doing things half arsed I suppose. After 7 years of reefing, neither cost nor work neither seeing lifestock loss fazes me anymore :-D. I didnt realise plant colouration is a goal in planted tanks !! I really am digging a mix of Brazilian and Iwagumi so at least have the beginings of a goal in mind. Does an opti clear/ starfire/low iron glass tank add to the effect as much as it does in a reef ?

I already have automatic water top of RODI set up for my marine tank and an automatic water change system so connecting up the fresh water set up to the RODI container for auto water changes should be fairly simple. Though not entirely sure of how much percentage water needs to be replaced. Correct me if I am wrong but a 5% daily leading to 35% weekly should work well for starters. I can also use my existing carbon reactor for polishing the fresh water. In terms of other equipment the cannister filter and LEDs seem to be the key. Any recommendations in terms of the best available and the best value available based on experience or research ?
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post #8 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-29-2020, 11:29 AM
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I already have automatic water top of RODI set up for my marine tank and an automatic water change system so connecting up the fresh water set up to the RODI container for auto water changes should be fairly simple. Though not entirely sure of how much percentage water needs to be replaced. Correct me if I am wrong but a 5% daily leading to 35% weekly should work well for starters. I can also use my existing carbon reactor for polishing the fresh water. In terms of other equipment the cannister filter and LEDs seem to be the key. Any recommendations in terms of the best available and the best value available based on experience or research ?
Water change needs depend on the type of tank you are going to keep.

Low light less demanding plants need less nutrients and could get by with less water changes. High light high tech requires more of both. In general, you won't find many planted tankers with daily WC set ups. Most all do large WC on weekly basis.

As to carbon, you don't want or need it in a planted tank. In a reef, you are used to removing everything. In a planted tank, we add everything. PO4 is a good example. Reefers try to remove it, we dump it in.

As to LED's, don't discount the use of T5. Most of the best tanks in the world that I follow use T5. Very difficult to replicate the even coverage and color with LED's.
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post #9 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-29-2020, 12:21 PM
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I highly recommend reading Dennis Wong web site before starting your first planted tank. https://www.advancedplantedtank.com/ His info is clear, convincing, and accurate to the point that, amazingly, I can't find one disagreement.

I think one major difference between reef and freshwater tank maintenance is water change. Reef tank folks try to minimize water change and maximize chemical and biological filtration because making up saltwater is expensive, corrosive and tedious. Freshwater folks favor water change as the ultimate catch all filtration as freshwater is cheap, clean and easy to make--just turn on the tap and add dechlor. There is no need to make RO water unless your tap water is rock hard nevertheless there are plant choices that are adapted to hard water.
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post #10 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-29-2020, 01:55 PM
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My water is rock hard haha. I use supplements and buffers. No room for more equipment. Aqua soil will buff the hell out of it anyways.

For a canister filter there are several options, and yes they’re very key for a heavily planted tank. Personally I like the tried and true eheim Classic. No canister has been around as long. Very simplistic design, no bypassing, and has a history of working for decades. There is a reason the same design has been around for years and years. Two drawbacks -ugly color and you’ll need to buy a model that is overkill for your tank and figure out the flow.

There are other like Fluvals, Eheim pros, which offer more options, like caskets, flow control, safety auto shut off, some even heat the water for you like the Eheim 3. Everyone will have their opinion but overall the classics pros/cost can’t be beat IMO. You can get a 2217 for $150, the others will cost around $250. Depending on your tank I’d budget $300-$500 for filtering.

As far as lighting T5s will give you the most bang for your buck. Highest par, lowest cost. LEDs will still be able to do just fine. It’s all about PAR and the type of plants you have. I prefer LED mainly due to heat and also my hate for bulbs. LEDs spectrum and intensity can also be adjusted without modification, which I like. For brands there are three I’d recommend Current USA, Fluval Planted 3.0, Finnex. In that order it goes from quality and price. The spectrum and PAR matter most, but you have to be careful at first because the plants need to be able to take over the nutrient battle vs. algae and if you just blast plants with light at first, you end up with an algae tank. Afully stocked, well maintained should have minimum algae issues. The battle against algae will be your first biggest challenge.

The ultimate lighting would be a nice AI Prime set up, I’m sure you familiar being in reefs. Though for me they were just too expensive as I would have needed 3-4 of them over 4-6 feet vs. a T5 or even LED the difference is close to 1k$.

Your water changes will directly depend on your filtration, stock, water source, species, and parameters. When your first going through the nitrogen cycle it’s usually every few days 10% then once established 50% a week tapered down quickly, a fully planted/stocked, to 25% every 10 days or so. Key is watching for spikes which is why I change more as livestock is introduced and then less% as livestock becomes stable. Any kind of spike is worse than something increasing slowly over time. But this is very subjective to the above listed conditions. Testing parameters is really the only way to know for sure. As I said I have rock hard water so I have to treat and let sit out for changes and do them more often. Some species love hard water and some hate it.

As stated above, there is no need for carbon. It’s fine at first to help clear the water but eventually change it out with seachum purigen IMO. Purigen is great for the planted and stocked tank. I highly highly suggest if you’re stocking with fish, you have a smaller ‘sick/quarantine’ tank set up. Because if you have a sick fish you’ll need to alter your filtering so that whatever medication you’re adding, and parameters the illness requires will be most effective.
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post #11 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-30-2020, 06:29 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks guys, ok so I have shortlisted the styles, the equipment, the maintenance regime, plant varieties and fish. So now all that remains is going through some resources for set up and maintenance to meet my desired objective. Thanks a lot to everyone who helped me out. I hope I can return in a few months with some semblance of success and share my experiences as well as the tank.
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post #12 of 14 (permalink) Old 07-31-2020, 09:16 PM
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My advice to anyone is to always start with a 60p type tank. It's not too small but not too big and you can create a scape with greath depth and complexity if you want. There are also more lights built for this size tank than all the others combined.
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post #13 of 14 (permalink) Old 08-02-2020, 06:34 AM
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Thanks guys, ok so I have shortlisted the styles, the equipment, the maintenance regime, plant varieties and fish. So now all that remains is going through some resources for set up and maintenance to meet my desired objective. Thanks a lot to everyone who helped me out. I hope I can return in a few months with some semblance of success and share my experiences as well as the tank.
Hey man, here is a little straight talk from a guy who just went through a huge education in high end planted tanks over the last couple of months:
1. Get CO2 from the jump. It’s not hard to set up and makes a dramatic difference in the results.
2. Shallow tanks are the way to go. It’s much harder and costlier to get high PAR at the substrate with an 18 or 24” tall tank than a shallower one.
3. Controversial maybe, but don’t spend money on substrate. Many plants don’t even root in it, and most can get nutrients from the water column. Pool filter sand, black diamond blasting sand, pea gravel or other inert substrates cost around $10 for 50lbs. The cost difference between those and premium substrates in my case (60” and 72” tanks) is insane.
4. Don’t fear water changes. I saw a reefer do one once and was put off saltwater forever. Get a python, hook it up to your sink, suck 50% of the water out and refill straight from tap once a week. Use seachem prime and you’re done.
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post #14 of 14 (permalink) Old 08-04-2020, 02:28 PM
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So a couple things to add. CO2 is the calcium reactor of planted tanks. Is it required, no, but it makes everything a hell of a lot easier when dialed in. Planted tanks can be as easy or difficult as you want them, same as reefs. A no CO2, low light tank is the zoa/leather tank of planted tanks. Little fertilization, less water changes required, but always good imo. A high tech/high light tank is the mixed reef. An all stems is the sps only tank. All the plants grow at similar lighting, so even with higher light, your not trying to find that one spot of shade for a blasto/anubias.

As for water changes, if you have a water source closish to the tank, a python makes them all but trivial. I do 150ish gallons of water changes per week with almost zero effort. Even with a reef (edge 6 gallon), I do a 4 gallons per week because its easy as 1 bucket. Pretty much any FW tank is this easy or easier.

Personally, I would go with an AIO fertilizer like thrive for your first tank. Many of your macros will come from feeding depending on stocking. For my water, I normally have deficiencies in micros. This will depend on your setup, but an AIO will normally solve it. If you actually want a crystal clear tank, purigen will make this easier. I started with the crystal clear mentality, but have become far more keen to blackwater. Tannins are beneficial for most types of fish and have a natural healing property.


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