Advice needed: cycling a planted tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-06-2013, 05:30 PM Thread Starter
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Advice needed: cycling a planted tank

Hello all,

Can you help advise me on how to cycle my planted tank?

I've got a 90G newly dirted and planted tank. There's approximately 1-1.5 inches of Miracle Gro capped by Black Diamond blasting sand. My filter is a Fluval 406. This is the third week i'll have water in the tank, but only the second week with the plants.

I have read a bit about the fishless cycle using ammonia, but i've read in some places that plants can sustain "ammonia burn" during this process. Knowing that I have plants in the tank already, what is the best way to proceed?

I am currently fishless and the soil is leeching a small amount of ammonia into the water. I can't remember the number value of the reading on my API test kit, but it was the second lowest color on the chart other than the one that corresponded to "0." That number isn't rising or decreasing as far as I can tell.

At this point, I've got some Tetra Safe Start coming in the mail (haven't used it yet) and I was thinking of doing a slow fish-in cycle using some giant danios or something.

What would you all advise that I do given the current situation? I really should have used the last few weeks to do a cycle of some filter media in a spare bucket, but I didn't realize that at the time.

(Btw - A few of the plants have been hit with some annoying melt , including my narrow leaf micro sword, my red tiger lotus, and even some of the hygro. Is that normal for those plants?)

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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-06-2013, 06:54 PM
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I have eheim 2217 canister, on my 100 galon low tech planted, i succesfully did fishless cycle. Ittook me about a month, i couldnt get good amonia source.. At the end my tank and plantsband wood werecovered with white bacteria coat, bu water was clear.. That coating dissapeared overtime.

What i did in stockings i put some fish food pellets, and left it like that inthe tank.. That was mynamonia source. But man when intook it out- it smelled really really bad, although my tank and water were odorless..

So keep plants there no problem, just find good amonia source, if u can, or use fish food. It takes time tough.. And temperature- bacteria loves high temp., 28 celcius is good.. Btw, u dont have to have your tank full, one third on half is good.
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-06-2013, 07:19 PM
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The best way to proceed is to do the fishless cycle or buy those products that already has beneficial bacteria (I heard and read about these products, but have no experience or knowledge about them; you would have to do your research).
The ammonia from the soil won't be enough to feed the bacteria, so look for another source. mmdiscus mentioned some good examples.

Don't worry about the ammonia and its effects on the plant because to my knowledge, some plants actually prefer to use ammonia as nutrients.

As for the plants, they might just be adjusting to their new environment. That is why they are melting. What kind of light do you have? How many? What is your PAR?
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-06-2013, 07:28 PM
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I tried bactozyn tablets , beneficial bacteria, during my cycle.. Didnt quite work out, maybe i did something wrong, i didnt see anynpositive effect.
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-06-2013, 07:59 PM
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I cycled my aquarium a couple years ago I used straight ammonia and seeding with regular tank enzyme from the lfs. I had water sprite, moss, and moneywort. All survived the fishless cycle just fine.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-06-2013, 09:14 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks guys. I have 4 T5's. Two of them are on for 6-7 hours a day. I turn the other set on for an hour or so at night... I realize all 4 would lead to algae soup.
I will get ferts eventually.

I'm sort of leaning towards a half dozen giant danios and the TTS because I don't fully get the fish less cycle and I can't find pure ammonia at any store (they are all scented). I realize that is short sighted and simplistic so definitely still want feedback...
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-07-2013, 03:04 AM
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Here is the fishless cycle.
I have addressed the ammonia burn question in there, but I will repeat it here:

Many plants cannot handle more than about 1 ppm ammonia. To do a fishless cycle but not allow the ammonia to get higher do this:
Test and add ammonia twice a day, but never more than 1 ppm. This will feed enough bacteria to fully cycle the tank, it will be ready to handle a reasonable fish load.

Look at it this way:
During the fishless cycle you add ammonia to 3 ppm. The bacteria use it all, and have nothing to eat for a while. Feeding them a smaller amount, but twice a day is more closely resembling the way they will be fed when there are fish or shrimp in the tank. If you have the time to do it, feed the bacteria 3 times a day, as equally spread out as possible.

DurCycle: To grow the beneficial bacteria that remove ammonia and nitrite from the aquarium.

Fish-In Cycle: To expose fish to toxins while using them as the source of ammonia to grow nitrogen cycle bacteria. Exposure to ammonia burns the gills and other soft tissue, stresses the fish and lowers their immunity. Exposure to nitrite makes the blood unable to carry oxygen. Research methemglobinemia for details.

Fishless Cycle: The safe way to grow more bacteria, faster, in an aquarium, pond or riparium.

The method I give here was developed by 2 scientists who wanted to quickly grow enough bacteria to fully stock a tank all at one time, with no plants helping, and overstock it as is common with Rift Lake Cichlid tanks.

1a) Set up the tank and all the equipment. You can plant if you want. Include the proper dose of dechlorinator with the water.
Optimum water chemistry:
GH and KH above 3 German degrees of hardness. A lot harder is just fine.
pH above 7, and into the mid 8s is just fine.
Temperature in the upper 70s F (mid 20s C) is good. Higher is OK if the water is well aerated.
A trace of other minerals may help. Usually this comes in with the water, but if you have a pinch of KH2PO4, that may be helpful.
High oxygen level. Make sure the filter and power heads are running well. Plenty of water circulation.
No toxins in the tank. If you washed the tank, or any part of the system with any sort of cleanser, soap, detergent, bleach or anything else make sure it is well rinsed. Do not put your hands in the tank when you are wearing any sort of cosmetics, perfume or hand lotion. No fish medicines of any sort.
A trace of salt (sodium chloride) is OK, but not required.
This method of growing bacteria will work in a marine system, too. The species of bacteria are different.

1b) Optional: Add any source of the bacteria that you are growing to seed the tank. Cycled media from a healthy tank is good. Decor or some gravel from a cycled tank is OK. Live plants or plastic are OK. Bottled bacteria is great, but only if it contains Nitrospira species of bacteria. Read the label and do not waste your money on anything else.
At the time this was written the right species could be found in:
Dr. Tims One and Only
Tetra Safe Start
Microbe Lift Nite Out II
...and perhaps others.
You do not have to jump start the cycle. The right species of bacteria are all around, and will find the tank pretty fast.

2) Add ammonia until the test reads 5 ppm. This ammonia is the cheapest you can find. No surfactants, no perfumes. Read the fine print. This is often found at discount stores like Dollar Tree, or hardware stores like Ace. You could also use a dead shrimp form the grocery store, or fish food. Protein breaks down to become ammonia. You do not have good control over the ammonia level, though.
Some substrates release ammonia when they are submerged for the first time. Monitor the level and do enough water changes to keep the ammonia at the levels detailed below.

3) Test daily. For the first few days not much will happen, but the bacteria that remove ammonia are getting started. Finally the ammonia starts to drop. Add a little more, once a day, to test 5 ppm.

4) Test for nitrite. A day or so after the ammonia starts to drop the nitrite will show up. When it does allow the ammonia to drop to 3 ppm.

5) Test daily. Add ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. If the nitrite or ammonia go to 5 ppm do a water change to get these lower. The ammonia removing species and the nitrite removing species (Nitrospira) do not do well when the ammonia or nitrite are over 5 ppm.

6) When the ammonia and nitrite both hit zero 24 hours after you have added the ammonia the cycle is done. You can challenge the bacteria by adding a bit more than 3 ppm ammonia, and it should be able to handle that, too, within 24 hours.

7) Now test the nitrate. Probably sky high!
Do as big a water change as needed to lower the nitrate until it is safe for fish. Certainly well under 20, and a lot lower is better. This may call for more than one water change, and up to 100% water change is not a problem. Remember the dechlor!
If you will be stocking right away (within 24 hours) no need to add more ammonia. If stocking will be delayed keep feeding the bacteria by adding ammonia to 3 ppm once a day. You will need to do another water change right before adding the fish.

Helpful hints:

A) You can run a fishless cycle in a bucket to grow bacteria on almost any filter media like bio balls, sponges, ceramic bio noodles, lava rock or Matala mats. Simply set up any sort of water circulation such as a fountain pump or air bubbler and add the media to the bucket. Follow the directions for the fishless cycle. When the cycle is done add the media to the filter. I have run a canister filter in a bucket and done the fishless cycle.

B) The nitrogen cycle bacteria will live under a wide range of conditions and bounce back from minor set backs. By following the set up suggestions in part 1b) you are setting up optimum conditions for fastest reproduction and growth.
GH and KH can be as low as 1 degree, but watch it! These bacteria use the carbon in carbonates, and if it is all used up (KH = 0) the bacteria may die off.
pH as low as 6.5 is OK, but by 6.0 the bacteria are not going to be doing very well. They are still there, and will recover pretty well when conditions get better.
Temperature almost to freezing is OK, but they must not freeze, and they are not very active at all. They do survive in a pond, but they are slow to warm up and get going in the spring. This is where you might need to grow some in a bucket in a warm place and supplement the pond population. Too warm is not good, either. Tropical or room temperature tank temperatures are best. (68 to 85*F or 20 to 28*C)
Moderate oxygen can be tolerated for a while. However, to remove lots of ammonia and nitrite these bacteria must have oxygen. They turn one into the other by adding oxygen. If you must stop running the filter for an hour or so, no problem. If longer, remove the media and keep it where it will get more oxygen.
Once the bacteria are established they can tolerate some fish medicines. This is because they live in a complex film called Bio film on all the surfaces in the filter and the tank. Medicines do not enter the bio film well.
These bacteria do not need to live under water. They do just fine in a humid location. They live in healthy garden soil, as well as wet locations.

C) Planted tanks may not tolerate 3 ppm or 5 ppm ammonia. It is possible to cycle the tank at lower levels of ammonia so the plants do not get ammonia burn. Add ammonia to only 1 ppm, but test twice a day, and add ammonia as needed to keep it at 1 ppm. The plants are also part of the bio filter, and you may be able to add the fish sooner, if the plants are thriving.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 12-07-2013, 07:25 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks so much, Diana! You actually gave me this info awhile back and I have it printed out and saved, but I wanted more opinions on the Ammonia burn stuff. I guess I'm extra worried because I already am
Seeing more plant melt than i expected...

One question -- how do I know when I have added enough Ammonia or not? Is there a measurement? Honestly, I'm not sure what a ppm is.
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