My planted tank now only grows algae! What is wrong? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-15-2014, 09:00 PM Thread Starter
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My planted tank now only grows algae! What is wrong?

My 90 gallon planted tank has been having issues for a long time now, and I would like to get some ideas of what might be wrong. It is the tank in my signature and I have posted before about my issues, but basically I have had BGA on and off (mostly on) for over a year. First the tank was doing great and looked amazing for a super cheapo low tech tank, especially since it is my second fish tank and first planted tank, but it is now mostly algae and decaying plants. Over the past month more plants have been dying than growing, except for the floating plants anyway.

I kept a journal to record major events in the tank, but sadly I was not very detailed and until there were real issues I did not really record anything. The tank has been set up since around 4/16/2012. It uses 4 t8 bulbs and dirt capped with pool filter sand. There is no CO2 and I have not been dosing fertilizers until recently. There are 3 eheim canister filters and the tank has always been pretty under stocked.

If you see anything that might be causing problems please suggest what I should try to do. I at least want to try to get rid of all of this BGA, but I would love to get the tank looking like it was. Below is a more detailed description of everything that has happened to the tank.
The videos depict the tank before it went downhill, the first BGA outbreak, and the tank as of this week. I took off one of the 4 bulbs thinking there might be too much light on the tank, and I believe this killed a lot of the dwarf sag and java fern.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gi-W5SHjbE0
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNvuTfeUABg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8_LhQTAcUA


I began having problems around February of 2013. I believe this was caused by the lights aging and looking at the journal the nitrates have been at 0 since 6/25/2012, so I am guessing the plants where using up everything in the water column and one of the possible causes of BGA is no nitrates. After treating the tank with macaryn and getting new lights the algae went away and things got better, but the tank never fully recovered. The new lights were 6500K bulbs when I had been using 5000k. Everything was going OK, but by August the tank was going downhill and the plants began to stop growing as much. I noticed the downoi, which had been growing very large and wide near the substrate, began growing very tall with scraggly leaves. By November java ferns and anubias began growing spot algae and the moss was covered in hair algae. The anubias now has wrinkled leaves covered in a very dark green/black algae that grows flat on the surface of the leaf. By December of 2013 the BGA was growing on every surface exposed to light, the rocks started growing black beard algae, and many plants started dying or simply stopped growing. I attempted to treat the BGA again with a 7 day blackout along with erythromycin treatments but the plants seemed to suffer more than the BGA. I also found the original type of bulbs I was using and used 2 of those. I also began dosing dry fertilizers and had been adding root tabs since around august. The most concerning problem is that all of the jungle val has died. This stuff used to grow like a weed and was the fasted growing plant in the tank, but now it has all melted away. It looks like the jungle Val has literally used up the dirt substrate in the back corner of the tank. The roots are mostly exposed from the sand sinking down. There looks to be about a ½” difference between the sand depth on either side of the plastic barrier I used to keep the jungle val contained.

With the dry fertilizers, the water lettuce and salvinia minima have been growing like crazy and I have to remove them weekly. Last week I removed a 6500k bulb to see if there was too much light for the tank after removing the floaters that had almost completely covered the surface. As a result, most of the dwarf sag died as well as almost all of the java fern. The surviving mini pellia that had not been covered in BGA was also “burned” and turned a grey color. This mini pellia is on a piece on wood in the front part of the tank, and strangely only half of it died while the other half survived.


Any help would be greatly appreciated. Everything I have tried has not worked.


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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-15-2014, 10:31 PM
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substrate appears to be small mm quartz sand, too inert. not enough nutrients, not enough detritus loading to not run out of macronutrients fast, so your plants ghost

need co2

need to use thumb to clean off all leaves in a big 4 hour cleaning run on that tank. do big water change. install a uv sterilizer meant for a pond, not one meant for an aquarium. a pond sterilizer, they aren't that much more. run it 24 7, or just long enough to clean, whatever you prefer. mine was 24x7

go to lfs get all in one dupla or equivalent CO2 metering kit for a hundred bucks. then go to welding store pay 12 dollars rent 5 lb canister refill one a quarter like I did for ten years.


research chlorosis corrective dosing and the corresponding nutrients, but it wont matter all that much when you change bulbs to guaranteed good light (to eliminate that variable) and begin correct co2 that is measured for pH correctly.

what you posted is my 1996. my tank looked 100% exactly like that. after doing what I said it became the turtle tank in this vid


ignore the sw stuff in the end theres a 75 g planted tank. its no amano as I didnt have access to carpeting plants like we did now but you can see there was dang sure no algae or chlorosis. what emerged from my starving for feed tank was a densely loaded substrate with organics and plant specific details (yours will work better as it ages) with CO2 and UV

dosing ferts never had to be exact, I had a forest. thats how your tank will evolve, you need to give it roids man.
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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-15-2014, 10:35 PM
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My first go at a planted tank went like this. I thought I had a lot of light 3x t8 tubes and I did a huge diy co2. It gradually stopped pearling, then bba came, now the plants are all covered in bba and im clueless about what to do. My new tank I decided to take plunge and got t5 lights and pressurised co2. I also got some siamese algae eaters and Otocinclus and started ei dosing and I have no algae in that tank.

I guess that the plants dont have everything they need in your tank and the worst algaes have taken a hold. Try the Otocinclus and sias blea h dips and get pressurised co2 and more light? I am nooby though so prob talking crap

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I just seen you using t8 are your tubes dying?

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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-16-2014, 02:39 AM Thread Starter
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The new 5000k bulbs are only 3 months old. The tank started off on four 5000k phillips bulbs, but when I replaced them sometime in April of 2013, all I could find locally were 6500K GE bulbs. The tank currently has two 6500K GE bulbs (2700 lumens, CRI: 78) and two phillips 5000k (2850 lumens, CR: 82).

brandon429,
The substrate is pool filter sand with dirt underneath. Are you saying that going high tech is the only real way to fix the tank up? Do you think there is too much light for the tank to go without CO2? I was wondering if lack of CO2 was the main issue, especially because the dirt probably released a lot of CO2 when the tank was first set up. What do you think would be required to keep the tank a low tech tank? Removing a bulb? I am guessing that would mean most of the plants would not survive since the dwarf sag and java fern did not react well to removing a bulb.


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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-16-2014, 03:47 AM
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No I think lots of low tech lush tanks exist, but I'm saying your tank was mine for years and only those changes got me what I wanted.

This pic below is zero tech planting but its easy for a five gallon sphere.

To load your substrate up with enough organic decay will take a long time
The organic decay in this sphere is natural co2 pump, can run fifty years or more easy, and it is the ferts. All I do is feed shrimp and change water.

But getting a really clean, slightly eutrophic 90 gallon up like that will take nearly a substrate replacement so I'd work another angle.

I know you dirt loaded it but that sag isn't being nourished either way. I don't see detritus poking up from that quartz, perhaps the roots are mostly resting in inert substrate, systemic nitrogen is low as reported, co2 etc not maximized thats my call.

You can cheat that by dosing light ferts with co2 its steroids.


Contrast the co2 injection and uv, the two chief things you could do as an upgrade, with this bowl that uses only the densely organic substrate approach.


This bowl is non heated non filtered shrimp bog its nearing 13 years

Why no chlorosis with no tech, no co2 and no filters? Totally different design.

Not inert quartz (which isn't bad when enriched, its a nice grain size river bed look you just need to charge it up)
The bowl focuses on having substrate with 13 years snails and guppy waste loaded plant specific laterite packed flourite substrate

So it doesn't need high tech but i do drive a corvette light on this thing. A secret to low tech for me is to not skimp on lighting. This is 14 k old school 150 mh lighting, what you wanted in 2004

You won't see me on led this mh plant light is sick. So my point is, each system has a specific design to address plants getting nutrients and since we aren't working from the start to engineer a high organic substrate, don't go that way go ahead and max out the tech with a co2 setup they are really pnp nowadays and some uv your system will change.

Just the uv alone could zap all that algae, it did mine. I used a uv for a five thousand gallon pond it wasn't all that big. All new bulbs, Dupla co2 all in one kit, fat uv, you love your tank in four mos.

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Last edited by brandon429; 12-10-2014 at 09:42 PM.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-16-2014, 01:01 PM
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I'm sorry to see the problems in your tank, it has degenerated a lot from the 1st to the 3rd video.
If it was my tank I would seriously consider starting again. By that I mean pulling this one down and trying to save as many of the plants as possible but cutting all the dead parts off, rinsing them, brushing off the algae, dipping or spraying some with Excel and/or HP, and then setting them aside in a separate pail of tap water.
Taking out and scrubbing your rocks & wood with a bit of chlorine water and then let them air dry for a while.
Remove the substrate, scrub the tank, and then replace the substrate with new.
A lot of work yes and a bit of heartbreak but I would not at this point be trying to safe the tank as is. To me there is too much algae and too many dead or dying plants. I'm not saying it can't be saved but that I would opt for the new start method myself and then try again to achieve the balance needed to discourage the algae while encouraging the plants.
I have no real experience with maintaining low tech tanks but it seems to me that going a little more high tech with the CO2, Excel dosing, and adding ferts gives you more control to achieve what you want. That idea might be shot down by the low tech folks but it is how I think at the moment.
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-16-2014, 04:36 PM
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A curiosity issue, but what were you dosing in this tank ?
Pleco(s) is responsible for damage to java ferns...eats algae which is common on java fern as it grows slowly so leaves last a long time and get algae on them, but he don't
stop when he gets to the bottom of the algae..
You can go either way with this tank on that high/low tech, but I believe you8 had too much light for not having the CO2. Less light or add CO2. I would use two of the 6500K bulbs but I might substitute a 10,000K for one of them and then I would get(buying two at a time gives you a spare) one 5400K horticulture bulb from one of their on-line shops giving you a total of three and no CO2. Or get two new 6500K to replace the old ones(every 10 months) and add the CO2/w the 4 bulbs.
But I hate to say it...I would go/w Steve on everything he said and do either the 3 or the 4 bulb/w CO2. You can stick/w the 3 bulb/w no CO2 and I would but because I can't afford it/ don't really want anything like fast growing plants.
But... unless you really want high growth rates...get rid of any Wisteria and learn ferts.
TheWisteria are Potassium hogs and harm your other plants if not fed enough of it by
taking what they would use. Once any one fert is completely depleted all plant growth stops. With as many plants as you originally had, you needed fert dosing even if light
and being rid of the Wisteria. With the level of plants you had, you would have needed full EI ferts plus extra KNO3 to keep up/w that Wisteria in there(likely...I'm no expert
anything). I don't think there is actually a line that yoiu can cross to get there...but
seems to me that injected CO2 is not low tech. Once that is there...it's high tech.
I have (JFTR) two 10g tanks...one is T8 x 2 bulbs @ 2.8 WPG and no Excel but a light
version of the "EI Low light/Weekly" ferts. The other is T5 x 2 bulbs @ 3.6 WPG/w Excel
and "EI Low light Weekly". I live/w no CO2 @ 3.6 WPG so you can also IF you want to.
But Excel is expensive for a 90g tank.
BTW: There are a few people here who have just PFS for a sub and dose dry ferts only
so redoing the sub need not be that expensive. Some of them don't use any root tabs either and still have nice tanks/plants.

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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2014, 03:43 AM Thread Starter
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Well thanks for all of the great suggestions. I was thinking that restarting the tank would probably be the best plan of action, but wanted to hear what you all might suggest. I will be moving soon and I am not sure if I will be able to set up the tank again for a while, if at all. The tank will be able to stay up for another 4-5 months though, so I hope to at least limit the algae. Aside from enjoying the tank while I can, I also want to be able to know what to do should this happen in the future. Hopefully I can do a better job of setting the tank up again if I do get the chance.

I use a measuring spoon that is measured in "dash", "pinch", and "smidgens". I think a smidgen is around 1/16 of a teaspoon. Once or twice a week I dose 2-3 "smidgens" of KNO3, roughly 1 "smidgen" of KH2P04 and csm+b, and every week or two 1 "smidgen" of K2SO4. I need to test again, but when I tried dosing ~1/4 tsp of KNO3 and 1/8 of everything else twice a week, the KNO3 tests came back at like 60+PPM. I think the lights are on for around 8 hours. And I know the fish did not harm the java ferns and dwarf sag because they have been growing fine until I removed the one light about 2 weeks ago.

Another thing I have noticed is there is a lot of surface film. Isn't that a sign of too much organics or something in the water? Does that mean I should not dose any K2SO4 or am I getting that confused with something else?


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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-18-2014, 04:18 PM
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your water column has dissolved waste from the light fish loading and the ferts in solution, with light, so algae and film capitalize first. plants are not in heavy uptake mode due to lighting and co2 balances, so the excess goes to the undesirables.

to do differently just make a better substrate mix that keeps the water column more free of dissolved nutrients and more bound up under the water column among the roots, thats what I do and did. then drive the plants better in one way or another vs being in the middle of each option thats my offer.
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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-19-2014, 06:57 AM Thread Starter
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Next time I set up the tank I will probably go with CO2.

For now what would be the best simple option to improve conditions for the next 4 months? I would at least like to enjoy the fish, even if I do not have as many plants. A majority of them are dead already anyway.


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post #11 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-19-2014, 02:45 PM
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I thought about it as if it was my tank and my opinion is the uv
don't know if that factors into the budget allotment but zapping algae I think would give the most enjoyment. couple hundred for an item you'll always enjoy cheating with. Since uv stopped my algae prob I'll never forget the relief having battled it years prior. Not sure what improvements to make that aren't an eq purchase, we are in the very middle of high and low tech here!
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post #12 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-19-2014, 04:00 PM
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After looking at your videos, I feel the biggest problem looks to be lack of maintenance. How often do you clean your filter? What kind of water changes and how often? This can be fixed but its going to take a little work. First would be getting your arms wet, remove as much of the dead matter as possible, scrub algae off hardscape and plants, try to remove as much algae from the substrate as possible without stirring it up too much. Do a 50% water change, clean your filters. Put the 6500k bulbs in and cut your lighting time to 6 hrs a day. Get a couple bunches of Water Sprite, plant them in a way that they shade the Anubias, they will help with excess nutrients. Star dosing with Algaefix at about half the recommended dose for a week, then a 50% water change,clean filter and tank. Up the dosage of algaefix to 75% of recommended dose for a week, WC and clean. That should get you back on track. It won't be an easy task but can be done with diligence. Good luck and hope to see it back in all it's glory.


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post #13 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-19-2014, 06:23 PM
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The tank can still be saved as I am fighting the exact same battle. I had a huge bga and bba outbreak in my 55 gallon along with plants dying and/or simply stopped growing. After a lot of research and not wanting to tear down the tank or go high tech, I took the best advice I found. Focus on growing the plants first and dealing with algae second.

First I looked at my lighting and in my case decided it wasn't great for the plants. Went with the common diamond plate shop light at home depot for $30 and painted it black. Bought to 6500 daylight bulbs for it and checked the charts to find the correct height (par at substrate). Also changed my lighting schedule to only 6 hours a day until the algae is under control.

Second I did a complete cleanup and 60% water change, getting as much of the algae out by hand/siphon as possible. Also made sure to thoroughly clean out the canister filter.

Next was the BGA since it isn't really algae needed to be taken care of separately. I treated with erythromycin per the directions on the box. Once the treatment was complete I waited till the BGA was dead and did another complete cleanup and 60% water change along with cleaning the filter again. Since high organics can contribute to BGA I now make sure to keep to a cleaning schedule (tank once a week and filter every three weeks), feed the fish every other day, and use a baster to stir up waste for a more thorough cleaning.

After that I looked at feeding the plants. Put root tabs throughout and started seachem comprehensive twice a week. Decided on flourish excel to keep it low tech and realized it's not close to expensive as many believe. I dose per instructions daily (5ml per 50g) and ignore the major dosage at water changes, sticking with the 5ml per 50g rule. I might double dose at most, but typically don't. When you look at price, a 500ml bottle can be found on Amazon for around $11. That would last you almost two months (50 days). Better yet, spend $30 for a 2L which would last you six months/half a year. Roughly $60 a year is pretty cheap in the grand scheme of things.

Lastly I looked at my occupants and like you was understocked. Since the fish help feed the plants I decided it couldn't hurt and would help balance the tank. I added more fish along with a few more plants. The addition of some amano shrimp to my cleanup crew to battle the BBA helped as well.

It's been about a month now and the BGA hasn't returned, the BBA and other algae stopped growing and actually seem to be receding (shrimp might be helping with that). Plants have finally taken off with lots of new growth. My wife commented the other night that it finally looks like a tank again lol. With time and sticking to the routine I think I will be algae free, or as close to that as possible. Though as of now the tank already looks better than I expected and I don't have to bother starting over.

Edit: Forgot to add I adjusted the filter output to improve flow as well.

Good luck!

Last edited by Absntmind; 04-19-2014 at 07:46 PM. Reason: Forgot something
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post #14 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-26-2014, 01:14 AM Thread Starter
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I usually do water changes of 40-50% every week. Recently I have only been doing 50% every 2 weeks because I have been busy, the hose outlet I normally use broke 2 months ago, and I can’t help scrubbing the tank down any time I do a water change, which takes like 3 hours now that there is so much BGA. I did just realize that I have not cleaned the filters in a long time. The largest eheim classic was cleaned about 3 months ago and the other 2 ecco models were cleaned 4- 5 months ago. I would get a UV filter and CO2, but since the tank is going to be shut down in a few months I would rather not spend very much on it. The lights are on for about 6 hours now. They used to be on for 7 hours but I took an hour off a few weeks ago.

My plan now is to completely clean the tank and try to start with a clean slate. I will start by scrubbing the rocks, wood, plants, and substrate clean of BGA and algae. After that I will dose with some H2O2 and do a 50% water change. A few days later I will do another 20-40% water change and clean the 2 ecco filters and possibly dose with H2O2. A week later I will clean the last filter and do a 50% water change. After all of that is done I will continue to do weekly/biweekly water changes and dose with dry fertilizers.

I have some left over erythromycin as well. Should I bother using this and do a blackout along with everything else? I am afraid that the BGA is resistant because it seemed to have survived the last treatment I did, which was over 200mg per 10 gallons for 4 days along with a 5 day blackout.

Is there anything else I should do to maximize the effectiveness of this plan? I was thinking towards the end I will use a small amount of carbon just to help get the water clean of some excess dissolved solids. I am also not sure if I should remove all of the fish waste and dead/dying plants. I know these act as fertilizer, but is too much decaying organic material bad for a planted tank? About 30% of the original plant matter is now dead- this includes some large jungle val root systems. Should I remove all of this? Also should I remove floating plants? They almost completely cover the tank over 1-2 weeks. The final thing I am not sure about is the lighting. The 6500K bulbs are now probably in need of being replaced, but should I just get more 6500K GE bulbs or something else?



Thanks for all the suggestions by the way. To be honest I have been slacking on the tank because it seems hopeless and useless to maintain it well if everything I tried to do did not help the plants at all. Hearing success stories gives me enough hope to put in the extra effort.


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post #15 of 17 (permalink) Old 04-26-2014, 01:01 PM
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Erythromycin kills the filter bed Ive read so I wouldn't use it when peroxide which doesn't kill the bed has such detailed threads.

Regarding the lights, I found an interesting way to know if ones we are using are good enough this works for both reef and planted as there are myriad lights avail now and choosing is hard to do because it seems like a costly guess.
If you can find an active thread right now using the lights in question with documented plant growth, from start to finish with obvious plant growth, thats how you know if they are a good purchase. If no thread can be located, you are considering being the starter of one someone else may use as a reference point for their tank, so the choice remains to use documented successful lights, or save money by experimenting to see what works and posting it.

People have different takes on removing organic matter and this is the push/pull of high tech and low tech. Hi tech with its machinery for removal and capture of detritus might opt for removing waste and decay, as the tech aspect of their tanks handle plants with dosing and gas and lighting, relying less on natural ferts.

Contrast that with my planted bowl or any walstad bowl which pretty much stores its waste indefinitely, and again I'm seeing clear lines between the two systems even though you can always find examples of mid ground setups for both.

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