Planted Tank Guru
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Contra Costa CA
A week before:
Clean the filter. Deep vacuum the gravel really well. This allows the bacteria some recovery time before the major disruption.
Day before: Prep enough water for 100%+ water change (if you need to let it stand or anything). Assemble all the tools and supplies. Rinse the new substrate (if needed).
Day of the change:
1) Turn off all equipment, unplug, disconnect, remove from tank...
2) Run clean water from the tank (before you disturb stuff) into enough buckets to hold the fish. Separate species, separate predators, separate Loaches. You can include plants in the buckets if you have shrimp or other livestock that want to cling to something, otherwise it is better not to put plants in the same buckets. Cover the fish buckets. Plants are better in shallow trays so you can see them when it is time to replant. You can run the filter on a bucket of water if you want, or just dump the filter media into its own bucket. The bacteria need high oxygen, and in an enclosed filter this is OK for maybe an hour or so, but better to open it up. Large decor could go in a plastic garbage bag if you want to keep it wet, but wood will stay wet enough to sink through the short time it is out of the tank. Not a significant amount of bacteria on the wood or large rocks to worry about saving it.
3) Skim out the top layer of gravel, perhaps 2-3 rocks thick. Maximum bacteria are on these upper layers where the maximum oxygen is. Set aside this skimmed layer in a damp location.
4) Siphon the water out of the tank, using this opportunity to wipe the glass, and vacuum the gravel really well in case you want to reuse it some day.
5) Remove the gravel.
6) Wipe out the tank.
7) Install new substrate, creating hills and valleys, add rock, driftwood or other hardscape elements. Slow release fertilizer can be added, too.
8) Plant, misting the plants.
9) Refill. If you suspect there will be a LOT of dust, then partially refill, then siphon out this water. Dig the siphon down deep into a corner, holding the substrate away so you do not siphon it out. Mostly you are pulling the water out through the substrate, giving it a sort of final rinse.
Put a plate or plastic bag over the substrate and pour the new water in slowly, allowing it to seep in over the sides of the bag or plate.
10) While it is filling put the equipment back on/in the tank. When it is full enough, turn on/ plug in the equipment and make sure it is working.
11) Put the reserved gravel in several mesh bags, perhaps a nylon stocking cut into 3 or more pieces. Hang these in a good water flow location, or set them on the floor of the tank. Optional, see step 12.
12) Add some Nitrospira species of bacteria from a bottle. Read the label and do not waste money on anything else.
13) Net the fish out of their buckets and add them to the tank in this order: First shy, peaceful, next a bit boisterous, last the most pushy or predatory fish. Fish under stress produce stress hormones and excess ammonia while they are in the buckets. You do not want this water in the tank.
The rest of the day: Light off. Feed half or less, and only if the fish are acting normal. OK to not feed.
The next day: Light on. Test for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, other parameters. Feed half or regular amount.
Be ready to do a water change, just in case, but if you added one of the bacteria in a bottle products do not do a water change unless something is really bad.
The rest of the week: Continue to monitor the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and other parameters. Go ahead with fertilizer, CO2. If the fish are not used to CO2, then increase the rate slowly, perhaps taking a week to do it. If you are using a substrate that comes with fertilizer you may not need to add any right away. Let the plants get established.