Cycling planted tank? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-31-2015, 02:15 AM Thread Starter
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Cycling planted tank?

I was wondering how one goes about cycling a planted tank. I admit I may have made a mistake buying plants right away (?).

I have a 20 gallon with 6 "assorted" plants I bought from the pet store. I do not know the species- they were on sale and it was something of an impulse to buy. I bought some eco-complete and put my regular gravel on top.

Now I was thinking I could cycle the aquarium normally, with the plants and the bacteria they come with helping out. However I keep getting conflicting information.

Should I be trying to lower ammonia levels? At what point does ammonia become toxic to plants? And do the plants consume ammonia?

This afternoon the ammonia level was at 1mg/L, I did a 75% water change as I thought it was too high, and now it is at 0.25. Nitrites and nitrates are at 0.

Also, when should I start adding fertilizer for the plants?

Thank you!
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post #2 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-31-2015, 02:35 AM
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No you did not make a mistake adding plants at the start. Ammonia will not hurt the plants at all. The more plants the better. Just make sure you have the proper lighting and ferts for them. Don't try to lower the ammonia. You have to have it to cycle the tank. You need to add a couple of hardy fish to keep your ammonia going, to feed your beneficial bacteria. Buy some prime conditioner from seachem. Use it as directed. It makes the ammonia non toxic to the fish. Read up on the nitrogen cycle. It will be more in depth with what you need to do.

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post #3 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-31-2015, 01:10 PM
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Here is the fishless cycle. Lots of info, and a special paragraph at the bottom about cycling with plants.

Cycle: 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. I have even heard of the right bacteria growing in the bio film found on driftwood. (So if you have been soaking some driftwood in preparation to adding it to the tank, go ahead and put it into the tank) 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 1a) 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 #4 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-31-2015, 02:39 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you for the replies

I will be testing everything daily. I added some parts of my old filter, hoping there would still be some bacteria... Though I suppose it's unlikely since it's been dry.
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post #5 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-31-2015, 03:02 PM
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Tank Cycling

Hello wtw...

Tank cycling is simple, if you stick to a daily routine. Adding plants is good, but don't use commercial fertilizers during the cycling process. Plants help steady the water chemistry during the cycle and the wastes the fish produce will nourish the plants. So, go with fish cycling. You add 3 to 4 hardy fish for every 10 gallons of water. Add 6 to 8 Guppies, Platys, Danios or Rasboras. Any of these will easily handle the changes in water conditions that happen during the cycling process as long as you monitor the tank water carefully.

Once the fish are in, feed a little every couple of days and begin testing the water daily for traces of ammonia and nitrite. If your test shows a trace of either, you change out 25 percent of the water and replace it with pure, treated tap water. Don't change out more water or you'll delay the process. You want to grow the bacteria colony. Bacteria need a steady source of nitrogen from the wastes to grow. Test every day and change the water when needed.

When several daily tests show no traces of ammonia or nitrite, your tank is cycled. The cycle takes a month or so. After the cycle, you change out half the water every week to maintain healthy water conditions.

Pretty simple if you follow the directions.


"Fear not my child, just change the tank water."
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post #6 of 6 (permalink) Old 07-31-2015, 03:33 PM
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That's unhelpful advice. In this hobby, it's now well-established that fishless cycling is not only more humane but easy. Diana has perfectly illustrated that. It's not always bad but why risk inhumane treatment of animals when you can easily and cheaply avoid it?

Cycling with fish is something the hobby did in the distant past. Not today. It's not necessary. Want to see how your fish can be potentially harmed? Do a google image search. You will not be pleased.

You can absolutely add commercial fertilizers to your tank during the initial 'cycle' if necessary.

It's not necessary to do water changes during an initial fishless cycle unless your ammonia or nites are sky-high (per Diana's post).

It's not a good idea to change 50% of your water every week unless you know you absolutely, without a doubt, need to do so. Unless you're matching water parameters 1-1, you run the risk of harming your livestock.

Come on, folks, stop giving what you know to be bad advice. Just because it's been part of your repertoire for 30 years doesn't make it okay as we learn more in this hobby.

Edit: Not trying to be too harsh but let's stop confusing people new to the hobby. It causes more harm than good.

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