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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have been planning a 20G high planted aquarium and just ordered the substrate, lights, etc.

My initial thought was to chock it full of fast growing stem plants to complete/accomplish the fishless cycle. Then, once some time passed (2-3 weeks?), and ammonia/nitrate measure 0 (nitrates measuring positive), I would rip those out and put in the plants I actually want and hardscape (which may or may not include some of the initial plants used for the cycle). Lastly, adding fish to the aquarium.

Is that a good approach? My concern is how the plants would get food, since there won't be any fish present?

Or should I use a bio-spira equivalent and not plant to start?

Help! It's been many years since I was actively involved in the hobby!
 

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Add pants, ignore the rest of the cycling baloney. Simple, plants remove NH4 and NO3. They come pre loaded with bacteria on their surface.

So add lots of plants, add ferts and do water changes maybe 2x a week at first for the 1-2 months till the plants really start growing in well.

Your goals are planted tanks, not growing bacteria, they will do what they will, but they are a small player in a planted tank.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
I'm concerned if I don't add enough fast growing plants, I won't out-compete the potential algae.

My 20G H lighting will be a Coralife 24" Freshwater Aqualight T5NO fixture (2 x 14w).

Maybe I don't need to be concerned?
 

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First and foremost, cycling a tank is neither an exact science or that difficult.

The bait-and-switch method you're trying to implement is unnecessary. Plants have a two-fold advantage when it comes to removing ammonia and nitrites (cycling a tank). (1) They consume ammonia (2) They are a biological surface on which bacteria grow. Most plants you will get, either clippings or entire plants, will already have some bacteria on their surface. All you'll have to do is provide the bacteria with more ammonia so that their numbers grow to the level at which plants + bacteria neutralize the ammonia and nitrites introduced into your tank by your fish.

Like the rest said, start with the hardscape and plants you want in the tank. Make sure you have proper lighting and are dosing some sort of nutrient and/or Co2 in your tank. This could come in the form a non-inert substrate, DIY MTS, root tabs, EI dosing where you add actual ferts into the water column, DIY CO2, prof CO2 or even Excel (carbon based alternative).

The key point to take away is, plant and sustain the plants just like you would normally do. Add ammonia to the tank and measure ammonia levels a few hours after to see how much is being consumed by plants + bacteria. Maintain large water changes while doing this and within a couple of weeks or so (although only do this after your tests show 0 levels for ammonia and nitrites) you should be able to introduce your fish. You could also add bacteria in a bottle if you'd like when introducing fish, although its not cheap and the benefits are contested.

Refresh:
(1) Add the plants and hardscape you'd like - no bait-and-switch necessary
(2) Add light, fertilizer/CO2 just like you would normally do
(3) Introduce ammonia into that tank (which will mimic fish bioload w/o actually introducing fish). You can do this by letting food rot in your tank or adding actual ammonia
(4) Test the water for ammonia/nitrite levels at least daily
(5) Perform water changes of at least 20% and up to 50% at least 2x a week

Now, since you'll be adding plants in first (which implies that you'll be introducing ferts of some sort), you will have a nitrate reading..which is ok. Ammonia and Nitrites are all you should be worried about.

Limit your lighting and dosing to appropriate levels for your tank size and plant matter and you'll likely avoid any algae issues. More importantly, the frequent water changes will help mitigate the threat of algae.
 

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I agree with Tom, and I have been saying this for some time: cycling a tank is largely for non-planted tanks. With a planted tank you can plant the tank heavily from the start, fertilize, turn on the lights and filters, and the cycling will occur whether we want it to or not. I like to wait a couple of weeks for the plants to get started growing, then add a few fish, like 2-3 in a 10-20 gallon tank. After a week or so, add a few more, and after another week or two add the full complement of fish. The plants and any bacteria colonies that get started will easily handle that gradual increase in natural ammonia from the fish waste.

Trying to force something which happens anyway, by adding ammonia, is perhaps an enjoyable process, but entirely unnecessary for a planted tank. And, if you are using ADA Aquasoil, you get more ammonia from the substrate than you would ever add as pure ammonia anyway. With that substrate, changing water twice a week to get rid of the ammonia is recommended by ADA.
 
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