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The custom micro mix thread has reached nearly 100 pages and nearly 1,500 posts. Additionally, the old threads on trace toxicity are long and full of chaff. Now, I try not to be lazy and generally am willing to put some time into researching a topic, but this is a bit much. I realized I'm probably not the only one getting overwhelmed. Could someone give a summary of what we currently know about micro dosing, in particular:

1. Is micro toxicity a thing? Are there certain nutrients that we can lard on without a problem and others that we have to watch out for?

2. What is the difference between the various chelators? Do those differences really matter? Does the buildup of chelators cause harm? Is there a problem with using multiple chelators in the same tank?

3. How do you identify micro toxicities or deficiencies?

4. Tap water and soil usually have some nutrients. If you have a low-light tank, especially a dirt tank, do you still need to add micros? Does fish food have enough micros to have an effect? Do "shrimp blocks" give off anything useful to plants?

5. Is CSM+B a good or bad micro mix? How does it compare to other micro mixes?

6. Iron is usually grouped with micros. How much iron do we really need to add? Does the source matter? Is it better to add iron to the water or have it in the substrate?

7. How important are nutrient ratios? Which ones do we really need to worry about? Not just between different micronutrients but also between micros and macros.

8. Can dosing or overdosing micros be beneficial or harmful to fish or inverts?

9. Keeping in mind that plant species have different preferences, and as aquarists we're better off striving for "good enough" than "ideal", in general, what dose should we use for each micronutrient?

10. Is there anything else we should know about dosing micronutrients?

It's okay if you can only answer one or two questions. I just think the topic has grown to the point that having all the info consolidated in one thread would be helpful. Since this is also meant to help newbies, please try to keep your explanations in layman's terms. If you know of a good explanation elsewhere on the forum, please paste or quote it here or link to a particular post. It's very frustrating to sift through a dozen-page thread for a single answer or to have to go through a dozen threads on the same topic, each with only one or two pieces of the puzzle.
 

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Shucks, being new to the hobby, I was hoping this would grow legs and some of the ' pro's ' would chime in. It would be great to have these answered all in one, consolidated place !

Jim
 

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The custom micro mix thread has reached nearly 100 pages and nearly 1,500 posts. Additionally, the old threads on trace toxicity are long and full of chaff. Now, I try not to be lazy and generally am willing to put some time into researching a topic, but this is a bit much. I realized I'm probably not the only one getting overwhelmed. Could someone give a summary of what we currently know about micro dosing, in particular:

1. Is micro toxicity a thing? Are there certain nutrients that we can lard on without a problem and others that we have to watch out for? "Toxicity" term is debatable, but I along with some other experienced members of the forum (burr740, saxa tilly) have observed problems of using too many traces, particularly the CSM+B blend. Most common problem is stunted, shriveled tips in plants like Alternanthera Reineckii, Ludwigia Glandulosa, and some rotala/lythraceae. I managed to fry a swordplant with high doses of CSM+B, O+ tabs, and unknown tap water parameters.

2. What is the difference between the various chelators? Do those differences really matter? Does the buildup of chelators cause harm? Is there a problem with using multiple chelators in the same tank? Chelators become unstable at various pH levels, and these are believed to be part of the problem. Unstable chelators can possibly bind or interfere with calcium uptake or maybe other nutrients. The symptom usually looks like calcium deficiency though. EDTA becomes unstable (detaches from iron?) at lower pH than DPTA, and EDTA is what is used with CSM+B. So CSM+B can be a problem when pH is routinely over 7.0, for example. I think pH 6.5 and under is the EDTA recommendation - feel free to look the specific values up. I'm just going from memory here.

3. How do you identify micro toxicities or deficiencies? It's tough, because the symptoms can look the same. And CO2 issues also manifest themselves as stunted, curled tips. Always check and double-check CO2 first, along with light levels. Symptoms will usually be curled, burned, stunted tips in plants like AR. If you have this, plus no other real algae issues like BBA, OK growth in other plants, good pH drop and flow, and using CSM+B or EDTA chelators at EI or higher levels, it's beneficial to try another trace mix or lower the CSM+B dosing. Burr740 and I were doing CSM+B at around 0.015 ppm Fe three times a week - with some DPTA iron added in. Very low compared to EI. Until a few years ago, the EI guidance was up to 0.5 ppm Fe 2-3 times a week, and some people were dosing that much CSM+B. Now the EI recommendations are at the 0.2 ppm Fe level. Inert substrates and softer water (GH) make it more likely to see issues.

4. Tap water and soil usually have some nutrients. If you have a low-light tank, especially a dirt tank, do you still need to add micros? Does fish food have enough micros to have an effect? Do "shrimp blocks" give off anything useful to plants? Low light with dirt may need some traces added, but you could easily get by with low levels that would never risk toxicity. Can't say if tap and fish food would be enough.

5. Is CSM+B a good or bad micro mix? How does it compare to other micro mixes? Many people, including me, have used it and grown great plants with nice tanks. But, I have overused it and saw stunting in AR and Ludwigia Glandulosa in particular. Most plants like vals, crypts, other ludwigias had no issues with higher CSM+B levels. If you do use it, be wary of pH, and you will need less of it than another trace mix that uses SO4-based compounds. 0.015 ppm Fe 3x per week will probably be enough with inert substrate, and consider adding extra iron in an equal amount.

6. Iron is usually grouped with micros. How much iron do we really need to add? Does the source matter? Is it better to add iron to the water or have it in the substrate? I've always added it into the water (except for some O+ tabs that have it). Above I listed a good CSM+B starting point for dosing. For my trace mix with DPTA iron and SO4 traces I have used 0.3 to 0.7 ppm Fe weekly, with inert sand substrate. Some go higher, some lower. Good starting point is 0.15 ppm Fe 3x per week and go from there.

7. How important are nutrient ratios? Which ones do we really need to worry about? Not just between different micronutrients but also between micros and macros. For micros, one to watch is the Fe:Mn ratio. Burr was seeing issues at a 2:1 ratio, and from his experimentation a 3:1 to 5:1 ratio works much better. Higher boron levels might also cause problems, but if you use it in ratios recommended in the custom micro thread you should be fine -s omething like 0.03-0.04 ppm B in a dose of 0.15 ppm Fe. I have read a little about Ca - Mg - K ratios, where high K can cause issues with Mg uptake. I noticed it in moneywort when K:Mg was over 4:1, but that was the only plant. I've browsed around some German forums and many of them keep K fairly low compared to a lot of the people on this forum. I've also had tap water that was around 1:1 Ca and Mg, and things always went better when I added extra calcium for at least a 2:1 ratio. Theoretically there shouldn't be a Ca deficiency at 15 ppm, but I noticed improvement when I raised it to 30-35 ppm. If you think you have a ratio imbalance, post your parameters and issues to the forum and let people help. It's down on the list of things to check though, after CO2/light balance, flow, cleanliness, biomass, light period etc.

8. Can dosing or overdosing micros be beneficial or harmful to fish or inverts? Don't really know. I think copper can be lethal, but those levels are much higher than you would ever see dosing something like 0.002 ppm Cu three times a week. Copper pipes in the house might also contribute some copper.

9. Keeping in mind that plant species have different preferences, and as aquarists we're better off striving for "good enough" than "ideal", in general, what dose should we use for each micronutrient? Here is the latest recipe from Burr - ratios are 0.15 ppm Fe, but doses can be smaller, like 0.1 ppm Fe three times a week:

Fe - .15 (he uses combination of DPTA and gluconate; I have never tried gluconate)
Mn - .045
B - .037
Zn - .035
Cu - .0025
Mo - .0013
Ni - .0003

10. Is there anything else we should know about dosing micronutrients? Lots of people have had great success with the SO4-based mixes, and people are selling them pre-made on this forum. I'd recommend going with those at this point. Don't get crazy with micros and you should be fine. Any issues you have will almost certainly be something else.

It's okay if you can only answer one or two questions. I just think the topic has grown to the point that having all the info consolidated in one thread would be helpful. Since this is also meant to help newbies, please try to keep your explanations in layman's terms. If you know of a good explanation elsewhere on the forum, please paste or quote it here or link to a particular post. It's very frustrating to sift through a dozen-page thread for a single answer or to have to go through a dozen threads on the same topic, each with only one or two pieces of the puzzle.
 

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+ 1 with every single thing that @aclaar877 said so well above.

I would add one thing about CSM+B.

Since it is mixed in large vats, the composition of the small amount you might dose is likely not uniform. Just swirl around some CSM+B and notice the different colors in the blend. Now take an element like Boron, which is effective in a relatively narrow range. If your dose has a higher content that is out of that range, it could easily stunt a number of different plants.

So another advantage to a custom blend is consistency. You know exactly what you are dosing every time.
 

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Any of us could add variations to what @aclaar877 highlighted, but he captures the essence pretty well.

I will state that you can deliver toxic levels of micros. I've done it and saw severely crimped new growth within days. It was a dump of my micros due to a failed autodoser, so it was a large overdose. Plenty of water changes, and a week or two later and things were right again. So, toxicity is an issue, but I think only deadly at levels well above where we play. As mentioned, above, the main concern is with interference of other nutrient uptake.

To get a feel for this, check out Mulder's chart. Examples are spread throughout the forum. Here is one of the simpler versions: https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/8-general-planted-tank-discussion/1311047-i-cant-find-balance-between-healthy-plant-growth-algae-driving-me-crazy-6.html#post11359851
 
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I can only give a partial answer to #4 as I experimented with this method for some time.

If your lighting is very low, tap water and fish waste is enough for some plants(I used city tap water).
The tank I experimented on had an LED that I dimmed way down (I'm talking low, less than having a single T8 florescent strip), fine sand substrate, no soil.

At the time, I grew crypt spiralis, java fern, and dwarf aquarium lilies. Crypt spiralis grew beautifully with big leaves and started to become bushy over time. This plant grew best in the set up. Next was Java Fern. They did okay. Stayed small and not as green as they should be but good enough. The lilies stayed very small but still grew.

So with the right plants, it's definitely doable. In fact, I'm planning to start another tank using this method with just crypt spiralis.

Hope this helps.
 

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Exactly what I was hoping for !! I recently went down a rabbit hole reading about the whole csm+b toxicity thing recently. I still dose it, but I'm always on the conservative side ! Thanks for this info !

Jim
 

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@Fishly

1. Is micro toxicity a thing? Are there certain nutrients that we can lard on without a problem and others that we have to watch out for?

Certainly, this is well documented for terrestrial plant, but there isn’t much information about this Phenomena regarding Aquatic plant. But, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, we just don’t know how to identify it. I don’t think we should be Larding onto any nutrients, but should be adding them in proper balance as well as in sufficient amount, Boron for example can stop and stunt the plant growth while it also plays an important role for plant growth, Zn can be somewhat forgiving but far as I know it doesn’t serve much benefit if added in excess amount, it could further interact with PO4. This same concept applies to all the other nutrients as well. There are several other nutrients that can be forgiving such as Ca, Mg, S, Cl, Na etc. but they will have some effects on other nutrients once they become excess, Na for example will start melting plants at some point.

2. What is the difference between the various chelators? Do those differences really matter? Does the buildup of chelators cause harm? Is there a problem with using multiple chelators in the same tank?

EDTA, DTPA etc. are commonly used, I have also played with organic Chelators as well, the major differences are how well they could hold on to the particular Nutrient such as Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu etc without any interference from other nutrients (mentioned in Question #1) at certain PH levels. Am not fully convinced if buildup of the Chelators should cause harm to the plants, on the contrary chelator supposed to make the nutrients more available to the plants. If excess Chelator are present in the tank, it should grab any floating nutrients such as Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu etc and prevent it from precipitation depending on the KH/PH. Some of these Chelate adds additional Nitrogen which can be a good or a bad thing, especially for algae. “multiple chelators” I assume you meant EDTA+DTPA+EDDHA and such? I don’t see any issues with this combo, this should further enhance the solution. Since these chelate grab on to several nutrients, even though they become safer, but am not sure how fast plant could extract them from the chelate before they could use them, this is where the problem could arise if the process of extraction becomes slow or hindered. On the contrary free floating Metals are constantly available to the plants such as Non chelated, example: FeSo4, Fe Gluconate, MnSo4, anything with SO4 or Cl far as the trace/Fe goes. While the free floating metals are constantly available, they must be added to the water more often, as they render useless depending on the KH/PH, also in the presence of the higher O2. Some of the metals are more prone to these conditions, while some are hard to precipitate or oxidize, majority of them just fall into the substrate, depending on the acidity level of the Substrate, they could become available to the plants.

3. How do you identify micro toxicities or deficiencies?

Toxicity: plant necrosis (holes, burnt tips etc.) plant chlorosis (color fading, white leaves, yellow leaves etc.) despite dosing unlimited Nutrients. “Toxicities or Deficiencies” above symptoms looks almost the same in both cases. if you have the above issue with higher nutrients, have you tried a lower nutrient? Have you at least tried name brand such as Tropica? Some people suffering from Phytotoxicity but they are under the impression that they have deficiencies going on, someone adding 0.5 ppm Fe and still suffering from Iron Deficiency should look further beside Deficiency at that point. Other issues are that some Fertilizer are not properly balanced to begin with which can cause both Toxicities or Deficiencies, you might have to modify them to be decent. If you have read my “Ultimate Fertilizer Recipe” which is probably outdated now, Here: https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/...ultilmate-fertilizer-faster-plant-growth.html you will see where I made some tweaks, I focused more on Fe and Mn far as micro goes, in most cases I maintained 1:0.5 ratio for Fe:Mn (still do to present day). I also used Miller at some point and still recommended it to several users over CSM+B because its more balanced in many aspects, also very well mixed unlike CSM+B. you are more likely to see Toxicities or Deficiencies symptoms with CSM+B compared to Miller if they both were dosed at 0.5 Fe proxy weekly. You are less likely to see Toxicities from Non chelated fertilizer if they are dosed in smaller doses more often (even daily), see the answer in #2 question. there are several other indications such as leave twisting, which is also linked to improper Macro dosing beside Micros.

4. Tap water and soil usually have some nutrients. If you have a low-light tank, especially a dirt tank, do you still need to add micros? Does fish food have enough micros to have an effect? Do "shrimp blocks" give off anything useful to plants?

Majority of micros are already present in the tap water, but several of them could be very low or missing, we can only be sure if you have a complete water report, from there you can add only whatever your tap water might be missing. Am not sure if fish food or shrimp blocks would be enough to provide micros, but I don’t think it should be sufficient if the tank is growing plant quite fast. However, in most cases Dirt tank should grow plant just fine, NPK is far more important to the plants than the Traces, not saying trace are not important, but you will likely to see more issues from NPK first if something Is wrong.

5. Is CSM+B a good or bad micro mix? How does it compare to other micro mixes?

See answer #3, in my experience it’s a decent mix, also depends on who adds the correct amount of Boron and which kind, boric acid or borax. some add Borax, which has potential to react with Copper, I personally don’t recommend Borax. There are several other issues with CSM mentioned #3. If you still choose to use CSM+B, I suggest getting the correct data from the seller and see what and how they add the boron, possibly best to get CSM only and later on modify it with Boric acid, Fe, Mn etc. as needed. If not satisfied with CSM+B, then try miller or tenso cocktail, I have used cocktail with great success, even though I cloned it to make the solution as tenso isn’t available in the USA. Try Tropica, this is the best stuff to try when everything else fails, at that point you could rule out several issues.

6. Iron is usually grouped with micros. How much iron do we really need to add? Does the source matter? Is it better to add iron to the water or have it in the substrate?


Not sure what you meant by how much, as you can add whatever amount you want. I usually add 0.1-0.2ppm Fe DTPA weekly, in most cases 0.1 Fe weekly. Here is the tank running with 0.1 Fe weekly
The source of the iron does matter; this would be similar to NO3 vs NH4 example, See answer #2. Iron gluconate is usually preferred source vs DTPA/EDTA etc, Fe+2 vs Fe+3, anything with Fe+2 will be utilized by plants rather quickly vs the other two, but that doesn’t mean the other 2 are not effective. I strongly believe in leaf uptake of iron, the iron in the substrate is mostly in Oxide form but it will slowly become available to the roots.

7. How important are nutrient ratios? Which ones do we really need to worry about? Not just between different micronutrients but also between micros and macros.

My experiment’s indicated that Ratio of all nutrients can play a major role on the plant growth, weather its micro or macro. but there is no way common hobbyist would be able to run such a system. It is almost impossible to have a good working ratio on tank that uses tap water, more luck with the ratio can be seen on RO/DI water setups. I kept the Fe:Mn ratio at 0.1: 0.05 weekly dose for a reason, if you are still seeing issue with plant not turning red, consider looking into other factors, such as Mg, Cu etc., also consider the Lights especially rich in red/blue spectrum. If I shifted away from that Fe:Mn ratio, I found myself adding more Fe/Mn such as 0.2-0.5 ppm etc. when this ratio changed to 0.5:0.1, I also use B:Zn at 2:1 ratio as well, in most cases some of these ratio don’t matter much long as they are not extremely different, for example 2:1 vs 5:1, you might still see good results at 3:1 because it falls between the two. If for example the ratio became something like Mn:Fe 2:1, 3:1 etc. which is the opposite, you might start to see some problems, where plant might appear Fe deficient, soon as you added more Fe in this situation, you should see the positive outcome, because now you have started creating that balance, this rule applies to other nutrients as well. in some cases, if they are present at say 1 ppm Mn and 0.5 ppm Fe, you might see mixed results depending on how plant react to it, some will do fine, while some might suffer.
I have played with a much wider ranges of ratio and am quite confident to say in most cases that these ratios do matter, even though most of your plant might be growing just fine, but plant have more potential when proper ratio is used. In one of the experiment where 0.5 Fe as Proxy vs 0.1 ppm Fe from Tropica was added weekly, plant grew much better with the tropica ratio, it was quite evident that even though 0.5 Fe from miller added all the micros/fe at unlimited levels but it failed to grow several plants (some grew out of control, some stunted, some stop growing completely), while 0.1 Fe from tropica with much lower level grow almost all those plant. This is where Question #3 and #7 plays an important role.
Macros have the same concept, I have played with Ca:Mg at 4:1 and 1:4 ratio, I got better results with 1:4 in most cases with almost 0 algae, but not all the plant grew as expected, they only started to grow once this ratio was shifted to 2:1, 3:1, 4;1 etc. now let’s say if you had 400 ppm Ca and 100 ppm Mg, you should see some serious issues with the plants even though this is within the ratio. This rule also applies to the NPK in a same manner, the best results were achieved at 1:0.1:08 NPK ratio, but it doesn’t mean 1:02:5 or 2:0.5:10 won’t work, but in this case you might find yourself dosing more Iron and in some cases buildup of K over time, in some cases plant not growing as expected, twisting etc. becomes common issue. However, these ratios mostly affect the plants if they are present in the water, in the substrate they work differently and can be at certain ratios.

8. Can dosing or overdosing micros be beneficial or harmful to fish or inverts?

Overdosing of metals are not beneficial to plants, fish or shrimps. However, they are important to all of them, Cu for example is beneficial to shrimps but also deadly at the same time, depending on the 0.006 ppm vs 0.06 or 0.6 ppm.
9. Keeping in mind that plant species have different preferences, and as aquarists we're better off striving for "good enough" than "ideal", in general, what dose should we use for each micronutrient?
Depending on your water parameters and dosing methods, you might want to explore this by making your own Micro’s, I have the link below where you start. But based on my experiments, I obtained best results with Tropica ratio, I also had very good results with Tenso Cocktail Clone. You should see good results at 0.1-0.3 Fe Proxy weekly from any of these.

10. Is there anything else we should know about dosing micronutrients?

I believe I covered most of it in your other questions. But make sure you understand the importance of CO2 and Lights, then NPK and then you could worry about the Micros. If you failed with the first two, it doesn’t matter what ratio you add, you won’t succeed.
 
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