I decided to take the time to establish a few guidelines for hobbyist using the Dry Start Method. I will attempt to not create a novel here. I've successfully dry started/flooded Micranthemum Monte Carlo. This was a 10 week dry start using ADA Aqua-soil, in a 40 LONG. I've dry started in multiple tanks, and I have multiple containers full of MC that I keep for.... absolutely no reason. The advice below is purely from my experience, hours of research, failure and persistence. Hope this helps... enjoy!
If you clicked on this, then you are already aware of the DSM.
First and foremost, do Not cheap out on substrate. There are literally dozens of posts of hobbyist using inert substrates, but you don't often see the final product. There is a reason for this. I will get into why later in this post. I prefer ADA Aqua soil. Use a soil that can supply the plant/root with nutrients on its own.
Use a quality "carpeting" plant. Micranthemum Monte Carlo, HC, etc. Use tissue cultures. The reasoning for tissue cultures is simple. Tissue cultures are prepared, sealed, and grown in a closed environment. TC's greatly reduces the chance of bacteria/mold growth. Mold is the enemy that we must prevent from gathering/evolving/destroying your plants. When you receive your TC's you must inspect them to ensure there is no growth of bacteria/mold, no die off, and no deficiencies. Do not dry start with unhealthy plants.
Sterile/clean as can be! So you have your substrate which is hopefully not saturated and being used as a mold farm. You have the sealed tissue culture plants. Obviously, you cleaned the tank with H202. You've made the setting as sterile as possible in an unsterile environment. When you do anything on your DSM tank, you wash your hands. You sterilize your equipment. You do not introduce any additional bacteria to our tank, and you definitely don't handle your plants with unwashed hands. Please take this seriously, we all have mold in our homes, in our bathroom, on our house plants, do your best to not bring any into your DSM.
Prepare the plants! Our expensive tissue culture plants are going to be introduced to a new climate/environment. This can be a time sensitive project. Separate the plants carefully. The smaller you separate, the faster the carpeting will take place. Please refer to other videos and guides for separating, if you are unaware of how to do so. Preferably, place the trimmings on a sheet of cardboard or paper towels. Mist the trimmings as you wait to plant. You do not want to keep the trimmings in the household climate for long periods. Depending on the size of your DSM, you may need assistance or you may need to do it in sections. I try to get the planting done within an hour.
Plant! Mist the soil, DO NOT SATURATE. There is no point in "filling" the tank an inch below the substrate line. You don't need a collection of water anywhere in the DSM. A general rule is to mist the soil until the top layer remains moist/dark. If the top layer of soil is darkened by the moisture you have introduced, then there is more than enough moisture for your rooting plants. Preferably, you want the top layer of soil to remain nearly dry and the soil underneath to contain moisture. There is absolutely no need to push/shove/insert/plant rooting plants into the soil. This is an unnecessary step that not only takes time, but it also damages the tiny roots that you just took time to carefully separate. This is not to say you should just throw trimmings on top of each other. Simply plant in a grid like form, 1cm apart, and cover the tank. Lay the trimming on the soil. You will later force the roots down into the soil using water and gravity. There are many different DSM journals online you may refer to regarding plant trimmings. Personally, I like to do a 1-1.5 inch long (2.5cm-3.8cm) trimming of the plant. Spray the plants(once), rather lightly, utilizing gravity to pull those roots down to the soil.
Controlled Humidity! So you misted the soil to a darkened state, you planted(placed) your plant trimmings onto the soil, and now you have to create an environment where the plant can thrive WITHOUT allowing those mold spores to grow into a true monster in our DSM. Cover the tank with plastic wrap(kitchen wrap). Depending on the size of the tank, you must create openings in the wrap to allow air exchange. I start with 10% of the tank opened(usually a section along the rear of the tank). Please spend the 8.00 USD to get a hygrometer from Amazon. We want anywhere from 85-90% humidity. Perhaps as important, we need some type of airflow in our DSM(usually accomplished with the opening in the rear of the tank). Without a break in humidity, and no air flow to keep those leaves dry, mold will surface. You are working with an unsterile environment, you need air flow, and you need to keep those leaves dry as much as possible. 68-75 degrees F is adequate for the DSM(tested with MC).
DO NOT SPRAY! AND DON'T SPRAY FERTS. In fact, don't spray at all. There is absolutely no need(outside the initial spray to use gravity and pull those roots toward the soil), to spray plants in your DSM, ever. If you notice your soil is too dry, you grab the spray bottle(fresh RO water), and you "squirt" a stream of water around your plants and directly into the soil. Spraying H20 on your plants in a humid environment allows the water to sit on the leaves.<-- This is BAD. This is a Dry Start. Plants like MC or HC NEVER need their leaves wet. They are constantly shooting roots down into the soil in search of nutrients/water. Just like your shower, sitting water on a surface(your leaves), in humidity, equals mold growth. It should be quite clear as to why "spraying" fertilizers in your DSM is a bad idea, but lets dig deeper. If you refer to the "popular" fertilizer directions, you will notice that there is information regarding mold in their liquid fertilizers. In a flooded tank this is not an issue, but in a DSM this is huge. Outside of the mold issue with fertilizers and spraying, spraying ferts on your leaves can result in burns, discoloration, and death. Carpeting plants can turn quickly when they are not happy, and they tend to go down as a group. Don't spray, and for the love and time of this adventure, buy a quality substrate and don't spray fertilizers.
Time! MC and HC will begin rooting almost immediately(when happy). Within a week, the roots will begin to take hold of the soil. You should notice roots digging through the soil. Plants will begin to spread. At the beginning it may be hard to notice without pictures to compare. Some slight die off may occur. Die off is a result of weak plants, the transition, drying out, and deficiencies. Within a couple of weeks, you should have obvious growth. Do not flood before 5 weeks. Check the bottom/sides of tank for progress. The longer you dry start the better.
Mold! Mold spores are going to be present in your DSM. There is no preventing that. Try your best to not introduce bacteria/mature mold into our tank. If you keep the humidity in check(85%), leave the top layer of soil nearly dry, the bottom barely moist, do not spray, do not spray ferts, and allow airflow in the tank then you will not see mold. Most dry starts fail with mold because of the urge to spray. MC and HC don't need to be wet, the top layer of soil should NEVER appear saturated, leaves should always be dry, and there is absolutely no need to have any amount of water collected on the bottom of your DSM. *****Keep some dry soil next to your DSM for comparison. Note the color difference, and simply keep the soil in your DSM darker than the dry soil. ***** Follow this rule, provide the setting, you will carpet. If mold surfaces in a white fuzz state, flood the tank. I've intentionally grown mold to combat it with h202 with horrifying results. There are two outcomes in my experience, the mold endures and obliterates the plant, or I up the h202 and kill the mold along with the plant. When in doubt, flood.
Once flooded, allow a week for the plant to settle into it's new environment before trimming down. Begin EI dosing, or half EI dosing depending on your plant mass. If you waited it out, and have a full carpet, EI DOSE that tank all day. Use c02, looking for that bright lime green into yellow on the drop checker. Currently dosing macros every other day, micros every other day, rotating. Monday/macro, Tuesday/micro, Wednesday/macro and so on. Liquids will suffice for smaller setups(cost).
MC tends to transition into the flooded setting better than HC. On my current DSM, I trimmed the MC on the first day. I currently trim every 3 days with unbelievable growth.
Cycling/advantages of DSM. When using a substrate similar to Aqua soil, bacteria will colonize to an extent. When flooding this particular tank I read 0 Ammonia at the beginning up until now. Mind you this is also in great part due to the massive plant mass. After a few days of reading 0 ammonia, I did stop changing against ADA instructions. I tested daily, however, if you do not have the time or can't test then I would recommend following ADA's instructions regarding water changes. Note- I did receive immediate nitrate readings indicating the tank was cycled(0 ammonia-0 nitrite). After a few initial water changes the discolored water consistent with Aqua Soil startup went away. I did change around 80 percent of the water during the first two days. Important- Never drain tank below the substrate line(this will muddy the water for weeks). 1 single 50% change a week following the EI method.
As you can see in the imagery, once flooded get that flow going. Powerhead located directly over the C02 diffuser. Removing debris off the MC or HC, spreading nutrients, and getting debris to that filter is imperative to the transition. This tank currently has near 1500 GPH of flow going.
Also, when banking a slope in a tank that would be otherwise impossible, the DSM secures substrate in the tank with roots firmly holding your slopes. This would not be possible with normal submerged planting. This is huge for me. On the tank featured here, the slope at its highest goes from 1" to 7" over a 12" span/width. Note- this has not moved in the slightest with 1500gph in flow.
It should be stated that besides minor diatoms on the hardscape, I have ZERO algae.
Quick tips: Sterile as can be. Aqua Soil. Dry start, not saturated start. 85% Humidity. Airflow. Small trimmings(as your patience allows). No misting of the plants. Mature mold day means happy flood day. Minimal room climate exposure. 68-75 F ambient temperature. Place not plant. Patience, 5 weeks or more... Resist. Monitor!
Please take note of the directions above. Feel free to comment, post, or direct message me if you're having any issues or confusion. I hope this helps!
Image 1- 2 weeks in DSM
Image 2- Around 9 weeks In
Image 3- Flood day
Image 4/5- Trimmed down(2weeks after flood)
Once again, this is advice based on my experience, research, failure and success. I do not intend to step on other's methods, disrespect, or insult any other information available.