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Experienced Aquarist - New Aquascaper

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Hi there. I just bought a 35 gallon 20" cube aquarium that I want to set up as a planted aquascape. Things are set in place for leak testing and visual planning. This pic shows the general idea. I want to get plants growing out of the aquarium and be part of this plant display in my office. I will add fish and probably some inverts at some point, but initially I'll only do plants. I have a few questions if anyone can point me in the right direction. I have kept plants before, but just for filtration. This time I want a display and I want to be able to choose plants that were off limits to me before. I spent a lot of time researching fish, and figure I'll be doing the same for plants before I get them.

1. What all do I need to learn? I know all about nitrogen cycles, etc. from keeping fish. I don't know the plant specific stuff. Lighting, substrate, and fertilizers is what I know I need to learn. I've researched the first two and will get to the third. I'm also dabbling into CO2. I will not do that at first, but will if I feel like I need to at some point. I haven't actually learned much about lighting that I didn't already know. Another hobby of mine is indoor gardening and what I've seen with lighting is pretty much the same. Nothing I've seen has gotten into specifics unless I have a par meter which I don't.

2. Do y'all think I will need supplemental light on the tank, or will the plant light shown be enough? I think water will reflect more light away than air. I plan on running that light 6 hrs/day when I'm not in the office, plus the office lights during the day. The office lights are bright, but not that bright. Certainly not enough lighting by themselves. At max output, that LED is 275 watts so it's bright. It's dimmable and I usually run at 50% and adjust up/down as necessary. (I run both sides but I'm having an electrical problem on one side at the moment.) The light will probably sit about 24" above the aquarium.

3. Are there any templates(examples) for success on a planted aquascape? I want to start out easy, and upgrade plants as I gain experience. I know the substrate options for example, but I don't really know which one works the best. I've seen a lot of videos where they mix substrates. Also, I figure about once/year I'll probably rescape this to keep things interesting. To start, the most difficult plant I plan is an Amazon Sword. I don't think they're difficult, but I could not keep them alive in the past due to poor lighting. I've seen some really cool plants in videos though that I'd like to do one day but will need to learn about them.

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MD Tanks on Youtube shows you how to set up nice planted tanks. As for what you are learning, I think you are on the right path. With riparium plants, you don't have to worry about CO2 because they have almost infinite access to CO2 from the air. The URL below shows riparium plants you can use in HOB filters as well as just in a tank.
Right now, I am working to make my first riparium.
For substrate, you can just use an aquasoil like fluval stratum, inert substrates like flourite or pea gravel, or pond soil topped with sand. For inert substrates, I would fertilize with root tabs. Anyway, aquatic plants seem to grow in any substrates I use. They just need the right water. With riparium plants, they sometimes need different substrate, since they are not used to living in semi-aquatic environments. You would just need to do your research with that. I have grown riparium plants without substrate by just using plastic planters or whatever they're called. With riparium plants, just make sure to keep most of the leaves above the water.
 

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Lighting for planted tank use is usually measured in PAR. There is an app that can get you in the ball park, I think it is called Photone. I may start there and see what you get. I have always used trial and error to dial things in light-wise. Start low and work it up. If you are not injecting co2, you will not need high lighting, and I suggest starting with less demanding plants such as Java Fern, Anubias, basic Cryptocoryne varieties to name a few.

For substrates I like plain sand or gravel, if you fertilization dosing is dialed in there is no need for an nutrient rich substrate. Also if you plan to grow mostly epiphytic plant an aquarium specific soil would be a bit of a waste. Nutrient rich substrates can loose their oomph over time and alter water hardness. If you layer substrates like soil/sand they will eventually mix together and not look appealing. I would suggest one or the other.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
MD Tanks on Youtube shows you how to set up nice planted tanks. As for what you are learning, I think you are on the right path. With riparium plants, you don't have to worry about CO2 because they have almost infinite access to CO2 from the air. The URL below shows riparium plants you can use in HOB filters as well as just in a tank.
Right now, I am working to make my first riparium.
For substrate, you can just use an aquasoil like fluval stratum, inert substrates like flourite or pea gravel, or pond soil topped with sand. For inert substrates, I would fertilize with root tabs. Anyway, aquatic plants seem to grow in any substrates I use. They just need the right water. With riparium plants, they sometimes need different substrate, since they are not used to living in semi-aquatic environments. You would just need to do your research with that. I have grown riparium plants without substrate by just using plastic planters or whatever they're called. With riparium plants, just make sure to keep most of the leaves above the water.
Thanks. I've come across MD Tanks and have liked them so far. What the good youtube channels and best sites is another thing I'm figuring out right now.

Lighting for planted tank use is usually measured in PAR. There is an app that can get you in the ball park, I think it is called Photone. I may start there and see what you get. I have always used trial and error to dial things in light-wise. Start low and work it up. If you are not injecting co2, you will not need high lighting, and I suggest starting with less demanding plants such as Java Fern, Anubias, basic Cryptocoryne varieties to name a few.

For substrates I like plain sand or gravel, if you fertilization dosing is dialed in there is no need for an nutrient rich substrate. Also if you plan to grow mostly epiphytic plant an aquarium specific soil would be a bit of a waste. Nutrient rich substrates can loose their oomph over time and alter water hardness. If you layer substrates like soil/sand they will eventually mix together and not look appealing. I would suggest one or the other.
Thanks. I just installed the app and will check it out later. I've been wondering if the high-nutrient soil without CO2 would just give me a bunch of algae. I want something with a little challenge but I don't want a failed setup.
 

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Hi there. I just bought a 35 gallon 20" cube aquarium that I want to set up as a planted aquascape. Things are set in place for leak testing and visual planning. This pic shows the general idea. I want to get plants growing out of the aquarium and be part of this plant display in my office. I will add fish and probably some inverts at some point, but initially I'll only do plants. I have a few questions if anyone can point me in the right direction. I have kept plants before, but just for filtration. This time I want a display and I want to be able to choose plants that were off limits to me before. I spent a lot of time researching fish, and figure I'll be doing the same for plants before I get them.

1. What all do I need to learn? I know all about nitrogen cycles, etc. from keeping fish. I don't know the plant specific stuff. Lighting, substrate, and fertilizers is what I know I need to learn. I've researched the first two and will get to the third. I'm also dabbling into CO2. I will not do that at first, but will if I feel like I need to at some point. I haven't actually learned much about lighting that I didn't already know. Another hobby of mine is indoor gardening and what I've seen with lighting is pretty much the same. Nothing I've seen has gotten into specifics unless I have a par meter which I don't.

2. Do y'all think I will need supplemental light on the tank, or will the plant light shown be enough? I think water will reflect more light away than air. I plan on running that light 6 hrs/day when I'm not in the office, plus the office lights during the day. The office lights are bright, but not that bright. Certainly not enough lighting by themselves. At max output, that LED is 275 watts so it's bright. It's dimmable and I usually run at 50% and adjust up/down as necessary. (I run both sides but I'm having an electrical problem on one side at the moment.) The light will probably sit about 24" above the aquarium.

3. Are there any templates(examples) for success on a planted aquascape? I want to start out easy, and upgrade plants as I gain experience. I know the substrate options for example, but I don't really know which one works the best. I've seen a lot of videos where they mix substrates. Also, I figure about once/year I'll probably rescape this to keep things interesting. To start, the most difficult plant I plan is an Amazon Sword. I don't think they're difficult, but I could not keep them alive in the past due to poor lighting. I've seen some really cool plants in videos though that I'd like to do one day but will need to learn about them.

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Sounds like you are getting some good advice on the light. For a low tech tank you generally want par of 20 to 40 at the substrate level. The photone app is great if you calibrate it. To calibrate it you need a lux meter or a lux meter app.

Once you get your light squared away you will want to consider fertilizer. There are several options here for different types of fertilizer, but since you are new I would suggest going with an all-in-one fertilizer which means Estimative Index (EI) type. Looking up that term might take a little farther down the rabbit hole then you want to go right now, so just know that you will be flooding your system with nutrients and doing big water changes once a week to remove whatever your plants don't use then redosing after the water change.

My favorite all-in-one fertilizer for low tech tanks is Nilocg ThriveC. There are other options though if you don't like that one. Just dose according to package directions after water change.

Speaking of water changes, this is the most important bit of maintenance you can do to keep your tank looking nice. You need to do it once weekly (more when you setup a new tank with aquasoil if you decide to go that route for the first month anyway). And you need to do a lot of it. 50% is the bare minimum, more is better. Doing water changes with a siphon and a bucket is awful though, so you will want a water changing system. There are a few different options there but most common is probably the python water change system (you can google it).

Regarding youtube channels. MD Fishtanks is good for entertainment value but he is really quite clueless when it comes to the science of why things work (he admits as much). Better youtube stations include Green Aqua (for high end aquascapes), George Farmer (for professional mid range aquascapes), Aquapros for a decent amount of theory, and Aquarium Co-Op for low end aquascapes with a bit of theory on how things work.

You mentioned you wanted plants growing out of the water. A lot of plants struggle when they start out growing under the water (submersed) and then grow to the surface and out of the water (emersed) with leaves wilting and dying at the transition point. It can be done, but it usually requires misting(s) daily to keep humidity up. Alternatively, you can have submersed plants and then have different plants growing totally emersed (essentially pond plants) held to the rim of the tank by various means (clips, hangers, baskets, growing on wood, etc) and those plants will have their roots in the tank. I've done this previously and it works quite well. Something to consider going forward.
 

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Thanks. I just installed the app and will check it out later. I've been wondering if the high-nutrient soil without CO2 would just give me a bunch of algae. I want something with a little challenge but I don't want a failed setup.
Algae appears because an imbalance of nutrients/light/co2 and every system is different. I dont think that any type of aquarium soil will cause you problems with excess nutrients, I do not use much of the stuff because it looks dreadful in a tank and does have a finite lifespan. Most will leech ammonia in the begining, so follow the manufacturers directions for a new tank.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Speaking of water changes, this is the most important bit of maintenance you can do to keep your tank looking nice. You need to do it once weekly (more when you setup a new tank with aquasoil if you decide to go that route for the first month anyway). And you need to do a lot of it. 50% is the bare minimum, more is better. Doing water changes with a siphon and a bucket is awful though, so you will want a water changing system. There are a few different options there but most common is probably the python water change system (you can google it).
I just sold a 180 so water changes on a 35 will be a snap. Thanks for the website recommendations also. I had noticed that quite a few of the channels like MD Fishtanks do not provide technical details.
 
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