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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
There seem to be a lot of misconceptions surrounding what plants require pressurized CO2 and high light. I have been experimenting recently with growing traditionally "high tech" plants in setups that are medium-light, dirted, with no pressurized CO2. My capacity and budget to do these experiments is limited, so I thought I might put my notes up here and allow people to comment below with their own observations. My hope is to create a guide-to-what-works-in-dirt spreadsheet. Unfortunately, this forum does not seem to allow table formatting, so I'll have to make due. I will soon have results to post for limnophia aromatica, syngonanthus belem, and rotala macrandra.

Some of the plants might not see "traditionally high tech" to you. It's a very subjective term. What I'm really aiming for here are plants that are not often seen in low tech dirted tanks.
The only parameters for the setup in question here are:
  • dirt substrate
  • no pressurized co2
  • best light you can get away with


Of course, there's a difference between being able to grow a plant and being able to grow a plant well. Some plants may survive in dirt but might look different than how they would appear in a high tech setup. That difference should be reflected in the key below.

PLEASE if you have had a different experience with any of the plants below, let me know! That's why I'm putting this up here.

KEY:
"IMPOSSIBLE" = plant will not survive in dirt.
"MEH" = plant survives in dirt, but is substantially less attractive than in high tech
"GOOD" = plant grows well and is attractive
"PERFECT" = plant has exactly the color and growth pattern you expect from high tech


BACKGROUND PLANTS
rotala walichi: GOOD
ludwigia cuba: GOOD*
ludwigia peruensis: GOOD
nesaea pedicellata: MEH

MIDGROUND PLANTS
hydrocotyle tripartita: PERFECT**
alternanthera reineckii: MEH/GOOD
rotala magenta: GOOD
blyxa japonica: GOOD/PERFECT
anubias pinto:GOOD/PERFECT

FOREGROUND PLANTS
staurogyne repens: PERFECT
glossostigma elatinoides: PERFECT**
dwarf hairgrass: PERFECT***

MOSSES/EPIPHYTES
fissidens fontanus: PERFECT
bolbitis heudelotti: MEH****

* plant does not always backbud. To avoid mess when trimming, cut plant down at the base, leave roots in the ground, and replant the top.
** plant requires aggressive trimming and replanting to get desired growth pattern.
*** plant grows so aggressively in dirt that care must be taken to prevent it from crowding out other plants.
**** very slow growth
 

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I think it's a good project. I saw your thread on the hairgrass you grew outdoors in the sun. My only caveat with this would be you use light that one would typically have on their tanks. I'm from New York as well and as you know most of use don't have fish tanks on our porches.

It needs to be within a practical setting and have parameters that most of us would have if wanting to have such a tank.
 

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This is gonna be fun to watch

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Discussion Starter #4
I think it's a good project. I saw your thread on the hairgrass you grew outdoors in the sun. My only caveat with this would be you use light that one would typically have on their tanks. I'm from New York as well and as you know most of use don't have fish tanks on our porches.

It needs to be within a practical setting and have parameters that most of us would have if wanting to have such a tank.
Totally agree! The fishtank in the sun thing is a completely different project. I have independent experience with hairgrass under LED lighting, same result. I suspect hairgrass is a root feeder.

No sign of problems yet, but I'm pretty sure rotala macrandra is going to go very badly. It looks like such a fussy plant. I have been most surprised by the success of rotala wallichii, which is not only growing but appears to be keeping its color.
 

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I think it's a good project. I saw your thread on the hairgrass you grew outdoors in the sun. My only caveat with this would be you use light that one would typically have on their tanks. I'm from New York as well and as you know most of use don't have fish tanks on our porches.

It needs to be within a practical setting and have parameters that most of us would have if wanting to have such a tank.
Totally agree! The fishtank in the sun thing is a completely different project. I have independent experience with hairgrass under LED lighting, same result. I suspect hairgrass is a root feeder.
The big problem with this experiment is dirt substrate. The nutrient load is highly variable. It would be best to reduce the variability by using an inert substrate and a fixed fertilizer with known concentrations for every element in it that plants need. By listing the fertilizer and using an inert substrate you make it a lot easier for others to get the same result. An example would be CSM+B, Seachem Equilibrium GH2, Nitrate 10ppm, Phosphate 1ppm.

The next step would be to switch to a highly controlled source of water such as DI or distilled with a very low TDS content. That way we only have one variable, the light. I highly suspect all plants will grow well if they get enough light. Outside light at noon on a clear summer day is about 24,000 lumen. This is way higher than 99% of all aquariums.
 

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The big problem with this experiment is dirt substrate. The nutrient load is highly variable. It would be best to reduce the variability by using an inert substrate and a fixed fertilizer with known concentrations for every element in it that plants need. By listing the fertilizer and using an inert substrate you make it a lot easier for others to get the same result. An example would be CSM+B, Seachem Equilibrium GH2, Nitrate 10ppm, Phosphate 1ppm.

The next step would be to switch to a highly controlled source of water such as DI or distilled with a very low TDS content. That way we only have one variable, the light. I highly suspect all plants will grow well if they get enough light. Outside light at noon on a clear summer day is about 24,000 lumen. This is way higher than 99% of all aquariums.
The OP can correct me if I am wrong but the point of this experiment is what can be grown in a dirted tank, removing the dirk would defeat the purpose of the test itself. Yes I agree it is not controlled very well, but in this hobby that is the nature of just about everything we do. Even some of the best run experiments on this forum, have little to no control. This isn't an insult to the tests just a clarification that we are not doing science, just the best we can with the conditions given.

If we wanted to be truly scientific we would need par measurements of the tank daily at varying locations, turbidity tests, constant tds measurements, DOP tests, monitoring of macro and micro nutrients suspended in the water column daily, you would want do a flow analysis on each tank to make sure nutrient distribution was the same. Temperature monitoring, and all of this assumes you are only using one species of plant per tank, and you have no fish or other intentionally introduced organisms which might affect results. In addition you would have to sterilize the dirt before adding otherwise you couldn't account for disease.
Then run this experiment a couple dozen more times replicating the same conditions each time.
Thats not practical.....
We are not scientists, we are amateurs at the best.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
The OP can correct me if I am wrong but the point of this experiment is what can be grown in a dirted tank, removing the dirk would defeat the purpose of the test itself. Yes I agree it is not controlled very well, but in this hobby that is the nature of just about everything we do. Even some of the best run experiments on this forum, have little to no control. This isn't an insult to the tests just a clarification that we are not doing science, just the best we can with the conditions given.

If we wanted to be truly scientific we would need par measurements of the tank daily at varying locations, turbidity tests, constant tds measurements, DOP tests, monitoring of macro and micro nutrients suspended in the water column daily, you would want do a flow analysis on each tank to make sure nutrient distribution was the same. Temperature monitoring, and all of this assumes you are only using one species of plant per tank, and you have no fish or other intentionally introduced organisms which might affect results. In addition you would have to sterilize the dirt before adding otherwise you couldn't account for disease.
Then run this experiment a couple dozen more times replicating the same conditions each time.
Thats not practical.....
We are not scientists, we are amateurs at the best.
Hey thanks for saving me the trouble! That's exactly right. The entire premise of this guide is "what grows in dirt", so I'm a little baffled by the suggestion to do this without dirt. I should add that dirt is qualitatively and quantitatively different from the chem fert setup described by Surf.

Dirt supplies nutrients in the substrate, not the water column, which is a great advantage to plants that are root-feeders and perhaps less so to water column feeders. As a bonus, nutrients trapped in substrate cannot be accessed by algae.

Dirt is a source of CO2, both through the decomposition of organic matter and as an extra special source for plants that can obtain CO2 directly from their roots. This is why dirted tank can grow plants that normal low tech setups cannot. One of my goals with this thread is to promote the perception of a dirted tank as an intermediate step between low tech and high tech setups: something with benefits from both worlds.

Yes, this isn't scientific. But neither is pretty much any of the other advice offered on hobby forums. This is just another way to collect and offer anecdotal information. Showing that one plant works in one dirted tank doesn't mean it will work in all dirted tanks, but it does mean that it is at least possible to keep said plant alive in dirt, no pressurized co2 required. If more people contribute their own experiences to this thread, I hope to make the above chart more nuanced to reflect varying experiences and provide better advice.
 

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Will the dirt used in the experiment be straight out of the bag or will it be mineralized?

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@Bananableps: Do you have pictures of the plants?

Also would you be interested to send samples of your water for me to test for the NPKs and some of the micros. I am very curious to how rich the water column is when it comes to the different nutrients. I'll be happy to test any additional samples. I own a Hanna HI-83200 and I can test for the full range of macros and some of the micros.
 

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Discussion Starter #10 (Edited)
@Bananableps: Do you have pictures of the plants?

Also would you be interested to send samples of your water for me to test for the NPKs and some of the micros. I am very curious to how rich the water column is when it comes to the different nutrients. I'll be happy to test any additional samples. I own a Hanna HI-83200 and I can test for the full range of macros and some of the micros.
What an offer, thanks! I'm guessing my own off the shelf test kit isn't accurate enough for your purposes? If so I'd be happy to send you some samples, but really my setup is pretty simple: miracle grow, thin gravel cap, some dead leaves, thick sand cap.

I need to start taking better images. Here's one of a scape I really hate and am working on replacing, showing ludwigia cuba, staurogyne repens, and blyxa japonica.





I just trimmed down the rotala magenta and I don't have any good old pics. My rotala wallichi has some nice colorful new growth, but there is still a lot of old growth from the store - I feel like it would be cheating to show pics of that.

Ludwigia peruensis is in poor shape from negligence, but I'll have pics of new good growth soon, hopefully. Nesaea pedicellata got killed by same negligence, but I'd like to try it out again soon. Glosso got killed by my sunfish and I really regret never getting pics of it, because it was carpeting very well. I'm waiting for LFS to get more in stock. Everything else on the list is basically surprise-free.
 

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I'm just very curious to what type of nutrients are available in the water column in specific PPM concentrations on mature dirted tanks. You can also send me your tap if you want me to profile it. I can get the Mg,Ca and K levels. If the levels of NPKs are elevated then I might use it on my test tank and see if I can get same results. I'll test the tank water for N,P,K,Ca,Mg,Mn,Fe and maybe even copper. I'll PM you the instructions.

What an offer, thanks! I'm guessing my own off the shelf test kit isn't accurate enough for your purposes? If so I'd be happy to send you some samples, but really my setup is pretty simple: miracle grow, thin gravel cap, some dead leaves, thick sand cap.
 

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What an offer, thanks! I'm guessing my own off the shelf test kit isn't accurate enough for your purposes? If so I'd be happy to send you some samples, but really my setup is pretty simple: miracle grow, thin gravel cap, some dead leaves, thick sand cap.

I need to start taking better images. Here's one of a scape I really hate and am working on replacing, showing ludwigia cuba, staurogyne repens, and blyxa japonica.





I just trimmed down the rotala magenta and I don't have any good old pics. My rotala wallichi has some nice colorful new growth, but there is still a lot of old growth from the store - I feel like it would be cheating to show pics of that.

Ludwigia peruensis is in poor shape from negligence, but I'll have pics of new good growth soon, hopefully. Nesaea pedicellata got killed by same negligence, but I'd like to try it out again soon. Glosso got killed by my sunfish and I really regret never getting pics of it, because it was carpeting very well. I'm waiting for LFS to get more in stock. Everything else on the list is basically surprise-free.
Nice growth I'm thinking about setting up a dirted tank. Did you mineralize the dirt? what was your dirting process?
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I'm just very curious to what type of nutrients are available in the water column in specific PPM concentrations on mature dirted tanks. You can also send me your tap if you want me to profile it. I can get the Mg,Ca and K levels. If the levels of NPKs are elevated then I might use it on my test tank and see if I can get same results. I'll test the tank water for N,P,K,Ca,Mg,Mn,Fe and maybe even copper. I'll PM you the instructions.
Tank isn't too old, maybe a year. If you're really interested, feel free to message me :)
Would be nice to know those kinds of details!
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Nice growth I'm thinking about setting up a dirted tank. Did you mineralize the dirt? what was your dirting process?

I always tell myself that next time I set up a tank, I'll try mineralizing. One of these days I'll give it a try. For now, all you see is just organic top soil (.5" for 5 gallons, 1" for 20

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Update


The rotala wallichii looks the same as when I bought it about three weeks ago, with hints of forthcoming new growth. In the very least, this plant is possible in dirt. Once the plant is better established I'll cut the stems down and see what full new growth looks like; only then will I update the table.


[30 gallon display]


[nursery tank]


I received four stems of limnophila armoatica two weeks ago. I put two in my nursery tank and two in my 30 gallon display. Now that they are getting established, there are quite a few new buds emerging - I think they'll do very well in dirt. What baffles me is the difference in color of the old leaves: the nursery tank is hot pink, the ones in my display are yellow with a pink blush. The new shoots in the nursery tank are downright magenta. I think it might be the new bulb I added, but still - how can that effect the color of old growth? Both tanks have the same substrate, neither have CO2. Display tank probably has more nitrate. Biggest difference is light. I'll continue to observe and post more later.

The rotala macrambe can be seen in the corner of the display tank limnophila aromatica shot - some new growth, but some of the old growth is starting to melt. It could go either way. Will take a better pic when a more final determination is made.



Syngonanthus sp. belem is doing.. okay. I was stupid and allowed the lower leaves to be completely shaded by driftwood - they have melted as a result. The growth on top seems okay though. Will continue to monitor. I'm probably trying to do too many things at once here. I should have given this plant a better shot.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
My nursery tank is a complete mess right now, but I'm holding off on reorganizing it until after the rescape of my 30 gallon. Here's an ugly pic of some new red growth on limnophila aromatica and (below the aromatica) rotala magenta.



The rotala is a scraggly mess from all the tanks its been pulled in and out of, but the new growth is thick and vibrant. I'm hoping that with a trim and replanting, it will grow truer and with this same bright color.


The limnophila aromatica in my main display tank is also growing nicely, though not as vibrantly. I am tempted to list this plant as "Perfect" in the above guide, and I'd be very interested in hearing from high tech owners of this plant as to whether this would be appropriate. Even if someone with a high-tech setup has better L. Aromatica than this, I wonder if the mean average high tech L. Aromatica is truly more vibrant than in the above pic and also as bushy as the below.



The above picture also shows ludwigia cuba growth. I have not yet managed to get dirted ludwigia cuba to form the bushy tops it is known for in high tech conditions, though some of the pink blush is there - I'll keep this rated as "Good" in the above chart, because although it's not as good as high tech conditions, it's still a reasonably attractive plant. In between the aromatica and cuba there is some rotala macrandra. This plant melted off all of its bottom leaves soon after entering my tanks, but it is in the process of growing some new ones. I will have to wait and see, though the new growth doesn't seem to show much color yet. After my rescape, I will move these stems into the nursery where red growth seems more prevalent.
 
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