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Help/ Advice on getting started?

3326 Views 20 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  Budget aquarist
Hi, i have had a 20g tank for a couple of years and i would like to add plants to it, but im not really sure how to start.

The current inhabitants are: an angel fish, a small jack dempsey, a convict, a gold gourami, 2 zebra danios, and 2 clown loaches. overstocked? Right now i have standard black gravel but i plan on getting seachem flourite, is this good substrate and would it be ok to just mix it with the gravel or should i use the flourite alone? currently i just have the lighting that came with the aquarium which i am near positive will not due for plants. I know that i need about 3 watts per gallon but i have no idea about the spectrum. i also plan on adding a standard fermentation Co2 diffuser from petsmart- mainly because of cost and ease of use, is there something better thats not to expensive?

i would like to add Micro Sword, 2 Anubias hastifolia, 1 java fern, and 1 Temple Narrow Leaf which i plan on buying from
, suggestions on anywhere online that is better/cheaper would be appreciated because I have no local stores that I am aware of besides petsmart whose live plant selection is lacking.

Yea so any suggestions will be greatly appreciated as i have very little idea on how to go about doing this.
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That jack Dempsey and convict are going to out grow tank in a couple years. I personally have a 8-9in jack dempsey and a 5-6in convict. Once they get to be that big anything smaller, especially those danios, will be toast and you'll be left with the jack Dempsey and the convict. What I would recommend is to either get rid of the jack dempsey and the convict or you could get a bigger tank just for the cichlids and turn the 20gal into a planted community with the angels and smaller fish.

As for the planted part I would say go with 1-2 wpg anything more would start going into the high tech area(assuming you want to stay low tech because you posted in the low tech forum).

For the substrate what I like is a mix of sand and a flourite because it makes it easier to hold down large plants like swords.

For plants, I personally like amazon swords, crypts, and vals. They have worked out really well for me.
My only advice is read, read, read. There's a TON of info on his forum. If you're looking for a cheap option for your substrate, you might check out the El Natural section on Aquatic Plant Central:
I'd buy plants right here in the swap and shop.
Totally agree with Boredouttahell. You are headed for disaster with your current aquarium fish selection. That Jack Dempsey is rule and eat the roost.
Welcome to TPT!

Unfortunately, I think the only fish you have in that tank that are appropriate for it are the gold gourami and zebra danios. All the rest will quickly outgrow it or are not appropriate for community tanks and so need to be rehomed sooner rather than later.

What kind of lighting do you have over your tank?
Thanks for the advice and quick response! I am aware that the jack dempsey, convict, and i think the loaches as well will eventually need more room and i was planning on selling or giving them away when they get too big. I like personality of the cichlids alot but i am unable to get a bigger aquarium so i was thinking of getting a couple of rams once there is more room in my tank.

the housing on my light says 24" fluorescent aquarium reflector. 120 volt, 15 watt, 60 hz. So sense its a 20g i want a 40 watt full spectrum bulb for plants, right?

Your current light fixture leaves you with a VERY low light level. Unless you upgrade your fixture, I'd stick with Java fern, Anubias, mosses, swords, and crypts. I'd avoid the microsword and stem plants because you won't have enough light to keep them growing well.
would i be able to just upgrade the bulb or do need a whole new light fixture for good plant growth?
I've never used anything but inert gravel in my tanks and have always been satisfied (low tech of course) with growth, especially with Co2. And speaking of that, I've only used Co2 to jump start new growth and keep algae at bay then stop it later once things are where I want them because I'm lazy about trimming and thinning.

There's a pic of my Co2-free, inert gravel, low tech 40-gallon under my username. I've been battling a bit of algae so have begun to dose with Excel. Lighting is 60 watts of some bulb I got at Home Depot called Sun-Glo and 50 watts of regular fluorescent that came with the light fixtures. It's no Amano but I'm happy with it because it's so carefree.

Just a couple of thoughts. :) It can be really overwhelming when you've never done this before.
would i be able to just upgrade the bulb or do need a whole new light fixture for good plant growth?
you're gonna need a whole new fixture because its the ballast that controls the wattage and light output and not the bulb. if you don't care about aesthetics, you can probably pickup a cheap fluorescent fixture from home depot or lowes. If you are decent at wood working you can probably DIY a hood and make your own light setup. This would probably be the cheapest option. If you have the means, you can get an off the shelf lighting setup, just make sure you have a total of 40 watts+ of light.

well ive attempted to grow anubias nana twice, and a moss ball using only api leaf zone but those all died and i just assumed it was due to lack of fertilizer and a good light source.

i think i will just buy a better housing for a good light source because i dont have either the skill nor tools to even attempt to make my own. Thanks everyone for the suggestions, il let you know how things turn out.
Just stick one more 18 watt strip over your tank and it would give you a nice light level for a low tech 20gal tank.
i looked at 3 pet stores and none had any idea what i was talking about when i said i needed a 40w 18" bulb. They said these 15w bulbs that they had that were made for plants would be enough, but i believe you guys more. lauraleellbp thats a good idea, but i still think il still get a 40w light because the lid that i have doesnt allow me to place another light strip on so i would have to get two new strips.

Sorry if i placed this in the wrong thread, i figured the tank im trying to create is low tech because its not going to have a pressurized Co2 system, a bubble counter and all that fancy stuff. Im still not really sure what is classified as a low tech tank.
I think something this this should work for you:

Check the dimensions because I'm not sure, I think 20 gallons are 24in long.

As for low tech, it's not the co2 that makes a tank low tech, it's the amount of lighting. If you have 3wpg+ then that tank is high tech. But once you increase the light that much then you need to get some sort of co2 injection unless you want your tank riddled with algae.

For your low tech tank, I would recommend you use some sort of DIY co2. It will probably reduce the amount of algae and help your plants grow lusher.
It is pretty easy to convert a fluorescent tube aquarium light fixture to use screw-in CFL bulbs. You just have to remove all of the electrical guts from the fixture, make a very simple aluminum or aluminum foil reflector, and install a couple of screw-in light sockets from the hardware store. Then you can use a couple of the spiral screw-in CFL bulbs with the wattage that gives you the amount of light you need. Just a little harder, but not much, is to buy an AH Supply bright light kit, and install it into the gutted fixture. But, the easiest of all is to buy a new light, as Bored suggested.
If you don't have the budget to get a more expensive fixture, you can totally do what Lauralee said and add another fixture. (15-18 watt.) I grew low light plants in a 20 high with that much light just fine. (Java ferns, java moss, anubias, crypts.)
Thanks for the link, thats exactly what i was looking for! so with that light, seachem flourite, and a natural plant Co2 system from petsmart, i should be all set for plants right?
I'd make your own DIY CO2 with some 2L bottles. Save yourself some $$ and have a better quality setup than most other yeast-based Co2 systems on the market right now.

Check the DIY forum for some designs.

You'll definitely need CO2 with that T5 light fixture, since it will put your tank well into "medium light" range rather than low light.

If you want to stay low light, you'll need to raise that light 6-12" up off the tank.
If I leave it in the medium light range will I get better plant growth?
If by "better" you mean faster, then yes.

If by "better" you mean healthier, then that depends on all your nutrient levels- ferts as well as CO2.

The more light you put over a tank, the faster plants grow. The faster plants grow, the more nutrients they need.

Put more light over a tank without supplying the right nutrients, and the plants will become more and more unhealthy and eventually a tank usually crashes and gets overrun with algae.
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