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Looking for advice on Algae problem

688 Views 7 Replies 4 Participants Last post by  Chris_Produces
Hey there, I'm hoping to get some advice on reducing the amount of algae in my planted Aquarium, I understand some algae is normal and healthy, but I'm having a very difficult time keeping my plants alive as they get coated in algae.

First off, this is my first planted Aquarium, so I know I have a lot to learn, but I tried my best to research ahead and have been searching for solutions for a fair while now and just don't have the experience to really know what the problem with my tank is.

20 Gallons
pH: 7.2-7.4
NH3: 0, NO2: 0, NO3: 5-10
I only have the kits for those, and since typically my fish are healthy I'm pretty sure they're reasonably accurate.
Lighting: 2x24W ~10 hours/day
Flourish Excel ~1/2 capful/2 days
Root tab fertilizers 4 every 3 months (I don't have the box anymore for the exact brand, but I think it was seachem flourish tabs)

I got the tank 2nd hand a few years ago and tried a couple different set ups for fish (zebra danios first, neon tetras 2nd) And was pretty successful cycling the tank and keeping the fish alive with plastic plants/rocks/etc. The light that came with the tank was 1x15W and probably very old (in hindsight), since no algae grew at all back then.

About a year ago I decided to try my hand at some plants and under the advice of the local pet store got some Amazon swords, an Anubias, and a couple others whose name escapes me now since they're long dead (only the sword and anubias survived any time at all) I'm fairly confident most of my initial purchase of plants died due to low lighting, you could sort of see them stretching upwards and having there lower half rot away, so it seemed the obvious next step was to upgrade my outdated lighting with my current more powerful setup, this was about 6 months ago.

At first it seemed to help, the surviving swords seemed to start growing noticeably and the anubias well, it got a new leaf or two at least, but I quickly noticed some algae start growing on the glass for the first time, so I added 2 Oto's to the tank to help keep it under control a bit, there were also 15 neon tetras or so during all this.

Unfortunately as time passed instead of just mild algae that didn't really bother me on glass/rocks I started to get thicker more furry stuff growing on the plants, pictures below, I assume its something like beard algae, but I'm not really sure. That's the real problem stuff anyway, I can't get it off the leaves without destroying the leaves and the oto's don't seem to make a dent in it. I also noticed some long strandy hair algae, but that stuff was easy enough to suck up during water changes and remove. I have been pruning back the most afflicted leaves when I can, but literally every single leaf ends up coated, so unless I completely remove the plants there's always more of this furry stuff covering something. I've been taking the rocks/remaining plastic plants out and bleaching them, so they stay relatively low algae, but I don't think that's really an option with living plants.

I went to the local pet store around then to ask for some advice, and they seemed pretty confident a few more Oto's would clean it up no problem, so I picked up 4 more and figured I'd let them give it a try. Apparently they also brought some Ick(probably) home with them since within a few days my tetras ended up getting those trademark white specks and started dying in waves. It's been a few weeks since then and I've managed to get past the Ick outbreak with 2 surviving neons, and the Oto's didn't seem to be affected by it at all since not one of them died.

After that I'm not in too much of a rush to go back to the pet store, and although the Oto's certainly can be seen nibbling away at algae all over the tank, they really don't make a dent in it at all, I manually clean the glass/decorations to try and encourage them to help the plants, but the plants still get choked to near death regardless.

At this point I'm getting pretty frustrated, I'm not sure specifically what I can do next so I was hoping to get some suggestions here, it feels like the plants have become a huge money sink lately, so I'm not really interested in adding a CO2 system or buying more expensive test kits unless there's really no other way, but I have to imagine some more experienced aquarists have dealt with this kind of issue before.

Pic of the overall Tank:
Close up of one of the swords covered in algae:
One of the other extremely pruned back swords also covered and not really growing at all anymore (these guys used to have dozens of leaves all about 6-10 inches long filling up most of the bottom half of the tank)
The poor Anubias is looking pretty much dead, I'm even less convinced I can save it then the swords:
The algae also seems to take over the substrate in no time:
This stuff looks more like hair algae and infests the bottom of the anubias, usually I can suck most of it up, but its gotten very tangly over time:

Thanks for any advice, hopefully I can get some plants to grow in this tank before too much longer
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The short answer guess?

Too much light.

The more detailed explanation would probably be best explained by Darkblade's Primer.

Essentially, you either have too long a lighting period or too bright a light for your tank to remain stable without co2 and/or fertilizers. If you're set against doing an expensive co2 system, you can perhaps look into adding the excel a little more frequently (I think it degrades within a day), or DIY co2 with yeast. I'm not sure if the root tabs provide enough of the macro nutrients of (Nitrates, Phosphates, and Potassium), but if it doesn't, then you'll have to look into adding that too. Despite all that is and will be said, probably your easiest solution is to cut down your light duration or intensity or both and see if that makes a difference.
Depending on which bulb you used, one 24W T8 bulb is good for lots of plant types.
Most root tabs don't contain any/enough Macros. So basics ar that you gave the plant light, carbon but no food because in plants any nutrient not there stops growth.
They were able to "get by" for a while because of fish waste. And actually the ammonia they create get turned into one of the nutrients also(nitrate).
That Darkblade Primer is good reading. After reading it you should understand what
is wrong. Then begins the process of learning how to correct it.
Use caution when asking questions about that. Meaning state that you want low
tech/regular growth(as opposed to high tech/fast growth) in each question or
people will steer you towards fast growth type ferts etc.
Low tech = low cost/maintenance...high tech = high cost/high maintenance such
as weekly trimming of plants.
What type of light fixture do you have ?
I've a had a problem like this before. Long story short, I was driving the plants too hard with light and NO co2 and/or fertilizers. Algae went crazy and the plants slowing started dying off. It may not be the whole puzzle but I think a big part of the problem is your lighting intensity and the duration of it.
Am I getting this correct ? You have two Finnex Planted+ fixtures on there ?
Am I getting this correct ? You have two Finnex Planted+ fixtures on there ?
I was wondering what light is being used on the tank here also. I don't know what 2x24W is. I assume a t8 or something.
Thanks for the replies

I don't remember the specific brand of the lights, there are 2 blue and 2 whites in the fixture, but there are two switches to control them so I only ever have 1 blue & white set on at a time.

Maybe this will help identify them:

I have tried cutting the light back a bit before, I've done a few days with no light, shorter durations I can try, maybe aim for like 6 hours a day? At some point it will feel like the tank is almost never viewable if it gets cut back too far though.

I can up the flourish excel to once per day, I've done that before for ~1 month but it didn't really seem to make any difference that I could see.

If root tabs don't provide enough macro nutrients what should I be using? I'd thought they said N/P/K on them in pretty similar quantities to the liquid fertilizers.

Basically I can't wrap my head around the lighting angle, before with 1 15W nothing grew at all anywhere, but now 2 24's is way too much? Unfortunately unless I manually remove a light from the fixture I can't turn just a single light on since the switches control 2 at a time, 1 blue and 1 white.

Sorry for being dense on the lighting, I just pulled 2 of the lights out to read the details directly off them:
1 Aqua Nova CE T5 24W White Plant
1 Aqua Nova CE T5 24W Coral Blue
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You should ditch the blue lights and get a full spectrum or 6500/6700 light or even a red hued bulb
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