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I've got a 20 gallon and I'm going to make it high tech (this is my first time). I want to dry start some Monte Carlo, S. Repens, and Hygrophila Pinnatifida (amount in that order), but I'm also worried about algae popping up, so I'm torn on whether to dry start or cycle first. Can they be done at the same time, or should one come after the other???
 

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Doesn't matter. Plants don't care about the nitrogen cycle as much as livestock do. If you do it before you need to do something to keep it alive. So you may as well dry start and then cycle.
 

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I don't understand your question. How could you cycle and dry start at the same time? You can't cycle the tank without water in it. If you cycle first then dry start you have to empty the tank and you're no longer cycled.
 

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I was watching a video about the Dark Start method. You fill up and let filter without light for about three weeks. Your soil will leach out all the ammonia and you tank will be cycled. Drain it. Plant. Refill. Result is less melting and minimal algae. Looked promising.
 

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During a dry start, the water in the soil with grow bacteria and rotting plant matter provides ammonia, allowing the cycle to happen during your dry start. I wouldn't add fish right after you flood the tank, but a dry start creates a really good bacteria population.
 

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I've never dry started before but I wasn't imagining that there would be any appreciable amount of "rotting plant matter".
 

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I've never dry started before but I wasn't imagining that there would be any appreciable amount of "rotting plant matter".
That's because there's not - you're right with your take that it doesn't accomplish much.

All a "dry start" does is allow some bacteria to start growing in the substrate. If the substrate is ammonia-rich, they'll feed on that. But it's still only the substrate and not the rest of the tank, hardscape or filter media. On top of that, water isn't moving around much in the damp substrate - there's no flow - so there's usually not a constant supply of waste for bacteria to feed on. More often than not, mold and fungus begin to grow because of stagnation.
 
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