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Discussion Starter #1
I've had planted tanks for about 20 years now with some successes and some failures. I've always used either Flourite or sand. I would use root tabs when I remembered but mostly relied on fish poo and Malaysian Trumpet snails to get that poo underground where the roots can get it. I've only used CO2 on one tank, my first believe it or not, and that was a DIY yeast/jello contraption.

I'm about to take my planted tanks to the next level, by being more proactive in plant setup and care. I've done a lot of reading over the last few weeks and I have what are probably some basic questions, but I really can't find the answers!

I do understand the difference between fertilizing substrates and inert. I'm interested in trying fertilizing subtrates. But I don't understand how the layers stay layered. Lets say you put down half an inch of say, ADA Powersand. The you put down 2" of Amazonia, for example. THen you layer some inert sand on top.

I tried something like this years ago, with flourite on the bottom and playsand on the top. It was a nightmare, as you planted the plants the layers would mix. is there a way to prevent this? I don't see a way.

Next, it seems that the soils wear out over time. I've read 9 months, I've read 3 or more years. At this point you either need to tear the tank down or start using root tabs. If you're doing that, why not just start with an inert substrate, like Flourite, and start with root tabs from the begining?

It also seems that your choice of CO2 or not, daily dosing, or not, is in part driven by the substrate. I have no desire at all to daily dose, so I've read that I really do need a fertilizing layer. Is this really the case?

Oh, the tank is a 75 gallon tank, but I would think that that would only matter when it comes to budget. Thanks for dealing with the vague questions!
 

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I do understand the difference between fertilizing substrates and inert. I'm interested in trying fertilizing subtrates. But I don't understand how the layers stay layered. Lets say you put down half an inch of say, ADA Powersand. The you put down 2" of Amazonia, for example. THen you layer some inert sand on top.
I tried something like this years ago, with flourite on the bottom and playsand on the top. It was a nightmare, as you planted the plants the layers would mix. is there a way to prevent this? I don't see a way.
If using something like Amazonia, you don't need/want a top layer over it. It's made specifically to be used without a cap. The cap layer would be for something like potting soil, and its purpose would be to keep the potting soil in the substrate, instead of all over the water column. Same with Flourite...it doesn't need a top layer. So, let's say you use potting soil and a sand-cap. You'd want the sand cap deep enough to keep the potting soil down, but shallow enough to allow plant roots to get down easily to the potting soil. Some mixing will occur over time, but it works for those who do that. Look up "El Natural Method" or "Walstad Method" for guidance on that.

The so-called "fertilizing substrates" other than actual dirt or potting soil are a misnomer and are limited in what they provide, and really are more helpful in that they tend to have a higher Cation Exchange Capacity...meaning they can hold on to nutrients that are made available to them, and then make those available to plant roots.



Next, it seems that the soils wear out over time. I've read 9 months, I've read 3 or more years. At this point you either need to tear the tank down or start using root tabs. If you're doing that, why not just start with an inert substrate, like Flourite, and start with root tabs from the begining?
Yep. Good point. Some folk who start out with a soil substrate (with sand cap) will do a MAJOR trim once nutrients start running down. What this does is gets all those roots in the substrate to start to decompose and release the nutrients that are held within their tissues. It also results in CO2 production in the soil.

It also seems that your choice of CO2 or not, daily dosing, or not, is in part driven by the substrate. I have no desire at all to daily dose, so I've read that I really do need a fertilizing layer. Is this really the case?
Maybe...probably to some degree. I think it is more driven by light, and whether your substrate has a high CEC value (something made of clay, for example). Take a low-light aquarium, for example. I have seen moderately well-kept planted tanks where only the fish food/fish waste provided the only nutrient additions. Because the lighting was low, there was a low nutrient requirement of the plants, no need for additional CO2. Were they really great scapes? No...but with some careful scaping, they could have been decent.
 

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Thanks for getting back to me. I'm not even sure what the next questions are. Right now I'm leaning away from the soils and using an inert substrate. I guess one reason is that I'm more familiar with that. Then again, it seems that Flourite has a low CEC. I think I read that that was because it was inert. Interesting. I must read more. Thanks!
 

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What works best varies for each of us. So some first thoughts on what you need to do in your life and your tank, may help to make the decisions. Sometimes we get too involved in avoiding time and work and wind up getting into way too much time and work! As you've found in reading, it is not at all as simple as choosing what somebody else feels it THE way to go as what they want and often are selling is not actually what you want or need.
So you've mentioned daily ferts as a bad thing, I might assume that life dictates that is not right for you? But then what might work? Is an inert sub like Flourite and weekly ferts a plan that might work? I find plants and fish are much more adaptable than what we read most often.

We know that most of us feed way to often and certainly more than fish find in nature and plants are very much the same if we take most of the dosing ideas to heart. If a fish doesn't starve in a month, will a plant notice if there is more nutrients one week and less another? We know folks don't put new fert pellets in on exact schedules, and EI dosing says we add way too much and then do a weekly water change to knock the levels down, so can't we also assume that adding the ferts on some modified schedule which DOES fit our human plans will work much the same?

I start off with the idea that ALL of our fert dosing will be based on estimates which may fit what happens in my tank or not as tanks, plants and all the other factors will vary. Knowing that it starts with an estimate allows me much more freedom to vary things as my life needs!

For those reasons, I no longer go for definite set schedules and amounts of the estimated ferts, but use simple dry ferts which I measure out ins small spoons, mix in a cup and pour in the tank. If I'm here, they get it on a somewhat fixed schedule but if I'm gone for a week, they may get a bit more before I leave or get it after I get back.

Dry ferts that I can decide easily how much of what, makes life much easier for me than struggling to get the exact plant situation. No matter how well designed the starting point, nature has a way of changing the answers as time goes on and plants grow die or get moved, so I do not try to outguess nature but I do tend to watch what it may say I need to do next!
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thanks for writing back @PlantedRich. I've been thinking about what you've said and what my needs are. I've also been reading tons and tons more.

I was against daily ferts because my wife and I like to go camping. It might be a long weekend and once a year we're gone for 2 weeks. It is even possible this year we'll take a cross country drive the slow way. (We'll have a neighbor come in and feed the fish for that trip!) So daily ferts cannot be maintained.

But can they? I've read about building a DIY dosing system and I love DIY projects. I built a sump based filter for my last tank and loved doing that. So I guess that's like dry except I add the water when my supply tank goes down.

So I'm still getting back to substrates since that's the hardest thing to change out. I keep on reading about how awesome the aqua soils are, but man, they're expensive. Given that they eventually wear out and you have to supplement with root tabs, why use them? Is it just for the initial awesome growth? Given that plants are also expensive that might be a reasonable trade off.

I'm also in the situation of needed to rescape an existing tank. I can put the livestock in a holding tank but I really don't want to do that for a month waiting for ammonia spikes to stop.
 

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Several points that you might consider doing some small "mods" to the routine to see if it might help. On the ferts, I also had somebody else doing a look in every day or so to see that something big was not happening. It saved me a couple times! silly things happen when nobody is looking>>>>

How would it work out if you did a really modified fert routine so that you measure out the dry ferts in small bathroom cups, doing the macros (NPK) in one cup and the micro things in other cups, have them lined up on a paper to set the days so both are not done on the same day and then make it simple for the caretaker to dip some tank water and pour the correct cup of ferts in on the right days.

If looking at gone for a week, dose macros before you leave on Sunday, then let them dose micros on their first visit of maybe Tuesday and alternate the doses until you get back? It might take some thought to what and when but plants are not prone to totally throwing in the towel and dying over a bit of disruption or a bit of overfeeding, so I found it worked for me. Keep in mind that overfeeding is not near the big trouble we might think as overfeeding is hoe EI dosing is intended to work! Ei Depends on putting in way much and then taking it out with weekly water changes, so if you feed a bit too much before you leave to make it last better until your help does the second dose of the group, it is not much different than EI dosing.

When gone for a week or two, I found more trouble from the weird things like filters stopping or heaters failing and not much noticed from odd fert dosing!

I've never found the need to move beyond the inert after starting with Flourite, so my most common tanks have been pool filter sand/ combined with remnants of gravel and leftover Flourite. Most of the time, it's just a mixed bag of this and that with adding dry ferts.

One way to avoid the trauma of a total rebuild and removing the sub to add new, is to just go with adding a bottle full at a time, letting it settle and then adding another bottle of whatever the new is until I get enough and decide I may want to take out some of the old, if I'm wanting a big enough change in color dark to light, etc.

Drain water down, cut the bottom off a two liter, etc. and stick a thumb on the top before filling with the new sub. Move the bottle to near the tank bottom and maybe down into the existing before letting it trickle out as I move the bottle around. Do it slow and gentle and you can add bottles of new without the giant duststorm---- with a little practice. If the water get too cloudy to suit, pull the bottle out and wait a day or so before doing more. :grin2:
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I think that doing dry ferts in a cup is certainly the way to go, at least at the start. I would just enjoy building the dosing system. I'm an engineer and love building things.

I wouldn't bother with a tank sitter for a week, but if I was gone for a month, yeah. Would need to. And pre measuring it all is the way to go.

Why would you want to dose macro/micro on different days? Or is that just when the tank sitter is around?

And I love the trick with with the 2l bottle, sweet! I think for mine I may want to remove the substrate, but I'm not certain, I've started a thread about the plans over at https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/8-general-planted-tank-discussion/1316199-spend-my-money.html

Nice to see you use inerts, that's what I'm used to. I love the look of a sand tank and having corys buried up to their eyebrows in sand. I tried an inch of play sand on top of flourite once but it got all jumbled together.
 
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