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Vals love me, nothing else will grow :(

1733 Views 19 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  cjstl
As the title says I'm doing a wonderful job growing valisneria. It is sending off new runners 2-3 times a week and quickly grows to the surface of the water. However, my dwarf hairgrass, HC and blyxa are not surviving. The hairgrass may look OK in the pictures but it was just planted 3 days ago so time will tell on that. The HC is dead and I'm not seeing any new plantlets growing. No pearling before lights out either. The blyxa has been in the tank for 3 weeks and all it has done is slowly melt away. I'm seeing no new growth on those plants either.

The HC and first batch of DHG were grown emersed in a DSM for 6 weeks and upon filling the tank they died off a little (expected) but then began to grow, slowly, but still growing. I had the CO2 cranked at that point because I had no fauna in the tank. I got a hit of BGA within the first two weeks of being filled which I treated with H2O2 and Excel. It hasn't been back. Now a little hair algae here and there but nothing manual removal or spot treatment can't fix. I think the BGA outbreak and/or treatment may have started the death cycle of the plants. Also at that time I had an unknown CO2 leak and had difficulty maintaining CO2 levels. That has been fixed for a week now and we're looking good with a green drop checker, pH of 6.7 and KH = 5 which on the chart points towards 30 ppm.

Some additional info:
17G tank
24" Finnex Planted Plus
Lights on 6 hours/day
CO2 comes on 2 hours before, off 30 minutes before lights out.
50% water change weekly
EI Dosing Monday and Wednesday Macros - Tues and Thurs Micros. Dosing for 2 ppm PO4, 9 ppm K and 10 ppm NO3. Although I rarely need to dose nitrates. Tap water tests at 10 ppm NO3.

Speaking of nitrates, I am regularly in the 40-80 ppm range (hard to distinguish between those colors on the card) even though I don't add an KNO3. 0 NH3 and 0 NO2. KH = 5, GH = 8, and PO4 = 0.5. I have a hard time keeping the PO4 up greater than 1 ppm.

Does that fact only vals are growing lead you to any "aha" moments? Do these plants feed differently than the smaller plants?

One more note. My aquasoil was initially set up and a dry start was going when I had to move houses. I put the aquasoil in a bucket (drained but not completely dried) and then didn't get to setting up this current tank for 4 months. Did the fact that the soil sat in a bucket with the lid closed, slightly damp, do anything to harm the nutrient capacity of the soil. It grew plants just fine on the second dry start with the DHG and HC so my thinking is no. And maybe I just had too much trouble controlling CO2 that these plants died off. I should say, the vals were planted as soon as the tank was filled.

OK, long post. Here are some pictures too. Let me know if I forgot any critical tank parameters.

Full tank shot

Right side with the blyxa

Zoomed in on the blyxa

That greener HC is a new planting, don't let it fool you. It has been there for a week and it pearls a bit but I have a hard time keeping it in the soil. Once I can prove that I can grow lower carpeting plants I might go to S. Repens for a foreground plant.
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Your parameters look fine to me. How old is the tank? If your tap has 10ppm nitrates and your not dosing any nitrates but your at 40-80ppm then either your test kit is off, your cycling still or something is leeching nitrates. I think your plants are still adjusting to their new submerged life, I would give it more time, the melting is normal. As far as the soil sitting in a bucket for a long time I'd be worried about possible mold issues especially if it was wet with the lid on. Just keep an eye on it.

P.s. plants don't have to pearl to grow.
I suspect it is the decaying plants that have added to the nitrate load. I try to trim out the worst looking leaves whenever possible (hence the reason I pulled out all the hairgrass, it all looked bad). I've tested my test kit against a 10 and a 40 ppm standard and it was fairly close. The colors were not exact but the 10 was certainly on the oranger side and the 40 was more red...within the tolerances of test kit in my opinion. That was the first thing I thought when I began seeing nitrates that high. I always follow the directions for that test to the second and shake the 2nd bottle like a crazy man to ensure it is well mixed.

The tank was dry-started on 2/21 and filled on 3/28 so yes, it is definitely a new tank. I cycled the the filter through a bucket feeding either ammonia or a decaying grocery store shrimp and I waited out that cycle until I saw the spike in nitrites and finally the appearance of nitrates. It took about a month to work through the entire cycle but I'm fairly certain it is all cycled and good to go. The bioload on the filter is minimal now though with just 10 shrimp and 2 otos in the tank.

I didn't see any mold at all when I re-used the aquasoil, at least nothing obvious. I got a little fungus like strand of material on the HC when I first filled the tank but since then nothing, just a little algae.

I'll just keep my fingers crossed that the tank is still new and working out some bugs. I had hoped the blyxa would begin to show some growth after 3 weeks. At least it hasn't all melted away...maybe it's still busy putting down some crazy roots!
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I think you have overlooked the fact that vals come much closer to full size when
you buy them. The entire surface aria of any plant is that which it can take in light and absorb nutrients from. These things and temp are the only thing which determine the rate of growth(living within each plants normal growth rate).
Then also, val is a fast(er) growing plant.
I have a couple of new plants in my tanks and about 3/15/14 was when they were placed in there. They were in a wet paper towel for up to 7 days before I got them.
One has grown about four layers of new leaves. The other has sent off tiny new shoots while the older part has died. I cut the new shoots off the old part and replanted a few(4). Each of those new shoots has gotten one new leaf layer on it since then.
Can you take closer pics of the HC? I'd like the see the new and old stems and see where the damage is located.
This is the only picture I have available right now, I can take another when I get home this evening. Sorry it is not the clearest picture.

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This looks like poor CO2 enrichment. You need to keep tweaking on it. Use the drop checker as basic guide, not as a point of stopping. Find the point where your plants are doing well and your fauna is not affected. If you stay with the mentality that your DC is green you must be good for CO2, you will never get it where you need it.
Thanks for the ideas. I'll keep trying to increase the CO2 levels. I'm at about 3.3 bubbles pet second (50 bubbles counted in 15 seconds). I know the drop checker is just a relative guide and I should rely on my plants and fish for the final say on what it too little versus not enough. The drop checker will work its way closer to yellow by the end of the lighting cycle.
Good thing I have lots of patience, just not lots of money to keep buying plants.

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I'm a planner. But I must say I did not plan for all of these struggles keeping my plants alive. To make them flourish, yes, I expected lots of trial and error but I at least expected I could keep them alive. Ahh, but isn't this why we do this hobby? To keep us on our toes?

So today I came home and pretty much every one of those nice pretty green plantings of DHG you see above are now brown. I pulled a couple out and they had started to grow roots, no plantlets seen but the top definitely looks dead. Should I remove them all or give them a big haircut and see if they send out new shoots?
These were from those gel packs from Petsmart but I've heard of others successfully growing them. I was very meticulous in removing all the gel before planting and rinsed them in only tank water when I was cleaning them of the gel.

HC isn't showing much in the form of growth. But some BBA seems to be taking hold of the HC.

Retested water parameters again. Same results as the last message. pH might have been a touch higher at 6.8 but the CO2 has only been on for 3 hours.

The CO2 seems to be constant at 4 bps. I was lucky I got home yesterday before the CO2 solenoid opened, when I heard it click on I noticed less than 1 bps after 30 minutes. I think I lowered the pressure too much earlier in the week and it needed to be bumped up to 20psi. It's been at a constant 4 bps since then.

I'm shocked the blyxa isn't completely melted away. It seems to be holding it's own right, no new growth, but not a lot of dead leaves either. I'll sort through it more this weekend when I do a water change and see if I can't clear out some of the worst leaves.

Could there be something toxic in my substrate causing this?

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This is an acute problem which means it isn't likely to be a nutrient deficiency. The grass has died in only 2 days, and the HC is quickly dying as well.

Do you have access to an ammonia test? Ammonia will often burn plants depending on the species and pH of the water.

Peroxide and excel can also damage plants quite severely. How much of that are you adding and how often? Are you spot treating or dosing the water column?

What is the temperature of the water? High temperatures can also kill plants (84F and above).

Do you have any other tanks in the house with plants in them? Are they doing well or suffering as well?

A lack of lighting can also quickly damage plants and cause death, especially to higher light plants like HC.
Does anyone else thing 6 hours isn't enough for a photo period? I have less light than you and I'm not dosing CO2 ATM, but I run my lights for 12 hours. I have cut back to 10 hours on a few tanks if algae gets too bad.
NH3 is zero and has been for every test I've done. I usually test 2-3 times per week while I've been searching for clues to this mystery.

Water temp is set to 78 and I tested with a portable thermometer just now and it was 78.8 so heater is working fine.

A month ago (33 days to be exact) I pulled the vals and critters out and did the "one-two punch" H2O2 and Excel treatment. I followed the "recipe" exactly. I had a BGA outbreak and didn't want to treat the new tank with antibiotics for fear of destroying a rather young and immature beneficial bacteria colony. Vals are reported as finicky with Excel and since they were not showing any algae besides the typical hair type algae that shows up on the older leaves I pulled them out. The BGA quickly died. The hairgrass didn't seem to affected by this and a couple of the plants continued to put out some runners for a couple more weeks even while the older patches were dying off. I thought this plant was going to make it. But slowly it started going brown. The HC never really took to submerged growth and may have been a bit affected by the peroxide or excel...I don't know for sure since submersion and treatment occurred within 2 weeks of each other.

I was close to pointing fingers at the peroxide or Excel for slowing the growth of the HC and old DHG so I did the experiment of planting new DHG and one new pot of HC to see if maybe it was the stress of the submersion or something I've done in the past month that caused them to stop growing. Unfortunately you see the outcome of the DHG experiment. The newer pot of HC is probably too new to the tank to determine anything in terms of growth.

I have occasionally spot treated some small portions of the HC, usually right next to the glass with peroxide. Shut off filter, wait for current to stop, dose a couple of drops of 2 ml peroxide diluted in 3 ml of water in a syringe directly on the affected area (essentially using 1.2% peroxide at this point). I let it sit for 10 minutes then crank on the filter again.

Interestingly, there are two little plantings of the new DHG that look amazing and still a bright green. Will be interesting to tell if they die off too.

Not sure if this helps anything but I have algae forming at or just under the substrate level. Lots of bubbles and a greenish slime on the glass wall. This has been fairly common in this tank and usually once a week I clean the glass in this portion and with a razor blade push the algae/bubbles down further into the substrate. Also note the brush type algae starting to grow on the rock and the black substrate support. This side of the tank is the closest (though still 20 or so feet) from the window so it does get a bit of sunlight in the morning hours (as much sun as the pacific northwest offers).

This algae is why I've kept the photoperiod low. I thought it would keep it at bay. Plenty of CO2 and nutrients and limiting light was the goal. I was at 9 hours and algae (although it was mostly BGA) grew like mad. I could certainly try going up in photoperiod. I've heard of people being successful at 6 hours hence why I picked it. I'll bump up to 7 hours tomorrow.

Unfortunately I don't have any other tanks set up. I probably have a move or two more in the next couple of years so I'm sticking to just one tank for now.

Looks like I'll be needing some more hairgrass this weekend. And I might pull up more of the dying HC too.
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Still sounds like inconsistent CO2 dosing to me. Find the right pressure and keep it there. If you mess with the pressure, not only can it hurt the consistency in the bubble count but it also plays part into consistent amounts of CO2 per bubble. Find your working pressure and always keep it there and return it there when you remove to change tanks.

How much do you see your ph drop at the end of your CO2 cycle? Once the working pressure is set, adjust your bubble count to about where you think you need it. Check to see how your plants are reacting as well as your fish at the end of the cycle. If both are positive, then adjust up a tad and do the same the next day. Keep doing this to the point that your fish are not affected, but your plants are.

Check out this video. The author mentions some references from Walstad's book that basically mention how Jungle Val is known to conduct chemical warfare against certain other plants, in the case of the author, duckweed. Maybe because the jungle val are full-sized already, it is putting out some chemicals that are giving your other plants a hard time. I would be curious to see what happens if you removed the jungle val to a different tank temporarily....
I am going through the exact same problem on my tank with DHG and Blyxa, both of which have been growing well for months. I have two likely suspects

1. I did my calculations wrong and overdosed CSM+B for a couple of weeks (1.8 ppm of Fe per week)
2. Zapins mentioned ammonia burning plants. I did remove some blyxa which were growing at a very fast rate by pulling them out instead of cutting off at the base which disturbed the substrate and might have caused an ammonia spike.

I have done several 50% water changes and stopped dosing CSM+B for a week and DHG seems to be bouncing back although there are still some dead patches.
Did increasing the lighting period help?

There are many ways to solve algae problems that don't involve shifting conditions to non-plant friendly ones.

While overdosing certain nutrients is a possibility, I don't think that is what is happening here. Overdosing CSM+B introduces many different metals which each have varying degrees of toxicity and hurt plants in many different ways. Therefore you'd expect the damage on your plants to be composed of several different damage symptoms, not just one - dying older growth. One symptom indicates either an overdose of one micro nutrient, one chemical, or one parameter that is not correct. It might just be a lack of light, though 2 days is quite a short period of time for DHG to die like that. Perhaps if they were stressed/in the dark before being added to the tank then had no light for 2 days maybe you'd see that level of browing.
I'm running at a 7 hour photoperiod and slightly higher CO2 rate. A new batch of hair grass was planted on Sat. and about 1/4 has died off. That's better than last time! I've also pulled out all the was looking terrible with no signs of growth. Replanted s. repens in its place. I'll post some pics tonight when I get home but things are looking better.

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Well, I hope things even out and the new plants start growing. If they die again then we'll have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what is killing them.

I'd do a lighting schedule of 9 hours.
Got home today and found more of the hairgrass browning and on its way to death. I decided to pull it all out. If the s. repens stays happy I'm hoping to keep that "carpet" moving to the middle ground of my tank.

Blyxa is showing signs of new growth and I can see some massive roots from the side of the tank. I'm now reading that these plants can sometimes take a few weeks to get used to their new tank, depending on how different it was from their previous owner's tank parameters. Reading more on blyxa I might be trimming it incorrectly just cutting off the worst looking leaves. Sounds as if I'm better off uprooting it and replanting any of the newer offshoots. Right now any of the leaves that are dying are getting pretty well covered in algae and when I can get to them I just hack them off. Between my hacking and the previous melting I think the plants are less crowded = more light = happier plants.

I'll bump the lights up to 8 hours tonight. I keep forgetting to check the tank pH before bedtime, in the morning it was 7.6+ (quite blue). I was cleaning the drop checker today and got a little careless, tapping it against the side of sink...broke it. Oops.

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I'm running at a 7 hour photoperiod and slightly higher CO2 rate. A new batch of hair grass was planted on Sat. and about 1/4 has died off. That's better than last time! I've also pulled out all the was looking terrible with no signs of growth. Replanted s. repens in its place. I'll post some pics tonight when I get home but things are looking better.

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In my experience, DHG browns very quickly if it isn't getting enough light. I planted some in a HOB breeder box thinking that it would get enough light through the tank. Nope, half of it is now brown. I planted some extra that I had in a Marina Cubus, but didn't have a light on it for a few days. Brown. In my 10 - 12 hour photo tanks though, it is all green and happy. With or without CO2.
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