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Why aren't my plants thriving??

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Hi Planted Tank members!

This is my first time on this forum - I have an issue with my tank that is niggling at me so I thought I'd come here for some advice.

Both myself and my brother keep aquarium tanks - I have concerntrated on discus with great success, and he has been more into plants, also to great success.

In the last couple of months I converted my tank to be more plant-friendly. Previously it had sand for substrate and low lighting. But after helping my brother with his tank and seeing how well his plants were growing (like seriously rapid!) I figured I could do the same. So I opted for the same fertilised substrate as he used - Tetra CompleteSubstrate - with the same sort of thickness, and a similar gravel over the top.

In terms of lighting, our tanks differ. He is using 2 x T5 daylights (about 6mnths old) in a Juwel Rio 180. I am on 2 x T8 30W Daylight + UV light (I think it's UV, its a reddish colour) (about 3wks old).

As for tank sizes, his is 180L, mine is 200L. Although mine goes deeper than his.

We both use RO water from the same system, but we add our chemicals slightly differently, mine is:

Tropic Marin Pro-Discus minerals & Trace elements (for gH)
API proper pH 8.2 (don't freak out - only a small amount to raise kH to 2-3!)
JBL Ferropol weekly fertiliser
JBL Ferropol 24 daily fertiliser

I also run a CO2 injection system on a timer
My pH is 6.5, kH 2-3, gH 10, Nitrates <15ppm, temp 27degC

He is using:
Tropic Marins Re-Mineral Tropic
SeaChem Flourish

Also has a CO2 injection system, not on a timer
His pH is 7, not sure on kH & gH but i'd guess slightly higher kH than mine, Nitrates will also be low, temp 25-26degC

Some other information that might be relevant - we both run our lights for about 10hrs, I run 2 x external filters, he has just 1, both use air pumps, both have similar plants (half of mine came from his tank!)...we do most things the same really, we just vary slightly on equipment and water softness.

So my question to you guys/girls is - how is it that his plants are growing like crazy, but mine barely get by?

Like seriously, every couple of weeks he throws/gives away clumps of cabomba's and valis, he has a meaty amazon sword that has grown the height and depth of the tank, and his plants are all ridiculously green -it's almost blinding!

In contrast - my cabomba's look thin and are a yellowy/lighter green in comparison, the valis leaves are going transparent, and some of the longer leaves that stretch across the top of the tank are a dark brown/red colour. Any new plants I introduce seem to go from a nice green to a pale, week green. I exaggerate a bit, they're not quite as bad as it sounds, and they do have some growth, particularly on the roots. But in comparison to his tank its pretty crap.

Do you think I should change my lights to T5's? Or is it maybe to do with my pH/kH? FYI I can't really change these.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated!
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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I'll post some pictures of our tanks in a minute so you can see the difference. I'd also be interested in knowing what you think of them, and if you have any suggestions for improvement. Bare with me while I get the photo's...
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Upgrade your lights. T8 lighting is rather outdated. Not only are you getting less intense light than him with that fixture, you are using it on a tank with greater depth!
Thanks. Yeah I'd read in a couple of places that T8's were inferior to T5's. Do you think the lack of growth and plant vibrancy is a result of inadequate lighting?
 

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Without seeing the photos T8 lighting is much weaker than T5 lighting. Depending on the depth of the tank and type of plants it could be just fine. You might be okay with Anubias, ferns and mosses but maybe it isn't enough for the plants you are getting from a much brighter tank. The reddish bulb, check its name. Some target the spectrums plants like best and some don't.

Plants grow much faster with CO2.

Water changes you do for the discus could be removing nitrate and phosphate the plants use for nutrients.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Without seeing the photos T8 lighting is much weaker than T5 lighting. Depending on the depth of the tank and type of plants it could be just fine. You might be okay with Anubias, ferns and mosses but maybe it isn't enough for the plants you are getting from a much brighter tank. The reddish bulb, check its name. Some target the spectrums plants like best and some don't.

Plants grow much faster with CO2.

Water changes you do for the discus could be removing nitrate and phosphate the plants use for nutrients.
The bulb is an Arcadia original tropical FO30. The other is a tropic sun.

I think you're right about the type of plants. You can take a look and see what you think, but my thoughts are that the lighter green or high light req plants are doing significantly worse than the low light reqs.

I've got CO2 on the go - when my brother installed his the plants grew amazingly, but since i've added mine i've not had the same success. It's sounding more and more like a lighting issue to me...
 

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How long have the plants been in the tank? They don't look too miserable to me. They will grow slower than in your brother's tank because he is using bright light.

Looks like your reddish bulb is designed for photosynthesis. You could just leave it alone for another month to see if you like how it is going and upgrade to T5 or add more T8s and start some comprehensive fertilizer at that point.

Also plants will be shocked going into another tank so you will lose some leaves. Vals can die back to the roots and you might see new plants before the old ones recover. Take off the dying leaves and watch for new growth.

The plant with heart shaped leaves on the left is Anubias. The plant just behind the bristlenose pleco and on the left is Java fern. Both need to have the rhizome out of the substrate and would love to be grown on that nice wood. You can glue them down with super glue gel, tie them or carefully wedge into a crevice. Or attach to a rock so you can place them anywhere you like in the tank.

If the new ground cover is hairgrass it may not survive the low lighting. Even though I have bright light and CO2 my new hairgrass plantings usually turn brown before recovering. Give it a chance and don't remove it if you see any green threads coming up. They are tiny and easily missed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
How long have the plants been in the tank? They don't look too miserable to me. They will grow slower than in your brother's tank because he is using bright light and CO2.

Also plants will be shocked going into another tank so you will lose some leaves. Vals can die back to the roots and you might see new plants before the old ones recover. Take off the dying leaves and watch for new growth.

The plant with heart shaped leaves on the left is Anubias. The plant just behind the bristlenose pleco and on the left is Java fern. Both need to have the rhizome out of the substrate and would love to be grown on that nice wood. You can glue them down with super glue gel, tie them or carefully wedge into a crevice. Or attach to a rock so you can place them anywhere you like in the tank.

If the new ground cover is hairgrass it may not survive the low lighting. Even though I have bright light and CO2 my new hairgrass plantings usually turn brown before recovering. Give it a chance and don't remove it if you see any green threads coming up. They are tiny and easily missed.
I didn't know much of any of those plants, even their names, so first of all thanks for educating me :)

The anubias have been part of my tank for a good few years - they were the only plant that survived in the sand substrate. I didn't bother much with plants at that point, as the sand was in constant movement by the large sailfin plec (who is managing to hide in that picture).

I think I've had the java ferns for about 2 months - they also seem to be doing quite well. I wasn't aware about the rhizomes - I'll expose these and maybe tie one of the ferns onto to some wood, that might look quite cool. Will the roots still need to be buried in the substrate? My tank occupants have a habit of munching on exposed roots, so that might be an issue?

The valis, cabomba's and hairgrass are the ones that seem to suffer more. You can't really make out the cabomba's because of the amount of light shining off them, but they're looking a bit limp. They've probably been there for about 2 weeks? I was given a bunch before I brought new bulbs & co2 and they disappeared within 3-4 days (most likely as lunch) so i guess they're doing better.

The hairgrass are only a few days old (i did actually know their name). They have withered a bit since I got them.

The plant you can't see is the madagascan lace! There are 4 bulbs (or rhizomes?) under the substrate - one that has been there for a few months and grown a lot of roots. I randomly found it when I planted the 3 new ones the other day, and I exposed the tops of them as per what I'd read online in hope that they'd grow. These plants are probably the one's i'd most like to cater for - which brings me onto this question - would upgrading the lights have a negative effect on the anubias and java ferns? I'm quite attached to both, but the madagascan lace is on another level in terms of coolness!
 

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Yeah i'm probably wrong in saying that. I guess it's just more towards the red end of the light spectrum. I threw away the packaging so I can't remember where the peaks in the colour spectrum are. You get the idea though?
i think your light is a roseate or an infrared light. uv even though we cannot see it still gives of a slightly purple glow the further down you go in visible light the closer you get to x-rays and gamma rays the higher you go the closer you are to radiowaves. (yes they are a form of light.) t5's produce more lumens per bulb than t8's and are cheaper to run. i had an issue with lighting 2 my plants kept dieing and i found out it was the color spectrum of the bulb. things grew but they never flourished til i changed to t5 6500k bulbs and now i do weekly trims. hope this helps.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
i think your light is a roseate or an infrared light. uv even though we cannot see it still gives of a slightly purple glow the further down you go in visible light the closer you get to x-rays and gamma rays the higher you go the closer you are to radiowaves. (yes they are a form of light.) t5's produce more lumens per bulb than t8's and are cheaper to run. i had an issue with lighting 2 my plants kept dieing and i found out it was the color spectrum of the bulb. things grew but they never flourished til i changed to t5 6500k bulbs and now i do weekly trims. hope this helps.
Thanks, it's good to hear that someone else has made the change from T8 to T5 and had success. I'll make an investment in some 6500k T5 bulbs and light units - hopefully that will help!

Edit: Sorry I think I misread your post - you didn't swap from T8s?
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
What are the ingredients of the two tropic products? How do they differ?
Oddly they don't list the ingredients. But I gave my brother a call and from what I can gather the tropic discus only increases gH, and requires less per litre, whereas the one he has increases gH and kH (at the amounts he was using, it was about 4kH). Though he moved to using the same one as me about 2 months ago, as he got some discus for his tank (one of them was a gift from me!)

So yeah, if that's vague then I'm sorry. But it sounds like they're nearly identical apart from the addition of kH and instructions for dosage on his (now old) one.

Although I guess it makes no difference, as I add a small amount of API pH8.2 buffer to add kH when it gets too low - the benefit of his was that it already includes it
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Just as an update, which might be useful for anyone that reads this in future:

My brother had raised the temps in his tank to 29degC to accommodate for the discus and to promote breeding. That was about 2 months ago, and his plants are still doing great, so I think I can rule out temperature as a factor.

He's also using the same minerals as me now, so his kH and maybe pH will be more inline with what mine are. I think that kH and pH are related - and since he has not been using a kH additive his pH should have been decreasing with water changes - he said he will check. I did read online that some plants break down kH for the carbon, like cabomba's, and use this for growth instead of CO2. I can't say this as a fact, but I think it is true. As an aside, my Mum has had a tank for nearly 10yrs that had discus in, and she lost interest and didn't do water changes for months (it's a miracle anything survived! the discus didn't, but her clown loach and rainbow fish are still alive - just), and when I went to test her kH it was 0, and her pH was around 5 i think. She was heading for a major crash. She used normal tap water which in our area is 13kH & 21gH, so the kH was being consumed by something - I assume the plants where breaking it down, and this then caused the pH to drop. As a remedy, we added some white rocks (vague, sorry, I can't remember what they were but they were a natural way of increasing kH) and the pH got up to normal.

That story might be of use to someone...

So I think in my case it's got to be the lighting that needs to change. I'll hit the shops tomorrow and let you know in a few weeks how I got on.

And thanks everyone for the help! I read these forums a lot but it's the first time I've participated, and I'm really glad I did. You've been great! :)
 
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