Originally Posted by abunari
I was addressing you and your beautiful planted aquariums. I will accept advice from anyone though. I want to get the best information before I accidently sacrifice an innocent plant or one of my angels! thank you for your time.
Thank you for your compliment. I'm happy to respond. It is not difficult to have a healthy planted aquarium, and it need not be expensive. And you are correct, your angelfish will look nicer, feel more secure and "at home" and be happier and therefore healthier with a planted environment. Plants also do a tremendous job at filtration.
I use natural aquarium gravel; just make sure it is inert, and not one of those made from dolomite, coral or limestone that will raise ph. I have no additives; eco-complete is fine, and as I've never used it I can't comment knowingly on its effect on the water chemistry (though I would expect it might affect pH slightly), but since it is not necessary why bother--and it is expensive. I do use plant fertilizer sticks/tabs next to the larger swords since they are heavy feeders; after 3 months with these, I think there is a difference in the swords, so for the relative little cost they are worth it. I have Nutrafin's "Plant Gro" sticks, but Flourish tabs would also work. I also use liquid fertilizer twice a week, currently Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive Plant Supplement, but Kent Freshwater Supplement also works well. It has to be a complete fertilizer to ensure the plants are getting everything they need and in the correct porportion.
The lights are on 13 hours each day (on a timer, it is important for plants and fish too to have consistency) and there is some diffused light from the room window. I have had lights on for 15 hours a day previously due to my schedule; it is important to have the tanks lit when you are going to be home to enjoy them. I would suggest no less than 10 hours a day, in a fairly low-tech setup like mine. With high-tech setups using CO2 and mega light, you can get by with less.
The colour of gravel is up to your preference so long as it is inert; I have read from others than sometimes the coloured gravels can affect pH, and some say the colour can fade which means it is probably leeching into the water. I do find that the natural-looking gravels (brown/buff or black or grey) tend to look more natural [no surprise] and show off the green of the plants better. And I believe the fish find duller and darker substrates more "relaxing" because they are more like what they would have in the wild.
The smallest grain is best for plants; every plant expert I've so far read mentions this. It allows the roots of plants like swords, crypts, aponegetons, etc. to grow well and anchor the plant (larger gravel is not so good at this), and food doesn't get trapped so easily. Malaysian trumpet liverbearing snails are useful in planted aquaria as they move through the gravel finding any bits of food, and help to aerate the substrate which is beneficial for plant roots that require oxygen. Gravel is less likely to compact causing other anaerobic problems. I personally wouldn't mix gravel sizes. Some authors suggest sprinkling larger gravel and pebbles on top of a layer of finer gravel for a nice look, but I find the gravels tend to mix together over time, especially if you vacuum the gravel which you should do in the open spaces or if you have corys and similar bottom fish that spend a lot of time on the substrate.