Potting soil as a substrate.
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Potting soil as a substrate.

This is a discussion on Potting soil as a substrate. within the Beginner Planted Aquarium forums, part of the Beginner Freshwater Aquarium category; --> I have live plants and my aquarium, and they're not looking so hot. =( I'm looking to revamp their whole set up. The substrate ...

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Potting soil as a substrate.
Old 06-27-2011, 09:27 PM   #1
 
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Question Potting soil as a substrate.

I have live plants and my aquarium, and they're not looking so hot. =( I'm looking to revamp their whole set up.

The substrate I'm currently using is fine play sand, so it's lacking in nutrients and probably isn't the best choice for plants. I use Seachem Flourish Plant Tabs, liquid supplement, and the iron liquid supplement, but they don't seem to helping, so I want to switch substrate, and I've heard that using organic potting soil is a choice.

One reason I chose play sand as a substrate choice was because it's dirt cheap (no pun intended), and I have no where near the amount of money to spend on aquasoil. I've been looking in to choosing potting soil because it's also relatively inexpensive. But what I'm unsure of is is it really an efficient substrate choice?

Another reason I chose play sand was because I have three banjo catfish and a spiney eel that love to bury themselves in the substrate. So I was wondering, if I used potting soil as a substrate, would they still be able to burrow through the soil?

The third reason I chose play sand is I like a light colored substrate. Potting soil is a dark substrate, as far as I know of. Does anyone know if there is light colored organic potting soil?

Also, if I chose potting soil, how do I go about preparing it to be added to the aquarium (washing, etc.)?

If anyone has any other suggestions as a good, cheap, and fine substrate, please feel free to make them! I'd appreciate all your help!
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Old 06-27-2011, 11:46 PM   #2
 
I use it on 2 of my tanks, it eventually biodegrades and disappears so be prepared if you are creating any kind of slope. As for burrowing fish, as long as your sand/gravel cap is thick enough, the burrowing shouldnt be an issue, but the soil does float so if they ply too much in it, you may get lots of floating bits. For color, you can just use a lighter colored cap. If you want to prep soil, just place it where you want it, dampen with a spray bottle and then layer the sand/gravel cap over it, plant, and add your decor. Fill gently so you do not disturb the sand or gravel on top.
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Old 06-28-2011, 12:29 PM   #3
 
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I have not used soil myself because from my research I cannot see a value over other substrates, and I've now used all the others (pea gravel, fine gravel, playsand, Flourite) that are available. You can grow plants in any substrate, so that is never the reason for plant failure.

Rather than tearing up the tank and getting into what is certainly the most problem-prone substrate, we should look into your system and find what's wrong or out of balance.

And just so it's clear, by problem-prone I mean the detrimental issues that occur with soil. It has to be done properly or you can have high ammonia, algae out of control, fish dying, organics un-balanced, plants dying... . Don't get me wrong; soil can be done correctly and avoiding all this, but it is not as simple as setting up a tank with any of the other substrates. Knowledgeable writers mention a 6-month setup period to avoid these issues. I am not prepared for all that.

What is your light (be specific), tank size, and which plant species? And, what exactly do you mean by not looking so good? Can you post a photo?

Byron.
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Old 06-28-2011, 01:29 PM   #4
 
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Originally Posted by SinCrisis View Post
I use it on 2 of my tanks, it eventually biodegrades and disappears so be prepared if you are creating any kind of slope. As for burrowing fish, as long as your sand/gravel cap is thick enough, the burrowing shouldnt be an issue, but the soil does float so if they ply too much in it, you may get lots of floating bits. For color, you can just use a lighter colored cap. If you want to prep soil, just place it where you want it, dampen with a spray bottle and then layer the sand/gravel cap over it, plant, and add your decor. Fill gently so you do not disturb the sand or gravel on top.
Ah biodegrading is not good... My fish do stir a lot, so I think they would mix the cap with the soil underneath, which wouldn't look so good, and then as you said would make the soil float. I don't know if I wanna deal with that... =(

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Originally Posted by Byron View Post
I have not used soil myself because from my research I cannot see a value over other substrates, and I've now used all the others (pea gravel, fine gravel, playsand, Flourite) that are available. You can grow plants in any substrate, so that is never the reason for plant failure.

Rather than tearing up the tank and getting into what is certainly the most problem-prone substrate, we should look into your system and find what's wrong or out of balance.

And just so it's clear, by problem-prone I mean the detrimental issues that occur with soil. It has to be done properly or you can have high ammonia, algae out of control, fish dying, organics un-balanced, plants dying... . Don't get me wrong; soil can be done correctly and avoiding all this, but it is not as simple as setting up a tank with any of the other substrates. Knowledgeable writers mention a 6-month setup period to avoid these issues. I am not prepared for all that.

What is your light (be specific), tank size, and which plant species? And, what exactly do you mean by not looking so good? Can you post a photo?

Byron.
Byron, I have a 55 gallon, and my lights are two 24 inch Aqueon lights with T8 Ultrasun bulbs rated for 5,700K, both bulbs are less than a year old. They seemed to have lost their brightness over time, but I actually posted a thread about switching to LED lights right before I posted this one. What do you think about LED lights for my plants? Check out the thread if you can please!

The plants I have now are Amazon swords, Brazilian swords, and Anubias sp., but my problem plants are my Amazons. They were doing ok, but had a little hair algae on the leaves so they started to not look so good. Then I picked up some panda garras, and I think they've munched the algae off the leaves to the point where it's hurting them. Between the three panda garras, a rubberlip plecostomus, a Siamese algae eater, and two apple snails, could they be eating off the leaves too much? I'll try and post a picture later, but I don't have the time right now because I have to go to work!
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Old 06-28-2011, 02:41 PM   #5
 
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Byron, I have a 55 gallon, and my lights are two 24 inch Aqueon lights with T8 Ultrasun bulbs rated for 5,700K, both bulbs are less than a year old. They seemed to have lost their brightness over time, but I actually posted a thread about switching to LED lights right before I posted this one. What do you think about LED lights for my plants? Check out the thread if you can please!

The plants I have now are Amazon swords, Brazilian swords, and Anubias sp., but my problem plants are my Amazons. They were doing ok, but had a little hair algae on the leaves so they started to not look so good. Then I picked up some panda garras, and I think they've munched the algae off the leaves to the point where it's hurting them. Between the three panda garras, a rubberlip plecostomus, a Siamese algae eater, and two apple snails, could they be eating off the leaves too much? I'll try and post a picture later, but I don't have the time right now because I have to go to work!
I have no personal experience with LED lighting; from other threads here, there is mixed reviews. Given the expense and the proven record of T8, I would stay with the latter for the present.

And in my view the light should be sufficient, minimal, but sufficient; I had one 48-inch 40w T12 [less intense than T8] tube over my 4-foot 55g tank years ago and grew swords fine. The spectrum seems OK. Should still be OK within a year, but you might want to consider new tubes within the next few months. Some authors suggest 12 months max for T8, others 2-3 years. I found that 18 months was it for my Life-glo tubes. Aside from the cost, I am of the view that T8 should be replaced every year.

That brings me to nutrients. Anubias will do well in low light with just nutrients from the natural biology. Swords are very heavy feeders and usually need supplementation. Are you using any fertilizers, and if yes, which?

Fish are unlikely to be the issue, but a photo will probably settle that. I will probably be able to see nutrient issues too.

Byron.
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Old 06-29-2011, 02:36 AM   #6
 
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Originally Posted by Byron View Post
I have no personal experience with LED lighting; from other threads here, there is mixed reviews. Given the expense and the proven record of T8, I would stay with the latter for the present.

And in my view the light should be sufficient, minimal, but sufficient; I had one 48-inch 40w T12 [less intense than T8] tube over my 4-foot 55g tank years ago and grew swords fine. The spectrum seems OK. Should still be OK within a year, but you might want to consider new tubes within the next few months. Some authors suggest 12 months max for T8, others 2-3 years. I found that 18 months was it for my Life-glo tubes. Aside from the cost, I am of the view that T8 should be replaced every year.

That brings me to nutrients. Anubias will do well in low light with just nutrients from the natural biology. Swords are very heavy feeders and usually need supplementation. Are you using any fertilizers, and if yes, which?

Fish are unlikely to be the issue, but a photo will probably settle that. I will probably be able to see nutrient issues too.

Byron.

Ok, I think I'll try new bulbs before I go with an LED light then. Even when I had new bulbs though, I seemed to have some dark spots in the aquarium. Would that be because I don't have enough watts per gallon? My 24'' lights take an 18'' bulb, the ends and middle of the aquarium always seem darker then the spots the bulb is directly under. Is that a problem?

For nutrient supplementation, I use Seachem Flourish Comprehensive Supplement For The Planted Aquarium, Seachem Iron, and Seachem Flourish plant tabs that go in the substrate.

Another thing I should mention is I do have a small amount of free floating algae; not a whole lot, but there is some there. Would the algae be using up light that the plants should be getting, and would that hurt the plants?

I also read that swords like soft water, and I have hard water. Could that be an issue?
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Old 06-29-2011, 02:19 PM   #7
 
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From the photos, that is a nutrient imbalance. I had exactly the same in my former 90g. I now have the same sword plants in my 70g and they are thriving. I would suggest stopping the iron. One substrate tab next to each sword plant is fine, replaced in 3 months. Flourish Comp once a week, at no more than the label amount--for a 55g, that would be no more than one level teaspoon once a week; use a measuring spoon like the kitchen ones.

The reason i suggest stopping the additional iron is because it is likely more than the plants can use. And excess of some nutrients can result in a deficiency of others because the plant sort of shuts down assimilation of the other nutrient. Flourish Comprehensive contains a balance of essential nutrients intended for medium hard water with no other nutrient addition. It can be used with other nutrients added, but in that case it needs to be complete, with additional iron, potassium, carbon, etc. Then your light won't balance all that, which is one issue now--the additional iron is not going to help much without more light. You are working with minimal as I mentioned.

There is iron in the Flourish Comp, and iron in the substrate tabs. Iron is only a trace mineral, and this is more than sufficient.

The existing leaves will not improve, but once you make the changes new growth after a week or two should be OK.

Byron.
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Old 06-29-2011, 11:10 PM   #8
 
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Originally Posted by Byron View Post
From the photos, that is a nutrient imbalance. I had exactly the same in my former 90g. I now have the same sword plants in my 70g and they are thriving. I would suggest stopping the iron. One substrate tab next to each sword plant is fine, replaced in 3 months. Flourish Comp once a week, at no more than the label amount--for a 55g, that would be no more than one level teaspoon once a week; use a measuring spoon like the kitchen ones.

The reason i suggest stopping the additional iron is because it is likely more than the plants can use. And excess of some nutrients can result in a deficiency of others because the plant sort of shuts down assimilation of the other nutrient. Flourish Comprehensive contains a balance of essential nutrients intended for medium hard water with no other nutrient addition. It can be used with other nutrients added, but in that case it needs to be complete, with additional iron, potassium, carbon, etc. Then your light won't balance all that, which is one issue now--the additional iron is not going to help much without more light. You are working with minimal as I mentioned.

There is iron in the Flourish Comp, and iron in the substrate tabs. Iron is only a trace mineral, and this is more than sufficient.

The existing leaves will not improve, but once you make the changes new growth after a week or two should be OK.

Byron.

Ok, thank you that helped a lot. The only reason I was adding the iron, was because I also had some yellowing in the leaves of some of the newer swords I picked up, but maybe they yellowed just from the change of environment? To be completely honest though, I only am adding the nutrients every other week, if I can even remember. The tabs are obviously always in there, but I'm not always on top of adding the liquid nutrients. I'll stop adding the liquid iron, but since I have the tabs, should I keep adding the liquid Flourish? Is it more important for the swords to get nutrition from the roots (tabs) or from the leaves (liquid)?
It seems like my lighting is the biggest problem. You said my light was minimal; is there any recommendation you'd have as for new bulbs or light fixtures to pick up?

Sorry to press you with more and more questions, I just love being taught by the great Byron. haha =P
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Old 06-30-2011, 11:04 AM   #9
 
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Originally Posted by Cornelius1208 View Post
Ok, thank you that helped a lot. The only reason I was adding the iron, was because I also had some yellowing in the leaves of some of the newer swords I picked up, but maybe they yellowed just from the change of environment? To be completely honest though, I only am adding the nutrients every other week, if I can even remember. The tabs are obviously always in there, but I'm not always on top of adding the liquid nutrients. I'll stop adding the liquid iron, but since I have the tabs, should I keep adding the liquid Flourish? Is it more important for the swords to get nutrition from the roots (tabs) or from the leaves (liquid)?
It seems like my lighting is the biggest problem. You said my light was minimal; is there any recommendation you'd have as for new bulbs or light fixtures to pick up?

Sorry to press you with more and more questions, I just love being taught by the great Byron. haha =P
Well, I hope I can offer some help sometimes. On the light first, over a 55g which I assume is the standard 4-foot length I would recommend 48-inch tubes. At this point, you have 3 options. A single tube T8, dual-tube T8, or single tube T5. T5 come in NO (normal output) and HO (high output) and there may be another even higher, but that is too much. A single T8 with a good tube will allow you to grow low and moderate light plants, including most swords (the red leaf varieties may need more light intensity). A single T5 with an HO tube (the NO are very hard to come by, they are basically identical to T8 in the same type of tube) will provide more intense light. And the dual T8 a bit more. Personally, |I would go with the single tube T8 or T5. Yea\rs ago i had a single tube T12 (the "fore-runner" of T8) and I had nice plant growth from swords and similar moderate-light plants. Today if given the choice, I would probably go with the T5 single tube, which is about equal to one and a half T8's in intensity, given the same type of light. Different spectrum provides different intensity, etc., so one has to be careful to compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges.

Without replacing the fixture, you could try different tubes. Hagen make the "Glo" series, and although I prefer Life-Glo for spectrum and intensity, the Power-Glo is more intense light but casts a purplish hue which I personally do not like. They are not inexpensive tubes. If it were me, I would consider a new 48-inch tube fixture for the money.

On the ferts, it is not easy to recommend something because every aquarium is different. The nutrients in your tap water (the harder the water the more minerals), the level of organics in the tank (number of fish, size of fish, type of foods and frequency of feeding--all this impacts nutrient availability), and the light all figure into the "balance." I have very soft water, meaning no minerals period. That means I have no calcium, magnesium, sulphur, copper, iron, etc. occurring from water changes, so I have to supply them via fertilizers. Even among my 7 tanks, I notice variation, obviously due to the different biological balance in each tank.

If fertilization is needed, weekly dosing is certainly preferable, and a day following the water change. The relatively-minimal level of minerals in Flourish will be exhausted after a week. And consistency is much better for the plants and fish and the biological system.

Byron.
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Old 08-24-2011, 07:09 PM   #10
 
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Originally Posted by Byron View Post
Well, I hope I can offer some help sometimes. On the light first, over a 55g which I assume is the standard 4-foot length I would recommend 48-inch tubes. At this point, you have 3 options. A single tube T8, dual-tube T8, or single tube T5. T5 come in NO (normal output) and HO (high output) and there may be another even higher, but that is too much. A single T8 with a good tube will allow you to grow low and moderate light plants, including most swords (the red leaf varieties may need more light intensity). A single T5 with an HO tube (the NO are very hard to come by, they are basically identical to T8 in the same type of tube) will provide more intense light. And the dual T8 a bit more. Personally, |I would go with the single tube T8 or T5. Yea\rs ago i had a single tube T12 (the "fore-runner" of T8) and I had nice plant growth from swords and similar moderate-light plants. Today if given the choice, I would probably go with the T5 single tube, which is about equal to one and a half T8's in intensity, given the same type of light. Different spectrum provides different intensity, etc., so one has to be careful to compare apples to apples and not apples to oranges.

Without replacing the fixture, you could try different tubes. Hagen make the "Glo" series, and although I prefer Life-Glo for spectrum and intensity, the Power-Glo is more intense light but casts a purplish hue which I personally do not like. They are not inexpensive tubes. If it were me, I would consider a new 48-inch tube fixture for the money.

On the ferts, it is not easy to recommend something because every aquarium is different. The nutrients in your tap water (the harder the water the more minerals), the level of organics in the tank (number of fish, size of fish, type of foods and frequency of feeding--all this impacts nutrient availability), and the light all figure into the "balance." I have very soft water, meaning no minerals period. That means I have no calcium, magnesium, sulphur, copper, iron, etc. occurring from water changes, so I have to supply them via fertilizers. Even among my 7 tanks, I notice variation, obviously due to the different biological balance in each tank.

If fertilization is needed, weekly dosing is certainly preferable, and a day following the water change. The relatively-minimal level of minerals in Flourish will be exhausted after a week. And consistency is much better for the plants and fish and the biological system.

Byron.
Ahhh sorry, I read your post like weeks ago and just realized I never replied! Thanks Byron, that really helped a lot! It's time to get these plants growing again!
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