Substrate question
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Substrate question

This is a discussion on Substrate question within the Beginner Planted Aquarium forums, part of the Beginner Freshwater Aquarium category; --> I plan to use sand as a substrate in my new tank. It's pool filter sand ($15 for 50lb bag, can't beat that!). I ...

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Old 01-20-2010, 01:34 AM   #1
 
Substrate question

I plan to use sand as a substrate in my new tank. It's pool filter sand ($15 for 50lb bag, can't beat that!). I have it in my current tanks and have really liked it. It's more coarse than play sand and is heavy enough that it doesn't float around the tank even after stirring it up. It seems to be pretty good about not compacting like I've heard play sand will.
But will it work with a heavily planted tank? Do I need one of those 'for live plants' substrates or can I use fertilizer sticks or root tabs? I really don't like how any of the substrates for plants look. And I think the sand will mix or go through the more coarse 'for plants' substrate.

In a low tech 5 gallon with the sand I'll be using, I have a betta, some trumpet snails, and an amazon sword, which hasn't shown much upward growth. It's been there for at least 7-8 months and hasn't packed up and gone home at least. It's growth has been in the roots mainly, which to me says it's looking for more nutrition (but I'm not experienced with plants). A week or two ago, I pushed a root tab in and am waiting to see how that does. It's color and leaves seem to have improved-deepening in color and keeping the leaves it has (the reason I started a root tab was because a leaf or two would go translucent and eventually die).


Your thoughts? The new tank is a 60 gallon, will have CO2 (if needed-which I think it will) and 2-3 watts per gallon of light. Let me know if there is any other info you'd need to help me.


Thanks!
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Old 01-20-2010, 02:40 PM   #2
 
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Several related points in your post; I'll start with the sand.

Plants will grow in sand fine, as many here will attest. I prefer small-grain gravel simply because most plant authorities recommend it as the best substrate (except those who opt for soil), I have used it successfully for 20 years, it is less likely to compact than sand, and it is in my view easier to keep clean and free of compaction. Aside from this, sand will work and obviously your previous experience with sand has taught you what needs to be done so no problem there. As for pool sand, the only issues are colour and inertness. Some pool sand contains chemicals that are intended to raise hardness and pH because it is intended to be in a swimming pool where such things are beneficial in water filtration; if it is inert, then no issue here, because in a planted tank you do not want a substrate that affects hardness and pH. As for the colour, some is white which I do not think is appropriate for the type of fish you will presumably be putting in a planted tank. Forest fish (tetras, catfish, rasbora, gourami, discus, angels, dwarf cichlids...) come from generally dimly-lit waters with dark substrates, and providing this environment will be less stressful for the fish and that means improved health long-term.

Turning now to the enriched substrates intended for planted tanks: I don't personally use these as I see no need. But the type of plants you intend to have will determine this. Substrate-rooted plants can benefit from enriched substrates; floating plants, most stem plants, and plants that root on wood and rock (Anubias, Java Fern, Mosses) gain no benefit from enriched substrates. As for plants that do, swords (Echinodorus species) are heavy feeders and there is no question that substrate nutrients are beneficial; however, I have two tanks full primarily of different species of Echinodorus and for 15 years I used no substrate fertilizers whatever and they grew beautifully. I am now, as of last year, using fertilizer sticks next to the largest swords, and my observation parallels yours with respect to the leaf colour. I also had plants increase in size by two and even three times over the same species without a fertilizer stick. So, a tank of largely swords and crypts (another heavy substrate feeder) would benefit from an enriched substrate. Some of them look like sand and are dark which is a benefit to the fish as noted above.

A comment on your sword plant. Swords as mentioned are heavy feeders, and yellowing leaves is almost always a sign of nutrient deficiency, sometimes iron but several other nutrients can cause this as well. Swords almost always need fertilizers added to the tank, either substrate or liquid. I determine the amount of liquid by the growth; if new leaves remain green and lush, it is getting enough nutrients; if leaves begin to yellow, it is not and I increase fertilization. New plants bought from the store or sometimes moved form other tanks may develop yellowing leaves, especially the outer leaves that are older, and sometimes just by being older they yellow. Cut them off, they will never recover, and provided the new growth from the centre of the crown is green and looks healthy, the plant is fine. In good conditions they will develop more leaves than one can imagine possible.

Last comment on CO2. Is there a reason you think you will need it? The vast majority of plants will grow very well without added CO2, and this means with less light which is tied back to the fish from dimly lit waters. I explain this in some detail in the sticky at the top of this section, a 4-part series on setting up a natural planted aquarium. The photos of my tanks show what is possible with this method, low light and no CO2.

Byron.
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Old 01-20-2010, 03:11 PM   #3
 
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Pool sand will do just fine. And no these special substrates are unnecessary.
The nutrition matter will depend on the exact plants you're wanting to get, any stem plants or Anubias, Java Ferns etc I'd recommend you a comprehensive liquid fertilizer. If you wanted Swords, I'd say get root sticks for them.

I also don't see why you'd want to spent the money on a CO2 system, a properly stocked tank doesn't need that as the fish will supply it.
2-3 watts per gallon on a normal florescent light strip is too high in my opinion, I always shoot for 1 wpg or less the biggest issue seen with plants- lights is the wrong spectrum, you need a full spectrum light that's somewheres in the Kelvin range of 5-6500 Kelvin. These can be found in various sizes at your home store and are generally labeled as Daylight or Ultimate Daylight".

If you're interested to see planted tank that are set up without ferts and without CO2 and without the fancy special substrate - Click my Aquarium tap here under my name to the left, you'll find a list with all my tanks and various pictures there, set up only with the lights described above from the home store and fish
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Old 01-20-2010, 03:56 PM   #4
 
I planned on more light and CO2 because in my current 30 gallon, I have about 1 watt per gallon in the full spectrum for plants and I couldn't get Java Fern to hang around despite liquid ferts. I had attached it to driftwood, knowing better than to bury the roots.
However, in my 5 gallon tank that has more light (including from a window), some anubias and a sword seem content.

I noticed Byron's tanks look to have a ph of 6 or 6.5. I wonder how ph affects a plant's uptake. The water where I live is 7.4.

I planned on the lights first to see how things go before I add CO2.

The sand I've been using has had no affect on the water
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Old 01-20-2010, 07:35 PM   #5
 
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You'd need to look at the combo of your pH and hardness as well. Some plants to indeed thrive better in soft water while others do better in hard water. But in either case that's influenced little to non with adding a CO2 machine. unless you'd add so much that it'll start altering your chemistry (lowering pH and hardness) and then you'd create a whole bunch different problems for the fish. So its all a give & take really.
The biggest thing that most often missed really is that you need a proper light and that has to be balanced with proper nutrition if you're missing one of the 2 or they're unbalanced that's when you'll start having troubles.
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Old 01-20-2010, 08:19 PM   #6
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Claudia1002 View Post
I planned on more light and CO2 because in my current 30 gallon, I have about 1 watt per gallon in the full spectrum for plants and I couldn't get Java Fern to hang around despite liquid ferts. I had attached it to driftwood, knowing better than to bury the roots.
However, in my 5 gallon tank that has more light (including from a window), some anubias and a sword seem content.

I noticed Byron's tanks look to have a ph of 6 or 6.5. I wonder how ph affects a plant's uptake. The water where I live is 7.4.

I planned on the lights first to see how things go before I add CO2.

The sand I've been using has had no affect on the water
I suspect there are other issues here. Java Fern And Anubias are both quite low light plants, and neither high nutrient requirement. I have JF in my present 70g SE Asian tank, only a couple bits that arrived on a piece of wood, but it is growing slowly (it is a slow grower) with 80 watts but thick floating plants. Years ago I had it in my vivarium which was a 20g tank half water/half land, and a 15w tube over it; it grew well, slowly but steady, daughter plants on the leaves regularly. And the best my Anubias nana did was one plant I stuck in the back corner of my former 90g and forgot about it, and about 6 years later it had over 3 feet of rhizome with side shoots. It was in deep shade in that tank, the floating plants were 5 inches deep [its a long story, that tank]. I cut it apart and aquascaped my 33g with it, see attached photo. The light over this 33g is a single 25w tube, and again there are floating plants; the Anubias grew quite nicely in this setup.

The hardness and pH are not so critical as long as they are not extreme (very hard water) and most plants will adapt, some better than others. A pH of 7.4 is fine, though you don't mention the hardness which is the more important of the two. Nutrient uptake is affected a bit by hardness, some plants more than others. My tap water is near zero in GH and KH, so the only minerals the plants get are those I add with fertilizers and from the fish food.

My sticky on lighting (part 4 I think it is) explains the basics.

Byron.
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Old 01-20-2010, 08:42 PM   #7
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Byron View Post
I suspect there are other issues here. Java Fern And Anubias are both quite low light plants, and neither high nutrient requirement. I have JF in my present 70g SE Asian tank, only a couple bits that arrived on a piece of wood, but it is growing slowly (it is a slow grower) with 80 watts but thick floating plants. Years ago I had it in my vivarium which was a 20g tank half water/half land, and a 15w tube over it; it grew well, slowly but steady, daughter plants on the leaves regularly. And the best my Anubias nana did was one plant I stuck in the back corner of my former 90g and forgot about it, and about 6 years later it had over 3 feet of rhizome with side shoots. It was in deep shade in that tank, the floating plants were 5 inches deep [its a long story, that tank]. I cut it apart and aquascaped my 33g with it, see attached photo. The light over this 33g is a single 25w tube, and again there are floating plants; the Anubias grew quite nicely in this setup.

The hardness and pH are not so critical as long as they are not extreme (very hard water) and most plants will adapt, some better than others. A pH of 7.4 is fine, though you don't mention the hardness which is the more important of the two. Nutrient uptake is affected a bit by hardness, some plants more than others. My tap water is near zero in GH and KH, so the only minerals the plants get are those I add with fertilizers and from the fish food.

My sticky on lighting (part 4 I think it is) explains the basics.

Byron.

GH is 120, KH is 80.

It's really odd because it seems I had a similar set up but my Java fern didn't survive in it. I did weekly water changes, 10% (on a fully stocked tank), and did liquid ferts weekly. It wasn't shaded but it wasn't under direct light either. It *should have* survived but didn't.
And now with my 5 gallon, that has 2-3 watts per gallon, plants are okay. I'm learning more and more (and have read your stickies) and have been taking a patient approach to figuring out what works best. So far, it seems I need more light than 1 or less watt per gallon.
So that's why I'm wondering how much the local water has to do with things.
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Old 01-20-2010, 09:27 PM   #8
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Claudia1002 View Post
GH is 120, KH is 80.

It's really odd because it seems I had a similar set up but my Java fern didn't survive in it. I did weekly water changes, 10% (on a fully stocked tank), and did liquid ferts weekly. It wasn't shaded but it wasn't under direct light either. It *should have* survived but didn't.
And now with my 5 gallon, that has 2-3 watts per gallon, plants are okay. I'm learning more and more (and have read your stickies) and have been taking a patient approach to figuring out what works best. So far, it seems I need more light than 1 or less watt per gallon.
So that's why I'm wondering how much the local water has to do with things.
These numbers are obviously in ppm (parts per million), which means the water is soft (70-140 ppm or 4-8 dGH is considered soft water). Your plants should technically do much better than mine, since you have soft water but with some mineral whereas I have none in my water and have to add it. There are several things that have to balance for plants to grow, so maybe we should look at some of these.

What specific light do you have (the name on the tube, watts, Kelvin number) and how many tubes?
How long since you changed the tube?
What size is the tank (gallons and length)?
How long was the light on each day?

Are you using any liquid fertilizer, if so which specific one and how often? I know you mentioned root tabs in post 1, but they will work for the swords but be useless for Java Fern and Anubias that do not root in the substrate.

How many fish were/are in the tank with these plants?

When I know the above, I should be able to suggest something. Another thought just occurred to me, were the JF and Anubias planted in the substrate by any chance? They will often deteriorate if "planted", they need to be attached to wood, rock or decor.

Byron.
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Old 01-20-2010, 10:15 PM   #9
 
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+1 on what B. posted....something within the set up is imbalanced and causing you the problem.
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Old 01-20-2010, 11:35 PM   #10
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Byron View Post
These numbers are obviously in ppm (parts per million), which means the water is soft (70-140 ppm or 4-8 dGH is considered soft water). Your plants should technically do much better than mine, since you have soft water but with some mineral whereas I have none in my water and have to add it. There are several things that have to balance for plants to grow, so maybe we should look at some of these.

What specific light do you have (the name on the tube, watts, Kelvin number) and how many tubes?
How long since you changed the tube?
What size is the tank (gallons and length)?
How long was the light on each day?

Are you using any liquid fertilizer, if so which specific one and how often? I know you mentioned root tabs in post 1, but they will work for the swords but be useless for Java Fern and Anubias that do not root in the substrate.

How many fish were/are in the tank with these plants?

When I know the above, I should be able to suggest something. Another thought just occurred to me, were the JF and Anubias planted in the substrate by any chance? They will often deteriorate if "planted", they need to be attached to wood, rock or decor.

Byron.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Angel079
+1 on what B. posted....something within the set up is imbalanced and causing you the problem.
For the old and failed system:
I'll be going off of memory since I don't have the same setup anymore. I honestly couldn't tell you the kelvin number on the tube I had. It was specifically for growing plants and it was one 24" 20 watt tube which was brand new when I tried to grow the java fern. The tank by measuring it is ~28 gallons (30" long, 12" wide, and 18" tall (I posted a picture of it under my aquarium tab)). The light was on a timer and set for 11 hours.
I don't remember the name of the liquid fert when I had the java fern, but currently I'm using (and plan to use) "FloraPride" which has iron and potassium and is phosphate free. With all liquid ferts, I had added it once a week and dosed the water change, not the whole tanks (which is what the directions had said-I dunno, do you dose the full tank or just the water change?) .I had the java fern tied to some driftwood and it did attach itself, but then later gave up and died. :( IIRC, the leaves went translucent.
The anubias in my current 5 gallon setup are attached to some slate and are happy, happy. I know that they don't do well buried in the substrate either and root tabs don't benefit them. I got the root tab specifically for the sword.

What boggles me so much is why the old system failed so miserably and my little 5 gallon understocked tank nearly grows itself? When I added plants to it, I sort of chucked them in to combat an algae problem. No fuss at all. I've got some tall grass like plant that has been propagating. ?
The 5 gallon has a generic 15 watt light in it and gets a little bit of natural sunlight from a window, but it's not direct sunlight. The water parameters, like nitrate, pH, hardness, have always been the same between the two.
I'd kind of like to know what I'm doing right so I can repeat it on the new tank. lol

My new setup which is in the build process:
60 gallon tank, 36" long, 18" wide, and 21" tall filtered by a canister filter. I'll have either one or two 35" 96w compact florescent bulbs and will get them in the recommended spectrum.
I want to see how plants do before I decide to add CO2. I really don't want to add that if possible. However, I've got a DIY CO2 system worked out if I go that route. I'm not spending money for some of those mega systems they sell.
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