Originally Posted by emeltee
I'm all for simple, so I'd definitely stick with gravel. Why would people deal with soil? You listed the cons; what are the benefits?
Once I get the plants, what do I do with them? How do I place them in the tank?
Once the plants are in the tank, you say that the fish can go in immediately? The same day? Would I have to test the water or anything?
What would be the upkeep once the plants and fish are in the aquarium? Partial water changes & removing any dead leaves. Would I have to test the water? (I don't have a test kit, so I'd probably just run to Petsmart since it's close by.)
Thank you so much for your help (and sorry for hijaking this thread - but it's exactly what I'm about to embark on.)
To answer the soil question, it is a matter of degree. As I explained, plants will "grow" in any substrate (provided everything else--light, nutrients--balances). I have maintained heavily-planted aquaria for 20 years, using just regular aquarium gravel. I have experimented: once with laterite (an iron clay that is placed under the gravel to provide iron); once with sand; once with substrate fertilizers. I have not (yet) used soil. My plant growth was basically consistent in all these, except the substrate fertilizers that did cause the swords to suddenly have a growth spurt. But as I said, it is a question of degree; if you want plants growing healthily, gravel will do; adding substrate fertilizers will result in faster growth, if that is what you want. Soil also does this to some extent; its main advantage is the release of CO2 (carbon dioxide). That is a big topic in itself, and one I am not going to get into here.
To your other questions. If you have sufficient plants, fish can go in the same day. Lots of plants, and few fish. As for water tests, you want to know the pH and hardness before you start, i.e., the tap water if that is to be your source water for the aquarium. Regular tests for pH should be done, so a pH test kit is a good investment. Changes in pH will occur, but they should be slow. Monitoring this for several weeks is a good way to identify problems before fish are affected beyond cure, and it will let you know when the tank is stable and established. Nitrate is another regular test, at least for a few months. This also can warn you of potential problems in time to fix them. I recommend every aquarist get a test kit for pH and nitrate; API make a good one, liquid (not test strips).
Water changes depend upon the type and number of fish, the number of plants, and the size of tank. The more fish the more water changes are needed. I change 50% of my tanks once every week, starting with week 1.
You need sufficient gravel for the substrate, and a good light. You might want to have a read of the 4-part series "A Basic Approach to the Natural Planted Aquarium" at the head of the Aquarium Plants section of the forum. That should explain things, and questions can follow.