would like to improve planting - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 5 Old 01-03-2011, 01:22 PM Thread Starter
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would like to improve planting

I have a 2 month old 20g aquarium, and I would like to improve the plantings in it. I'm obviously pretty new at this and researching lots, so I'm pretty unsure of what is appropriate for my aquarium.

This is my current setup:
freshwater, pH 7.0~7.2
gravel bottom
2 Java Ferns
1 Anubias that I think is about to die (the one in the back left corner of the photo)
1 other sword fern (not sure what kind it is - I think I was told it was a "Girsina" or something like that)

fish: 8 cherry barbs, 8 red eye tetras, 1 pleco, 2 small catfish
1 piece of wood

lighting: about 8hrs from bulb (15W T8), some indirect natural light

I had also planted a Cabomba Carolinia, but I got rid of it. It kept shedding bits of leaves and would get stuck in my filter. As well, I had some Java Moss but a friend recommended that I get rid of it because he thought it would take over the tank.

I'm wondering how many plants would be recommended to keep in the tank and what are some other plants that I should look at getting. Any design ideas are welcome. I could probably use another piece of wood but I'm trying to keep the costs down for now. I've been looking at other people's photos but usually the tanks are bigger and I'm not sure of the balance between #plants and #fish.

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post #2 of 5 Old 01-03-2011, 06:31 PM
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First off, I'd like to welcome you to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.

Now to your questions. The thickness of the planting in an aquarium should be generally governed by the fish, by which I mean their level of swimming activity. Your cherry barb and red eye tetra are both lively fish that like space to swim. My suggestion would be a couple of common sword plants, Echinodorus bleherae, toward the rear corners. The pygmy chain sword would work well everywhere else; a couple of these once settled will send out runners and cover the substrate nicely. You can see info and photos of both these species in our profiles section; second tab from the left in the blue bar at the top, or in posts click on the shaded name to see that fish/plant profile.

If you'd like either plant, since you are in Vancouver, drop me a PM. I have so many I am tossing them out; free if you come by for them.

I would stay away from stem plants, they require more light (prob why your cabomba kept disintegrating) plus being fast growers they need regular trimming/pruning. They also take up space. One of the nice things about sword plants is that the leaves fan out, and lively fish can swim around them, so you get the best of both worlds: nice plants filling the tank, but still "open" space for swimmers.

To the plants in your photo: right rear corner is Java Fern, and you have it properly attached to a piece of wood (burying the rhizome can cause it to rot). The plant to the left and centre is probably a terrestrial plant and thus will not last long. Some stores do sell these as aquatic plants, but they are not. It will be OK as long as it is solid, but if you notice it start to yellow and turn "mushy" pull it out. The plant in the left rear corner is a sword, Echinodorus species, prob E. bleherae in its emersed form. [You'll find out what this refers to if you read our profile referenced previously]. If you take me up on my offer, I can give you half a dozen very healthy submersed plants.

Lastly for now, the light. One tube is adequate; what type is it? I recommend "daylight" tubes with a kelvin of around 6500K. They provide the necessary red and blue colour light that plants require to photosynthesize, plus some green to balance so the fish and plant colours are rendered true. You can get these in hardware stores for a couple dollars; GE, Phillips and Sylvania all make them.


Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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post #3 of 5 Old 01-03-2011, 09:43 PM Thread Starter
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Hi Byron, thanks for the greetings and info.
I'd totally be interested in grabbing some plants off of you. Where abouts do you live? I'm in east van.

I just checked my bulb, and I have a 18000K aqua-glo. Not quite the same as a 6500K bulb from the hardware store that would have cost 5x less.
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post #4 of 5 Old 01-04-2011, 11:22 AM
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I would probably get a new bulb...
That 18000k won't do a lot of anything for plants IMO.

Originally Posted by Christople View Post
^^ genius

Soil Substrates Guide:
Part 1
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post #5 of 5 Old 01-04-2011, 12:12 PM
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There was mention of an algae issue in the other thread, and with this info I can address that; best to leave the other thread focused on the disease issue.

Plants need red and blue light to photosynthesize. The kelvin number is a guide as to the overall colour of the light. Mid-day sun is around 6000K [sorry, forgotten the actual number] and we term this full spectrum or natural daylight. Plants use the red and blue almost exclusively, which is why the so-called "aquarium" or "plant" tubes are purplish in hue--they are almost exclusively high in blue and red. However, by a strange quirk, they are also weaker intensity, about half the light strength of full spectrum. This means the plants are struggling to get the light.

Plants require a balance of light and nutrients (17 of them) in order to photosynthesize. They will only grow (photosynthesize) up to the point at which some essential component is no longer available; biologists call it Liebig's Law of Minimum, after the botanist who identified it. When light is present beyond what the plants can use, due to one of the nutrients being unavailable, algae takes advantage. Although a plant, algae can use any light and in the presence of even minimal nutrients, will appear and often flourish. The trick is to balance the light and nutrients; and ensure the light is always the limiting factor.

Mention was made in the other thread of nitrates at 20ppm. Although this is certainly not "high" [most of us recommend nitrates below 20ppm, although many fish can tolerate higher levels] it does indicate the presence of some nutrients, and it is probable that something essential is in low supply; this means the plants have low light plus something missing, and algae will be quick to fill the void.

Back to kelvin. 6000K is roughly balanced light, and a lower number indicates more red and less blue (we refer to this as warm white), while a higher number indicates more blue and less red (cool white). Studies have shown plants grow best under a mix of full spectrum and slightly cool white. A tube around 6500K works well to provide this. As mentioned previously in this thread, GE, Sylvania and Phillips make these, they call them daylight, daylight deluxe (Phillips) or similar. The K around 6500K is the clue. Hardware and home improvement stores carry these; measure the length of the tube (excluding the prongs) and that is what you want in T8 (the thinner tube compared to T12). Watts is irrelevant as they only make tubes in one wattage for the size. T8 should be replaced every 2-3 years.

I can guarantee improved plant growth under this light. And if nutrients are balanced, and the light duration is controlled, algae will be present (it is natural in any aquatic system) but not problematic.

Nutrients: Seachem make Flourish Comprehensive Supplement for the Planted Aquarium, and I have found nothing better. It may seem a bit more expensive, but the dose per week is so little (in your 20g it will be about 1/2 tsp once a week) it is very economical long-term. This is the only fertilizer known to me that has everything in it [except oxygen, hydrogen and carbon which naturally occur in the aquarium]. The photos of my tanks [under "Aquariums" below my name on the left] illustrate the results of using this.

Last comment on light duration. This has to be worked out for each individual aquarium, since the light intensity, fish load, fish foods, plants (number and type), water parameters and available nutrients (added via fert or natural such as carbon and nitrogen from the fish and bacterial processes) all impact the balance. I generally start with about 12 hours and increase/decrease over a period of weeks according to the algae resulting. Always remembering that in new setups algae will be more prevalent anyway due to the initial imbalance and fluctuation in water quality. Right now my tanks have 10 hours daily; years ago they had 17 hours daily [in a different home].

Hope this helps.


Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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