06-05-2012, 01:18 PM
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Personally, I'd use a mixture of play sand and powdered limestone (from farming supply stores. A small bag would likely be plenty.)
You want to aim for a ph of 8.0 or slightly higher. If you have hard water, then you can probably get by with just adding some crushed coral or texas holey rock.
Temperature will be the primary issue if you want to bring out the full color- Firemouths like warm water. Mid to low 80's is perfect.
a 48 gallon tank... hmm. The dilemma is that a breeding pair of firemouths may kill off everything else in the tank. You could easily go with 1 firemouth, 1 jaguar cichlid, and perhaps even a small group of Pike Livebearer (1 male, 4 female), or simply a m/f pair of firemouths.
I'd say try plants first, and let them grow in before you add the cichlids. swordplants and Vallianeria, though not native, will work well. (I'd plant the back and sides with vallis, and use swords as highlighting plants. Crypt wendtii or Crypt Blassii may add color.
I'm no pro at cichlids, so maybe someone else can confirm/correct what I said. It's only a starting point.