It seems as if though I just can't grow swordplants to full size in my 46 gallon tank. The tank has inert gravel, but with a good amount of mulm and fish waste as it's been set up for almost a decade. The crypt wendtii I have in the tank also seem to be smaller than the huge ones I see in other people's tanks, but I do have one very large crypt and some very tall vals in the tank.
I have red rubin, amazon, and tropica swords in the tank, and they're all stunted. For instance the tropica sword is only around 2 inches in diameter. I've had them all for around 2 years. At this point is it worth trying some root tabs to get them to grow to full size, or are they permanently stunted and should I just get new plants and give those root tabs? Could there be another cause for the stunted growth besides insufficient nutrients in the substrate?
Your swords are starving. They get most of their nourishment from the substrate. Add root tabs. It may take 2 to 3 weeks before you see improvement. Its the stem plants that get most of their nourishment from the water column. Check out the profiles of all your plants on the link above titled Tropical Fish Profiles.
I agree on the substrate tabs but with reservation. First, are you using any liquid fertilizer, and if so, which and how often?
I have grown healthy swords with only liquid, and I have used both liquid and substrate tabs. The liquid is actually the more important, since it provides all nutrients and some of these are only taken up via the leaves.
I am currently not using liquid fertilizer. However, even when I did use it at points in the past the swords experienced the same stunting problem.
And this has to be a complete nutrient source. There are a number of so-called plant supplements on the market but many only provide certain nutrients, and aquatic plants require 17 nutrients before they can grow. Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive Supplement is one I use; Brightwell Aquatics' FlorinMulti also provides this. With both of these, make sure you get the exact product named, as they make several products under the "Flourish" and "Florin" names.
I didn't ask about your tap water GH, but that is important. If it is anywhere from 4 dGH [= 70 ppm] or higher this is OK.
With especially heavy feeders like the larger swords, substrate tabs will improve growth. But the liquid is still the essential first step.
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