Do I need live plants?
Do you think it would be necessary to have live plants in a 55 gallon with 4 angelfish, 6 tetras, and 4 cory catfish. I don't want to do the work for plants if I don't need them. I am thinking sand as a substrate and using root tabs
I wouldn't say it is necessary but your catfish will certainly flourish with sand. We just recently changed over our 30g from gravel and artificial plants to sand and live plants. Our catfish went crazy digging in with their whole mouths sifting through the sand.
I see live plants as an equal partnership for your tank. It takes a little work to get it all set up but they will help your tank too. They have helped with our algea and cloudiness in our tank since we switched. We bought plants at petsmart and play sand from Lowes.
Do you use root tabs for your plants or anything to help them grow?
Yes we use the liquid plant food. There are several brands like flourish and leaf zone. Not sure much about which is better we have had different kinds but our plants are growing really well. On the fish profiles they also have information about plants. We have a variety like wisteria, amazon sword and grass and they are very low maintenance.
You don't need them, but in my opinion they offer so many benefits to a tank (and the fish!) and look much better visually.
Plants stabilize a tank, they help prevent any spikes in ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. They also replicate the natural environment of a fish. And if you add lots of fast growing plants, including floating plants, when you first set up a tank, you won't have to do the classic cycle. (I can explain this in-depth if you would like)
Plants don't require much hassle. I know at first there can be so much conflicting information and so many methods that it can be a bit daunting.
The main thing you need is light. You need to make sure the bulb on your tank is between 6000k and 7000k (this can usually be found on the bulb or the packaging). If it isn't, I personally recommend this bulb. (Assuming you have the classic T8 fixture) Fluorescent Aquarium Lighting: Life-Glo 2 Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Substrate can be either sand or gravel (although with corys I recommend sand, it's easier on their barbels and tummies, and the angels with appreciate it too), I've found sand to be easier to maintain (poo just sits on top, instead of falling down into gravel, the same with excess food.) Sand can even be cheaper than gravel, with the options of playsand, pool filter sand, and blasting sand (smallest grit available.). They just need rinsed before use.
It's also a good idea to fertilize once a week with a fertilizer containing all of the nutrients plants require. This one is used most widely, and it works incredibly well. http://www.amazon.com/Seachem-513-Flourish-500ml/dp/B00025696M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372056584&sr=8-1&keywords=seachem+flourish+comprehensive
Many plants can do fine without root tabs, although for plants with extensive root systems they can definitely be helpful (plants such as Amazon Swords and Crypt Wendtii). You also can use floating plants, which the angelfish will really enjoy browsing among. Frogbit, salvinia, and dwarf water lettuce are great plants.
Honestly my planted tank is no work at all, it kind of just takes care of itself for the most part. All I have to do is add fertilizer once a week (just measure it out in the cap and pour in the tank), and that's it. My fish really enjoy a tank that is constantly changing as the plants grow, browsing among leaves and darting through the stems, even spawning on occasion.
So in short, no, you don't need them. But they're incredibly beneficial, beautiful, and require less work than the fish themselves.
A great low maintenance plant setup would include any variety of crypts (low light and don't need root tabs), java fern and java moss (low light and don't even get planted in the sand), perhaps some amazon sword (medium light and benefit from root tabs) and any number of floating plants. The floaters are the ones that will grow fast and may need culling along the way but that is dead simple and no problem to just clip and scoop them out. I use brazilian pennywort, duckweed and a mix of other stem plants (bacopa, hygrophila, and some others that I have forgotten) but there are many others.
The liquid fertilizer should have 17 trace ingredients listed for a complete single fertilizer, some target specific nutrients and are not complete on their own. Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive is popular.
On the fish for a moment, tetras and corys do better in larger groups. You could easily bump them both up to 8 each (a good minimum even though 6 is in the profiles) and, without doing the math or compatibility with angelfish, perhaps even 12 each. The more there are of one species the more "normal" they will be as they typically shoal in the dozens or hundreds in the wild and that is what they are hard wired for... the more the merrier. You'll probably have to stay away from known fin nippers in the tetra family.
From what I know of angelfish, they do well in tannin stained water (driftwood, almond leaves) and low light (lots of floating plants).
Jentrala and Jeff said it very well. I'm going to zero in on fish numbers which is an issue.
First, I would definitely suggest five angels, this will be more likely of success. That video I posted in the other thread should explain why.
And add to the corys (never less than five, but here you have space so go with 10-12) and tetra (9-12 of whatever species, and agree, watch out for nippers).
To the original question, floating plants in my view are essential. But after that, it can be a planted tank with lower plants like Echinodorus swords, etc, or plantless with lots of wood, brtanches, some dried leaves...as long as there are floating plants. This was the method in that video.
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