Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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Hawkian 04-20-2010 03:45 PM

Need Some Guidance on Fertilizing Plants
I have a 32G with 3 separate echinodorus and a bunch of Cabomba caroliniana. I plan to add more plants in a few weeks.

I seem to be having a hard time figuring out what fertilizers to use exactly. I have straight pea gravel substrate (no sub layer) and I do not have CO2 diffusion. I've read that plants require iron and trace elements but my research shows that not everyone agrees on how much of it and how often. I currently have Seachem Flourish Iron, Seachem Flourish Excel (CO2) and Nutrafin's Plant-Gro (trace elements). What should I use and how often?

spoot 04-20-2010 04:08 PM

Flourish Comprehensive, 2x a week, 2.5ml per 30 Gallons.

That's what I've been reccomended anywho.
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Byron 04-20-2010 04:25 PM

The less that goes into the tank, the more stable with the biology be. Plants require 17 nutrients, some they obtain from the fish and biological processes (carbon as CO2, nitrogen as ammonia/ammonium), some from fish food (certain minerals in fish waste), some from organics broken down by bacteria in the substrate, some in the water introduced as partial water changes. Rarely will all 17 nutrients occur from these sources, so we add what is probably missing via fertilizer.

Most missing nutrients are micro-nutrients or trace elements. These are all mineral, and include iron, copper, manganese, zinc, etc. Good liquid fertilizers contain these elements. Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive Supplement for the Planted Aquarium is one of the best, Kent's Freshwater Plant [not sure this is still available, haven't been able to find it for some time now] works (I used this in the 1990's), and I believe from the info on their website that Nutrafin's Plant-Gro is comparable, though I have not myself tried this. I currently use the Flourish.

Flourish Iron on its own I do not recommend. Nor do I recommend using Excel, which is carbon in liquid form. I'll explain why.

Plants need the 17 nutrients in quite specific proportions. Some of these nutrients, namely iron, copper, zinc, nickel and manganese are also known as heavy metals, and all are toxic to all organisms--fish, plants, humans--at certain levels. Therefore, we do not want to overload the aquarium with stuff like iron because in excess it will kill the plants and the fish. This is why good water conditioners detoxify heavy metals. Most water supplies contain trace elements of some heavy metals, depending upon the source. Liquid plant fertilizers contain these but at very low levels and in balance with each other to provide what the plants need without risking the fish and plants themselves. Excess of some nutrients can also cause plants to become deficient in others, not due to a lack of those but by virtue of the plant simply shutting down assimilation. As an example, an excess of magnesium causes plants to stop assimilating potassium. An excess of potassium cause an iron deficiency. And so forth. This is all why I advocate a balanced comprehensive micro-nutrient fertilizer.

The biology in an aquarium is a delicate natural balance between the fish, plants and bacteria, into which water parameters also are involved. It takes a few months for a new aquarium to reach its biological equilibrium which is a balanced state for the bio load. Adding stuff like Excel is increasing the carbon by a significant amount, and this will cause that balance to become unbalanced. Planted tank aquarists who add CO2 diffusion create a different balance, with increased (more intense) light to balance, and additional fertilizer. Takashi Amano uses CO2, high light, and fertilizes several products every day because as he himself admits it is essential to maintain the balance in his type of system. At the opposite extreme is my method of absolute minimal nutrients and light, sufficient to grow the plants but not beyond that level. Regardless of which method one uses, there must be a balance or it will not be successful. My process is to start with the least and work up to reach the balance; I have taken this approach because I believe that the less the aquarist interferes (by adding this, that and something else) the more nature will maintain the natural balance.

To conclude, I would use the Plant-Gro liquid as directed (presumably once a week). Monitor the plant growth over 1-2 weeks and be prepared to adjust if needed. I need to fertilize twice a week to keep my swords lush and thriving, because my water is so soft. Each aquarium is different, with its own unique balance. And we should all know by now what can happen when we interfere with nature's balance. As with the earth's environment, so too with the environment within the aquarium.


Hawkian 04-20-2010 07:26 PM

That's great info right there!

What about gravel capsules? I have essentially inert gravel in my tank... should I add capsules so the plants can get nutrients from the substrate as well as from the liquid fert?

Byron 04-20-2010 07:52 PM

The Echinodorus would benefit from substrate fertilizers if they are large species plants; the Cabomba basically not. All aquatic plants assimilate nutrients through the roots and leaves, the latter more with stem plants. Substrate fertilizers therefore only benefit plants with extensive root systems in the substrate, and Echinodorus are among these. They are also heavy feeders, requiring a good nutrient supply. Other substrate rooted plants like Cryptocoryne, Aponogeton, Vallisneria, Sagittaria, etc., also derive benefit from substrate ferts. However, I can attest that in my experience of using plain gravel in all my tanks and liquid fertilizer for 20 years, and substrate fertilizer sticks only this past year, all these plants will grow fine without. The Echinodorus did put out more rapid growth once the sticks were added, but I found they still needed liquid fertilizer to retain lush green leaves.

The nutrients for all aquatic plants come from the water. [The only exception I am aware of is carbon which surface plants assimilate from the air as CO2 and this is a major reason surface plants grow faster than fully submersed plants.] The nutrients in any substrate, be it soil, Flourite, tabs or sticks, has to pass into the water column in order to be assimilated by the plant roots. Having nutrients in the substrate merely makes them more convenient for such plants, and that is borne out by my experience. Adding the nutrients to the water column as liquid fertilizer means they will be carried to the roots of Echinodorus as the water passes through the substrate. This is one reason why small-grain gravel works so well as a substrate in planted aquaria; it allows easy flow of water through the substrate while encouraging a good colony of aerobic bacteria. Other substrate mediums do the same, but with some of them there is an increased risk of compaction.


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