New planted tank, advice needed
I have a 5 gallon rectangular shaped tank I just purchased. I want this to be my first planted tank. The only plants I've had in the past are the tube plants from Petco, which I just popped into the gravel and fertilize once a week. Luckily they haven't "melted" or rotten yet.
I plan to put in a male betta and either mystery snails or ghost shrimp. Also considering some small cory's, but not sure I can add enough in a 5 gallon tank to create a shoaling group. I bought a 5 lb bag of black aquarium sand I planned on using for the substrate. Then I started reading about how many of you have had success using organic soil. Im open to using either. So whichever you think would work best and is easiest for a beginner. My second question regarding the substrate is how much? I know the general rule for gravel is 1-2 pounds per gallon of water. So is the same true for sand/soil?
I plan on buying my plants online from aquariumplants.com. It seems like they come pretty highly regarded by a lot of people. So I was wondering what plants you would recommend for a moderately planted tank. When I say moderately planted, I want it to have nice plant coverage, but not so much that it limits the inhabitants for moving around. When suggesting plants, please keep these things in mind.
1) My tank will be a west facing window, so I get lots if indirect sun this time of year with the long summer days. Naturally, as autumn and winter approach, the amount of natural light will diminish. I have a single full spectrum 10 watt cfl bulb in the tank hood.
2) I'm a beginner, so I am looking for plants that are relatively easy to grow and don't require a lot of special care.
3) Plant layout. I know this somewhat a matter of personal preference, but I know there are some general rules. I believe taller plants should go on the back, and shorter stuff should go in the front.
4) The general look I am going for is taller, more dense plants along the back 1/3- 1/2 of the tank, and more grassy looking, short plants for the front. Here is a picture I spotted online that I like the look of. Not sure what types of plants are in these photos, or how easy they are to grow and maintain, but this is the look I had in mind. http://img329.imageshack.us/i/img3303ms5.jpg/
5) I notice aquariumplants.com sells both loose and potter plants. Is there a benefit of one over the other? http://img329.imageshack.us/i/img3303ms5.jpg/http://img329.imageshack.us/i/img3303ms5.jpg/
First, if I haven't already welcomed you in another thread...Welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.:-)
Now, to your questions. A 5g tank is quite small, so this has an impact on the type of plants. You also mention low maintenance ("easy to grow and don't require a lot of special care" was how you put it). Plus having it in a window is going to make a difference.
First, substrate. Plants will basically grow (and grow well) in any substrate, be it gravel, sand, dirt or one of the special enriched substrates for planted tanks. The choice depends more on your preferences, the fish (borrowers like loaches prefer sand and will make a real mess with dirt), and how much work you want to have to maintain it because different substrate types can cause different issues, some not so good if you are not prepared for them.
Taking you at your word that this is your first planted tank and you want it to work without fuss, I suggest small grain gravel in a dark colour. I certainly would not recommend soil as your first attempt; it can be problematic if you don't know exactly what you're doing. Enriched substrates are fine but much more expensive, and as they are unnecessary to good plant growth the added expense in my mind does not justify them.
As for how much, this depends entirely on the plants. Substrate-rooted plants with extensive root systems need space; swords, crypts, vallisneria, sagittaria, aponogeton...some of these are too big for a 5g but crypts are some of the absolutely best for the setup you plan. And the smaller sagittaria and sword (pygmy chain sword) would be fine. So I would go with 2 inches of gravel, sloped or terraced (with rock or wood, rock works better) to provide more depth, maybe 3 inches, at the back and less in front.
The other advantage of substrate-rooted plants is minimal care; once planted they stay where you put them. Stem plants need regular pruning and the look is always changing as you do. Crypts, pygmy sword, dwarf sagittaria all spread by runners or root shoots, and you can either leave the daughter plants or just snip them off. Floating plants are to me essential in such tanks to provide security for betta and similar fish, as well as dangling roots they prefer to browse through.
Fish selection is tricky in a 5g with a betta; a shoal of five pygmy corys would work, or shrimp. The Malaysian Trumpet snail is perfect, it will burrow through the substrate and help keep it loose which is good for the plant roots and for the tank health.
You will have fairly thick plants, and that is what you want with fish like a betta that are sedate and cruise among vegetation; they are not swimmers, and even if there was room for a shoal of swimming fish, the betta would not welcome them in so small a space.
One problem with window tanks is that plants naturally grow to the light, which is in back of the aquascape. Crypts are low-light plants though, and across the front this will not have much of an impact, and you want your taller plants at the back anyway. Shades on the window will be needed, or a "shield" for the tank for bright and/or summer days to limit the direct sun (algae issues plus overheating).
Potted plants are generally more expensive; the same plants without a pot are usually cheaper and will grow just as well. I have had both, and tend to buy whichever to get the plant that I want.
Hope this starts you off, do ask further questions if they arise.
Thanks so much Byron. Great advice. Have a few more questions.
You mentioned starting with dark colored small grain gravel. Is there any benefit using a dark color? Does it have to do with light reflection? Or is just a matter of looking aesthetically more pleasing? Is dark gravel superior to dark sand, or is it just easier and less problematic for a beginner?
Regarding floating plants. Are there specific plants that are designed to float? Or can any aquatic plant be used?
Thanks again, and your planted tanks are beautiful and an inspiration.
Floating plants are few in number but there are a couple. Ceratopteris (Water Sprite) is probably the best, you can click on the shaded name to see the profile. Amazon Frogbit is another, though hard to find and in my experience not as easy to keep looking good. Some stem plants can be kept floating on top (all stem plants if allowed to grow will grow up and along the surface anyway, but then the lower leaves will die off); Brazilian Pennywort is ideal for this, it is also in our profiles. In my 10g window tank I have this floating, it covers the surface nicely.
On the substrate, yes there is a real significant issue with colour. Most all the fish we keep, including your betta, come from forest waters that have dark substrates: mud, sand, stones, and almost all covered with leaves, sticks and logs. Fish "expect" a dark substrate, and many will pale in colouration over a light colour simply because it un-nerves them. Same as when they are in bare store tanks, or under stress, they contract their pigment cells because they want to be less visible because they are frankly frightened. Put them over a dark substrate with a dark background and thick plants and they sparkle and shine because they are "in their element." I have personal experience with this, I moved my fish from one tank with my natural gravel to another with the darker gravel, and the same fish became darker and more intense, and remained out more than they had for months in the other tank. Light reflection is another part of it; for the aquarist, having a dark substrate makes it "disappear" somewhat, and you notice more the fish and plants; same with a dark background.
Gravel vs sand, yes, gravel is easier to maintain; sand tends to compact much easier than gravel, and this causes problems--water flow slows or ceases which means aerobic bacteria die and anaerobic bacteria take their place, and plant roots rot, all this produces hydrogen sulphide and excess nitrogen gas, and it can kill the fish. Many people use sand with no trouble; but it takes a bit more work (I have it in one 10g tank only) and I have used gravel for 20 years with never a problem. Just get the smallest size you can, 1-2 mm grain. This allows good water flow through the substrate (very important) and also anchors the plant roots. Every planted tank author I have read recommends gravel over sand.
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