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Aquarium Guide - Covers, Lighting, & Algae

Aquarium Guide

Lighting Basics

Feather Blenny

An unplanted aquarium should receive 6-10 hours of light per day. This can be either artificial or natural light. Direct sunlight should be avoided. While in the short run darkness does the fish no harm, how would you like to be kept in the dark most of the time? On the other hand, excessive lighting can lead to dangerous brown or green algae blooms, which can upset the entire balance of a tank, and eventually kill everything. This is caused mainly by excessive amounts of direct sunlight, and is not really a problem with artificial lighting.

A little algae growth is usually a sign of a healthy tank, and can be left in place or cleaned up as you like. Algae growing on plastic plants makes them look more lifelike. Non-metallic pot scrubbers are good for cleaning algae, but use a new one and then keep it only for this purpose - soap is poisonous to fish! Razor blades are difficult to use, and not recommended. Don't be afraid to get your arm wet, unless you are keeping piranhas.

Feather Blenny

Algae on rocks and decorations can be killed by placing them in a large pot of barely simmering water for a few minutes, but be careful with plastic plants, as they can be crushed and ruined by this. Never boil a thermometer - it will burst. Contrary to their name, most "algae-eating" fish do not eat algae at all in an aquarium. They will not clean up the algae in your aquarium, and in fact will starve if not fed properly just like the rest of your fish.

Fluorescent lights are preferable to incandescent ones because they generate less heat, which can mean the difference between life and death in the summer months. You might not think of it, but an inexpensive remote control ( from Radio Shack ) can be handy for turning the lights on and off. A timer is also useful, especially when you are on vacation. Either way, use the device to turn only the lights on and off, not the heater and filter.

The tank cover should be as tight fitting as possible. Most fish will jump on occasion, and some can practically climb out, so openings should be minimized, and the cover should be kept shut. This also minimizes evaporation. If you are running an air stone, then there is no need to worry about the fresh air supply. Otherwise, daily feeding and the small gaps around the cover will let enough new air in, or you can make some small ( 3/8" ) holes in out-of-sight places for additional ventilation.

Toadfish

Most new covers must be trimmed at the back to fit your filter, heater, etc. Rather than just cutting out along the square lines that may be provided, spend a little extra time custom cutting the openings to fit closely. A razor knife or coping saw will go through the plastic easily. The payoff will be when you prized 'whatever' fish doesn't jump out through that crack you thought was too small for it to ever fit through. Trust me on this.

Covers that fit inside the top rim of the tank rather than on top of it are preferable. This assures that any condensation ( which can be considerable in the winter ) drips inside the tank.

Lighting for Live Plants (Freshwater)

What a confused subject this is! You can find reams of information on aquarium lighting, but almost all of it is overwrought, flawed, incomplete, or simply outright nonsense. Several of the sources I have found on the internets go on ad nauseum without actually providing any useful answers at all. I have found so much junk that I am not going to discuss any of it. Clearly, this subject needs to be approached from a clean sheet of paper.

CFLLet's start out with what technology is available. A lot has changed in recent years. Nowadays, CFL bulbs are available in a range of sizes and 'colors' at very economical prices. These bulbs are easy to get and easy to work with. They are also compact and run fairly cool, another requirement for aquarium use. Finally, they are cost-efficient, a necessity since they will be on for extended periods every day, and also require regular replacement. Almost any old aquarium hood can be gutted and converted to CFL bulbs with parts readily available at the hardware store. With some additional thermal venting cut in, an old straight-tube plastic light hood can be upgraded to two to four times its original power rating using CFLs.

My own experience is that "daylight" spectrum CFL bulbs make excellent grow lights for house plants, and have a pleasing color for aquarium illumination. Without going into all the technical details, I will just assume that these bulbs are close enough to real sunlight that the difference can be ignored. All my plants seem to think so. By doing this, we can dump a pile of calculations and expensive measuring equipment that mainly just leads to a false sense of precision and accuracy.

So, having settled on a light source, the question becomes: what light level do we need to generate? Most aquarium plants are tropical. The tropical noon sun is about 140,000 Lux, or lumens/m2. However, most of these plants do not grow in the sun, they grow in the deep shade of the forest. The jungle floor is typically assumed to receive just 1-3% of the total sunlight, with sunbeams poking through briefly in places. At the high end then, 3% of 140,000 makes 4200 Lux, or rounding off: 4,000 Lux. That seems like a reasonable and achievable target.

CFL bulbs are spec'd in lumens. To get Lux, divide by the bottom area of the tank in square meters. But that's too simple. Now we have to make a big assumption: What is the overall efficiency of light transmission from the bulb into the plants? All kinds of factors enter into this: the reflector, the height of the light above the tank, the clarity and depth of the water, height of the plants, wasted light that is reabsorbed by the bulb or spills out of the tank, etc etc, but it can all be lumped together into one coefficient for our purposes.

Now, how do you begin to quantify all these effects? Here is some intuition: With a proper reflector, the light can be assumed to be focused in one direction, straight down into the tank. Not completely true, but close enough. The effects of the water are negligible, any healthy aquarium is clean and clear, and not very deep, 2-3 feet to the bottom. That's not enough water to matter much, and many of the plants are quite tall and reach almost up to the surface. I will also mount the light as close as possible to the tank, so that will be a minor issue as well.

The big unknown factor in the equation is waste - how much of the bulb's output is simply not making it into the tank? This is in two parts: spillover and re-absorption. Spillover is light that escapes the system without striking the target - the plants. Spillover is what lights the floor around the tank. Reabsorption is the light that goes from the bulb back into itself, directly or reflected. Given the shape of a CFL, twisted around itself, that could be considerable.

Spillover is probably minor, some of what would spill out is even reflected back in by the glass itself, and as I said, the light is focused down into the tank by the reflector. Re-absorption is the real killer here. It is well known that CFL bulbs are designed to be used end-on, and perform as much as 50% worse if mounted side-on. But for a tank-top light hood, sideways mounting is the only practical choice. This could be ameliorated by using a big wide reflector, but a tank-top installation is typically pretty cramped, so an ideal reflector is not really a possibility either.

So, with a less-than-ideal mounting and a less-than-ideal reflector, and some other negligible factors, what transmission efficiency should I assume? I have no idea, but 50% seems like as good a number as any. ( At least that way, my error will be no more than 50%, between zero and 100%, ha ha. )

The efficiency factor sums up everything I don't know, including even any spectral shortcomings of the bulbs compared to real sunlight. If you spent a fortune on measuring equipment and a lot of time fiddling with it, ( which, by the way, does not guaranty good measurements ) you would still end up with a correction factor of some sort in your formula, I am just skipping to the end. Do you think I left something out? Nope, it's in the correction factor! Engineering guesstimation at its finest!

So, the complete formula becomes:

LUX = L x E / A

where

L = total lumen rating of all bulbs
E = efficiency = 50%
A = bottom area of tank in meters squared

Simple. There is no point in making these calculations overly complex or falsely precise, since the efficiency factor is a pure guess that could be way off. For that matter, I don't know how accurate the specs on the bulbs are either. This is just a ballpark calculation, but it is still plenty good enough to be useful. One digit of precision is all we need.

My bow-front 46 tank has a bottom area of approximately 0.3 m2. CFL "60 watt equivalent" daylight bulbs are available in 4 packs for $7 at Home Depot, with a lumen rating of 800. My rebuilt light hood has 4 sockets for even coverage. So for my particular application, ( rounding off to a single digit of precision ) I get

4 x 800 x 0.5 / 0.3 = 5000 Lux

Not bad - a bit more than my target of 4000, and probably entirely adequate. But I want my plants to really grow, so lets swap the two end bulbs for "100"s, with a lumen rating of 1600. Now I get about 8000 Lux, and nice even lighting from edge to edge. The 100 watt bulbs are cheap enough, 4 for $11 at Home Depot, so let's see what all 4 of them will do: over 10000 Lux! Too bright - overkill, and the fish ( remember them? ) don't seem to like it either, so back to the 8000 Lux setup.

But what if my numbers are way off? Well, so what? If you are not getting the results you want, it is a simple matter to increase or decrease the amount of lighting by changing bulbs, as I have demonstrated. This is much more about the practice than the theory; the whole point of these calculations is to see what is possible and find a place to start. You can fine-tune in the real world based on real results, not abstract calculations of dubious accuracy.

Finally, what is this going to cost to run? This we can calculate quite accurately. Tropical plants in the wild typically receive 10 hours of light a day, year-round, so going with my 8000 Lux setup, that's

( 2 x 13 watts + 2 x 23 watts ) / 1000 watts per kilowatt x $0.132 per kWh x 10 hours x 30 days = $2.85 per month

Less than $3 a month - that's not bad at all. In addition, for this use the bulbs should be replaced annually, so add that in. Total annual cost: under $50 !!! In the winter when the heat is on, all those watts of heat are ultimately heating the house, which you would be doing anyway, so you could call the energy cost zero, for the entire aquarium, not just the lights.

Of course, the proof is in the doing, has this setup worked? For the last 4 months, absolutely. Luxurious plant growth, with practically no algae, and healthy fish. Beautiful fish lighting, care-free, reliable, low cost, and no unwanted heating of the aquarium. The whole thing is completely automatic with an inexpensive digital timer. In fact, for two months, the tanks ended up being almost completely neglected - auto lighting, auto-feeders, water replenishment as needed, and occasion changes - weekly checkups, little more - and they THRIVED. I could hardly believe it, no unplanted tank could go that long with so little attention.

I ran it at first at the 5000 Lux level, and everything grew well but the Vallisneria. However, I wanted to experiment, so I bumped the light up to 8000 Lux, and after a few weeks the Vallisneria perked up and started growing as well as anything else. Vallisneria has exceptionally high light requirements among aquarium plants, and you might want to avoid it. All the other plants were fine at 5000 Lux, which would also reduce the electric bill.

Algae is virtually nonexistent, it seems to be unable to compete with the plants for nutrients, and the higher light level seems to make things even tougher for the algae. What little algae does grow is pleasantly green, with a few threads of red growing high up on the filter discharge, but no trace of the awful brown diatom scum that is the bane of any unplanted aquarium. In 4 months, I have cleaned the glass just once of almost unnoticeable tiny green speckles. The water has a faint tinge of green to it if you look through the tank from the side or fill a white bucket with it, not otherwise noticeable. I would consider that normal and healthy.

One thing that I have read on the internets that I believe is that duration is no substitute for intensity. In other words, you cannot compensate for inadequate lighting by running it longer. Fourteen hours is not better than ten. You can however easily increase the lighting to an adequate level by simply changing bulbs. With multiple sockets, you can mix and match, both wattage and color, you are no longer limited to a single bulb.

Another suggestion I have experimented with is an "algae break" - a deliberate 2-3 hour break in illumination in the middle of the day. The theory here is that higher plants are much better at changing gears, stopping and starting photosynthesis in response to light levels, than algae, which is assumed to be metabolically much simpler, something that is not really so. Therefore, the theory is the dark period retards algae growth without significantly affecting the plants. Actually, I doubt that, but is easy to do with a timer, and there is another better reason to do it: it allows you to have your tank illuminated in the morning and evening without having the lights on for fourteen hours a day. I run the lights from 7AM to 11AM, and then 4PM to 10PM, and seldom ever have to switch them on manually to enjoy my aquarium.

On another subject, I have had great success using small clay flowerpots in the aquarium. All my plants are potted in aquarium gravel with a pinch of potting soil mixed in at the bottom. That is surprisingly un-messy, although probably unnecessary. The pots vary in size (diameter) from 3 to 5 inches. There are many advantages to potting your plants like this. Recently, my tanks were broken down completely and moved, and the plants suffered not in the least for it. The roots invariably find the hole at the bottom and escape from the confines of the pot, but the plant remains self-contained and portable, and will recover quickly even if the outside roots are damaged. With enough gravel in the tank, you can bury most of the pots completely, otherwise, they don't look too bad with just the rims showing. I have found pots in a rainbow of colors: orange, brown, tan, red, green, blue, glazed and unglazed. The pots themselves become part of the decor.

I also dose regularly with a liquid plant food containing chelated iron. I have found in landscaping that iron is a critical nutrient for lawns and trees that is often overlooked. Adding iron to a lawn will result in lush thick growth and a deep shade of green that will shock you, without causing it to shoot up knee-high every five days. Fast-growing trees will stop and yellow when they exhaust their available iron. At some level, all plants are the same, and assuring a good supply of iron will make any plant grow better. As far as other nutrients like nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, if you have a good stock of fish in your tank, they are undoubtedly providing more than enough of these in their waste. Fish can also be a source of CO2 for the plants, although to what extent I do not know. Manganese has similar effects to iron and is probably also a good thing to add.

I apologize for the lack of colored graphs, complicated formulas, and reams of statistics in this article. I will try to make up for that with some pictures of an old 36" fluorescent Perfecto hood that I converted to CFLs, which anyone handy could use as a blueprint to make their own. It's a shame to buy a new one and chop it up. People throw these away all the time, keep your eyes open on trash day and don't be too proud. I thought about replacing it with a custom-made wood piece, but it works fine.

Aquarium Hood

First, all of the old straight-bulb fluorescent guts are removed and discarded, and all the internal mounting bosses are trimmed off. The original switch and cord are retained. Note how the top vents are much more open now. At this point, cut or drill a series of ventilation holes in the back where they don't show. I used a one inch drill bit. This will allow a natural convective airflow that will keep the entire fixture much cooler than it originally was, even at more than 4 times the original power rating.

Aquarium Hood

The fixtures are outdoor floodlights, with the round flanges trimmed to fit inside the hood, and the sockets cut-back to accept fat CFL bulbs. About $10 a set. The 36" hood has room enough for four sockets in two pairs. You could probably shoe-horn a fifth socket into a 48" hood, a single dual-mounting should do for a 24" model. Remember to leave enough room to change the bulbs, and also make sure you are not locating a bulb directly above a tank frame that would block it. The reflectors are inexpensive pieces of aluminum gutter flashing, held in place by the bulbs and their own spring tension.

Aquarium Hood

The fixtures are fastened to the back of the hood with nuts and bolts, so from the front it still looks factory. The reflectors are curved pieces of aluminum gutter flashing, held in place by the bulbs. Anything metallic and shiny would work - aluminum foil or cut up tomato cans. The reflectors protect the plastic hood from the direct heat of the bulbs. Wire nuts around water? That's how the original wiring was done, so why not? This is designed to be above a glass cover, not directly exposed to the water.

And that's all there is to it. All of this could be done with a Dremel and a drill in your kitchen, although for me it was much faster on the band saw in the garage shop. This is hardly the only way to do this - go to the hardware store and you can find many other types of sockets that can be used with a little imagination. In fact, the entire fixture can be built from scratch using a length of plastic gutter end end caps.

There are many advantages to doing your own DIY lighting setup like this. It requires no special power supply, just plugs into the wall. It is fully compatible with timers, dimmers, and remote controls. No heat sink is required. No soldering is required. Burned-out bulbs are easily replaced. But probably the greatest advantage is that your upgrade path is easy and assured. Once you have installed regular light sockets, you have a multitude of lighting options waiting for you at the hardware store, with new and better ones coming all the time. I recently changed-out the CFLs for LEDs. In the process, I removed the pictured sockets and replaced them with smaller cheaper ones, that let me shoehorn 6 bulbs into the same space. LEDs get better, smaller, and cheaper all the time, and the result is brighter, whiter, and more even, with 33% less power consumption, which means 33% less heat - the outside of the hood barely gets warm now.

I have boiled this calculation down to the absolute minimum. Rather than deceive myself with a pile of small inaccuracies, I replaced them all with one big one, which I fully acknowledge. The goal was two-fold: proof-of-concept, and to find a starting point for real-world experimentation. That goal is achieved. Build yourself a light hood like this, buy an assortment of different-sized daylight CFL or LED bulbs from the hardware store, and find out what grows.


Aquarium Guide - Decorations

Aquarium Guide

Sargassum FishI prefer natural looking decor in an aquarium. That pretty much rules out fluorescent plastic skulls and little air powered pirate ships. There are a large number of items that are available to furnish an aquarium, and many of them are even free.

Gravel is available in almost any color you want. All fish have at least some control over their color, and will usually try to match their surroundings. Therefore, I go for darker colored gravels that make the fish's colors more intense. The same goes for the aquarium background - black paper works nicely. Artificially colored gravels are OK, but when they split open the true color inside shows through, giving a salt and pepper effect that you may or may not like. You should have enough gravel to cover the entire bottom of the tank to a depth of at least one inch.

Artificial plants have a number of advantages. The selection of plastic plants is usually greater than the selection of real ones, and they last for years. They will not die, rot, or outgrow the tank, and the fish cannot destroy them. The last item is more important than you might think, as very many fish just love to shred plants, whether they are actually eating them or not. Nowadays, plastic plants can be found that are quite lifelike, and after a few weeks in the tank, a thin layer of algae will make them even more so. The downside of plastic plants is that they tend to be much stiffer than the real thing, and can have relatively sharp edges that some fish can injure themselves on.

Live plants can be as rewarding to keep in an aquarium as the fish themselves. Live plants can make a tank more stable, with better water quality, and reduced algae. Poorly managed, they can have the opposite effect. See the section below on plants.

FlukeThe idea that real plants will provide oxygen for the fish is simply false. Over a 24 hour period the net oxygen output of a small plant is pretty much nothing. Decomposition of dead plant parts actually consumes oxygen.

In solid decorations, there are several things you should avoid. First, whatever you use should not dissolve in the water. The freshwater aquarium tends to be acid, and will eat up seashells, limestone, metals, and other like materials. Better choices are lava rock, quartz rocks, slate, and ceramics. Seashells and the like are ok in a saltwater tank, where it is more important to avoid metallic objects which will corrode and poison the water. Another thing you should avoid is sharp edges. In moments of panic, you don't want your fish injuring themselves.

Brick, cinderblock, and concrete should be avoided, as they tend to decompose, but many of the interesting rocks you may find outside can be cleaned up and used. One of my favorite objects is a piece of ceramic stand pipe I found by a roadside. I boiled it clean, and the fish love it. Another good thing is an old coffee mug, although if there is a decal on it, it will slowly dissolve. Clean flower pots are great, and add a nice touch of color. Small ones make caves, and you can smash big ones to get interesting shards from which you can build to your heart's content. If you do this, use a file to remove the sharp edges. Even ordinary drinking glasses can be used.

I have found that fish tend not to like dead-ends, but if you make a tunnel for them they will happily swim back and forth through it. You can knock the bottom out of a small flower pot for this, but you may have to try more than once, as these things tend to break unpredictably.

Driftwood from the store is also very attractive. New driftwood is very buoyant, and it may take several weeks before it will stay on the bottom like its supposed to. Driftwood slowly decomposes, and it doesn't hurt to take it out once in a while and scrub off the soft surface layers. ( No soap! ) Ordinary wood is not recommended.

Nowadays there are more and more excellent plastic decorations available that look amazingly like real wood, bark, stone, etc. The only drawback is that they tend to be pricey. Also, all the ones I have seen are molded from white resin and painted. Eventually the paint wears off, and you are left with an expensive ugly lump of white plastic. Why the color is not in the resin itself is beyond me. I have experimented with repainting ( others seem to have had good results with Krylon Fusion ), but cannot report any long-term result.

Feather Blenny
A Feather Blenny makes a home in an empty Moon Snail shell.


Aquarium Guide - Live Plants

Aquarium Guide

Live plants need a number of things to grow and thrive:

The subject of light has been covered above. Water is not a problem in an aquarium, but water quality may be. Generally, conditions that are good for fish will also be good for aquarium plants: pH, temperature, hardness, etc. Oxygen is seldom a problem, but dissolved carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, often is. This is because CO2 has a very low solubility in water, and fish do not respire much of it. There are a number of ways to address this. Finally, plants require nutrients: nitrogen, phosphates, potassium, calcium, iron, and magnesium are the major ones. Phosphates and nitrogen are supplied by fish waste, but the rest are not, and tapwater typically contains almost nothing.

Aquarium Chemicals
Plant nutrients and other water additives

In the photo above, you can see my collection of aquarium water additives. These are 1 liter Aquafina bottles, which I like for their smooth sides - easy to label. Each bottle is clearly labeled with the contents, dosing, and applicable instructions and warnings. Also on each bottle are instructions on how to refill when empty. Most mixes are designed to give a suitable concentration in the tank using 1 ml/gallon dosing, which makes everything simple using a small medicine cup - the kind you get with cough medicine.

All of these may be purchased at exhorbitant prices at your LFS, or you can make up your own supply, usually for just pennies. You will need a good small scale to weigh out the quantities. Solutions that use liquid reagents have fill lines marked on the bottle. You could use distilled water for these mixes, but I don't bother with that, and have seen no ill effects from using tapwater. Everything about this is approximate, so don't worry about getting the quantities exaclty right. From left to right, the bottles are:

pH Up: This is a solution of hydrochloric acid HCl, commonly sold by the gallon as Muriatic Acid or pool acid, at a concentration of about 31%. Concentrated acid like this is dangerous stuff that requires special handling, so I dilute it to about 8%, which is safer. Wear gloves and safety glasses while doing this. Simply fill the bottle with 750 ml tapwater, and then top it off with acid. Always pour acid into water, never water into acid - it may explode! To use, add in small amounts - 5-10 ml - to get the desired pH. Sulphuric acid, commonly sold as battery acid at auto parts stores, may also be used.

pH Down: This is a solution of sodium bicarbonate, commonly sold as baking soda. Mix 100g with 1 liter of warm tapwater. Some will fall out of solution as it cools, but that's ok. To use, add in small amounts to get the desired pH.

Water Conditioner: If your tapwater is treated with chloramine rather than chlorine, then you need to use some sort of water conditioner. I use Kordon Amquel Plus, which I buy in gallon jugs and dilute 50% to make a 1 ml/gallon solution.

The following are all for live plants. If your tank isn't planted, you don't need them:

Iron: This is a solution of chelated iron, which can be purchased as a powder for house plants. Mix about 21 grams with a liter of water.

Potassium: This is a solution of potassium bicarbonate, commonly sold as 'brewer's salt'. I find it online. It is the priciest of all these chemicals listed here. Mix about 224 grams with a liter of water. The bicarbonate component has a strong pH-down effect, so use this sparingly.

Magnesium: This is a solution of magnesium sulphate, commonly sold as epsom salts. Mix about 234 grams with a liter of water. The solution in the picture is contaminated with a bit of the iron mix, it would otherwise be clear. Get pure epsom salt, with no scent or other additives.

Calcium: This is a solution of calcium chloride, commonly sold as driveway de-icer. Find a type that is pure, with no additives. Mix about 226 grams slowly with a liter of cold water. CaCl gives off a great deal of heat as it dissolves, hence its use as de-icer, so take care when making up this mix.

Carbon (CO2): This is a solution of glutaraldehyde, commonly sold as a disinfectant. I use a brand called Metricide, which is 2.6% glutaraldehyde - find it online. Use precautions when handling this, it is somewhat dangerous. Mix about 226 grams with a liter of water.

None of these mixes are particularly hazardous once you've made them up. However, at these relatively high concentrations, they may react with each-other if mixed. In particular, the potassium and calcium mixtures will eliminate each-other, resulting in a lot of inert 'snow'. This can be avoided by simply rinsing out the measuring cup. At the concentrations in the tank, this is not a problem.

Another additive is plain old aquarium salt - NaCl. Unless you are keeping hard-water or brackish fishes, there is no need to add salt to your aquarium, and it can actually harm the plants.

I usually add these solutions after water changes. If I change 10 gallons of water, I add 10 gallons worth of solutions, or 10 milliliters of each. Simple. You can add a little bit extra to allow for consumption. The CO2 solution is dosed based on the whole volume of the tank, and the pH solutions are used as necessary to make the water slightly acid / neutral.

Types of Plants

Aquarium plants may be divided into two groups: those that simply absorb what they need from the water over their entire surface, and those that feed by roots in the substrate. Root-feeders include crypts, swords, lilies, and banana plants. These plants must be planted much like terrestrial plants. While you can simply plant them in the gravel, I prefer to use small flowerpots with regular potting soil. I use three to five-inch pots, depending on the size of the plant. The pots themselves can be buried in the tank gravel. Plants set up like this tend to grow like mad. Re-potting is usually necessary after 4-6 months.

Aquarium Plant Repotting

This is a crypt. Normally, the fronds would be two feet long, spreading all over the tank. Compared to that, this one is obviously languishing. It was last re-potted about seven months ago, and needs to be done again.

Aquarium Plant Repotting

Yes, I was right. At this point, I have dumped the plant out of the pot and separated a solid mass of roots that completely filled the bottom of the pot. You can see how the rest of the roots conform to the shape of the pot. These excess roots are no use to the plant at all, and also need to be removed.

Aquarium Plant Repotting

Here is the plant with the roots rinsed-out and pruned down to a healthy size to regrow. Also, I put a plug stone in the pot to keep the soil from leaking out the hole. Next, make a cone of soil in the center of the pot, and spread the roots around it. Finally, fill soil all around to about 1/2" of the rim. Pull the plant up to the right height, and pack the soil down tight around it, then refill with more soil. Finally, top with a layer of aquarium gravel. That's about a penny's worth of potting soil, and a lot better for the plant than expensive 'root tabs' and other things.

Aquarium Plant Repotting

I did all this work in the kitchen sink, with some large plastic containers to rinse everything in cool water. Sending the old soil and the occasional pebble down the drain does no harm, unless you have a dispose-all, which would react very badly to any stones. In that case, work in the bathroom sink or even the bathtub, or outside if the weather is nice.

Aquarium Plant Repotting

And here is the plant dropped back into the tank, which is looking very messy from the work I've been doing. Notice how there is no black soil drifting around, it is all contained in the pot. This plant belongs in the back corner. After it gets over the insult of being repotted, it will start growing like new. In a month it will be back to its old problem size. This plant has probably been repotted half a dozen times now.

Aquarium Plant Repotting

This sort of planting is good for all root-feeders. It is not necessary for most other plants, including ferns, anubias, hygrophila, moneywort, and many more. In fact, it may actually be detrimental for those types, which are better off simply attached to surfaces or floating. One good way to set up those plants is with suction cups and wire ties. You can cover large areas of the back and side glass this way, and as the plants grow in, the suction cups will disappear. To pot a plant that doesn't have enough roots to stay put yet, wrap a piece of string around it, and use that as an ersatz root.


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Disclaimer:

I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted

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