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10. The Freshwater Planted Tank  
Many hobbyists dream of keeping a beautiful, healthy planted tank. There is a daunting array of products on the market boasting to “make your tank thrive.” Which products do you need? How should you use them? When should you use them?

There are a number of ways to create the “ideal” planted tank. The simple guidelines below describe a reliable method and tested products for setting up a planted tank. By following these guidelines and carefully selecting products, from day one, even the beginner can culture a healthy, enchanting planted wonderland.

The Equipment
Good Better Best
Hagen AquaClear Box Filters - This is a good filter that has room for Purigen and media of your choice. Always select a filter at least one size up from the size recommended by Hagen.
Optionally, two smaller filters can be used for increased efficiency and as a fail-safe should one filter go down.
Fluval Canister Filters
These are great, dependable canister filters. Pack them for biological and chemical media use. Ecco models come pre-packed and have room for Purigen later. Eheims are quiet and with regular care will perform for many years.
Trickle Filters
Large tanks and ‘ultimate’ tanks can be set up with Aquarium Life Support Systems trickle filters. These efficient units must be used with a siphon box or drilled tank and are, hands down, the best filters for any system.

Good Better Best
Zoomed Fluorescent Lights
Two rows of lights minimum. These are T8 and produce more lumens than standard T12 lamps. These lamps are limited to moderate and low light plants. See the
Plant Guide for details.
Glo T5 HO Linear Single Fluorescent Lighting System These fixtures are not only incredibly attractive but also incorporate an incredibly designed and engineered housing that directs maximum lighting into your aquarium. The reflectors on these systems are curved allowing for better reflection into the aquarium.
All models are equipped with a T5HO (High Output) electronic ballast, water resistant compression-fit end caps, and `mirror-finish` internal aluminum reflector.
Each lighting system comes with aquarium mounting brackets for secure installation and vertical adjustments. Hagen created these wonderful fixtures with components that exceed all North American electrical codes for water resistance.
Integrated Extension Brakets - 24 watt unit fits aquariums 23 to 40 inches, 39 watt unit fits aquariums 35 to 52 inches and 54 watt unit fits aquariums 46.75 to 64 inches.
Integrated Suspension Tabs Enables easy suspension over your aquarium but if not used they recess into the fixture ensuring a clean attractive look.
Electronic Technology - Creates optimal bulb performance and longevity of the lamp and ballast.
T5 HO Light 4-bulb Fixtures
AF100 24"
AF122 30"
AF101 36"
AF102 48"
AF103 72"

These AquaticLife T5 High Output fixtures offer 420/460nm, 700+ nm, and Lunar lights in one sleek fixture.

Timer controls T5 HO Fluorescent lamps and Lunar LED's independently.

Adjustable width Aquarium Frame Mounts support fixture above the aquarium.

Gloss finish front side compliments the matte finish on top and ends of the fixture.

German-made specially angled reflector maximizes light by directing it into the aquarium.

Suspension Ports allow connectino to optional cables for various mounting configurations.

1 year warranty

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
CO2 is the difference between a planted show tank and just a tank with plants
Good Better Best
CO2 Natural Plant System CO2 diffusion, through natural fermentation, results in a dramatic difference in plant growth, condition and color.CO2 injection can affect water chemistry. When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, some carbonic acid is formed which will tend to reduce pH and KH. Test these parameters regularly and try to maintain pH values of 6.8 to 7.0 with a KH range of 70 to 90 mg/L. Carbon dioxide is the most easily assimilated carbon sources for plants. Approximately 40 to 50% of dry weight composition of a plant is carbon. Through the invigorated growth of aquatic plants, the aquarium owner can expect a higher degree of water quality. Many undesirable elements such as nitrates and phosphates are consumed by plants, providing a strategy that effectively starves algae, preventing and/or controlling its growth. CO2 injection benefits fish due to improved water quality and also provides a safe and gradual method of reducing pH values. Many aquatic plants thrive in mildly acidic pH ranges and suitable species of fish for planted aquariums often prefer these water conditions.
Comes with: Patented CO2 Bubble Counter/Diffuser, Fermentation Canister with Thermoregulation System, 3 Activator packets, and 3 Stabilizer packets.

CO2 Liquid Fertilizer System by OSI. This unique liquid supplies CO2 to your plants. Plant growth results should be seen in two weeks. Carefully follow instructions and place one of the three vials supplied with the suction cup supplied to the aquarium glass. Remember to always use these products in the morning with the lights on. CO2 Life System SICCE New CO2 Life: The Safest and Easiest System On the Market!
CO2 Life is the NEW - patented - fertilization system which doesn't require any bottles or other external equipment. It works using a carbon cartridge which ensures a continual and consistent release of carbon dioxide by electrolysis and does not create sudden pH changes to the aquarium water. CO2 Life is available in 2 models: for aquariums from 10-40 gallons and 25-75 gallons.
Fertilization by CO2: a natural process Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is fundamental for healthy and luxuriant growth of plants in the
aquarium. CO2 is a key molecule, though it is lacking in most aquariums. CO2 is critical to photosynthesis, the process by which light energy is converted to chemical energy that is stored as carbohydrate and sugars in plants. Plants require light energy, CO2, and H2O to make sugar. Aquarium plants, unlike terrestrial plants, cannot capture free CO2 from the air. For photosynthesis to proceed, aquarium plants must capture CO2 from water using more complex methods, but the process is the same.Ê Photosynthesis produces a by-product critical to life in both aquatic and terrestrial environments - oxygen.
• Easy and quick to install use
• Constant reliable release of CO2
• Major components are engineered to maximize CO2 output
• 3-4 month supply of Carbon then you just replace the cartridge
• The CO2 Life system furnishes an aquarium up to 75 gallons
• The CO2 Life carbon plate is totally pure and of the highest quality available on the market. Inferior products contain 35%-40% binder and only 60% carbon
• The design is compact and efficient
Made in Italy

Plant the aquarium with a gravel base of 3-6”. Large gravel is not suitable for planted aquariums. Start with at least 1lb per gallon of tank volume. Add more if needed.

Use substrate additives with a third of the gravel and place as the bottom layer in the aquarium. The rest of the gravel is placed on top of the mixed gravel to a total height of 3-6”. Use small substrate for the base - 2-4 mm diameter particles is best.

Flourite by SeaChem or  Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate may be used either as the base coat for the above application or for the gravel layer.

A thin layer of
Giovanni's Starter is another alternative gravel base layer.

The Method
Plant the Aquarium
1. Partially fill the tank. Dechlorinate and plant the aquarium right away with plenty of fast growing oxygenating plants like Hygrophila, Sagittaria, and Vallisneria. Remember to trim bunch plants approximately 1" from the bottom and remove all dead material. Avoid leaves in the plug or below the surface of the gravel. See the Freshwater Plant Guide, Solution 11, for more details on oxygenating plants to select.

2. To enhance the Nitrogen Cycle, use a good quality bacteria starter like
Activate Freshwater or Aquarium Cleaner.

3. Add very few fish but add Otocinclus Catfish, Amano Shrimp, Mollies and or Flying Fox.

4. Remember, it is normal to lose some of the initial fish and plants. The goal is to establish some healthy, fast growing algae-fighting plants while cycling your aquarium. See the
Nitrogen Cycle article for more information on this important process.

5. Add a small amount of
Phosguard by SeaChem to the filter. Use a high grade activated carbon like Pelleted Carbon by Aquarium Life Support Systems. Planted tanks require more carbon than ordinary fish tanks. CarboPhos by Aquarium Life Support Systems is a good, convenient mixture of both Phosguard and carbon. These all should be placed in filter bags.

6. Begin monitoring pH. Initial pH readings will be high. Lower pH with CO
2 doses. See notes below.

7. Maintain water temperature at 72-73°F initially and later at 75-76°F once the tank is established. Allow 6 weeks for the tank to stabilize.

8. Do not use fertilizers until plants have become established and show signs of root growth.

Important Information about CO2 and pH
If aquarium plants are doing well small bubbles begin to form along the margins of the leaves within 1-2 hours after the lights and CO2 are started. If no bubbles are observed and CO2 levels have been increased the problem is usually lighting or filtration.

Ideal pH in a planted tank is 6.8. Natural fluctuations of pH occur during the day and values as high as 7.5 do not harm plants. pH levels are lowest lin the morning before the lights are turned on, rise throughout the day and are highest level in the evening before the lights go out. The greater the difference between the lowest and highest pH levels the higher the conversion of CO
2 and the better the plants are doing. The high range tends to drop as the tank becomes established.

Ideally, adjustments to pH should be made by increasing the amount of CO
2 introduced into the system. Chemicals to lower pH should be avoided in the plant tank, however, values above 7.5 may require attention. Should pH adjustment become necessary, use only Acid Buffer by SeaChem. Assuming water changes and water conditions are kept up, Alkaline Buffer by SeaChem can be used to raise pH. Never make drastic changes in pH! Any change in pH should be made gradually over a period of several hours to days.

Other Water Quality Parameters
kH Ideal range: 3-4 degrees. Adjust with pH Stable by Kent Marine
gH Ideal level: 2°. Soften with deionized or R/O water and peat.
Iron Ideal level: .1ppm After addition of iron supplement, wait for it to drop to .05ppm before adding more. Do not exceed .2ppm.
Nitrate Ideal level: 0 Practical level: 10ppm or less. Reduce with small, frequent water changes.
Phosphate Ideal level: as low as possible. Adjust with Phosguard by SeaChem, and/or R/O water adjusted with Replenish by SeaChem.

Algae Problems
Algae in aquariums is unavoidable. An overabundance of algae is unsightly and sometimes unhealthy in the planted tank. Algae control is achieved by proper filtration, water movement, live load balance and water chemistry. The main cause for algae growth is almost always phosphorus. Phosphorus is often found in tap water and like nitrate, is also a by-product of the fish load. Natural balance in the plant tank is achieved by the ratio of algae eating animals and fast growing vascular plants that compete with algae for nutrients. Here are some tips:
• use
Phosguard if you are using tap water
• use R/O water
• keep Otocinclus catfish
• keep Siamese Flying Fox
• keep Algae Eating Shrimp (tiny ones may be eaten by aggressive fish)
• keep them from Day 1

To help with algae problems, use Algone, Phosphate-Ease and
Flourish Excel.

Once the tank is set up, plant the tank right away to get oxygenating and rooted plants established as quickly as possible. Products like
Aquarium Cleaner by Water Quality Science help bind organic material into compounds unusable by algae as nutrients. Once nitrate and phosphate are in check reduce fertilizer and/or iron supplements until algae is in check.

Snails and Other Pests
Clown Loaches and Dwarf Cichlids can do some serious damage to a nuisance snail or leech population.

Supplement Schedule
3-6 weeks • Good - use Giovanni Trace+ by Ocean Nutrition, or
• Better - use
Flourish by Seachem, or
• Best - use
Giovanni Iron+
after 1 month • use Purigen by Seachem to polish water and reduce organics. Use as necessary.
after 2 months • begin using less carbon. Reduce to small quantities and replace it every other month. If iron levels are hard to maintain, discontinue carbon unless water is yellow or has an odor. Purigen also helps and does not affect valuable trace elements. These elements are replaced with products like Flourish by SeaChem.
after 3 months • use Flourish, Flourish Excel or Giovanni Trace+ if growth of plants is an issue. Use at half doses. If iron levels are hard to maintain use Flourish Iron to raise levels
after 6 months • start using 1/4 doses of Flourish Potassium by Seachem. If better growth is noticed continue. Potassium can be a problem if everything else is in check and plants are not thriving. Use Flourish Tabs or Giovanni Fertil Capsules every 3-4 months.

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