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I always find it amusing when people walk into the store and ask " How come when I was a kid, I never had any problems growing live plants in my tank? No fertilizer, lights, didn't do water changes and yet my plants grew like crazy and now they won't grow at all". It's amusing because I don't have an answer for this and I truly wish I knew why they had the success they did. On the other hand, I do know that aquatic plants are harder and easier to grow than most people think. Harder in the sense that to get consistent results, aquatic plants do require some basic necessities and maintenance. Easier in the sense that these basics are either common sense or simple knowledge easy to apply to your tank. Here are some steps anyone can take to ensure their plants will grow:
1) Plants need lighting that enables them to do photosynthesis. This means having fluorescent lighting that has a full spectrum that simulates the sun. Plants need light for 10 to 12 hours a day. Leaving your lights on all the time will cause your plants to pale and die and as well will promote algae. Good bulbs for growing live plants are Power-Glo, Life-Glo, Coralife 50/50 or Trichromatics. (Available at all Big Al's Supercentres)
2) Plants like clean water and do better when there is less fish waste in the tank. In addition, plants absorb alot from the water and their environment needs replenishing so that plants continue to grow. Plants grow best when a 25% or more water change is done every week. When there are quite a few plants in a tank, these larger water changes can be handled by the fish because of the ability of the plants to process the water quickly, reducing the stress to the fish. (Don't forget to add Big Al's Multi-Purpose Water Conditioners)
3) For plants to develop new leaves, stems and their root systems, they need a source of nutrients. There is a common myth that fish waste provides plants with what they need. In truth, this waste more readily helps algae than plants. An aquatic plant fertilizer provides plants with that which they really need: iron and other trace elements. The best time to add fertilizer is an hour after a water change when conditions are optimum for the plants to absorb the elements. (A huge variety of plant fertilizers available at all Big Al's supercentres)
4) More plants are better than a few plants. After giving the plants all the right things to grow, it is necessary to have enough plants to absorb these good things or algae will step in to fill the gap.. This is especially true in a new tank set-up. Good plants to begin with should be easy fast-growers that will quickly absorb the extra nutrients in the system: Hygrophilasp., Rotala sp., and Vallisneria sp., are excellent first choices. Amazon swords, Aponogeton sp., and Cryptocoryne sp., should wait until the tank has established itself over a month.
5) Choose fish that will aid the plants or at least not hinder them. Some fish like Pleco's and the larger Gouramis. as well as most African Cichlids enjoy the taste of live plants too much to allow the plants a chance to grow. Fish that complement a plant tank are most tetras and livebearers, rainbow fish and most catfish. Algae eaters that truly do their jobs are Ottocats (in enough numbers), flying foxes and mollies.
6) The missing link of a plant tank (after all else has been tried); CO2 (carbon dioxide). Come into the store and find out how easy it is to introduce CO2 to your tank inexpensively. (Available at all Big Al's Supercentres) Plants truly are not a difficult proposition. They just take a little understanding.