View Full Version : Substrate help

10-10-2009, 11:47 AM
We got a great bag of plants at the October meeting. I want to thank the seller for the wonderful selection in the “Pot-O-Plants” bag we got. :D
We put them in our 55 that has Tahitian moon sand while we prepare our 125 with proper substrate etc.

My question is how long do I have before the stem plants start to fade from the less than ideal substrate?
We are going to get some eco-complete black for the substrate is that the correct one?
Or is there something else we should look into?

The floaters are doing well. The fish uproot several stem plants every night that I reset the following day.
I have some liquid fertilizer that I’ve put in the tank hoping to help them out until we get them to a proper home.

The fish and their fry seem to like all the additional coverage.
I’ve had them tear off the leaves of the Nymphoides sp. Taiwan though… there seems to be a lot of root so hopefully it will regrow.

We also need to get a replacement bulb for our 6’ Coralife cf fixture; the bulb that blew was a 10,000k 96watt would we do okay for the plants replacing it or do we need a different one? The fixture currently has two of the 10,000k and two actinic bulbs. I think it equals just over 3 watts per gallon so I think we’re okay there.
Hubby also has a 48” Aqualight plus cf fixture with the same bulb configuration as above we were thinking of putting it in center of tank instead of the 6 foot fixture. We also have another fixture that we could use if more light/wattage is necessary.

Thanks for all and any insight.

We can’t wait for Phil’s continuation talk next month. :)
Is there somewhere to download October's presentation?

~I’m the M~

10-10-2009, 12:04 PM
Most plants grow fine in inert substrate if you are adding fertilizer to the water.

Eco complete is pretty good, the best would be aquasoil or mineralized top soil though. MTS is much cheaper but takes a bit of effort to make.

If you like the color of the 10k bulbs, replace them with the same thing. 4x96W is plenty for your tank.

10-10-2009, 12:05 PM
You can grow stem plants in sand indefinitely assuming the get enough light, and nutrients. What lighting does the 55 gal have? Are you planning CO2 injection for the 125? If not, I would run only 2 of the 96 watt bulbs. Actinic bulbs don't help freshwater plants any. You may want to buy a plant specific bulb, which is pinkish to go with the 10000K bulb you have working.
I don't think you will be happy with a 4' fixture on a 6' in the long run. Sooner or later, you will want to fill the entire tank with plants and not have 1' dim zones at either end.

10-10-2009, 12:55 PM
I know for a fact that Ken's plants mostly grow in gravel with mulm (fish poop). I think the gravel's a better substrate than plants, since there's less chance of anaerobic issues, but either does fine as long as there's enough poop in the goop. If it's worrying you, go get some root tabs for fertilization, and you'll see good growth.

10-10-2009, 01:11 PM
It’s good to know I can keep them alive as long as I can supplement with the liquid fertilizer. I have a small bottle of Plant Gro by Hagen that I’m currently using up.
I’ll have to look into the other two substrates thanks!

The 55 currently has a 48” S/W Coralife T5 fixture with 10,000K Daylight and one True Actinic 03 Blue T-5, 28watt bulbs; so just over 1watt per gallon. We have a 6700k colormax bulb to put in it just haven’t done it yet. I know the actinic doesn’t do anything for the plants; it won’t hurt them though will it? I like the way it colors the fish.

Hubby bought the 48” cf fixture for the 55 but it covers the whole top so we don’t know what to do with it at this point; it would also produce about 7 watts per gallon on the 55 so based on what we learned from Phil’s talk last Sunday CO2 would have to be injected right?

We weren’t planning on doing CO2 on the 125. It currently only has one 9.5” fish in it. The tank is bare bottom at the moment. I did float some of the additional plants in it from my score at the meeting.

We want to figure out how to create a tiered effect like raised beds in the 125, I envision a curved pyramid effect to the aquascape; outer edges closer to the front; center closer to the back. It would be taller in the center, lower on the edges. We have several pieces of driftwood to use and a good bit of granite rock. We were thinking of cutting down some plastic food grade containers and spraying them with the fusion paint to match the black substrate and planting the stem plants in them. We want to make it look as natural as possible but yet easy to maintain. Hubby loves to vacuum substrate so if plants are in containers he can’t get to them. :P

Most of our fish are CA so there are diggers in the mix, I will probably always be re-setting plants.:rolleyes:

Thanks for your posts I appreciate them.

10-10-2009, 02:08 PM
Unless the 55gal is getting light from a window, it doesn't have enough light for the stem plants to survive if you only have 28 watts of light, but if you have a dual T5 setup with 4' T5 bulbs, even one Normal output should be 40 watts and should keep the hardier stems alive for a while. If the light is a 48" HO T5 then one 10,000K bulb should grow most stem plants.

10-10-2009, 02:55 PM
As far as light, I go cheap. I get 4' two-bulb strips at wal-mart for $12 and they work fairly well. I don't do CO2 or crazy ferts, so the extra light from high-tech expensive lights is just wasted. You'd be surprised how much plant growth you can get without going hog wild.

10-10-2009, 09:04 PM
There's a number of schools of thought about planted tanks. But my recommendation would be to ease into it. It can be expensive and time-consuming, especially if you go the high-tech route. I'd begin with some the hardy, low-light species -- anubias, crypts, java fern & moss, dwarf tiger lilies -- and then branch out from there. Even with that limited selection of plants in combination with rocks and driftwood, you can create a very visually appealing aquascape for your tanks.

Stem plants are going to be a challenge. In general, they require higher light, a soil or specialized substrate and frequent pruning. And I must admit that I cheap -- in some of my tanks, I combine live plants with plastic "stem" plants for the background. Sometimes, it just seems like the easiest way to get the "look" I'm going for without an even bigger investment of time, money and energy.

Good luck,

10-10-2009, 11:36 PM
There are a few stem plants that can grow at lower light too, and don't need a specialized substrate and can be grown without a substrate in a low tech tank like sunset hygro, pennywort, wisteria, hornwort. Floaters such as amazon frogbit are also easy as they use atmospheric CO2 and are already close to the light.
I agree that low tech is a good way to start, even if I didn't do it that way.

10-11-2009, 08:04 PM
Thanks for the replies.
Devin, I'm planning on taking the low-tech route to start, and I have some of those plastic stem plants. :lol:

Along with everyone's great suggestions, Hubby has convinced me I need to learn more about it and go slow instead of letting my OCD personality take control. :/
We had a spare 36" strip light with a daylight bulb @48 watts so I put that on the tank along with the T-5 fixture I think that should help out for a bit.
This got to be more about light than substrate :D but that's okay, I need to learn all of it in regards to live plants.
Thanks again!

10-11-2009, 10:53 PM
You can grow plants in regular gravel. But it's not going to provide some of the nutrients they need to survive. Over time, gravel accumulates "mulm" (ie. fish waste, uneaten food and other debris) that enriches it and make its more suitable for plants. Many people suggest a soil underlayer covered with gravel. From what I've read, it provides up to a year's worth of nutrients and you could basically get away without adding much in the way of liquid ferts. The downside is that it will initially flood your tank with nutrients and in the first weeks and months you may end up battling algae.

The December issue of "Freshwater and Marine Aquarium" Magazine is dedicated to plants. Some of the information is fairly basic but still an interesting read. Plus, there's articles by Diana Walstad and Tom Barr -- two very respected figures in the world of planted tanks (although admittedly on opposite ends of the spectrum)

Another good source of information: www.theplantedtank.net. I like the journal section because you can see other hobbyists' tanks from set-up to maturity. A good source for ideas.

Good luck. And start with the hardy species; it will give you the confident to branch out (no pun intended)


10-13-2009, 10:36 AM

I would highly suggest the book "The Simple Guide to Planted Aquariums" by AAAA's very own Terry Barber and Rhonda Wilson (not of AAAA fame). It's one of the best beginner's books I've read on planted tanks.


10-18-2009, 07:06 PM
Thanks for the reading suggestions. I've been reading so much lately, I think my eyes are going to take a vacation.
I had been searching locally for some eco-complete in black but hadn't had much luck, places I called either didn't have it or said they did & when we went to check it out; nada (gotta love knowledgeable places :rolleyes: ).
On a whim I checked the local Petco today and found some stuff called Activ-flora Floracor black 16# bag, there wasn’t any pricing listed for it so I asked a clerk for a price check and mentioned that I had seen Eco-complete 20# bag for $18.95… She came back with price of $16.99, told her thanks, and said I needed to call hubby to confirm if we wanted to go this route; as I walked away talking to him the clerk came over and said they could do better on price. So, I came home with 2 bags.
After getting home we found they have a website: http://www.activflora.com/

Anyone have any experience with this substrate? Some of what I’ve found on the web seems it’s a bit messy. Hubby suggested using the empty 10 gal we have as a test before putting into the other tank, he’s such an engineer.;)

Side note, the plants in the 55 are doing well, I believe I’ve got new pinkish tips on the Hygrophila Polysperma. http://i200.photobucket.com/albums/aa307/a-m57/Aquatics/IMG_7800sm.jpg
And some of the Sagittaria Subulatas are putting out runners with little plantlets to camouflage the chewed up Anubias Barteri ‘Nana’.
There’s really no scape in there as I really just stuck the plants in…
Hopefully it’ll get better looking as I go. :)

10-19-2009, 10:23 AM
Looks like you're on the right track M. Keep up the good work!

10-19-2009, 02:04 PM
FYI, the Aviarium near Gwinett Place Mall tends to stock small amounts of eco-complete.

Tanks looks great, you keep that up and I think you'll do fine.

10-24-2009, 11:30 AM
Thanks guys!:)

We put the Activ-Flora in the 10 gal to see how it would be to work with. It was nowhere near as cloudy/nasty as some of the horror stories I had read on the net. Hubby put it in the tank and when I got home from work about 4 hours later most of the cloudiness had already dissipated.

That night I put a few beat up plants in that we had floating in the 125 and pulled a few floaters and chomped ones from the 55 along with one of the Hygrophila Polysperma (I was surprised by the roots it had put down while that short time in the sand, must be all the poo!)
I kinda like the look of the Activ-Flora
The little nubbin on the right of the Hygro is a Nymphoides sp. ‘Taiwan’… it got butched in the 55, must be a tasty little thing. :|
The plants in the 55 are still alive! They’ve even grown some if you compare to the photo up above.

The project this weekend is to try to get everything moved to the 125 and shut down the other tanks for awhile; Hubby got laid off yesterday after almost 27yrs with same company :( so it’s best to focus on one project at this time.

10-25-2009, 09:27 PM
Well, the project is almost done; we’ve put all the fish in the 125 along with all the plants. Chuco isn’t a solitary guy anymore ( I just hope he behaves himself). It’s nice to sit on the sofa and see all the fish at the same time.
I’ve taken my crypts out of the pots they were in, they will probably go through a melt … Still have to add more sand.
Well, here it is (picture is stitched from 3 shots).
All the Activ-flora is on the right side. I'm happy the tank is pretty clear considering all we did to it today.
As I get or grow more plants I'll remove more of the rocks, I wanted to give the smaller fish places to hide for now.

10-25-2009, 10:26 PM
I think it looks great! You've done a good job mixing the live and plastic plants. Do your cichlids dig up the plants?


10-27-2009, 08:48 PM
Thanks Devin,
I need to move the one plastic Val there in the center… looks kinda hokey.

The Cutteri and the HRPs dig mostly around the rocks, they didn’t bother the plants that much even in the 55, except for gnawing on the Anubias. :rolleyes:

Now the Chuco; that guy has pulled plants out by the middle! Sat here watching him the other day the little booger swam up to a group of stems, eyed the one he wanted for a bit and plucked it up and watched it float away! He’s pretty strong too; I think he pushes rocks for entertainment. I hope after a while he’ll get bored with it. I want to be the one to do the aquascaping! ;)

I’m pleased just since Sunday the stubbin of a Nymphoides in the one photo above has put out new leaves. This plant stuff is interesting…very interesting. I just wish I could remember all the proper names – of the plants, of the fertilizer elements etc. Is there an easy way to remember what KNO3 and all those other 'codes' equate to? I need a cheat sheet.:D