View Full Version : Discus Tank Advice

07-30-2014, 12:47 PM
Hey guys,

So I've been keeping fish since I was a kid and throughout college. Mostly angels and tetras. Now that I am nearing graduation, have a little more money, and time, I was thinking about starting a discus tank. I currently have a 40 breeder that I would like to do that in, however I have been reading and know that this may present issues, due to the size of the tank. The stand it is on is also very nice and I would rather keep my budget towards the fish and a tank upgrade as well. That being said, the only other tank that I could use would be a 65 gallon. Should I upgrade tanks and take a week to transfer everything or could stock in the 40? The current tank is just planted currently and that is it. Thanks!

07-30-2014, 01:15 PM
Are the tank dimensions 36 x 18 x 16 or thereabouts? I would say 4 - 6 young would be fine but as they pr off or get aggressive the odd one out needs to be re-homed. I have successfully raised discus to breeding size and had them spawn in smaller tanks than yours.

07-30-2014, 01:37 PM
Yes, 40 breeder is about 36x18x17 and 65 is 37x19x25, but a 40 breeder really holds 48 gallons or so I believe. Even with the tank being planted (not too heavy)? I also wanted to have a nice size school of cardinals.

Larry Bugg
07-30-2014, 04:19 PM
Personally, I think a 40 breeder works great for a discus grow out tank but is too small for them once they have grown out and reached young adult size. It is also highly recommended that you don't grow out discus in a planted tank. It can be done but more people fail at this than succeed, myself included. If you are going to grow out discus I would strongly recommend you do it in a bare bottom tank until they reach about 4" to 4.5" and then move them to a planted tank. Discus require multiple daily feedings and they require VERY clean water if you want them to grow to their full potential. A properly grown discus should be in the 5.5" to 6.5" range and most who attempt to grow them in a planted tank end up with stunted discus in the 4" to 5" range. We find that getting the substrate really clean doesn't usually happen and the water just isn't as clean as young discus require. For adult discus a general guide line is 10 gallons per adult and it is generally recommended to keep 5 to 6 minimum because they are cichlids and true to that there will be a pecking order and aggression and you need this many to even the aggression out. They are also very social and do best in larger groups for this reason. For these reasons we normally recommend a 55 at the minimum so a 65 gallon tank would be great. Even planted and with a large school of cardinals you should be ok with 5 adult discus in the 65 as long as you make water changes as necessary. I do daily water changes on discus grow outs but with adults I will do water changes every 3 to 5 days depending on the tank and load.

07-30-2014, 08:57 PM
I think that I will go with the 65, I feel like it would be easier in the long run, especially since I live in an apartment and don't have room for many tanks. If I were to go the planted route, what is the biggest issue when it come to growing them out? What do you think stunts them? As far water quality, I don't have a problem with the water changes. I have a canister filter that is adequate for the tank, but I also have an extra that I could add if needed. Also, with the substrate being clean, do you think putting some kuhli loaches in there would be good? In my experience, they are great at getting stuff off the bottom. What do you consider to be a large school in the 65?

Larry Bugg
07-30-2014, 09:51 PM
The core problem is the substrate, it's ability to hide debris and uneaten food, harbor bacteria and parasites, all while giving the hobbyist a false sense of security. It doesn't really matter what kind of bottom feeder you put in the tank, they eat food not detritus and they won't end up getting all the uneaten food either. I'm not down on planted tanks, I actually love then, just not for growing out discus. I'm also not a big fan of canister filters on discus grow out tanks. While a canister is fairly good at pulling gunk out of the tank it is still sitting right there in the canister with the tank water running right through it. Bottom line, my experience and that of others has shown that growing out discus in a planted tank does not yield the best results most of the time. Growing them out bare bottom till they are sub adults is the best method. You only have to go bare bottom for 6 to 8 months to achieve this. Go visit Chad Adams (sabres1) in Acworth or come visit me in Cummings and talk with us about discus before you jump in. It will also give you a chance to see some really nice discus and what you should be trying to achieve with your grow outs.

Here is a pretty good thread about discus and planted tanks.


07-31-2014, 11:23 AM
Makes sense. I love them too. That's how I got started. I think what I am going to do is just start the planted tank in the 65 and try to convince my gf to put another tank in our apartment. In the mean time read much more.
What do you use to filter?
I will try to make time to visit either of you, I think it would be a great experience. I work nights on weekends, so I usually don't venture past our couch until later Sunday, however I will make it happen sometime soon.

Larry Bugg
07-31-2014, 12:25 PM
Keep in mind that all my tanks are in my fish room in the basement. No show tanks in the house. I use sponge filters in all my tanks except one. They are efficient and cheap and run off a central air system. The one exception is my 220 wild discus tank and that tank is filtered by a 20 gallon long sump. But the sump is also fairly cheap and efficient. The water moves through filter socks, Poret foam and I have K1 media in it for biological filtration. When I had show tanks in the house I used canister filters. Overall I like canisters, I just wouldn't use them for discus grow out tanks. If you are going to do a bare bottom grow out then a sponge filter is best. All you need is tank, heater and sponge. With daily water changes you need nothing else.

07-31-2014, 12:59 PM
I know it isn't exactly the same, but wouldn't a prefilter sponge on the inlet of the canister filter help a little? I know that it isn't in any way like a bb with sponge, just wondering what your opinion would be.

Larry Bugg
07-31-2014, 01:45 PM
Sure it would help but if we are still talking about a grow out tank for discus then it doesn't change my answer. A prefilter will keep larger gunk out of the canister but the canister will still get very dirty inside. On a sponge filter I can squeeze it out every week and keep it pretty clean. Most people won't clean out a canister more than once a month or two.

07-31-2014, 02:06 PM
Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to persuade you in any way. Just thinking of any way that could help if I were to go the planted grow out route and right now, that may end up being the way that I go.

07-31-2014, 07:09 PM
Larry is right (for best possible health and growth rate on the discus). You can grow them in a planted of even a community tank all you want you will just have more work/time and it will take 2-3 times as long for them to reach full size and then when they do reach full size it will be 5-6 inch and not the 7-8 or even 9 inch that some others get with bare bottom. Either way you go please post pics as I love all discus and enjoy seeing others tanks!

Mog Carns
07-31-2014, 08:04 PM
Why Discus? I mean... the discus lovers love them, and they love other discus lovers, and sure, they will help you out all you need. They are certainly gorgeous fish.

However, it seems like you are dealing with some parameters that just don't work well for them, and no amount of wishing and rationalizing on your part is going to change that. As these guys keep telling you, if you keep trying to fit this peg in the wrong hole, you are going to be unhappy with the results.

There are a LOT of beautiful fish that fit well into either the 40 or the 65, and if I am reading correctly, you can even do what you seek to do with adult Discus. So I am curious... why juvenile discus?

08-04-2014, 03:13 PM
I will definitely post what I end up doing. I am not 100% on the discus yet, but the plan would be plant it, get everything dialed in and running smoothly, add the tetras, then add the discus, or whatever I decide to do.

I understand that it is difficult, but things like this kind of kept me going with the thought:


As far as the juvies, I would rather put the work into raising them and put in the work. That also may just be me still wanting save money through my college days hah. If I don't do discus, I was thinking of angelfish. I really love the color of discus though.

Larry Bugg
08-04-2014, 04:52 PM
Since you are using Chad as your example then you should read this thread also, if you haven't already. Chad will tell you that bare bottom is the best method for beginners with Discus. Also note in the thread the conversation between Chad and Rick concerning the filtration that Chad used to raise those discus. It was way over the top. He is a exception to the norm when it comes to raising juvies in a planted tank. Again, as I said in my first post, discus can be grown out in a planted tank but most are not successful. If this it the route that you want to go then it is absolutely what you should do. Just do it with both eyes open being aware of the problems. And by all means keep us updated on your decision and results.


Oh and come and check out the fishroom sometime or give Chad a call. We both enjoy helping people get stated with Discus. We will also probably be having another Southeast Discus Enthusiast meeting in the next month or so and that would also be a good source of info for you. It is usually at either Chad's house or mine so that kills two birds with one stone, lol.

08-04-2014, 06:52 PM
Planted tanks with discus look great. With planted tanks I think the biggest challenges are getting the light and fertilizers right for optimum growth. When you add fish to the tank then you need to consider the nitrate buildup and hope the plants can take care of most of it. Occasional water changes and replacement of fertilizers is about the only necessary maintenance.

Raising discus poses a different set of issues. Clean warmer water, good food, peaceful tankmates and generally softer water and low nitrates. The last two are the keys, get lazy on maintenance and you can run into problems. But not to worry, a series of frequent water changes and maybe a little medication and they generally recover quite nicely.

Having both planted and discus is a bit more tricky. Some issues include the accumulation of wastes is hidden in the gravel and the buildup of nitrates can go undetected. Plants generally do not like the 80F temperatures discus like. Discus are usually not happy about swings in pH and hardness caused by adding fertilizers and CO2. Take a lapse on maintenance and the discus get ill then added medications to the tank can destroy the plants.

It is not that you can not grow plants and raise discus together, it is the outcome when something goes wrong and the difficulty and trying to get that balance back without losing everything. Many others have tried and failed and decided to give up planted tanks, discus or both. Some have succeeded and have had awesome tanks. If you do decide to go the planted discus tank route, planning ahead to be able to pull the discus out if something goes wrong to a hospital tank may save you alot of frustration. Good luck and share pics.

08-15-2014, 01:51 PM
Thanks for all of the advice guys. I am getting everything planted sometime next week and I will go from their. If I decide to go with discus, they will be the last thing that I put into the tank. I want to make sure I have good growth and all of my parameters are good and stable. I will definitely post my progress for everyone to see.

Larry, what day you usually have the meetings?

Larry Bugg
08-15-2014, 05:05 PM
Larry, what day you usually have the meetings?

Sundays. Just started talking with Chad about picking a date for the next one.

08-21-2014, 08:06 AM
Great, keep me posted. I would love to stop by and Sundays would be perfect.