How to Take Care of Freshwater Tropical Plants
With exhilarating foliage and vibrant green tones, plants can be an excellent contribution to your freshwater aquarium. Freshwater aquarium plants are an excellent visual element for your home and have several benefits for your fish.
Live plants are capable of removing nitrates from the water, improving its quality and reducing algae growth. They also increase oxygen levels in the aquarium and provide good hiding spots for the fish. Growing freshwater plants in your aquarium is a funny and straightforward hobby that will delight both you and your fish.
It’s not only about aesthetics, since plants are helpful when it comes to establishing a natural ecosystem. They produce oxygen and, at the same time, they absorb carbon dioxide and nitrates, which is helpful to keep your aquarium clean and healthy. On top of that, fish appreciate the extensive shelter they provide.
However, plants, like all living things, require care. While some plants may require greater knowledgeability from their caregiver, several species of plants are excellent for an aquarist who is beginning. You can ask at the store which are the most resistant and suitable plants to your aquarium.
Taking care of your aquarium plants, when these have matured, is both art and science. With the proper technique and a creative perspective, you can enjoy the rewards of a beautifully sculpted water garden.
In a well-treated aquarium, with an exuberant mantle of well-groomed plants, these can be as beautiful or even more beautiful than the fish.
The benefits of aquarium plants
Aquatic plants provide plenty of benefits to your aquarium. Besides their remarkable visual display, aquatic plants air the water, remove impurities and nurture a healthy environment for the fish development. You will notice that, if you take good care of plants, algae will rarely be an issue.
Having live plants in your aquarium not only makes it more visually attractive, but is also much healthier for its inhabitants. Live plants give the fish a natural source of food and safety, with the ability to grow and reestablish themselves.
The greatest benefit of plants, by far, is that they produce oxygen to your aquarium and absorb the carbon dioxide and ammonia that fish generate with their droppings. When you add live plants to your aquarium, a natural miniature ecosystem can develop itself more easily, and it is one of the most beneficial ways to keep your fish healthy.
Plants give shelter and safety to fish. And, since they compete with algae for nutrients, they can substantially reduce their growth. Live plants improve the aesthetics of any freshwater aquarium and ensure a much more natural environment for fish, as well as a beautiful presentation for you and your visitors.
When you improve water quality and reduce the stress experienced by fish by giving them comfort zones, live plants are a remarkable asset to improve the health of your fish. Nevertheless, having live plants do not reduce the need to change the water on a regular basis, since it’s important to maintain a nutrient balance.
When choosing live plants, make sure that you opt for species that are truly aquatic and appropriate for your specific type of water and fish species that you already have or plan to include in your aquarium.
When you add live plants to your aquarium for the first time, you should opt for resistant plants that are capable of enduring some water changes. As you increase your confidence and experience, and your aquarium becomes more stable, you can include some more sensitive plant species.
Choose the right aquarium plants
The first step of taking care of your plants is choosing those suitable for your aquarium. Make sure the plants you choose are indeed underwater plants, in other words, they can survive completely submerged in water.
You must also take into account that most plants prefer a pH level between 7 and 7.2 (even though some prefer a more alkaline or acidic environment). Be sure to check as well the compatibility of each plant with its state of water and fish. Some fish dig up or even eat certain plants!
If you want a well-planted aquarium, with a natural appearance, you must add several species of plants to ensure a lush and beautiful display.
Even though the way you plant them in the foreground and background helps define the overall composition, don’t limit yourself by putting the tallest plants in the background and the shorter ones in the front. Putting some shorter plants in the background helps create the illusion of depth, like a tree seen from a distance.
Don’t forget the red aquatic plants! A striking contrast provided by red plants against fleeting shades of light and dark green plants fuels a dramatic visual focus. Red plants are excellent options to give your aquarium a more colorful look.
With different shades of green and red, as well as plenty of shapes and sizes, you have endless opportunities to create a lively underwater world, in which fish and other aquarium inhabitants can thrive.
Aquarium plants represent the owner’s creativity when it comes to assembling their freshwater aquarium, and it offers a fascinating opportunity to create a perspective of balance and natural depth.
How to Plant Aquatic Plants
When planting aquatic plants, you must take into account several things:
When adding different groups of plants, some species must be fairly represented, as opposed to many different species in smaller amounts.
Appropriately position the plants in relation to the species. As a rule of thumb, plant the taller plants in the background and the shorter plants in front, but also alternate between them to ensure a more diversified look. Have in mind the lighting requirements when choosing the location. For instance, plants that prefer low light intensity can be put in the shade of tall plants.
Always remove the devices used to group the plants when you purchase them. Plants can be planted as a bunch or individually and only 1 or 2 centimeters of their stem must be planted, also any damaged or dead leaves must be removed before you place them.
When planting freshwater aquarium plants, you should ensure a small space between groups of different species. Never bury the crown of a plant. Expose the crown and avoid having gravel between the shafts. And don’t forget that plants grow in size! Take into account the maximum when placing them.
Provide the right substrate for plant growth
Aquarium plants require a substrate, which is a material used to cover the bottom of the aquarium where the roots are planted. Plants can grow in several types of substrate, but the best option is to have two to three inches of clay soil suitable for an indoor aquarium, with a few inches of gravel.
You can also use coarse sand as a substrate to make the aquarium easier to clean, but fixing the plants will be harder. You can keep your plants with few roots in their original pots to fix them more easily, however, “planting” your plants individually on substrate ensures a more natural appearance and is more conducive to root development.
Provide the right lighting to your aquatic plants
Your plants will die without proper lighting. Plants need light for photosynthesis, a process through which they generate energy for their growth. Photosynthesis also produces oxygen for the aquatic life in your aquarium.
Photosynthesis produces oxygen for your fish and “cleans” any harmful nutrients in the water. However, this only takes place if your aquarium has proper lighting in the correct proportions.
Full-spectrum fluorescent lighting (white light) is essential. Since this light is the source of energy, it must be turned on for 10 to 12 hours on a daily basis, and must also be evenly distributed throughout the aquarium, unless you have groups more sensitive to strong light.
If using fluorescent lighting, then change the bulbs at least every 12 months, since their intensity will diminish. If your light doesn’t emit a full spectrum, your plants will not thrive and the aquarium acquires a yellowish and old appearance.
Depending on the plant, 1 watt per 2 liters of water must be enough in aquariums that are not deep, although deeper tanks and/or plants that demand more lighting may require 1,5 to 2 watts per 2 liters of water.
Use the proper techniques to reduce algae
As it happens with garden weed, algae compete with aquarium plants for light and nutrients. There are several methods to eliminate algae. These include formulas based on antibiotics or chemicals, which kill algae, but can have adverse effects on your aquarium plants, therefore they aren’t the best option.
There are different forms of herbivorous aquatic life, including snails, that can help keep your algae under control. You can also physically remove algae using a seaweed scraper. To improve the overall results, remove algae on a weekly basis. And don’t forget this – overfeeding your fish and the excess or lack of light can cause algae growth.
When there’s too much light, algae are often green and long. When there is a lack of light, the algae tend to look brownish.
Similar to most issues, prevention is easier than waiting and having to cope with the problem already in a severe stage. Once a week, enter the tank and gently shake your plants to remove any debris from its leaves.
If you notice algae growing, try to scrub them gently without removing the plant from the tank. If it doesn’t come out, remove the plant and rub it a bit more vigorously. They will probably leave without any other steps. It’s not difficult to do this and, by addressing the issue right when it’s emerging, your plants can look attractive for a long time.
Cleaning living plants is not as simple as taking care of plastic or silk plants, because the former can be damaged or killed in the process. Nevertheless, they are similar to artificial plants.
Common debris must simply be brushed or wiped quite gently, while the plant remains in the same place in the aquarium. If algae grow excessively, the plant can be removed and rubbed by hand. Generally, a gentle rub will remove the algae.
If it doesn’t, live plants can be bleached. This may seem something extreme, but plants with extreme algae overgrowth will probably die anyway, so it’s worth to try to bleach them, rather than eliminating the plant altogether.
When you perform this algae cleaning process, you must obviously remove the glass and stones, which is something much simpler and prevents their proliferation.
Use the right fertilizer
You can improve plant growth by adding an iron-based fertilizer, which is safe for the fish. Look for special slow-release fertilizers, which are placed in the bottom to assist in the growth of freshwater aquarium plants. Never use a phosphate fertilizer or any other fertilizer that is not suitable for freshwater aquariums, since algae thrive on phosphates.
Nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, potassium and phosphorus (macronutrients) are required in larger amounts. Iron, zinc, cobalt, manganese and others are required in smaller amounts (micronutrients). Macronutrients are often copiously produced by the aquarium, but the micronutrients must be added over time, and their best location is buried in the substrate.
Changing 20% of the water every two weeks will replenish the macronutrients. You must add macronutrients only if you have undetectable levels over an extended period time, since most plants are capable of storing nutrients for later use.
Use the right pruning skills
Some aquarium plants must be pruned, particularly tall-stemmed plants, which will emerge in the surface of the water if not pruned. If this takes place, they can block the much-needed light from other plants. Remove dead leaves and dead or feeble plants as well. The decaying matter will significantly affect the quality of the water in your aquarium.
Other Things You Must Be Aware Of
Airstones and pumps will cut CO2 levels based on a chemical reaction. Plants must provide enough oxygen to your aquarium, eliminating the need for an additional source of oxygen, such as an air pump.
Turbulence at the surface will also diminish the levels of CO2, in other words, a planted tank cannot work with any sort of filter. Plants usually like placid waters, although some fish like turbulent water. Like everything, one needs to find the proper balance with experience.
Filters under gravel should also be avoided, since they’re difficult to clean and, more importantly, these filters will oxygenate the substrate. This will make some nutrients unavailable to plants, given that they can absorb nutrients more easily in oxygen-free conditions.
The bottom filters were commonly used in the beginning stages of fishkeeping, where they were covered with fine gravel, which forced water to go through different diffusions with an air pump or, in larger aquariums, with a water pump, but they must be avoided these days.
Also compare the temperature requirements between your fish and plants. 28º is good for fish but usually hot for plants to thrive.
Keep the right balance
Appropriate lighting, a proper substrate and a CO2 level of 10-20 ppm should be sufficient to make your plants thrive. If plant growth is scarce, adjusting one of these factors can do wonders for the look of your freshwater aquarium.
Aquarium plants require some care, but they provide valuable benefits to your freshwater aquarium: better water quality and a more natural and sheltered environment for the aquatic life.
And, of course, a beautiful and natural look, something that every aquarist tries to have in their aquariums.