Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Typical beginners saltwater fish tank set up

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Marine fish such as the azure damselfish have the best colours

Buy and assemble all the equipment

Equipment you will need

  • A 120 litre 4 foot tank. This is a basic minimum size.
  • Buy a hood with a normal lighting system.
  • You will also need a protein skimmer,
  • An external power filter,
  • 300w heater,
  • A thermometer and hydrometer to measure the salinity,
  • Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish
    Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish

    A marine water test kit

  • Bag of seawater salt mix
  • Natural coral sand
  • Fish tank stand.

Inhabitants for your saltwater fish tank

  • 10 kilos of live rock
  • 1kg Live coral sand
  • 10 margarita or asteria snails
  • 2 hermit crabs blue or red-legged
  • Some hardy peaceful fish species

Find out more about live rock and live sand here.

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Preparing your first saltwater fish tank

Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium
Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium

Put together your stand and aquarium. Wash the inside of the glass with warm water. Never use any chemicals or soaps. If there are any stubborn stains then use white vinegar and a razor blade to scrape the stain. Rinse any white vinegar with tap water. Remove water with a siphon hose. Paint the rear glass in black, blue or marine or apply a stick on background.

With the tank empty move the stand and tank around the room until you find a location you are happy with. You can use a spirit level to adjust the levelness of the aquarium. If the aquarium doesn’t sit level then you can use thin flat pieces of plastic or wood to raise the leg that is lower. Once the aquarium is sitting level then you can then fill with water. Once the aquarium is 95% full then again check the aquarium for levelnbess. If the aquarium is not level then you will have to remove all the water and adjust the levelness again before re-adding water.

Once the tank is 95% full of water and level then you have to wait 24 hours to see if any slow leaks occur. If there are no signs of any leaks then install the filter, heater and protein skimmer. Set the heater to 76 Fahrenheit.

Plug in all the equipment and switch on everything. Leave everything running overnight. The next day check the temperature to be 76F. If the temperature is out then you have to adjust the thermostat.

How to get the salinity right for your saltwater aquarium

Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive
Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive

Calculate the volume of your aquarium then add your sea salt mix according to the recommended amount on the bag of your mix. If you wait another 4 hours your salt will have completely dissolved in the water. You can then check the salinity of the water with your hydrometer. The reading should be between 1.022 to 1.024 when the temperature is 76F. If it is less then you can adjust by adding a little sea salt mix. If it is more then you can reduce it by adding a little fresh water. Thenm wait a further 4 hours before testing again. When you achieved your ideal density use a black marker to mark out the water level in a hidden part of the glass. This mark will be your guide to the level of water before any evaporation. Topping up back to this level should get you back to the correct salinity.

Now test the water’s ph. It should read 8.2-8.3ph or close to this. If it is far from this then you’ve done something wrong somewhere or your hydrometer or thermometer is wrong. Fix the problem by changing your hydrometer or thermometer and make adjustments. If there is still a misreading then you will have to switch everything off and remove all the water and start again with the water mix.

Adding live rock to your saltwater aquarium

golden wrasse - perfect lemon yellow fish
golden wrasse – perfect lemon yellow fish

When the water is just right you then need to start adding your pieces of live rock. Start with the larger pieces first. Move the rock about to create a pleasant aquascape. Test each piece is stable by prodding and adjusting into a settled position.

Place the bigger, heavier pieces directly on the glass. These should be arranged in a long semi circle along the sides and back. Leave gaps in between the individual pieces of live rock for your fish to swim through. Place the smaller pieces of rock in front of or even on the larger pieces again making sure that the whole setup is table. Use the live rock to hide the heater and protein skimmer behind.

Adding coral sand to your saltwater aquarium

You should clean your sand before you put it in the aquarium. All you need to do is rinse it thoroughly in a bucket of water by running the water through a bucket of some sand. Do it in small batches of sand and swirl the sand round until the water runs clear. Remove the water from the backet and put the sand into the aquarium all along the floor of the aquarium around the live rock.

Once the sand has been added the average level should be 2 inches deep. Then take your 1kg of live sand and spread it evenly over the other sand. Do not wash the live sand. It should contain beneficial bacteria and life forms which you risk killing by washing with tap water.

Check all your water measurements again such as ph, salinity and temperature. Adjust if necessary.

Adding background creatures to your saltwater aquarium

blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew
blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew

After a week add your first creatures. Remember your filter, heater and skimmer should be running continuously throughout this time. Add your snails and hermit crabs. Algae eating species are recommended to clean up any algal blooms that usually break out in new saltwater aquariums. You should not just throw your snails or crabs directly into the water but float the bags in the water for 15 minutes then add some aquarium water to the bag slowly over ten minutes before releasing them into the aquarium.

Feed the snails and crabs with tiny amounts of fish food as a top up to the algae that the snails and crabs may eat, which may be insufficient for their needs.

Adding your first fish to your saltwater aquarium

yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish
yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish

More on clownfish types

More about clownfish

More on Damselfish types

Some experts recommend adding a couple of damsel fish as your first fish because they are a tough fish and can cope with the conditions while your aquarium water is cycling. While this is true I recommend an alternative to damsels as a first fish such as tank bred clownfish because damsels can be aggressive to future fish additions. You can start off with just a couple of clown fish to add colour and interest to your tank.

During this time your aquarium filter and live rock will be cycling by developing a colony of bacteria that can digest fish and other creature waste products turning it into less harmful nitrate. This process can take anything from 4-8 weeks. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite which are harmful to your fish and other creatures.

Complete your saltwater reef aquarium set up

orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback
orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback

After your first fish have settled in and looking healthy and happy you can start adding some invertebrates and a few other fish. Add hardy species of anemone. A good choice of anemone are feather dusters.

Fish to consider at this point will be wrasses, dottybacks and banggai cardinal fish. Try wherever possible to buy tank bred fish as these are fish that have adapted to life in the aquarium and should prove better survivors in your saltwater tank. Add fish at a rate of 1 or 2 a week. When you add new fish keep a close eye on them and make sure the newly added fish start feeding within 2 or 3 days. Also check the nitrite and ammonia levels daily. Stop adding new fish if the readings rise.

Some fish and other creatures to absolutely avoid as a beginner are: seahorses, octopuses, angelfish, clams, scorpionfish, and damsels.

When you have a settled tank and have introduced all the fish and other creatures for your aquarium then you can reduce the water testing to once a week.

Now you can sit back and enjoy your own piece of the ocean in your living room. However, you still need to keep checking all your water parameters once a week at least or when something doesn’t look right with any of the inhabitants.

14 best fish from Lake Tanganyika

Cyphotilapia frontosa male

14 best fish from lake Tanganyika

I will assume that you know how to set up a typical lake Tanganyika aquarium with the correct hard water and high ph paramaters with typically a sandy substrate and some rocky areas with cave like structures. And that you need over filtration and many small water changes to maintain the Tanganyika aquarium.

Some of the following fish live in deeper waters so like less light and less water movement. While other species live in the shallows and like more light with plenty of water movement.

paracyprichromis nigripinnis - blue neon cichlid
paracyprichromis nigripinnis – blue neon cichlid

Paracyprichromis nigripinnis – blue neon cichlid

The blue neon cichlid is a very attractive shoaling fish. So there needs to be a group of over 6 fish. It has a salmon coloured body with thin blue lines and blue tinged fins. It is a long dart shaped fish.
It is a shy fish and prefers subdued lighting and rocky caves. the rock structure should be tall. The males hang upside down underneath rocks. Feed with daphnia, brine shrimp and small grained dried foods. Keep in a species tank or with other shy and peaceful fish.
It is a maternal mouthbrooder where the female will brood from 21-28 days. It is difficult to breed. But once bred, the fry are quite large and will eat baby brine shrimp

Julidochromis ornatus – golden julie

Julidochromis ornatus - golden julie
Julidochromis ornatus – golden julie

The golden julie is probably the most beautiful of the julidochromis species. It grows to around 3 inches. Keep in a typical Lake Tanganyika setup with sandy substrate and rock formations at both ends of the tank.
Needs a diet of live food and dried foods. Be careful of large water changes as this disturbs the fish.
Golden julies are cave spawner with both parents tending the spawn and fry. Golden julies form extended families where young fish from previous spawning help guard newer spawnings. The fish mate like typical cichlids forming definite marriages. So it is best to buy 6 or more youngsters and allow themselves to pair off naturally.

Tropheus kiriza

More about tropheus here

These fish are black with a wide belt of yellow around their middle from belly to dorsal fin. They are a maternal mouthbrooder. kiriza’s are aggressive between themselves but do not bother other fish too much. They eat algae and the lifeforms in the algae. So must be fed with mostly vegetable matter such as spirulina. They grow to about 5 inches in length. Aggression may be lessened by having 6 or more Kiriza’s. They like rocky formations and caves above sand. They live near the shore so a lot of water movement is appreciated by them.
Difficult to keep, so buy tank raised specimens and do frequent small water changes and over filter the water. Feed only once or twice a day.

Tropheus duboisi

tropheus kiriza male female spawning
tropheus kiriza male female spawning

The duboisi starts off as a spotty teenager, black in colour with white spots. But when he matures he will have a blue face, black body and a white band. They will grow to 5 inches. Feed spirulina and other vegetable matter and some veggie based dried foods. They are maternal mouthbrooders and the female will hold the eggs and fry for about 21-28 days before releasing them. Feed the fry on baby brine shrimp and microworms.

All tropheus are active and boisterous fish. They should not be kept with timid or smaller fish to reduce aggression. This is the easiest of the tropheus species to keep, but still not for the beginner.

Tropheus bemba

Similar in appearance to kiriza except it has a wide orange band on its black body. Feed in the same way. Spirulina, veggie matter and veggie based dried food. Grows to 6 inches long. Will breed at 2.5 inches. Best kept in larger aquariums. Feed only once or twice a day to prevent bloat.
Difficult to keep – see tropheus kiriza

Tropheus ikola

Similar in colour to the kiriza except the yellow band is a wider band that covers the mid half of the body and the head and body being black.
Difficult to keep – see tropheus kiriza

Cyphotilapia frontosa

Cyphotilapia frontosa male
Cyphotilapia frontosa male

Known as “fronts” by aquarists. They are the kings of the Tanganyika set up growing to 12 inches. They are tameable and will eat from your hand. But you do need a very large aquarium to succeed with them because they are gregarious and you need at least 6 fish for them to be happy. They are female mouthbrooders. They are fairly easy to care for. Keep in an open sandy aquarium with a few rocky shelters. They are gentle giants and can be kept with other not too small fish.

Cyprichromis leptosoma

They are a schooling fish that swim in open waters. It is recommended to keep at least 10 in an aquarium. They are an attractive fish with elongated blue bodies and fins and a yellowy orange tail. There are various colour morphs, all of which are attractive. They grow to 3-4 inches long. So, to keep 10 in an aquarium requires a large aquarium. There is a giant morph that grows to 5 inches or over.

Cyprichromis leptosoma male
Cyprichromis leptosoma male

They are a maternal mouthbrooder. But they breed mid water. The female lays some eggs. The male fertilises them and then the female backs up to catch her newly fertilised eggs in her mouth. They fry are released after 3 weeks into a cave or other secluded spot. The few fry are quite large.
They are peaceful and relatively easy to keep and will eat most foods offered to them. They can coexist with cave dwelling tankmates because they live mid-water.
lamprologus ocellatus – shell dweller – small 2″ – breed inside shell
This is called the frogface cichlid because of its bulging eyes and large head. It has a delicate beauty with a bluish silvery sheen on its sides. It is a small fish at just under 2 inches, quite lively but peaceful. It is a candidate for a nano aquarium but with hard water. The frogface makes an ideal Tanganyika community fish. it lives on the sandy floor of the aquarium and requires snails shells for territory and breeding. Always have more shells than frogface cichlids otherwise an individual without a shell will get bullied. The female will lay eggs inside her shell which the male will fertilise. The shells are usually buried in the sand with only the mouth exposed. They eat a mixed diet of small live food and high quality pellet food.

Lamprologus signatus

Lamprologus signatus live and guard their own shells. Breeding occurs in the female’s shell. The eggs hatch and the fry slowly leave the shell when they become free swimming. The adults do not eat the fry. Feed the fry with newly hatched brine shrimp.
They grow larger than their relatives ocellatus up to 3 inches. They have an attractive pattern of many vertical dark bars on their sides.

Neolamprologus Similis near snail shells
Neolamprologus Similis near snail shells

Neolamprologus Similis

Known as the zebra shell dweller. This is another nano species. It is even smaller than ocellatus. They have wonderful breeding behaviour. They breed in the female’s shell but also have extended families where young from previous spawnings will help guard the new fry. Less of a digger than the other shell dwellers.
Zebra shell dwellers can be included in a Tanganyika community aquarium alongside other Neolamprologus such as brichardi, or smaller Julidochromis species and even open water species such as the blue neon cichlid. It is easy to care for and readily breeds. Empty French escargot snail shells are ideal.

Neolamprologus leleupi

Neolamprologus leleupi lemon cichlid
Neolamprologus leleupi lemon cichlid

Commonly called the lemon cichlid. This is a long time favourite of aquarists because of its brilliant yellow colour. Both males and females are equally yellow. The lemon cichlid is a peaceful fish except when spawning. They can be community fish but note that they can grow up to 5 inches and they like good water conditions. They need to be kept in a light sandy aquarium otherwise they will darken and lose their brilliant yellow colouration.
The lemon cichlid is a solitary fish only coming together with the female when it is time to mate. Breeding occurs in caves. Both the male and female guard the young. The fry become quite large and are well guarded by the parents.
The lemon cichlid needs foods rich in carotene so that it can keep its brilliant yellow colour. Also, if not using a proprietory Tanganyikan salt mix for the water then use of iodine containing salt must be added to the water occasionally.

Xenotilapia flavipinnis

Known as the yellow sand cichlid. They swim in groups close to the sand. Keep a group of at least 6 fish together. They grow to 3.5 inches. They are peaceful and make a good community fish with other peaceful fish. They do like good water conditions so provide good filtration and water changes. The yellow sand cichlid heads to rocky areas when breeding. Both fish will mouthbrood. At first the mother takes all the eggs into her mouth. After 8-10 days the eggs are transferred to the father’s mouth. The father holds the fry for a further 10 days and releases the free swimming fry.nd microworms. You can feed the fry on baby brine shrimp a The parents keep protecting the young for a further 3 weeks. The fry will re-enter the male’s mouth when frightened.

Enantiopus kilesa

male enantiopus kilesa displaying passing females
male enantiopus kilesa displaying passing females

This is truly a beauty of a fish. Well, the male anyway. He has a blue sheen along his body and a turqoise forehead with a yellow throat that he expands for display. It is a long torpedo shaped fish, growing to 5 inches in the aquarium. But what is more remarkable is that the male builds sand mounds and ditches to impress passing females. Both male and female hover above the sand.
They breed as typical mouthbreeders with the male and female twirling round each with their mouth on the other’s vent area.
So it goes without saying, you need a fine sandy substrate.
They can eat good quality pellets and live or frozen foods. They are not aggressive. You need a large group of at least 8 to see the full range of behaviours. So, you need a 6 foot tank or even bigger. enantiopus is not a difficult fish to keep and breed but it is not a beginners fish either.
Do not overfeed. Feed only once or twice a day. It can be a community fish when kept with other peaceful Tanganyika species.

Lestradea perspicax

This is another peaceful sand loving mouthbrooder. It grows to 5 inches and should be kept in groups of 8 or more. It makes a good community fish with other peaceful Tanganyika species such as neolamprologus, julidochromis and xenotilapia species. Needs to be kept in a 48 inch tank or bigger with lots of sand and some rocky areas.
It is a maternal mouthbrooder. The males dig pits to attract the females. They breed in the pits with the typical mouthbrooder twirling. Not the most attractive fish but makes up for it in the behaviour department.

Lake Malawi biotope aquarium

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Lake Malawi biotope

See also perfect Malawi Aquarium

and Breeding Malawi

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks
Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Reasons for creating a Lake Malawi Biotope

Now more than ever, is a good time to set up a natural biotope of Lake Malawi. For instance, there is a lot of information on the behaviour and environment of most species inhabiting Lake Malawi. Which means we can recreate conditions in the aquarium, that are very close to those found in Lake Malawi.

Another reason is that with the discovery of oil in Lake Malawi, the ongoing destruction of the habitat in and around the lake is increasing. This is causing the near extinction of many species of fish and plants. How does setting up a Malawi Biotope aquarium help this, you may ask? In conservation, it is only species that people are aware of that get saved. And so if many aquarists set up a Lake Malawi biotope then what better way of showing what beauty will be destroyed by showing off their aquariums. The press can be invited to see the natural beauty of fish from Lake Malawi and told about which species are facing extinction in order to raise awareness and save the lake.

A final reason is that the fish can be observed in something that approximates their natural environment. The fish will of course be happier and you, the observer, will get to see the full range of natural behaviours and interactions between the fish and their environment. The fish will naturally try to inhabit the same niche in the biotope aquarium that they would normally inhabit in the wild, instead of being forced to lump it with other species that they would normally avoid.

How faithful a Malawian biotope can be created?

Recreating a Lake Malawi Biotope that is absolutely accurate down to the`smallest detail is an impossible task. But we can go a long way to recreating something that very closely resembles the lake. We can also very closely recreate the same water parameters, lighting, rocks and sandy base. Recreating the muddy parts of the lake would requre a very large aquarium, such as a public aquarium. So is not really feasible in the home aquarium. Luckily there are lots of sections of lake Malawi that are just rocks and sand, just rocks mostly or just sand mostly. These we can recreate in the aquarium.

Different approaches to building a Malawian biotope

There are possibly two approaches to recreating the biotope. The first way is to base it around the fish species in your possession or that you intend to buy. Then it would be a matter of researching to find out which environment your fish live in and if they are compatible. Then you would have to recreate a biotope that best accommodates your particular set of fish.

The second approach is to have a look at many pictures of lake Malawi in order to choose a scene that you particularly like. Then recreating that scene in the aquarium. Once that scene has been created then it would be a matter of finding which species would comfortably fit in your biotope and going out to buy them.

If you have species that inhabit different environments within the lake, then you need a very large aquarium to try and accommodate them all. Lake Malawi divides into two areas mostly with an open sandy region broken up with a few scattered rocks and a dense rocky area with many hiding places consisting of caves and crevices.

Aquascaping your Malawi biotope aquarium

Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium
Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium

The base is going to be a layer of sand of about 3 inches in depth. Most normal sands are fine, even crushed coral sand should be fine. However, wash well because sand creates more cloudiness than gravel.

Your rock choices are limestone and sandstone. The sand comes from the sandstone in the lake. Limestone is present in the lake also and gives the lake its ph and hardness. The sandstone can be the golden type or a grey type. Choose types of various sizes with smoothed edges. Algae will also grow quite well on these types of stone.

Arrange the stones in your aquarium so that caves, crevices and hiding places are created. Leave an open space of sand in the front of the aquarium. Scatter a few smaller rocks around the sand but separate from each other.

The rocks at the back need to be stacked up along the back so that they reach the surface and even break the surface of the water in places. To ensure the safety of your glass and fish, use silicone to glue rocks together to create a stable rock formation.

Plants and other creatures

planted rocky malawi aquarium
Atypical planted rocky malawi aquarium with sand substrate

Besides the fish there will be algae and small insects and invertebrates. Since many species from lake Malawi feed off snails then including snails in the aquarium is a good idea. Try apple snails that are native to lake Malawi or snails that are similar to those of lake Malawi such as snails of the genus bulinas. Obtain snails that look and behave similarly that can live in hard water.

Most mbuna species feed off the algae growing on the rocks and the micro organisms growing in the algae. In the sand will be worms and other insects that the Auloconara species(peacock) feed off. Trying to find suitable creatures that will live, grow and reproduce in the sand is a difficult task. You risk the creatures dying and polluting the sand and the aquarium. In the wild it would be these creatures that would dig through the sand that prevents the sand in the wild from compacting the way it does in the aquarium.

Insects found in lake Malawi include water bears, daphnia, cyclops. Create a separate culture of these and feed the fish. These will be native food for your Malawi fish.

There are few plants in lake Malawi so you do not have to have any plants in the aquarium. But valisneria and hornwort are a possibility that do occur in lake Malawi. Plant singly and sparsely.

Which fish to have in a Malawian biotope

Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums
Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums

Mbunas are perfect for the rocky parts of the biotope. One or two species will quickly set up home and create territories within the rocky structures, each fish with its own little cave or crevice. Aulonocara species like open waters above sand but not too far from rocks. One or two species will be great for the open, sandy areas. They feed off insects that they can find in the sand. The aggressive mbunas will only rarely venture out from their rocky area while the Aulonocara will avoid the rocks.

In a large enough aquaria with distinct areas the two groups of fish will approach each other and there will be aggression but the fish usually retire to their own habitat.

If your aquarium is not too large then you will have to settle for one group or the other. If you settle for auloconara then you shouldn’t have a large rocky formation. A smaller rocky set up is better for them. Aulonocara do like to swim in open spaces. However, aggression between the fish means that they too need hiding places.

Finally, it is an aquarium so run it like one

You can buy Malawi salts to recreate the exact water found in the lake. However, don’t just add it to tap water. Tap water already has some hardness and minerals which you will have to take into account. SInce you are creating a biotope you should use a reverse osmosis filter to remove all minerals from your tap water then add your Malawi salts to get the correct hardness and ph. For tap water you will obviously have to reduce the amounts of Malawi salt per litre. This is best done by testing your water after adding a half dose to tap water. If it comes out too hard reduce the amount of salt used. If not hard enough increase the amount of salts.

You need good quality lighting that will encourage rock algae without causing an algae bloom. Also, too bright a light will spook the fish. In lake Malawi the waters are not pristine and there is a little murkiness there. This is where most aquarists depart from the strict biotope by having pristine water.

The ecosystem however needs some way to operate the nitrogen cycle without plants. This means that you will have to have powerful biological filters that have a high turnover of water and a filter media with a large surface area for the nitrifying bacteria to grow on.

Water changes are also a necessity. While some may consider this as cheating, you may want to consider the real lake Malawi. There is an inflow of fresh water from the Ruhuhu river. And the lake is vast giving a lot of scope for de-nitrification.

If you have followed these guidelines, the end result should be a pleasant aquarium full of colourful fish. It should look like a piece of lake Malawi. So, sit back and enjoy your hard work.

Keeping aquarium plants healthy

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium

See also best plants for beginners

and succeed with plants

and aquascaping for beginners

healthy but overgrown aquarium plants
healthy but overgrown aquarium plants need trimming

Healthy plants AND healthy fish

Keeping aquarium plants healthy is vital. However, most aquarists put the welfare of their fish first and are not willing to promote the health of their plants, if it may affect their fish. I will explain how you can do both. And, the two are not mutually exclusive. Healthy plants can promote health in your fish.

If your planted aquarium is not regularly maintained, it can quickly become a jungle. Quick growing plants will out grow smaller and slower growing species. The larger plants will hog the light resulting in the smaller plants not getting enough light. Fish waste and plant sheddings will accumulate, polluting the water. Fortunately, maintenance is not time-consuming if carried out every week. If you do half an hour a week maintenance then your aquarium plants will be kept in tip top condition. To the right is what an otherwise healthy planted aquarium looks like when trimming and maintenance has been neglected. With a bit of trimming and relocating of plants this could look like a cracking aquarium and you could actually get to see the fish.

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium
Healthy aquarium plants can add to the look of your aquarium

But it is not just the welfare of the plants you need to also take care of the lighting, filtration, water quality and the fish. All these factors also affect the plants.
Every aquarium is different so I will give a general guideline which you will have to adapt to your specific set of plants and aquarium.

Relocating aquarium plants

Plants will naturally grow and spread with new offshoots. Some will grow so much that they crowd out other smaller or slow growing species. Also, you might do a spring clean or fancy a change of scenery. All this means that you will have to relocate some plants.
You can’t just uproot a plant and plant it somewhere else. You have to consider its root system which might be quite extensive if the plant is well established.

When removing a plant take out as much of the root system as possible, avoid ripping roots. Try to take out all the surrounding substrate with the roots intact if you can. If this is not possible, then use your fingers to gently tease out the roots without disturbing the gravel too much.

Once you have extracted the plant then knock off any attached gravel or dirt. Then, trim any long roots to just a few centimetres. Long stringy roots are not easily replanted and are easily damaged. Once replanted the plant will grow new roots and become re-established much quicker.

When you replant, create a hollow in the gravel. Put the roots into the hollow. Put a fertiliser tablet underneath or on the roots, then pack the gravel around the roots. The fertiliser tablet will speed up the plant’s recovery.

Plant diseases

It is rare for plants to actually suffer from disease such as bacterial infections or viruses. Except for crypts there are no common aquarium plant diseases. When your plants start displaying symptoms of ill-health these are almost certainly caused by environmental harm or nutritional deficiencies.

If you spot any symptoms early then the remedy is usually quite simple with the plant making a quick and complete recovery.

Cryptocoryne rot is a condition that only affects crypt plants. It looks like small holes in the leaves or the leaf edges. It is not certain what the cause is but it can be set off by a change of environment such as high nitrates, lack of water changes and lack of lighting. Crypts usually recover quickly once you have found the cause and fixed the problem. However, if left the plant can completely break down and die.

Aquarium plant poisoning

This is usually caused by adding medications to cure fish ailments. But could also come from recently added ornaments or rocks. After medicating your fish, use a chemical filter with activated carbon, for example, to remove all chemical residues to reduce any harm from the medication. Saying this, most medications are harmless or only slightly harmful.

But this is not the case with algicides which can harm plants. If at all possible it is better to cure your algae problem without using chemicals.

Another possible harmful substance is hydrogen sulphide that may form in the gravel or sand where anaerobic conditions allow food to rot to give off this poisonous gas. One last possible source of poisoning is from over use of fertiliser, which is beneficial in normal doses but can become a poison with over use.

Snail damage to aquarium plants

Snails in small numbers are unsightly and a nuisance. But, in large numbers they can take a toll on your plants by chewing away little by little every day. They are usually introduced to your aquarium as eggs attached to the under side of plant leaves. The eggs look like blobs of jelly and are difficult to see especially when the plant is in water.

Once snails get established in the aquarium it is impossible to completely eradicate them by hand. You could try adding snail eating fish or even assassin snails that chase and eat snails. This will help keep the numbers down.

You have to eradicate snails from plants before placing the plants in the aquarium by dipping the plants in an anti snail solution that will kill off the snails. Then wash off any chemicals before placing the plant in the aquarium. It is not recommended to add chemicals to the aquarium because the chemicals can harm the plants and fish.

Fish harming the plants

healthy plants and fish
healthy plants make fish feel more relaxed

Unless you keep plant eating fish then it is unlikely that your fish are causing much damage to your plants. The only exception is with cichlids and other large fish that can tug at the plants and uproot them. What may look like fish bites out of your plants is usually some other cause.

Algae

Algae occurs naturally in all aquariums that have some light and some nutrients. If you keep plants you will also get algae. Small amounts of algae growing slowly on rocks, driftwood and large plant leaves are of little consequence to your plants or your aquarium. Indeed, your fish may enjoy a nibble from time to time. And, the algae helps in the removal of fish waste products.

However, when conditions in the aquarium, such as excess light, wrong type of light or excess nutrients occur then an algae bloom is a real danger. The pea soup effect which is unsightly, will be disastrous for your plants, preventing light getting to your plants. An algae bloom can also release dangerous gases into the water.

Green water, caused by algae bloom, cannot be filtered out, and even if you used a filter with a very fine media, that filter would quickly become choked. Also if you try to remove the algae by changing the water, you will make matters worse. New tap water has dissolved nutrients that will feed the algae.

Treatment of algae in the aquarium

Reduce the lighting quantity and duration of the lighting and make sure no sunlight reaches the aquarium. Remove excess waste matter on a daily basis using a siphon. When feeding make sure that your fish eat all the food fed to them. Any uneaten food will rot and create waste products that feed algae.

The problem of blue-green algea

This is like a slime that covers just about every surface in the aquarium. Although typically bluey-green can also be greenish-brown or even black. Algae eating fish will not eat it. You can siphon off most of it using a siphon pump but it will re-occur. The solution is to reduce any fertiliser and any nutrients getting into your aquarium from fish waste and uneaten foods.

Blanket weed problems

This fibrous, hair like, algae grows on surfaces. it will cover plants and decor and is hard to remove. It is caused by an excess of light, especially sunlight, and excess of organic matter in the water. Chemicals are largely uneffective against it. The only solution is to remove as much of the algae as possible by hand. Then thoroughly clean the gravel with a siphon to remove excess organic waste.

For algae – prevention is better than cure

Although a small algae bloom is almost inevitable in a new aquarium, the problem is largely avoidable. Here is a list of preventative measures that if you follow will prevent algae ever getting a foothold.

  1. Have a few algae eating fish. Small species such as otocinclus is ideal.
  2. Avoid an excess of fertiliser. Using fertiliser tablets on a plants roots is better than pouring liquid fertiliser into the water. Ferilisers with phosphates are the worst culprit, so use a fertiliser without phosphates.
  3. Avoid direct sunlight. Even well maintained aquariums can attract algae when placed in direct sunlight.
  4. Lighting should be on for less than 12 hours per day.
  5. Make sure you use the correct type of bulb with the correct wattage for your aquarium. In other words, buy a bulb that gives off the correct wavelength of light and is of the right brightness for your size of aquarium.
  6. Clean the gravel properly and regularly by sifting through the gravel with a siphon removing accumulated fish waste. Do not remove the gravel to wash under the tap.
  7. Do regular water changes to dilute the excess of nitrates and phosphates that accumulate in the aquarium.

Finally, alleopathy can stop certain plants growing together

Certain plants release chemicals that are harmful to certain other plants. So that when one type of plant is in an aquarium, it is impossible to grow another incompatible species of plant in the same aquarium. Even, when the aquarium conditions are perfect for the incompatible plant it just will not grow until you remove the first plant. Not much is known about this process, so there isn’t a guide to tell you which plants are incompatible with other plants.