Maintaining a healthy livebearer aquarium

guppies and platies in a community tank

Healthy water leads to healthy fish

Diagnose and treat Livebearer illnesses here.

The secret to keeping healthy livebearers is in keeping the water they live in healthy and suitable for them to live in. The major element in maintaining healthy water is the continuous removal of pollution from the water.

the basic air powered sponge filtered
the basic air powered sponge filtered

Where does aquarium pollution come from?

Pollution in the livebearer aquarium comes from the fish themselves. Livebearers are continually producing urine and occasionally pooping in their own environment. Also pollution can come from any uneaten food left to rot in the aquarium. Occasionally from the rotting of a dead fish or other water borne creature can cause pollution as well as dead plant material.

You can certainly remove much of the pollutants from the water by siphoning them away and disposing of it. However there is much that will be missed and so you need a filter to remove the remaining pollutants.

A much better automated way of cleaning the fish waste is by relying on biological filtration known as cycling.

Maintaining the correct environment for a livebearer aquarium

Female Black Molly
Black Molly female

Besides keeping the water clean, to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium you need to maintain temperature control and provide lighting as well as providing suitable water conditions.

Electrical safety in a livebearer aquarium

Most of the equipment used to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium is powered by electricity. And as you may well know electricity and water make a dangerous combination. So, you must observe certain electrical safety rules as follows:

  1. Only buy and use electrically certified equipment from a recognised aquarist supplier
  2. Buy a safety cut out cable that will cut all electricity to the aquarium when there is a fault.
  3. Unplug all electrical devices in your aquarium when you are working inside the aquarium water or you risk electrical shock. Don’t forget to turn it all on afterwards.

Livebearer fish tank selection

hawaii-platy-variatusThe first thing you need to buy when keeping livebearers is a fish tank. This ideally should be an all glass aquarium bonded together with silicone. Plastic aquariums although lighter are easily scratched and ruin the view of your fish.

Fish need a good supply of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe. This oxygen comes through the surface of the water. The area of the surface of the water determines how much oxygen will be available for your fish’s use. In other words, the larger the area, the more oxygen and so allowing you to keep more livebearers. Measure about 5 litres of water for every fish as a bare minimum. A 100 litre tank should allow you to keep up to 20 livebearers.

Remember that water in large aquariums can be very heavy and must be placed on a solid floor that can support the weight. If the floor is concrete then it should be fine. However with floor boards you will have to find out where the supporting joists are underneath the floorboards and place your stand on top.

Because livebearers are surface swimmers they tend to be jumpers. This means that livebearers occasionally make a leap to freedom and can end up dead on your living room carpet. So, you need to buy a tight fitting lid to prevent this.

Filtration in the livebearer aquarium

mickey-mouse-platyThe most important piece of equipment in eliminating pollution in your aquarium is the filter.

Sponge filters

A surprisingly good and effective filtration system is the sponge filter powered by an air pump. Sponge filters are not very powerful but you can use 2 or 3 of them together in the one aquarium. A great advantage of the sponge filter is that they are low maintenance and also they are cheap to buy. All you need to do to clean them is to squeeze them out in a bucket of aquarium water and then swirl them about until most of the excess dirt falls off. Do not remove all the dirt as the biological bacteria that filter the fish waste live in the dirt. Removing the excess dirt will unclog the filter and allow this bacteria to breathe and grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important job a filter has to do is not to remove particles and dirt from the water. No, the most important job of a filter is provide a breeding ground for bacteria that break down decaying organic matter into harmless substances.

It takes between 4-6 weeks for the bacteria in a filter to mature to the level where it can remove all the decaying pollution effectively. It is very important that you take care to not kill off the bacteria in the filter. Washing the filter in tap water that contains chlorine will kill the bacteria. Certain medications can also kill of the bacteria. And finally turning off your filter for more than an hour can kill off most of the bacteria in your filter.

Box filters

guppies and platies in a community tank
guppies and platies in a community tank

Box filters can also be used to filter the aquarium water. These are more powerful but cost more than a sponge filter. They may contain an internal sponge too. The disadvantage is that they are difficult to clean and maintain.

External filters

There are even more expensive and powerful external filters that may hang off the back of the aquarium. These may use various filtering material.

All filters ultimately rely on the same method to filter and that is by passing water over a colony of bacteria that have grown inside the mulm that has collected in the filter.

Other methods of removing waste

Despite filters doing such a marvellous job of biologically breaking down waste matter into less harmful waste products, you still need to do some clean up yourself. At least once a week you will have to use a siphon device to sift through the gravel stirring the dirt up to be siphoned into a bucket and thrown away. Siphon away any dead plant material as well.

Uneaten food should be siphoned five minutes after feeding. Dead fish and other creatures should be removed as soon as seen.

Lighting is another important piece of equipment.

Livebearers enjoy bright lighting conditions. However, bright lighting may encourage excessive algae (which is microscopic plant life). Algae is usually healthy for your livebearers who will eat it, but it is an eyesore and may choke off your plants.

The solutions to prevent or remove algae is to keep your aquarium away from direct sunlight and also to reduce the number of hours per day your aquarium lighting is on for.

There are 3 types of bulb that you might use in your livebearer aquarium.
a) incandescent bulbs
b) fluorescent tubes
c) Mercury vapor lamps

Incandescent light bulbs (ie home light bulbs) can be used in fry rearing tanks and quarantine tanks. For most aquariums you should use fluroescent tubes that are widely available and inexpensive. Although expensive, mercury vapor lamps can be economical in very large aquariums where 1 vapor lamp bulb would replace many fluorescent tubes. Vapor lamps are very bright. One vapor lamps is 4 times brighter than a fluoresent tube.

Gravel or sand? The choice is yours.

If you use gravel then you can put plants directly into the gravel with a tablet fertiliser pushed in near the roots. The gravel should be 2 inches deep.

Sand is not so good for plants because it is too compact. Sand may also trap dirt and compact creating stagnant “dead-spots” that may foul the water. To lessen this risk use a shallow layer of 1 inch or less. It is recommended that you place plants in their own little plant pots above the sand.

In the wild livebearers swim in waters where the base is light coloured, so sand is quite comforting for them. You could also buy a light coloured gravel. The lighter coloured base brings out the best in your livebearer’s colours.

Before using gravel or sand in your aquarium you must rinse out dust by placing some sand or gravel a bit at a time in a bucket and running tap water through while swirling it with your hands until the water runs clear.

Plants for a livebearer aquarium

Thriving plants remove the waste products created by the fish. Indeed the plants feed off the decomposed fish waste matter.
Plants also add visual naturalness to an aquarium that is comforting to the fish. The plants create hiding places for females and young livebearers. And finally plants also provide a source of fresh food for your ever hungry livebearers.

Choose plants that like your tap water’s composition in terms of ph and hardness and are hardy aquarium plants. Plants such as Java moss, Java ferns, Cryptocorynes and vallisneria are ideal choices for livebearer aquariums.

What is the correct conditions for livebearers?

Not only do you have to maintain clean water for your aquarium, you also have to provide water of the right composition. Tap water is normally within range of suitability for livebearers. The main factors in water composition are ph level and hardness level of water which can be tested using a test kit bought from your aquarium store. If your tap water has a reading of ph 6.5-8.4 and the hardness reading is above 8dh then that should be acceptable for most livebearers. If the ph and hardness fall out of this range then you need to perform the laborious process of adjusting the water condition. This is best done by having a 200litre barrel and preparing large batches of water at a time.

What exactly is harmful about fish waste? When fish poop and urinate where does this go? What happens to it?

When fish poop and urinate this waste matter decomposes slowly releasing ammonia, which is quite poisonous. In a mature aquarium with a mature filter bacteria breaks down this ammonia into nitrite. In a new aquarium with no bacteria this ammonia builds up and slowly poisons the fish.

How to create a mature filter – cycling.

Nitrite is also poisonous but a second set of bacteria digest nitrite and convert it into nitrate which is relatively harmless. Nitrate is absorbed by plants as a fertiliser.

With this in mind it is essential to buy and use a test kit that measures ammonia and nitrite levels in a new aquarium. You will need to check the ammonia and nitrite daily until they come down to 0.0. In a new aquarium you will have to do daily water changes of between 10-20%. This will reduce the pollutant levels. You have to carry on the daily water changes until the readings hit 0.0 at which point your filter’s bacteria will be mature enough to cope. If you get a particularly high reading during this process do a bigger water change and stop feeding for a day or two.

With all this new found knowledge you should now be in a position to keep your livebearer aquarium healthy in the long term.

Foreground plants and specimen plants

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

Foreground plants and specimen plants

More about aquascaping basics here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

These are plants that stand out as individual plants. They occupy the middle to front of the aquarium. They usually have large leaves and visible stems. Only a few are needed or even a single large dominating plant is a possibility. Here is a range of easy to care for foreground plants.

cryptocoryne-beckettii
cryptocoryne-beckettii

Cryptocoryne Becketti

Long slim pointed leaves with a serrated edge. The plant can turn from green to red in brighter light. Use of fertiliser and brighter light helps this plant grow faster but is not necessary.

Plant separately in individual pots. It does not like its roots touching the cold aquarium bottom.

It gows 6″ to 8″ and requires low to medium lighting with a temperature range of 75-82F. It is a nice low maintenance plant once established.

Cryptocoryne Undulata

cryptocoryne-undulata
cryptocoryne-undulata

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves grow upwards from short thin stems.
Leaves tend to turn red or brown when kept in bright lighting which can be quite attractive depending on your own personal preference. In moderate to low lighting the leaves remain green.
It grows between 4″-8″ and is flexible in terms of the lighting conditions provided.
It does best in temperatures between 72F-82F and a ph 6-8
It is an easy to care for plant

Cryptocoryne Wendtii

It has medium to long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This is the most popular and most recommended of the crypt plants. They grow between 4″-6″ but there are also larger sub-varieties of Wendtii.
It likes a water temperature of 72-82F and a ph between 6-8. It likes low to moderate lighting
This is the easiest to keep of the crypts.

cryptocoryne-willisi
cryptocoryne-willisi

Cryptocoryne Willisi

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This plant likes medium to bright light.
It grows to 6″ in height. Ph of 6.5 -7.2 . Temperature range 72-81F
It is one of the toughest Cryptocoryne species.

Echinodorus Tenellus

It has a grass like appearance with nice long slim green leaves. Under water grass that will cover most of the foreground area. Place larger plants within the middle of it.
Will grow and spread quickly once established. It prefers soft water with a ph of about 5.5-7.5
It grows to 3.5″ and likes bright lighting. Keep the temperature between 62F-80F

Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae
Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae

Lilaeopsis novae zelandiae

This is a grass like plant with long thin green leaves that bunch together. It propogates off runners. Just take cuttings when the mini plants develop roots.
Needs bright lighting. Grows between 3″-5″ high. Keep at temperatures between 64F-82F. It has a pH range 6.8-7.5

Giant Sagittaria

Long but wide green leaves that fan out from the base and no stem. Can also be placed in a coldwater aquarium.
Grows to 8″ tall. It needs bright lighting. Teperature range of 61F-79F

More unusual foreground plants

Anubias-barteri-nana
Anubias-barteri-nana

Dwarf Anubias

A short plant with green privet shaped leaves. It is good for low lit aquariums. Temperature range of 72-82F. ph range of 6.0 – 9.0. Grows from 3-4 inches tall. Can be attached to bogwood or rocks away from the aquarium floor. It develops a good root system.

Java Fern

This is a popular plant and for good reason. It is a relatively easy to care for plant that survives in most aquarium conditions. The leaves are bitter tasting to most fish and is usually left alone. It likes low lighting conditions. It will grow to 10inches tall. Temperature range of 68-79F. Ph between 6-8 ph. It prefers not to be planted but to have its roots attched to a rock or a piece of bogwood. The plant has long wide pointed leaves.

Radicans Swordplant

radicans-sword
radicans-sword

Quite a large plant. Can grow up to 24 inches. So you need a larger taller aquarium. It has long stems and round leaves. It likes bright light and a temperature range between 64-82F. PH 6.5-7.5. An easy to care for plant.

Red Tiger Lotus

This is a stunning and dominating plant with variegated red, orangey or yellow leaves. The leaves are wide, round and crinkly. It can grow to 12-20 inches tall. It needs bright light and a temperature between 72-82 and a ph of between 6.5-7.5. Relatively easy to care for but will need to be pruned occasionally.

Java Moss

This not a plant but is a moss that grows in the shape of a bush. It can be pruned and trimmed to the right shape and size. It is not fussy over lighting conditions. It is a tough and undemanding plant that grows slowly and doesn’t need much attention. Fool proof plant. Temperature range of 68F-86F. Ph 5-8 or more.

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

About Aquascaping

balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish
balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish

Aquascaping is the art of setting-up, decorating and arranging aquatic plants along with stones, rocks, driftwood or cavework in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Also termed as underwater gardening, aquascaping was first introduced to the world way back in 1990’s by Takashi Amano from Japan, who made the natural underwater gardens look like dreamscapes. Although it is possible to create an aquascape with plants only, it can also be set up with fish as well as plants; or with rockwork, hardscape and no plants by following some specific methods.

If you find it difficult to create an aquascape then scan through the many examples of good aquascape scenes on the internet and pick a scene that you really like and that you can replicate.

Basic Principles for Aquascaping

aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish
aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish

To reach the perfection in the design of your aquascape you must follow a few important principles that are listed below:

Simplicity is the key – While aquascaping is all about imagination, it is recommended that you follow a particular style and maintain simplicity which would make the aquascape look more appealing to the human eye.
 
Choosing the aquascaping style – There are several major styles that you can choose from, which you can create a visually-enticing aquascape. These include the Japanese-inspired nature style, the garden-like Dutch style, the jungle style and many others. While the nature aquarium style is the re-creation of terrestrial landscapes – mountains, hills, valleys, etc., the Dutch style is characterized by terraces or raised layers containing distinct types of plants with different leaf types.

Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.
Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.

Maintaining Proportion- To maintain harmony in the aquarium, it is crucial to strike the perfect balance between plants, decorative items and fish as well as between filled and empty spaces in the aquarium. Also, arrange plants, rocks and wood in a manner that there is a balancing contrast of light and dark spaces.

Use your imagination- There are no defined rules for aquascaping. Use your imagination to make a beautiful aquascape that has clean water and an appropriate amount of light, CO2, and other essential elements.

To ensure proper care, maintenance and success of an aquascape, aquascapers must keep in mind several factors to strike balance in the closed system of the water tank. These factors include:

  • aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood
    aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

    Filtration System

  • Liquid fertilizers
  • Medium to high level of lighting
  • Maintaining the correct amount of carbon dioxide to support photosynthesis
  • Frequent water changes
  • Substrate and fertilization
  • Algae control

Plants and Plant Types

Besides the layout, style and design of an aquascape, aquascaping require specific ways to ensure proper care and maintenance of plants underwater. One of the most crucial things that aquascapers must keep in mind is choosing healthy and vibrant plants. Also, they must be trimmed to get the desired shape and positioned properly using a thread. Before beginning, you must know the plants and plant types that we shall discuss now!

Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant
Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant

Carpet Plants: Just as the name suggests, carpet plants are used by aquascapers to create a mat of plants or a lush of green lawn, making the underwater garden more beautiful and attractive. You can choose foreground pl ants such as Hairgrass, Dwarf Baby Tears, Java Moss, Water Wisteria or Willow Moss as they stay low to the ground and spread horizontally across the floor of the water tank.

Fast Growing Plants: When you begin with aquascaping, you can choose fast growing plants like hornwort, Vallisneria, Cabomba and Hygrophilia that would grow quickly, with no effort and would not even put a hole in your pocket. Other stem plants including sword plants, Java fern are also suitable but a little expensive.
Floating plants: While a number of floating plants can block light, many aquascapers prefer using them for visually-enticing aquascape. These plants include Hornwoot, Java Moss and Najas.

Artificial Plants: While using artificial plants is not considered aquascaping, it is one of the easiest ways for beginners. So, if you find it difficult to care for and maintain natural plants, you can go for artificial plants that do not require light or water parameters.

green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background plant
green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background

Location for Short, Large and Bushy Plants

To create a beautiful landscape underwater, it is essential for aquascapers to place the plants in an aesthetic manner. The major aspect to keep in mind is the focal point. It can be anything like a rock, a piece of driftwood or a bunch of plants or even one dominant plant. It is recommended to begin with carpet plants at the foreground and place the bushy and large plants at the background.

You can begin with the focal of the water tank and continue with the low-growing and mid-growing plants. At the end, place the higher plants. You can choose an appropriate composition such as the concave set up, the convex set up, the rectangular set-up, the triangular set up, or the Iwagumi set-up.

Different Coloured plants

red water hedge plant nice alternative to green
red water hedge plant nice alternative to green

To create in-depth perspective and make the aquarium look more natural, aquascapers use plants of different colours and sizes. Plants can be grown in groups and with rich colour contrast. Commonly used plants for colour contrast and highlights include lutea, lucens, wendtii, walkeri, and becketii of the Cryptocoryne species, Ammania, Alternanthera reineckii and Rotala.
Notably, 3 plant species per foot would be preferred to ensure good colour contrast.

Open Spaces for Fish

Before you kick-start aquascaping, you must understand that plants as well as fish are EQUALLY important in your water tank. When you provide the best conditions for your plants to stay healthy, you are providing a healthy environment for the fish as well. At the same time, it is a must to wisely use spaces between plants by creating imaginary streets as well as pathways. Also, make sure that you have as must open space as must filled space to provide space for your fish to lively comfortably and happily.

Hardscape: Use of Bogwood/Driftwood

discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots
discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots

Hardscape is one of the most commonly used techniques used by aquascapers across the globe. It involves using driftwood, rocks and resin sculptures. Driftwood adds a decorative touch to the aquarium, while making it look natural. The wood can be the main focal point, around which the plants can be placed. Many aquascapers prefer using the Malaysian driftwood or manzanita branches, depending on their preference.

Use of Rocks and Stones

In addition to wood, aquascapers use rocks and stones at the heart of their aquarium to create a natural-looking aquascape underwater. You can place boulders, large cobbles and smaller pebbles aesthetically in the water tank to further enhance its beauty. The classic way to use rocks is to place 2-4 flat rocks on the bottom of the aquarium and then arrange other rocks in the order of their size. Alongside, you can also add airstones and submersible lights to create visual effects and make the water tank more attractive.

Balanced aquascape with driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet
Balanced aquascape: driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet

Get Started!

Aquascaping is not all about creating a plan and sticking rigidly to it. Sometimes it is better to do a quick sketch up and then proceed to plant according to your rough draft. Then when it’s all laid out, you can see that it might not be right so you will need to rearrange things until you get it right. And don’t forget plants do grow and some grow more than others. So your aquascape will actually develop over time.

Aquascaping is all about imagination and creating enchanting visuals that appeal to the human eye. So, make sure that you use your imagination to create an amazingly-looking aquascape. Happy aquascaping!

15 best plants for beginners

Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium

Best plants for beginners to avoid plant failures

Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium
Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium

Here is a list of 15 hardy tropical freshwater plants that are the best plants for beginners. These plants don’t need much attention to grow. No special lighting, no Co2 and no fertiliser. Just tough plants that will grow in normal temperatures and most ph and hardness water conditions. Plants that need no maintenance except to trim them when they get bigger.

See also succeed with aquarium plants

and healthy aquarium plants

and aquascaping for beginners

Java moss

Java moss can grow in low lighting levels. It grows profusely. It likes a wide temperature range from 59F-82F. It can live in a wide range of ph and hardness. It is easy to care for.

java moss
java moss

It is not strictly a plant but it does much the same thing. It Doesn’t require gravel or sand. Spread it thinly over rocks and driftwood. It will attach itself. It can be made to float and hang down by attaching it to a piece of cork. Once it starts growing well then start pruning it heavily. It is great for fry to hide in and pick off infusoria growing on it. It is tough and difficult to kill. It may need cleaning sometimes by running under a tap. Algae may grow into it and be difficult to remove.

Java moss is like having all the benefits of plants without actually growing plants. No need for fertilisers, special lighting or other bits of plant maintenance. It is great for aquarists who don’t care for plants but recognise the benefits.

Java fern

java fern
java fern

Java ferns prefers low lighting conditions. It grows slowly but is very hardy and doesn’t need looking after. It can cope with a temperature range from 64F-86F. It is not fussy with ph or hardness.
Don’t bury the roots of the Java fern in the gravel. Algae may grow on the leaves and needs to be removed occasionally. If it is damaged it repairs itself quickly. If it is cut or broken, each piece will grow into a separate plant. It absorbs nitrates well. If co2 and fertiliser is used it can grow more quickly, if you want.

Amazon sword

Amazon swords are easy to care for. It likes neutral ph 6.5 to 7.5 and soft to moderately hard water. Its temperature range is 72-82F.
It can grow large and so it is best in a 36 inch tank or bigger. Plant it in a loose gravel. It needs time to root well.

amazon sword
amazon sword

Great for angel fish and discus to spawn on. It can grow faster if iron rich fertiliser is used. Remove damaged leaves and remove any algae on leaves. It can be propogated off runners. Plantlets will grow at the end of the runners. When the plantlets develop roots then you can remove them and plant them. Plecos will eat and damage amazons.

Amazon frogbit or duckweed

American frogbit can survive in cold pond water as well as tropical temperatures up to 78F. It likes a ph of 6-7.5 and moderate hard water. It requires low to medium lighting. it grows very fast. It is very low maintenance and very tough.
This is a pure floating plant. It provides good cover for fry. It really soaks up ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and phosphates, helping the nitrogen cycle and controlling algae.

Anubias nana (Anubias barteri nana)

anubias nana
anubias nana

Anubias nana is easy to care for and very hardy. It prefers low to medium lighting. Its temperature is tropical at 72F-82F. The water conditions for Anubias are soft to neutral hardness with a ph 6.0 – 7.6.
It is easily reproduced. It is slow growing but will grow faster with CO2 and extra lighting and fertilisers. It doesnt need to be rooted in gravel. Fish don’t like the taste of anubias.

Anacharis (elodea)

Anacharis is easy to care for. It takes any lighting (low light to bright lighting). It is not really a tropical plant will cope with temperatures up to 75F. The water conditions are not crucial with a preferred ph of 6.5 to 7.5 and soft to hard water but avoid extremes. Elodea can root into the gravel but can also be kept free floating. You can propogate it from cuttings. It is low maintenance and grows well without any help.

Cryptocoryne wendtii

Cryptocoryne wendtii
Cryptocoryne wendtii

Wendt’s crypt can be kept in low light or bright light. It has a ph range on the acid side of 5ph-7ph and likes soft water. temperature 72F-86F. The plant likes stable water conditions and may take some time to settle. Once settled and never disturbs it becomes a hardy plant.
There are several colour variations with different leaf size and texture. It is easy to propogate. Propoagate by taking cuttings with some roots attached. It can also produce runners with plantlets on the end. Separate the plantlets when they have grown roots. It is generally a slow grower. If there is change in the water conditions it may start to deteriorate.

Dwarf hairgrass

dwarf hair grass
dwarf hair grass

Dwarf hairgrass likes a temperature range 60F-83F. It prefers water on the acid side but is flexible with a ph range of ph5.0-7.5. It likes low to medium lighting.
It is fast growing. It does tend to attract dirt and algae. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets. Cut off plantlets when they grow roots. You can create an underwater lawn with dwarf hairgrass.

Pygmy chain sword

Pygmy chain swords are tropical with a temperature range of 68F-84F.Its preferred water conditions are medium hard and ph 5.5-7.5. ph 5-7.5. It prefers a medium level of lighting. because of its small size it prefers sandy soil.
It propogates by growing runners with plantlets on the end. When the plantlets grow roots then you can separate them. It grows reasonably well and is easy to care for. It might need tablet fertiliser near roots.

Dwarf sagittaria

dwarf sagittaria
dwarf sagittaria

Dwarf sagittaria’s temperature range is 71F – 82F. It prefers its water to be acid but copes with a ph between 5.0 and 7.5ph. It prefers medium lighting but can cope with low lighting levels. It grows fast and is easy to care for.
It can grow in gravel. Use small grained gravel or sand. It may benefit from root fertiliser tablets. If grown out of water before buying, it will change its form in the aquarium. It will shed all of its leaves and develop small grassy leaves from the centre. It may look dead soon after buying but will make a complete recovery.
It propagates by sending runners under the gravel that will pop up as mini plants next to the original plant.

Water wisteria

water wisteria
water wisteria

Water wisteria is quick growing, hardy and very easy to care for. It likes its water between 6.5ph and 7.5ph and soft to medium hard water. It is tropical with a temperature range between 75F-82F.
It is usually rooted but can still grow when floating. It is a relatively small aquarium plant. Fertiliser tablets will help with growth but are not necessary. You can propogate it through plant cuttings. Goldfish and other big plant eaters will eat and kill it.

Hornwort

Hornwort is a floating plant that can also be planted. It is a sub-tropical plant with a temperature range of 50-86F. It doesn’t care about its ph or hardness. It grows in low lighting levels. It is very easy to care for and grows very fast. Some fish will eat it.

Water Sprite

water sprite
water sprite

Water sprite is a floating plant that is easy to grow. It can be planted in the substrate as well. It will grow in almost any water conditions. Its temperature range is 68F-86F. It is quite hardy and grows fast. Lighting is not important and it will grow in low lighting.
Water sprite is helpful in cleaning up ammonia, nitrites and nitrates from the water. It will provide shade to shy fish and fry. . It is a great cover for fry that grow near the surface. Self propogates by growing new plantlets on the body which break off to form new plants. Snails love this and may destroy it. Fish may graze on it too, harming it.

Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala Rotundifolia is a red plant. It likes medium to bright light. It can grow in low light but will turn green. It grows fast in bright light. It is subtropical with a temperature range of 64F-82FC. It likes slightly acid water but can cope with a ph between 5.0-7.5ph with neutral hardness.
It can be propogated by taking cuttings. It is hardy and easy to care for as long as it is well lit.

Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma
Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma grows fast. It prefers low to medium lighting. And will grow faster with more lighting or even some sunlight. It has a wide temperature range of 64F-86F. Copes with almost any water ph and hardness. It is easy to care for.
Because of its small size it is called dwarf hygro. It is light green in colour. It can be propogated by taking cuttings. Pruning is helpful occasionally to spruce it up and stop it overgrowing. It can be grown on gravel or sand.

low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium

A guide to low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

Why create a low maintenance aquarium? So you can spend more time admiring your fish, perhaps. People who are just getting started in the aquarium hobby are often taken aback by the level of maintenance that a successful fish tank usually needs. The cultural stereotype of keeping a goldfish in a tiny bowl and enjoying some kind of no-maintenance pet that just floats around and nibbles on flake occasionally is quickly dispelled once the conversation turns to biological filtration systems, cleaning schedules and balancing the nitrogen cycle in your tank.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many fish keeping enthusiasts have come up with some clever ways to lower the maintenance needs of their tanks. Thanks to one of two approaches, aquarists are getting closer than ever to a no maintenance sustainable environment that does not need constant upkeep and vigilance to keep their fish healthy.

Two approaches: natural and high-tech

If the average aquarium maintenance seems like hard work then there are two basic ways to approach your setup in order to enjoy a tank that allows for low maintenance fish keeping:

natural tanks-These tanks are designed around sound ecological principles. While complex these greatly reduce the amount of work that you have to put in on a regular basis. These tanks focus on providing a closed ecosystem that is as close to natural as possible, with plants, algae, bacteria, microscopic planarians, freshwater shrimp, and fish completing the food cycle for you.

High-Tech tanks-This kind of aquarium does away with the need for ecological purity and uses automation and chemicals to maintain comfortable water conditions without your help. This means using sterilisers,  over-filtration, automatic feeders, algae-reducing chemicals, and more. These tools work in concert to keep the tank healthy and clean.

In natural tanks you will want to plan your tank around hardy, low maintenance fish that can tolerate the occasional change in water quality without being too badly shaken by the experience. Natural tanks will have occasional biological issues, and high tech tanks may suffer malfunctioning equipment from time to time, so it is important that you do not commit yourself to extremely delicate species.

Designing a natural tank

newly set up Walstad aquarium
newly set up Walstad aquarium

If you would like to set up an natural aquarium for low maintenance fish keeping, your tank will need to put a premium on long term planning and maintaining adequate life cycles for all of the tank’s inhabitants. Your choices regarding the species that you would like to keep will be very important, since they will all need to work together in order to maintain a healthy tank.

In the case of a natural, self-sustaining aquarium, the simplest aquarium tools can be put to effective use while plants and bacteria take care of your biological filtration needs. A drip-feed system can make water changes unnecessary, and with the right approach to your plants, you may even eliminate gravel cleaning from your to-do list, leaving you only with the responsibility of feeding your fish.

Plants are a necessity for the low maintenance fish keeping set up. By absorbing unwanted fish waste and keeping algae in check, they can help reduce the need for water changes while keeping your fish healthy. Good low-maintenance choices include the following:

  •  Water wisteria,
  •  Java moss,
  •  Lilaeopsis,
  •  African water fern,
  •  Java fern.

Simply keeping plants in your aquarium is not enought to ensure a stable low maintenance environment. Using soil as a substrate can allow biological filtration to occur directly within the tank when done properly. One of the most effective natural tank designs is the soil-based tank developed by Diana Walstad.

The Walstad Method

Diana Walstad has pioneered an unorthodox method of low maintenance fish keeping  that makes heavy use of plants and organic soil conditions to keep aquarium water healthy for fish. The combination of a soil substrate with fast growing plants takes out the nitrate and ammonia present in the water. This natural approach allows for filtration to occur through the land-based plants’ absorption of those chemicals in the roots and their subsequent release in to the atmosphere, above the water line.

These aquariums, when properly set up, can greatly reduce the need for mechanical filtration tools and other gadgets while also eliminating the need for you to personally change the water constantly. The key is to be found in the proper use of soil as a substrate rather than conventional gravel. Having your plants rooted in a thin layer of high quality soil allows anaerobic bacteria to filter the water without overwhelming their roots. This high quality soil boosts plants growth and activity. Thriving plants take out a lot more of the harmful ammonia, nitrites and nitrates than their struggling counterparts in a gravel tank. This also makes gravel cleaning a thing of the past.

With this kind of tank, supplemented by the addition of microscopic planarians or daphnia and other live food, you can enjoy a truly low maintenance fish keeping set up. You can do away with all the specialized equipment and other products. Often, a natural Walstad tank can be enjoyed indefinitely with only a heater, good lighting for the plants, and a light-duty mechanical filter or aerator that keeps the water flow up. The Walstad set up can be enhanced with a modicum of equipment, especially a small biological filter and a drip feed water system. But then it is not a 100% natural system.

You can buy Diana Walstad’s book on Amazon.The book goes into detail on how the aquarium ecosystem works. She details some of the experiments in building a sustainable ecosystem that have lasted several years. This is not a book full of pretty pictures. It is a book that will tell you how to build healthy and low tech aquariums where the plants thrive and the fish are healthy. Click on the book on the left to buy the book.

 

The value of high quality soil in an natural tank

Since it is clear that the use of soil as a substrate is what makes this tank special, it is important to determine what constitutes high quality soil and sets it apart from other options. The main concern here is to use properly natural soil—that is, soil that is made of 100% natural matter so that natural decomposition can take place.

The composition of the soil will greatly affect the water quality of your tank as it decomposes, so you will want to perform frequent water changes while your tank and its fish adapt to the presence of the soil and an ecological balance is created. Regular potting soil is largely excluded due to the presence of additives that will contaminate your water.

Step by step process for setting up a Walstad Method natural tank

• Start with your tank’s essentials: the heater and filter/power heads should be in place before you add anything else to the tank.

• Begin by adding a 3 cm layer of untreated, non-sterile top soil to the tank.

• Cover the soil layer with an additional 3 cm of medium fine gravel, or a fine layer of sand. Be gentle: too much covering will deprive your bacteria of oxygen.

• Your plants will need calcium. If your water is soft, add in bone meal or coral gravel to compensate.

• Add your choice of plants and turn on your lights: 2 watts for every 3.8 litres is a sufficient amount.

• Add clean room temperature water that is free of chlorine or chloramine.

• Use filters or power heads to maintain brisk water flow and keep the water oxygenated, especially until cycling is complete.

• Test for pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite every two days for two months, changing the water as necessary. Some soils will require frequent changes to rid the water of toxins.

• You can add fish immediately after setting up, but be sure to perform 25% water changes as soon as you see ammonia or nitrite levels above zero.

• If algae becomes a problem, reduce your lighting or add floating plants to the tank. Once the tank is established, the plants will effectively out-compete algae for nutrients.

To read more about the techniques and why they work then read

The high-tech tank

If you would like to enjoy low maintenance fish keeping without making any compromises on fish choice or plant presence, the high-tech tank might be for you. This type of tank has a number of benefits, including the fact that you can keep just about any type of fish you desire, and plants tend to grow bright and beautiful quickly in this environment.

Some delicate fish species that usually live in river environments are especially suited to the high-tech tank. The increased flow, filtration, and continuously changing water will make river species feel right at home.

The main drawback to the high-tech tank is that setting it up is a long process. After set up there is usually a tinkering period where you fine tune things. You will have to invest a bit of time, energy, and money into maintaining a proper balance through technological means. This could mean using any or all of the following tools to keep the water conditions ideal for your fish:

• Double filtration—Using multiple filters will effectively double the period before you need to clean the filter media. Doubling the filters maximises biological filtration to keep ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels at zero.

• Power heads—These can help keep the flow rate high within the tank, enabling effective filtration and keeping detritus and mulm from settling into the gravel substrate. This gives more of a chance for the filters to pick it up instead.

• Drip-Feed System—This is a very useful DIY project that will continuously drain and replace water from your tank: Pre-filtered water is drip fed to the tank while an overflow system drains all excess water. Carbon filtration is needed to remove chlorine.

• Automatic feeder—A programmable fish feeder can store days’ or even weeks’ worth of food and reliably deposit a controlled amount directly into the water at regular intervals. Robust, high quality units can be left on their own for weeks at a time without worry. You can even go on holiday and not worry about hungry fish.

• UV steriliser—Low maintenance fish keeping practitioners still need to control algae, and if you want to avoid regularly scraping your aquarium glass clean then a UV steriliser will provide the algae control that you need.

• Algae-controlling chemicals—Another low maintenance fish keeping solution for controlling algae is through the use of specialized chemicals. These can be found at many fish and aquarium supply stores. But these are a last resort.

• Light timers—Choose your lights carefully to avoid encouraging algae growth. A light timer can also help by allowing you to set a specific lighting schedule that offers just enough to help your plants grow without triggering an algae bloom.

• Protein skimmer—Often found in saltwater aquariums, these devices greatly reduce the amount of organic fish waste in your tank, reducing the need for water changes.
This approach to low maintenance fish keeping allows you to enjoy your aquarium without needing to worry about your fish’s basic needs such as feeding and water changing. You will still need to perform regular cleaning. But with high-powered filtration of your tank and a good control of algae, you should be able to get by with a quick monthly vacuuming and filter rinsing schedule.

Step by step process for setting up a high-tech tank

• Again, start with the tank’s essentials: Your filters, heaters, and lighting setup should be ready.

• Add a 5 cm even layer of gravel along the bottom of the tank. If you use sand, a very shallow layer will make vacuuming easy.

• Plant any plants you may have now. If you use the easy-to-clean thin gravel substrate, your plants should be potted or attached to rocks and other decorations, which you can also add in now.

• Add clean, conditioned, de-chlorinated water to your tank.

• Insert and activate your filter, lights, and heater.

• Begin cycling either by adding starter fish, fish food, or another ammonia source.

• After cycling begins, you can activate the drip-feed system for constant water changing, though you may need additional water changes until cycling is complete.

• Test the water every two days for two months, waiting for ammonia and nitrate readings of zero.

• Respond to algae growth with reduced light until cycling is complete. The UV steriliser and protein skimmer should help here but if it is not enough, you can add algae controlling chemicals after cycling is complete, or even use low maintenance floating plants to control algae growth.

Once you’ve successfully cycled your tank, you should have a complete low maintenance fish keeping solution on your hands: high water flow, drip feeds, and automatic fish feeders will ensure that your aquarium stays sustainably healthy without constant care. Again the high tech system is enhance by having floating plants and biological filtratrion. So not a pure high tech solution.

Now you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fish. You’ve earned it.

 

Succeed with aquarium plants

planted aquarium

How to succeed with aquarium plants: a guide to aquarium plant care

While the beginning aquarist spends a great deal of time learning how to tend to fish and give them an environment in which they can thrive, aquarium plant care is, by comparison, a subject that is rarely given the full attention it deserves. Keeping your plants happy is just as important as keeping your fish happy, though, since the two will live in coexistence in the closed ecosystem that your fish tank provides.

You can’t just place plants in your aquarium and expect them to thrive or even stay alive. You must pay attention to the lighting, water conditions and the fertilisation needs of the plants.

Choosing the right plants for your aquarium

See also best beginners plants

and Aquascaping for beginners

and keeping plants healthy

The most important aspect of aquarium plant care is: choosing the right plants for your aquarium. The right choice here can make the rest of your live plant experience a pleasure by providing a beautiful environment for your tank while controlling algae and absorbing unwanted ammonia and nitrates.

There are scores of plant species that, though undoubtedly beautiful, are very sensitive to water conditions, require specialized CO2 systems, or need extra lights in order to flourish. At the same time however, there are plenty of hardy, attractive plants that provide all the benefits that you expect from aquarium plants without the extra hassle.

A list of some of the best options for your first aquarium plants for the beginner are as follows:

• Java Moss. This unassuming plant is one of the most popular aquarium plants worldwide for a number of reasons. It thrives in a variety of environments, offers lots of convenient hiding places for fish and their fry, and offers simple, beautiful decoration for aquarium owners.

It can be tied to rocks or driftwood with fishing line, or left to float naturally through the tank. Java moss requires very little maintenance; only some occasional trimming when it gets too thick.

• Amazon Sword. This plant can reach a great size, even under low lighting. Evidently, this plant is ideal for large tanks, and may require fertilizer tablets because of the fact that it is a root-feeding plant.

• Java Fern. This plant can survive in nearly any aquarium, and is very forgiving when it comes to water quality and light. Even goldfish that regularly eat aquarium plants will generally leave Java fern alone.

• Valisneria. This plant will feel right at home in a variety of aquariums, although some hungry fish might decide to snack on it. Vallisneria spiralis is usually singled out as being one of the best varieties for aquarium plant care beginners.

• Anubias. This is one of the only underwater plants that actually prefers low lighting, and to make it even more attractive to aquarium owners, herbivore fish tend to leave it alone.

While many other specialty plants can provide a fun and challenging experience for live plant enthusiasts, any of the plants listed above make an excellent introduction to the world of aquarium plant care.

Lighting for your aquarium plants

Once you have chosen which species of plants you would like to keep in your tank, you must consider your lighting setup in order to give the plants the correct environment in which they can thrive. In general, your aquarium plants will do best with day and night cycles of 12 hours each.

The duration of the lighting period is important, but you must also examine the type of light that you use in your aquarium. Lights designed for aquarium plant care are notably different than average fluorescent lights, and you will need to make sure that yours carry a suitable Kelvin rating, among other characteristics.

• The Kelvin rating refers to the spectrum of light that the bulb emits, commonly referred to as the, “temperature” of the light.

• Most plants reject green and yellow light while absorbing red and blue light, as well as light on the ultraviolet scale. In terms of the Kelvin rating, this means that you should provide full-spectrum lighting between 5500 K and 7500 K for most tropical plants, including as the ones listed above.

• LED lights often offer the best combination of low power consumption with light intensity, ease of installation, and price. Make sure to purchase quality LED lights, however, as the market is full of low-quality options not suitable for aquarium plant care.

Following these guidelines will help ensure that your plants grow large and healthy, although providing them with ample light will make your plants hungry for the nutrients they need to thrive.

Feeding your plants: fertilizing your substrate

Once you have developed your lighting setup properly, it is time to consider the fertilizer and nutrients that your plants will need. Many waterborne fertilizers will provide the boost that you need to get your plants strong and healthy quickly— especially in the beginning stages of aquarium plant care.

You should be aware that many of these store bought fertilizers, while very good for plants, contain nitrates and other ingredients that are poisonous for your fish. Most fish can tolerate small amounts, but over exposure to fertilizer will kill them, so use these fertilizers with care.

But better still use a substrate fertilizer for rooted plants like the Amazon Sword. They come in tablet form. These tablets need to be pushed into the substrate directly to the root base of the plant. In this way they directly feed the plant rather than into the water in general.

Choosing between gravel or soil

While soil is a much more natural substrate for aquarium plant care, it is notably more complex to keep in optimal condition. Soils are generally reserved for experienced aquatic gardeners who wish to grow particularly difficult underwater plants.

If you introduce soil into your tank it can affect the water quality for your fish.
Therefore, gravel is generally recommended as the safest option. You can always add soil in separate pots if you wish to experiment later on.

The benefits of potting your plants

One of the key benefits to be realised by potting your plants, apart from being able to use soil without disturbing your tank’s existing substrate, is that your pots will also protect the plants. Potted plants have a secure location from which they can grow, and this can help keep them alive when nosey fish want to dig around their roots.

While gravel may be an acceptable substrate for beginning aquarium plant care, you may find that some of your more active fish seem intent on overturning the rocks and digging into the roots of your plants, harming or possibly killing them in the process. Potted plants combat this behaviour by offering your fish very little space in which they can satisfy their curiosity or hunger.

Reproducing aquarium plants for fun and profit

If you give enough space, nutrients, and lights to your plants, you may find that they begin to propagate and reproduce. A vast majority of these plants reproduce asexually, meaning that, if the conditions are healthy, they will simply begin sprouting new individual plants without your intervention at all.

Some species of plant, however, may need your help reproducing, and often it is worthwhile to expend the effort— aquarium pants, just like fish, can be bred and sold for profit. Seeded plants like lilies are notably more complicated to breed, and tend to command higher prices than their asexual cousins:

• A plant cutting is exactly what it sounds like: a segment of the parent plants’ stem, cut and replanted into the substrate of the aquarium or pot. In most cases, these cuttings will grow their own roots and turn into full-fledged individual plants over time.

• Plants that have seeds will need to be sexed and paired in order to propagate successfully. The two parent plants will need to be flowering above the surface and then have their pollen transferred from one to the other. If pollination is successful, seeds will be produced and those need to planted in damp soil as quickly as possible.

Over time, you should be able to grow a healthy collection of extra plants using these aquarium plant care methods, and you can then begin to sell to or swap with other local aquarists either through the help of your local fish store or directly using an Internet classifieds website to find customers.

Floating plants in a bare bottom tank

floating plants bare bottom tank

How To Use Floating Plants For A Bare Bottom Tank

water lettuce in aquarium with dangling roots
water lettuce in aquarium with dangling roots

The use of gravel or sand as a bottom-lining substrate for aquariums has been a staple of aquarium culture for years, but recently interest has sparked in using floating plants for a bare bottom tank design. These tanks eliminate the need for expensive and time-consuming gravel cleaning and make it easier to control the nutrient flow within the water of the tank.

Bare bottom tanks eliminate the possibility of uneaten food and fish waste collecting underneath the gravel or sand substrate, where it will rot and pollute the water. Bare bottom tanks also helpfully allow for higher water flow rates. Once the nitrogen cycle complications are taken care of by having your tank cycled properly, using floating plants in your setup can help you enjoy the benefits of plants in your aquarium without the disadvantages of gravel.

The primary arguments against floating tanks are that they tend to look unnatural and can be difficult for certain species to adapt to. The lack of plants can leave some species nervously trying to find a hiding place. Also, without a substrate to hold onto, waste can collect in the water if not vacuumed and filtered often enough.

See also plantless aquarium

Why Use Floating Plants For A Bare Bottom Tank?

frogbit covering the aquarium surface
frogbit covering the aquarium surface

While most of the beneficial bacteria in a fish tank make their homes on the aquarium filter, where a continuous flow of oxygenated water let them filter the waste and complete their part of the nitrogen cycle, the remaining nitrate still needs to be accounted for. Thankfully, these plants tend to absorb more nitrate than other plants, and a healthy population of these plants will help reduce the need for constant water changes.

As an added bonus, most free-floating plants are very easy to care for and get along magnificently with a wide variety of fish. A few examples of useful floating plant species that should be considered for any bare bottom aquarium are as follows:

• Tropical Hornwort. Ceratophyllum Submersum is a phenomenally easy, fast-growing floating plant that thrives in waters with a pH range between 5-8, at a temperature of 10-30 degrees Celsius. Hornwort is one of the easiest plants to manage: if you toss it into the water, it will situate itself naturally and need little-to-no care after that.

dwarf-water-lettuce
dwarf-water-lettuce

•Dwarf Water Lettuce Pistia stratiotes is an easy care fast growing small sized floating plant that does well under bright light. It reproduces by sending out runners that create baby plants that are easily separated at any time. Remove discolored or yellow leaves which will induce new growth.

• Marimo. Aegagropila linnaei, also known as Marimo, which is Japanese for “ball seaweed” is a rootless algae colony that can attach itself to rocks or other tank décor. Marimo can also float around freely within the tank. This particular plant is highly prized for its unique, beautiful appearance: small-to-medium balls of green plant material that make any tank look superb.

• Java Moss. Taxiphyllum barbieri is not actually a free-floating plant at all, and it will attach itself to just about anything within the tank. One of the best ways to realise the use of this plant as a free-floater is to give it a thin wire net to attach to on the interior of the tank and then let it attach to that. It is a popular choice because it provides food to newborn fry.

• Anacharis. Egeria densa is a very hardy plant that grows extremely quickly in a wide variety of conditions. These plants can grow as rooted plants or be kept as floating ones. In both conditions, they provide very useful benefits to the quality of the water as well as the appearance of the tank.

Adding in a healthy number of these floating plants can help structure your bare bottom tank and give you a clean, easily maintained tank without you needing to worry about periodically cleaning the accumulated dirt beneath the gravel or sand.

How to make floating plants look great in a bare bottom tank

floating plants cover fish
floating plants cover gold barb fish

One of the most common arguments against using a bare bottom tank is made by aquarists who do not like the unnatural look of a bare bottom tank. Thankfully, floating plants such as the ones named above can help to create a luxurious-looking underwater environment in an otherwise barren tank.

Since there is little-to-no substrate along the bottom surface of the tank, it is likely that waste will collect along the bottom. Normally, this requires frequent, simple cleaning with an aquarium vacuum cleaner. Even with this solution, however, It is recommended that bare bottom aquarists paint the bottom of the tank a dark colour such as brown or black.

Bare bottom tank aquarists have to clean their tanks less often than those with substrates lining the bottom of their tanks. Many of these aquarists, however, report that waste collects so quickly that they rarely get to enjoy a perfectly clean bottom unless they use a powerful mechanical filter that will collect up the waste matter. Adding a layer of paint to the bottom can help maintain a clean appearance in combination with beautiful and well-kept floating plants for a bare bottom tank.