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Basic Plant Care

As with most plants, whenever in doubt never plant too deep.  The Anubias genus has a root system called a rhizome meaning that it has a horizontal type root which have smaller roots that grow outward from the main root.  Never plant the rhizome, in which rot can occur,  only plant the smaller hair like roots.
As with most plants, whenever in doubt never plant too deep.  When you receive anyone of these particular species of plant, you may receive them with a bulb attached or as a bareroot plant.  In the case of receiving the bulb, plant in aquarium as so that the sprout of the bulb is facing up and that the sprout is clearly visible above the planting material/substrate.
In the case you have received just the plant itself plant only the roots of the plant leaving the entire stem above the plant material/substrate;  failure to do so may cause rotting of the stems of the plant and premature death of the plant.
When you receive these plants they will arrive with a weight wrapped around the bottom of the plants.  First remove the weight and if any discoloration of the plant or any decay or dead leaves are present give the plant a fresh cut above this area of the plant(NOTE: the trimming of this material will in no way harm the plant).  Next; plant the individual stems of the plant in the planting material/substrate, plant anchors will aid in planting of these types of stem plants.
Plant ONLY the roots of the plant in planting material/substrate.  Planting these plants to deep can cause rotting of the stem and therefore premature death of the plant.
When you receive these plants, before planting remove plant from pot. For most plants with larger roots you can  remove as much of the potting material as possible without damaging the roots of the plant.  Next, plant ONLY the roots of the plant in planting material/substrate. For plants with finer root systems (dwarf baby tears, microsword, dwarf hairgrass, ect.) you can leave the potting wool intact. This material will help in holding the plant down into the substrate so it doesnt tend to float up.  Planting these plants to deep can cause rotting of the stem and therefore premature death of the plant.
Plant ONLY the roots of the plant in planting material/substrate.  Planting these plants too deep can cause rotting of the stem and therefore premature death of the plant.  Plant anchors will aid in planting of these types of plants
Plant ONLY the roots of the plant in planting material/substrate.  Planting these plants too deep can cause rotting of the stem and therefore premature death of the plant.
Plant ONLY the roots of the plant in planting material/substrate.  Planting these plants too deep can cause rotting of the stem and therefore premature death of the plant.  Plant anchors will aid in planting of these types of plants

Plants in a Goldfish Tank

Aquatic plants in a goldfish aquarium? Sure, you say, my goldfish will love me for providing them with an expensive salad bar! Not necessarily. Although it is true that goldfish will happily munch down the majority of aquatic plants, there are some that are so tough, spiky, or generally inedible that they can survive your goldfish's appetite for veggies. And, yes, stay around long enough look beautiful in that goldfish aquarium of yours!

Give some of these live plants a try in your goldfish aquarium. Not only is it nice to finally toss the plastic plants (in my opinion the lush green of these live plants is much more beautiful), but the plants will thrive on the excess of nutrients that your goldfish are producing-- and your goldfish will appreciate that as well!

Java Fern, Java fern lace:  - The leaves of Java fern (Microsorum pteropus) are much too tough for goldfish to eat. I've had Java ferns in my goldfish tank for years. Luckily Java ferns come in a number of different varieties now, so you do have a selection. My favorites are the Tropica and the Windelov varieties. The Tropica has what may best be described as a multi-fingered hand appearance, and the Windelov variety is slightly shorter, with a fringed look at the top. I also still like the original variety. All varieties will do well in the cooler water usually found in goldfish tanks, and they actually do nicely under low light. In addition, the roots of Java ferns shouldn't be buried in gravel, and can instead be tied (with thread, or rubber bands) to driftwood and rocks. If you are keeping a bare-bottomed goldfish tank, then this plants-on-driftwood thing can be ideal.

Bolbitis heudelotii - This plant is also too tough for the goldfish to graze upon. Much like Java fern, Bolbitis does well in cool water, doesn't require high light, and can also be tied to driftwood and rocks. This is a beautiful plant and I would recommend it even for tanks without goldfish.

Hornwort (Ceratophyllym demersum) - The needles of this plant are usually too spiky for the goldfish to eat. I say "usually" because this plant will survive in the goldfish tank for a good long while- until you go on vacation for a few days, and then your goldfish may decide he is hungry enough to eat those hornwort needles anyways! Chances are, though, enough will survive that carnage to quickly start producing more, as soon as your goldfish starts getting his normal feedings again. If you want to try it- Hornwort really likes the cool water of goldfish tanks, can be "rooted" (it actually modifies its buried leaves to act like roots) or left to float around the aquarium, and prefers medium to high lighting.

Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum) - also called "floating hearts". These large floating plants look beautiful on the water's surface. They are generally too large to be eaten, although the goldfish may nibble on the long roots a bit. These plants prefer high light.

Anubias barteri - I have to admit that I have not tried including plants of the Anubias species in a goldfish tank, however I suspect that these tough-leaved plants (especially the nana and barteri varieties) would do quite well. These plants in general do well under low light, although they may prefer slightly warmer water. If you have had success with these in a goldfish tank I would love to hear about it.

Pothos and Philodendron - These are not aquatic plants, they are actually popular vine-like houseplants. However these plants do very well with their roots in just water (this is also how new cuttings of these plants are usually started) and are terrific at sucking out the ammonia and nitrates from the aquarium water. They also look nice draped all around the outside of your fish tank!

Duckweed(Lemna minor) and Salvinia - Yes, yes, it is quite true that these will be eagerly gobbled up by your goldfish! However if you do have these quickly-reproducing plants taking over the surface of your other fish tanks, throwing in handfuls of duckweed and salvinia will keep your goldfish very happy (and slightly help you keep things under control in your other tank!)
Crinum: Aquatica, Crinum thaianum, Crinum calamistratum, Crinum "Dwarf" onion

I hope these suggestions help with your goldfish tank aquascaping. Although the selections are a bit limited, gorgeous tanks can be designed with just these plants and maybe a few rocks and driftwood pieces. Also, feel free to experiment with other plants... at the worst, your goldfish will thank you for the salad bar if the experiment "fails!"


Planting and Care Instructions

For Water Garden Plants


We recommend planting all plants in pots rather than directly in the bottom of the pool.  This aids in maintenance by making the containers retrievable, thus making plant care easier.  All of the plants require at least 8 to 10 hours of direct sunlight each day for maximum growth. Fertilize freely throughout the growing season.


TROPICAL WATER LILIES Day and night blooming tropical water lilies should be planted in pots at least 12 inches in diameter.  A 3 to 5 gallon size should suffice for each lily, however a larger pot will produce a larger lily.  Fill the pot half full with a rich garden soil and add 2 to 4 fertilizer tablets, then continue to fill the pot with soil to about 2 inches from the top.  The rhizome should be set upright with the roots buried gently in the soil.  Make sure the tip of the rhizome is not buried.  Next, add an inch or two of gravel or sand in order to prevent the soil from escaping from the container.  Remember to keep the gravel away from the crown of the rhizome.  The plant can now be lowered into the water to a depth of 12 inches.  Tropical lilies cannot tolerate cold temperatures and should not be planted until the water reaches a temperature of at least 70 degrees.  Planting too early can cause dormancy and restrict the potential growth of the plant.  Tropicals bloom from late spring through early fall, depending on the weather.


HARDY WATER LILIES  Hardy lilies are planted in much the same way as tropicals except that Hardies grow horizontally across the container so a wide pot is necessary for planting.  The rhizome should be planted at one edge of the container with the rhizome planted at an angle of about 45 degrees with the crown exposed.  Remember to add fertilizer, use a rich garden soil, and top the soil with an inch or two of gravel or sand.  The plant can be lowered to a depth of 6 inches to begin with, and then lowered to a depth of 12 to 18 inches or deeper as the plant grows.  Hardies should be planted in early spring.  They bloom from June through September depending on the weather, and become dormant during the colder months.  As spring approaches, growth will begin again.


MARGINAL OR BOG PLANTS  marginal plants should be planted in individual containers of approximately 1 to 3 gallon capacity.  Plant as you would the lilies, but when adding fertilizer tablets, use 1 tablet for 1 gallon size pots and 2 tablets for 2 to 3 gallon size pots.  Marginal plants should be lowered to a depth of only 2 to 3 inches.  They grow out of the water and are usually found at the water edge.


FLOATING PLANTS - These plants require no planting.  Simply place them in the water and they will grow.  Floating plants desire tropical temperatures and cannot tolerate a frost.

OXYGENATING PLANTS“ All ponds should have underwater oxygenating plants to aid in maintaining clean and pure water.  These plants help prevent algae growth and provide oxygen.  Oxygenating plants can be planted as you would lilies and marginals.  A one gallon size pot is recommended.  Completely submerge these plants to a depth of at least 12 inches.


If you have ANY doubts about how to set up a "successful" planted aquarium, let us help...if you follow our suggestions and guidelines/advice, we will GUARANTEE the success of your aquarium.


Plant Dips/Baths for disinfecting and killing snails and algae

The tip below is ONLY if you are concerned about snails...we actually suggest eliminating snails with 2 or 3 clown, or puffer loach fish...
(NO aquariumplant distributor/nursery/wholesaler/retailer, can or will, "guarantee" their plants to be 100% snail free)
so, if you have doubts, simply treat your plants with this alum solution.

Below, we describe three dips, please pay attention to the words of caution also.

Potassium Permanganate Dip

The first dip is milder and safer for the plants. It is a Potassium Permanganate dip. Potassium Permanganate is available at Sear's and Ace Hardware in the area where they sell water softener's and supplies. You can also purchase Potassium Permanganate from chemical supply companies, both local and online.

To prepare a disinfectant dip, use a bucket filled about 1/2 full of water. Add enough Potassium Permanganate to color the water a dark pink. This solution can be saved if covered, and it's a great way to store your nets and tools, soaking the this solution. Back to the dipping. To disinfect and kill most algae a 10-20 minute dip (more like bath) in Potassium Permanganate is very effective. Rinse the plants under tap water thoroughly and add dechlor to your tank...it neutralizes Potassium Permanganate too.

CAUTION: Potassium Permanganate is a strong powerful oxidizer. Treatment should be made outside the tank...it will kill your bio-filter. Like all chemicals you should wear protective eye wear and gloves. Potassium Permanganate will stain clothing, carpeting, skin, etc. Never combine Potassium Permanganate and Formalin, this will result in explosive results and dangerous gases.

Bleach (Chlorine) Dip

This is a more effective and sure-fire way to kill algae. It is also very easy to kill the plant in the process. Regular household bleach (i.e. Clorox) is diluted to a 5% (19 parts water to 1 part bleach) solution in a bucket. It's good to have a second bucket filled with rinse water containing 3X the normal dechlor. Dip large leaf plants for 3 minutes, immediately move to the dechlor rinse water, then rinse under running tap water for a few seconds, if you still smell chlorine, repeat the rinse process again. For small delicate leaf plants and mosses dip for only 2 minutes in the bleach. To be safe, add dechlor to the tank after adding the plants back. Also, if your dipping a lot of plants you may need to add more dechlor to your rinse water.

Remember, the bleach dip is a last resort solution. It can and may kill your plants! Use the same caution handling bleach as recommended for Potassium Permanganate.


Alum Dip

The Alum dip is more for killing microscopic bugs. Use at 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Soak the plant for at least an hour, longer soaks of 2 to 3 days are needed to kill snails and snail eggs. For snails and snails eggs a 2-3 hour soak in a stronger solution of 3 tablespoons per gallon of water is a better choice. Alum isn't nearly as effective as the prior two for killing algae. Alum is aluminum sulfate and Alum USP can be obtained from a compounding pharmacy or grocery stores. (It's usually with the spices, herbs and pickling supplies).

What...you already have snails?  No problem, don't panic... buy 2 or 3 small puffer loaches and they'll take care of the snails and the eggs in short order.

pH/hardness/PPM Co2
KH     pH 6.0 6.2 6.4 6.6 6.8 7.0 7.2 7.4 7.6 7.8 8.0
0.5 15 9.5 6.0 3.8 2.4 1.5 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.23 0.15
1.0 30 19 12 8 4.8 3 1.9 1.2 0.8 0.5 0.3
1.5 45 28 18 11 7.1 4.5 2.8 1.8 1.1 0.7 0.45
2.0 60 38 24 15 9.5 6 3.8 2.4 1.5 1.0 0.6
2.5 75 47 30 19 12 7.5 4.7 3 1.9 1.2 0.75
3.0 90 57 36 23 14 9 5.7 3.6 2.3 1.4 0.9
3.5 105 68 42 26 17 10.5 6.6 4.2 2.6 1.7 1.0
4.0 120 75 48 30 19 12 7.6 4.8 3.0 1.9 1.2
5.0 150 95 60 38 24 15 9.5 6 3.8 2.4 1.5
6.0 180 114 72 45 29 18 11 7.2 4.5 2.9 1.8
8.0 240 151 96 60 38 24 15 9.6 6.0 3.8 2.4
10.0 300 189 119 75 48 30 19 12 7.5 4.8 3
15.0 450 284 179 113 71 45 28 18 11.3 7.1 4.5

Green = Good CO2 levels
Good CO2 levels are also shown in BOLD.
Yellow = High CO2 levels
Over 25ppm
Levels over 25 can be harmful to your fish
White = Low CO2 levels
Less than 10ppm

Measuring CO2 levels in a Planted Tank

When injecting CO2 into a planted tank, it is useful to know how much CO2 is actually getting dissolved into the water. Lucky for us, there is a simple way to calculate the CO2 level, based on the pH, and KH of the tank water. There is a fixed relationship between the pH, KH, and CO2 level. As you increase the amount of CO2 that is dissolved into the water, the pH will drop. And if you then stop adding CO2, the pH will climb as that extra CO2 is released from the water.

A little background science:
pH is a measure of the concentration of hydrogen ions [H+] in solution. pH is actually a logarithmic measure (-log[H+]). This formula has two implications. First, it means that the hydrogen ion concentration increases (thus the solution becomes more acidic) as the pH number decreases. Second, each time the pH is reduced by 1, the concentration of hydrogen ions increases by a factor of 10.

In more simple terms, the pH is simply a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. pH values from 0 to 7 are considered acids, and pH values from 7-14 are considered bases. 7 is neutral, neither an acid nor base.

As we add CO2 to water, it forms carbonic acid, which lowers the pH. The more CO2 that gets dissolved into the water, the lower the pH.

Working to raise the pH of the water is the KH. While KH refers to Carbonate Hardness, what is really measured by a standard KH test kit is really the buffering capacity. In "most" water sources, the buffering is provided by Carbonate. In that case, buffering capacity and KH are the same thing. Assuming a constant amount of CO2, a higher KH, will result in a higher pH.

Myth: A Low KH results in a larger pH swing when adding CO2.

Many people are under the mistaken impression that a low KH results in large pH swings when adding CO2, while raising the KH will result in smaller pH swings. This is not the case. The KH will move the start and end pH values, but the pH swing will be the same for a given level of CO2. You can see this in the chart below, or using the calculation:

Case 1: Assume a KH of 15 degrees, and a starting CO2 level of 4.5ppm, which would result in a pH of 8.0. If we then add CO2, to increase the CO2 level to 28ppm, that would drop the pH down to 7.2, for a pH shift of .8.

Case 2: Assume a KH of just 1.5 degrees, and a starting CO2 level of 4.5ppm, which would result in a pH of 7.0. If we then add CO2, to increase the CO2 level to 28ppm, that would drop the pH down to 6.2, for a pH shift of .8, the exact same as in case 1.

One possible explanation for this myth is that many copies of this pH chart skip some of the higher pH values, for example, jumping from pH 7.4 to a pH of 8.0. If the reader didn't pay careful attention, they might mis-interpret the size of the pH swing. I specifically made sure to include all pH values, between 6 and 8, in steps of .2.

This relationship will break down at extremely low KH levels (below 1 degree), when there isn't enough carbonate to completely buffer the acids present. In that case, the pH can drop quickly and dramatically. But if the KH is 1 degree or higher, then the size of the pH swing when injecting CO2 will be determined only by the amount of CO2 dissolved in the water.

The pH-KH-CO2 Relationship
pH, KH, and CO2 have a fixed relationship as long as carbonate is the only buffer present (no phosphate buffers like pH-UP and- DOWN, Discus Buffer, etc). There are some parts of the country that have high levels of phosphates in their water supply. For those cases, determining CO2 levels will be difficult, as the phosphate will throw off the pH-KH-CO2 relationship, which means the CO2 charts and calculator below won't work. Note that the commercially available CO2 test kits will also be invalidated by the phosphates.

To determine your CO2 level based on the pH and KH, you can enter the values into the on-line calculator, or use the chart at the bottom of the page.

NOTE: If you aren't adding CO2 to your water, and the CO2 level based on the pH and KH indicates more than 5ppm, then it is very likely that some other buffer (such as phosphate) is present in your water. In an inhabited aquarium, the amount of CO2 produced by the fish will not have an effect on CO2 levels in the water. Any excess CO2 created by fish will dissipate into the air, leaving a fairly constant CO2 level of about 3-4ppm. If you test your pH and KH, and without adding any CO2, the chart says you've got 20ppm CO2, don't believe it.

In some case, water coming right from the tap can contain very high or very low levels of CO2. This can result in tap water with a high KH, and low pH. But, in just a few hours, that excess CO2 will dissipate from the water, leaving the normal 3-4ppm, and the pH will rise. Sometimes, the water might come from the tap with extremely little CO2, which can result in tap water with a low KH, and a very high pH. Again, after a few hours, the CO2 level will equalize, and the water will end up with 3-4ppm CO2.

CO2/pH/KH calculator and chart

NOTE: This calculator (and the chart based on this formula) will only work if your water is carbonate buffered. If your water contains high levels of phosphates, it will alter your water properties, and invalidate these CO2 calculations.

If you have measured your pH and KH, and want to know how much CO2 you have, enter the pH and KH here.

An alternate use for this calculator, or the chart below, would be to determine the "target" pH needed to achieve a certain amount of CO2. A desireable CO2 level is 10-25ppm (which is indicated in green on the chart). Levels below that don't provide optimum CO2 concentrations for high plant growth. CO2 concentrations over 25ppm can be harmful to the inhabitants of your tank. I typically shoot for 15ppm CO2. So, using the calculator, enter your KH, then try entering different pH values until it shows a CO2 level around 15ppm. Using the chart, just find the row that contains your KH, then go across until you find your desired CO2 level, then look to the top of the column to see what your "target" pH should be. Once you know that, you can adjust your CO2 injection to hit that target pH.

Myth: CO2 level can be adjusted simply by adding chemicals to alter the KH or pH.

This is a common misconception when using the CO2 / KH / pH table. It appears that by altering any parameter, the other values should move. But this is not true. Treat the pH value you see as a result. If you alter the KH, then the pH will move. If you alter the CO2 level, then the pH will move. The pH will always react to changes in either of the other two parameters.

Example: My water comes out of the tap with a KH of 3 degrees, and a pH of 7.6, which according to the the indicates a CO2 level of 2.3ppm. Looking at the chart, I might (incorrectly) assume that If I simply raised my KH to 10 degrees, I would end up with the same pH, but the CO2 level would now be 12ppm! How easy! I can add CO2 just by adding some baking soda to raise my KH.

BUT! it doesn't work that way. Instead, as I raise the KH, the pH will rise along with it, and the indicated CO2 level staying at it's 2.3ppm. In my case, if I raised the KH to 10 degrees,

You can not alter the KH levels other than by adding or removing carbonate. You can not alter the CO2 levels other than by adding or removing CO2.

Adding certain "pH altering additives" can cause much confusion as well. Additives like "Proper pH 7.0" which force the pH to a certain value completely invalidate the CO2 / KH / pH relationship. This is because these pH altering additives contain phosphates. Phosphates replace the carbonates in the buffering system. And the CO2 / KH / pH relationship is only valid in a system that is buffered by Carbonates.

There is on case I've seen where the addition of CO2 resulted in an increase in KH. This can happen when you have something in the tank that dissolves carbonate into the water. Seashells, crushed coral, and many gravels and rocks will do this. With the addition of CO2, the water turns more acidic, which will increase the dissolving of the minerals. It appears that increasing CO2 raises the KH, which isn't really the case. The dissolving minerals raise the KH, and the increase in KH results in an increase in pH. In a system using a pH probe and controller to regulate CO2 levels, this can have fatal consequences, since the pH controller will keep trying to lower the pH, but as more CO2 is dissolved, it lowers the pH, which raises the KH, which raises the pH. So you now have more CO2, but the same pH. So the controller adds even MORE co2. And it will keep going. So it's important to know your KH whenever using pH to judge CO2 levels.

What is cycling?
Cycling is the process of establishing colonies of beneficial bacteria in your filter. Fish waste is basically ammonia and is toxic to your fish. Ammonia is kept from killing our fish by developing colonies of these bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite. Nitrite affects the blood's ability to carry oxygen; so, it can also be toxic. Luckily, a second set of bacteria will colonize and convert nitrite to nitrate. Nitrates aren't generally considered toxic until they reach higher levels. Doing regular, partial water changes, using plants, or both removes nitrates. It usually takes 4-6 weeks to get large enough bacteria colonies to keep up with the ammonia and then nitrite levels. This is why it's always recommended that you start with just a few hardy fish. Feed them small amounts (what they eat in 30 seconds) once a day or even once every other day until your ammonia and nitrite levels have risen, and returned to 0. Then you can slowly start adding fish every few weeks until you get to the expected bio-load for the tank. The term bio-load refers to the maximum amount of ammonia your bacterial colonies will need to process when your tank is fully stocked. In other words, the maximum amount of fish, food, and waste your tank can handle.
What happens during a cycle - or - why is my tank cloudy?
It's normal for your tank to initially become cloudy. The beneficial bacteria that digest the fish waste colonize only on the surface areas in your tank. They form in a layer, one deep, on any surface that has oxygenated water passing over it. The cloudiness in the water is an initial bacteria bloom that you'll see as the colonies start to establish. Don't panic and try to get rid of it with chemicals or a UV sterilizer, you'll just slow the process down.
What is fishless cycling?
If you don't want to use fish to cycle the aquarium, you can do a fishless cycle. By adding pure ammonia immediately to the level of a full bio-load, you can drastically jumpstart a process that would normally take the fish weeks to create. Because you add an amount comparable to a full fish load, you can fill the tank immediately with all of the fish you want to keep, as soon as the cycle is finished.
How do I do Fishless Cycling?

Fishless cycling sounds very involved and scientific but it's really not too difficult. One of the biggest challenges can be obtaining pure ammonia. You want to make sure you get a type without foaming agents, colors, or scents. That will usually be the cheapest brand available. Add ammonia to the aquarium to reach a level of 5ppm, and keep track of how much ammonia that takes. Add that same amount daily until you start to see nitrites, then reduce the level to the amount you had been adding. Once both ammonia and nitrite read 0, you can do a large volume water change to reduce nitrates to a manageable level and add your new fish!

Cycling a tank with fish in it.
If you are cycling your aquarium with fish, adding Amquel can detoxify the ammonia for your fish, if it reaches levels that would stress your fish. Be sure you don't overfeed during this time. Uneaten food can create an ammonia "spike", which can permanently damage their gills, if your fish manage to survive it. Ammonia will make fish itch, gasp at the top of the water, show inflamed, red gill tissue, and can cause septicemia (red streaks in their fins) along with numerous other systemic problems. Be sure to keep track of your levels! Water changes of 30% will help keep your fish from being as damaged by the levels of ammonia and nitrite, or help you get levels under control if you've discovered you added too much ammonia by accident with the fishless method. If you are doing a fishless cycle, I definitely have to recommend not using Amquel, amrid, or any other additive that is going to interrupt the ammonia availability. You'll risk slowing down the process.
How about bacteria in a bottle?
There are many available products that claim to contain cultures of the bacteria needed for an established aquarium. In my experience, most of these products do nothing more than shorten the process by a few days, if even that. Bio-Spira, by Marineland, is the only "bacteria in a bottle" that I had really noticeable results using. I definitely recommend it for speeding up the process if it's available near you. Filter media from an established tank, gravel from a tank with an under gravel filter, or even the brown nastiness from a filter cartridge or sponge rinsed in aquarium water will all aid in jumpstarting those bacteria colonies. "Borrowed" media can be placed in a filter mesh bag (no nylons, they can have bacterial agents in them), then added to your new aquarium. Doing this can shorten your waiting period to a matter of days, rather than weeks for the cycling process to complete. (Yes, I know the idea of messing up your beautiful new aquarium is hard to take, but it DOES do wonders!) I personally tend to be into instant gratification so this part of the process is very important!


The Role of Photosynthesis in the Aquarium

by Robert Paul Hudson
from Robert's web site in Salem Oregon: Aquabotanic.com

Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use the energy of light to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose, and the by-product released is oxygen on which most life depends. In the absence of light, the process of respiration is the opposite of photosynthesis. Food substances are broken down in the presence of oxygen to release energy as heat. Carbon dioxide is produced and released as a by-product. These processes are a vital part of the plants' growth and the introduction of high intensity light and carbon dioxide produces a significant increase in photosynthetic activity thus creating a boost in plant growth and vitality. Active photosynthesis is what makes the difference between healthy aquarium plants and those that are merely surviving.

Glucose, a carbohydrate, is the fuel formed from photosynthesis used to build leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds. Excess amounts are stored in the plants' roots, stems, and leaves in the form of starch that can be drawn from as a reserve. Glucose is also converted to cellulose, which is used as a structural material in the building of cell walls.

Plant photosynthesis occurs in leaves and green stems within cell structures called chloroplasts. Each leaf has tens of thousands of cells, and each cell contains 40 to 50 chloroplasts. Each individual chloroplast is sectioned by membranes into disk shaped compartments called thylakoids. Embedded in the membranes of the thylakoids are hundreds of molecules of chlorophyll, a light trapping pigment required for photosynthesis. Enzymes, which are additional light trapping pigments, are also present in the membranes.

Photosynthesis is a very complex process that is still not fully understood. In simple terms there are two stages. In the first stage, the light dependent reaction, the chloroplast traps light energy and convert it into chemical energy contained in two molecules: NADPH, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, and ATP, adenosiue triphosphate. In the second stage called the light-independent reaction, NADPH provides the hydrogen atoms that help form glucose, and ATP provides the energy for this and other reactions used to synthesize glucose. This is all the result of the literal meaning of the term photosynthesis, to build with light.

Two things must be present for this to happen: light and carbon dioxide. Many of the plants we use in aquariums come from a natural habitat where they grow out of the water, or have growth floating at the surface where light is more intense and carbon dioxide is taken from the atmosphere, therefore without elevated light and carbon dioxide levels these plants cannot reach a proper photosynthesis rate. Plants that grow their entire life submersed have evolved to grow in conditions where both light and carbon dioxide may be hard to come by. Some plants can absorb carbon dioxide from sediment at their roots. Sediment may be rich in carbon from decaying organic material and bacteria that goes thru a similar process releasing CO2. Another source for some plants in alkaline water is stripping the carbonic molecule in the water.

Nutrients also play a role in the plants ability to photosynthesize. For example, potassium regulates the opening and closing of stomates (the pores through which leaves exchange carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor, and oxygen (O2)). Proper functioning of stomates is essential for photosynthesis, water and nutrient transport, and plant cooling. Sugars produced in photosynthesis must be transported through the phloem to other parts of the plant for utilization and storage. The plant's transport system uses energy in the form of ATP. If potassium is inadequate, less ATP is available, and the transport system breaks down, and the rate of photosynthesis is reduced. Another example is chlorophyll. In order for it to be present in the leaves, iron must be present. If iron is not present the leaves loose their green pigment and become yellow, and photosynthesis is interrupted.

What does this all mean for the hobbyist and the planted aquarium? By understanding the basics of how this process works, we can recognize signs of success or ways to improve conditions for better plant growth and a healthier environment.

Duplicating natural habitats in an aquarium where plants take CO2 from sediment is difficult and not fully effective, but not impossible, however not all the plants we use will respond to this. Much more favorable results are achieved by having an intense enough light source along with adding a source of carbon dioxide to the water which has immediate affect.

Very soft water is not conducive to the addition of carbon dioxide because sufficient carbonate hardness is needed as a pH buffer. The alternative source would be sediment from the substrate or gravel bed, which is achieved by allowing mulm to accumulate and not cleaning the gravel on a regular basis. While this may seem to go against what we have been taught in basic aquarium care, it can be done safely within reason. Mechanical filtration, occasional water changes, and good circulation along with a low to moderate fish load will keep the system balanced. Plants should be left undisturbed as much as possible. Constant uprooting of plants or re-arranging the substrate will release mulm and possible pathogens into the water column. At initial setup, a small amount of Sphagnum peat added to the bottom layer of the substrate will provide enough organic material that while decomposing will release small amounts of carbon dioxide.

"Pearling" is the term used to describe the plants releasing oxygen during the light hours and is an indicator of the photosynthetic rate of the growing plants. Under subdued lighting you are much less likely to see significant streams of bubbles. Increasing light intensity, (not duration) coupled with increased CO2 levels will dramatically raise pearling activity. The more intense the streams of bubbles the faster the photosynthesis rate and a sure sign that all is healthy. A CO2 level of 25 to 30ppm provides the most optimal growth.

Introduction to algae issues

What induces freshwater algae in planted aquariums?

Algae will flourish in unbalanced aquarium systems. What causes these unbalanced conditions?

It is of great importance to feed our plants on regular bases a well balanced diet with NO3, PO4, CO2 and other macro and micro elements.

In the past many believed that NO3 and especially PO4 can induce algae. It has been proven numerous times that these nutrients (even if overdosed) can not create algae issues. Actually the more we dose the less algae we get.

Plant nutrients in general have nothing to do neither with algae issues nor with fish/shrimp issues (dead/sick fish/shrimps) in planted tanks which are regularly dosed with fertilisers!

The question is; Why do I get algae even though I dose NO3, PO4, CO2 and other nutrients on regular bases?

The worst mistake many do in such cases is they start reducing nutrients out of fear that these nutrients might be creating the algae issue. Such nutrient reducing method will induce algae even more!

Lets name the real reasons behind algae issues in planted aquariums which are dosed with nutrients on regular bases:

  1. Low Oxygen level
  2. Insufficient water circulation
  3. Organic build-up
  4. Un-cycled aquarium

Low Oxygen (O2) level can be caused by overstocking, high water temperature (summer time), dirty filters, overfeeding, weak surface agitation.

Insufficient water circulation can cause poor nutrient transport. Even though we dose enough of CO2, NO3, PO4 + traces the water flow has to be strong enough to deliver all those nutrients to the plants. Improve over all circulation (stronger pumps, more pumps).

Organics tend to build-up over time with feeding, fish-waste, rotting plant leaves, etc. Decomposing bacteria needs ample supplies of Oxygen in accordance to decompose Organics into inorganic compounds like NH4, NO3, PO4, and CO2 which plants can use up.

Shredders like shrimps and snails can help a lot in organic recycling. Bacteria can decompose bigger organic peaces fast enough. Shrimps and snails will eat dead plants leaves, un-eaten food or food trapped in gravel preventing them from rotting slowly.

Keep good O2 levels by creating a moderate surface agitation, keep the filters clean, keep good circulation, remove un-eaten food, remove old plant leaves, perform regular water changes, stock the tank with shrimps and snails and perform light gravel vacuuming every so often.

Un-cycled aquariums dont have enough of beneficial bacteria to help in recycling organics and therefore Organics and NH4 might tend to build-up inducing algae. Cycle the aquarium by using following methods:

  1. Fishless Cycling
  2. Silent Cycling
  3. Jump Start
  4. Dry Start (I will mention this one in the following article since this one is best suited for planted tanks with nutrient rich substrate/soil).

Please do not reduce nutrients like NO3 and PO4 in planted tanks to fight algae! By reducing them you will only induce algae even more! NO3 and PO4 can cause algae issues ONLY if they are MISSING!


Algae Control (the article)

Non-planted aquarium

Excess organics and ammonia/ammonium levels will result an algae break-out.
Over feeding and over stocking is the most common reason for water quality to go bad. Performing weekly water changes (25-50%), substrate vacuuming, creating a moderate surface agitation for gas exchange (good O2 levels), maintaining sufficient water flow/circulation and cleaning the filters regularly are the best solutions in preventing algae issues. The ammonia (NH3), ammonium (NH4) and nitrite (NO2) levels should be at 0ppm. Nitrate (NO3) levels should be kept below 30ppm. Phosphate (PO4) levels should be kept below 0,5ppm. Lights should be at no more then 10 hours per day. Note that algae favour strong lights so placing the aquarium away from the window is a good idea. Direct sunlight will likely cause an algae-breakout. Algae eating army will help a lot in combating certain types of algae.

Planted aquarium is a bit more complex, because there are not just fish to take care for, but plants also. It is true that plants will uptake the ammonia/nitrAte/phosphate and keep the water chemistry in high quality. But what happens when you suddenly experience the worst algae out-break in a planted tank?! You will ask "but how is that possible"!!!

What induces algae in planted aquariums?

Some people state that algae will flourish in aquariums which contain lots of nutrients like NO3 and PO4 and they try fighting the algae by reducing those nutrients just to discover soon after that reducing nutrients only leads to more algae issues.

In heavily planted aquariums the fish waste alone doesn't provide enough nutrients which plants require to grow healthy without algae issues and for that reason we rather dose nutrients. Plants (like us) require balanced diet to be able grow healthy.

Lets mention the real reasons behind (most of ) the algae issues;

1. Uncycled aquarium

Most people get algae in the first 2 month since the set-up. Newly established aquatic systems lack in beneficial bacteria which helps in balancing the system. Such bacteria is involved in organic decomposition, nitrification, denitrification, etc... To avoid such algae problems in the begining I advice using the Dry Start Method (by Tom Barr).

Since plants grow much better in nutrient rich substrates ideally soils should be used. (E.g. potting soils, commercially available aquarium soils)
Soils also support various beneficial bacteria (
chemoautotrophic, heterotrophic) which are involved in the decomposition of organic compounds, nitrification/de-nitrification, reduction and oxidation of heavy metals and gasses into plant nutrients. This means that using plain sand or gravel would be a poor choice for establishing a proper environment for aquatic plants especially in Low-light Low-tech aquariums.

Potting soil (or commercial aquarium soil) is terrestrial (exposed to O2) and has to go through a very sudden change. Once saturated in water O2 levels decrease rapidly used up by the bacteria.
Bacteria use O2 during organic decomposition. At the start the soil once submerged will release lots of nutrients into the water column.
The soil has to settle down before flooding the tank. With this method we can avoid unnecessary algae blooms and water turbidity.
Keep the soil saturated for 1 to 2 month (I wait up to 4 month). Note! Do not flood the aquarium yet. Add more water if it evaporates because the soil must remain submerged at all times to convert (soil cycling) into a settled aquatic soil which the plants require. It is important to wait to ensure sufficient bacteria development involved in nitrification of Ammonium to Nitrates, avoiding NH4/NO2 spikes which are very toxic to fish and crustaceans.

After approximately 2 months it is really worthwhile waiting, the tank can be flooded. Once the aquarium is filled with water, flush it out!
We do this because the nutrients which diffuse out of the soil into the water column might cause unnecessary algae blooms.

If you are extra cautious you can repeat the flush-out a few times. There is no harm in doing this but the water must be
dechlorinated before adding it to the tank.
NOTE; never add ice cold tap water back into the system. It should be tepid to start with. Set the heater to approximately 26 Celsius.
At this stage introduce all the plants you want to grow. It is best to plant heavily from the submerged start. Also it is good to plant lots of rooting plants. Plant roots will add Oxygen into the
rhizosphere to protect themselves from heavy metal toxicity and also by doing this the O2 enables the oxidation of the very toxic Hydrogen Sulfide gas (H2S) converting it to harmless salt HSO4 and the oxidation of Methane gas to CO2 and water. The plant roots will prevent soil Redox from becoming too low.

2. Insufficient water circulation and surface agitation

It is of great importance to create sufficient water circulation and surface agitation in a planted Ecosystem.

Circulation will evenly distribute nutrients making them available for plants and bacteria. Aim for a circulation between 5-8 x of the tank volume per hour depending on plants grown and fish kept. Some prefer stronger currents while others weaker ones. Some aquatic gardeners use circulation of up to 10 x the tank volume per hour but they do reduce the water flow by using very long submerged spray bars which should be placed just below the surface.

Surface Agitation will insure sufficient gas exchange and will prevent the surface film from forming. Even though plants will provide lots of O2 through photosynthesis especially in CO2 injected systems it cant hurt to add extra O2 via the surface agitation.
One should bear in mind that Oxygen is one of the most important electron acceptors involved in animal and bacterial metabolism.

At higher temperatures O2 levels decrease especially during the summer. When the temperature gets higher it is beneficial to create a strong surface agitation or add another power head for this purpose only. I have found that it is not the temperature that affects the fish/shrimp/plants during summer months but rather the low O2 levels. At higher temperatures the bacterial metabolism accelerates and uses up lots of O2 for nutrient recycling.

E.g. I live on the top floor and during the summer time the temperature of my tanks do go up to 31Celsius. In the past I believed that this would harm fish, shrimps and plants. Now I know better. What I do under such extreme conditions is that I create a very strong (but no splashes) surface agitation in all my aquariums for good gas
exchange and I never experience any problems with fish/crustaceans or plants.
In planted aquariums keeping good Oxygen levels is as important as keeping good CO2 levels.

3. Unbalance between the light levels, CO2 and other nutrints (low CO2 and low nutrient levels)

For healthy growth plants require Carbon (C), Oxygen (O), Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg) and Sulphur (S) as the Macro Nutrients and Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Zink (Zn), Copper (Cu), Boron (B), Nickel (Ni), Chlorine (Cl) and Molybdenum (Mo) as the Micro Nutrients.
In comparison to the Micro-nutrients plants require larger amounts of Macro-nutrients.
Macros and Micros can be added via commercially available products like
Tropicas AquaCare Plant Nutrition N&P+traces and Seachems Flourish macro and micro fertilisers as well as dry fertilisers like KNO3, KH2PO4, Epsom salts, etc

It is all about finding the right balance between the lights, CO2 and nutrients.
I have to draw a line here! There is a difference between dosing nutrients to an aquarium with only a few plants and heavily planted aquarium.
Plant density and plant growing rate is something to consider before deciding on the nutrient dosing methods.

Everything starts with the light. One can decide between using Low lights, Medium or High lights over the aquarium.
The light strength affects the plant growing rate. The stronger the light the faster the plant will grow and the faster it will up take the nutrients.
Deciding which light levels to use depends entirely on the aquatic gardeners life style and goals.

Planted aquariums are complex and dynamic ecosystems, which hugely depend on us (the
Nature doesn't have much influence on them, and for that reason we are the ones pulling all the strings in leading them to an algae free/thriving planted ecosystem.

Plants need stable nutrient levels to thrive and grow lush. It is up to
aquarist to understand the planted aquarium ecology and influence this system by finding the right nutrient balance.

Aquarium plants can be successfully grown in several ways and most of it depends on the light. This is simple mathematics;
The stronger the light, the faster the plant will grow, and the nutrient uptake will be greater.

Less light = slow growth = slow nutrient up-take.

Aquarium light levels:

Low lights are between 1 - 2 watts per gallon (0.3 - 0.5 watt/litre)
Medium lights are between 2 - 3 watts per gallon (0.5 - 0.8 w/l)
High lights have 3 watts per gallon or higher (0.8 w/l or higher)

How to calculate the light level:

Divide the total aquarium light wattage with the aquarium volume (gallons or litres) to get the light level per gallon/litre.

e.g. Lets say the aquarium is 48 gallons (180 litres) and has 2 x 30 watt fluorescent tubes.
2x30 watt = 60 watts in total over the aquarium
60 watts divided by 48 galls = 1.25 w/g, or
60 watts divided by 180 litres = 0.33 w/l
meaning this is a low-light set-up.

Common planted aquarium methods are:

Low-light Low-tech

Low-light (non-CO2 injected) planted aquariums, where soils are used as the plants' main nutrient source. This is a low maintenance method, which requires very few water changes.

Low-light High-tech

Low-Light planted aquariums where CO2 is used to stimulate the plant growth. This system will depend on extra fertilising and often water changes to stay in balance

High-light High-tech

High-light planted aquariums were CO2 is injected to stimulate the plant growth. Higher light levels provide plants with a huge amount of energy promoting luxurious lush plant growth. This is the common method used for creating stunning looking
aquascapes; (Aquascaping Competitions)

Which method suits me best? you might ask

This depends on your goals and your life style.

1. Lets say you have a very busy life; long working hours, studying, kids, etc... and don't have much time left for often aquarium water changes.
In this case, it is best to choose the Low-light Low-tech planted method, which needs only 5-6 water changes per year. For Low-tech tanks I dose nutrients once a week e.g. Tropica Plant Nutrition+ (read
plus) which contains NPK and traces 5ml per 50 litres. Even though plants can get most of the nutrients via soils we have to bear in mind that soils will become exhausted after approximately 6-12 month. To prevent this from happening it is beneficial to dose macro and micro nutrients via dry or liquid fertilisers once a week.

2. You have a tight budget, but would like to create a nice looking aquascape. Choose the Low-light High-tech method, meaning less light, less nutrients, inexpensive DIY/Yeast CO2 solutions, etc...
For this method I dose Tropica Plant Nutrient N & P + traces 1-2 times a week followed by a weekly 50% water change.

3. Or, your goal is to create a stunning looking planted tank for an Aquascaping Competition. In this case High-light High-tech method would be the best option. But to succeed in creating such a system, one has to dose nutrients often and do large weekly water changes to prevent nutrient over-dose. The best nutrient dosing strategy is known as the EI (Estimative Index) which was invented and popularized by Tom Barr.

For my 160 litres High-tech heavily planted aquarium with up to 0, 8 watts per litre I dose as followed:

*CO2 approximately 4 bubbles per second monitored via Drop Checker (25-30ppm).

Tuesday (after the 50% water change) 1/2 teaspoon of KNO3, 1/8 teaspoon of KH2PO4 and 1/2 teaspoon of GH-Booster.

Wednesday 10ml of Tropica Plant Nutrition for traces

Thursday 1/2 teaspoon of KNO3, 1/8 teaspoon of KH2PO4

Friday 10ml of Tropica Plant Nutrition for traces

Saturday 1/2 teaspoon of KNO3, 1/16 teaspoon of KH2PO4

Sunday 10ml of Tropica Plant Nutrition for traces

Monday I dose nothing

With Tuesday it starts from the beginning (50% water change and nutrient re-dosing as followed above).

NOTE: Just remember, unbalanced planted tanks will lead to algae bloom, so e.g. choosing the High-light method, but not performing often water changes/plant pruning/nutrient dosing will lead to algae heaven.

Carbonate Hardness (KH) should never be under 4KH. Carbonates and Bicarbonates have the acid binding capacity. Carbonate Hardness level which is under 3KH doesnt have a very good buffering capacity and therefore pH might shift drastically. If necessary dose Bicarbonates (Baking soda) to increase the KH.

Most plants can grow under all 3 light conditions if CO2 is not the limiting factor. For example it is believed that Hemianthus calitrichoides Cuba (HC) needs high lights to be able to grow into a foreground carpet. This isnt true! This plant will do just fine under lower light conditions as soon as the CO2 is not a limiting nutrient. In CO2 limited systems HC like many other plants will grow upwards trying to reach over the water surface where the atmospheric CO2 is available. Many believe that plants grow towards the surface to get closer to the light source which isnt true.
The most common reason behind plants growing like this or simply melting away is due to the limiting CO2 factor.
Of course under low lights plants will grow slower but with good CO2 levels they will eventually grow into the desired aqua-scape.

Insufficient aquarium hygiene and plant maintenance

Once the aquarium is maturing organic matter starts accumulating creating mulm, filters get clogged with particles, and plant bio mass increases to the point where tank maintenance becomes necessary.

With each water change it is good to perform light substrate vacuuming just over the gravel. No need for deep vacuuming in planted aquariums with many rooted plants. Like this we keep the beneficial Oxidizing Microzone (top layer of substrates) from becoming anaerobic (clogged with mulm).
The Oxidizing Microzone helps to convert toxic NH4 to NO3 and it keeps nutrients trapped in the substrate (oxidation).

Filtration will remove floating particles and help in nutrient recycling. External filters seem to work best in planted aquariums. One of the reasons they are a better choice than inner filters is that they keep all the collected dirt outside of the tank. Once the filter is opened for cleaning, all the dirt stays in it. On the other hand when taking the inner filter out of the tank for maintenance half of the trapped dirt leaks straight back into the aquarium. This should be avoided and for that reason external canister filters and hang on back filters (HOB) should be used.

Clogged filters will reduce circulation. Clean them regularly. How often depends on the pump type (external, inner) and fish bio-load.
When cleaning the filters make sure not to rinse them under tap water which contains chloramine. Such tap water can damage the beneficial bacteria living in the filter. Always rinse in aquarium water from the water change.

Under balanced nutrient conditions plants will grow better especially the fast growing stem plants. One should never allow them to grow to the surface. When this happen gas exchange becomes limited and low Oxygen levels might occur causing various issues e.g. algae, surface film, NH4/NO2 accumulation, stressed fish, etc...
Also, overgrown plants will reduce water circulation creating dead zones. Prune the plants regularly. This will not only encourage new growth but will make your plants look much better. The more you prune them the bushier they become.
Foreground plants should be mowed regularly. They tend to grow on top of each other creating a tick carpet. If the carpet is allowed to grow too tick it will start to rot from the underside and the whole carpet might float up (e.g. HC).

Partial water change is very important and should be performed weekly in Hi-tech and Excel Only aquariums. Like this we reduce excess nutrients which might have built up via extra fertilisation.
Hi-tech systems require frequent nutrient dosing (3x a week) and for that reason it is beneficial to do weekly water changes (50%) to re-set the system.
Low-tech aquariums require less water changes to prevent CO2 fluctuations. These systems need steady CO2 levels in accordance to avoid algae issues. Tap water is rich in CO2 and with each WC we add a fair amount of CO2 which plants will consume in just a day or two leaving them with low CO2 levels for the rest of the week. Fluctuating CO2 levels will very likely cause algae issues (stressed plants). For Low-tech tanks it is enough to do a 50% water change every 2 month. For that reason we rather under-stock with fish to minimize the organic build up.

5. Not stocking with enough shredders like shrimps and snails can cause organic build-ups causing algae issues

Certain fish and crustaceans can also help a lot in maintaining hygiene in a planted aquarium.

One of my favourite is the Caridina multidentata shrimp (formerly C. japonica) which was popularized by Takashi Amano. This shrimp is a very effective Thread/Hair algae eater. Besides algae it will also help to recycle dead plant matter and fish waste, breaking it down to smaller organic particles which bacteria can consume.
This shrimp also feeds on bacteria and micro-organisms preventing them from over populating the system.

Malaysian Trumpet Snail is very effective in aerating the substrates top layer keeping the Oxidizing Microzone aerated. It spends most of it time digging through the substrate in search for bacteria, micro-organisms and dead organic matter.

Otocinclus catfish which grows to just about 5 cm is a very useful addition in planted aquariums. This tiny fish will clean plant leaves from Diatoms and bacteria film.

Siamese Algae Eater (Crossocheilus siamensis) is the most effective fish in eradicating the Black Beard Algae (BBA). It grows to approx 14 cm and for that reason is not suitable for smaller tanks (fish requirements)

Neritina sp. Zebra is another snail worth keeping. It is particularly effective at eating the Green Beard algae and Green Spot algae which tend to grow on rocks and wood. Remember not to stock too many because they will start laying white eggs all over the aquarium which can look unsightly to some people. These eggs cant hatch in fresh water.

Now that we know how to prevent algae, lets ID the most common algae in fresh-water aquariums:


Spirogyra - Silk Algae, Water Silk

SpirogyraThis non-branching green filamentous algae is called Spirogyra. This algae doesn't appear in polluted water systems but in ones that are eutrophic, rich in nutrients (liquid ferts, CO2 and light).
It grows very fast, forming long, entangled strands. I would personally call this one the "spaghetti algae" :-) , the way it looks to me. I am not sure algae eaters will eat Spirogyra. This aquarium of mine has Otocinclus and Neritina Zebra snail, and they are not showing any interest in eating it.
I have removed this algae manually, very easy really.

Since the beginning of this set-up I have used the Estimative Index fertilising regime, dosing 2-3 times a week N,P,K, traces and liquid Carbon (Easy Carbo), so I don't think any nutrients were missing.
There is one problem I have caused (I assume). Instead of performing 50% weekly water change I did 25% every 2nd or 3rd week. I wouldn't say that irregular water change induced this algae but dirty filter (I clean filters with each water change). The filter gets dirty and reduces the water circulation. Less circulation = slower nutrient transport. Also weaker surface agitation = less Oxygen.
I did some tests by doing water change every 3-4 weeks but cleaned the filter every week to keep good flow and moderate surface agitation and this algae never came back.
So keep your filters clean ;-)

Photos by Dusko Bojic.


Surface Scum/Film (edited May6th 2010)

This is a protein bio-film, probably triggered by hi organic levels, poor circulation and low CO2 levels.
Neuston organisms readily develop in it (or underneath it), like bacteria/zoo-spores/protozoans, hydras, worms even small snails.
This scum is very compact and often green. It is impossible to break it with the finger. I have tried it, and the film just grows back together in a second. Visually it appears "oily".
I have removed the film by using paper kitchen towels, laying them over the surface many times, until the scum was gone. After that I have performed a huge 80% water change, rinsed the filter media very well (that in fact was dirty) and have introduced one extra filter pump (extra circulation and surface agitation).
Also, I started using Easy Carbo (like Excel) instead of the CO2.
Everything seems to be in order now.
One more thing, I didn't prune plants in a long time so they covered the entire surface. And because of that, the tank circulation was poor, causing probably lower O2 levels as well. All this induced the surface scum.

There is another type of surface film caused by the Eisenbacteria (Iron bacteria). This film appears to be whitish, much thinner and breaks easily on touch. Improving surface agitation will help in combating this kind of film.

I have fixed this surface film (white and green) in 3 different tanks by simply introducing an air pump or aplying the venturi air diffuser to the power head (without removing it the film would disapear by the next day). The air bubbles seem to be breaking the surface tension causing the surface film to break into tiny particles which sink to the bottom or get trapped in the filter (in both ways bacteria will break them down).

Photos by Dusko Bojic.

Cladophora algae

Cladophora is a branching, green filamentous alga, that forms a moss like structure. This algae doesn't appear to be slimy. Threads are very strong and very thin. It grows on rocks and submersed wood exposed to direct light, in very bad cases will grow on plants also. Usually it tend to stay on one spot, which makes it easy to remove. Comb it and dose more CO2 and improve water circulation for better nutrient transport. In a case where Cladophora takes over the grassy plants, mow the plants like the lawn. No algae eater is known to eat this kind of algae.Photos by Dusko Bojic.


Black-Beard Algae (BBA), Red-Brush Algae

Unstable CO2 levels will induce BBA!
The best way to combat Brush algae is by maintaining CO2 at 30ppm, nitrates at 15ppm and phosphates at 0.5ppm. Leaves that are badly overtaken should be discarded. Observations;When I had a problem with BBA, I dosed 1ml per 50 liters of Easy Carbo (equivalent to Flourish Excel) every other day for a week. The algae turned purplish/pinkish and disappeared. Maintaining sufficient CO2 level and is the best way in controlling this algae. Siamese Algae Eater will eat BBA.
Photo by Dusko Bojic.

Green Dust Algae (GDA)

Green Dust Algae are actually zoo-spores and are commonly found on aquarium glass. They form a dusty looking, green patchy film and in severe cases can cover the whole aquarium glass. It's not known what actually causes this algae. Intense light is favored by GDA. Scraping it off the glass will not help remove this algae since it stays in the water and will float for 30-90 minutes before attaching it self again to the glass. For some reason those zoo-spores are avoiding plants, rocks and wood and always go for the glass. Limiting nutrients will not help fighting this algae but rather cause problems in planted tanks where plants will be exposed to nutrient deficiency and that condition will just favour other algae types. The best known solution, for how to get rid of GDA, has been discovered by Mr. Tom Barr. He claims that this algae should be left alone to grow, without wiping the glass for about 10-20 days. After this period GDA will start forming ticky patchy film that will start falling off the glass. When this starts happening it is good to remove this algae out of the tank. This method should keep this algae at bay.

And since one photo is worth 1000 words :-) ...
Joe Aliperti (photo credit) gives us a visual insight into this interesting (or better, annoying) algae.
The first shot shows the algae over-taking the front glass;

Second photo - the close up.
The last photo was taken exactly 3 weeks after the GDA took over the front glass, just after the total clean up :-). A sparkling aquarium. Thank you for sharing these beautifully taken photos Joe Aliperti.
Photo credit Joe Aliperti. Do not copy without a written permission, please. Thank you.


Green water - Algae bloom

Green water (algae bloom) Beautifully made photo by Ron .
This is the most common problem if the cloudy situation extends beyond 10-14 days. Note that "green water" is not always green in appearance! Since green water is the most common problem and the most difficult to solve the answer needs to reflect several options. The situation that causes GW (Green Water) is usually a combination of high nitrates, phosphates, and mixed in some ammonia/ammonium. Substrate disturbance is usually the culprit. What happens is the algae (GW form) will flourish off of the ammonia/ammonium and phosphate, remembering that algae can consume phosphate easier than plants because of their thin cell walls, the algae uses up the ammonia/ammonium and phosphate, but it doesn't go away...because algae can quickly switch with nutrient it scavenges...it moves to nitrates. So you can see why water changes will not rid a tank of GW. Nutrients can be reduced very low in GW and fairly quickly by the GW algaes, but they can scavenge other nutrients...iron and trace elements. So, it's very common for the GW to solve the situation that causes it to begin with, but that won't eliminate the GW, for the reasons I've allude to. Five methods exist to eliminate GW. Blackout, Diatom Filtering, UV Sterilization, Live Daphnia, and Chemical algaecides/flocculents. The first four cause no harm to fish, the fifth one does.
Method No. 1 The blackout means covering the tank for 4 days, no light whatsoever is allowed into the tank during this time. Cover the tank completely with blankets or black plastic trash bags. Be prepared, killing the algae will result in dead decaying algae that will decompose and pollute the water. Water changes are needed at the beginning and end of the blackout time and ammonia should be monitored also.
Method No. 2 Diatom filters can usually be rented from your LFS. This is my preferred method. Personally, I use my Magnum 350 w/Micron Cartridge coated with diatom powder. Diatom filtering removes the algae and doesn't allow it to decay in the tank. You do have to check the filter often, if you have a really bad case of GW the filter can clog pretty quick. Just clean it and start it up again. Crystal clear water usually takes from a few minutes to a couple of hours.
Method No. 3 UV Sterilizers will kill free floating algaes. They also kill free floating parasites and bacteria. They also can be problematic for extended use in a planted tank, as they will cause the of some important nutrients. They are expensive and don't remove the decaying material from the tank, if you can afford to keep one they are handy to have around, though not as useful IMO as a diatom filter.
Method No. 4 Adding live daphnia to your tank. This can be a bit tricky. First you need to insure that you are not adding other "pests" along with the daphnia. Second, unless you can separate the daphnia from the fish, the fish will likely consume the daphnia before the daphnia can consume all the green water.
Method No. 5 I hate the last way, the flocculents stick to the gills of fish, while not killing them it does compromise their gill function for quite a while leaving them open for other maladies.
Beautifully written article by Steve Hampton; more on
Aquarium Plants.com

"Green Water - Dusko's Lazy Solution to the Problem"
Photo credit Dusko Bojic

I got a very bad algae bloom (Green Water) due to CO2 malfunctioning ( + 2 of my HOBs malfunctioning also). At first I wasn't sure what to do. I had very little free time and such Green Water case needed many water changes and adjustments.
I decided to try something new!!! Instead of the everyday water changes and fuss I decided to introduce LOTS of floating plants, almost covering all the water surface. I got Salvinia natans floating plant. I disconnected the CO2.
Since "green water algae" thrive in water with NH4 and strong lights, I planned to add floating plants to shade the tank (something like black-out) and to uptake the NH4 from the water column.
I also started dosing Easy Life FFM (fluid filter medium) in USA aka Easy Neo. This fluid product has a very good CEC (cation exchange capacity) and is able to bind NH4 very fast. I dosed Easy Life FFM every second day (recommended is once a month).

This next photo was taken approx 10 days after I had introduced the floating plants and Easy Life. Amazing!! And I didn't do any water change at all !!

Today this aquarium looks like this (following photos). I disconnected the CO2 and am running this tank as a Hi-light Low-tech covered with floating plants. The submersed plants seem not to mind these unusual conditions without CO2. I do dose Tropica+NPK 10ml every week. Instead of water change I only top up the evaporated water and re-dose with 10ml of Easy Life. Today I have no algae at all and plants which grow healthy.

Green Spot algae

The 3rd photo is made with a macro lens. Those green dots are smaller than 1/2mm.
Green Spot Algae prefer direct light. It forms green spots on aquarium glass and slow growing plants that are exposed to strong light. This algae will appear if CO2 and Phosphate (PO4) levels are low. Since it is very hard, algae eaters can't do much in eliminating this algae. Neritina Zebra snail is the only algae eater known that can, literally, eradicate the Green Spot Algae. It can be scraped manually off of the glass with a razor blade. In a case of an acrylic aquarium use plastic razors only. This algae is considered normal in small amounts.
To prevent this algae keep stable CO2 levels, dose NPK regularly and improve the water circulation throughout the tank for better nutrient transport. Keep slow growing plants in places where they will get less light.

Dusko Bojic.

Staghorn algae (UPDATED)

Observations 1;
My aquarium got suddenly infested with this threaded Staghorn algae. It is only growing on Microsorum leaves and on the filter out-let. Shrimps don't show any appetite towards this type of algae. After two days of observations I have found the culprit. Algae infected only the old Microsorum leaves. So, I pruned off the infested leaves, and the SA didn't return. The older leaves were leaking out nutrients back into the water column favoring this sort of algae.
Observation 2;
I experienced a huge infestation of Staghorn algae on Crypto and Anubias leaves in 2 aquariums of mine. I introduced a few Amano shrimps (Caridina multidentata) and I could see the algae disapearing after only a few days. I could observe the Amano shrimps sitting on the leaves and eating the Staghorn directly with their mouth (usualy shrimps pick the algae with their front legs). Highly recomanded shrimp :-)

Photos by Dusko Bojic.

Thread algae

Thread Algae grows on leaf edges as a single, up to 30cm long, thread. It is easily removed by twirling a tooth-brush around it. Excess iron is a possible reason. It is good to use ground iron fertilisers since this algae uptakes the iron from the water. Healthy plants will out-compete this algae. It is known that algae eaters like SAE and Caridina japonica will consume it, as well as Barbs. Thread algae is very likely to appear together with the Hair algae.
My SAEs, American Flag-fish, Neritina Zebra snails, Red Cherry shrimps, Otos don't show any interest in eating this sort of algae.

Photo by Irons.

Green Beard Algae

Green Beard Algae can be a vary attractive addition to an aquarium with big pieces of stone and/or bog-wood. It forms a tick green carpet over the surface closer to the light source. It is very soft and slippery but it is impossible to be removed mechanically. It can also be seen on slow growing plant leaves. It grows approximately 3 cm and the growth is rapid. The best way to control this algae is with the Neritina sp Zebra snail that will eridicate it. Siamese Algae Eater, Plecostomus spp. are known to eat this algae as well as the Rosy barb and a very aggressive fish called the Red Tailed Shark. Keeping lights for more than 12 hours a day will trigger this algae as well as unbalanced nutrient. It will show up in planted tanks with low CO2 and NO3 levels. This algae can be found in low and high pH waters. Green Beard Algae is very common in non-planted aquariums.
Photo by Dusko Bojic.

Hair algae

Hair Algae forms around the base of slower growing plants, on gravel and bog-wood. It has green-gray color. It grows up to 4 cm sometimes more. It is easy to remove this algae by twirling a tooth-brush around it. Most aquarists find this algae very welcome as a good food supplement for their fish. Most omnivorous fish like Angels or Barbs will supplement their diet with hair algae if not over-fed. In stronger water currents this algae forms matted clumps, as well as that, stronger water current will disturb their growth. All algae eaters will be more than happy to look after the Hair algae for you.

Photos by Dusko Bojic

Brown algae

The 2nd photo is made with a macro lens. Brown algae diatoms have rectangular shape. This photo represents one small brown patch form the 1st photo.
Brown Algae (diatoms) are more likely to appear in low-light aquarium and new set-ups, with excess silicate acids (SiO2). Its been known that strong lights make this algae go away, but they might still be seen on lower, shadowed, plant leaves. It can also be found on aquarium glass, gravel and decoration. It can be easily removed manually, since it has a soft/slimy structure. Otos (this catfish relishes this type of algae) and Snails can easily keep this algae in low numbers.

Photos by Dusko Bojic.

Fuzz algae

Fuzz Algae grow on leaves and plant stems not necessarily exposed to strong lights. The effected plants are probably suffering deficiency problems and are leaking nutrients back into the water. This algae is considered normal in small extend. Aquariums with fish such as Siamese Algae Eater, Otos, Amano shrimps, Bristlenose pleco or Molly will not suffer from this algae. Balanced plant nutrients will give a head start against the algae.

Photos from

Blue-green, Slime or Smear algae

Blue-Green Algae even though called algae, is not classified anymore as one. This "algae" is actually cyanobacteria. It forms slime, blue-green, sheets that will cover everything in a short time. It can be removed mechanically but will return quickly if the water quality is not fixed. It can be treated with Erythromycin phosphate, but this might effect the nitrifying bacteria in the gravel and filter. When the BGA gets killed by the algaecide it will start to rot and through that process it will reduce Oxygen levels in the tank. Since the nitrifying bacteria needs O2 to transfer ammonia/nitrItes into nitrAtes the nitrifying process will slow down. If algaecide is used, make sure to test the ammonia/nitrite levels. Remove all the visible algae to prevent it from rotting in side the tank. Some aquarists use the black-out method, where black bags are wrapped around the tank for 4 days and held in complete darkness. It is advisable to raise NO3 levels to 10-20ppm before starting the black-out period. All visible algae should be vacuumed before black-out and after the black out.Egeria densa (Elodea) and Ceratophyllum demersum are good plants to have in a tank. These plants secretes antibiotic substances which can help prevent Blue-Green Algae. Establishing, lots of healthy, fast-growing plants from the day you start the tank + dosing the nitrAte levels to maintain 10-20ppm (in planted aquariums) and vacuuming the gravel (in non-planted ones), is the best way to prevent this "algae". The BGA can be found in aquariums with very low nitrates because it can fix atmospheric nitrogen. BGA seem not to like very low pH and high CO2 levels. BGA doesn't prefer strong water currents. Excess organic loading is the real cause in many cases. Try removing decaying plant material and prune old leaves that are leaking organic nutrients back into the water column.

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