It is not hard to setup and maintain a beautiful aquarium in your home with these simple tips.
From the time I started my first planted tank with fish, to now, I have come across many challenges and discovered the true joys of looking after such an achievement. Along the way I found out for myself a wealth of knowledge and I will share the best practices for maintaining that tank you always wanted but thought you never had the time.
This first part will focus on ways to grow a happy and balanced tank that can be applied to most Planted Aquariums.
Sucsessful Maintenance in A Heavily Planted Tank
There is nothing more beautiful than a fully planted tank filled with exotic and colourful fish.
While challenging to the beginner aquarist, it is easy to achieve with a little attention and regular maintenance on the tank.
The first and foremost is the hottest topic: Water changes
There is much debate about the frequency of water changes needed in a planted tank
Main discussions are based on assumptions that the tanks are heavily fertilised and heavily stocked, so if a water change is not performed then the nutrients will fall out of balance for the plants needs and algae or disease can take over.
This can be managed if fast growing plants are used, but requires utmost attention to the plants needs, which can be difficult when you have a large tank of about 60 different species of plants.
A lot of the problems will often come from overfeeding your fish or dosing too much fertiliser.
It is better if you under dose fertiliser, but this may be tricky if you intend to keep rare or delicate plants that require constant levels of nutrients.
The most easiest way to safely perform water changes is to do one (maybe two depending on fish load) 20-50% water changes per week, including a gravel vac, and algae scrub on the glass if necessary, (filter wool works well for this) Fill the tank up slowly as to not disturb the gravel or delicate plants.
I usually fill from a hose so I add prime directly to the water as it comes out of the hose.
I have good quality Discus water from the tap in My apartment in Port Douglas,
so only a small amount of conditioner is needed to get the small traces of chlorine out and balance of salts and electrolytes into the water.
A Better method for water with chloramine or heavily dosed with chlorine is to
Have the water pre conditioned in a Large container so the water truly is consistent with the tank water.
After the tank has settled from filling you may get lots of tiny air bubbles on plants or the glass.
This is just excess oxygen trying to escape the water column.
Some tanks will also go a little cloudy, but in time will re balance themselves providing the filter is established.
(unless there is an algal bloom or High ammonia levels)
After about an hour if the tank has established to perfect clarity I add half dose of the recommended amount of plant fertiliser which says a full dose will last a week.
Sometimes it will take less time for a tank to re balance, and sometimes more.
I have never had a tank not re-balance itself for more than one night.
Usually an air stone and good filtration will help with this.
When I do my second change later in the week I dose the rest of the ferts.
Chelated Iron precipitates quickly so it also gives an option to add daily in small amounts, but I have tried this and found that algae is more prevalent in this regime. Later in the week when I perform my second water change I add the other half of the fert dose. This usually gives me the sufficient amount of macro and micro nutrients for the plants and keeps my algae down. Other methods may be used for different ferts.
The directions are usually on the labels.
I am currently using a Gold Mix complete Trace, Iron and Potassium concentrated plant fert from the UK I bought this through EBay (Aquatonuk) and the price works out to be very good. Other Products I have used are Bright well Florins Range, Red sea Range,API plant food, and Up Aqua Plant food.
I simply add the 3 part powder gold mix to 1 litre of RO water and it becomes a perfect complete food for my plants, and is one third of the price.
We will now move on to the dirty but fun:Filter Maintenance.
Depending on your filter setup, it may be a pleasure or a chore to clean and maintain your filters. Dirty filters are the most common thing in a fish tank and it can be as easy as rinsing out a few sponges in a bucket of tank water, or it might be more complex if you use canister filters, R/O units, Wet/Dry filters or have a large and complicated filter setup.
I am running two canister filters on my planted Discus tank, which require fortnightly maintenance on the sponges, due to many of my fast growth plants shedding dead leaves. The efficiency of the filter depends on the flow rate, and in canisters this can be dramatically reduced if the sponges are clogged with Detrius and plant matter.
I replace the Filter wool in one canister monthly (this has a UV inside the canister)
and my other is my Biological, so the filter wool gets replaced every two months.
Hoses on the canister get pretty dirty too, for this I take the hoses and intake and spray bars off the filter and Soak them in a H202 solution of about 200ml h202 to 9 litres of H20 and this soak is for about 10 minutes. Once most of the stuff has dispersed on the hoses, I run a Bottle brush type hose cleaner through the hoses just to get any stubborn stains out. then I rinse under fresh tap water.
Once all is clean, rinsed and clear I replace the hoses and attachments back to the filter and its ready to prime/start.
I have the following setup in my canisters;
Biological- Aqua nova NCF 1500
First layer(bottom) Coarse sponge x1 Fine Spongex1
Second layer Ceramic Bio Media Rings
Third Layer Filter Wool
Fourth layer Filter Wool
Intake modified to accommodate one Aqua plant Surface skimmer for freshwater tank
Output has original spray bar with 4 additional holes drilled for better distribution of water.
UV Canister from AVK Imports 1500 UV
First layer Fine Filter wool matting
Second layer Filter wool and Plastic Bio Balls
Third Layer Sea chem Purigen (bagged) and Filter Wool
All original fittings. Standard intake, spray bars and hoses.
Other internal Tank Parts needing maintenance
These tiny glass/ceramic discs release hundreds of tiny co2 bubbles that are pushed around the tank to generate adequate c02 assimilation for the plants. They often clog up after a few weeks and need attention as to operate optimally.
I use these in my tank after I realised that power head driven reactors are too noisy and dangerous for the fish I have chosen to keep (Apistos and Discus).
I just Add the dirty glass Diffusers to a H202 soak overnight as the co2 doesn’t need to be on at night.
Power heads and reactors can be soaked in a H202 solution as well and they will come up like new.
Drop checkers can also be soaked in h202 overnight to remove those stubborn stains.
Ornaments, Backgrounds, Airlines, other misc. internals
these can be removed and soaked in H202 solution (remove all plants before soaking)
and this soak will remove unwanted algae, stains, and all organic matter.
Just remember to rinse in water well before putting back in the tank, and remember that the soak will kill any good and bad bacteria so its not a good Idea to put Filter media in this solution.
It shouldn’t affect your PH providing you use a base 3% solution Of hydrogen Peroxide and not 6% or higher.
Lids and outside glass
To allow maximum light into the aquarium, we need to ensure the lids are kept free of any build up, which will inhibit the amount of light reaching the plants.
I clean my glass lids in either vinegar or h202, depending on what I have available.
I also use a piece of dry filter wool to polish them dry.
This can be used on the outsides of the tank too, although, I have been using a micro fibre cloth to dry the outsides of my tank with pleasing results. (this cloth was brought specifically for this purpose and has only been used on the tank).
I have T5 Fluorescent lighting which has reflectors that need polishing and these are best done with a soft cloth and water.
You can use newspaper, or paper towel if you know that the reflectors wont get any splash back.
These should Either be stored Dry in a safe place or if stored in water they need Malachite Green or another anti fungal added to the Containers solution to prevent parasites and diseases.
For some its easier to feed frozen foods, others pellets and flakes,
whatever your choice it should be a balanced and nutritional diet that has a bit of variation.
Also the amounts should never be excessive. If you have hungry fish, feed them smaller amounts
more frequently, but never exceed the limits of too much.
It becomes obvious quickly when a fish has had a feeding frenzy by the state of a bulging belly.
Its not all unhealthy (unless it is really sick) but over feeding is a killer if not stopped in time and causes all sorts of problems with water quality and the like.
The above is a rundown on my specific tank buy will vary from different setups.
Similar principals would apply in most freshwater planted tanks.