How-to: Moving Aquariums During a House Move

February 24th, 2013

I’m happy to post a how-to article from a guest author, Ricky Peterson. Ricky is a fish lover and a writer; he also loves the sea, travelling, and he writes for Swallow Aquatics, who sell aquarium & tropical fish supplies in the United Kingdom.

As an aquarium owner, moving house isn’t something that you are likely to look forward to. It is certainly tempting to stay put and just avoid the hassle. Moving a fish into the next room is stressful enough!

Unfortunately moving home is often necessary; so how can you do it as stress-free as possible?

It will take some preparation, but with the right approach there is no reason why you can’t take your fish with you wherever you may be going…

How To Prepare For The Big Move

There are two sets of things you need to move:

  • Your fish tank (plus accessories)
  • The actual fish

Moving the whole lot at once isn’t sensible, so you are going to need a spare tank to store your fish in while you arrange to move everything.

A hospital tank or a quarantine tank would be ideal, but as an alternative, any large see-through plastic tubs will suffice just so-long as they have tight-fitting and secure lids.

Top Tip:
If your fish are going to be spending much time in these temporary tanks, you may need to set up some aeration to keep them healthy in the mean-time. You can rig up a simple aeration system using a battery-powered pump and some plastic aquarium tubing which will suffice for a couple of days.

Timing The Move

If possible, move the fish last so that they spend as little time as possible in their make-shift accommodation. The less time they spend out of their home the less stressed they will be.

While they are waiting to be moved, make sure to keep your fish away from any noise or dust. Also, make sure those lids are secure (to keep the fish in and anything else out!)

The commotion of moving can easily cause undue stress to your fish, so planning ahead and having somewhere safe to keep them is essential.

Draining The Tank

Many aquarium owners will simply pour away the old aquarium water, but this is a mistake. This is the water that your fish are acclimated to — with its specific balance of chemicals, PH, bacteria, etc…

Try to keep as much water as you can. Some of it can be used to house the fish while they are in their temporary tanks and the rest can be stored in any suitable, clean containers that you have available (such as a few thoroughly rinsed out water bottles or 5 gallon buckets).

Drained Aquarium

Drained Aquarium

Keep the substrate from the tank a little wet and store it securely. The substrate contains a wealth of essential bacteria and preserving these will help the whole tank to spring back to life when you put it all back together.

The Actual Move

Moving the tank is actually the easy part, after-all it’s just a glass box. Wrap the tank as carefully as possible so that it doesn’t get damaged in transit.

Any decorations can be rinsed-off and dried; this will generally be anything man-made (hardscape items and the like).

Remember that some items need to be kept in water. Biological filtration systems contain micro-organisms and bacteria and if allowed to dry they will stop working. Live plants will also need to be kept in water of course, otherwise they will die.

Moving The Fish

Moving the fish is probably the most stressful part of the process and unfortunately there isn’t a lot that can be done to make it easier on them.

If possible

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, transport the fish in your car with a passenger to keep them secure. Before you leave, double check those lids and make sure they are secure.

A loose lid and a sudden bump can cause things to splash out of the tubs, so be vigilant and drive carefully. If you have a long journey, plan to make some stops along the way and take your time.

Setting It All Up – Again

Your first priority after the move is to get the tank set up again. Don’t put the fish back in yet, just put the substrate back in along with the water (and top up if necessary), plants and filters etc…

Once set-up, the tank will need some time to cycle and the water will need to settle before you put the fish back in.

Top Tip:
If possible, try to move the tank a few days before moving the fish, so that the tank can start cycling in advance. With a bit of planning you can then put the fish back in their home as soon as they arrive.

For a few days after setting-up the tank, test the water each day for PH level, chemical levels etc… Once all of the readings are back to normal (whatever normal might be for your particular aquarium), you can reintroduce your fish!




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Tips and Tricks

May 26th, 2011

I spoke at the Northeast Council of Aquarium Societies 2011 Convention back in March, and have received several requests from those who could not attend to list out some of the tips I gave at the AGA member meetup there. I hope that there may be a few things in this list for everyone to benefit from. This list is by no means comprehensive, so if you have other tips that you’ve found invaluable to your aquarium hobby, please list them in the comments:

1. Do Your Water Changes – There is nothing more important, or more beneficial, to maintaining the health of your livestock and aquarium eco-system then to do regular large water changes.

2. Respect Ratios – When aquascaping, be sure to use the Golden Ratio to layout your hardscape.

3. Green Spot = Add P – If you have green spot algae on your glass or slow-growing leaves, it’s more than likely that your phosphorus levels are zero. Often, simply adding more phosphate in your dosing regimen will resolve the problem.

4. Tools – Never underestimate the value of tools in the hobby. From expensive stainless-steel aquascaping tools for trimming/planting to DIY items like protractors (leveling substrate), credit cards (scraping the glass), toothbrushes (removing algae), and spray bottles (moistening leaves when planting dry), these items make your life easier.

5. Fill in the Gaps – Reserve a little substrate to use after you’ve positioned your hardscape. By filling in the gaps between your hardscape pieces, you take what was just a pile of rocks/wood, and integrated them into the landscape.

6. Rocks: Buy Big, Make Small – It’s really hard to find perfect rocks for aquascaping. I’ve had good results buying large boulders for landscaping, then breaking them down into smaller pieces. Be sure to use the properly attire and safety precautions when breaking up the rock.

7. Excel is More than Carbon – Did you know that Seachem Excel can be used as an algae preventative or to spot treat particularly troublesome patches of algae? H2O2 can also be used similarly, and is cheap at your local drugstore.

8. Try EVERYTHING – The best way to learn about anything is to immerse yourself in it. Rather than wondering whether that new plant will survive in your tank, try it and see for yourself! Try DIY methods. Experiment!

9. Flower Aquatic Plants – Aquatic plants often look completely different out of water than they do submersed. In addition, they have some fantastic flowers, and make great pond plants.

10. Enter Aquascaping Contests – By working toward the goal of submitting your aquascape to a contest, you often find the discipline to see a particular layout through to the end. In addition, the AGA contest judges provide feedback on your scape, which can help you grow as an aquascaper.

11. Compress Your Foreground – A big mistake by first-time aquascapers is to make the foreground too large, leaving very little room to create depth in the mid-ground and background. Try compressing your foreground to just an inch or two, and you’ll be amazed how much more depth your aquascape has.

12. Match Hardscape & Substrate – In nature, the substrate is often composed of a mixture of materials that has broken down from the surroundings. Therefore, if you have a dark substrate, don’t use white rocks or vice versa. By using materials that look like they belong together, your aquascape will look more natural.

13. Use Negative Space – Don’t cram every single inch of your aquarium with hardscape or plants. Leave some open areas, which will help you establish focal points in the aquascape.

14. Trim to Rhizome – Anubias, Java Fern, and Bolbitus all have thick rhizomes from which the leaves grow. You can often train these plants to produce thick growth by simply removing all or most of the old leaves from the rhizome. Soon, the rhizome will send out new compact growth.

15. Mayaca fluviatilis & Fe – Certain plants are great indicators of nutrient deficiencies in your aquarium. Mayaca fluviatilis in particular turns nearly white when there are shortages of iron (Fe) in the water column. Solution: Dose more iron!

16. Flow – Water flow is very important in a planted aquarium to ensure that there are no nutrient dead zones, where algae can creep in. Particularly in heavily planted aquariums, extra powerheads are needed to supplement flow provided by the filter.

17. Spirogyra Sucks – Spirogyra algae can be an extremely frustrating algae to eliminate because it thrives in conditions similar to aquatic plants. One way that I’ve found to be successful is to 1) remove all inhabitants from the tank, 2) turn off all flow, 3) dump in a significant amount of standard drugstore H2O2 into the aquarium, 4) let sit for 15 minutes, 5) do massive water change, 6) add in algae eating crew such as Amano shrimp to finish off the weakened algae.

18. Aquascape with Friends – By aquascaping in groups, you’re able to benefit from the multiple sets of eyes on the aquascape from the get-go. Not only is it a good excuse for a party, but your aquascape will mature more quickly.

19. Aquascape with a Camera – Particularly if you plan on sharing your aquascape online or in contests, be sure to take some snapshots while you are in the process of designing your hardscape and plant groups. You’ll likely find that the layout/depth looks vastly different through the lens, than in person. Therefore, you may want to optimize the layout for photography from the aquascape’s genesis.

20. Try Natives – It’s all to common to ignore the local species in favor of fish and plants from across the world. You may be surprised that North America has beautiful species of plants such as Proserpinaca palustris and Ludwigia palustris. In addition, there are very interesting native fish like dwarf sunfish, killifish, and darters that can do well in a planted aquarium.

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Aquascaping Tips

March 13th, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

75G - 2-18-2009

Aquascaping, or the arrangement of the items within the aquarium to create a scene, is where the science of planted aquariums meets the artistic side. You can have a very healthy planted aquarium that isn’t very appealing to the eye. Of course, this is an extremely individualistic thing that is largely subjective, but there are a number of guidelines that can help you achieve a nice looking scape.


There are certain proportions that throughout history have proven attractive to the human eye. These proportions can be found in nature, architecture, art, and so on. It only makes sense to incorporate them into our aquariums. In general, perfect symmetry is a bad thing when designing an aquascape. In nature, you don’t commonly see a rock repeated in one place from another, so you shouldn’t do that in your tank. Avoid placing the focal point, whether it is a large rock, piece of wood, or large grouping of plants directly in the middle of the tank. Instead, position the focal point off-center. There are many different possibilities, but the easiest to start with is to divide up your tank into thirds, and put the focal point a third of the way from the left, and a complementary group of wood/rocks/plants a third of the way from the right. The grouping on the left should be larger than the group on the right. If following the golden ratio, one grouping would be 1.61 times as large as the grouping on the right.

When grouping pieces of rocks or wood in your tank, try to ensure that each group has an odd number of items with in. This will help achieve a more natural appearance. In addition, most of the time it is better to slightly angle some of the rocks/wood, verses having them positioned completely vertical.

Using string, you can position your hardscape according to thirds.

Using string, you can position your hardscape according to thirds.


The biggest challenge when aquascaping is figuring out how to make the aquarium appear deeper than it actually is. Most people are only dealing with 12-18″ of space from front to back, however, you want to create the appearence that the scene could go on forever. There are a few tricks that you can use to achieve these feats. First, when you first add the substrate to your aquarium, don’t level it perfectly from front to back. Instead, slope the substrate so that the foreground is lower than the background. As you add the hardscape (rocks/wood), make sure that the slope remains. Second, you can simulate perspective in your aquascape by placing larger items toward the front, and smaller items to the back. This makes it look like things are getting smaller as they get to back of the tank. Don’t overlook leave sizes when considering this, in particular, various sizes of Anubias can be great for achieving this effect. Third, keep your foreground fairly shallow. Having a huge foreground compresses the midground and background, and takes away space from transitioning between them. Finally, position your hardscape so that there are clear lines for the eye to follow from front to back, paying addition to make sure that the foreground naturally transitions from to the midground, and then to the background.

Cliff Hui created amazing depth in his 4th place ranked "Destiny" scape in the 2008 ADA Contest.

Cliff Hui created amazing depth in his 4th place ranked "Destiny" scape in the 2008 ADA Contest.


Make sure all of the separate items that you add to your aquarium look good together. If you have a blank sand substrate, it’s not very believable if you have very light/white rocks on top of it. In addition, if you ultimately want a large rock to look like a mountain top, don’t use a sword plant right next to it, as the large leaves of the sword diminish the impact of the mountain top. Use plants that complement one another, and choose your bright red plants carefully, as you want to use them as accent pieces, not much more. Seek out rocks and wood that have a lot of character, and relatively few straight edges. The more detail on each item, the more it will look like a miniature version of a larger piece of nature.


The rock and wood used in the aquarium make up the hardscape. Your hardscape supports and ultimately makes your aquascape possible — everything stems from the hardscape. After you add the substrate to your tank, it’s time to position your hardscape. I like to add my largest piece, or focal point, first and build around that. Remember to leave room for the plants! It’s easy to have the perfect looking hardscape initially, but then find that you either don’t have room for plants, or that the hardscape ultimately overpowers the plants. On the other hand, particularly for foreground pieces of hardscape, remember that the foreground plants will take up 1-2 inches of height, so don’t use rocks that are going to get covered up by the plants. Plan ahead, even if initially they look slightly too tall there. The idea is to place the hardscape, and have the plants complement it, as they grow in. When you are done positioning your hardscape, use a little bit of extra substrate to fill in any gaps, and to make the scene a little bit more natural looking.

75G Hardscape

Original hardscape for the 75G at the top of post.

Use of Plants

Obviously, plants are an integral part of the aquascape. Mosses, ferns, and Anubias are great plants to use to hide cracks between two rocks, transition between foreground and midground, or to slightly obscure/soften a larger hardscape item to accentuate a particular part of that item. Stem plants are often used as background plants, as they can grow and provide a nice backdrop for your hardscape. By trimming your plants to keep them taller in the back, and shorter in front, you help create a sense of depth from front to back. It’s often better to use more of a few types of plants in an aquascape than the try and cram lots of different species into a single aquascape. The reason is that it’s often hard to ensure that all of those species truly match each other. Besides, in nature, you usually don’t encounter tons of species all growing in the exact same area.

Taiwan Moss

Moss helps soften wood, when tied to it using cotton thread.

Negative Space

So far, I’ve talked mostly about things you want to add to have a nice looking aquascape. Sometimes, it’s as much about what you leave out that really makes the aqauscape great. For example, if you want to have a large rock represent a mountain range, the impact will be the greatest if you have some empty space around that rock. This contract is what draws the eye to the mountain. Similarly, open pathways where the foreground extends back into the midground or background help create a sense of depth, and also highlight the rocks/wood/plants along those pathways. Basically, don’t try to fill every inch of space in your aquarium with something — leave some parts open.


While I have provided a number of good “rules” to aide you when aquascaping your planted aquarium, the design of an aquascape is a very personal thing. There are times when it makes good sense to break one of these rules in order to achieve a desired effect. In all, use these as a basis, and go from there. I hope to see lots of great aquascapes popping up online and in the various aquascaping contests. Good luck!

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March 9th, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.


All plants need nutrients in order to grow. This may seem like an obvious statement, however, many aquarists overlook the importance of feeding the plants in their aquarium. If you focus on making sure that your plants eat well, you will be going a long way to minimize algae and keep your fish and plants healthy.

Macro and Micro Nutrients

There are two main groups of nutrients that plants need in order to survive. The first are macro nutrients, often known as NPK, because they consist of the elements nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The other is micro-nutrients, which pretty much sum up all of the other nutrients that plants need in smaller quantities in order to survive. These are sometimes referred to as trace nutrients.

There are two main ways to fertilize your aquarium: enriching the substrate and dosing fertilizers directly into the water column.

Substrate Fertilization

The type of substrate greatly impacts what type of fertilization method should be used throughout the life of your planted aquarium. Soil-based substrates are rich in nutrients, and do not require regular supplementation of fertilizers. All currently available commercial substrates do require fertilization within a few months of setup.

In most soil substrates the bulk of the nutrients are stored in the soil. Commonly, the main exception is potassium, which can be added as needed using potassium sulfate (K2SO4), or other commercially available liquid fertilizers.  Sometimes, certain trace elements can also go missing, in which case a good micro-fertilizer, such as Seachem Flourish Comprehensive, can be used.

There are times, however, with plants that are heavy root feeders where the nutrition present in the substrate is diminished. At these times, you can use pellets/tabs to add the nutrients back into your substrate. There are several products on the market that can accomplish this. I have used Seachem Flourish Tabs in the past with good success. I have also heard that many aquarists use smaller portions of Jobe’s Fertilizer Spikes with great success. With all of these things, less is more, so start with a little, and gradually increase your fertilization until the proper levels are reached.

Water Column Dosing

Outside of the soil substrate folks, most of us are left having to regularly dose our aquariums with fertilizers. Many plants do better in nutrient-rich water, rewarding you for the extra effort involved with maintaining a dosing schedule. There are many liquid fertilizers available on the market, of which, I have regularly used Seachem’s Flourish line of products. In addition, I dose dry fertilizers KNO3, for nitrate, and KH2PO4, for phosphate directly to avoid the hassle of mixing them into liquid solutions and save money.

There are a couple of systems out there that can help regiment your dosing schedule. The most popular ones are Estimative Index (EI) and Perpetual Preservation System (PPS Pro). Describing these methodoligies in depth goes beyond the scope of this article, but they are essentially at opposite ends of the spectrum. The thinking behind EI is to overload your water column with nutrients so that a shortage never occurs. This allows plants to grow extremely quickly, but requires weekly water changes to avoid nutrient levels from becoming too high. The Perpetual Preservation System is more about maintaining the proper ratios of nutrients over the long term, which may lead to more frequent testing to ensure those ratios stay in check, and may require a slightly more meticulous regimen that EI. Both are proven systems that are worth experimenting with in order to find something that works for you.

What I Do

DIY Auto DoserMy method falls somewhere in-between EI and PPS Pro. I use a fraction of the nutrient levels recommended by EI, and am mindful of certain ratios for my nutrients, but I don’t test frequently. I do maintain bi-weekly water changes to help reset my tank periodically, clear the water of tannins, and top off evaporated water. On Mon/Weds/Fri I dose macro-nutrients (nitrate and phosphate), and on Tues/Thurs I dose micros (flourish and iron). Generally speaking, I watch my tank to let it tell me what to do.

Nutrient Imbalance

Nutrient deficiencies or excesses often manifest themselves through clear-cut symptoms, so by keeping an eye on your aquarium, you can adjust your dosing regimen as needed. For example, if you have green spot algae on the glass, your tank needs more phosphate. If you have hair algae, your nitrate levels are likely out of balance with phosphate. Black brush algae often indicates low nitrates or CO2, as does blue-green algae. If your plants are pale or yellowish, they are likely suffering from iron deficiencies. Extremely red or even purple plants often mean your nitrate levels are low. Pinholes in your leaves indicate a pottasium deficiency. While, there is often some overlap between these symptoms and other factor can be at play, getting a feel for these kinds of things make you more adept at adverting tragedy if let to progress.

Driving Factors

When developing your dosing routine, it is very important to realize the other driving forces involved in plant growth. The more intense your lighting, the more your plants are going to photosynthesize. The addition of CO2 becomes necessary to provide the carbon needed to sustain photosynthesis. At this point, the plants will use up more and more nutrients, which is when fertilizers are required. The main lesson to take from this, is that if your plants are growing too fast or if you’re unable to keep your nutrients in balance, the best thing you can do is to reduce the amount of light over your aquarium. This should help you to reduce any algae that’s crept up, and keep a handle on your dosing routine.


Fertilization is an extremely important piece of maintaining a healthy planted aquarium. It is also often regarded as one of the least desirable aspects of the hobby. Planning ahead, and thinking realistically about the level of commitment you’re willing to make to dosing, will ultimately lead to success. Don’t be intimated by the chemical names and ratios. I recommend starting with a commercial line of fertilizers, and as you get more comfortable, start using the dry nutrients for macros. Good luck!

Further Reading

Estimative Index

Perpetual Preservation System

APC’s Fertilator

Mineralized Soil Substrates

Building an Autodoser

Fertilizing the Planted Aquarium

Seachem’s Plant Dosing Chart

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February 13th, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

2.5G - 08-31-2008

More than any other factor, lighting is the driving force that determines plant growth rates and fertilizer/CO2 requirements. Before purchasing a light for your tank, you need to determine what your ultimate aspirations in the hobby are. Do you want to be able to grow any type of plant? Do you mind spending time trimming your plants every week? Do you want to inject CO2 or add fertilizers on a regular basis? Lighting doesn’t completely determine all of these things, but it definitely has a significant impact on them.

Light Levels

The amount of light placed over your tank is often measured in watts (W). There are many resources that recommend a range of watts per gallon ratios (WPG) for categories called “low light,” “medium light,” and “high light” tanks. Unfortunately, the whole WPG paradigm is not a perfect formula for success. Instead, the height of the aquarium is more important than the volume. Water diffuses light so it is very difficult for light to penetrate deep into a body of water. This is why the tops of your plants near the light are often red and vigorous growers, but lower leaves remain green, or melt away altogether. Infer from this that the taller your aquarium is, the more light you will need to adequately grow plants, especially foreground plants near the substrate.

To demonstrate how the WPG rule falls apart, on a 2.5G aquarium, 26W of light would be 10.4 WPG. On a 75G aquarium, 220W would be 2.93WPG. Both are considered high light tanks, with relatively equivalent plant growing capacity. For a smaller tank, the WPG ratio is likely to be skewed due to the fact that plants need a base level of light to grow. Combine that with the smaller stature of a 2.5G tank relative to the 75G aquarium, and you don’t need a ton of light. A 75G aquarium is 20 inches tall, so much more light is required to penetrate to the bottom of the aquarium. Much less and the foreground plants could be leggy, and reach for the surface instead of crawling along the substrate.

Keeping the height and volume discrepancies in mind, in general, light levels for fluorescent fixtures can be determined as follows:

  • 0-1 WPG Low Light
  • 1-2.5 WPG Medium Light
  • 3-4+ WPG High Light

LED fixtures are an entirely different beast. A 25w fixture can output light superior to a 350W HOT5 and metal halide fixture. As such, for LED fixtures you must rely on PAR (Photosynthetically active radiation), the measurement of the amount of photosynthetically active wavelengths in light. To define light levels, you should figure out how much PAR you have at the substrate. Here is a rough guideline. These guidelines are true for florescent and incandescent fixtures as well:

  • 0 – 30 PAR – Low Light
  • 30 – 80 PAR – Medium Light
  • 80-120 PAR – High Light

If you have at least 80 PAR at the substrate, you should be able to meet the lighting requirements for almost any plant in the hobby.

Choosing the Right Plants

Taiwan Moss

It is very possible to have a beautifully planted aquarium with very low light levels. In order to achieve this, you must choose only plants that are predisposed to growing with less light. Some examples of these plants are Anubias, Cryptocoryne, Bolbitus, Java Fern, Swords, Vallisneria, most mosses, and a small handful of stem plants. While there are a large number of species within these genera, your plant selection is quite curtailed from that of higher light levels. These plants will grow extremely slowly in low light, which means that they will not require frequent trimming, but if you suffer from an algae outbreak, it will likely take longer to recover since new growth will not as quickly replace the old algae-laden leaves. Some other plants will grow, but may exhibit larger leaves, leggy growth, and green coloration. Of course, the low-light tanks are inexpensive to setup and maintain, so they do have some appealing qualities.

As you increase the light levels over your aquarium, the number and types of plants that will grow expands rapidly. Hundreds of different stem plants become viable, as do several foreground plants that are impossible to grow under lower light levels. Of course, the added light also causes plants to grow faster, thus using more nutrients and requiring more frequent trimming. While CO2 is used most readily in higher light tanks, I recommend CO2 supplementation for all light levels.

Kelvin Ratings

So far, we’ve only talked about the intensity of the light, but not the quality. Plants use specific colors within the light spectrum for photosynthesis, so it makes sense that not every bulb will adequately supply the type of light needed for plant growth. The color of a bulb is determined by the bulbs’ Kelvin rating. There are many different Kelvin ratings that will work, but the most popular are 6500K, 8000K, and 10,000K. Bulbs in the 6500K range are usually a little bit yellow-cast, while 10,000K bulbs are more bluish. I prefer to mix colors, which tends to illuminate the tank in a more natural way. If the bulb isn’t labeled with a Kelvin rating, most “daylight” or “full spectrum” bulbs will work, as will “plant grow” bulbs. Stay away from most “cool white” or general purpose bulbs. Even within the Kelvin ranges, one 6500K bulb may be more or less yellow than another manufacturer’s 6500K bulb. Experiment with a few different brands to find the one that looks the best to your eye. (Don’t be surprised if more expensive bulbs last longer, and produce a more appealing type of light.)

Degradation of Quality Light

To make matters even more complicated, the quality of light that is produced by a light bulb decreases over its lifespan. Generally speaking, a brand new bulb will appear much brighter, and produce a more photosynthesis-friendly light source than bulbs that are more than a year old. The type of bulb makes a difference, as does the daily operating temperature of the bulb, but a good rule of thumb is to replace your light bulbs yearly regardless of whether or not they have burned out. Obviously, if you can reuse these bulbs in household fixtures that would be ideal. If not, be sure to dispose of them properly (not in your regular trash), as most of these bulbs contain mercury. LED generally have a much longer degradation period, lasting 5 or more years, however, unlike bulbs, they continue to emit the same quality of light, just at a decreased brightness. You can extend the life of your LEDs by dimming them over their lifetime.

Photo Periods

Intermatic Digital TimerThe photo period is the amount of time that you have the light turned on over your planted aquarium. The recommended time for most aquariums is 10-12 hours. If you notice that your stems plants are closing up toward the end of the day, they’re done photosynthesizing, and there’s no benefit to leaving the light on any longer. In addition, if the lights are on too long, algae can advantageously utilize the extra light. Lighting systems containing multiple bulbs or fixtures can be timed to run less bulbs in the morning and evening, and more bulbs during the middle of the day, simulating dawn, mid-day, and dusk light levels. For consistency, I recommend using a timer for your lights regardless of your lighting scheme.

Lighting Options

Once you’ve decided whether you want a low-light or high-light planted aquarium, you now have to choose from a variety of lighting technologies. Fortunately (and unfortunately) there are lots of options to choose from, allowing you to customize your light solution to the specific needs of your aquarium. I’m going to give a brief overview of the most common options:

AGA Strip LightNormal-Output Fluorescent

Normal-output fluorescent lights are the standard fluorescent light tubes that are common in business ceiling lights, and the type of light fixture that’s often bundled with new aquarium purchases. Unfortunately, these fixtures are not appropriate for anything but low-light setups. Be sure to purchase plant-appropriate bulbs, and replace them yearly. Even for low-light tanks, you will likely want to invest in a double or triple tube solution. The reflectors in most of these fixtures are not very good, so a lot of light is not properly directly into the aquarium.

Power Compact Fluorescent (PC)

Just as power compact bulbs are growing in popularity for household use, they are also widely used with planted aquariums due to better efficiency and intensity than their normal fluorescent counterparts. They do produce a moderate amount of heat, and due to the width of the bulb, they suffer from some restrike problems. (Restrike is when light is emitted from the bulb, bounces off of a reflector, and goes right back toward the bulb, instead of going into the aquarium.) Overall, cost wise, PC fixtures often give you the best bang for your buck.

T5 Fluorescent Lighting

TEK T5 Lighting SystemT5 lighting is immensely popular in the planted aquarium arena. T5 bulbs are smaller in diameter than normal-output fluorescent bulbs, but otherwise look similar. The difference is that high-output (HO) bulbs and fixtures are available that produce far more light. In addition, due to their smaller diameter, less heat is generated and restrike is not as much of an issue. In a fixture where each bulb is wrapped in its own individual reflector, the efficiency is very high, producing extremely good results.

Metal Halide (MH)

Iwasaki 6500K MH BulbMetal Halide lighting is commonly used in the hydroponics industry as grow lights. The technology has been in the aquarium hobby for a number of years, particularly on the reef side. These lights are very good at penetrating to the bottom of tall tanks, and produce an incredibly bright light. They also produce a mesmerizing shimmer on the bottom of the aquarium. The biggest downside to metal halides is the heat that they generate, making them less efficient than most other forms of lighting. Of course, the amount of light produced can really drive plant growth and colors to the extremes.

LED Lighting

LED lights are taking the aquarium hobby by storm. There are already a few planted aquarium specific LED fixtures on the market. The benefit of this type of lighting is the extremely high efficiency of the light, with very low heat generated. In addition, LED lights are directionally oriented, so they do not require reflectors, and thus restrike is not an issue. In addition, the directional light combined with any surface ripples create the same shimmer effect that metal halides produce. Many LED fixtures include dimming capability that allow you to convert your lighting from low light to high light at the touch of a button. Finally, high-end lights include all kinds of features ranging from custom color configuration, lighting storm and cloud effects, moon lights, ramping up/down the light to simulate the movement of the sun, and more.

Do It Yourself Solutions

There are many DIY solutions to lighting a planted aquarium. The simplest DIY method is to purchase a retrofit kit for any of the above technologies, and install that into a custom built canopy or light strip. You can also rewire existing normal-output fluorescent fixtures to overdrive them, producing about 1.5X the amount of light that they normally would produce. I have seen examples of people using regular screw-in light bulbs in a canopy to light the aquarium. There are also excellent LED kits that allow you to completely customize the intensity and color of your light. In all, if you can think it, you can do it. Just be sure that you use good electrical practices, and that the bulbs you use are suited to grow plants.

Combined Solutions

There are several fixtures on the market that combine two types of lighting technology. The most popular is to combine PC/T5 lighting with MH in one fixture. These fixtures are designed to run efficient power compact lights for most of the day, with the metal halide light running in the middle of the day as  a noon-burst. This is supposed to emulate the 3-hour period of the day where the sun is most intense.


While reflectors aren’t part of every lighting solution, they DO make a difference in the effectiveness of your equipment. The shape of the reflector, as well as, the shininess impact its ability to direct more light into the aquarium. Parabolic (rounded) reflectors are generally better than rectangular ones. Polished aluminum is generally better than white or other types. In addition, using one reflector for each bulb in your fixture is generally better than using a single large reflector for all bulbs, as this minimizes restrike.


Lighting is an important part of every planted aquarium. The more light you have, the more you are pushing your plants to grow, which causes plants to need more resources to sustain that growth. If you do not adequately balance you light levels, CO2 injection, and fertilization schemes, you are asking for poor plant growth and algae problems. Fortunately, there is a lighting solution for every lifestyle and price point, so do your research and choose wisely. At this point, I would recommend any new hobbyist seriously consider investing in an LED fixture as they bring the best balance of light output, energy efficiency, customization, and configuration.

Business Broker


February 4th, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

20L using SoilMaster Select

I remember how choosing the proper substrate for an aquarium used to be as easy as picking the color your wanted from a palette of about 10 colors, ranging from black to neon pink. For planted aquariums, the choice isn’t nearly as straight forward, but depending on your decision, the implications are quite significant. Fortunately, there are many right answers to which substrate is used, so it’s just a matter of knowing what each choice requires of you in order to be successful.

What to Look For

There are a few common attributes that should be sought from whatever substrate you choose. In general, you want something that is attractive, and will look natural with the plants and hardscape you are choosing. I would suggest going with browns, grays, and blacks instead of any of the colored substrates. In addition, plain gravel is usually not a great substrate for plants, although it can be done. The main reason is that gravel is 100% inert, meaning that it cannot absorb and store nutrients for the plant roots to later consume. There’s a more technical term for this called the cation exchange capacity (CEC), which defines how easily a given substance can exchange positively charged ions between itself and a solution. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about the technicalities of this besides trying to avoid plain gravel if possible.

Another thing to consider is the granule size of whatever substrate you are evaluating. Anything much bigger than pea-sized is going to be difficult to physically plant in. In addition, more delicate and smaller plants, may be unable to navigate the larger granule size, making it impossible to plant a field of hairgrass or similar type of aquascape. Very fine sand should also be avoided as it is inert, and can compact on the roots, causing anaerobic conditions.

Commerical Substrates

Fortunately, there are several commercial substrates available that are specially designed for planted aquarium use. Unfortunately, many of these come with a high upfront cost, which should be considered.

Seachem Flourite

Seachem FlouriteOne of the most widely available substrates on the market for planted aquariums is Seachem Flourite. Originally a course reddish clay-based material, Seachem has now expanded their product line to include several other colors and granule types, including the attractive Flourite Black Sand. For all but the lowest-light tanks, planted aquariums using these products will require supplemental fertilization for plants to get the nutrition they need, but Flourite has an excellent CEC rating, ensuring that these fertilizers will be captured for use by the roots. For the traditional Flourite products, many people prefer to pre-rinse the substrate before putting it into their tank to remove any particulate matter that often initially clouds the tank. In my experience, you can get away with not rinsing, but you must be cognizant of minimally disturbing the substrate when initially filling the aquarium, and when uprooting plants. The original Flourite is sometimes too large for some small foreground plants, but their newer sand product lines correct that.

CaribSea Eco-Complete

CaribSea Eco-CompleteAnother widely available commericial substrate is CaribSea’s Eco-Complete. Eco-Complete is an attractive substrate, resembling black sand with a small granule size. Differentiating itself from Flourite, Eco-Complete comes with bacterial starting liquid in the bag, so it should not be rinsed prior to use. This substrate also will require fertilization in most aquariums, but should be capable of growing nearly any type of plant you throw at it. The substrate is fairly dense, doing a good job of holding plants down where you plant them.

ADA Substrate Line

ADA Aquasoil AmazoniaCurrently, the premium line of planted aquarium substrates on the market are made by Aqua Design Amano, operated by planted aquarium and aquascaping guru, Takashi Amano. The ADA substrate line can be confusing to understand at first, but essentially, it consists of 4 components: additives, Power Sand, Aquasoil, and Bright Sand. When setting up an aquarium, you first sprinkle some additives on the bottom of the aquarium. These can include Tourmaline BC, Clear Super, Bacter 100, among others. These additives are designed to provide additional minerals, jump start bacterial colonies, and aide in maintaining clear water. Then, Power Sand, a porous stone mixed with peat and other nutrients is added. Power Sand aides in preventing compaction over time, so that water continues to flow throughout the substrate after years of use. On top, Aquasoil is used either in the whole aquarium, or just in the background. If you want a decorative white sand foreground, you would put Bright Sand there instead of the Aquasoil. The most commonly used product is Amazonia Aquasoil.

Unfortunately, the ADA product line is only sold at a handful of shops in the U.S., but is available online from Aquarium Design Group and Aqua Forest Aquarium. As you can imagine, this product line is more expensive to use in most cases than other more widely available commercial substrates. In my opinion, the main reason to choose the ADA brand is that it comes out of the bag with a ton of nutrients, jump starting your aquascape without the need for dosing. Keep in mind, however, that after 4-6 weeks, additional fertilization will be required after that initial burst. In addition, Aquasoil buffers the water, ensuring a more acidic environment which is proven to facilitate the uptake of nutrients by plants. Finally, as a planting medium the weight, consistency, and granule size is ideal for holding plants in place. I recommend doing several water changes per week for the first two weeks after initially using Aquasoil to ensure that your pH and nutrient levels do not become too extreme. For this reason, you may want to wait a couple weeks before adding fish to your tank. In the end, it’s worth it, as your plants should be healthy, and ready to support the extra bioload that fish bring.

Other Commercial Substrates

Soilmaster SelectThere are quite a few other substrates available commercially, but the three I have mentioned are the ones I have personal experience with. These other substrates are most likely just fine to use, but be sure to research other aquarists’ experiences prior to using. In addition to  substrates that are specifically designed for planted aquariums, another substrate which has been widely used is SoilMaster Select (SMS). This is actually a turf product designed for use on baseball fields, but through experimentation, it has been found to work very well in aquariums. Like Aquasoil, it slightly reduces the KH of your water, providing a good acidic environment for the roots. It also has fine granules, and an extremely high CEC. The downside of SMS of that it’s fairly lightweight, so strong currents can blow it around. It does a reasonable job at holding down plants, but I would make the substrate a little bit deeper than with some of the other heavier ones available. With no inherent nutritional value, you should expect to provide supplemental fertilization from day one. The main benefit is that a $16-$20/bag of SMS will completely fill a 75G aquarium, while most of the other substrates would cost 5X or more for the same tank. Unfortunately, I’ve heard that SMS has been discontinued by the manufacturer, but hopefully a replacement product-line will arise that is similarly suitable for aquarium use.

Soil Substrate

There is another DIY substrate that is gaining use in the hobby. While traditionally, many people have recommended against using soil in the aquarium due to huge algae outbreaks, recent formulas for success have been developed to make this a viable option. Diana Walstad, author of Ecology of the Planted Aquarium has garnered a following for her low-tech, el Natural, style of soil-based aquariums. One of my fellow GWAPA members, Sean Murphy, has also developed his own mineralized soil substrate recipe, which has attracted much use throughout the hobbyist community. The key benefit to setting up one of these tanks is that very little dosing is required on a day-to-day basis, as all of the nutrients should be present within the soil itself.

Soil substrates are not for everyone. They cannot grow plants that draw nutrients from the water column, instead of via their root systems. In addition, there is a 4-8 week preparation process of breaking down the organic material in your soil, prior to setting up your tank. Finally, even after running this process, you may or may not experience a period of severe algae while the ecosystem of the tank is established. That said, once established, the substrate has been proven to last at least a decade. The full process of setting up a mineralized soil substrate tank can be found here.

Plain Gravel + Additives

Pure LateriteIf none of these other options are amenable to you, it is possible to have some moderate success using plain gravel. I will stress that it is much preferred to use any of the other options detailed above, but if you insist on using gravel, you ought to at least supplement it with a few additives placed underneath. Most importantly, make sure to add laterite, an iron-rich mineral, which can be purchased in most pet stores. In addition, a small amount of peat will help acidify the substrate and provide a material with a decent CEC ratio. I would also encourage you to use form of fertilizer sticks/pellets, such as Seachem’s Flourish Tabs, which will add other trace nutrients to your substrate. Finally, expect to have to add additional fertilization, especially in high-light+CO2 setups. Again, this solution should be your last choice.


Choosing a proper substrate is an integral part of a successful planted aquarium. There are several out-of-the-box solutions that can get you up and running very quickly. If you would prefer a more natural substrate, topsoil-based substrates can also do the job quite well. There may be some trial and error involved in finding a substrate that fulfills the aesthetic or dosing regimen that you’re striving for. I hope that you now understand the most popular options that other hobbyists are employing.

Business Broker

CO2 Systems

January 30th, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

Carbon is an essential element for plants to grow via photosynthesis. Some carbon will be released from mature substrates through the natural breakdown of detritus and other organic material. Unfortunately, additional supplementation is usually required to provide optimal growth conditions for your plants, especially in high-light tanks. One of the most effective ways to supply carbon to your plants is by injecting Carbon Dixoide (CO2) into your aquarium. There are two main ways of accomplishing this: DIY Yeast CO2 and Pressurized CO2 Systems.

DIY Yeast CO2

Hagen CO2 Natural Plant SystemWhen yeast consumes sugar, one of the byproducts just happens to be Carbon Dioxide. Therefore, using readily available products from your kitchen, it is possible to capture and inject this CO2 directly into your aquarium. Basically, you take a 2L bottle (I recommend rigid bottles like orange juice bottles that won’t compress), drill the cap to insert an airline hose, add a check valve, and run it into your tank. In the tank, you can attach the airline hose to an air-stone or inject it directly into the intake of your filter or powerhead. Personally, for DIY CO2, I prefer Hagen’s ladder style reactor because you can easily see all of the bubbles, and tell when you need to refresh the solution in the bottle. As for the solution, put 2 cups of sugar, 1 tsp baking soda, and 1/2 tsp yeast into the bottle. Fill about 2/3 way with warm water, and shake. In 12-24 hours, a steady stream of CO2 should be flowing from the bottle. Depending on the amount of sugar, temperature, and size of your container, the solution should last for 1-3 weeks, before needing to be replaced. There are a few things to keep in mind with this method:

  1. DIY CO2 is really only appropriate for smaller tanks, approximately 30 gallons and less. It can be done on larger tanks, but you often require multiple bottles running at the same time, which becomes laborious.
  2. Never physically place the bottle above the tank, as the fermented solution is definitely something you do not want in your tank.
  3. Always use a check valve on your airline hose to prevent a backward syphon from emptying tank water into your bottle, or worse, onto your floor.
  4. The bubble stream from DIY CO2 is not constant. You will have a ramp up period and a decline in bubbles, so you should account for this difference when fertilizing.
  5. If you do not want to build the unit yourself, there are commercially available systems, which work very well. Do not be fooled into using their expensive refills, however, as those refills packets are simply baking soda and yeast.
  6. While DIY CO2 is inexpensive to setup, in the long term, sugar, yeast, and baking soda is more expensive and labor intensive to mix then pressurized CO2.

Pressurized CO2 Systems

CO2 Canister & Regulator

Most hobbyists start with a DIY CO2 setup, and soon grow tired of remixing the yeast/sugar solution every week or two. Fortunately, pressurized CO2 systems eliminate the need for much maintenance, outside of getting the bottle refilled every so often. There are countless different products on the markets surrounding CO2 systems, but in general, all you need is a CO2 tank, a regulator, and needle valve.

CO2 tanks come in a variety of sizes, but the most commonly used sized is the 5 pound tank. As named, this holds 5 pounds of liquid carbon dioxide, which once released, converts back to CO2 gas. For me, a 5 pound tank lasts about 9-12 months on a 75G aquarium. You could get a larger tank to further reduce the frequency of needing a refill, or if you wish to distribute CO2 to multiple aquariums from a single source tank.

The regulator is the piece of equipment that allows you to control the pressure coming out of the tank. Inside of the tank, the pressure is very high, approximately 800psi. In general, you want the output pressure to be between 5-40 psi, and then further reduced through a needle valve. The needle valve allows you to fine tune, getting you down to bubbles per second. Many regulators come with solenoids, which can be hooked up to a timer, so that you don’t waste any CO2 by injecting it at night when the plants are not photosynthesizing. There’s nothing wrong with injecting CO2 24/7, but you’ll likely have to visit the refill store more frequently.

Hooking up the equipment is really simple. Usually, it’s just a matter of using a wrench to screw the regulator onto the tank. Then, open the tank, adjust the regulator to the desired bubble count, and forget about it. In truth, with newly filled tanks, you may need to readjust the knobs a couple times during the first week, before the pressure evens out and stays relatively constant thereafter. If your regulator does not come with a bubble counter attached, you can add an in-line bubble counter to the airline which will let you determine the bubble rate.

Inside the aquarium, there are countless methods of diffusing CO2. Recently, glass diffusers containing ceramic disks that break up the CO2 into tiny micro-bubbles have become popular. These work well, allow you to easily see whether or not CO2 is being injected into the tank, but do require cleaning to keep the ceramic disks from becoming clogged. (An easy way to clean these diffusers is to raise them above the water surface, fill with hygroden peroxide, and let sit for 20-30 mins before putting them back into the tank.) There are also many different types of reactors that essentially use a pump to diffuse the CO2 into water. I prefer to simply inject the CO2 into a canister filter’s intake line, and allowing the gas to diffuse inside of the canister.

How Much CO2 is Needed?

Hemianthus callitrichoides Oxygen BubbleThe only question left is how much CO2 to inject. With DIY CO2, you don’t have any control over this, but usually the amount of CO2 generated will never reach levels that endanger your fish. With pressurized CO2, it is most definitely possible to inject too much, suffocating your livestock and/or acidifying the water so much that your plants melt. There is a way to approximate the CO2 levels in your tank using pH and KH measurements, using an excellent chart made by Chuck Gadd. As you inject CO2, the pH will drop. By calculating that drop, and knowing your carbonate hardness (KH), you can figure out how many ppm of CO2 are present in your water. Unfortunately, this relationship only holds true if there are no other buffers in the water that could affect the water chemistry.

Personally, I don’t use this measurement to calculate CO2. In general, for each aquarium I usually start at about 1 bubble/second. Then, I watch the tank closely for a day, and see how the fish/plants are doing. If I don’t see any ill-effects, I’ll turn it up slightly, and continue to observe. Usually, I’ll look for the plants to pearl at the end of the day. Pearling is when the water is super-saturated with gas, so the oxygen produced by plants during photosynthesis literally bubbles from the plant. If at any point, I notice any fish swimming wobbily or gasping at the surface, I turn down the CO2. After doing this process, I usually have a pretty good handle on how many bubbles per second I need for each of my aquariums.

There is also another method to determine how much CO2 to add, where you can inject CO2 into your aquarium water. If you measure the pH of that water, you’ll get one reading. Then, let another vile of that water sit out over night. Measure the pH. If the pH raises about 1 degree, then you probably have the CO2 levels about where you want them. If it raises much more, you may want to tone down your CO2. If it hasn’t raised a degree, you can increase the amount of CO2 injected.

There are a few things to note with pressurized CO2 systems.

  1. Regardless of the method, watch your fish. If you ever notice any problems, either do a water change, or temporarily put an air-stone into the aquarium to quickly oxygenate the water.
  2. CO2 tanks are highly pressurized. While they do have safety valves, I highly recommend that you strap the tank to a secure object, such your tank stand. I’ve never had a tank blow on me, but I’ve heard stories of tanks turning into torpedos and busting through walls. Again, this is very, very rare, but precautions should be taken.
  3. Tanks can often be refilled by oxygen suppliers, paintball stores, or commercial beverage shops. Refills usually cost between $10-$15.
  4. Total equipment cost to start up with pressurized CO2 is usually between $150 and $200. There are, of course, more expensive high-end systems. Used systems are a great way to get start on a budget.


Carbon dioxide is an essential component for plant growth. While pressurized CO2 may seem daunting, it really is the cheapest and most reliable long term solution. There are many different options for accomplishing this, however, but I hope you now have the basis for further investigating those options.

Business Broker

Flow: Filters / Powerheads

January 28th, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

Algae Filled 40G

Algae can set in without adequate flow.

Flow is one of the most important things to consider when setting up a planted aquarium. As plants use up CO2 and nutrients in the surrounding water, adequate flow ensures that fresh water and nutrients are circulated around the plants so that they can continue growing. Without this, your aquarium can have dead zones where algae adventitiously steps in. To prevent this, add filters and powerheads to your aquarium to clean and circulate the water.


While filters do provide circulation within an aquarium, they also perform the task of cleaning the water. There are many different types of filters on the market, but some are much better suited for a planted aquarium than others. Since CO2 is an important addition to any planted aquarium, you should ensure that the filter you choose will not work against this addition. Carbon dioxide can easily be driven out of the aquarium through surface ripples created by equipment. Inherently, hang-on-the-back filters such as the very popular Hagen AquaClear series is ill-suited for a planted aquarium for this reason.

Eheim Pro II FilterCanister filters are the ideal filter for a planted aquarium. Not only do they efficiently clean the water due to their ability to easily customize the cleaning medium used (sponges, carbon, bacteria balls, etc…), but their intake and outtake lines can be position well below the water line to prevent surface disturbance. Of course, there are many types of canister filters on the market. I prefer to use filters that will not air-lock when injecting CO2 into their intake, as a means to diffuse the gas into the water column without adding extra CO2 equipment inside of the tank. (A filter with air-locking problems is one where the impeller stalls when a gas is introduced into the impeller chamber.) In addition, most canister filters can easily be hooked up to external heaters, U.V. sterilizers, or other equipment.

Currently, I successfully use several Eheim Pro II series of canister filters on my aquariums. If you do not plan on injecting CO2 into your filter, virtually any canister filter is appropriate. I’m also successfully using the Hagen Fluval series of filters in this way. When purchasing your filter, it’s often better to buy the next model up for your size of aquarium because when a filter is rated for a certain gallon tank, they generally do not take into account that much of that tank will be obstructed by plant mass.

There are other types of filters that are a little bit less appropriate for the planted aquarium. Sponge filters tend to get plants stuck to them, add too much surface agitation, and do not provide any flow. Additionally, undergravel filters should be avoided as they interfere with plant root systems.


Hydor Koralia Powerhead

Once you have decided on your filtration method, you may still discover that certain areas of your aquarium are not receiving adequate flow. In these situations, you could add another filter, but it’s usually much less expensive to simply add a powerhead to the aquarium. Powerheads are designed to move a certain amount of water per hour. I’ve recently started using Hydor’s Koralia Powerhead because the design is extremely energy efficient, produces a wide stream, and doesn’t easily clog. There are, however, less conspicuous powerheads on the market that work very well, such as the Hagen AquaClear series. These also have the added benefit of being able to drive a quick filter, which does a great job at clearing micron-level debris from the water column.

Sumps and Pumps

There are other ways to add circulation to your planted aquarium. While, in general, adding a sump (a large hidden aquarium underneath Supreme Mag-Drive Utility Pumpyour visible aquarium to add overall water volume to your system) is not ideal in planted setups, I have seen it done. The key is to make the path from the main aquarium into the sump as smooth as possible so that CO2 is not lost. The benefit of a sump is that you can put extraneous equipment such as your heater down there. You can also dose fertilizers into the sump, and have them dissolve and subsequently migrate back into your main aquarium. A submersible pump, like the Supreme Mag-Drive Utility Pump moves the water back into the main aquarium. These pumps can also be used externally, in conjunction with PVC pipe or hoses to act as an external powerhead. In this way, I have seen some people create a closed-loop from their aquarium through a DIY CO2 reactor, and then back into their aquarium via an external pump. This setup is advantageous if your canister filter does not have enough horsepower to use an external CO2 reactor without losing too much flow.


In conclusion, having adequate circulation is extremely important in a planted aquarium. There are a number of ways to achieve this, while also accomplishing some other goals, such as filtration, heating, CO2 injection, etc. Hopefully, you now have the knowledge needed to obtain the right circulation system for your planted aquarium.

Business Broker

Choosing the Right Aquarium

January 23rd, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

2.5G - 08-31-2008

Perhaps an understatement, the actual physical aquarium is very important to a planted aquarium. The dimensions will impact the type of aquascape that you can implement, the design can influence its integration into your room, and the features can determine how equipment will function within the aquarium.


In general, larger aquariums (40+ gallons) are easier to upkeep than smaller aquariums. In addition to having the space to fit all sizes of plants, larger aquariums are not as prone to wild swings in water chemistry. Of course, larger aquariums have higher costs/space requirements than smaller setups, so if these things are issues, try not to start with anything smaller than 10-20 gallons. Nano aquariums are very much in style right now, but they’re more difficult to maintain, so I would recommend that beginners save those for another time.

Once you have selected the general volume of your aquarium, it is important to consider the actual dimensions. While any aquarium can be aquascaped, there are certain dimensions that are especially easy to work with. In general, aquariums with near equal ratios of depth and height are considered great aquascaping tanks. Some excellent aquarium sizes are 20L (30 x 12 x 12), 50G (36 x 18 x 18), and 75G (48 x 18 x 20). There are good reasons for this. For example, a popularly sold aquarium size is the 55G (48 x 13 x 20) tank. While the width and height are nice, the tank is only 13″ deep, making it extremely difficult to fit a complete foreground, midground, and background that transition smoothly between one another. In this case, I’d recommend getting a 75G because the extra 5″ of depth you gain are invaluable when aquascaping. Try to avoid extremely tall tanks, as you may need to purchase more intense (and expensive) lighting to adequately light from top to bottom. That said, I prefer an aquarium at least 16″ tall so that the stem plants have room to grow and branch toward the surface. I consider the perfect planted aquarium, the 50G aquarium, as it is not so wide that it is difficult to provide a coherent aquascape from left to right, and has sufficient depth and height to design a nicely proportioned aquascape.

Design & Stand

Finished AmanoScape at AGA 2008A very important thing to establish up front is whether or not you want your planted aquarium to be a centerpiece that is integrated into the design elements of the rest of the room. Planted aquariums have a potential to really light up a room, and provide that wow factor when people enter. If this is your intention, you may wish to consider a rimless aquarium, which is a tank without the plastic trim along the top and bottom, and without the visible silicon lines along every seam. In addition, the stand that you place your tank on can impact the impression that your planted aquarium conveys. The cheapest possible stand is probably cinder blocks with plywood, which can have a fairly modern look to it. There are a number of nicely finished wood stands available, and I’ve seen some very well done DIY stands using cabinet doors and hardware over-top of a 2×4 support structure. All-in-all, make sure not to look past the design aesthetic of the tank and stand when planning your planted aquarium.

Aquarium Features

There are many different types of aquariums, and while all can be used for planted aquariums, some are more suitable than others. When choosing between an acrylic or glass aquarium, I prefer glass. The reason is that your planted aquarium will inevitably get algae on the glass that will need to be removed. While it’s possible to scratch a glass tank, it’s much easier to do so with acrylic. In addition, the clarity of many of the glass tanks are unsurpassed by acrylic, especially in the corners where distortion is often present. That said, acrylic does have advantages in weight and strength for large aquariums, but if given the choice, I choose glass.

Ghazanfar Ghori’s 215G with Hidden Overflows

Additionally, some aquariums come outfitted with overflows, standpipes, bulkheads, etc… These items are often required if you plumb your aquarium into your house’s drain or water supply, or if you intend to place the tank in the center of your room, and do not want visible hoses or cords on one side of the tank. However, if you do not intend to do any of these things, and you do not plan to use this same aquarium for a reef-tank later in its life, I would recommend avoiding them. These features take up space within the aquarium itself, and are usually not that attractive. This means that when aquascaping you will want to try and cover them up as best you can with tall plants, which could limit your options.


While it’s possible to simply run out to your local aquarium store and buy whatever aquarium they have in stock, some forethought about the matter is definitely required to ensure a successfully designed planted aquarium. Of course, there are an infinite number of possibilities that could work, but the most common principles have been outlined in this article. Good luck shopping!

Business Broker

Knowing What You Want

January 21st, 2009

Starting a planted aquarium can seem like a daunting task. Most hobbyists start out small, gradually learning by trial and error what works and what doesn’t, and piece together information from books and websites until they finally either succeed or get frustrated and leave the hobby forever. In this series of posts, I’m going to attempt to outline the most important aspects of setting up a planted aquarium. Hopefully this will become a valuable resource to anyone new to the hobby, or experienced fish-keepers who are looking to setup a planted aquarium.

40G - 3.5 Weeks

One of the most important things you can do to ensure a successful planted aquarium should be done before you ever start the project. There are a number of factors that must be determined that will impact the time required to upkeep the aquarium, the cost of your final setup, and type of fish/plants you can keep.

Time spent per week

Hemianthus callitrichoides Oxygen BubbleThere are many different styles of planted aquariums, and some require far more day-to-day effort than others. Upfront, you should determine how much time every week you would like to devote to this hobby. Remember, that in addition to the plants, living creatures will be dependant upon your care, so it’s not fair to them or you if your aquarium goes south due to your inactivity. Realistically decide whether you have 2 hours every week or an hour once a month, or less. Much less than that, and you may wish to reconsider all but the most modest endeavors into the planted aquarium hobby.

The beauty of this hobby, is that often, time spent is rewarded with healthy, hriving plants, and a magnificent aquascape. It is also possible to spend less time, and allow the nature of the plants themselves to grow and develop into more of a jungle aquascape. Obviously, there’s also something in-between.  The types of plants you are attracted to may also help influence this decision. In general, stem plants, or plants that grow vertically from a stalk, usually require more upkeep than plants that are rooted with rosette leaves coming from their base.


You knew that cost had to enter the equation at some point, right? In general, planted aquariums are fairly expensive, although they do not have to be. If you buy everything new from your local aquarium store, you could easily spend $500-$1,000 for a mid-range setup. Of course, tempering your ambitions, and being willing to buy used equipment, can significantly lower your total expenditure. If you are fortunate enough to have a local aquarium society in your area, this is a great place to acquire equipment, plants, fish, and lots of great advice.  If you are handy, there are plenty of Do-It-Yourself possibilities in the aquarium hobby, which can help save some cash.


Ancistrus sp. L279The type of fauna that you wish to have in your planted aquarium can go a long way in determining what type of plants you should grow along side them. In general, smaller fish (0″-6″) are the best fish to keep. Much larger, and they can unknowingly uproot plants when swimming by. Fish that dig, eat plants, or rearrange their territory should be avoided in nearly all situations. Do your research and make sure that the 3″ Plecostomus algae-eating catfish at your fish store will not turn into a foot-long beast.


Finally, you must decide whether you want to be able to grow just about any plant out there, or whether you are willing to trade a more limited plant selection for less upkeep, fertilization, and equipment costs.


In conclusion, the ideas introduced in this article should be kept in the back of your head when reading future installments of this series. I will further expound upon these topics, introducing all of the complexities of various equipment and techniques, but do not lose sight of what you ultimately want to get out of this hobby.

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