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May 1, 2021
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I am very new to the hobby, very under-educated and don't have a lot of money. When I took on this hobby (rehome a betta fish for a friend of mine) not realizing how little I REALLY new, how much it would cost and how much there is to learn!

My dream tank is a freshwater tank with lots of live plants, drift wood, rocks, ext. I've tried looking into starting one myself and there is so much stuff you need and information I just...I'm so lost!

I have a 10g right now with small rocks at the bottom. But I'm going to be getting a 3g hospital/recovery tank for my betta and was going use it as my little starter project.

SO! basically I was hoping someone would tell me a list of exactly what I need. Do I really need buy the special fertilizer stuff for bottom of tank, and led light?!?! What kind of stuff do I need to add to water/gravel to keep plants healthy?! I'm looking for HEARTY EASY to care for low light plants. The two I figure would work are java fern and the sword leaf or whatever. Oh and I'm hoping to keep it as cheap as possible!

I think I'm WAY over my head! ??
For low light and easy plants, you do not need expensive aqua soil. I use Play Sand in a lot of my tanks, the home depot or lowes brand works well. $5 for 50 lbs, you wouldn't need a whole bag for a 10 gallon tank, less than half actually.

Good plants for low light are horn wort, Java fern, anubias, guppy grass. These are not actually planted. I have planted elodia/anacharis in some of my low light tanks, as well as Amazon Swords. As far as fertilizer goes, I use Seachem Flourish (root tabs and liquid) and Aquarium Co Op Easy Green. Both are pretty in expensive, and a lot goes a long way in low tech tanks.
On 4 of my tanks I just use clamp on desk lights, but you can get an led one. If you go for led, you may as well get a good one. I really like the Nicrew full spectrum, but was less pleased with the classic nicrew. The cheap led light I got on Amazon only lasted about a year.
You don't need anything special for most aquarium plants. A 2-4 inch layer of gravel or sand on the bottom. An iron based aquarium plant fertiliser. Lots of light.

Most aquarium plants like a bit of light and if you only have the light on for a couple of hours a day, they struggle. If the light doesn't have a high enough wattage they also struggle. Try having the tank lights on for 10-12 hours a day. You can also put the tank under a skylight or near a window for more light.

If you get lots of green algae then reduce the light by an hour a day and monitor the algae over the next 2 weeks.
If you don't get any green algae on the glass then increase the lighting period by an hour and monitor it.
If you get a small amount of algae then the lighting time is about right.

Some plants will close their leaves up when they have had sufficient light. Ambulia, Hygrophilas and a few others close their top set of leaves first, then the next set and so on down the stem. When you see this happening, wait an hour after the leaves have closed up against the stem and then turn lights off.

Stress from tank lights coming on when the room is dark can be an issue. Fish don't have eyelids and don't tolerate going from complete dark to bright light (or vice versa) instantly.

In the morning open the curtains or turn the room light on at least 30 minutes (or more) before turning the tank light on. This will reduce the stress on the fish and they won't go from a dark tank to a bright tank instantly.

At night turn the room light on and then turn the tank light off. Wait at least 30 minutes (or more) before turning the room light out. This allows the fish to settle down for the night instead of going from a brightly lit tank to complete darkness instantly.

Try to have the lights on at the same time each day.

Some good plants to try include Ambulia, Hygrophila polysperma, H. ruba/ rubra, Elodia (during summer, but don't buy it in winter because it falls apart), Hydrilla, common Amazon sword plant, narrow or twisted/ spiral Vallis, Water Sprite (Ceratopteris thalictroides/ cornuta).
The Water Sprite normally floats on the surface but can also be planted in the substrate. The other plants should be planted in the gravel.

Ambulia, H. polysperma, Elodia/ Hydrilla and Vallis are tall plants that do well along the back. Rotala macranda is a medium/ tallish red plant that usually does well.

H. ruba/ rubra is a medium height plant that looks good on the sides of the tank.

Cryptocorynes (aka Crypts) are small/ medium plants that are taller than pygmy chain swords but shorter than H. rubra. They also come in a range of colours, mostly different shades of green, brown or purplish red.

Most Amazon sword plants can get pretty big and are usually kept in the middle of the tank as a show piece. There is an Ozelot sword plant that has brown spots on green leaves, and a red ruffle sword plant (name may vary depending on where you live) with deep red leaves.

There is a pygmy chain sword plant that is small and does well in the front of the tank.

We use to grow plants in 1 or 2 litre plastic icecream containers. You put an inch of gravel in the bottom of the container, then spread a thin layer of granulated garden fertiliser over the gravel. Put a 1/4inch (6mm) thick layer of red/ orange clay over the fertiliser. Dry the clay first and crush it into a powder. Then cover that with more gravel.

You put the plants in the gravel and as they grow, their roots hit the clay and fertiliser and they take off and go nuts. The clay stops the fertiliser leaching into the water.

You can smear silicon on the outside of the buckets and stick gravel or sand to them so it is less conspicuous. Or you can let algae grow on them and the containers turn green.

We did plants in pots for a couple of reasons.
1) I was working in an aquaculture facility and we grew and sold live plants to shops. Some of the shops wanted advanced plants in pots so we did that.

2) Plants like sword plants love nutrients and have big root systems so they needed more gravel and big pots. When given ideal conditions these plants would produce lots of runners with new plants on and we got more plants to sell.

3) Most of the tanks only had a thin layer of substrate that was nowhere near thick enough for plants to grow in so having them in pots allowed us to grow plants in tanks with minimal gravel in the tank.

Lots of plants are sold as aquarium plants and most are marsh plants that do really well when their roots are in water and the rest of the plant is above water. Some marsh plants will do well underwater too.

Hair grass is not a true aquatic plant, neither is Anubias.

Some common marsh plants include Amazon sword plants, Hygrophila sp, Rotala sp, Ludwigia sp, Bacopa sp.

True aquatic plants include Ambulia, Cabomba, Hornwort, Elodia, Hydrilla and Vallis.

The main difference between marsh plants and true aquatic plants is the stem. True aquatics have a soft flexible stem with air bubbles in it. These bubbles help the plant float and remain buoyant in the water column.
Marsh plants have a rigid stem and these plants can remain standing upright when removed from water. Whereas true aquatic plants will fall over/ collapse when removed from water.

If you add an iron based aquarium plant fertiliser, it will help most aquarium plants do well. The liquid iron based aquarium plant fertilisers tend to be better than the tablet forms, although you can push the tablets under the roots of plants and that works well.

You use an iron (Fe) test kit to monitor iron levels and keep them at 1mg/l (1ppm).

I used Sera Florena liquid plant fertiliser but there are other brands too.

There is no point adding carbon dioxide (CO2) until you have the lights and nutrients worked out. Even then you don't need CO2 unless the tank is full of plants and only has a few small fish in.

There is plenty of CO2 in the average aquarium and it is produced by the fish and filter bacteria all day, every day. The plants also release CO2 at night when it is dark. And more CO2 gets into the tank from the atmosphere.

Don't use liquid CO2 supplements because they are made from toxic substances that harm fish, shrimp and snails.

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