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Favorite CO2 methods for planted tank?

fishtime!

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Hi there! I'm setting up my first ever planted tank,

Here are some stats:
size: 20 gallon tall
decor: driftwood and dragon stone.
filtration : And an aqueon over the back filter.
substrate: fluval bio-stratum
plants: 2 crested java ferns, and a few anubias sp.
lighting: aqueon day light LED strip.

I'm intending to put some dwarf pea puffers in there once its all cycled and the plants have grown, I'm also getting some floating frogbit and weeping moss soon to have faster growing plants. I know the white LED lights are not ideal, i accidentally bought the wrong fixture, but once I'm able to buy a different fixture I will be putting a full spectrum daylight lamp in. I'm adding liquid aqueon plant food once a week, but I was thinking of also adding CO2 if the plants arent growing as fast as I would like. I've been reading about options for adding CO2, but there are a lot and I wanted to ask if anybody had a favorite method or a recommendation specific to my tank set up.

I'm attaching a picture of the tank (sorry there's so much glare)

thanks!
 

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I can see in the pic that you have Wendelov Java Fern, a crypt and two small plugs of I think Monte Carlo?

With the right lights and fertilisers (having soft water will help too) I don't think you need Co2 for these plants, you can probably go low tech.

With the Monte Carlo with or without Co2 you will want a lot more of it to start with as those small plants will take forever to cover and the plant mass will not be big enough in your early stages to fight off algae.

If you do want to go with a Co2 set up, the injection ones are the best option, go for a really high quality dual regulator and get a good quality diffuser too. I'd make sure you have a drop checker ready to go as well so you get visual indicators of what it looks like through the day.

For your Co2 source I really like the chemical reaction ones that are available now, there are brands that sell the kits of liquids and powders that you mix up and that will create the Co2 within a reusable canister. I've done the fire extinguisher route before but its very wasteful and ends up expensive over time too.

Wills
 
I can see in the pic that you have Wendelov Java Fern, a crypt and two small plugs of I think Monte Carlo?

With the right lights and fertilisers (having soft water will help too) I don't think you need Co2 for these plants, you can probably go low tech.

With the Monte Carlo with or without Co2 you will want a lot more of it to start with as those small plants will take forever to cover and the plant mass will not be big enough in your early stages to fight off algae.

If you do want to go with a Co2 set up, the injection ones are the best option, go for a really high quality dual regulator and get a good quality diffuser too. I'd make sure you have a drop checker ready to go as well so you get visual indicators of what it looks like through the day.

For your Co2 source I really like the chemical reaction ones that are available now, there are brands that sell the kits of liquids and powders that you mix up and that will create the Co2 within a reusable canister. I've done the fire extinguisher route before but its very wasteful and ends up expensive over time too.

Wills
Ok, thanks! I'd like to keep this as low tech (and low cost) as possible, so I'll hold off on the CO2 for now. I'm getting some frogbit and weeping moss because I've read that they are fast growing - I think with the dwarf puffers they would prefer plant coverage on the top and not carpeting the bottom of the tank. Thanks so much!
 
Frogbit doesn't need added CO2 - because it floats it can get all it needs from the air.
 
Ok, thanks! I'd like to keep this as low tech (and low cost) as possible, so I'll hold off on the CO2 for now. I'm getting some frogbit and weeping moss because I've read that they are fast growing - I think with the dwarf puffers they would prefer plant coverage on the top and not carpeting the bottom of the tank. Thanks so much!
Cool ok that sounds good - just with the soil its not the best substrate to leave open to the water, is it too late to change to sand? Its quite rough to any fish digging or burrowing into it (which DPs will do). Aquasoil definitely has its use and its place in our tanks but only really if the intention is to cover it with plants, it does not have to be a carpet but in the areas where you want to leave it open I'd swap it out for sand.
 
Cool ok that sounds good - just with the soil its not the best substrate to leave open to the water, is it too late to change to sand? Its quite rough to any fish digging or burrowing into it (which DPs will do). Aquasoil definitely has its use and its place in our tanks but only really if the intention is to cover it with plants, it does not have to be a carpet but in the areas where you want to leave it open I'd swap it out for sand.
I'm getting some sand soon, with the intention of layering it over the substrate i have - a layer of 1.5 cm of sand is what I'm aiming for!
 
Can you post a picture of the box for the light unit or tell us what model it is?

Don't put sand or anything over the substrate because it mixes in and becomes a mess.

You don't have enough plants to worry about adding carbon dioxide (CO2).
If you plan on adding CO2 to an aquarium, you want lots of fast growing plants (Java Fern is slow growing), really bright light, and loads of plant fertiliser. If you don't have enough light or fertiliser, then adding CO2 is a complete waste of time and money.

If you do add CO2, you need to make sure there is enough carbonate hardness (KH) in the water to stop the CO2 dropping the pH. CO2 is an acidic gas that lowers the pH over time. If you don't have enough KH in the water, the pH can drop rapidly and kill the fish. When using CO2, you want the KH between 100-150ppm.

Java Fern does best with its rhizome above the substrate. You can tie it to wood or rocks with a piece of string or a rubber band.

You need a picture on the back of the tank to make the fish feel more secure. Make sure you can see all the way around the rocks and wood so you can check for uneaten food, fish waste and dead fish.
 
AQUARIUM PLANTS 1.01

TURNING LIGHTS ON AND 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. Use a timer if possible.

If the light unit is programmable, have it on a low setting for the first 30-60 minutes and increase the brightness over time. Do the opposite in the evening and gradually reduce the light for the last 30-60 minutes before lights out.

If you don't have live plants in the tank, you only need the light on for a few hours in the evening. You might turn them on at 4 or 5pm and off at 9pm.

If you do have live plants in the tank, you can have the lights on for 8-16 hours a day but the fish and plants need 8 hours of darkness to rest. Most people with live plants in their aquarium will have the lights on for 8-12 hours a day.


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LIGHTING TIMES
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.

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 for a couple of weeks.
If you get a small amount of green 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 first few sets of leaves have closed up against the stem and then turn lights off.

Plant lights should have equal amount of red and blue light and a bit less green light.


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TWO LIGHT UNITS
If you have two light units on the tank, put them on timers and have one come on first, then an hour later the second one can come on. It will be less stressful for the fish.

In the evening, turn the first light off and wait an hour, then have the second light go out.

If the lights have a low, medium and high intensity setting, have them on low in the morning, then increase it to medium after a couple of hours, and then high for the main part of the day. In the evening, reverse this and have the medium setting for a few hours, then low. Then turn the lights off.


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LIST OF PLANTS TO TRY
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 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. Crypts are not the easiest plant to grow but can do well if they are healthy to begin with and are not disturbed after planting in the tank.

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.


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GROWING PLANTS IN POTS
We use to grow some plants (usually swords, crypts, Aponogetons and water lilies) 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.

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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.


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TRUE AQUATIC VS MARSH/ TERRESTRIAL PLANTS
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. Reeds and rushes are not aquatic plants and will die if their leaves are kept underwater.

Some common marsh plants include Amazon sword plants, Cryptocorynes, Hygrophila sp, Rotala sp, Ludwigia sp, Bacopa sp. These plant do reasonably well underwater.

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.


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IRON BASED PLANT FERTILISER
If you add an iron based aquarium plant fertiliser, it will help most aquarium plants do well. An iron based fertiliser is not just iron, it contains other nutrients as well, but the main ingredient is iron. 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.


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CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2)
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 completely full of fast growing true aquatic plants and only has a few small fish in or no fish in it.

There are no natural waterways anywhere around the world that have supplemental CO2 added to them to make aquatic plants grow. People add CO2 to aquariums to help some marsh/ terrestrial plants grow underwater. These plants should not be grown in aquariums and the fact they need to add CO2 (as well as huge amounts of fertiliser and light) just to keep them alive is a clear indication they shouldn't be kept underwater.

In an average aquarium, there is a constant source of carbon dioxide produced all day and night by the fish, and the bacteria in the gravel and filter. More CO2 gets into the aquarium from the air mixing with the water. And plants release small amounts of CO2 when resting. There is no real need to add CO2, either in a gas or liquid form to an aquarium unless it is devoid of fish. There is plenty of CO2 in the water in most aquariums.

Liquid CO2 boosters often contain Glutaraldehyde, which is a disinfectant used to clean and sterilise medical equipment. It is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms and people have wiped out tanks by adding too much of it. These products should not be used for aquariums.

For aquarium plants to use supplemental CO2, they need lots of light and lots of nutrients. Unless they have the light and nutrients, they won't use a lot of CO2, so there's no point adding extra. To check if your plants are getting lots of light, see if any of them produce streams of tiny little bubbles from their leaves. This is called pearling and is the plant photosynthesising and producing tiny bubbles of oxygen. Algae also does this when given bright light and nutrients.


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PLANT SUBSTRATE
Some pet shops sell aquatic plant substrates that are meant to improve plant growth. Most don't do anything except add a lot of ammonia to the water and eventually turn into a brown mud on the bottom. Since the majority of aquatic plants take in the nutrients they need via their leaves, having a plant substrate is not going to help much. There are exceptions to this and laterite (red clay) can sometimes be added to the gravel to increase the iron level for the plants taking in nutrients via their roots. But for most plant tanks, all you need is gravel on the bottom of the tank.

Most aquatic plants need at least 2 inches of substrate to grow in and some need 3-4 inches.
 
I will start by saying what you read below is my way of doing things. It has worked well for me. However, I would never suggest it is the only, nor event the absolute best way, to do things. All of us need to figure out what works for us in our tanks and then stick with it until there is reason not to do so.

I broke most of the rules suggested above in my high tech planted tank and there was no plant I added which did not thrive in the tank. What I discovered early on was that the real plant nuts tend to take things to extremes that I feel are a waste of my money.

My system for pressurized CO2 was as basic as I could make it. I bought a 5lb aluminum co2 bottle and a dual gauge regulator from a beer supply company. I added a Clippard needle valve and a bubble counter. I used co2 resitant tubing and I ran the output of the co2 directly into an Eheim canister's intake. I chose Eheim as I needed the best so the bubbles inside the canister would not trash it. (I still use that canistertoday and it is as quiet as the day I got it over 20 years ago.)

I had no solenoid valve, no drop checker nothing fancy at all. I used basic small size aquarium gravel (Estes Bits of Walnut) and I added Laterite to the bottom 1/3 of it (laterite is no longer available). I use Jobe;s spikes as my gravel ferts and Tropica for my water column ferts. 23+ years later and I have not switched to anything else in this respect. I urge folks to go to the Tropica site as it is a treasure trove of great plant information. It is available in several languages. This it the English one http://tropica.com/en/

I initially went from plastic and silks plants to live when I learned having plants could make a tank healthier and were beneficial for fish. Iwas very lucky in that I hung out on a fish site with an active live shat which had several plant experts, They gave me the best advice I got re CO2 when I said I was going to start with DIY. I was told, "if you can afford to do pressurized, do not do DIY. I listened to them.

After close to 10 years of this tank I came to a great revelation. It was simple, I was spending as much time weekly on that plented tank than I did on my next 3 most work intensive tanks. That is when I light bulb went on over my head. I am a fish keeper first and foremeost not a plant keeper. So I sold off the co2 system got a bigger tank and kept the canister.

I still have multiple planted communities, But they rely on more basic plants, Flourish Excel and Tropica ferts. I still have jungle tanks, but they take way less work re the plants. At my peak I had 20 tanks running and over 1/2 of them were for breeding and raising Hypancistrus Plecos. Those tanks have no plants and the lights are only turned on when I work in a tank. They are also quite healthy.

I have been adding Flourish Excel to my planted tanks for over 20 years. I know what it is and I have not killed any fish using it. So, to those who want to suggest it is to be avoided, my experience does not support this at all. I have used it in tanks with discus, angels, spawning farolowellas, clown loaches (my biggest with me over 20 years) etc. I do not overdose Excel, nor do I use it to kill algae. I dose it once a week after a water change. I did not use it in my pressurized co2 added tank as this would have been silly.

I mix my ferts in water and then add them a bit at a time as I refill the tank. I tend to add most of the ferts after I have turned the filters back on if they were off. I want to circulate the ferts as best as I can. So I add them all over the surface of the tank not all in ine place.

What guided me through all of this was the most basic principles for plant keeping. This is the analogy to a 3 legged stool. The legs are lighting, CO2 and fertilizers. The analogy part is that the three legs need to be the same length or the stool will wobble or even fall over. In a planted tank one needs to find the balance between these three things. This is how one gets good healthy plant growth and avoids algae. Get it wrong and you will likely earn your MBA (Mastered By Algae). I got it wrong twice and I know whereof I speak.

I did not seal my co2 system connections properly with teflon tape and the co2 leaked out. When it was gone, BAM! The second time it happened was when 1 of the 4 light bulbs over the tank burned out. These were bulbs I bought online and it took a week for a replacement to arrive. Once again BAM! When I ordered the replacment, I had learned, so I also ordered spares.

I am not nor have I ever been a fan of Amano. While his tanks are beautiful, they are not fish tanks, imo, they are plant tanks. I also liked perusing the AGA site to look at the tanks in their annual contests. But those tanks are not "real" in that they are mostly set up solely for the contest picture and will not last for any length of time. I guess what I do now is to use plenty of plants but which require the least effort to keep healthy.

Now I have nothing against the plant mavens who take things to the Nth degree. It is just that is am not in that camp. When I used to garden outdoors I mostly grew flowers for viewing and cutting. But I also had a small veggie garden as well. I grew tomatoes, some sugar snap peas and bush beans.

Here is my pressurized co2 50 gal. tank in 3 of its incarnations:
i-m5DPBrp.jpg

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And here is how it looked before water or plants went in:
i-XNtwh5B.jpg


My point in all of this is that one can choose to make things more complex or less so depending on their budget, desires and knowledge of what is needed to make plants thrive. I was lucky because I kept outdoors gardens for many years before I got my first tank.

I also ran a somewhat lean co2 mix. It ran 24/7 at 20 bpm. The lights all came on at the same time and went off together as well. I had 144w of power compact lighting. With all the plant cover in the tank the fish are able to shelter out of the open and this offers some protection re the lights/ Here is what I wonder. In many places wwhere there are fish living there is also lightning at night. I cannot think of a greater sudden burst of night light than a nearby lightning strike. Fish seem able to handle these.

Also, I have some fish that love to hide during the day. The tank lights are on and there is light in the room, yet to spot these fish I need to use a flashlight. However, all my planted tanks have their lights on a timer. Lights come on well after sunrise and go out between 9 and 10 at night. Early on in my fish keeping years I was worried that the tanks in my room at night when I was up late and the lights were on might be a problem of r the fish. So I had Velcro strips on the frame and on black poster paper. I covered the front glass every night and took it off the next morning. This practice did not last too long. Once I caught MTS, it became too much work with tanks all over the house.
 
For CO2 the best way I found to CO2 into the water a passive CO2 system In passive CO2 you have an inverted glass or bottle in the tank with no air in it. The water in the gass is then replaced with CO2. CO2 rapidly saturates the water at the opening of the glass or bottle. And water flow spreads the saturated water around the tank. it is very efficient and it is impossible to kill fish with too much CO2.

In traditional system with a defroster most of the CO2 bubbles don't dissolve and float up to surface and the CO2 is lost into the air. Also The drop checkers Used indicates sufficient CO2 at a water concentration 30 milligrams per litter, 30ppm. IN most pond and streams and lakes with plants the CO2 concentration is 10ppm. With diffusers and regulators it can be very diffuicult to maintine a stable CO2 flow. If the fCO2 low gets too high the fish can die from high CO2 levels.

The passive CO2 system maintains CO2 at about 10ppm or maybe a little higher. I have my regulator set to provide a slow flow of gas. A timer turns on the gas 4 times a day for only one minute at t time. and refills an upside down 150ml beaker in my 5 gallon shrimp tank. A larger thank is probably going to need a larger volume container. I don't need to monitor CO2 concentration in the water and just every few weeks adjust the regulator So I get just enough CO2 to fill my beaker in one minute. I have enough CO2 in my 21oz paintball CO2 bottle to last me a couple of years or more.

Another way to get CO2 in a tank is to have a water fall. It water falls and hits the water surface with enough force will drag air into the water of the tank IF you mix enough air with water CO2 levels will stabilizes at 10ppm. I haven't tried this in my 5 gallon due to space limitations between my hood light and the water surface.

But the most often cause of plant growth issues in my experience is not CO2 or light. Instead it is nutrient (fertilizer) Other than C2 water and light plants need 14 elements to grow (nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, Iron, manganese , boron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and nickel). If any one nutrient is missing plants will not grow. And plants prefer soluble nutrients Due to issues with my tap water I have been using RO water. And I found no commercial fertilizer I purchase would work including Seachem flourish. I eventually made my own fertilizer (not easy) to get good reliable plant growth. Floating plant are the most susespatble to a nutrient deficiency in the water. And typically the problem nutrient ts are micros Chlorine to Nickel on my list) and calcium and magnesium.

Based on what I have learned the best micro fertilizer on the market is EDTA+DTPA from GLA it is very close to what I make and will work with tap water with a PH of 7.5 or lower. If you then add a GH booster and increase GH by 1 dregree. That will cover 9 nutrients you plants need and tap water will cover another 2 or 3. Then the only nutrients you may need to add are nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, and sulfur. But in a tank with a lot of fish or nutrient rich tap water you might not neeed to does Phosphate, Nitrogen, potassium and sulfur.
 

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