Help! I Can't Get Anything to Grow

Gemtrox42

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I have tried using root tabs (one per plant, at base of plant, replace every 4 months as per instructions) on my rooted plants and seachem flourish for my floaters and nothing seems to be working. My hornwort seems to shed needles until there is either nothing left or just a small part covered with needles, and then never grows back. I've tried cutting the bare parts off but the rest seems to not grow anymore. One of my swords straight up died, even with the root tabs, and the other has gone from lush broad leaves to thin grass-like ones. My java moss hasn't grown that I can perceive, but I haven't moved it to measure. I have one java fern that has responded amazingly to root tabs; it's grown to almost the size of my amazon sword. However, the other three are small, curled into balls and haven't grown at all.

The only true exception, duckweed, has been growing well. Too well in fact - I think I'm going to get rid of most of it, as it's a pain to manage and gets all over my equipment and filter.

Water for both tanks are approximately the same -
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate <10
pH 7.3
gH 200 ppm

Tanks - 10gal, heavily planted with hornwort, gravel bottom with 4 cherry shrimp, a clown pleco and two honey gourami. I use a strip of white LEDs that came with the tank, which provide excellent illumination but I don't know how good they are for plants.

30gal, lightly planted with lots of driftwood and duckweed, 2 amazon swords, 4 java ferns, a few sticks of hornwort, 14 cardinal tetra, 5 dwarf corys, assassin snails and cherry shrimp, gravel bottom. Lighting comes from one set of Current LEDs, Model 4000, 7.5w, 6,500K White & 445nm Blue. I put them on the second-to-highest brightness level for the white light and the lower level for the blue light. Once again, I don't know how good these are for plants.

I'm making a list to help me organize possible explanations. Please feel free to suggest additions or removals.

  • Won't grow in gravel
  • Not enough light
  • Lacking trace elements
  • Bad luck (weak plants, diseased at purchase, etc.)
 
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Byron

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Can you post photos of the entire tank and individual plants?
 
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Gemtrox42

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Can you post photos of the entire tank and individual plants?
20210707_194326.jpg

Good Java fern
20210707_194349.jpg

Small fern
20210707_194335.jpg

Thin amazon sword
20210707_194410.jpg

Amazon sword (Note that new growth has occurred since planting, but much smaller compared to its old leaves)
20210707_194435.jpg

Hornwort twigs and duckweed (Weed covers almost whole surface, with scattered fragments of hornwort throughout)
20210707_194519.jpg

One half of 10 gal tank
20210707_194525.jpg

Second half of 10 gal with large needle pile

I don't know if this important, but as you can tell by the last image I don't vacuum my gravel.
 

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Java Fern doesn't like the rhizome being buried, and the plant does best when tied or super glued to wood or rock.

The first sword plant looks like it is suffering from lack of light and lack of nutrients.

Hornwort sheds its leaves when there is a sudden change in temperature or water chemistry. This is most common in winter when plants are taken from cold water ponds or tanks and put into tropical tanks. If you want to buy hornwort for a tropical aquarium, get it in summer when the weather is warm and it usually does better.

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Get a liquid iron based complete aquarium plant fertiliser and use and iron (Fe) test kit to monitor the iron levels. You want the iron level on 1mg/L (1ppm) and might need to dose every day for the first few weeks, but eventually you should be able to add it once or twice a week.

When using plant fertilisers in aquariums, you should do a big (75-90%) water change every week before redosing. This dilutes any remaining nutrients and reduces the chance of overdosing the fertiliser or causing an imbalance of one or more nutrients.

-------------------
You can have lights on for up to 16 hours per day but fish and plants need 8 hours of darkness to rest and recover.

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.
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.
 

itiwhetu

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I would be removing some of the Hornwort from the surface of the tank to allow more light to the other plants. 10 hours of light minimum to start with. Tie the Java Fern to a piece of wood.
 

Byron

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First two photos are Java Fern, and as Colin said, the rhizome (the thick "root" looking structure) must not be buried. The fronds (= leaves) and true black roots grow from the rhizome.

Third and fourth photos are two sword plants, Echinodorus species. The smaller differently-shaped leaves growing from the centre of the crown on the second of these is partly because these are the submersed leaf form whereas the outer older larger and differently-shaped leaves were the emersed form. Nurseries usually propagate Echinodorus plants emersed because it is faster and less expensive for them. When planted submersed, the new leaves will be structurally different. The size of these is then dependent upon light and nutrients. If you have been using one Flourish Tab replaced every 3 months (3-4 they say, I replace these at 3-month intervals) that is sufficient nutrients, guaranteed. That means the light may be an issue.

Duration does not compensate for light that is not intense enough for the plant species, or of an inappropriate spectrum. The 6500K white light is ideal for plants, as far as spectrum goes, although different types of light with the same spectrum can be very different, depending upon the manufacture. Six hours is minimum, and you can go beyond that, provided algae does not begin to appear. My tank lights are on seven hours each day, timer-controlled for consistency, and I have no algae issues and thriving sword plants.

The Hornwort doesn't look all that bad, I have never been able to keep this alive, for some reason of light and/or nutrients, so I got rid of the stems and tried something else. It is rapid growing, which means good nutrients, and no mention has been made of any liquid fertilizer you are using (?). You want a complete balanced fertilizer, such as Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive Supplement for the Planted Aquarium or Brightwell Aquatics FlorinMulti; as you are in the USA, you can find one or both of these in some stores and online. Both of these are balanced with respect to the individual nutrients, and this is important in a low-tech or natural planted tank.
 
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Gemtrox42

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Java Fern doesn't like the rhizome being buried, and the plant does best when tied or super glued to wood or rock.
That's strange, because based on what I can see the first is completely buried and doing fantastic, whereas the second is not buried and hasn't grown. Am I wrong?
Hornwort sheds its leaves when there is a sudden change in temperature or water chemistry. This is most common in winter when plants are taken from cold water ponds or tanks and put into tropical tanks. If you want to buy hornwort for a tropical aquarium, get it in summer when the weather is warm and it usually does better.
Thank you for telling me this, I just wish I'd known sooner! Is there any chance of it growing back after a while, or is it a lost cause?
Get a liquid iron based complete aquarium plant fertiliser and use and iron (Fe) test kit to monitor the iron levels. You want the iron level on 1mg/L (1ppm) and might need to dose every day for the first few weeks, but eventually you should be able to add it once or twice a week.

When using plant fertilisers in aquariums, you should do a big (75-90%) water change every week before redosing. This dilutes any remaining nutrients and reduces the chance of overdosing the fertiliser or causing an imbalance of one or more nutrients.
Is my Seachem Flourish not a good fertilizer then?

And all that water sounds like a lot to do, and I don't understand the need for such turnover. Shouldn't I be adding the iron as needed based on measured level?
You can have lights on for up to 16 hours per day but fish and plants need 8 hours of darkness to rest and recover.

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.
I have my lights on for 12 hours a day in both tanks already. Could it be that the duckweed and reduced brightness setting are depriving my plants of what they need?
 
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Gemtrox42

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First two photos are Java Fern, and as Colin said, the rhizome (the thick "root" looking structure) must not be buried. The fronds (= leaves) and true black roots grow from the rhizome.
Based on this description, it sounds like the ferns in my second pic should be doing well, not the first, which is completely buried. Am I missing something?
Third and fourth photos are two sword plants, Echinodorus species. The smaller differently-shaped leaves growing from the centre of the crown on the second of these is partly because these are the submersed leaf form whereas the outer older larger and differently-shaped leaves were the emersed form. Nurseries usually propagate Echinodorus plants emersed because it is faster and less expensive for them. When planted submersed, the new leaves will be structurally different. The size of these is then dependent upon light and nutrients. If you have been using one Flourish Tab replaced every 3 months (3-4 they say, I replace these at 3-month intervals) that is sufficient nutrients, guaranteed. That means the light may be an issue.

Duration does not compensate for light that is not intense enough for the plant species, or of an inappropriate spectrum. The 6500K white light is ideal for plants, as far as spectrum goes, although different types of light with the same spectrum can be very different, depending upon the manufacture. Six hours is minimum, and you can go beyond that, provided algae does not begin to appear. My tank lights are on seven hours each day, timer-controlled for consistency, and I have no algae issues and thriving sword plants.
That is strange then, because I keep mine on for 12 hours a day and don't have algae issues at all. Could the duckweed and reduced brightness setting be depriving my plants of the quality light they need?
The Hornwort doesn't look all that bad, I have never been able to keep this alive, for some reason of light and/or nutrients, so I got rid of the stems and tried something else. It is rapid growing, which means good nutrients, and no mention has been made of any liquid fertilizer you are using (?). You want a complete balanced fertilizer, such as Seachem's Flourish Comprehensive Supplement for the Planted Aquarium or Brightwell Aquatics FlorinMulti; as you are in the USA, you can find one or both of these in some stores and online. Both of these are balanced with respect to the individual nutrients, and this is important in a low-tech or natural planted tank.
I am using Seachem Flourish, sorry if I left that out. And I have heard and seen nothing but bad things about the hornwort, so it is definitely off the table going forward. I just wish I knew it was so problematic at the start.
 

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Based on this description, it sounds like the ferns in my second pic should be doing well, not the first, which is completely buried. Am I missing something?

If the rhizome is buried, it is more likely to rot, which would kill the plant. Note I said "more likely," not definitely would. I do not see anything wrong with either Java Fern, to be honest.

That is strange then, because I keep mine on for 12 hours a day and don't have algae issues at all. Could the duckweed and reduced brightness setting be depriving my plants of the quality light they need?

It is possible, but it may not. But light and nutrients must be balanced to benefit the plants, and thwart algae. Given the swords are getting a tab regularly, light would seem the more likely issue with these, though again they are not really too bad. Plants will grow differently for a number of reasons. It also happens in the natural habitats of Echinodorus plants of the same species--they grow one way in one habitat and differently in another.

I am using Seachem Flourish, sorry if I left that out. And I have heard and seen nothing but bad things about the hornwort, so it is definitely off the table going forward. I just wish I knew it was so problematic at the start.

You should be OK for fertilizers from what you've noted. So again, the light may be the issue, but still none of the plants in the photos are really having trouble. Hornwort is supposedly an easy plant, but not for everyone, including me, so I let it die and tried something else,

I would trim off the dead sword leaves, the ones that are no longer green and the stem has turned brown; trim them off at the crown.
 
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Gemtrox42

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If the rhizome is buried, it is more likely to rot, which would kill the plant. Note I said "more likely," not definitely would. I do not see anything wrong with either Java Fern, to be honest.
Do you have a theory about why the buried one grew so much larger than the others? It's easily three times their height!
It is possible, but it may not. But light and nutrients must be balanced to benefit the plants, and thwart algae. Given the swords are getting a tab regularly, light would seem the more likely issue with these, though again they are not really too bad. Plants will grow differently for a number of reasons. It also happens in the natural habitats of Echinodorus plants of the same species--they grow one way in one habitat and differently in another.
In your experience, are individual aquatic plants a hit or miss kind of thing? As in, you can buy several at the same time, and half will thrive and the other will falter? Because I have purchased a total of 4 java ferns and 3 swords, and all but one fern have either shrunk/shriveled or failed to grow any larger. I just can't wrap my head around this being the norm for aquatic plants.
I would trim off the dead sword leaves, the ones that are no longer green and the stem has turned brown; trim them off at the crown.
Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. I ordered a kit of aquatic gardening tools that can help me do this.
 

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Is my Seachem Flourish not a good fertilizer then?

And all that water sounds like a lot to do, and I don't understand the need for such turnover. Shouldn't I be adding the iron as needed based on measured level?
The problem with Seachem flourish is that it is designed with the assumption that your tap water has a lot of nutrients. however if you have tap water with few nutrients you end up with a tank like yours. When setup my tank i used RO water and Seachem. I had the same issues although they were probably more severed to my RO water containing no nutrients.

Get a liquid iron based complete aquarium plant fertiliser and use and iron (Fe) test kit to monitor the iron levels. You want the iron level on 1mg/L (1ppm) and might need to dose every day for the first few weeks, but eventually you should be able to add it once or twice a week.
The problem with this statement is that Seachem Flourish has the same iron ingredient that colin has recommended to others (iron Gluconate). Iron is just one of 14 nutrients that plants need to grow. The problem with seachem Flourish and many other aquarium fertilizers it that they don't have all 14 nutrients needed or they simply idon'thave enough.

Seachem recommends a 5ml dose for a 60 gallon tank. If you followed Colin's advice and used ROewater, you would have to increase the recommended Seachem flourish dose by a factor of 14 to 71ml for a 60 gallon tank to reach a iron dose of 1ppm. At that dose Seachem flourish comprehensive might but probably won't work with RO water. At that dose Nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, sulfur, iron, boron, and molybdenum and iron are at levels that are probably sufficient. But calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and nickel would be at level s still too low for plant growth. Now if your tap water has enough Zn, Cu, Ni, Ca, Mg then a 71ml dose might work.

After years of trying and failing to get good plant growth I looked for something better but didn't find it. So I tried making my own fertilizer (not that easy but I tried it. The first batch I made, as flawed as it was, gave me better growth than any fertilizer I tried ( I had tried 4) and the good growth lasted 1.5 years before a a nutrient deficiency set in. It took me a while to figure out the problem. But now with I only need to dose 0.03ppm of iron to get good plant growth.

Question, how often do you do a water change and how much water do you change out. The reason I ask this is that if you don't change the water often enough your plants will depleteteh nutrients in it causing deficiencies. So doing a larger water change more often might help. Doing a water change once a week in my opinion is works best.

While I couldn't find a fertilizer that wuld work with my RO water, there might be one that will work with your tap water. Aquarium coop Easy green and nilocg.com thrive might work due to the higher concentrations of nutrients they supply. There is also TNC fertilizer but that is only available in europe.
 

Byron

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The GH was stated as being 200 ppm (= 11 dGH) and this is more than sufficient calcium and magnesium for Flourish Tabs and Flourish Comprehensive to be sufficient. My water is zero GH and this works fine--depending upon the plants, but my Java Fern and swords are growing very well. If you are doing a fish tank that has live plants, these products are superb; they fail if one is doing a plant tank with few or no fish, which is a very different thing.
 
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Gemtrox42

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The problem with Seachem flourish is that it is designed with the assumption that your tap water has a lot of nutrients. however if you have tap water with few nutrients you end up with a tank like yours. When setup my tank i used RO water and Seachem. I had the same issues although they were probably more severed to my RO water containing no nutrients.
I don't use tap water in my tank, I use water from a well. I'm not exactly sure how much that would differ from your situation, but I imagine it means my water has more nutrients than RO water.
Seachem recommends a 5ml dose for a 60 gallon tank. If you followed Colin's advice and used ROewater, you would have to increase the recommended Seachem flourish dose by a factor of 14 to 71ml for a 60 gallon tank to reach a iron dose of 1ppm. At that dose Seachem flourish comprehensive might but probably won't work with RO water. At that dose Nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, sulfur, iron, boron, and molybdenum and iron are at levels that are probably sufficient. But calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and nickel would be at level s still too low for plant growth. Now if your tap water has enough Zn, Cu, Ni, Ca, Mg then a 71ml dose might work.

After years of trying and failing to get good plant growth I looked for something better but didn't find it. So I tried making my own fertilizer (not that easy but I tried it. The first batch I made, as flawed as it was, gave me better growth than any fertilizer I tried ( I had tried 4) and the good growth lasted 1.5 years before a a nutrient deficiency set in. It took me a while to figure out the problem. But now with I only need to dose 0.03ppm of iron to get good plant growth.
This sounds like a nightmare to work out. I'm glad it did for you in the end, but the effort involved...maybe I don't have the patience to keep aquatic plants.
Question, how often do you do a water change and how much water do you change out. The reason I ask this is that if you don't change the water often enough your plants will depleteteh nutrients in it causing deficiencies. So doing a larger water change more often might help. Doing a water change once a week in my opinion is works best.
I change 25% of my water in both tanks weekly.
While I couldn't find a fertilizer that wuld work with my RO water, there might be one that will work with your tap water. Aquarium coop Easy green and nilocg.com thrive might work due to the higher concentrations of nutrients they supply. There is also TNC fertilizer but that is only available in europe.
Thanks for the recommendations. If I can't work this out I will check them out.
 
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Gemtrox42

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they fail if one is doing a plant tank with few or no fish, which is a very different thing.
My stocking levels in both tanks are well below 100 percent, so maybe this applies here. I'm assuming it has to do with lack of nutrients?
 

Byron

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Aquarium coop Easy green and nilocg.com thrive might work due to the higher concentrations of nutrients they supply.

I cannot see either of these being better, they are not even as good as the two I suggested. Neither of these contains any calcium, and fewer micro/macro nutrients. TNC does have the works, but only available in the UK as mentioned. Though TNL would be better in most situations as it has no nitrogen or phosphates, and neither of these should ever be deliberately added to a non-high-tech tank although most products do contain some.
 

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