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Creating a planted tank

If you aspire a beautiful underwater garden, you can find the basics on how to do that on this page. It is by no means complete, and I recommend buying some decent aquarium books which are specifically about planted aquaria.
This type of tank is high maintenance! And it requires a lot of time before you can look at the result and be satisfied with it. The biggest mistake is to spend a lot of money on plants, gravel, tank and other things, placing it all in the aquarium, turning it on, and to sit back and relax. After three weeks half of the plants will have died, you'll be facing a serious algae plague, and two weeks later you'll be disappointed and offer the complete setup on ebay, not knowing what went wrong.
The second biggest mistake is to be cheap. If you do not have, or do not wish to spend a lot of money, worry about the electrical bill, do not start! The third thing: If you are lazy, or cannot spend an hour a day on your aquarium, or are impatient, do not try it, since a disappointment is unevitable.

Let's start with the equipment you'll need. The following topics are just guidelines, and even if you follow everything exactly, there's no guarantee that it will work.

The tank:
If you want to create a nice looking, well planted aquarium, it can be done in a small tank, but it's better to get a large one. Larger tanks are more stable and it's easier to maintain the proper water values. The average Dutch tank is 200*50*50, which might give an indication of a good size for a planted tank.

Plants require light. Some a bit more, some a bit less. If you bought a standard tank with an average hood, there's not enough light in your tank. Either create a new hood yourself, or modify the existing hood. In a 2 meter tank you'll need 3 large fluorescent ligts, but it's better to have 6 smaller lights.

The best possible filtration is necessary. 2 or 3 large filters, but it's better to add a biological filter. This way the waste products are converted by bacteria into food for plants.

The soil:
At least 10 cm of gravel should be available to the plants. Working with terrasses will create an upwards slope towards the back, and create a suitable rooting environment for the larger plants in the back.

Plants need food, trace elements, and many other things to grow. Any standard aquarium fertilizer provides the basics necessary for plant growth. Remember to use enough! If you only add a little, and your plants grow well, they may empty the soil in 2 or 3 months, after which you will have to empty the tank to replace the fertilizer with a new one. Other things to remember are iron fertilizer, CO2, nitrates, phosphates.............Pages with more indepth information on these topics will be added during this year.

The water:
You will need good aquarium water! This is one of the most important items. Pretreated water with chemicals to create 'safe' aquarium water is not suitable for planted aquaria!. Water treatments will also effectively remove trace elements necessary for plant growth. Extremely hard water is also unsuitable, the same as extremely soft water. A pH around neutral or slightly acidic provides the best environment for plant growth, although this is also depending on the plants you use. Research the water that is supplied to you by your watercompany. There are numerous possibilities to change all the values, until you have proper water. Some of the options available are aeration, filtration over active charcoal, peat filtration, an RO unit, CO2 pH controllers, KH+.

Make sure you select the right plants, fish(plant eaters not recommended ;) fish that dig a lot, or fish that require completely different watervalues), gravel, and decorations(Driftwood can color the water yellow, some stones leach Ca++), and a good location for the aquarium(Not in direct sunlight all day for example).

I have it all figured out, and am ready to start...

Ok. You selected an aquarium, had the holes for the biological filtration drilled in it, placed it at the proper location, checked if the floor is strong enough to carry the weight, did and considered all other things necessary when buying and placing an aquarium, and are ready to start.

According to the recommendations of the fertilizer you bought, apply it to the aquarium.

The gravel, unwashed gravel contains valuable trace elements. One third of the gravel should be added to the tank unwashed. The other 2/3 should be washed, and added.

After that, add the water, which should have the proper values, to the tank slowly. As soon as the tank is full, activate the biofiltration unit, and fill it with filtration materials. Some biostarter can be added to the tank to speed up the process of cycling(although most of these do not contain the required bacteria necessary). Turn on the light, select 14 hours of light on the timer, and let it run for a day.

As soon as the water is crystal clear, you can start adding plants to the tank. The first plants to be added should be easy and fast growing plants. Fill!!! the tank with this type of plants. Cabomba, Hygrophila polysperma, Ceratophyllum demersum, and other easy, fast growing plants.

Now it's time to start .......waiting. Wait until the plants start growing well, detect algae problems, check the watervalues. Adding some fish food if there are no nitrates in the tank. Closely monitor the tank, if the values are constant and good enough you can add a group of fish to the tank. The best thing to do here is to buy a larger group of an easy schooling fish, for example 10 Hyphessobrycon herbertaxelrodi.

Let's suppose all goes well after a month, and besides some minor problems like a bit of bad growth in the right corner of the tank, all else is well. This is the time to start with a few more difficult plants. Buy some(3-5) of the plants you want, and place them in the aquarium. For each smaller plant buy a group, for larger plants a single plant is enough. Determine where you would like to place a particular plant(group). Remove the easy fast growing plant which is currently at the selected location carefully. Place the juvenile plants in the gravel properly(!), at reasonable distances from eachother.

Again a period of waiting will start now. If your new plants really start to grow, and multiply, you can repeat this process again and again, until you have all the plants you would like, and most or all easy growing plants are removed from the tank. The whole process may take up to 6 months or longer!!

During this buildup phase, you can slowly add more fish to the tank as well. Some algae eaters, some bottom dwellers, a few fish for the middle water layers, and some surface fish. Play a little with colors, in the fish, as well as in the plants. Create some depth in the tank by placing a plant which grows up to the surface a little bit left of the middle of the tank. Keep your plants in groups, separated with pieces of driftwood.

If everything is allright, and your plants grow well, you can slowly start redesigning the tank, by moving plants a bit, or replacing a species with another. Other things to do are thinning thick bushes. Plants that have grown too high should be cut off near the gravel, or the top of the plant should be cut off, and planted, while the rest is removed.

This page is not complete! I will update it regularly, and add pages on the different parts described here. I'm trying to obtain some nice pictures of Dutch tanks, which can help as an example. If you look at such a tank, and think wow, now you know how to start with the basics. Good luck!

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