How to Start a Planted Tank – Step 1

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“How should I get Started?”

Starting your planted tank requires some key planning and understanding of core concepts.

Most people understand that starting something right the first time is much easier than having to constantly redo the aquascape as it develops. Not starting properly can lead to excess algae and frustration as plants do not grow properly. Mastering the skill of optimally getting your aquarium to quickly get to stability and the growth phase will lead to more beautiful layouts, quicker.


STEP ONE: Bacteria and micro-organisms

Initial setup is the most vulnerable time for your planted tank. Because the beneficial bacteria and ecosystem is not yet established, the aquarium is vulnerable. Not only should you account for nitrogen cycle bacteria (which eliminates ammonia), but also synergistic bacteria that live and thrive on plant roots and in the substrate for plant growth and health.

These microscopic bacteria form a filter inside your aquarium that works for you to eliminate negative elements and waste, while creating positive ones that aid your plants health, vigor and growth while making the environment healthier for fish.

Pro Tip: the quicker these bacteria become established, the faster your aquarium is stable and less algae problems come down the road from an instable system.

STEP TWO: Water Chemistry

Water balance is essential for easy growth. pH and kH contribute to how easy a plant can grow in the system, look below for a quick reference:

Neutral Water has a pH of 7

Alkaline Water has a pH above 7

Acidic Water has a pH below 7

If your water is too acidic, the plants will be “burned,” too much alkalinity and the plants will bleach out. The healthiest ranges for pH in the planted aquarium is about 6.2-6.8 (slightly acidic).

Higher kH and pH values (alkaline) makes it harder for plants to spread their roots and grow efficiently. This happens because the mineral values that create high kH and pH water block the pores and cells in plants, making it more difficult for them to absorb nutrients. While it is still possible to grow plants in a pH above 7.6, it is much more difficult than growing them in a pH closer to 7 or below. A pH that is too low on the other hand, leads to plants buring themselves out (browning), and also indicates that there aren’t enough minerals in the water. These values are typically when the water is 5.4-5.8 or lower (except in rare circumstances).

Pro Tip: the more balanced your pH and kH values are to a pH of 6.8 and kH of 2, the more efficient your plants will grow and your co2 distribution is! This lets plants absorb nutrients optimally!

Watch out for: pH values taken while the co2 is being distributed into the fish aquarium is somewhat inaccurate. Co2 lowers the pH of the aquarium, but does not have a harmful impact on the actual “real” pH of the system. Don’t worry if your pH drops below the listed ranges when Co2 is on. We’re referring mostly to naturally acidic water!

STEP THREE: Nutrients

It would be silly to think that plant’s can’t grow without nutrients. Just imagine how long you can live without food. The nutritional aspect for plants is largely covered by nutrient rich substrates such as Aqua Soil, which cover all of the essential macro nutrients required for plants to grow.

Later on, I’ll show you what nutrients specifically are being provided, but in the mean time just know that Aqua Soil takes care of this for you without the need for you to worry about it. Of course, if you want to create your own substrate that will require more research.

Pro Tip: Investing in the best substrate system you can gives you the best advantages for success. Never short-change your substrate, because otherwise you will have long term issues.

Keep a look out for part 2, where we’ll get started delving deeper into how to start a planted tank!

Frank Wazeter