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Nonaquatic Plants to Avoid


While peace lilies of the genus Spathiphyllum are found in humid environments, their leaves cannot grow underwater and, therefore, they are not appropriate for aquariums. Steve Bower/Shutterstock

Despite the sometimes dizzying array of aquatic plants available in the hobby these days, beginning hobbyists still frequently run into the trouble of inadvertently acquiring non-aquatic plants sold as aquatics when they start to stock their tank. The presence of such plants in the hobby is a bit baffling, but their introduction may have stemmed from the earlier days of the hobby when a smaller selection of true aquatics was available and anything new and interesting-looking was welcomed. In any case, they never seem to go away, bolstered by purchases from hobbyists who are looking to put something green in their tanks and either don’t know or don’t care that they’ll die in a month or two.

It is worth mentioning that many of these plants (though not all) are, in fact, semi-aquatic and make excellent specimens for terrarium and paludarium setups, where high humidity levels and water around the roots are par for the course. Many have particularly attractive foliage that provides great contrast in more terrestrial applications.

Nonetheless, should you inadvertently acquire a non-aquatic plant, don’t assume it’s a deliberate attempt to scam you on the part of your local fish store (LFS). Many local shops don’t have plant specialists who can tell the difference between true aquatics and imposters, and an order placed with a nursery for an assortment of plants may contain a few non-aquatics slipped in. If you find you’ve got such a plant, a reputable store should accept a return or exchange based on the mistaken impression that the plant was truly aquatic, and bringing back the plant helps raise awareness of the nature of the species and may aid your store in avoiding future orders of the plant in question.

Bog Aroids

Though there are many truly aquatic aroids, including hobby staples like Anubias and Cryptocoryne (“crypts”), other species occur in wet, but not submersed conditions. Two common aroids mistakenly sold as aquatics are the peace lilies of the genus Spathiphyllum and “arrowhead plants” of the genus Syngonium.

Spathiphyllum are popular houseplants due to their low lighting needs, slow growth, attractive Calla-like spathes (the sheath enclosing the flower), and adaptable watering requirements. However, while they are known to occur in boggy jungle environments, their leaves are never found submerged and long-term growth underwater is not viable.

While the peace lily is the most popular common name for the plant when sold as a houseplant, in aquarium shops, it is often sold under the misleading name “Brazilian sword plant.” While the leaves are somewhat reminiscent of the sword plants of the genus Echinodorus, there is no relation to speak of. Hobbyists are better off purchasing true Echinodorus specimens, distinguishable from Spathiphyllum by the parallel venation in their leaves.

Syngonium are frequently sold in little net pots and referred to as arrowhead plants due to the shape of their leaves. While they come in a number of attractive foliage variants (including pink, white, and a selection of variegated patterns) that may look nice in the tank, they inevitably die off. If you want variegated foliage in your aquarium, try variegated Anubias or sword plants or any number of reddish-pink aquatic plants like Rotala or Ludwigia. For exotic pink variegation, look for plants like Cryptocoryne cordata ‘Rosanervig’ or, in countries other than the US (where it’s banned), Hygrophila polysperma ‘Rosanervig’ (sunset hygro). “Rosanervig” is German for “pink veins,” so any plant with that as a variety or cultivar name should exhibit a pink variegation.

Hemigraphis Species

A few species of the genus Hemigraphis are sold for their vibrant purple colors. Common trade names include dragon’s tongue (H. repanda) and purple waffle or waffle plant (H. alternata). Their upper leaves are dark green to gray-green, while the undersides exhibit rich red-violet hues. Occasionally, new true aquatics filter into the hobby with tentative labels from the Hemigraphis genus, such as the introduction of “H. traian” a few years back, but further investigation into their identity has always led to another species—the aforementioned example turned out to be Hyptis lorentziana, a mint family true aquatic that has foliage vaguely reminiscent of some Hemigraphis species. There are, thus, no true Hemigraphis species known to be fully aquatic.

Alternanthera Species

There are truly aquatic representatives of the genus Alternanthera, notably the various color morphs and forms of A. reineckii (forms include cardinalis, mini, lilacina, ocipus, and variegated). However, a number of bog and terrestrial Alternanthera are also sold from time to time as aquatics. Most prominent among these is A. ficoidea, sold as the hedge plant, cherry hedge, or green hedge. This is one of the most common fake aquatic plants sold in stores, and it’s especially troublesome because, to the inexperienced eye, it resembles truly aquatic plants like Ludwigia repens.

Lucky Bamboo and Its Cousins

Though it may look like a fun thing to stick in the aquarium, the so-called “lucky bamboo” plant (Dracaena braunii) is decidedly a poor choice for a fish tank. Also sold are D. marginata and D. “compacta,” variously known as “pineapple plant” and “green sandy” (possibly from a synonym name of D. braunii, D. sanderiana)—there’s also a variegated version called “green and white sandy.”

Variegated Houseplants

The aluminum plant (Pilea cadierei) is another example of a houseplant somebody stuck in the water one day and decided to try to pass off as aquatic. It does have pretty variegated foliage, which has led to it occasionally being sold as “watermelon Pilea,” but as I mentioned earlier, there are other variegated plants better suited to the aquarium. More or less the same story can be applied to Aglaonema species, sold variously as the Borneo sword (A. simplex) and Chinese evergreen.

Grassy False Aquatics

A number of plants with grassy foliage are erroneously sold as aquatic, which is especially puzzling given the vast selection of truly aquatic grassy plants available for hobbyists. Most common among these is “mondo grass” (Ophiopogon japonicum), a pretty little ground cover species that quickly melts under water. Another example is Acorus gramineus. This species is a pond marginal with iris-like foliage that may last a little longer due to its pond origins, but it’s still a poor choice for underwater culture. Similarly, the rain lily or zephyr lily, Zephyranthes candida, is sometimes sold as a dwarf version of the onion plants of the genus Crinum, but unlike the fully submersible Crinum species, Z. candida is best suited to growing in moist soil or in 1 or 2 inches of water along the edge of a pond. They frequently produce white, crocus-like flowers after storms, hence the common name “rain lily.”

In place of these grassy nonaquatics, try using true aquatic grassy plants like Vallisneria, Sagittaria, Blyxa, Cyperus helferi, Helanthium (chain sword plants), or Eleocharis (hairgrass) species.

Nonaquatic Ferns

Commonly sold as “Borneo fern,” Trichomanes javanicum is an interesting little fern that makes an excellent paludarium plant but not so much an aquarium species. Its foliage superficially resembles the larger Bolbitis heudelotii, the African water fern, which is an excellent plant for the aquarium. On that note, however, not all Bolbitis species are good for your tank—a close relative, Bolbitis heteroclita, does not survive indefinitely underwater, though it can spend long periods submersed and likely spends periods under water during the rainy season in its native Southeast Asia. Unlike the very fernlike leaves of B. heudelotii, B. heteroclita often has trios of leaflets on a frond, giving it a vaguely poison ivy-esque appearance.

Buyer Beware

Ultimately, the best way to avoid the inadvertent purchase of a nonaquatic plant for your aquarium is through careful research—by reading this column, you’re off to a good start! Avoid impulse buys, especially on the basis of foliage, as these plants are often offered specifically due to their interesting foliage (there are, of course, plenty of true aquatics with cool foliage, too). It inevitably happens to everyone who buys aquarium plants, though, so don’t be too discouraged if you do end up with a fake aquatic plant—just stick it in a flowerpot and try again!

Originally from our February 2014 Issue, The Planted Tank

Author Amanda Wenger

Posted February 2nd, 2016.

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Planting from the Bottom Up: Substrate


There are a number of elements to consider when setting up a planted tank—filtration, lighting, livestock, hardscape—but it would seem that substrate is one of those things that especially intimidates the inexperienced hobbyist. With a dizzying array of substrate products on the market and veteran hobbyists that swear by every single one of them, it’s no surprise that it can be hard to pick out something that serves as the foundation of your planted setup. Which substrate is the best? Much like the matter of CO2 supplementation I addressed in TFH November 2013, this is not a question with a clear-cut answer. Ultimately, any type of substrate can work so long as the hobbyist keeps in mind the ways it impacts the delivery of nutrients to the plants.

What Does Substrate Do For Plants?

First (and arguably foremost), the substrate acts as a place for plants to anchor themselves. Unless a tank is devoted to floating species or being used to cultivate plants for a benefit other than aesthetics (e.g., providing shelter for newborn fry or a spawning surface for egg scatterers), one generally doesn’t want the plants to go drifting randomly about the tank—it makes preserving a layout nigh impossible and can clog filters and generally create havoc. Unsurprisingly, most plants aren’t keen on moving all over the place either—frequent relocation of many species will slow their growth rate as the plant takes time to adjust to its new environment every time it’s moved.

In the case of terrestrial gardening, the most important aspect of substrate is the delivery of nutrients to the plant, and a lack of nutrients will quickly result in a sickly or dead plant.

Nutrients take a more secondary role in aquatic substrates, however, because plants in the water can absorb nutrients in other ways. While some plants are heavy root feeders (these are also, unsurprisingly, the species most prone to forming large root systems), to varying degrees, all aquatic plants also take in nutrients through their leaves. This process, called foliar feeding, also can apply to terrestrial plants (some gardeners take advantage of this by spritzing fertilizer solutions directly onto leaves), but aquatic plants are far more efficient at it because they lack the waxy, protective cuticle that terrestrial plants use to prevent leaf desiccation. While emergent aquatic plants will develop this cuticle as they break the water line, it serves no function in underwater leaves, which, by definition, cannot dehydrate.

Stem plants are particularly efficient foliar feeders, to the extent that some forego producing root structures altogether. The most notable example of this in the hobby is hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), which is found either floating or anchored by modified leaf structures.

Thus, while substrate can be used to deliver the bulk of necessary nutrients to aquatic plants, it does not have to do so, and this is the first point of division between substrate types: those that store nutrients and those that are more or less inert. Further divisions in substrate approaches for planted tanks occur in the method of nutrient storage/delivery.

Author: Amanda Wenger

Read full article here:

Posted January 4th, 2016.

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What a Mess! Hair Algae in the Planted Tank


Hideous, hairy, stringy, matted, algae is the bane of the planted aquarium keeper. It can run all over the bottom of your tank and pull up your carpeting plants when you try to remove it. It can grow in huge nasty globs on the surface of your aquarium, cutting out light. It can fill your tank and even sometimes trap and kill your fish. Of all the types of algae, it’s hair algae that causes the most problems for the most aquarists.

So What Exactly Is Hair Algae?

There are a number of algae species that grow into a hairy nasty mess. It’s difficult to specifically identify algae because there are so many kinds and they can look very similar. New types are discovered regularly, and there’s a lack of good reference materials with which to identify algae. In fact, algae is so diverse that some types are more closely related to fungus or animals than plants. If you think crypts, vals, and swords are hard to identify, try getting a good specific identification of your algae. Actually, your nasty ball of hair algae may contain several different species of algae. For the most part, then, we have to talk about algae in general terms and descriptions.
The hair algae I’ll be discussing in this month’s column can refer to any of the long, stringy, nasty, green algae that can invade your aquarium. Algae is often discussed in terms of its color, which is caused by its pigmentation. Chlorophyll is a pigment whose predominance makes most plants and green algae green. Green algae can have other pigments, but they have more chlorophyll. Even within the group of green algae, the organisms are not necessarily closely related. And even when two types of hair algae look the same, they may not be related, and different forms of treatment may be more effective for each type. You may have to experiment with several options before finding something that works.

Where Does It Come From?

Algae can come into your tank from many sources. Anything that goes into your tank that has been in another aquarium or natural body of water could potentially have algae on it. This includes plants, fish, snails, or any other living thing in your aquarium—including the water they came in with. Fish, shrimp, and most animals will be your least likely culprits. The shells of snails often have algae growing on them. Plants, as well as any decorations and equipment that have been in another aquarium, will most likely have some types of algae growing on them. There is even debate in the aquarium community as to what extent airborne spores might play in bringing algae in to the aquarium. Algae is very small and can come in to your tank from many sources.

Reducing Hair Algae
Manual Removal

The first thing you can do in your battle against hair algae is to remove as much as you can manually. Depending on how much you have in your tank, what kind it is, and if and where it’s attached, this can be a little difficult. If your plants have hair algae attached, you can pull them out of the tank to make it easier to manually remove the unwanted mess. Removing the hair algae will often take two hands, one to hold down your plant and one to pull off the algae. You can also remove parts of the plants that are heavily infested, but you don’t want to remove too much of the plants, as they are the warriors in your battle. Good healthy plants are a key to getting rid of algae.

Water Changes and Parameters

I like water changes as a next step. Most aquarium authors encourage water changes. If you have a problem with the buildup of excess nutrients, water changes will help that. Depending on the water you use, it should also add some micro-nutrients to the tank.

There are some aquarists who believe that water changes should be kept to a minimum in a low-tech tank for various reasons. One school of thought is that the water changes change the chemical composition of the water quickly, giving the algae the advantage, since it adapts to changes in the environment faster than plants do.

Plants like to get used to one particular environment and stay that way. Changes mean their old leaves are no longer optimal for their surroundings; the more change, the more they need to drop old leaves and grow new ones. When they have to do that, they spend a lot more energy, and the old leaves start decomposing and adding to the problem.

But I still believe that regular water changes in any tank are good. Twenty years ago I was in the lesser-water-changes crowd, but some friends convinced me to try doing more water changes. I gave it a try and now believe my fish and plants have done better because of it—so I have switched sides and now advocate regular water changes. I think the benefits outweigh the possible disadvantages. If you do them regularly, they won’t cause huge swings in your tank.

Speaking of water, what’s yours like? In her book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium (Echinodorus Publishing, 2003), Diana Walstad indicates that algae have the advantage in water that’s alkaline and has a high pH. If you have naturally soft water out of the tap, that’s a great advantage for you. For those of us with water like liquid rock, there are other options. First you can purchase or filter your own water. RO water is often used in planted aquariums. Usually it is mixed with tap or several additives are mixed with it to achieve the desired water conditions. Adding CO2 will also lower your pH and can be very beneficial to the plants, but it does require more tank care.

Plant Selection and Growth

Another option—something that I do in the majority of my tanks—is to just grow plants that prefer the rock-like water. Many plants will do well in this type of water, including val, hornwort, swords, and mosses.

Regardless of what type of water you have, it’s always a good idea to research your plants. I can’t tell you how many times people will tell me of their plant-growing woes and then send me a photo of a dying house plant in an aquarium. Many emergent and even terrestrial plants are falsely sold as aquarium plants. Be sure to research your plants and fish before purchase, or be prepared to spend money on things that just won’t work. You need to have healthy aquatic plants to compete with your algae. New growth should be noticeable and should continue indefinitely.

Speaking of healthy plants, another method used to keep aquarium algae down relies on optimal plant growth. Planted-tank expert Tom Barr came up with a method known as “The Estimative Index” in which he states that fertilizers and CO2 combined with good lighting can maximize plant growth, thereby inhibiting the growth of algae. Doses are added daily to several times a week and large water changes are carried out weekly to ensure there are no excessive buildups. Results can be impressive, but this is a labor-intensive way to grow plants. You have to stay on top of it to keep the tank levels consistent, and you will need to trim regularly to keep up with excess plant growth.

Another way to use desirable plants to curb algae is by letting your plants grow across some of the top of the tank or even out of the tank. More plant growth means less for your algae, and plants growing across the top and out of the tank have the added benefit of being able to use the CO2 in the air. Plants at the top of your tank can also provide shade, which can hurt some algae. Just be sure to leave enough light so your plants don’t suffer.

Make sure you have adequate lighting for your aquarium, and replace bulbs frequently. Most sources cite six months to a year as a good time to change bulbs. Ensure that your aquarium isn’t getting sunlight from a window. Often a patch of hair algae can be linked to a passing period of daylight that streams in to a tank from an open window across the room.

Algae Grazers

Good aquarium practices are a key in fighting hair algae, but you also may wish to employ a small clean-up crew to aid in your battle. Several fish and invertebrates will eat at least some species of hair algae. Some of the ones that I’ve found to be successful are Florida flagfish Jordanella floridae, Ameca splendens, and some mollies. Though most shrimp don’t seem to eat the hair algae, I’ve found that ghost shrimp often will. And if you want to try something really unusual, the tiny Gammarus crustaceans will also eat it.

Mollies are often available at local fish stores, but the other fish may be hard to find. Look for people interested in livebearers or native fish; the ALA and NANFA are good places to start looking. You can also check online for auctions or shops, or ask your local stores if they can order them for you.

Ghost shrimp can often be purchased at many aquarium shops. They are often sold as feeder shrimp. They usually do very well in the planted aquarium with smaller fish. They even breed in the aquarium, readily carrying their eggs and young fry under their bodies, and eventually releasing tiny replicas of themselves.

Gammarus and the very similar-looking Hyella are tiny freshwater shrimp. They are easiest to find in a local body of water. They are often in ponds (both natural and manmade), plants purchased at nurseries that sell pond plants, and in many if not most natural bodies of water. Some fish will eat them, but I’ve found that with small fish in the tank enough Gammarus survive. Unfortunately you won’t be able to grow mosses in a tank with these fish, as they see it as an appetizing meal.

A Slow and Steady Battle

You may notice that there are several different methods for dealing with the growth of unwanted hair algae in the aquarium. Often I find that it’s a slow process of making slight changes in different areas with small successes until finally a stable and satisfactory environment is achieved. Be aware that the advice you find is just that, advice, based on personal observations. Because our water is different to start with, we use different plants and animals and have different lighting, schedules, and species of algae, so our experiences can vary considerably. Using your own personal observations, knowing the options available, and being willing to experiment are key factors in controlling hair algae in the aquarium.

Author: Rhonda Wilson

Posted December 22nd, 2015.

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Creating an Asiatic/Oceanic Aquascape


The author’s 85-gallon (325-liter) tank with an Asiatic/Oceanic layout.

Being a professional photographer, I have enjoyed creating aquarium layouts that I believe anyone can build. I feel that I’m not alone when I say I’m constantly thinking about new aquarium layouts. However, I’m a bit impatient about aquascaping. I find it difficult to wait months for plants and mosses to become established before I can truly enjoy the tank’s appearance and use it for my photography.

I see many stunning displays from the world’s leading layout experts in such magazines as TFH. While incredibly beautiful, these layouts are not easily achieved, so I often use some of their ideas and convert them into my own techniques that I can easily apply to my aquarium. The layouts I end up with are not so time-consuming and result in an aquarium layout that is a little easier for the common aquarist.

Photo Tank Influence

I have solid experience with photo tanks, including how to decorate them to get the best background for my fish photography. Quite a few of these photo-tank layouts can be applied to bigger tanks, which can result in beautiful displays for tank inhabitants.

I recently tested this theory with my own home aquarium. I wanted to change the layout for my 85-gallon (325-liter) tank from an Amazon-themed design to something with more of an Asiatic/Oceanic angle, so I approached the layout of my home aquarium as I would for a photo tank.


I wanted to make a lush environment of green moss on rocks, but I didn’t want to wait a month for the moss to grow in and spread. I also wanted it to be a dense display, so I used readily available algae (“Marimo”) balls.

I found it easy to use my fingers to open the algae balls and make a small carpet of green growth. To fasten them to the “Pagoda” rocks, I tied them on with thin fishing line. It is a bit of a challenge to tie knots with such fine line, especially when I needed to tie enough rocks to create an attractive display in my tank.

However, with perseverance and a few breaks to give my crossed eyes a rest, it took me only a couple of hours to complete the job. The clear fishing line becomes virtually invisible in water, becoming noticeable only on close-up photos.

Natural vs. Functional

I used a mix of sand and river gravel, because I think that looks more natural for most of my general layouts. However, since I wanted to put the algae-covered rocks on a gentle slope, it was necessary to put in some filter-material barriers to stop the sand from sliding too much.

In between the rocks, I added a couple of pleco caves. These tubes are not very attractive, and they don’t have a natural appearance, so I hid them as much as possible while still allowing them to be completely functional. I placed them near the front glass so I would have the pleasure of being able to view the cave dwellers.

I already had artificial mangrove roots from my previous setup, but a variety of roots will suffice. I added a few extra details by placing some coconut fiber where the roots meet the sand to give the impression of ultra-thin roots extending from the main root.


My tendency in the past has almost always been to create Amazon layouts, because I love the fishes from the Amazon region. However, on this occasion, I wanted to keep some wonderful species from Asia and Oceania. It also enabled me to get some better photographs of them.

As of this writing, I have had my new tank setup for a month, and it has produced some awesome fish photos. The Rotala spp. plants have grown in nicely, which has inspired me to add a new batch of fish to photograph.

Author: Johnny Jensen

Original article from our April 2015 Issue. To order back issues, contact

Posted December 17th, 2015.

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Setting Up a Successful Low-Tech Planted Tank like a Pro

It can be difficult for a beginner to know how to incorporate plants into their setup with the amount of conflicting information out there, but a professional aquascaper breaks it down and makes it easy for anyone to start a planted tank.


Photo courtesy: Sukpaiboonwat/Shutterstock

Many new hobbyists transition from keeping freshwater fish to a planted aquarium. This is often inspired by the fantastic planted aquarium images available, as well as the aim of keeping live plants that look more impressive than plastic plants and keep the aquarium healthier. Indeed, live plants benefit the aquarium by providing more natural refuges (and even food) for fish and fry, oxygenating the water by day, absorbing excess nutrients, and/or releasing allelochemical defenses that may, to some extent, control algae.

When most beginners attempt to keep plants, two approaches and outcomes are common. In the first approach, the budding planted aquarium keeper proceeds directly to the local fish store (LFS), purchases a few appealing varieties, and plants them in their current substrate. A few months later, the aquarist is often left with spindly, yellowing, or wilting plants commonly plagued with algae. Replacing these becomes expensive and irritating, and often the hobbyist returns to hardscape items and artificial plants.

The other is the ambitious aquarist who researches planted aquariums online or through other means and is inundated with conflicting advice and complex terminology relating to the requirements of their desired species. The second approach often yields more success, as forum members will recommend hardier plants and easier, low-tech ways to maintain them, but the influx of baffling information can make some wary or hesitant to learn more, preventing their development as an underwater gardener and aquascaper.

I’d like to share advice for beginners on how to start and achieve long-term success with an impressive basic aquascape with live plants while still keeping it simple. Do note, however, that this should not stop anyone from learning more about the planted aquarium hobby. If you want to create a planted aquarium that will truly wow an audience, there is much to learn and there are myriad opinions on how to get there.

Before you start gardening, it is essential to understand your tank’s limits and the effect of its physical and chemical parameters, lighting, and livestock on a given plant species and aquascape.

Basic Water Chemistry

As with any healthy tank, you must start with a properly cycled and established aquarium with ammonia and nitrite reading 0 ppm and nitrates at 40 ppm or less (ideally around 20 ppm).


A stable pH is also important for the health of your tank and for most tropical fish and plants. Buying fish suited to your local water conditions is advised over using pH-altering chemicals, as these can sometimes be stressful to both plants and fish. Some have limited capacity to remain stable in a given tank (particularly if buffering capacity is low). Additionally, mixing your water to exact pH at every water change can sometimes be tricky, causing your pH to fluctuate. A stable pH is more desirable than a fluctuating one, and while some fish and plants will adapt to something at the limits of their natural range, it is better to select fish and plants already suited to your current water.


Water hardness is also very important in the planted aquarium. It is vital to the health of both fish and plants, though this parameter is often ignored by most new fishkeepers. Water hardness comes in two forms, general hardness (GH) and carbonate hardness (KH), which are measured in parts per million (ppm) or degrees (dGH or dKH).

GH is the total amount of dissolved salts in the tank (chiefly carbonate, chloride, and sulphate salts). Salts are an essential component of fresh water, as they are a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and other trace elements for fish and plants. They also affect the osmoregulation process in fish (i.e., maintenance of the internal to external salt/water balance), and a dissolved salt content above or below the tolerance of a specific species can cause a great deal of stress. Thus, it is important to maintain GH at an appropriate level via the addition of specially formulated aquarium salts (not sodium chloride or regular table salt) to increase hardness, or by diluting very hard water with soft water or RO (reverse osmosis) water to decrease it.

KH is a measure of dissolved carbonate and bicarbonate salts only. Understanding KH is especially important in planted tanks, as carbonates help a tank resist swings in pH and are commonly known as pH buffers. In planted tanks, plants photosynthesize during the day and consume CO2, which can be dissolved in water as carbonic acid. The consumption of this acid can cause the pH to rise (i.e., the water will become more basic). At night, plants respire as animals do, and along with the livestock and bacteria, will also add CO2, thus more carbonic acid, back to the system. This will lower the pH (i.e., the water will become more acidic). These swings in pH can harm fish and invertebrates, increasing their susceptibility to disease over time.

To buffer this swing, a carbonate acts by binding excess acid in the form of hydrogen ions to create bicarbonate. The reverse occurs at a more alkaline pH to produce a carbonate compound and release hydrogen ions and CO2 back into the water, which can create carbonic acid that once again lowers the pH. The CO2 released in this reaction can also be consumed by plants. Carbonates are also a source of carbon for plants when normal dissolved CO2 and carbonic acid is low or absent. When KH, and therefore carbonate levels, is very low, usually below 3 dKH or about 50 ppm, and all available CO2 in the water is used up by plant growth, carbonates will be rapidly used up and the buffering capacity will vanish. Without any buffering ability, plant cycles can now cause dangerous pH fluctuations.

What all this means is that it is essential in low-tech planted tanks to measure your GH and KH and ensure that both are kept above 3 degrees or about 50 ppm. A level of 4 to 6 dGH and dKH, or about 70 to 100 ppm, is ideal for both plants and most tropical fish (excluding brackish fish and African cichlids). To raise your KH naturally, you can add a little calcium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate to your water, making sure it is dissolved first. Calcium carbonate is preferred, as calcium is a far more useful supplement for fish. Do also note that adding bicarbonates may affect your pH by making it slightly more alkaline, so monitor this parameter in your tank and in any replacement water to ensure that your pH stays constant for the health of your fish and plants.


Many newcomers use an inert and/or non-nutritive substrate such as gravel, pebbles, rubble, or sand in their tank. The type used will affect what you can and cannot plant—or whether you can plant in the substrate at all. A key point is grain size.

Gravel larger than 5 mm in diameter may cause problems, with poor rooting of some plants, as gaps may be too wide for roots to anchor properly and let nutrients from mulm or fertilizer tablets dissolve out and away into the main water column.

Conversely, small-grained substrate like sand is likely to compact too tightly for roots to penetrate deeply, and deep sand beds may also cause anaerobic zones where there is no oxygen and the flow of water and dissolved nutrients also cannot penetrate well. While some anaerobic zones can be beneficial for reduction of nitrate into nitrogen gas by anaerobic bacteria, these areas may halt proper root growth if you choose to plant near them. An ideal grain size for a planted aquarium is about 2 to 5 mm.

If your substrate is within a good grain size, plant any stem plants by making a small hole with your fingertip, plant, and back fill with substrate. Bury the plant about an inch below where the roots emerge, and gently pull the plant upward to the right level after back filling. This will let the roots orient themselves a little better.

For any rooted plant, let mulm accumulate around the base. This will break down and act as a natural fertilizer, though if the plant is large and a heavy root feeder, such as a sword plant, a root tab is ideal to bury next to it to get it going. From there, accumulated mulm will generally do the rest. Still, utilize fertilizer balls/tabs if plants show signs of deficiency.

If you want to go ahead and use a non-ideal substrate, check out the TFH Extras blog for some tips on what you can do to still maintain a beautiful planted tank.

Aquarium Space and Livestock

Naturally, the choice of hardscape and plants for a narrow and tall tank full of peaceful tropical tetras will vary vastly from one that is half the height, 6 feet long, and full of boisterous cichlids. Again, much comes down to research. Choose plants that grow to a good size for the tank, will not overcrowd it, and are compatible with your livestock.

Larger fish, active fish, and those that dig may restrict your choices to strong plants that cannot be uprooted, such as Anubias, Bolbitis, Java fern, well-tied mosses, or maybe potted swords. Smaller tanks will also be restricted—a little 5-gallon tank will look lush with various crypts, dwarf Sagittaria, pearl weed, and mosses, but you’ll find that large swords and tall stem plants like ambulia, Vallisneria, and various hygros will soon overrun it and be bent out of shape in such shallow water.


A lot has been written about lighting for planted tanks, a complex topic, but success can be achieved in a simple setup with a basic understanding of the important aspects.

There are two key components to aquarium lighting. The first is the output, measured in lumens. This is the amount of light energy reaching an area, and while few light bulbs note the lumens, you can assume in the case of your standard fluorescent bulb that more watts mean more lumens. Do note, though, that more efficient bulbs like compact fluorescent lights and T5s produce more lumens per watt than the older T12s and T8s, and LEDs are even more efficient.

The second is the color spectrum it emits and what intensity of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) is contained therein. Essentially, PAR means the type of radiation or energy with the correct wavelength that plants can use. Happily, most aquarists need not be too concerned with these details, as most hardy plants requiring low to medium lighting will perform well under the light fixture setup provided with your tank when used with bulbs rated for plants. Still, it pays to know why, so let’s explore more.

Light Intensity and Output

Regarding light intensity and output, more light output is required with larger and deeper tanks, as lumens decrease with distance and some light wavelengths plants require do not penetrate water as well as others. If you have a larger aquarium, chances are your accompanying light fixture contains long bulbs and probably a couple of them. Together, this will keep the length of the tank well lit with intensity high enough for your plants.

If your tank came without lights, buy a fixture suited for your tank, and if you have an option, get the fixture with room for more bulbs (better to have more than less). A 3- to 4-foot tank or larger will require two to four bulbs overhead, though you can get by with less if you choose to use only lower light and/or floating plants, which will linger near the surface. For smaller tanks, a single fluorescent tube will likely work well for a normal 2-foot tank or less, as they are more shallow.

If you need to boost your lighting intensity, purchase bulbs with a higher wattage, but if you want or need more bulbs and your fixture will not accommodate them, another tip is to purchase a strip of high-intensity (and proper spectrum) LED lights. The benefit of LEDs is that they produce more lumens for a lower wattage and will save on power consumption.

For standard fluorescent bulbs, the common rule of thumb is to aim for 2 to 4 watts per gallon, and this is generally not a bad rule to follow if you are working with standard fluorescent bulbs and low- to medium-light plants. However, I find this often misleading, as a lower output will still serve well in smaller tanks that are considerably more shallow, and even a high output will fail your plants if the spectrum is not correct.

Author: Lea Maddocks

View full article here:

Posted November 23rd, 2015.

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The 10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners


Natural plants are the perfect choice for any aquariums, and they’re almost a required for Aquascapes. To do it right, you’ll need to choose plants that won’t immediately die. (It happens to all of us at some point.) Here are the best freshwater plant choices for beginners.

Java Moss

This is the most common plant you’ll see in aquariums. It literally grows like a weed. While it thrives when given pressurized CO2, it also grows relatively quickly in medium light conditions. It’s usually trimmed early & often to maintain a sort of ‘carpet’ across the bottom of the aquarium. It’s also great for shrimp keeping, as it provides good cover for baby shrimp. Note that this plant needs to be anchored to something heavy to prevent it from floating to the top of your tank.

Here are the ideal conditions for Java Moss:

  • Water Conditions: 72-90 Degrees Farenheight. (Fastest at 73 degrees.) High water movement helps increase growth rate.
  • Lighting Conditions: Highly tolerable. Best growth in Medium to High light.
  • Appearance: low growth pattern; tends to create ‘carpets’ if trimmed correctly.

Marsilea Minuta

If you keep it trimmed tightly, this plant carpets quite easily. It’s also very easy to determine whether it’s getting enough nutrients, as well: it’ll start losing its vibrant green color, yellowing over time. That’s when you know to modify your dosing!

Marsilea Minuta grows best in these conditions:

  • Water Conditions: 73-78 degrees Farenheight; tolerable of most conditions.
  • Lighting Conditions: Grows best in medium light; will tolerate other situations.
  • Appearance: Has a ‘clover’ appearance. Creates a unique ‘carpet’ of sorts.

Pygmy Chain Sword

This plant is a particularly familiar feature to most of us: it’s the aquatic version of what’s in your lawn. When it’s taken care of, Chain Sword can give your aquarium that extra ‘finished’ look. (It’s also quite tolerable of many water conditions.)

Chain Sword’s best conditions:

  • Water Conditions: 72-78 degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Grows best in high lighting situations.
  • Appearance: Looks astonishingly like the grass in your lawn.

Staurogyne Repens

This is a hardy, easily-grown plant that’s perfect for the foreground of your aquarium. Originally found in the Amazonas, it’s quite bushy, and grows small green leaves. It’s perfect for placement around the hardscape of your aquarium, and looks great when it forms bushes around your stone!

  • Water Conditions: 76 Degrees Farenheight; Highly tolerable temperature range
  • Lighting Conditions: Carpets in high light situations; tolerable of medium light
  • Appearance: Bushy growth with horizontally spreading patterns

Anubias Nana

Anubias Nana grows quite well from trimmings, so it’s quite easily propagated in an aquarium. It’s hard for beginners to kill, and its size makes it perfect as a midground plant. Also, this is the plant you see on many aquarium videos producing the stream of bubbles from its leaves. (It’s an interesting addition to your tank, and one that’s sure to attract attention!)

  • Water Conditions: 72-78 degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Optimal growth in medium-high lighting
  • Appearance: Curved stems with rounded leaves

Amazon Swords

These are another extremely popular plant for most aquariums. They’re hardy, tolerable of many common water conditions, and easily maintained. I’ll warn you, however: these get large. A full-size Amazon Sword when fanned out can be as large as 24″—around the size of a beachball. However, regular trimming tends to help keep it to a manageable size.

  • Water Conditions: 74-82 degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Growth is best in low-medium lighting
  • Appearance: Very large, broad leaves. Grows to large size

Pogostemon Helferi

Other than an awesome name, these plant is one of the most unique you’ll find for freshwater aquariums. You might also see this plant referred to as ‘Downoi’, but they’re the same plant species.

  • Water Conditions: 74-78 Degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Growth is optimal in medium lighting
  • Appearance: Detailed ‘zigzag’ pattern; unique to freshwater aquariums

Crypt Wendtii

If you read a bit about Crypts, you’ll probably find a few horror stories of purchasing this plant, only to have it completely ‘melt’, or decay, away.

  • Water Conditions: 72-78 Degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Grows best in low lighting due to slow growth
  • Appearance: Varied, thin to medium-thickness leaves that grow quite long

Micro Sword

This is a beautifully-carpeting plant that’s at home in any beginner’s aquarium, as well as veteran aquascapers alike. It’s primarily meant as a foreground plant, never growing above ~2 inches in height. It grows exceptionally fast, so give it even the most basic care, and it’ll give you a beautiful carpet in return.

  • Water Conditions: 70-83 Degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Carpets in medium to high light
  • Appearance: Short, plentiful leaves that appear to ‘carpet’ the substrate

By: Taylor Daughtry

Original article here:

Posted November 16th, 2015.

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Aquatic Gardening, Nano Style


Credit: Karen A. Randall

Tiny aquatic gardens are all the rage; perfect for the aquarist with limited space, or for those who simply enjoy the aesthetic of a scale-model planted layout, with all the benefits and challenges that come with it.

Most people get started in the hobby with the typical 10- or 20-gallon tank because these sizes are widely available as inexpensive starter kits. Those who get hooked on the hobby quickly find that this not enough, and the desire for a bigger tank sets in. For some a 55-gallon tank may be enough, while others lust after a 6- or even 8-foot tank.

Big tanks can be a lot of fun, and larger systems are often more stable than small ones, but big tanks are also a lot of work and are more expensive to set up, stock, and maintain. Whatever the reason, in recent years, nano tanks have become a popular alternative to explore the hobby in greater depth, particularly for those of us interested in aquatic gardening.

What’s a Nano Tank, and Why Bother?

The term “nano tank” is not precisely defined in the industry, and, especially in terms of reef systems, tends to include tanks much larger than the tanks I consider true nanos, which, for the purposes of this discussion, can be defined as tanks no larger than 10 gallons—and some significantly smaller than that.

For years the industry has sold bowls for keeping goldfish and bettas to inexperienced hobbyists. Knowledgeable hobbyists realize that these small containers are not suitable homes for either of these species, as the former are large fish most suited to the garden pond and the latter are tropical fish requiring a heated tank.

In recent years, however, many aquatic gardeners have experimented with small planted aquariums and have found that when these tiny tanks are appropriately stocked and managed, they are actually quite stable habitats and can be maintained for long periods of time with little effort.

Nano tanks have some real advantages over their larger counterparts. They are perfect for displaying small plant and animal species that would be lost in a larger tank, and for those who are seriously interested in the art of aquascaping, nano tanks allow the opportunity to experiment and rearrange, or even add more nano tanks at a tiny fraction of the cost of larger tanks. For those with limited space, nano tanks are an ideal way to enjoy the hobby. A beautiful nano tank also never fails to draw the attention of visitors.

Choosing Equipment

Obviously, you want a small tank and equipment suitable for that tank. One choice, though not the most attractive, is to use the standard 2½-, 5-, or 10-gallon tanks available at any chain pet store. Getting a filter for such sizes isn’t usually a problem, as there are several small external power filters available that will do a nice job on small tanks. There are other small aquariums and bowls available that are inexpensive options, too, so look around and see what you can find.

The larger problem is lighting. Most commercial hoods available for tanks this small simply do not have an adequate amount of light to grow healthy aquatic plants. For a 10-gallon tank, one option is to purchase a regular 10-gallon hood and then retrofit the light fixture with compact fluorescent bulbs. A quick Internet search will give you a number of sources for kits to do this. For the smallest tanks, a compact fluorescent desk lamp on a swing-arm base can be purchased at any home supply store. These provide plenty of light for a tank up to about 5 gallons, and the amount of light can be regulated simply by changing the height of the lamp above the tank.

Much more attractive tanks are available if you are willing to spend a bit more money, however. Several major manufacturers offer complete nano tank systems that have light and filtration conveniently built in. The best of these tanks have good-quality glass or acrylic with no seams to spoil the view.

If you choose one of these systems, make sure you choose one built with adequate light for growing aquatic plants (a minimum of 2 to 3 watts per gallon). There are also a few specialty sources that import small tanks from the Far East specifically for the aquascaping hobby. These tanks range from moderately priced to very expensive but are fashionable, open-topped, rimless tanks with excellent clarity and no front seams. Some are sold with a filter and light fixture, while for others these pieces of equipment are available but at an added cost. Unless you are lucky enough to live near one of the handful of aquarium shops in this country specializing in planted aquariums, you will probably have to order these tanks online.

For most nano tanks that will house fish or shrimp, you will have to purchase a heater. I prefer the very small, thermostatically controlled submersible heaters for any tank that is appropriately sized for them. There are now heaters that fit this description for tanks as small as 2 gallons. Unfortunately, for tanks below this size there are no good options for thermostatically controlled heating.

Don’t overlook other types of containers for nano tanks either. A large flat-sided vase can be a lovely little planted tank. I’ve seen aquascapes done in petri dishes, and even inside a light bulb! Obviously, these smallest containers are not suitable for animal life, but that also means that you do not need to worry about filtration or heaters.

While it is perfectly possible to choose plants for a nano tank that will not require supplemental CO2, the use of supplemental CO2 will open up a world of exciting plants to you. If you use CO2 on your larger tanks, I’m sure you would want the same for a nano tank. If you haven’t quite dared make the leap to CO2 supplementation, a nano tank is your opportunity to get your feet wet. Chances are, once you’ve tried it, you will be a complete convert!

CO2 for a Nano Tank

While most aquatic gardeners use pressurized-gas CO2 systems on their larger tanks, a yeast reactor is more than adequate for nano tanks. There are wonderful small commercially made yeast reactors, or you can easily make one from a soda bottle, a rubber stopper, and a piece of airline tubing.

To diffuse the CO2 in a nano tank, you can either feed the CO2 into the filter or use a glass diffuser specifically sized for nano tanks (again, you can find these with a quick online search if your local pet store doesn’t carry them). Neither of these methods are terribly efficient, but you don’t need a lot of CO2 in such a small tank anyway.

Setting Up Your Nano Tank

Equipment set up on a nano tank is exactly the same as for any aquarium unless you are using a really tiny container. For these very small tanks, you don’t need a filter or heater.

I use the best substrates available when setting up a nano tank. There are several good commercial substrate alternatives on the market these days, and while these might seem expensive when used in a large tank, even a small bag of substrate will be more than enough for several small nano tanks.

If the substrate you choose has a fair amount of organic material, consider using it only as a base layer, and covering it with a layer of fine, well-rinsed quartz gravel. This will save you a lot of early water changes while excess nutrients leach out of the substrate.

Similarly, because the tank is small, consider treating yourself to some of the fancy rock and driftwood that is available. You won’t need that much to make a stunning display. Alternatively, you can collect your own. That way these design materials are free, and collecting them is half the fun. (Use standard precautions when collecting any materials for use in an aquarium.)

Plant Choices for the Nano Aquarium

Because the tank is small, you need to choose plants carefully. It is important that the leaf size is in good balance with the size of the tank—large leaves will simply look cramped and out of place in a nano. You also want to avoid plants that grow so vigorously that you need to trim them every few days to prevent them from overflowing the tank. This still leaves you many choices, however.

One way to go with a nano tank is a slow-growth/lower-light setup based on mosses, small Microsorum varieties, Anubias barteri var. “nana” and “nana petite,” and possibly small Cryptocoryne. While regular Java moss Taxiphyllum barbieri grows too quickly and tends to overrun a tiny tank, some of the other mosses, such as Christmas moss Vesicularia montagnei, and other decorative mosses such as flame moss and weeping moss, grow more slowly and are very beautiful. There are also a number of species in the genus Fissidens that are wonderful accents in a nano tank.

For a brighter look, dwarf hairgrass Eleocharis acicularis or E. pusilla will make a dense carpet without growing too tall in all but the smallest tanks. A tank like this can remain very stable and look very good with very little maintenance for a long period of time.

If you are willing to do a little more pruning and maintenance, there is a whole world of possibilities. While the plants I mentioned above will grow best with supplemental CO2, most of them will do okay without it as long as there is organic material in the substrate. For most of the more delicate plants, supplemental CO2 will make a huge difference.

One of the most beautiful ground covers for small CO2-enriched tanks is Hemianthus callitrichoides. This prostrate plant, with its tiny, bright-green leaves, really makes a tank sparkle. Other lovely low-growing species to consider are Pogostemon helferi and Staurogyne sp. “repens.”

Stem plants to consider for the nano tank are numerous, but a few of my favorites are Rotala wallichii, Didiplis diandra,and Mayaca fluviatilis. For the midground, Micranthemum umbrosum and Hemianthus micranthemoides are both nice choices. This list is far from exhaustive, however; look through any good book on aquatic plants and you will find many lovely possibilities. Just avoid stem plants with large leaves or extremely fast growth.

What About the Animals?

Whether you should put animals in your nano tank is dependent on the size of the tank and the amount of work you are willing to do. In my opinion, tanks under 2 gallons should be for plants only. Kept this way, they will be a beautiful gem on your desk that you can enjoy with just regular top-ups of water and perhaps a bit of careful fertilization. Tanks this small are very difficult, if not impossible to keep at a comfortable temperature for most fish and inverts, and if you are feeding animals in such a small container, you will be committing to very frequent water changes, both for the health of the inhabitants and also to avoid algae problems.

Tanks that are between 2½ and 5 gallons are still too small for most fish, but they are big enough that you can control the temperature better. If they are heavily planted with healthy plants, they are also more able to absorb the nutrients added to the tank with judicious feeding. This size tank can be easily livened up by a colony of brightly colored shrimp, such as cherry red, crystal, or bee shrimp. These shrimp all eat a certain amount of algae, so it’s fine to keep them a bit on the hungry side. They will keep your plants clean as they find their own dinner.

Concerning tanks of 5 gallons or more, there are many wonderful tiny fish that make good inhabitants. Many of these fish don’t do well in larger tanks because they can’t compete well with larger or more boisterous fish. A nano tank gives them the perfect place to shine! As with plants, there are just so many possibilities that I can barely scratch the surface, but here are a few of my favorites.

From South America, the ember tetra Hyphessobrycon amandae is a tiny red tetra that does best in a school of at least 8 to 12, but they are so small that this is fine in a 5-gallon or larger tank. Many of the dwarf pencilfish do very well; a real crowd-pleaser at the moment is the ruby red pencilfish Nannostomus mortenthaleri.

Moving on to Asia, the fish that top my list are the scarlet badis Dario dario and the incredibly beautiful celestial pearl danio Danio margaritatus. The celestial pearl danio, on top of being beautiful, is a fairly quiet fish, and happy in smaller numbers than true schooling fish. A group of six will be perfectly happy. Another Asian fish that is beautifully suited to the nano tank is the White Cloud Mountain minnow Tanichthys albonubes, an old-timer in the hobby. These fish don’t look like much in the pet store, but put them in their own heavily planted tank and watch them glow!

There are many small killifish that are suitable for the nano tank. One of my favorites is Pseudepiplatys annulatus, the clown killie. Any of the blue eyes, such as Pseudomugil furcata or P. tenellus, are also good choices. All of these fish really need a tank of their own if you want to enjoy their interesting natural behavior.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface of potential animals for nano tanks. Just remember to choose small fish, and don’t overstock your tank. (If you want more fish, set up another nano tank!)


Maintaining a nano tank isn’t much different from maintaining any planted tank; you just need to think in scale. For a scraper, a single-edge razorblade does a great job. A brine shrimp net is a useful-sized net for all but the smallest nano tanks. For the tiny ones, you may have to make your own. It will be very difficult to remove fish from a fully planted nano tank, but a net is still very useful for skimming plant debris from the surface after pruning.

Many aquatic gardeners use specially designed tools for planting, and while these can be very useful for tanks of any size, they are an absolute necessity in a nano tank, where our fingers are just too big to work. Speaking of hands in the tank, make sure you remove enough water from the tank to make up for the displacement of your hand before working in the tank. Otherwise, your desk is in for a wet surprise!

Water changes are easy in a nano tank. You can use small-diameter tubing to siphon the tank, or simply dip water out with a cup. Remember to do water changes regularly, though. In a little tank, there’s no excuse not to. Try to change 50 percent of the water weekly. If you live in an area with very hard water, this is a chance to play with some softwater species using bottled water. This would be a drag with a big tank, but it’s easy with a little one. If your tank is open-topped, you will need to top up the water in between changes too. You will find that quite a bit evaporates.

Fertilization can be a bit tricky in tiny tanks. If you maintain larger planted tanks, one way to handle it is to do a water change on the big tank, dose your nutrients, and then use water from the big tank to change water on the little one. If that’s not an option, you will have to do some careful math, and either learn how to dose with an eyedropper or make diluted solutions.

If you have used a substrate with good nutritional value, you may not need to supplement much for many months. If you have fish in the tank, the food you give them will also help fertilize the plants. Err on the side of caution when fertilizing nano tanks.

The nice thing, however, is that if things go wrong, or if you just get tired of the way your tank is set up, it’s so easy to completely re-set the tank. Drain the water into a small waterproof container, put the plants and fish in there too, and start over. I have a friend who occasionally runs his small, seamless nano tanks through the dishwasher! I haven’t quite gotten to that point, but it is dead easy to do any cleaning that needs to be done right in the kitchen sink.

Author: Karen A. Randall

See the full article on TFH Digital

Posted November 6th, 2015.

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Aquascaping from Italy – Interview with Diego Marinelli


Aquascaping interview with Diego Marinelli, a talented aquascaper from Italy.

How did you get into the fishkeeping hobby and what was your first contact with aquascaping?

I want to premise that I have always had a strong attraction to the “nature” themes and “green”, in fact my other great passions are photography and naturalist excursions… About 9 years ago I saw on the internet the first images of a Nature Aquarium and I’m loving it since then.

There are different styles of aquascaping out there (Dutch, Nature Aquarium, Iwagumi etc.), what’s your favorite one and why?

My favorite style is the Nature Aquarium, is fantastic the idea to be able to replay in a confined space a true portrait of nature.

Please describe the most challenging setup that you made so far.

My work “One too many morning” of 2012 that I’ve had a lot of satisfaction to the most important contest was a complex layout. To get the depth I had to work for a long time on the arrangement of rocks and inclination of the woods. To get a natural effect was due spend a lot of time to grow, mix and contain several species of aquatic plants difficult

What’s your main source of inspiration for your aquascapes?

Forests, rivers and mountains from the area in which I live.

Do you have a favorite species of aquatic plant or fish which you like to work with more often?

I have no favorite species. But I choose plants that better adapt to the layout of my project. Many people starting with aquascaping complain about algae bloom and they usually give up when that happens.

How do you keep your aquariums algae free and what advice would you give regarding this matter?

To not see the algae you’d need to focus all attention on the plants. Making sure that the plants grow is the best way to combat algae, so you need to have a large number of fast-growing species.

What was the longest that you kept an aquascaping setup? How many tanks do you keep right now and how many hours per week do you spend doing aquarium maintenance?

Right now I manage 3 aquariums in my house, and other tanks of my clients. I managed a layout for more than three years.

Tell us a bit about the technical aspect of your aquariums, like filtration, light units, CO2, fertilization systems.

I created and managed in different types of aquariums using products from various companies, and getting consistent good results. As I prefer the neon lighting t5, I believe that LED technology needs to be improved.

How much of an artist do you have to be in order to create aquascape like the ones you see in the major aquascaping contests? What skills do you think differentiate a good aquascaper from the best?

The best aquascapers are those who manage to put in their work creativity and genius. But the basis is always a strong sensitivity to nature and ability to convey emotions.

Is aquascaping a big thing in Italy?

Aquascaping is not a big thing in Italy, unfortunately… But it is now in widespread use.

Can you tell us more about

Aquaproject has precisely the aim of disseminating information and aquascaping techniques among internet users. For a short time with an online store so you can also buy products for aquascaping.

What are your plans about your future as an aquascaper, would you like to share that with us?

I have many initiatives to be pursued in the coming months. My intention is to bring out the tanks from the shops of FISHES, with the aim to show the Nature Aquarium to people who do not know… I have already made preparations and courses to elementary school children, stand aquarium in shopping centers, during cultural events, etc.

See more at:

Posted October 28th, 2015.

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This is the eerie, beautiful world of aquascaping


When it comes to decking out a fish tank, a novice might purchase a bag of brightly colored gravel and a few plastic ornaments.

For Dan Crawford, a founding member of the UK Aquatic Plant Society (UKAPS), that simply will not do.

He and a growing number of “aquascapers” are creating underwater marvels that require knowledge of biology and design—not merely kitsch fish trinkets.

Using rocks, wood, fern-like plants, special lighting, and plenty of creativity, they are dreaming up seascapes that would leave Poseidon in awe.

“For me aquascaping ticks a lot of boxes,” Crawford says. “It’s relaxing, it’s artistic, it’s scientific and when done correctly it creates a piece of living art.”

For competitive aquascapers, their art goes on show at international aquascaping contests like Russia’s International Planted Aquarium Design Contest and the International Aquascaping Contest put on by the Houston-based Aquatic Gardeners Association (AGA).

Competitive designs may invoke the Wild West and include submerged cacti, or recreate the taiga of Russia, the valleys of China, or even lost beaches.

Cheryl Rogers, the president of the AGA, says the desire to innovate leads to a familiar pattern among aqua gardeners.

“For purposes of competition, most aquascapers of winning caliber create a layout, grow it to peak in a few months, snap the photos for competition, then tear it down and create a new one,” she says “This is what they do for fun.”

Global interest

Interest in aquascaping is particularly strong in Asia.

Takashi Amano, the noted Japanese landscape photographer, helped popularize the hobby in Japan in the mid-1990s with his three-part book series Nature Aquarium World.

Westerners have been slower to latch onto the pursuit—and are often seen as slightly kooky when they do.

“It’s a very specialized hobby and because of this it’s rare that you’ll bump into a fellow aquascaper in the local pub or coffee shop,” says Crawford. “Generally we will convene at a chosen Aquatic Shop for a chin wag and a look around then move on to the pub to talk about the latest trends and ‘scapers.”

But today the Internet is helping grow the activity. Web sites connect existing enthusiasts who exchange tips and tricks, and help newbies learn the basics of building their very own marine masterpiece.

Started eight years ago, the UKAPS web site now clocks more than six million page views per month and has 9,000 registered members.

In the online forum they discuss topics like the best water filtration systems, appropriate lighting, why their shop-bought plants are failing to flourish and how to add Java moss to an aquarium.

Sometimes it’s a matter of life a death. As one user recently asked in the forum: “Does copper in fertilizer kill shrimp?

Suppliers are also waking up to the opportunities to cater to the aquascaping community.

Rogers of the AGA says these retailers are helping aquascapers source the plants and materials they need to make their gardens grow.

“Unless you have a local pet store in your area that specializes in our little corner of the hobby, it’s difficult to find quality plants, or new plants, or rare plants,” she says. “So we get our plants from other hobbyists and online retailers.”

Master aquascaping requires a lot more than goldfish and plastic rocks.

Among other things, enthusiasts must stock their supply cabinets with algaecide products that help control green water and systems that supply plants with the carbon dioxide they need to stay alive.

Art in a box

Mastering the hobby takes time.

Karen Randall, an author who has judged several international aquascaping competitions, says that aquascapers approach their work like any other artist would. They have to think about the rule of thirds, areas of negative space, and how best to utilize colors, texture and form.

Rocks and wood formations create the “hardscape”, which is used to support the plants in the aquarium. The hardscape also helps set parameters for the rest of the design.

“In the terrestrial garden, the gardener usually has to think more about the natural terrain he or she has to work with, along with large trees and buildings, and work those into the design,” she says. “In aquatic gardening, the only thing we start with is four glass walls.”

Judging art is always subjective. But competition organizers do their best to ensure fairness and impartiality.

For the Planted Aquarium Design Contest 2013, organizers brought together an international jury of nine aquascapers and aquarium designers from countries including the Czech Republic, Poland, and Turkey.

Judges praise and criticize aquariums in equal measure.

Critiquing “Charm of light”, a tank submitted by a Turkish aquascaper, one judge applauded its use of back lighting and left side reflection.

He still saw room for improvement: “White gravel and shape of small stones is inconsistent with bigger rocks and forest soil layer in nature. I would like to see some fishes or invertebrates in this tank.”

Competitions promote interest in the hobby and give enthusiasts a platform to share their love of aquariums. But aquascapes don’t have to impress a jury to create a sense of Zen.

“You can have a lovely planted tank in your living room that pleases you, even if it would never win a competition,” Rogers says. “Most hobbyists are not competitors. They just like plants.”

By William Lee Adams, for CNN

Posted October 25th, 2015.

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Plants for a 45-Gallon Paludarium

By Bill Brissette

The 45-gallon paludarium. Photograph by Bill Brissette.

In order to complete the 45-gallon paludarium, a wide variety of plants, both terrestrial and aquatic, were used. Here is complete list of those plants.

Terrestrial Plants

Liverwort Conocephalum sp.

Bolbitis Davallia Edanyoa difformis

Creeping Fig Ficus pumila

Hemianthus callitrichoides “Cuba”

Red Leaf Hibiscus Hibiscus acetosella

Marcgravia sp.

Liverwort Marchantia polymorpha

Paradrymonia campostyla

Button Fern Pellaea rotundifolia

Little Red Tree Peperomia sp.

Tiny Tears Pilea sp.

Pleurothallis allenii

Rhaphidophora hayi

Mini Pellia Riccardia sp.

Monkey Plant Ruellia makoyana

Schismatoglottis sp.

Pretty in Pink Tolumnia sp.


Aquatic Plants

Anubias Barteri var. “nana”

Anubias Barteri var. nana “petite”

Cryptocoryne wendtii

Dwarf Hair Grass Eleocharis sp.

Weeping Moss Fontinalis antipyretica

Pennywort Hydrocotyle verticillata

Dwarf Pennywort Hydrocotyle tripatita

Amazon Frogbit Limnobium laevigatum

Red Root Floater Phyllanthus fluitans

Dwarf Rotala Rotala rotundifolia

Dwarf Sag Sagittaria subulata

To read the entire article and see the finished paludarium, please click here

Posted June 14th, 2015.

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