RE: Advice for a plant beginner?


I'm pretty much a "newbie" at the planted tank business too, but I will tell 
you a bit about my own difficulties and successes in getting started.

I'm a biologist by training and have kept fish for several years. It was time 
for me, like you, to take on the new challenge of real plants. I started 
reading the Aquatic Plants Digest and the FAQs on the web and learned more 
from them than I had from every aquarium book in the library. I highly 
recommend that you subscribe to the list!!! (and I enthusiastically thank the 
many people who maintain and post to this list.)

Many of the folks who post are real aficionados and give lots of time and 
attention to their tanks. They are really knowledgeable and very helpful, but 
they seem to be particular about a lot of stuff <VBG!>. I am sure their tanks 
look great but I was really intimidated about getting started. I didn't want 
to spend my life or my "fortune" on a fishtank, and I worried that I knew too 
little to even get started. And I was really worried about all these fancy 
expensive hi-tech gadgets and supplies like CO2 injection, undergravel heating 
cables, laterite, Dupla drops, etc.: could I hope to get along without them????
 I really just wanted to add a few plants to an existing (happy) aquarium and 
didn't want to invest thousands of dollars (or thousands of hours) doing so.

Well, I finally decided that I would just do it and learn from my mistakes. 
The biggest problem was to decide what plants to buy, since nearly every store 
in my area has a vat labeled "Assorted plants, $4.50 each" and NOBODY knows 
what is what. I started out buying a couple of things that looked nice to me 
but I knew I was taking a big chance that I was getting unsuitable specimens. 
Now I have a book (by Rataj, ordered from That Fish Place for $17) and I try 
to at least have an idea of what I'm buying. (I still feel pretty dumb, though.
) I planted my selections in little peat pots that are sold at the garden 
center, after cutting them down from about 2" tall to about 1-1/2 inches tall (
just using ordinary scissors). I put potting soil in the bottom (but I would 
not use this again: too much floating stuff, and the stuff that doesn't float 
is almost all sand; I'd try garden soil, I guess), planted the plant (removed 
from plastic pot and the substrate it came with), put a layer of gravel over 
the soil, submerged the pot in a water-filled dishpan to get rid of the 
floating stuff, and sunk the pots into the gravel in the tank. A few leftovers 
were stuck right into the gravel, and in one case it is close to the glass so 
I can see that its roots have grown very well. The lighting is insufficient 
still, but the tank gets a little sunshine, and the plants have put out 
considerable growth in just a few weeks. The pygmy chain sword has 4 or 5 
babies and the big sword has twice as many leaves as when I bought it. The 
Hygro is spindly but twice as tall as when I bought it, and the "foxtail" (
still don't know what this really is) has put on a lot of bushy new growth too.
 I do have to rub algae off of some leaves from time to time but so far it isn'
t a big problem (but then, I really need more light). So overall I have been 
reasonably successful, though I know I can continue to do better.

WARNING!!! With a little new growth showing, I got hooked!!!! Now I have a DIY 
CO2 generator, and I added some Flourish tabs. I started feeding the tank with 
an iron chelate solution. I drooled on a copy of the Amano book (That Fish 
Place, $22 and really beautiful). I've fantasized about tearing down the tank 
and setting it up "right" from the beginning!! Spring is here and I should be 
weeding _outside_, but here I am cutting off the occasional brown leaf in my 
tank. OH NO!! I'm HOOKED!!!

Again, my BIG thanks go to people who have so kindly and generously responded 
to naive questions (from me and others) here. I recommend that you read the 
archives and listen to the advice. I hope some of these comments help you and 
others decide to go for it. It's a LOT nicer than the old plastic plants (they 
had algae problems too)! 

Good luck with your new tank!!

Christine, in Palo Alto with the daffodils dancing in the sunshine