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Roots all over the place

Ok, ok...  I was going to give Carlos the chance to respond himself, but it
looks like he hasn't checked his e-mail, or hasn't had the time to respond.

I didn't mean to imply that I'd received the wisdom of the ages off-list,
and was keeping it from the APD.  I was thanking him on the list, to give
him credit for his time and effort, as much as for the actual advice.

(Griping starts here -- skip if you're not interested)
Off-topic stuff gets posted to the list, and on-topic stuff gets posted off
the list.  It's just happens that way sometimes, and a simple reminder (like
Kelly posted) that "the rest of us would like to be in on this, too" would
be enough.  Criticism and rants on the subject don't help.  It's usually not
a great idea to bite the hand that feeds you, aside from the fact that it's
just rude.
(Griping ends here -- ok to read again)

Here's the text of his advice to me on the roots, excerpted from a few
e-mail messages.  I hope he doesn't mind.  It's useful advice, and he helped
me to think about it, rather than just run to the APD.

AM> the roots of a few of my plants (lilies, crispus) keep getting exposed,
AM> I have trouble forcing them to stay put.  Pushing them back down into
AM> substrate, I've discovered that the root network has become so dense
that I
AM> can't even move the gravel in a few parts of the tank, without serious
AM> effort, and exposure of the roots.  Will it be helpful for the other
AM> in the tank if I pull up the plants and clip off some of these extended
AM> roots?  Would the plants themselves go into a dormant phase, or
AM> suffer?

CM> If you have rosette plants (not stem plants), I wouldn't recommend
CM> cutting their roots unless you're sure that particular species doesn't
CM> mind it too much.  If they're stem plants, I'd go right ahead and rip
CM> them out, clipping the bottom half or so (leave a few leaf-segments
CM> the cut) and replant the top.

CM> Don't worry about the exposed roots on stem plants too much.
CM> A lot of stem plants grow roots at each of the leaf-segments on the
CM> stem...that's one way they propagate and gather extra nutrients.  The
CM> stem roots will grow slower if they're getting more nutrients from the
CM> substrate than the water column.  You could add clay balls with micro-
CM> nutrients to the substrate right at their base to reduce the upper
CM> Also, when pruned, the re-planted stems will likely have a burst of root
CM> growth all around, so just trim the water-borne roots.

AM> Thanks for the explanation about the stem plants... and it does seem to
AM> the ones that get replanted most, in the back, that have the most roots.
AM> I've got a flourite substrate, but I think I'll go ahead and add some
AM> substrate gold, or some other fertilizer at their roots.

CM> If you've got plain gravel, anything will help some, but if you've got
CM> a decent accumulation of mulm (fish poop, decomposed plants and food,
CM> etc), you'll only need to add micronutrients.  I'm a fan of substrate
gold clay
CM> balls (homemade), but I have heard in the APD an interesting idea: Jobes
CM> Palm and Fern nutrient sticks (16-2-2 analysis) stuck inside the clay
CM> inserted deep in the gravel near the roots.  Only the root hairs will be
CM> able to reach the sticks and their phosphate, and the clay will help
CM> the other nutrients for the root hairs.  I think the effectiveness
CM> on the plant targetted and the type of substrate you have.

AM> What about lilies and crispus?  The crispus has the most extensive
AM> but I think the lilies are the culprit for the root ends that are
AM> up, in a spectacular network, right in the middle of the tank...

CM> I don't know much about A. crispus, but I'll venture you can treat it
CM> a lily.  The interesting thing about dwarf lilies is that if you cut all
CM> floating leaves and the major roots, it will start growing bright red
CM> submerged leaves almost in a bush.  Eventually, it will grow one or more
CM> roots and start reaching for the surface with smaller green leaves.  If
CM> going to trim the roots on a lily, make sure it still has some leaves to
CM> soak up nutrients or you may end up starving the bulb.  If you know the
CM> has been stable for some time, you can get away with trimming all the
CM> leaves and roots.  I don't know much more than that...I had two lily
bulbs CM> that I played around with for a while to figure them out.  I think
I starved one CM> to death when I kept trimming leaves and roots

AM> Thanks!  Yeah, I picked up a second dwarf lily bulb a while
AM> ago.  I got it for free, because it was starting to dry up in
AM> a tank that had been stripped at a fish store.  It developed
AM> 'bush' like you described, and didn't send leaves to the
AM> surface for almost a month.  At first I thought the bulb had
AM> been damaged, but I think it was just an initial adjustment.
AM> Now it has four or five leaves up at the surface.

CM> I actually like it better in the fully submerged state.  The color was
CM> striking and the leaves were a managable size.  One of the two bulbs I
CM> had I kept trimming the long root that grew out of the bottom to keep it
CM> in a "bush" state.  I abused the other bulb and it eventually died.

AM> I'll go ahead and trim the roots, at least in the section of
AM> the tank where they're sticking up (darned kribs...).

CM> I eventually got rid of my kribs...they were impossible to net in a
CM> tank and kept having babies.  I took advantage of my move and netted
them CM> when I ripped the tank apart (it still took forever to catch them).
I miss
CM> their antics, though.  Tetras and one SAE are comparatively dull.  I
CM> get some rams and apistos soon, though, so my tank will be lively again.

AM> Someone made a comment on the APD this week, though, which
AM> seemed to indicate that roots have a positive effect on the
AM> substrate... I forget exactly what the comment was... does
AM> that mean that trimming roots is generally a bad idea?

CM> Yes and no.  Think of it on a plant-by-plant basis and you'll do
CM> Don't trim crypt roots...trim H. polysperma roots.  Your swords roots
CM> eventually take over the entire substrate (and how!), so if you've got
CM> sensitive plants (I can't think of any right now), pot them separately.
CM> If you're worried about it, you could rip out and trim the roots of the
CM> but it will effectively halt their growth until they recover, which
CM> put out of commission one of the biggest nutrient sinks in the tank
CM> comes the algae!).  Feel free to trim fast-growing stem plant roots,
CM> you know they'll recover quickly.  Don't mess with slow growing plant
CM> like anubias and crypts...you may kill them.

CM> Think about the needs of each plant (but don't fret too much about it).
CM> For instance: madagascar lace plants like to have crypts near them since
CM> crypts (e.g.: C. wendtii) oxygenate the soil well (lace plants don't
CM> anaerobic substrates).  Be wary of sweeping statements like "lots of
CM> are good".  Simple, maybe a good statement, but too generic to make
other CM> decisions based on it, like worrying about overtrimming roots.

AM> Also, I've started using a liquid fertilizer (Kent).  Should I
AM> quit using it, if I want my stem plants to stop sending off so
AM> many roots?

CM> Figure out where your nutrients are coming from first.  If the liquid
CM> fertilizer is the source, don't stop using it.  If the substrate is the
CM> source, you can stop fertilizing (or just slow it down).  The
CM> factor here should be the nutrient levels available to the plants.  If
CM> you've setup your substrate like Karen Randall, Steve Pushak and others
CM> like them with soil nutrients, you'll only want to add specific
CM> required in the water column (K, CO2, etc), which you may be able to do
CM> without liquid fertilizer (water changes, CO2 injection).

CM> If you're setup like George Booth, Paul Sears and others like them with
CM> absorbing, but nutrient-poor substrates, you'll need to add a
CM> fertilizer on a regular basis to maintain the balance of nutrients.
CM> methods are valid, both methods can get fantastic results. The first is
CM> lower effort and maybe more expensive up front.  The second is
CM> measurable, precise and expensive in the long run.  Some people straddle
CM> both methods, others do totally different things.  The problem is that
you CM> can't just mix and match different elements of all styles...they're
all working
CM> "systems".  You have to know how to address each of the elements first
CM> before putting a new system together.  All the nutrient cycles have have
to CM> betaken into account to make sure you've got a balanced or controlled
CM> system.