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Caring for plant groupings

Some plants develop tightly-knit groups when they are grown in aquaria. 
In a lot of respects caring for these groups of plants is quite a bit
different from caring for individual plants.

I think this would be a great topic for Karen Randall to take up in her 
A.F. articles.  If she's reading, then I guess she can take that as a 
suggestion, but in the mean time I'd like to hear about the problems that 
other aquarists have with keeping plant groups and how they solve the 

For instance...

I have groups of Vallisneria asiatica (?) in several of my tanks - I've
had as many as 70 healthy plants growing closely spaced in a 10 gallon
tank.  Starting from a few plants spaced 2-3 inches apart, it takes a few
months for the runners to develop a tight group of plants.  Up to a point,
these groups stay healthy and can be very attractive, but I've had four
problems with them. 

Older plants don't fare well, and when I start finding large leaves dying
back I trace them back to the plant and examine the general state of the
plant.  A lot of times the whole plant is in bad shape, with several dying
leaves and browning roots.  I remove those plants.

After a period of healthy growth, the group will periodically start
producing stunted growth.  New plants are stunted when they are so closely
spaced that they can't root directly into the substrate.  Sometimes I also
see stunted new plants at the edge of a very tight group.  The best
solution I've found for this is to uproot the group (either all of it, or
a large part of it), discard the stunted plants and replant the healthy
plants at a more reasonable spacing. 

Debris collects in the groups.  This is true in many plant groups but
probably worse with val since it doesn't have low-growing leaves that hide
the base of the plants.  In a couple cases this has been good for the
maintenance of the group.  I've seen healthy plants with roots mostly in
the collected mulm.  But most often the debris collection is ugly.  The
debris can be siphoning out regularly, but in addition it's best to keep
the group back away from the front or sides of the aquarium so the debris
is less obvious. 

The groups don't stay where I want them.  New runners expand the groups
constantly, and removing older plants alters the shape and location of the
group.  I found it necessary to allow some of the runners outside the
group to develop new plants to the point where I can use the new plant to
replace older plants removed from inside the group.  That means that the
group is often a little out of shape, but it's good for the long-term
maintenance of the group. 

So that's my thoughts on keeping groups of V. asiatica.  Anyone else?  I'm
particularly curious about approaches to maintaining groups of crypts, 
various "carpet" plants, and the special problems with groups of stem plants.

Roger Miller

In Albuquerque, where its been unusually hazy - I hiked to the top of a
mountain west of here yesterday, and the haze limited visibility to an
area about the size of West Virginia!