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Re: Optimum Aquarium Setup

>From: Jennifer Glover <jglover at wam_umd.edu>
>Subject: Optimum Aquarium Setup
>I have always wanted lush plant growth, but could never get healthy plants.

We had an all-too-brief discussion of this, specifically about whether CO2
is 'necessary' or not, a few months ago.  Maybe others would be interested
in reviving it?

In my experience, and the experience of other people I've known, striving
too hard for 'optimum' conditions at first can be more of a harm to your
plants than a help.

If you plunge right in, with a super-rich substrate, with heavy doses of
various fertilizers, with a zillion watts of light, you're likely to end up
with an algae explosion.  That can be frustrating to fight with.  And
especially if they're not starting off well, your plants will really suffer
from a thick coating of algae all over their leaves, and blocking their

I think it's better to start with the basic necessities, and give yourself
room for growth.

There are probably as many different ideas of what 'the basic necessities'
are as there are hobbyists, but I'll take a stab at it.  I hope and expect
others will argue with me about it.  I think you need a moderately rich
substrate, whether that's soil, or gravel enriched with laterite, or peat
underneath, or seachem's flourite (my personal favorite, certainly for a
beginner.  Easy, simple, adequate, with plenty of room for growth).  I think
2 watts per gallon is strong enough for the vast majority of plants in a
moderately-to-heavily planted tank.  If you've got these two basics, you
should have healthy plants (of course, with some exceptions.  We all have
certain plants we just struggle with.)

In my opinion, liquid fertilizers and CO2 should not be added until you've
achieved an equilibrium, and are ready to start experimenting to get
stronger growth.  My opinion, of course, is based on my tanks, which have
lots of fish.  Without the fish, you might need liquid fertilizer from the

>  From what I have been reading, metal halide seems the best, but I am not
>sure about price/wattage/lumens/supplier/number of lights/means of
>anchoring them above the tank
>2.) Substate
>  I have looked around some local pet stores, but laterite doesn't seem to
>be a common item.  I know Dupla sells it, but as always they are
>expensive.  Is the expense worth it?

*Much* more worth it than metal halides.  Laterite isn't your only option
for getting started with a rich substrate (you'll find all kinds of DIY
options in the archives), but it's probably the quickest and easiest option,
apart from flourite.

>  I also need to know basics like what substance (gravel/dirt) to use for
>the substrate and how deep it should be.

There are probably dozens of answers to this question, from soil-potted
plants to peat, to kitty litter, to garden soil.  Search the archives under
'substrate' or 'recommended substrate' or something like that, and see what
strikes your fancy.

>3.) Fertilizer
>  What minerals do I need to supply and who is a good company to get them

You can afford to put this off, until after you've set up the tank.  At
least, assuming you've got a rich substrate.  Wait until you've got plants
growing, and you want them to grow better.

>5.) Plants
>  This is the hardest question of all, and will probably change
>drastically over time, but what plants are virtually industructable for a

If you set up a lot of light, CO2, fertilizer, etc., you'll need a lot of
growth, to outcompete the algae in your tank.  So I'd go for rotala, hygro,
ambulia, other kinds of fast-growing plants.

Alysoun McLaughlin
Wheaton, Maryland