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Tank Lifetimes

Mike Nielsen wrote:

>I was just reading an article in Aquarium Frontiers where the author
>contends that in reef tanks there is a period of best health/growth of the
>corals.  This is from 6 to 18 months.  After this the tank begins a very
>slow decline in coral growth, polyp extension, etc.
>Seeing this and the discussion it prompted has made me think about our
>planted tanks.
>Does anyone have any facts or good, multiple tank, multiple setup, long
>term observations to share?  Also any speculation on whether planted tanks
>also experience a similar "high point" in growth, color, health of plants
>and then a slow decline.

I _have_ seen this in my tanks, and in most cases it has had to do with me
not being as good a pruner/divider as I am a grower. (this is true in my
perennial beds as well, BTW<g>)  For the first 18 months or so, the roots
have not completely filled the substrate, and I'd say that 6-18 months is a
good guess on peak growth if nothing is done.  

After about the 18 month point, my tanks, without intervention, get to the
point that I can no longer work my fingers down into the substrate because
the root growth has become so dense.  When I see a slow down in growth, I
have found that I need to go through a section of the tank at a time (about
1/4-1/3) and pull up all the plants in that section.  I gravel vac around
in that area, divide the plants, and put back about 40% of what I've pulled
out.  I do a section every couple of months until I get to the other end of
the tank.  Then it does fine for a good long time again.  Done this way,
it's a lot less of a chore than having to pull the tank apart, and I can
keep excellent growth going pretty much indefinitely. (or at least I
haven't got to the point where it doesn't work any more<g>)

I think, from what I've heard from George, that he does a more informal
version of the same thing.  He does a lot of pulling up and dividing plants
over a period of time.  I think that you can't let the substrate get over
packed with roots if you want good growth to continue, just as you can't
let a house plant get too pot bound without running into growth slow downs.
 Of course, this is probably difficult to do with a soil substrate, and
nearly impossible with the layered substrates that some people have
suggested in the past.  But with good quality laterite, the clouding caused
by uprooting plants settles down within a matter of hours, and causes no
further problems.

Karen Randall
Aquatic Gardeners Association