Maintenance Tools For Planted Aquariums

Without these our maintenance regime would be considerably more difficult. But what exactly do we mean by tools? Tweesers, scissors, glass cleaners, gravel cleaners – these are some of the tools you should always keep in your cabinet. Below is a selection of tools that most hobbyists should use.

When planting an aquarium, traditionally hobbyists used their fingers which although was functional was somewhat cumbersome. Today we use tweesers (curved or straight tipped) – the major benefit of this is the ease in which plants can be picked up and delicately placed into your substrate. Not only that but tweesers are also useful for picking up plants or removing debris from your tank.

Scissors are also available in curved or straight tip. Curved tends to be more popular and is very useful when trimming foreground plants – the curved section allows you to cut a better angle. Nevertheless a good pair of sharp scissors are excellent for keeping your plants in good shape. The scissors available are normally 12” long so you can reach a good distance and are very useful if you need to trim the base of any plant that is hard to reach.
Spatulas/Rakes are used primarily for smoothing gravels and substrates. Often when plants are moved about or indeed planted for the first time, substrates can become disturbed. A spatula or rake is a flat shaped and is unique in its design and purpose.
Magnetic glass cleaners are a wonderful tool that are used for cleaning algae off the inside panes of your aquarium. Algae can build up quite quickly on glass so using magnetic cleaners once a week keeps things clean. This tool is separated into two sections – a rough side on one and a smooth on the other. The rough side sits on the inside pane  and the smooth on the outside. A top tip when cleaning is to make sure no gravel gets stuck on the inside as it is easy to scratch the glass. The added benefit is that the inside piece floats so it if you dislodge it when cleaning, rather than it sinking to the bottom and you having to hook it out, it floats to the surface.

The last piece of equipment which is extremely important to a planted aquarium is a a gravel cleaner.  Although strictly it’s not used for what it was initially designed for (at least not in a planted aquarium). Rather than plunging the cleaner into the substrate it’s a better idea to hover slightly above it, only suctioning debris such as dead plant matter and fish excrement. Of course while this is being performed you are removing tank water as well. It’s really important to replace water regularly (minimum of 30% per week in a non CO2 tank), as not only is this better for the fish, but it helps to reduce any excesses that may have built up. In tanks which use CO2 these water changes need to be increased and 40-50% once or twice a week. By not performing these types of water changes you invariably end up with issues.

Lastly if you’re looking for a useful tool set, that has scissors, tweesers and a rake then I highly recommend the Aqua Essentials 3 piece tool set. It comes packaged in a neat leather case with a zip to keep your tools in one place and costs only £29.99.

Fertilisers In A Planted Aquarium

Fertilisers. The vast number of fertilisers on the market can be quite bewildering, so what is the best option? The main factor to consider is if you are using CO2 or not. If you are, you’ll need to choose a variety of fertilisers but we’ll come onto that shortly.

What you need to look for in a fertiliser for a non CO2 tank is one that will not add any macro nutrients (nitrate and  phosphate). These macros which although are essential for plants will be produced by fish waste. So buying a fertiliser with macros will just cause you problems in the form of algae. Some excellent fertilisers are Seachem Flourish, Tropica Plant Nutrition, Easy Life Profito and AE Design Aqua Nourish. All of these are particularly suitable for non CO2 tanks as they provide trace elements only. Those of you already using or are considering using CO2 it’s important to choose your fertilisers carefully because you will probably need more than one bottle. When buying fertilisers it is important to stick with one brand – by mixing them it can cause more trouble than it is worth so decide on one you like and stick with it.

With a brand such as Seachem which is very popular with hobbyists, you are given the option of using a variety of fertilisers to give complete control over the important nutrients which are essential for solid plant growth. The individual nutrients they provide are trace, phosphorus, nitrogen, iron and potassium. By using their range you can add as much or as little as you need according to what your plants require.

For some hobbyists, they are looking to reduce the number of bottles to dose to make life a little simpler. This is the primary reason why some manufacturers have designed ‘all in one bottles’. The latest product on the market is Tropica Plant Nutrition – although strictly speaking it’s not a new product but more of a rebranded one. Tropica Plant Nutrition supplies the nutrients plants easily run out of. These remaining nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) are excreted via fish. We therefore recommend Tropica Plant Nutrition for aquariums with few plants and a relatively large number of fish. It’s no surprise that this product has become very popular and for those of you who are using CO2 we recommended their + version. Tropica Plant Nutrition+ contains all the essential nutrients needed including nitrogen and phosphorus (macro nutrients) so it makes it suitable for tanks with high levels of plants relative to the number of fish.

It’s important not to be frightened by fertilisers and a common misconception is adding fertilisers cause algae – this is not the case. In the past when algae develops (and I regularly hear this), people stop fertilising. They decide nutrients are causing the problem. Starving your plants of nutrients, having a low flow filter rate and lighting on for excess periods causes algae, not the fertilisers. By making sure you do not limit the nutrients in your aquarium, you provide your plants with what they need, and as a result they repay you by looking great and growing fast. For those of you who are forgetful when dosing fertilisers I recommend AE Design Aqua Nourish and Nourish+ – these are designed to be dosed daily (perhaps when you feed your fish).

Trimming Hemianthus callitrichoides ”Cuba”

Hemianthus callitrichoides (HC) has risen to fame with it’s tiny leaves and the ability to carpet a foreground of a planted aquarium very nicely. Of course like all plants you need to provide them with fantastic CO2 levels, excellent nutrients and sufficient water movement for distribution. If you tick all those boxes you get get results.

I found this video online and actions speak better than words and felt it was a worthy post so hobbyists can not only see how feasible it is to create a carpet of HC but also the type of maintenance it needs (along with a decent pair of curved scissors).

For those of you who are not familiar with the grower of this aquarium, he’s a chap called Victor Lantos and he runs an amazing aquascaping shop in Hungary. Check it out here http://www.greenaqua.hu/

CO2 In A Planted Aquarium

Knowing whether or not to use CO2 in a tank is a choice that many hobbyists go through. And the short answer to this is simple, it really depends how much time you want to spend on maintaining your tank. There is no doubt that in order to grow some plants successfully, you will need CO2. At the same time, there are many plants that do very well with limited or no CO2 input.

There are three types of CO2 available on the market – Pressurised, Fermented & Liquid.
Pressurised is the most stable type available to hobbyists, where gas is stored in a pressurised bottle. This is attached to a regulator which in turn has a bubble counter and diffuser attached to CO2 tubing. By using a pressurised system you are giving yourself ‘gas on tap’ so this means you have total control over CO2 input. This is very important because  CO2 (when used properly) creates stability in a tank. Systems  such as the D-D Complete CO2 set costs £127.99. You may also wish to consider a disposable bottle system (where the bottles are literally disposed of when they are empty) or a refillable bottle system (only suitable when you can actually get bottles refilled easily). Either way don’t be frightened of CO2 – it’s very easy and safe to use contrary to scare stories.

Fermented systems are a great introduction for hobbyists who are looking to try out CO2 for the very first time and costs from £25 and up. They provide a cheap set up specifically geared towards hobbyists looking for a cost effective solution for their planted aquarium.
The set up for all fermented systems (or DIY as it is sometimes known) is almost the same. Each brand of system uses a combination of yeast and sugar provided in sachets they are mixed together and then placed within a container which allows fermentation to occur and CO2 to be produced (see image above). CO2 tubing is attached to the container which has a diffuser attached to the end. This sits in the aquarium and the gas is forced out of the fermenting chamber and is diffused into the tank. We recommend this type of set up, but it does require cleaning (due to the fermentation process) and CO2 levels can drop off, and are changeable according to the room temperature (this effects the fermentation rate).
The last option which is the most simple is a liquid form of carbon. Available by manufacturers such as Seachem, Easy Life and the AE Design label, it offers a product that provides a liquid carbon source (roughly 25% strength of pressurised CO2). The liquid carbon is packaged in a bottle and dosage is very simple but must be done daily. Another major advantage is that it works as an algaecide – it is well known for ridding many types of algae in the aquarium such as hair algae.

It is quite common for liquid carbon to be used in conjunction with DIY CO2 or pressurised CO2 systems, almost like a complimentary product.  Either way when you are growing plants, it is important to have at least one source of carbon in your aquarium so at a bare minimum use a liquid carbon.

Lighting In A Planted Aquarium

With the vast choice in lighting, it can be difficult to know exactly what sort of lighting you should choose. This section explains all and sifts through any confusion.
It is generally accepted that T8 and T5 tubes are the most standard type of lighting in aquariums at the moment.  T8 indicates the tube diameter which in this case is one inch. If you use T5 lights, the diameter is 5/12”. The most popular brands are Arcadia and Interpet. If you buy a Juwel tank for example, the chances are you have 2 x T5 tubes and you’re able to swap these lights over should you wish.

But what are the key points to look out for with lighting? The first point is make sure it is suitable for planted aquariums – this will be apparent from the description on the packaging. Quite often manufacturers will have wonderful graphics on the packaging which should catch your eye. But the next question is which one should you buy?
Before I explain more about which lighting to choose, it’s important to understand more about lighting. All light has colour and the colour temperature of light is measured in Kelvin, so when you see a description which states it has a particular K value (kelvin) it is referring to the colour of the light output. A low K rating would be 2500 and a high would be 18000. It is recommended that you aim for about 8000 K as this provides a pleasant colour output. But this is not to say that the lower K and higher K won’t grow your plants (on the contrary), it’s simply their light output is less desirable aesthetically to humans. A low K value is orange/yellow in colour – this tends to not do a great deal for the fish or plants in terms of how they look. At the opposite end of the spectrum, are 18000K which is a very bright white. This light output will grow your plants just as well as lower K tubes but it can give the appearance of your tank looking washed out. So this is why if you aim for lights with a K of about 8000k -  you will achieve a colour that is just about in the middle and normally the most pleasing to the eye. You can mix and match lights without any problems too so don’t rule that out.

There can be a temptation to purchase more powerful lights such as metal halides but this is not something that is recommended when you’re beginning. Higher lighting means everything in your aquarium needs to step up a level. By that we mean that your fertilising regime needs increasing, which in turn means you will be maintaining your tank more. In addition higher lighting requires the use of CO2.

Lighting Duration. An average tank needs approximately eight hours of light per day. Having your lights on longer than this is not necessary and it will help to keep most algae at bay. It’s worth putting your lights on a timer and have them come on when you’re at home to make the most out of it. When your tank is very new and plants are settling in, I recommend to only have six to seven hours of illumination for the first month or so and any changes need to be done slowly (perhaps half an hour extra per week).

The image below displays an Arcadia luminaire which is a great way to illuminate an aquarium. Also consider TMC Aquabeam LEDs which are small and economical LED lighting units which have become very popular recently – running costs are a mere £7 per year.

Filtration In Planted Aquariums

In the 15 or so years that I have been involved in keeping planted aquariums, filtration ideas have only very recently changed. The common perception was filtration must be slow, maybe twice the turnover of the tank  water per hour. The thinking behind this was that in the wild, water movement was relatively slow and as we are trying to replicate this in an aquarium, turnover in the tank must also be slow and consistent. Only in the last few years has this changed but it must be stressed that the new thinking comes from the high tech approach to planted aquariums where they use CO2 in order to push plant growth forward rapidly.

So what should your turnover be and what sort of filtration should be used? With beginners to this hobby, the best option is to buy the largest filter you can afford (but not so large it looks out of place). Bigger filters are able to clean your water better, they require less maintenance and you can choose which media you decide to place in them, but tank size must be a consideration. Filter flow rate should be a minimum of twice the turnover for a non CO2 tank. So if your tank is 100L, your filter must turnover a minimum of 200L per hour, but preferably 400L per hour. In a high tech planted aquarium you need to consider a filter that can turn over 10 times its volume. So using the 100L aquarium example, the type of filter you need to consider is one that turns over 1000L per hour – as you can imagine this will limit your choice and lead you towards the largest and latest Eheim filters.

There are two main types of filters available to hobbyists: Internal and External. Internal filters are inexpensive, simple and effective but are generally geared towards smaller aquariums. When maintaining them they can be a little messy when you remove them from your tank for cleaning.  Internal filters sit on the inside of your aquarium and come in a variety of different sizes. They range from the very small (max tank size 20L) up to versions suitable for 200L tanks. However they do take up space in any tank, often hold little media (just sponges on smaller types) and can be a little unsightly. Prices range from £10 and up so can be great if you’re looking for a cheaper start up – have a look at our Superfish Internal Filter range. In recent months manufacturers are investing more technology into these filters, some have built in heaters and others are able to store larger amounts of media which helps to improve water quality, but unfortunately this also means they become bigger which means less aquarium space.

Externals filters are what I recommend – the less equipment that is visible in your tank the better (the focus then remains on your aquascape). External filters are simple to set up, easy to maintain and you can run an external on most tanks regardless of their size – modern brands have flow adjusters so you can set the output speed to whatever you want. These filters are more expensive than internal filters but well worth it.  The most popular brand of external filters are Eheim. They have been the market leader for over 20 years, are reliable and have great functions particular the latest models which have electronic controls and notify you when it needs maintaining. Some also have built in heaters which is ideal for keeping more equipment out of the tank. The typical route for newcomers to this hobby is to start with an internal filter and then move onto an external filter. This was the route I went down and is a gradual introduction to the hobby but if you can afford it, consider buying an external filter from the beginning – you won’t regret it.

Test Kits For Planted Aquariums

If we never tested our water, how would we know exactly what is happening? Understanding water parameters is essential for planted aquariums and with hobbyists who are relatively inexperienced, they really help. It’s too early to be guessing at what is happening within your tank just by looking at your plants and fish. So what should we test for and when should we test?

The main test kits that are important to planted aquariums are pH, KH, GH, PO4 (phosphate), NO3 (nitrate) and Fe (Iron). There are other test kits that are useful such as NO2 (nitrite) and NH4 (ammonia) but they are more useful at the beginning of setting up an aquarium or when adding new fish.

Which brand? There are a vast amount of brands available in today’s market and there is no question of doubt that test kits vary enormously in not only accuracy but also price. It’s fair to say that the cheaper the test kit, the less accurate it will be. For that reason we recommend test kits by Precision Labs – they supply dip test which means you literally dip the testing stick into your water for about 2 seconds and then remove it. They provide a very accurate result in a short period of time. If you prefer liquid tests where different solutions are used then click here to see our range.

So now we know which test kits are needed and which brands are best, what levels should we be aiming for? The first thing to remember about planted aquariums are that your water parameters will change all the time. Do not focus too much on pH and how much that will swing from day to day. There is no problem with pH swings – it’s perfectly normal. The target reading is 6.8 but if you struggle to achieve this, don’t worry too much. KH is a test to determine the carbonate hardness of your water; aim for about 3-4 kH. This level will also help stabilise your pH. GH will vary enormously and is also linked with pH. The target level for GH is 60ppm (parts per million) but plants are OK with higher levels. PO4 in a non CO2 aquarium is considered undesirable so aim for 1 ppm or less. NO3 levels should remain between 10-50ppm (preferably closer towards 10ppm in a non CO2 aquarium). Higher levels than this are undesirable and there are a number of filter resins that can be added to soak up excesses. Fe levels should stay low – iron is a trace element so the plants only require low levels. 0.1ppm is sufficient and it’s worth noting that higher levels than this can cause undesirable algae growth.

Before you begin testing your aquarium water, it’s best to know what levels you are working with before hand and the most simple way of this is to test your tap water. This way you understand the ‘base levels’ and know what to expect. It also gives you a good idea of what your plants are consuming and what levels are increasing as you feed your fish and nitrates and phosphates are produced. But don’t forget although fish produce waste, plants absorb some of these excesses too.

Water Conditioners For Planted Aquariums

There are a wide range of water conditioners available today which look after your water quality. In the past the sole water conditioner was a dechlorinator which removed chlorine from tap water. Tap water is perfectly safe for use in a planted aquariums if a dechlorinator has been added.

Other water conditioners enable us to predetermine the water chemistry we so desire. Today there are liquid conditioners, filter media resins and some substrates which alter pH, absorb and bind specific chemicals. You can view our range here.

In recent years major developments have been made to speed up the cycling process of an aquarium which has always been a big frustration for hobbyists. Some of you may already have working knowledge of what ‘cycling’ means – it takes about 6 weeks for ammonia (fish excrement) to be converted to nitrite and then the safer nitrate (cycling process). Can this cycle be sped up? It can to a certain degree using commercial products such as Nutrafin Cycle which reduces cycling down to 3-4 weeks. This type of water conditioner is always useful to have anyway, particularly after carrying out large water changes or adding new fish to your tank. Your filter can experience nitrite spikes and filter boosters can quickly get it back in shape.

In addition to liquid filter conditioners, there are various filter media that allow for safe removal of toxins such as nitrite. These tend to be more economical and quite convenient as once the media is in the filter you don’t need to worry about adding more. It’s worth noting though that some medias can release what they have stored which can become problematic so the key is regular maintenance. Some medias are also renewable where others need replacing once they ‘become full’ – check the packet before use. If you want total control of your water (as some do) the answer is to purchase an RO Unit. RO is an abbreviation of reverse osmosis where tap water is passed through a membrane/s in order to purify and strip all minerals and impurities. The end product is pure water. However RO water is very unstable on its own and it’s the ‘impurities’ that ironically provide stability. By adding a product such as Seachem Replenish, specific minerals are added back to the water to make it more stable. RO kits can be purchased from £90 and up.
In planted aquariums, it’s very important to try and work with the water which you have, i.e. that which comes out of the tap otherwise it can be an uphill battle to control your water variables. For example in hard water areas (high KH and GH), use a substrate which will set and stabilise your water parameters to the correct level. The best example of this is Naturesoil which we briefly mentioned in the Gravels/Substrates section. In some parts of the UK, tap water has high levels of nitrate and phosphate and that is one exception where an RO Unit will be highly beneficial.

Chemicals. If you decide to use chemicals to alter your water parameters such as Kent pH minus, whilst this is effective, there are many factors that can change water in a planted aquarium. I have personal experience of battling with tap water from all parts of the UK, and I never totally achieved what I wanted. Did this matter? No, but at the time I was very determined!

Gravels and Substrates in a Planted Aquarium

So what are they all about? Nearly all plants need a type of gravel or substrate to grow in. It’s required to anchor plants down and in some cases to provide nutrients to the roots of plants. It’s also used aesthetically so when we look at our aquarium – it looks nice! Below I summerise what the difference between the two are and how they are used.

Gravel. There are hundreds of different types of gravels available to hobbyists and similarly the same with substrates but what is the difference between the two? Gravels are very much what you expect them to be. Rock particles which have a diameter of 3-25mm – if you’re wanting to use it for your planted aquarium, the ideal size is 3-5mm. Any smaller than this (i.e. if you use sand) and you can get pockets of anaerobic areas where there’s insufficient water flow.

Gravels come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but contain no nutrients; some need washing and some will only need rinsing depending on the instructions. Some will effect your water parameters (such as pH). On the whole I recommend you opt for natural gravels – one which hasn’t been dyed in
any way. Unipac do a great selection of natural gravels. Be careful with gravels that look natural but are in fact coloured glass. Whilst they are safe for use within planted aquariums, fish which burrow or that skim along the gravel like corydoras will ware their barbels down. Natural gravels
will not have that sort of effect. You can see our range of gravels here.

Substrates. A substrate is very similar to a gravel but there is one fundamental difference and that is the nutrient content. Substrates have minerals and nutrients embedded in them thereby providing plants with all the goodness they need from day one. This is the major advantage over gravels.
 Substrates are produced in different colours and each will have a different effect on the water. On the whole most tend to lower the pH levels, along with KH (carbonate hardness) and GH (general hardness). This makes them ideal for using in planted aquariums as plants prefer slightly acidic
water conditions where the pH is just under 7 (6.8 is perfect). Substrates rarely require topping which means that once you place them in your aquarium, you won’t need anything else on the base – typical examples of this are Eco Complete, Seachem Flourite and Naturesoil. Plants can be planted
directly into the substrate with relative ease. The picture above demonstrates this perfectly – the dark coloured substrate (Naturesoil in this instance) has been used and plants become established quickly, grow rapidly, healthily with no algae.
 As technology improves more and more manufacturers are realising the importance of substrates. The most popular type that is currently available is called NatureSoil by world famous Aquascaper Oliver Knott. If you want your plants to have the best start, this substrate comes highly recommended. Not only that but it’s perfect for beginners to experts and requires no topping and sets your water parameters to the ideal levels. However if you do have a particular gravel that
you want to use, opt for Tropica Plant Substrate. Place this on the bottom of your aquarium and simply top with your chosen gravel.

Planaria In Fish Tank

Planaria are small worms that live in aquariums. You’re probably not sure where they came from, but either way, you know you don’t want them and don’t like them. They look like this

Yours might not be pink (probably white) but it really depends on what it has been eating which defines what colour it is. The above planaria has probably eaten some coloured flake food (which they love).

Planaria appear in lots of different aquariums and often arrive in plants – but it’s very difficult to identify where they originate from. If you have fish in your aquarium, then you’re in luck as fish love them and snack readily on them (very satisfying to watch…).If you look at your tank closely, planaria move around on glass and in the substrate – they’re surprisingly fast too. They eat fish food (predominantly) and to a degree, can be controlled by ensuring you’re not feeding too much. I’ve also seen them eat snails, snail eggs, fish eggs, shrimp and so on. I’ve also seen one trying to eat the eggs of a pregnant cherry shrimp (fortunately she wriggled away).

Many hobbyists who keep aquariums without any fish but shrimp struggle to get rid of planaria once you’ve got them. No matter how many water changes you do and how clean the substrate is, it’s very hard to get rid of them until now. Genchem No Planaria is a unique powder that can be added safely to any aquarium with or without fish and is totally harmless to shrimp. It’s biodegradable and uses a natural product called Betal Nut Palm Extract. Dosage is very simple done over 3 days and we have used it in one of our shrimp tanks and no losses. Even the pregnant cherries were fine so we’re very confident in recommending this product to anyone.

If you have used this product, we would love your feedback.

More Aquatic Plants = More CO2

Have you ever had a CO2 infused planted aquarium and for a while everything went just right? You had no problems, things were doing well, no algae and you felt pretty pleased with yourself :). In fact, you had temporarily nailed it and then…

algae appears

So you rack your brain, think about what has changed and what might have happened but you still draw a blank. The answer is that you have probably become a victim of your own success (or at least your tank has). As your tank matures, plants grow. This means that the increased biomass effects water distribution along with the plants requiring more fertilisers. If you have kept your CO2 levels the same as before and you’re still adding the same amount of fertilisers as before, you can begin to see why the problem has evolved. Slowly but surely you’ve been starving your plants of what they really need:

  1. More CO2
  2. More Fertilisers
  3. Better Water Distribution

The best thing to do at this stage is to give your plants a good haircut. This will bring overall levels back to where they were (when the tank was doing great). Any deformed leaves or one’s which have algae on them should be chopped off. Essentially you are resetting your aquarium and now you know better. It’s important to stress that as your tank grows you have to increase CO2, fertilisers and improve water flow. Larger plants will block water in its path and stop essential nutrients from getting where they used to. Pay attention to what your plants are telling you – observe your CO2 bubbles and see if they are getting to everywhere that they should. This is the beauty about using pressurised CO2 as you can watch the tiny bubbles move around the tank and if they’re not getting to a certain area, then you can bet fertilisers aren’t either.

In summary, it’s easy to overlook the correlation between plants growing and the effect this has on your planted aquarium. Just remember that as they grow, more demands are put on the aquarium unless you maintain the plants to a specific size (trimming weekly for example).

Have you had problems with your aquarium and overcome them? I’d love to here them.

Hang On Aquarium Thermometers

If you’re looking for something a little bit different then we have a treat for you. NAG hang on thermometers for planted aquarium are the ultimate in cool.

Gone are the days when you need to have a bog standard thermometer that doesn’t  look that great on the inside of your aquarium, these simply hang onto the front or side of your aquarium. Designed specifically for Nature Aquariums – tanks which are rimless and braceless. Below is a couple of images of a close up and one being used in a tank.For our range of thermometers please thermometers category.

Tools For Planted Aquariums

Everyone who has a planted aquarium has to use tools to keep the tank in good order. Whether this is for picking up dead leaves/debris, cleaning the glass or raking the substrate – it all has to be done. Wouldn’t it be nice to have one tool that did it all…

Introducing Superfish 4 in 1 Nano Tools – a tool so useful you’ll wonder how you survived without it. It’s a simple yet effective device that can be used on any aquarium. Although it’s called a Nano Tool, any smallish aquarium can be cleaned with it. The tool itself comprises of a long handle and on the end of it you can attach 1 of 4 tools and the consist of:

  • Fish Net – for catching your fish before you clean.
  • Gravel Rake – for maintaining the gravel and keeping it tidy.
  • Plant Fork – for attending to your plants.
  • Cleaning Sponge – for cleaning the glass of the aquarium.

Each tool detaches easily which means you can swap over in seconds which makes it quick to clean your entire aquarium and make it look pristine again!

For more maintenance tools please visit this link.

Sloping Of A Planted Aquarium Substate

In a planted aquarium, having the right slope on your substrate can mean a lot. In the past hobbyists would place their substrate on their tank base and make it pretty flat. This was kind of alright, but made creating an illusion of depth a lot harder than what it should be.

After studying a lot of the aquascapes which world leading aquascaper Takashi Amano produces, he slopes the substrates a lot. Some shockingly so especially in his larger tanks I have seen in excess of 8-9″ at the back and maybe 1″ at the front. So why exactly does he do this?

The main reason is for scale and creating depth. In aquariums we are always working with limited space and whilst a lot of planted aquariums have good height to them, depth (front to back) is often limited and forgotten. This is a real shame as depth makes a huge difference to an aquascape and makes things a lot easier when creating an aquascape. In the example picture below you can see how much substrate has been used – there’s probably about 7″ at the back and this needs to be accounted for when planning how much substrate you really need. Calculations are normally based on a 2-3″ depth all over so adding 7-8″ at the back requires considerably more. But you can already see even from the side angle, it makes placing rocks easier for starters (a lot more substrate to bed into) and it also allows you create that illusion of depth immediately. Not only that but planting stem plants in deep substrate is a piece of cake and there’s no chance of them uprooting.

One thing worth mentioning when sloping substrates which contains shrimp – they have a tendency to move the substrate around as they clean it. Over time, the slope may flatten out so make sure you have a rake which allows you to move the substrate back to where it should be. Of course, if you have lots of plants in your tank and they root quickly, there shouldn’t be a problems.

You can view our range of substrates by following this link.

Pebbles For Aquariums

We’re always looking for natural products for planted aquarium – after all it is our goal to provide the widest range of nature aquarium products on the web. We’ve stumbled across some really beautiful pebbles for aquariums which I know you will like. They’re called Burmese Mixed Pebbles.

So delicate in size with average diameter being 3-4cm, these pebbles will really finish off an aquascape. When carefully placing around the foreground or at the base of some rocks (imagine a beach depositing pebbles on the shore…) the Burmese pebbles give your aquascape a touch of nature. You no longer have to rely on picking them from your beach and trust us to supply you with quality products.

To view our range of pebbles & rocks you can visit this link.

CO2 Drop Checkers

Drop Checkers are an important piece of equipment in a planted aquarium. In fact without a drop checker how do you actually know what your CO2 levels are? They work by measuring the pH levels in your aquarium. A small amount of test reagent is placed in your drop checker and changes colour according to your CO2 levels. The ideal colour to aim for is green and if you have too little CO2 it becomes blue and too much, become yellow.

Available in a variety of shapes and sizes, some glass, some plastic but they all do the same job. The only difference is that most of them are supplied with a reagent that doesn’t work properly and as a result will give false readings. If you have a drop checker and you use tank water and an orange reagent to measure your CO2 levels, then you need to change (this is the old fashioned/incorrect way) but we’ll get onto that shortly.

All drop checkers need to use 4dkh bromothymol blue solution. This solution is the most accurate on the market and once placed in your drop checker provides accurate results. In a planted aquarium the desired CO2 level for optimum plant growth is 30ppm. When your aquarium has this amount of CO2 in it, your drop checker will turn green – this is why it’s so important. So why shouldn’t you use tank water and the orange reagent that most drop checkers come with?

Tank water contains a variety of acids and alkalines some created by fish and shrimp, others added by hobbyists in the form of fertilisers for their plants.  Therefore by using tank water in your reagent you’re adding a solution that is already changing and this is no good if you want accurate results – you need to start with a stable base level and go from there. This is where the 4dkH bromothymol blue solution comes in handy.

For more information on this subject you can visit this link.

Here’s a nice picture of a drop checker changing colour

Drop Checker changing colour

Water Circulation In A Planted Aquarium

This is something that I discuss with customers time and time again but in all honesty a lot of hobbyists don’t realise how important it really is. Water circulation in a planted aquarium is really important.

Picture this – your aquarium is heavily planted, you infuse CO2, add excellent fertilisers like AE Design Aqua Nourish and Aqua Nourish+. You have good lighting and perform regular large water changes but…you only have one filter pushing around the water, CO2 and fertilisers. And for some reason you have algae – anyone been in this situation?

The reason you have algae is insufficient water distribution. Whilst you get full marks for everything else, in a planted tank that is CO2 infused, you have to get everything right otherwise, algae grows. If you only have one filter pushing water around and you probably have wood/rocks so there will be quite a few dead spots or certainly areas that don’t get much if any water flow due to the deflection they cause. Water flow is the life blood of the system – it carries nutrients and CO2 to the plants and if circulation isn’t up to scrath, your plants don’t get what they need and algae responds. When diffusing CO2 into your tank, you literally have to see the bubbles everywhere and if they’re not in every nook and cranny, you can bet the plants will be struggling in that area.

Water circulation pumps don’t need to be particularly large, in fact some are quite small and powerful. Let me introduce you to Hydor Pico Evo Mag 650. This amazing tiny piece of equipment moves 650L of water per hour and it’s only 4.5x3x6cm which means that it can sit in your tank and barely takes up any space. It contains a magnetic suction cup so you place it anywhere and the idea is to direct it towards the areas in your tank, which don’t get enough water movement. If you have foreground plants, you would need to direct this onto them – in fact this is one reason so many struggle with them. Because they are at the bottom of the tank, they don’t get much water movement and therefore not much CO2 and fertilisers. By pointing a Hydor Pico Evo Mag 650 towards them, it will push the necessary water, fertilsers and CO2 onto your foreground plants forcing them to sway in the current (perfect!).

Ensuring you get your water movement just right, removes so much stress from your planted aquarium. If you want to see our other range of water circulating pumps then visit this link here.

If you are having problems with your aquarium, why not ask a question on this blog and I will respond.

In addition I have managed to find an excellent image of a larger planted aquarium in which world class aquascaper Mark Evans demonstrates perfectly why a circulation pump is required.

Synthetic Aquarium Plants

Not everyone has the time to be able to commit to a planted aquarium in terms of maintenance – after all we know how long it takes to perform water changes, trim plants, feed and so on and with today’s busy life styles, sometimes we run out of time. From a commercial perspective it’s not possible to look at a planted aquarium everyday (this is what CO2 infused one’s really need especially at the beginning). Lets take www.aquariumdesigngroup.com who are market leaders in the USA. They set up and maintain aquariums for wealthy clients. What is interesting is that many of their clients have aquariums where the plants are synthetic. This is for 2 reasons:

  1. They don’t want the tank maintainers to be in their house every day checking up how things are going
  2. You can create amazing aquascapes even without real plants, as long as the quality of the plants is of high standard.

Let me introduce to you Superfish Plastic Plants. These have been produced to really high standards and once in the aquarium you would be hard pushed to tell they were actually different from live plants. The range consists of different sizes of plants to ensure what ever type of aquascape you want it is possible. To make an aquarium really work which uses plastic plants, we recommend that you use real rocks – something like mini landscape rocks and sumatra driftwood. By using a combination of these natural products with synthetic one’s, the impact can be incredible and the maintenance almost zero.

Achieving Smaller CO2 Bubbles

If you have a CO2 glass diffuser then odds are you feel like the bubbles are too big and quite often shoot straight to the top of your tank without diffusing into your planted aquarium.

Many glass diffusers do a good job, but they’re pretty cheap and as a result the ceramic plate used is not the best. Sure it works fine but the bubbles can be on the larger size than you actually want (relatively). Now if you paid, lets say £100 for your diffuser, the ceramic plate would be of a much higher quality and you probably wouldn’t be reading this post. If CO2 bubbles are tiny, not only are they less obvious in your planted aquarium but they also distribute better, after all your sole purpose of having CO2 in your tank is so that it spreads over everything and your plants absorb as much as they can.

With CO2 bubbles that are too big, they have a tendency to shoot to the surface of the tank and not get pushed around your aquarium. To remedy this use an AE Design Needle Valve. Simply insert one end of your CO2 tubing into the Needle Valve, and then insert the remainder into the other side. This would then attach directly onto your diffuser. You would now have total control of your Co2 and you will be able to produce much smaller bubbles than you were before hand. The valve on this piece of equipment is subtle and easy to use.

For a range of our CO2 diffusers you can see them here.

Natures Grub Tropical Insect Mix

We’ve recently taken on a new brand of food called Natures Grub – high quality food with lovely packaging. But it’s sometimes difficult to get that message across to our customers, especially with food. So it got us thinking…

You can see from this short clip, the food is tasty, the fish enjoy it and it’s a bit different from your ordinary stuff. So why not give it a try today – treat yourself and your fish by following this link.

For the entire range of Natures Grub fish foods click here.

Inline CO2 Diffusers For Planted Aquariums

Diffusers are always changing in shape or form and up until recently there were only one or two options for moving gas from bottle to tank. Well now there’s a 3rd and it comes in the form of an UP Inline CO2 Diffuser.

Designed to work with external filters only, you attach them inline so that they sit on the outflow pipe. This is a very simple and easy way to attach a diffuser – yes you have to turn your filter off and maybe drain some liquid etc etc but once it’s up and running it means that it’s another item which can be kept out of the tank. The Co2 tube coming from your regulator also attaches to the diffuser on the top left hand side (see image).

The more equipment that stays out of the tank, the more you can concentrate on what your aquascape actally looks like.

We stock 3 sizes of inline diffusers for 9, 12 and 16mm pipe work and you can see them here.

How do you diffuse your CO2? We would love to hear…

Easy Aqua Super Mist Diffuser

Have you ever wanted better CO2 diffusion into your planted aquarium but never really got the results from glass diffusers?

Well now is the time to change to our new Easy Aqua Super Mist Diffuser. They are quite incredible and we have never seen so many small CO2 bubbles from such a small area. It’s done by creating a surface that is so compact that pressurised CO2 literally has to be forced out through the tiny pores on it. This makes your gas a lot more economical when using a Super Mist Diffuser compared to a glass diffuser. You see the smaller the bubble, the larger the surface area (relatively). Therefore if you are creating thousands of tiny bubbles compared to hundreds of larger one’s, the smaller type win hands down.

This diffuser is only suitable for use with pressurised CO2 and you also need to have about 2 bar pressure. Anything less than that and it won’t cut the mustard.