All posts by Richard

I'm a massive planted aquarium fan sharing my knowledge. I've added stacks of information over the years on this blog and it's all 100% planted aquarium based. Crazy heh? If you've had a question, I can almost bet I've answered it on here so search through the posts before you ask. Check out the Ask Dr Richard section too.

How to diffuse CO2 like a pro

I’m regularly asked about CO2 diffusion, what works best and what would I recommend and the answer is always the same. If you have a CO2 regulator that allows you to adjust your bar pressure to 3 or higher, then Easy Aqua Atomisers are the best. They win hands down every day without fail. And what’s more they only cost just over a tenner and are available in small or large varieties.

Not only are these atomiser cheap, but they’re also economical in the amount of gas  you need. They diffuse CO2 better than any other diffuser I have ever used by creating tiny CO2 bubbles – you actually need less gas when compared to a glass diffuser for example. You see when you’re using an Easy Aqua atomiser, the bubbles are so small they literally hang in the water. They don’t shoot up to the surface which means it’s really easy to push the CO2 around the tank. And the longer the bubbles stay in contact with water, the better the CO2 diffusion and the better your plants will grow. Simple heh 🙂

Check out the video below to see what I mean.

Ever seen microsorium grown on Lava Rock?

It looks great. Super fresh, super healthy and (the best bit) super easy to grow! You can position these rocks anywhere and that is part of their charm. The plant itself has been growing for a good 6 months and you will see when it arrives with you that all the roots are embedded onto the rock itself (in fact this is what makes lava rock so good for plants).


microsorium on lava rock

You can literally place these wherever you want. Use them to cover up filters or maybe fill in a gap. Which ever place you decide, I’m sure you’ll be happy with it.

Currently available in 2 sizes – click on the pictures to take you right to the product 🙂

Killing algae with a little bottle

Algae is such a major problem for hobbyists, it doesn’t surprise me that manufacturers are catering for this rather large issue. I also know a lot of you become despondent about algae but please try not to. Algae happens to professional scapers too – think of it like this. It’s like weeds growing in your garden, it does and always will happen, it’s just a case of what you need to do to stop the rot. So now you know they are part of life (and your aquarium) there are always solutions to everything. So let me introduce a short term fix:

Dupla algae killer

Dupla Algen Killer (which we are calling Algae Killer) is a simple remedy that kills all types of algae slowly. What’s more it also stops it from regenerating so this could be a real winner for a lot of people. Economical and very effective, this biocide kills off algae over a few days to avoid any O2 depletion. This seems sensible to me and I am glad they have looked into this and changed the concentration accordingly.

As a short term fix this 25ml bottle is good for a 250L tank, but if you’re adding it as a preventative measure (and I suspect this will be the main use after the first initial dose), one bottle is good for 2500L. You would dose 2ml per 100L every week.

So what do you think? Bit like liquid carbon I guess.

Don’t you just love plants on wood?

I do and for good reason too. The pieces add instant impact into your aquarium with little or no effort. In fact the hardest effort is parting with your hard earned cash 😉

So you’ve dipped into your savings and the piece arrives with you and BANG. Instant focal point with minimal effort. Don’t you just love that – not having to put any effort in and getting a great result immediately.

Now don’t go plonking it right in the middle of your tank, where you want it is slightly off to the left or the right – that’s where it will look best. And if it doesn’t look quite right there then don’t worry. That’s the beauty of these sort of pieces – they can be moved with minimal fuss.


But not only that but the require low lighting and minimal nutrition.You can find this piece by clicking on the picture or if you wanted to see our whole range, click on this link.

What more do you want 🙂

Aquascaping Glue from Dupla

So we’ve all got plants at home that we want to tie to wood or rock, but you might find it a bit fiddly or difficult. It’s also time consuming and doesn’t always look natural. Over time you might see the plant coming loose if you haven’t tied it properly – this is one of the main reasons more hobbyists don’t do it. But now there’s a solution.

Dupla have come up with a safe alternative that sets hard under water and is safe for use with plants. They’ve called it Dupla PlantFix.dupla-plant-fix

This is a really easy product to use and below are the 4 steps you need to take:

  1. Pat dry the surface you wish to attach the plant to with some kitchen roll
  2. Apply 1-2 drops of PlantFix to the plant and affix it to the desired spot on your wood or rock
  3. Apply pressure for 10 seconds
  4. You’re done!

It’s as simple as that! What do you think? Perfect for aquascapers or what 🙂

Super fast postage and free? Interested – read on…

We live in a world where everyone wants their stuff fast, and preferably free when it comes to postage. I’m no different and because of this I’ve created AE Gold which I think you, as a newsletter subscriber will be interested in.

It works like this:

It’s a  membership programme that gives you FREE EXPRESS delivery for a whole year. That’s right free for the next 365 days for an annual membership of £49.99. That means if you order with us more than 6 times in a year (and most of you do) you’ll make your money back + more 🙂

It’s a really simple set up. If you are interested in AE Gold and want FREE EXPRESS delivery for a whole year, click here.

More New LEDs hit the market

It’s always exciting for me when new LEDs appear – they get more powerful and generally cheaper which is a nice combo.

Introducing TMC AquaBar – super slimline and affordable lights that are designed to be placed inside hoods etc. If you are familiar with their MMS rails, well these lights are about the same in size. 2 sizes available, 50 and 100cm and they’re pretty nice. After opening the box and trying them out, there’s not as bright as their AquaGro range but you wouldn’t really expect that for the price. A lot more LEDs on these strips. But I do really like how slim they are.

So if you have a tank with a hood and you’re thinking that you want extra lighting, then this could be ideal for you. Affordable, and small – it’s going to tick a lot of boxes for hobbyists. Find the 50cm here and 100cm here

tmc-aquabar-500 tmc-aquabar-500

Surface Scum & how to get rid of it

That’s right – they do talk, or at least try to and it’s your job as a the owner and keeper of your beautiful plants to understand the ‘conversation’. Plants constantly communicate with their owners and relay messages according to their health. Sometimes you see this as algae, other times as poor plant growth etc. But occasionally they do something different and all of a sudden you see a nasty milky scum/film on the surface of your tank. Your natural reaction is try try and remove it right?

Sadly  many see scum or surface film as a pest (which it is) and simply try and remove it with paper towers or water changes etc Whilst this might get rid of it on a short term basis (12 hours) it will come back for sure. The question is WHY and HOW do you stop it from returning? First you need to understand why it’s happening. But lets see what it looks like first so we’re singing from the same hymn sheet.

Looks pretty oily heh? Sometimes it’s green too. Most people will have seen surface scum in their tank before – I have and I suspect you have too.

Cause – plant stress, too much light versus CO2 levels and nutrients. Mainly found in CO2 infused tanks but sometimes in non CO2 tanks with high lighting.

Remedy – reduce your lighting intensity and increase fertilisers and improve water movement. There’s been a lot of confusion over surface scum for quite some time, but it’s a fairly simple process over complicated on forums etc with hobbyists self diagnosing. The scum you see is fats and oils that are ejected from the plant whilst it photosynthesises and grows. The more CO2 pumped into the tank, the quicker plants grow and eject more waste. As you feed your plants more CO2, they need more nutrients, and therefore the balance between CO2 and nutrients must be on par with each other. If the lighting level is within the tolerance level for your plants, in some cases the plants adapt and no surface scum is seen. But if your CO2 levels are too low for the amount of lighting that you are pumping in, the plants will leach oils and fats into the water. Oil and water do not mix (we’ve all seen oil spills in the sea) and as it’s lighter than water it floats and this is the ‘scum’ you see. So in essence, your plants are giving you a very clear message as to what the scum is – you’re stressing them out so you need to either reduce the lighting so it’s more on par with your CO2 output or increase your fertilisers.

Do fish need sunglasses?

Just imagine life without sunglasses. That’s the reality for most fish these days kept in a tank – pretty harsh I think. With hobbyists continually adding more and more powerful lighting to their tanks, the fish sometimes get forgotten about. I suspect you’re thinking about this situation yourself now. Many long for a beautiful carpet plant which decorates the base of the aquarium because it has a big impact, just take a second out and think about your fish and what shelter you are offering for their eyes. Most tanks I see offer very little shelter but I’m here to solve this problem and have some great solutions.

Floating plants offer fantastic eye shelter for fish and what’s more we have some fantastic specimens on offer. These plants not only look good but also have roots which dangle down so fry and smaller shrimp can shelter in them should they wish. But more importantly they look awesome and offer fish that much needed shelter. Below are 4 types we have:

Eichornia crassipes – a lovely  floating plant that is ideal for medium to large sized aquariums. Grows quick and provides good cover. And if you’re lucky it will flower (so beautiful!)

Phyllantus fluitans – a smaller floating plant which is ideal for nano aquariums. Leaf size ranges up to 15mm and tends to grow slightly above the water so if you have an open top tank, looks rather special. Reproduces easily.

Pistia stratiotes – my favourite plant at the moment as it looks incredible. Opens up like a flower with good lighting. Super easy to grow and reproduces. Has a diameter of 15cm – might get slightly bigger. Sits slightly below the water surface and this is what makes it special for me.

Salvinia natans – another small floating plant that is great for all sizes of tanks. Grows quickly and easily so will put few demands on you.

The most powerful LEDs for a planted aquarium…

Don’t take my word for it though – you need to listen to an independent review from PFK regarding the Classica OTL-LEDs. And I quote:

To give you an example I compared a 62cm/24.4″ freshwater unit to a 150w metal halide with a freshwater bulb, and I had to dim the OTL down by two thirds to match the PAR output of the halide! I took the halide off a planted tank to swap it for the now dimmed down OTL, and within 15 seconds of putting it on the plants started pearling. So there is definitely something in those freshwater LEDs, in terms of spectrum, that the plants loved.

Now it’s these sort of comparisons that are worth their weight in gold. It’s all about PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation) output and it absolutely whooped the metal halides. People, you need to take note of this. Metal Halides have had their day and there’s a new chief in town that is cheaper and more effective and lasts 5 times as long.

Classica OTL LED luminaire

It’s true that LEDs have had a rocks road to begin with but now things are different. I would recommend these LEDs for those of you who want complete control over their lighting, run a pressurised CO2 system and are serious about their planted aquarium. Is this you?

If you want to read the full review, click here.

If you are interested in purchasing one of these amazing lighting units, click here.

A different type of fish food

Everyone is always looking for a different type of food to feed their fish and Natures Grub have gone and done just that. They’ve made a food called High Protein & Egg Yolk Flake which I thought was a brilliant idea. But of course it’s not what I really think – it’s what my fish think. So I took a pot home and tried it out.

The verdict was good. They gobbled up the food super quick so it must taste great. So why not give it a go today? Makes feeding a bit more interesting heh!natures-grub-high-protein-egg-yolk-flake

Brown algae removal

Brown algae is a very common and generally seen in new aquariums (those less than 4 weeks old). Whilst it may look a bit horrible, it doesn’t hang around for long and looks like the below. If left untreated, it will block visibility into your aquarium but rarely does it get that bad.

How is it caused:  Too much light, too early on.

How to get rid:  Really easy – reduce your lighting to 6 hours per day when your tank is new and keep up regular water changes (minimum of 30% once a week – the more the better). If you’re running a tank with 4 T5s, reduce it to 2.  If you’re using a reflector/s  now would be a good time to remove them. If you are using LED lighting (good choice) you need to reduce the intensity of the lights with a controller, otherwise try elevating the height of the LEDs and this will reduce their intensity.

Any brown algae on the glass,  use a soft sponge and wipe the glass on a daily basis. But make sure you squeeze the sponge into a bucket of old tank water, otherwise you’ll add the algae straight back into your tank.

This algae may also cover your rocks and some plants too and if that is the case, you can clean the rocks easily (whip them out and get a toothbrush on them) but for the plants, you’ll need to use algae eating fish or shrimp.

don’t quit – you’re nearly there…

I wanted to throw in a curved ball this week and give you guys some food for though. This is the sort of email you won’t receive from other shops which is why Aqua Essentials is different. The message is simple, when the going gets tough and you feel like pulling your hair out because you tank doesn’t look right…


It’s really easy to chuck the towel in, you’re fed up and nothing seems to be going right. You may even be embarrassed with it, it looks a state, your plants won’t grow and the only thing you seem to be good at is growing algae. I’ve been there, I was at the place that you are and I understand how frustrating it is. But the difference is, I didn’t quit. I kept going, kept experimenting trying to work out what was wrong. I researched, I asked for help and I want you to do the same.

Now this is no counselling service but what you don’t realise is that you are SO CLOSE to having success with your planted aquarium, it’s just around the corner in fact. The smallest change can make a HUGE difference to your planted aquarium whether it’s a case of increasing your CO2 levels or maybe just reducing your lighting by one hour per day – who knows at this stage. However, once you have made that small change and turned the corner you will realise how close you were to quitting and hopefully how pleased you were that you took time to read this email, realise that I and many other experienced aquascapers were in the same boat as you once, but we pushed through and can now encourage others to do the same.

I’ll leave you a quote from the famous Winston Churchill which inspired me to write this post:

“The pessimist sees the problems in every opportunity. Whereas the optimist sees the opportunity in every problem”

“Never give in, never give in, never; never; never; never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense”

Mixed Box of 10 plants example

I’m often asked what plants do you get in a mixed box – of course the answer is always the same. A mixture of plants chosen at our discretion. This is part of their charm –  you never quite know what you will received but we do know you will like them :). But one customer kindly sent in a picture of her tank after purchasing a mixed box of 10 plants so I wanted to share with you.

Mixed Box of 10 Aquarium Plants

Not bad heh! You can find this mixed box here if you like this idea

Soft and slimy agae


I thought I would open with a picture of this algae as it’s the easiest way to identify it. Better known as Rhizoclonium, if you have this algae I can guarantee that you have low nutrients and poor water circulation. It’s about the only time you will see this algae and as a result it’s very easy to get rid of.

Occasionally you will see it in a CO2 infused tank but it’s not so common in tanks such as that. Sometimes simply by improving your water distribution by using a Hydor Koralia Pump this algae will disappear because the nutrients that are in your tank and  being moved around better than before. If that fails just add a bit more fertiliser such as Neutro T and don’t forget to add it on a daily basis.

don’t starve your plants…

starvation hurts doesn’t it? There’s nothing worse than seeing a plant go downhill and wondering why…

Common emails to me are customer sending in pictures of their plants and wondering what is wrong with them. It’s very clear in most cases that it’s a nutrient deficiency and I often wonder why hobbyists limit food for plants and then wonder what’s wrong with them. We all know by now that excess nutrients DO NOT cause algae, so it begs the question, why would you ever limit their food? This problem stems from years of incorrect advice floating around the web and forums. If you want a successful planted tank (and I know you do), give your plants plenty of food.

If you see algae in your tank, the answer is not to limit the nutrients. Algae can thrive in a tank with zero nutrients so quite why some hobbyists think limiting nutrients is the answer when they’re doing just fine without!  If you see any leaves that are shaped a bit odd, or they have holes in them or they’re not growing quite right it’s because they need more food! Simple as that. There are lots of different brands available (email me if you want one I recommend), and some are much more simple to dose than others but which ever brand you choose, give it plenty. And don’t forget the dosage on the bottle is the starting point and you only ever go up. As your plants grow and become larger, their food uptake has to be increased. Failure to change their dosage always results in plant deterioration.

So my message is short and sweet. Do not limit the amount of food that you offer your plants. If you are running a non CO2 tank, you only need to provide Micro Nutrients (trace elements) and if you are running a CO2 infused tank you need to offer Micro and Macro Nutrients (Macro being nitrates, phosphates and potassium).