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.

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).

the ultimate clean up crew…

a tank without freshwater shrimp is not complete in my opinion…

I would always have shrimp in any planted aquarium I have and so should you. They perform such a wonderful job of cleaning up and recycling everything in your tank and offer a buffer it terms of keeping excesses down. For example, in previous newsletters I’ve discussed the importance of water changes and by keeping your water clean, you reduce the amount of food available for algae. Anything in your aquarium that is breaking down produces ammonia, so leaves that are decaying contribute to this.

But if you have shrimp, they’ll be straight onto it. So rather than leaves rotting and producing ammonia, your shrimp will deal with it and compost it for you. As a result, there’s less food for the algae to consume and your tank is cleaner and healthier. It really is as simple as that. In terms of shrimp numbers you can literally have as many as you want. The tank which holds our cherry shrimp is 3x1x1′ and houses about 800 shrimp – they’re not cramped in anyway. I’m not suggesting you need that many but you do need a suitable amount (more than 10 for eg) for them to make an impact. To visit our shrimp page click here.

How and Why You Should Begin Building an Aquarium

Weather you failed to keep your Sea Monkeys alive for more than a week as a child or you have had goldfish in your family for years, owning an aquarium containing complex plant life and fish from distant and unique waters can be a rewarding experience. It doesn’t matter if you failed to keep your Sea Monkeys alive for more than a week as a child or you have had goldfish in your family for years, keeping aquariums is a skill that can be learned and is likely to make a beautiful feature in your home. But why else might you want to have an aquarium?…

Status symbol
Ok, so having a well-run aquarium may not impress people as much as sports car or Hurligham Club membership, but historically the keeping of fish has been seen as a cultivated activity and one championed by the wealthy elite. In ancient Rome, around the first century BC, having fish ponds became popular and the rich politician Lucullus was known for his extravagant waterworks where he used intricate canals to mix salt and fresh water. He used to put gold rings in the fins of his fish to make them look smarter.
Unless you have a full sized aquarium in you home filled with lemon sharks and seahorses, you are unlikely to drastically alter anyone’s opinion of yourself in the 21st Century, but a well ordered aquarium, much like anything else, is indicative of a well ordered mind, and it will prove that you are a person with unique and interesting tastes.

Health Benefits
Aquariums have long been seen as a relaxing edition to any environment and it is believed that spending time tending an aquarium and sharing a room with one can lower one’s blood pressure and generally reduce thy symptoms of stress.

Image: smerikal

Raising eco awareness

Owning an aquarium is a great way to educate yourself as well as friends and family about sensitive habitats and the kinds of creatures and plant-life that live within them. Children enjoy aquariums as much as adults and, especially as we currently know more about the moon than what lies beneath the oceans, it is a great way to spark a lifelong interest in children or young relatives who might be overly interested in watching TV and playing video games. It is the wonderment created by well-run aquariums and zoos that can actually boost conservation efforts by reminding people just how beautiful and amazing the world outside the cities really is.

How to get started:
The first thing to remember is not to go too small. Many people starting our will get one of these small aquarium packages thinking that they will be low maintenance but, because the volume of water is smaller, it means that the key water parameters can change very quickly and there is very little margin for error. If you are concerned about what size of tank might be appropriate for where you live, remember that if you are renting a property your landlord may have put something about pets in your contract – which could technically extend to fish. If you are interested in information on finding your own place where you can have all the tanks you want, get onto a website like Rental Yield, it will be worth it.
You should wait before adding the fish to your tank, giving the water time to stabilize. There will be many gasses, minerals and chemicals present in the water at first that will need to balance out. It is also important not to start with too many fish. Most aquariums will depend on certain bacterial colonies being present, and they need to grow until a full colony can be supported.

Make sure you research which fish go with which and what kind of filtration system they need. There are a while variety of little skills one need, such as a proficiency at being able to test the aquarium water and a sense of organisation regarding feeding times. These can be learned easily enough. The most important thing to know is that there are many places, such as Aqua Essentials, who can provide assistance and advice for those looking to get started in this interesting and therapeutic pass time.

Guest post by Sue Williams

every suffer from blue green algae (BGA)?

because it’s horrible stuff if you have…

I think it’s really important to make sure you have the knowledge as to why things happen in your tank, otherwise you’re left simply…wondering or worse still guessing. Then if it does disappear you need to know why because you’ve done something right. If you’re wondering what it looks like – I’ve included a piccy below. As you can see it’s pretty nasty stuff and will blanket your plants in a very short space of time.

blue green algae

How is it caused:  Poor water distribution, low nutrients and dirty filter. So if you have BGA, slap on the wrist to you 😉

How to get rid: Very simple – 3 day black out. You see BGA is not actually an algae it’s a bacteria that can photosynthesise so by cutting out the light it dies. Before you do your blackout perform a 30% water change, turn your lights off and put a sheet over the entire tank and leave for the full 72 hours. No peeking, just let the darkness do the work. When those 72 hours have passed (and your fish and plants will be fine during that time) you’ll see your tank is sparkling clean and your plants fresher than ever. Once it’s all done, simply do another 30% water change and then make sure it doesn’t happen again (see how is it caused).

Of course for those of you who can’t wait, you can treat with Easylife Blue Exit (great name heh!).

‘orrible algae, BBA

I see it it many tanks, particularly in fish shops for some reason. But like all algae, it’s easy when you know how to nuke it. You’ll find it growing on the edges of some plants, wood and filter outlets/inlets. Really difficult to remove and looks like the below.


How is it caused:  In a high light, high CO2 tanks, it’s caused by unstable CO2 levels.  In low light tanks with no CO2, frequent water changes have been known to bring it on along with poor water movement.

How to get rid:  In high light, high CO2 tanks making sure your CO2 levels are spot on will solve this problem (use a drop checker) and ensure water distribution is excellent (remember you want to see the plants swaying in the current). In low light tanks, use liquid carbon and fix your water distribution issues.

This algae will not die back so needs physically removing 🙁 If you find it keeps coming back, you know you haven’t fixed the above issues.

Getting rid of blanket algae

Blanket Weed algae. You may or may not have suffered from this algae before – it’s certainly not the worst but it look like below:

blanket weed algae

How is it caused:  Low nutrients, low CO2 levels and poor water movement.

How to get rid:  Very simple – increase your fertiliser dosage and increase CO2 levels (use a drop checker like this one). Make sure your water distribution is really good – I know I say this every week but that’s because it’s very important.  If your plants aren’t swaying in the current, then you can bet that your nutrients and CO2 are certainly not getting to those locations (which will result in algae). Getting the basics right makes everything flow as it should.

You can physically remove this algae should you wish. Use your tweesers or fingers if need be and just hoick it out. If you see this algae coming back for whatever reason, just tweak what you’re doing and in most cases simple add a bit more of the usual (nutrients and CO2).


Anubias are easy right? If you struggle, read on…

I think so and you’ll succeed with them if you remember these few things:

  1. they don’t need much light
  2. they need tying to wood or rock (always)
  3. they grow slow so be patient

Too many hobbyists place them in the wrong position and this stresses them out. They are placed near the filter outlet or close to the light. If you want your anubias to dump their leaves pretty fast, just position them there.

Similarly, sometimes anubias will drop all their leaves which is rather frustrating. I’s a bit like a snake shedding their skin, but in this case it’s due to their new environment. If it’s dramatically different from where they have been growing, then it might happen. Doesn’t always but sometimes.

And this is my favourite anubias atm = what’s yours?

Simplicity with dragon stone

I know how hard it can be to get inspiration for your aquarium and I’ve come across an excellent scape which uses only a few plants and dragon stone. The rock as per most decent aquascapes is the main focus and the dragon stone used in the picture below is brilliant.dragon-stone

The other plants used are anubias nan bonsai, hemianthus callitrichoides, eleocharis acicularis, and I can’t quite make out the plant in the middle but perhaps it’s pogostemon eustralis.

But isn’t the tank just serene? I love it and hope you do to.

Algae Control Tropica Style

Tropica are incredible at what they do – there’s no two ways about it their plants are certainly the finest in the world. They’re a joy to look at and also a joy to ship out to customers like you.

Their website is ever expanding too which is great – initially they only ever published information about their plants but now as a result of freelance help they have articles covering all aspects and one that caught my eye today was their article on algae which is a major issue for a lot of hobbyists. You can read their article here and they make a very good point about algae eaters so take note there.

hair algae

Plants grown in jelly…?!

Sounds futuristic doesn’t it? I mean grown in jelly – how can you grow plants that way? Well a few businesses around the world are doing just that and have been doing so for a long time too. Strictly speaking it’s not jelly and is in fact a tissue culture which has been around since the 1950s. Tropica have been using tissue culture plants since the 1990s and they’re the most active in the industry and have begun to establish these types of plants and make them available to hobbyists. So what’s the benefits? Well for businesses like Tropica a lot. Plants grown in laboratories yield extraordinary amounts in perfect conditions so the plants literally flourish before your very eyes (just imagine being able to watch plants grow). Not only that but the plants are all disease free, they produce wonderful clean roots and the plants are much stronger compared to those which are produced by conventional methods such as seeds or cuttings. And to top it all off, they can pack hundreds and hundreds of plants into a very small space so from a square meterage point of view, they score a 10. And when the plants are big enough they chop them up into tiny portions maybe 8 pieces from one container and pot them up in one of their gigantic greenhouses. At some stage along the way they will be ready to sell. However, not all of them make it to greenhouse heaven, and some stay in their containers, and this is what Tropica have called Tropica 1-2-Grow! (catchy heh). But it’s all well and good hearing how great it is for Tropica, the most important part is how good is it for you right? You want to know what the benefits are when compared to the other option which is potted plants?

My own personal opinion is that they are very good but I’ll break this down into bit sized chunks. PROS: Tissue culture plants are free from all types of pests (snails etc) and are 100% free from algae. As a result if you decided that you wanted a tank which definitely had no snails, then tissue cultured plants are perfect. In addition it’s worth remembering that these types of plants take very well in the aquarium and you get less die off due to the plants living in a sterile environment from day one. And lastly, they ship very well so if you live abroad and buy from us then the plants are more than likely to arrive in perfect condition. CONS: The range is somewhat limited with 17 species available (however I expect this to increase in the future). The pots are not very big, roughly 7cm diameter. And lastly the plants themselves are not very big as the pot is only 4cm tall so you do, like the label suggests need to grow them on.

Tropica 1-2-grow!

But taking all that into consideration, they are generally well received. In fact as an example, Hemianthus ‘Cuba’ is very popular because it’s great value and it really fills the pot up. I know some of you struggle with Hemianthus (previously discussed in the last newsletter)  but the 1-2-Grow variety takes even better than the potted type – ok it costs a little more but you have to balance that up against size of plants and amount of die off. But what ever way you look at it, Tissue Cultured plants are here to stay and only a 6 months ago was I having a very brief discussion with Claus from Tropica and he very much thinks these plants are the future and will one day (maybe 5 years from now) become more popular than potted plants. Can you imagine that? Exciting heh 🙂

You can find all our Tropica 1-2-Grow! plants by clicking on this link.

The smallest aquarium in the world

Have you seen it? So small! This tank is so small it only holds two teaspoons of water. The tank measures 30x24x14mm and there’s a baby zebra danio in there if you look close. No filter though…

The chap who designed this tank is also famous for writing on small items such as a grain of rice, poppy seeds and human hair! Good job he has a steady hand.

smallest aquarium in the world

or you can visit his site and see the caravan of camels he placed in the eye of a needle!

Fish need a home right?

Well kind of anyway. But here’s a fish house with a difference and this one is covered in moss. This neat little shelter is 10x5x5cm and has a hole which passes right through it. The moss which covers it is superb – none of this rubbish moss that comes from Asia, this is moss that was grown in Holland and it’s the finest I have seen. Really pure and green with no brown bits.

fish house with moss

It will sit perfectly in any fish tank and blends in seamlessly which is what is most important. No need for any gimmicks with this product. Find this product and mother moss by clicking here.

Primeval Forest Aquascape

They don’t come any bigger than this. Not only is this tank HUGE but it’s also scaped by the most famous Aquascaper in the world, Mr Takashi Amano – an inspiration for me and one of the reasons I became interested in planted aquariums.

To take on a tank of this size is tremendous – you would certainly want as much of it to be automated as possible such as water changes, and even better if you have others to maintain it for you. Nevertheless truly incredible don’t you think?

Go Dutch

These types of scapes were super popular in the 90s, and I mean everyone who had a crack at planted aquariums did it this way. Loads of colour, loads of fish movement. It was only later on in the 90s that Takashi Amano turned things round and began producing iwagumis.

Anyway, it got me thinking – I don’t really see any Dutch aquariums these days and wondered if you are aquascaping one at home?

So just how big are the Mother Plants?

Well quite big I think. We get these one’s from the wonderful Aquadip who really grow quite terrific plants as you can see from the pictures. This particular plant is called Echinodorus Argentinensis

and they are by far the largest Mother Plants we have in stock at the moment. Part of the reason they grow so big in down to the care and attention they have received over the summer from Aquadip the end result is spectacular. You can also see a normal 5cm sized pot and the difference between that and the Mother Plant. And the 5cm pot isn’t that small either at about 25cm tall.

Echinodorus argentinensis XL

Echinodorus argentinensis XL

Echinodorus argentinensis XL Echinodorus argentinensis XL Echinodorus argentinensis XL Echinodorus argentinensis XL

and all for £13.99! So if you have a large tank or even a 4 foot one with an open top, you can be really creative with these plants and have an aquarium that would be the envy of your friends.

At this moment in time, these plants stand about 80cm+ – impressive heh! You can find this plant and all the other Mother Plants by clicking here.