Possibly the best aquascaping rock in the world…

dragon stoneThat’s right and I believe Dragon Stone could well be the  best aquascaping rock in the world and for 3 good reasons:

1) It looks lovely. The colours and shades are what makes it so unusual. The brown hues provide instant calmness and impact.

2) The holes/crevaces, call them what you like. I mean, who has ever seen holes in rocks before? I haven’t especially on this level of consistency. Again another unique feature of Dragon Stone and what separates it from all other rocks available.

3) Ease of aquascaping. The varied sizes available (especially at this moment in time) means you can create a terrific aquascape in no time with little experience, as long as you choose enough. Don’t fall into the trap of buying a few kgs and expecting a miracle. It doesn’t work like that. When pros aquascape they normally choose from a few hundred kgs. I’m not suggesting for a minute you need this much (on the contrary) but 2 or 3 kgs rarely cuts the mustard. Aim for 10kgs and up.

Plant Symbols – making it easier to choose

We’re making things even easier for you on the plant pages. We’re often asked which plants are suitable and what would we advise? So by introducing plant symbols makes it really easy for you in deciding if a certain plant you like is right.

Breaking it down into Apprentice, Skilled and Master – so what level are you?

Apprentice is as you might expect is geared towards new hobbyists – we have categorised these plants that even your Grandma could grow.


Skilled – Suitable for enthusiastic newcomers or better still if you’ve had  a planted tank for a few months and want to try something a bit more advanced (yet not too tricky).


Master – Suitable for CO2 infused tanks where you have plenty of experience, lots of lighting, good water circulation and lots of water changes.


All you have to decide is which category you belong to and choose plants to suit.

The quest for new aquascaping rock continues

Because we’re always looking out for new types of rocks we have by chance stumbled across a new one never seen before called Island Rock.

Island-Rock

This rather tasty looking rock comes in a variety of different sizes and is on the lighter side of grey. It’s not white by any standards but certainly a very lightish colour and at first glance looks a picture. It has small grooves that have been carved out over the years that add character and style. This rock stacks well too which is a bonus so even though there aren’t any HUGE pieces, by stacking them up you can give the appearance that they are large. For added security use some Aquarium Putty and this will make sure none will topple over.

Do you love Vallisneria? Here are the top 5.

Who doesn’t like Vallis? If I cast my mind back it was one of the first plants I grew extremely well by doing…nothing. In fact it grew like a weed and provided a wonderful curtain effect that made me feel like a pro :)  I’m not sure which specific Vallis it was but it was dead easy. In fact the entire Vallis range is very simple to grow and unless you have very soft water you won’t have any problems.

There are currently 5 different types available – all similar (ish) with a variant. Let’s start with the biggest first:

Vallisneria gigantea rubra – large thick and wide leaves that grow fast. Great for bigger tanks and the leaves can grow up to about 2m (impressive heh!).


Vallisneria spiralis – suitable for beginners and up, this plant has narrow long leaves that look rather attractive. Grows in pretty much any tank.


Vallisneria spiralis red – just like the plant above but with a red tinge. A bit slower growing though.


Vallisneria torta – the smallest of the Vallis, this rather neat one tends to stay quite small as the leaves twist as they grow. Also great for beginners and up.


Vallisneria nana – the narrowest of all the Vallis, the leaves are a few mm thick. This makes them sway delightfully in the current. Not such a fast grower but very easy on the eye.

Just in case you’re not aware, Vallisneria do not appreciate liquid carbon. It can make them melt so best to avoid adding it.

How do the best just get better?

In this case, they go bigger, MUCH BIGGER than the competition and this is just what Takashi Amano has done again. You see, no one can really touch him now as he has become such a powerful and dominant world leader in aquascaping. Most don’t even have the access to the large stones and the tanks and the team required to pull these sort of tanks off. So sit back, and enjoy.

This is amazing.

Make unexpected mistakes even after thorough consideration.

In Japan they call this Senryo Isshitsu – Make unexpected mistakes even after thorough consideration. I love the honesty of it. We all make mistakes, even the best of us.

I’ve always said that Takashi Amano is the best scaper in the world and some things never change. In this clip below you can see the master working his magic with his rather large team!

You also see him making a very rare mistake which is refreshing to see. Enjoy the clip below to see what happens…

and if you’re after some Utricularia, find it here http://www.aquaessentials.co.uk/easy-grow-utricularia-graminifolia-p-6950.html

We ship every day til 4pm

That’s right, we’re shipping orders right up to the end of day (well nearly anyway). 4pm is the latest our courier can collect so that means if you order today any time before 4pm and choose express delivery at the check out, you can receive your order the next day (assuming you’re UK mainland).

Not bad heh!

Don’t let your bubble counter fool you…

Don’t be fooled in thinking that all bubbles counters are the same and don’t get hung up on your flow rate. 1 bubble, 2 bubbles, 3 bubbles, 4.

Let me give you an example. We have glass bubble counters and plastic bubble counters. If we add the glass one to one of our set ups, it will show 4 bubbles per second – pretty fast heh. If we remove it and then swap it for a plastic version, it will show 1 bubble per second. So which is it? It all depends on the manufacturing process of the bubble counter and this is a perfect example why you MUST NOT get hung up on your bubble counter flow rate. No one cares, and your plants certainly don’t. All they care about is are they getting enough CO2 and you’ll only know this if your drop checker is showing an approximate green colour (don’t get too hung up on that either). You’re simply looking to have as much CO2 in your tank as possible without distressing the inhabitants.

So for all you lovely hobbyists who email me and say they have 2 bubbles per second and they can’t work out why they don’t see their plants releasing O2 bubbles, now you know!

Have you seen these plants before?

Found in the rice fields of Asia the Murdannia ‘keisak’ is a stem plant from the bamboo family. New in to us from Tropica, they describe this plant as easy to grow and unchallenging. We’re yet to give it a whirl ourselves but it looks the business.

Murdannia-keisak

Originating from North America the Penthorum sedoides is a low maintenance, easy growing stem plant. Another new plant from Tropica. Seems like they do the sourcing of this plant and then other growers jump on their ship. I might be wrong though (just seems like that). Anyway, looks pretty cool.

Penthorum-sedoides

Mastering a minimalist planted aquarium

My good friend George Farmer has demonstrated just how you create a planted aquarium with just one pot of Micranthemum ‘Monte-Carlo’. This is no easy task and unless you have A LOT of experience, do not try this at home. I always recommend a high plant mass from the beginning for creating balance, but if you know what you are doing, you can experiment.

Here George mentions why he thinks this tank has been successful:

  1. Controllable LED lighting – without which it would be too easy to have too much light
  2. Super (and already mature) filtration with lots of Purigen – mature bio-media and chemical media result in zero ammonia spikes and low organic waste
  3. Time to do water changes every other day – lots of water changes help prevent algae by diluting organic waste
  4. Large shrimp population – constantly cleaning all surface inside tank to prevent algae
  5. Low fish population – less organic waste = less algae
  6. RO water – I find I need less CO2 compared with hard tap water, and there’s other anecdotal benefits
  7. Active soil – high nutrient content, ideal grain structure, and stable low pH to encourage root growth

So take note, replicate, rinse and repeat. Do as George says and you shouldn’t go far wrong.

What’s your concern about tissue culture plants?

I know a lot of you are unsure about tissue cultured plants, which concerns me! A lot of you don’t understand them too as I was recently asked about storing these plants and if they are for a conservatory! The simple answer is these plants are so easy, so adaptable that they really should be at the top of your list when it comes to choosing plants for your aquarium and for a few good reasons:

  1. They take much better to a new environment than potted
  2. They often are extremely well grown it and completely fill up the pots
  3. Better for the environment (wash away the jelly and recycle the plastic pot)
  4. They ship better
  5. They look better
  6. They grow better

That’s a lot of reasons. I’ve taken a few snaps this morning so you can see what they’re like and how full they are. Tell me what you think and if you have tried them.

tissue culture plants

tissue cultured aquarium plants Easy Grow Didiplis diandra Easy Grow Didiplis diandra Easy Grow Sagittaria subulata Easy Grow Eleocharis acicularis Easy Grow Eleocharis acicularis Easy Grow Eleocharis acicularis Easy Grow Eleocharis acicularis

You can see the range by clicking here

Vitro plants are expanding

With the popularity of Vitro plants (aka tissue culture plants) it’s really great to see that Aquafleur are taking it to the big stage too. They’ve brought out a dozen plants that are free from snails and algae GUARANTEED. So this means Tropica need to step up and continue producing more vitro plants to remain competitive.

This is refreshing because it gives you the choice of more plants that are not only perfect but are free from a lot of the concerns that hobbyists have. So this is a super exciting time for aquarium plants that are grown in vitro and you can find the range of Easy Grow plants here.

Easygrow-micranthemum-umbrosum

Position your circulation pump like this

To get the most out of your circulation pump and to make your water flow in the correct direction, point it in the same direction as your filter outlet. Let’s assume that your filter is on the right and points left. If you had a circulation pump you would position it on the right side so it also points left (same direction as the filter). Positioning it anywhere else or in some cases the opposite end, will cause negative flow and effectively stop most of the circulation.

Below I illustrate just what I mean. Essentially you want to increase the current around your aquarium so more water is moved and less dead spots remain. The better your water circulation the more fertilisers and CO2 are moved around, the better your plants grow.

Marine guys twigged this a long time ago, and now it’s our turn.

If you have any questions, please let me know. Ask via Twitter or Facebook preferably as others will see your question which is beneficial for all :)

Feed your shrimp like a King!

So we’ve got some rather cool looking foods in stock for shrimp. They really do look the business. Manufactured by Dennerle, these guys know what they are doing so it made complete sense for us to begin stocking them.

If you love your freshwater shrimp then Shrimp King might be just what you have been waiting for. Available in 7 different types they are:

dennerle shimp food king

Cryptocoryne petchii grown on lava rock

You’ve gotta love this little Cryptocoryne on lava rock – perfect in every way. It’s dainty at only 7cm square so ideal for smaller tanks. The great thing about plants on decor from Tropica is that they’re well established which means they have cared for then for months so when you receive it, it looks perfect. Roots attached to the rock naturally.

The other benefit to this plant is very simple to grow (suitable for beginners and up) and you can move it about if you decide where you place it first isn’t quite right.

Tropica Cryptocoryne petchii on lava stone

You can find our other plants grown on wood or rock by clicking here.

Drop checker positioning

If you have a drop checker…

and you really should (assuming you have a pressurised CO2 system) then making sure you have the correct positioning is sooo important. Too many hobbyists place their drop checker in the top right or top left of their tank. Maybe this is where you have yours? And I can see why too, because if you look at any decent planted tank in a magazine for example, they have it positioned just there but only because it ‘looks right’. Remember a drop checker is a measuring tool and whilst they do look nice and aesthetically pleasing in certain areas, the correct positioning is not there.

Neutro Drop Checker

So where do you place it?

Your drop checker should be located in the bottom right or bottom left, about 2-3cm off the substrate. CO2 rises so when a drop checker is placed near the top of the tank you get a false reading (and it will appear you may have more than enough CO2). A lot of problems in a planted tank arise from insufficient CO2 levels due to not using a drop checker or incorrect positioning. Customers email me ‘but my drop checker is showing green’ and they proceed to tell me it’s located near the top of their tank. Soon as they move it down the bottom, the colour changes to blue. So, if you position your drop checker correctly (at the bottom) and you know the bromo blue solution (very important) is green, you can rest assured you have the correct CO2 levels. All you then need to be concerned about is water distribution and making sure those precious CO2 bubbles are going everywhere (and I mean everywhere) but that’s a email for another day ;)

Just how much CO2 should you have in your tank?

You want to use as much pressurised CO2 in your tank as possible without causing distress to your live stock. CO2 will make or break your tank and I want you to give you the confidence to use it as it should be used in a high tech CO2 tank. In some cases your CO2 levels will be A LOT more than you think. If you have no live stock you can really have some fun and crank it up. You’ll be amazed at how well your plants will do when you’re let loose…

Most of you are using drop checkers now which is great and just what I have been advising. But many of you get too hung up on the colours – remember the colours are only indicating a pH level change (they don’t really measure CO2). However when your drop checker is showing green (pH of 6.8), you ‘probably’ have good CO2 levels, but I would like you to take it one step  further because in some cases your drop checker may need to show yellow. This is fine as long as your fish/shrimp are fine. If they’re showing any signs of distress, lower your CO2 levels.

You really need to maximise the amount of CO2 you can pump into your tank so it will take a bit of playing around but the effects are tremendous and your tank can look like the inside of a champagne glass.

Another cracking floating plant for aquariums

We’re really loving floating plants – they not only look good but offer shelter to fish in two ways – shelter from very bright light above them and somewhere to rest. Small fish can in particular rest in the trailing roots that floating plants offer, and odd as it seems, some roots can actually look quite attractive. I think the main reason is that they give your tank a very natural look as floating plants would be very common in the wild.

Ultimately we’re trying to replicate what nature offers and no better way than by offering floating plants. The latest one we have available is called Trapa natans – it’s been around for a long time throughout Europe and Asia (Eurasia) and if you like the sound of it you can find it here Trapa natans.

trapa natans

Also check out our other post on floating plants which details 4 others by clicking here.

Which plants will my fish not eat?

I was asked this question twice this morning – not sure why but felt it promoted a quick blog post.

If your fish eat plants, you are massively restricted with regards to the plants that you will ever grow and keep in your tank. So you have 2 choices:

  1. move the fish on to someone who wants your fish
  2. only keep 2 species of plants

I know which choice I would have! But if yours is the second option Anubias and Microsoriums are the only species of plants I know that tend to be avoided. These plants either taste horrible or are simply too tough to digest. Who knows which one!

You can find all the anubias here and the microsoriums here.

Does your aquarium have too much light?

I suspect in many cases it does.

The market is definitely light obsessed and that is a guarantee. Whilst I would agree the more light you have the potential for better growth exists, you have to balance that off with everything else going on in your tank at the moment.

Let’s look into powerful lighting now and what might be causing you issues. LEDs are pummelling the market and rightly so – they are very effective, cheap to run and pack a punch in terms of lighting, but the BIG question is how much light does your tank need and when you pummel your tank with light, are you increasing everything else like fertilisers, CO2, water changes, water circulation etc? I know when I first started using more powerful lighting, I didn’t make this correlation and very quickly ran into troubles, and I’m keen for you to avoid the mistakes I initially made.

Before I go into this a little more, let’s take a trip down memory lane. In the days before modern lighting, hobbyists would illuminate their tanks with T12 lights – that sounds funny just writing it! T12s were clunky, chunky and not particularly effective and were soon superseded by T8s which are still sold in the market today. When Takashi Amano (google his name if you don’t know who he is) was creating wonderful aquascapes in the late 80s and early 90s he used huge amounts of T8s over his tanks and I remember reading (being slightly astonished) that he was using 12 x T8s over a 200cm tank. I just couldn’t believe it. I was running 2 x T8s over my 120cm tank… But it probably won’t surprise you that back then, algae issues weren’t really there. Sure people got algae but it wasn’t anything like it is now. Saying that, I can bet you anything you have some sort of algae battle going on in your tank, whether it be hair algae, brush algae, brown algae – the list is endless. But I also suspect you may have quite a lot of light in your tank; you may have even introduced LED lighting hoping that was the answer to some of your aquascaping prayers in terms of plant growth. So the question begs – why weren’t hobbyists getting the algae issues back in the day that they are today? The simple answer is most probably down to lighting.

T8 lights are not particularly powerful and this is why to get real success, you had to use quite a few (in Takashi Amanos tank, 12). Today, the majority of hobbyists use T5s which are more powerful and as a result you need less of them. Juwel tanks for example use T5 lighting – this is what people want and Juwel have taken note and changed their manufacturing. We all want more light yet most of us struggle to handle it. T8s will struggle to penetrate water and if your tank is any more than 30cm you will be familiar with this. So is more light better? This really depends on what you are trying to achieve.

You only need to do a little browsing online to see lots of wonderful aquariums and some are super dooper – you know the type that really has the X factor. You look at it and think I WANT IT!!! You compare your tank to theirs and one main difference is the amount of light they have to yours. They’re probably using a lot of light, LEDs and T5s – some may even use metal halides. But the difference is, the tanks you see in magazines that impress you, the owners of these tanks aren’t new to the hobby. They have probably had a very rocky road to get to where they are now and they certainly know a lot more about lighting than they did at the beginning. They will have failed many times beforehand. They also know how to create a balancing act and that high lighting means high everything else because you can’t have one without the other.

You’re probably reading this wondering about your tank and if you do have too much light? If you are, you have one of two choices. You either reduce your lighting intensity by elevating the lighting from where it is now, or you crank things up a touch and you start raising your game.

High lighting is the equivalent of putting your foot on the accelerator. In a fast car, you need better than average breaks otherwise the higher the speed you are travelling at, the harder your breaks have to work in order to stop yourself from crashing. In the aquascaping world, you can crash very easily – your tank can quickly become full of algae – this happens fast because you have high lighting (fast car analogy). Slow things down a bit (take your foot off the gas) and you have more chance to react to any changes that you are making and how your plants are reacting to what you are or have done. Remember in this game we want to cruise – we want to arrive without crashing, we want to enjoy the journey, look out the window and appreciate the views. We’re not racing because we’re not in a rush and we know what happens if we go too fast right?!

So my final nugget of the day is this – high lighting is only suited to hobbyists who are experienced. Specifically those who have tried many times and failed and tried again. They got there in the end because they learnt so much and they know the balance is a fine one. They started slowly and so must you. Keep your lighting down to a minimum, make sure the intensity is not too high & that way you won’t be in for any surprises. Any changes that you do make will be slow and steady which is what the plants want anyway.

Richard

Propagating aquarium plants.

So your wonderful plants have arrived from us and you’re wondering (perhaps) what to do with all the cuttings/trimmings you get from your plants. Some will grow really fast and rather than chucking them in the compost bin, you could propagate them. This is essentially what commercial growers do and what you can do too – it’s fairly simple for plants that live under water (above water is slightly harder but that’s something for another day!). Let’s assume you have a nice stem like this one (Alternanthera roseafolia).

Alternanthera rosaefolia

This plant grows pretty quickly and as soon as it’s getting a bit too long, hack it in half and I mean literally in half. Chopping it 50% at a time makes the plant grow very bushy and more attractive, and whatever you trim back simply plants straight into the substrate – it’s as simple as that. You can take cuttings from the side of stem plants but they are never as strong as the one’s from the top. Wherever you do trim, you’ll get a couple of buds forming there and this is why the plant can become very bushy as every time you trim, two more buds form.

Other plants will have what’s called Advantageous Plantlets. This asexual reproduction occurs when small plantlets form on the main plant – I see this quite a lot with plants from the Bacopa family. Let them grow for a while so they are a good couple of inches long and then cut them off with a pair of scissors and replant. I’ve found if you do this when they are too young and too short, they melt and die so give them a bit of time to grow  and get strong.

Another asexual way of reproduction you may see with your plants is what’s known as  offsets. This very simple method is similar to runners (which is when the plant literally throws off runners), except offsets grow off the main part of the plant but in particular , exceptionally close to it – they don’t wonder like runners do. You can pick offsets off the plant and then place them into your substrate and away they go! Again, don’t pick them when they are too young as they may die off. Similarly if you let them grow for longer they quite often fall off on their own, land in the substrate and then start growing again.

Biology lesson over :)

how to plant aquarium plants

So I’ve chosen this question as I know A LOT of you who are new to planted aquariums, wonder how to plant aquarium plants. So I wanted to cut straight to the point and I have combined this post with a YouTube clip I made sometime ago now.

1) assuming you have purchased the plants from us, there is no need to clean under tap water – our plants DO NOT contain any pesticides or anything that would harm you tank inhabitants. So relax about that one :)

2) Remove the plant from the plastic pot and if you can please recycle the pot as most recycling centres now accept them.

3) You are now looking at your plants and on the bottom of it is rockwool. This is totally inert and safe for your tank. It’s used so that the plants can root into. The easiest way to remove rockwool is to physically remove what you can by hand, and the remainder run it under tap water and it comes off very easily that way. If you are using plants such as Hemianthus then I recommend that you leave about 10mm of rockwool as this will help to anchor the plant down as they are very light and likely to bob up to the surface otherwise. For those of you unsure about this plant – it looks like this:

Hemianthus callitrichoides

4) You now need to split your plant into several sections (if possible). Using Heminathus as an example, you can cut this with scissors into 5-6 pieces. Other plants like cryptocorynes you will be able to gently tease apart and  plant as 4-5 new plants. But, not all plants can be split – most Echinodorus are only one plant and that is how they will stay.

5) Some plants will have a decent root structure to them, others will not. If the roots are big and you find they will get in the way, simply cut them off with scissors. Leave about 20mm – you will find this does not effect plants at all and can actually have the reverse effect and create positive plant growth. A bit like stemmed flowers – they’re always trimmed at the base before putting in water to improve nutrient uptake and the same goes for aquarium plants.

6) So you’ve now removed the pot, removed rockwool (if necessary), split the plant and trimmed the roots, all you need to do is plant into your substrate. You need to make sure you give your plants room to grow so for smaller plants give them at least 30mm between each plant. With larger plants, realise that they will grow a lot more and spread out so bare this in mind. Stem plants you can plant fairly close together but bare in mind if insufficient light makes it down to the bottom, then the leaves will fall off and you’ll be left with strange looking plants. Push your plants about 50mm into the substrate and I recommend using tweesers for this – it makes the job so much tidier.

7) Now your plants are in place, let them settle in. Try and avoid moving them and certainly don’t trim them for at least 2 weeks. They need to become acclimatised to their new world – which may be dramatically different to their old one. It’s your job to make sure you give them what they need, and in most cases that’s lots of CO2, lots of fertilisers and plenty of water changes.

Any questions? Ask away :)

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.

delivering knowledge, sharing ideas