Not all plants are easy to grow…

Not all plants are easy to grow…

Yes, it’s true – some are and some aren’t. But if you decide on adding pressurised CO2, then those tricky plants become…not so tricky. To make that transition from easy plants, to difficult plants you need lots of CO2 better lighting and better water distribution with macro and micro nutrients. But here’s the flipper – when you improve one, you have to improve all of them. Step up CO2 and you have to tweak a few others. It’s no big deal but important that the right steps are taken – something people often overlook.

So what is easy then? An easy plant is one where you don’t really need to do much to succeed. You take it out of its pot, remove the rock wool and plant. Then in no time you’ll probably have some new shoots. An example of easy plant is Anubias nana.

You really don’t need to do much with this plant in order to grow – it’s even happy being tied to wood or rock.

Medium Difficulty – this is where it gets a little more interesting. The type of plant that falls into this category is one that prefers some type of CO2, (preferably the pressurised variety). As plants go up the scale of difficulty, in general they need more CO2, more light, more fertilisers and better water distribution. Lobelia cardinalis is one that falls under this category.

This plant (like all of our plants) is kept hydroponically and when we look at it in one of our grow tents, the leaves are dark green on the top and on the reverse, a deep purple (very nice). But you need intensive lighting for this plant to flourish so consider LED lighting or multiple T5 lights, then this plant will fly!!

Difficult Plants – The most tricky and challenging of all plants – and the key word really is challenging. Many have tried and failed very quickly but only because these plants allow little margin for error.

Hemianthus callitrichoides (HC for short) has to be the number one foregound plant. When you establish this plant and get it growing properly, it’s the definition of sheer delight. The tiny leaves (commonly known as baby tears) release O2 bubbles and your plant will literally be brimming with life.

Get it wrong and your HC will melt and disappear in front of your very eyes. To succeed the steps are simple – lots of CO2, medium to high light and lots of micro and macro nutrients. If you tick all the boxes and make sure CO2 bubbles are quite literally being pushed over and into this plant, it will grow quickly.


Not all plants are easy to grow but at the same time, if they were things would be a little boring wouldn’t they? Challenging plants like Hemianthus callictrichoides are difficult but at the same time, the most rewarding.

I always recommend to hobbyists that they start with plants that are straight forward and easy, do lots of research (so much available on google and our blog), build up your confidence levels and then move up the order of plants in terms of difficulty. Don’t jump in with both feet (however tempting) and plump for difficult plants just because you like the look of them. Master the basics and then the rest will simply fall into line.

Food for thought…

Sagittaria platyphylla flowering


I was so pleased this morning coming into work to find this incredible plant flowering. Bare in mind the temperature outside is very cold today (-1!), I never expected anything like this. As you can see it’s super happy and so am I!

We’ve been working very hard at improving conditions all the time and it’s beginning to pay off. The plant is called Sagittaria platyphylla and it’s a super little foreground plant with lovely green leaves.

Enjoy 🙂

Why would anyone oversell?

I just don’t get it – I mean everyone has been over sold to right? Everyone knows how it feels so why do people do it? It’s so short sighted…

In business you need to be in it for the long run. Never never over sell – and in the 10 years or so that I have run this business, I have and never will over sell to ANY customer.

I remember being over sold to and I never went back to that shop as I knew they were trying to fleece me! It sucked, and they knew it.

Treat others how you want to be treated yourself right? Simple – or is it…

Rant over

One Minute Intro

We felt this was a concise way for customers who are new to us, to know what we are all about. We’re calling it the One Minute Intro as it’s short and sweet.

We Work With… hobbyists around the world who are passionate about planted aquariums and strive to produce the best aquascape they possibly can.

Who Have A Problem With…their planted aquarium whether it be algae, aquascaping problems or something else.

What We Do Is…offer solutions to all planted aquarium issues.

So That…our customers get the right advice just when they need it.

Which Means That…your hobby remains a pleasure!

If you appreciate this post perhaps you could share on Facebook or retweet on Twitter 🙂

What’s in your mixed boxes of potted plants?

A great mixture of plants is my usual answer and before you ask – no you can’t have specific one’s in there 🙂

The whole idea of the mixed boxes is that you, the customer, get a great selection of plants that are typically fast growing and will take readily in your aquarium. We know how daunting it can be if you are new to plants about which one’s to choose, will they look right, do I have the right quantities etc etc. So the hard work is all done.

Now if you want specific plants which I know you sometimes do, then it’s best to buy those separately. But just to make it even more simple, all you need to do is work out the size of your tank and then choose the mixed box of plants to suit. It’s as easy as that! Oh and one last thing, don’t forget your fertiliser and I recommend Neutro T.

fresh as a daisy…

Fighting climate change from home

Here’s a guest post from IllustraLighting. I’m all for LEDs and saving the planet and the article has some good tips (and promotion if you live in the USA :))

Fighting climate change from home

Climate change is a fact, and whether the cause is man-made or natural, something needs to be done to address it.Environmental concerns have become a very important issue in recent years. All over the world, there have been more devastating natural disasters in just a few years than the previous decades combined. From massive floods and tsunamis, raging storms and hurricanes, to earthquakes and volcano eruptions, it has indeed become undeniable that there are significant changes to weather and geological activities. Add to this, the seemingly unresolvable problem of pollution in the air, the seas and
oceans, and in cities.

As responsible parents, we have the obligation to do our share in helping address climate change not just for our current families but for future generation as well.

What we, as a family, can do to help As a family, the area where we could do the most impact is in regulating our energy consumption. Energy use is the leading cause of pollution and environmental destruction all over the world. Power plants, especially coal-fired ones, emit tons of toxic gases into the atmosphere daily. As well, raw
materials needed, such as oil and other gases, require extraction that almost always destroys the environment and habitats for animals.

We can help reduce energy production by reducing our own consumption at home. In a 2009 survey of a typical single family home in the US, the annual energy bill can be broken down into:

  • Heating – 29%
  • Water heating – 14%
  • Cooling – 17%
  • Appliances – 13%
  • Lighting – 12%
  • Electronics – 4%
  • Other – 11%

In addition, the Energy Information Administration has reported that an average US household in 2012 spent nearly 4% of their pre-tax income on gasoline, amounting to $2,912 per year.

Every action counts While energy consumption varies from house to house, there are several generic techniques we could take to cut down our energy consumption.

  • Ask for an audit from your power company. This enables you to have a clearer picture of
    every power-using device in your home.
  • Reduce heating and cooling usage to a bare minimum.
  • Switch to power-saving appliances. Look for those with Energy Star ratings, the more stars it
    has the better.
  • Switch all your lighting to LED. While the initial expense seems a lot, its exceptional durability ensures that you won’t have to keep replacing them. It is also 90% more efficient than the conventional ones. And, more importantly, it doesn’t have adverse health risks. Compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) not only contains mercury that is harmful when released but they also emit significant levels of radiation
    that has been known to cause migraines, fatigue, and sleep abnormalities.
  • Reduce water usage. This is often overlooked in a typical home but has a big impact when practiced. Wastewater contributes to rising water levels during the storm season that could affect flooding. Instruct your family to turn off taps when not in use. In addition, check all plumbing and taps for leaks and have them fixed.
  • Recycle. This cannot be emphasised enough. The advantages of recycling have been deemed important enough that governments have enacted policies ordering manufacturers to use only recyclable materials. You can help out by dropping your recyclable wastes at recycling stations.
  • Regulate appliance use. Make sure to check on every appliance that it is turned off when not in use. This includes computers, fans, and all other devices that are plugged in to a socket.

About the Author:
Cassandra Allen
Marketing Director of IllustraLighting
Cassandra is a marketing professional with over 15 years of extensive experience leading corporate marketing and internal communications for multi-national companies in diverse industries.

We send our bulbs without leaves and for good reason too!

Yep you hear it right. All our bulbs don’t come with any leaves and there’s good reason for this.

First and foremost a bulb that has no leaves and has yet to germinate takes to its new environment very very well – once placed in a tank, a new shoot normally shows within 48 hours. A bulb that already has leaves may not adapt so well to its new home and you run the risk of the bulb becoming dormant – and you don’t want that do you?

Secondly, bulbs without any leaves ship easily and safely. There’s nothing worse than receiving a bulb with all the leaves detached. And no matter how well you package, this does happen, trust me.

And here’s a tip for you. When you receive your bulb/s you might wonder which way is up. The answer is it doesn’t really matter. I recommend you drop the bulb to where you want it to grow and let nature take its cause.

Here’s a link to our beautiful aquatic bulbs and look what fine specimen they can grow into.



If you don’t need it we won’t sell it

Simple heh?

I thought so anyway but it’s something I wanted to reiterate as the message is really important. All too often shops are so hell bent on getting the sale, they forget about the long term gain – or maybe they don’t have one. We are determined to have repeat customers and the only way to do this is to treat you properly as a customer. Treated others as you would like to be treated yourself.

So if you have a conversation with me or any of my staff, when we advise on products we take into account whether you genuinely need it or not. After all we want you to come back – not feel like you’ve been mis-sold.

So the message is very simple. If you don’t need it we won’t sell it.


Which aquarium plants travel well?

Darn good question that and one I was asked today by an overseas customer. The answer is really simple too. Avoid potted plants wherever possible. Why?

Some of them just don’t travel well. Sure they can do 4-5 days in a box no problem but some plants take MUCH longer to arrive to overseas destinations. Take Greece for example – sometimes it takes 3 weeks for parcels to arrive there! Crazy heh…

So the plants that I recommend for overseas shipping are Tropica 1-2-Grow! Not only are the light in weight so they’re cheaper to send, but they also survive for much longer periods in a box. And yes, they were fine for 3 weeks in a box (it was nice and cool though).

Not only that but because of the vitro jelly, it also means they have nutrients to keep them going when traveling (unlike potted plants). See the range of Tropica 1-2-Grow! plants by clicking here.

they travel well...
they travel well…

You want BIG? You got it

I hear you…

I know what you are saying…

I know you want BIG PLANTS…sometimes. You want a feature plant or you just have a HUGE tank and the normal 5cm pots don’t cut the mustard. Like I say, I’m on your wavelength; I’m down with you.

So here they are and we call them Mother Plants. These plants are considerably bigger than your ordinary potted plants. In fact they’re much older, the leaves are much bigger and they’re much more…impressive lets say.

Unlike other suppliers who order them in for customers, we actually have them in stock because we know that when you’re ready to order, you want the plants like…tomorrow right? I know some of you want them today but tough 😉

Check em out and big really is beautiful.

mother plants

if you click here it will take you straight to the page you want


You can definitely grow this aquatic plant…

This is the plant for you if you want total ease. If you want a no trouble, simple to grow, versatile, attractive, fast growing – sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? It gets better…

How about one that can grow on bogwood? Imagine this plant sat next to a lovely anubias. The leaves complement each other and the two greens are the perfect match.

What about a plant that can grow on the substrate and create a carpet if you cover it with gravel or substrate? This plant is just SO VERSATILE! It genuinely is this flexible and it you’re going to love it.

So what’s its name?

Hydrocotyle leucocephala

Great for beginners, experts or those of you who just want a trouble free plant.



Who’s using LED lighting?

It’s pretty established now and fair to say that it’s certainly not going away. I’m a big fan of LED lighting, not only because it’s powerful but because it’s economical too which is a big plus for me. There’s nothing worse that knowing your aquarium lighting is chomping through your electricity, costing you more money than necessary.

So it got me thinking I wonder how many of you guys are actually using LEDs? Are you using Chinese imports, or maybe Arcadia LEDs – what about TMC (my fave). Of course as the market develops we will start to see a lot more LEDs enter the market and some will be better than others.

There’s one thing for sure, the market for metal halides will disappear (not quite yet) but in the near future as LEDs become more powerful than ever.

TMC Grobeam 600

Fluval Edge Aquarium Plants

A customer called me up the other day about this and I thought it was a really great idea just to make a short blog post about it.

He owned a Fluval Edge and wanted some plants which were small enough to not dominate his tank but easy enough not to cause him too many problems. Lighting is limited. So my top 3 plants for it are:

Echinodorus magdalensis

keeps low and is pretty easy to grow

Micromanthemum umbrosum

easy to grow and spreads nicely

Staurogyne rubescens

grows nice and low

All these will not only look great but are relatively easy. Make sure you use some Neutro T fertiliser and you’ll have a lovely looking tank in no time!

Plants can only absorb WHAT through their roots?!!!

I stumbled across a commercial website today which sells aquarium plants and other planted tank accessories. Some of the information they were providing was total garbage and they were giving their customers incorrect information:

certain nutrients especially iron and potassium can only be absorbed by the root of the plant


It’s SO disappointing to read information like that, particularly as it’s not true!! Plants can of course absorb nutrients like iron and potassium through their leaves and their roots – why else can these nutrients be dosed in liquid format if this wasn’t the case?

There’s so much incorrect information on the internet, I urge you to take caution with what you read and who from. Some websites are good, some are pants. I regularly talk to customers about information they have read that is totally incorrect and have to set them on the straight and narrow. So when you are looking for advice, make sure you get it from the horses mouth, i.e. Aqua Essentials or other genuine specialists and not just those who think they are, and live in the dark ages.

and please don’t tell me that excess nutrients causes algae.

rant over

p.s. if you want to share any ridiculous old wives tales about dos and do nots in planted aquariums, why not share them now.

Maple Leaf Rock Inspiration

We all need some inspiration in life – it’s what motivates us after all. I also know that looking at rocks and trying to imagine if they are any good for aquascaping or not can be very very tricky. So my good friend Viktor who runs Green Aqua in Hungary ( and has an awesome blog has taken a superb picture of Maple Leaf rock in situ, and it looks like this:

Not bad heh? Does this inspire you? It certainly works for me.

You can find this rock by clicking here

High light with low light plants = bad combo

You’ve got to get the levels right from the beginning and getting basics wrong like lighting just gives you a headache later on.

If you have high lighting, then the only way you will have success is if you have CO2, lots of ferts and great water distribution, and….lots of plants that like high light! Slow growers in high light tanks just doesn’t really work.

Low light plants are like that for a reason – they grow slowly and you can’t push them on quicker than their genetics allow them to. The classic example is moss – it will never grow quickly, no matter what. If you try and force it on with high lighting and lots of CO2, you’ll probably end up stressing it out and making it go yellow rather than the wonderful green you want it to.

So before you commit to high lighting, have a good hard think about the types of plants that you genuinely want to grow, and if you’re not sure, start with lower lighting – you can always build on that if and when your mind changes.

Do I really need fertilisers for my plants?


So many newcomers to the hobby are blighted by poor information on the internet dated from years ago, and sadly it’s wrong. So I wanted to make it very very clear:

You cannot rely on fish waste for plant nutrition

If you rely on fish waste for nutrition, your plants will suffer a nutrient deficiency and algae will take hold. Now there are some plants (like vallis) which is like a weed and grows in almost nothing, providing water conditions are suitable. But I’m not talking about weed like plants. I’m talking about the plants sold on our website – the attractive potted one’s that look truly wonderful given the right fertilisers.

So please remember this, and spread the word. You have to give your plants nutrition, and that always comes in a bottle form.

Wild discus in a tank

I’m not keen on the concept of having discus that have been caught from the wild and then placed in a tank – for me, it’s just not right. I’m fine with captive bred fish – no problems there but snatched from the wild? Seems a very harsh transformation. Anyway, I stumbled across this clip which shows wild discus, but I appreciate the lengths the hobbyist has gone to in order to replicate a natural environment for them. It’s a little cramped in there but fascinating to watch.

What are your thoughts about wild discus in aquariums?

My drop checker won’t change from blue – is it working?

Sure is and its giving you a clear message too.

If your drop checker is staying blue, there is almost zero CO2 in your water. But here’s the thing…

Drop checkers don’t actually monitor CO2, they monitor pH. When you add CO2 (an acidic gas) into your tank, it reduces the pH. When your drop checker is showing blue, it’s telling you the pH is around 8 (far too high for plants). As you inject CO2 your drop checker will change colour (assuming you’re injecting enough CO2). The solution will begin to look a bit more green. When it hits a nice shade of green it means your pH is about 6.8 and your CO2 levels are 30ppm (parts per million). Green is the ideal colour to aim for and what you need to strive for.

But all too often hobbyists don’t inject ANYWHERE ENOUGH CO2. In a 100L tank, you need to start with 1 bubble per second for 8 hours a day.

Any changes you make to your CO2 flow rate needs to be done slowly. Remember your drop checker operates in the past – it’s not like a test kit in the respect that you take a sample of water and do a reading. There’s a delay of about 2 hours – this is how long it takes for your drop checker to change colour. So if you tweak your CO2 levels now, wait 2 hours, then see what colour it has changed to.

Always make small gradual changes to CO2 flow rate, otherwise you could overdose your fish with CO2 and see them gasping at the surface of your tank.

Make sense? Any questions?

How to nail a 265x60x60cm planted aquarium…

YouTube is just so inspirational sometimes and this clip below is no different. It a BIG tank at 265cm wide so it’s no nano. Apart from the aquascape being lovely, the owner of the tank has got it right for many reasons. Watch the vid, then read my comments.


  1. You can see a substantial amount of CO2 coming out of the glass diffuser on the right hand side. So he gets a big tick there.
  2. The plants swaying nicely which means that nutrients and CO2 are being distributed (this is no mean feat in a large tank). This is a key reason why he has no algae (apart from having a high plant mass).
  3. Hydro Koralia pump (top right) is angled at 30 degrees directing water/CO2 into the main area of the tank – another tick.
  4. Wood and rock placement is excellent. The 2 main islands placed slightly off centre is very easy on the eye – tick.
  5. A lot of moss is used for this tank. This gives a great feeling of maturity and calmness. It appears to be java moss. Big tick.
  6. Lots of small fish used. Bigger fish would detract from the aquascape. Tick.
  7. Good use of transitional plants from foreground to midground – again this makes it look very natural and serene. Tick.

In summary this is a very skilled hobbyist who’s working his magic. Great job I’m sure you’ll agree.

What did you like about this tank?

Trim those pesky leaves

Plants need trimming all the time. If you want them to look their best and remain healthy and bushy, then you need to get your scissors out and give your plants a good trim. And generally, I don’t mean a little snip here and there, I mean hack them off. Stem plants for example, need to be cut very heavy, perhaps 50% off each time. But what about plants that some of you may never trim? Cryptocorynes.

Below I found a lovely YouTube clip that shows how to trim Cryptocoryne’s. The angled scissors (very nice) make light work and are accurate enough to provide clean crisp cuts. Crypocoryne’s (particularly in the early days) can lose their leaves especially if there is some melt. But rather than wait until the leaves go all mushy, nip them off.

It’s as easy as that…

Best Aquarium Fertiliser

Well this is a debatable one but like everything we sell we have preferences. These are based on quality of results and price and for something to be recommended as the best aquarium fertiliser, it’s got to stand above the others.

So I like products that are convenient and I’m sure you do, and also one’s that don’t hurt the pocket too much. Ideally you should be using a fertiliser that contains everything in one bottle – you don’t want to be faffing about with lots of different bottles, trying to work out which one you need today and how much you should be using. This just adds to the confusion and you don’t need that with a planted tank. After all it should be simple.

You also want a fertiliser in which you don’t feel like you’re worrying about the cost of, as you do need quite a lot of fertiliser when you’re running a planted tank, in particular a CO2 infused one.

So this narrows it down considerably. There aren’t many ferts that fit this bill in order to qualify as what i describe as the best aquarium fertiliser. So which one is it?
If you are running a planted tank which isn’t using pressurised CO2 then I am personally recommending Neutro T.

If you are using pressurised CO2 then I am recommending Neutro+.

In fact I recommend it so much that if you don’t get great results after using one of these products, I’ll give you your money back. Now which other retailers are that confident in the products the recommend?


Can Tropica 1-2 grow plants stay in pot indefinitely?

No is the short answer to this and the reason for it is very simple.

They are grown in a nutrient rich jelly that has a shelf life like anything in this world. Typically, the faster the plant grows, the less time it can stay in the jellied pot. So plants such as mosses which grow very slowly can stay in their pots for probably a few months and if you pop them in the fridge, they will last even longer – but the fridge really needs a light in for them to survive for the longest amount of time.

Plants which grow quicker such as Glossostigma can’t live in the pots for that long as they’re fast growers. Incidentally in the summer they grow really fast even with little light so the amount of time the plant can stay in the pot for is relatively short. This can make it difficult for retailers as if they’re not sold in time, they have to be binned (ouch £££).

You can tell if the plant has been in the pot for too long as it begins to die off or go and a pale green colour – a bit like it’s dehydrated. It will be limp and probably smell funny when you lift the lid off.

But either way these Tropica 1-2-grow! plants are excellent and there’s just something very cool looking at a plant that has been grown in a lab. In addtion when you buy 1-2-grow! plants from us, you only ever receive super fresh plants as we never send out anything less than 100%.

See the range here.

delivering knowledge, sharing ideas