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Water Conditioners For Planted Aquariums

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

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

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

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

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

Gravels and Substrates in a Planted Aquarium

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

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

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

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