Author: Karl Schoeler
Month (classic years): Jan/Feb
original AquaNews publication: 1991 Nov/Dec
Uses Article Format: YES
editor's comments: In 1991 the aquarium hobby was becoming fascinated with the planted aquarium and aquarists were struggling to understand how to be successful

TANK SIZE: A 55 gallon aquarium was chosen because of its popularity, overall size and price. In addition, lighting for this size is easy to come by.

LIGITING: Two 48" fluorescent lamps. Preferably a full spectrum lamp that duplicates the sun as closely as possible. Lamps are on for 12 hours a day.

FILTRATION: I chose a Magnum 330 canister filter (continuous duty), however there are several excellent canister filters available, as well as outside power filters that could be used. No under gravel should be used. No air pump is needed. The addition of a spray bar, just under the surface, to diffuse the return water is a good idea. Elimination of air bubbles diffused into the tank will enhance the clarity while not significantly changing the dissolved oxygen content. This also makes for a much cleaner, easier to maintain, aquarium rim.

FILTER MEDIA: Inside the carbon cartridge I substituted a small cotton sock filled with peat moss. I then filled the remainder of the canister with white filter floss. The outside of the cartridge is wrapped with a pad of this filter floss and held in place by two rubber bands. No carbon should be used. A complete filter change is made once a month.

HEATING: Since I had a 100 watt heater in this tank already, I used it. The temperature hovers around 82 degrees. As the tank is situated high enough off of the floor, no under tank heater is needed.

TANK PLACEMENT: No sunlight and high enough off of the floor to eliminate chills.

TANK BACKGROUND: A black plastic bag, doubled, seems to enhance the plants appearance, and I like the price. Make sure it is secured all the way around with wide clear tape so as not to get wet between the tank and the plastic.

WATER CONDITIONS: Burnsville water. pH runs about 7.8 in the tank, but nothing is done to condition the water except the addition of a small amount of peat moss in the canister filter and an appropriate dechlorinator on water changes.

FERTILIZER: 5ml per 10 gallons of water on water changes only. This iron based fertilizer is crystal clear and will not cloud the tank. The remainder of the trace elements needed for good plant health comes from the water changes and fish waste.

GRAVEL: The gravel in this tank was "old and dirty" having been in a goldfish feeder tank for six months. No effort was made to clean the gravel. If new gravel is used, it will take several months to "condition" before plants will do well in it. No fertilizer was added to the gravel. A small round BB size gravel is ideal for plants.

corkscrew Vallisnaria -  charcoal illustratedPLANTS AND PLANTING: A wide variety of plants are available but I would caution you to research the plant types and eliminate bog and swamp plants and other plants that were not meant to be grown submerged. There are some exceptions. Try to pick the seemingly easier plants to raise at first, then move into the more difficult types. The fast growing plants should be mixed in with the slower growing ones to better utilize the fertilizer and oxygenate the tank better. In this tank I placed the following plants:

  • 10 Vallisneria sp. (corkscrew)
  • 10 Vallisneria sp. (Crystal river) 6 Cryptocoryne wendtii
  • 2 Anubias congensis
  • 2 Hygrophila polysperma (variagated) 5 Java fern (see below)
  • 1 Nomophila stricta
  • 7 Echinodorus sp. (Sword plants) 2 Cryptocoryne affinis
  • 3 Rotala rotundafolia
  • 1 Aponogeton crispus
  • 1 Indian fern (not Water sprite)

The Java Fern was planted by attaching it to a large piece of driftwood that was secured to a piece of slate. The rest of the plants were arranged according to height and texture to create a pleasing visual effect. The Idea being to fill the tank with plants and providing enough light and fertilizer to effectively starve out the unwanted algae.

ALGAE: The only algae that does well in this aquarium is green hair algae. It is easily harvested and does not pose any problem. This algae is an indicator that all things are well in the tank.

FISH: The following fish were place in this aquarium:
  • 4 Ottocinclus (algae eaters) 4 Chinese algae eaters
  • 4 Black tetras
  • 4 Serpae tetras
  • 5 Red Swordtails
  • 4 Melanotaenia bosemani (Rainbows) 8 Assorted tetras (no Neons)
  • 3 Black Lyretail Mollies

This list is still pretty much intact, although I do add and subtract fish occasionally. I have also found many other kinds of fish to be acceptable in a planted aquarium, including some of the African cichlids.

This aquarium is on display at Exciting Fish in Burnsville. It has been set up since the last week in May of 1991 and I have had to harvest plants from it several times. Since it is in a shop, I don't get a lot of time to spend on it. This leads me to the conclusion that not only is a plant tank easy, it is also an easy tank to maintain. The only maintenance items required are water changes at 3 week intervals and filter changes once per month. The hair algae is easily removed by wrapping it around a finger and pulling it off. A stick will perform the same function. I clean only the front glass as that is the only viewing surface

I have several large tanks at home that I inject with CO2 and use reverse osmosis (R.O.) water to alter the conditions of my tap water.  This requires much more time, effort, and expense.  I have proven with this 55 gallon aquarium that all the high-tech equipment can be avoided and yet still have beautiful plants.  You are welcome to come and see this aquarium.  It may instill in you the desire to raise plants and fish.