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2021 Horticulturist of the Year

Michael Clough

After earning the Rookie award in 2020, Michael has seized the top-place Horticulturist of the Year for 2021.

Species Michael propagated and submitted in 2021
(June)10 pointsLilaeopsis novaezelandiae  (micro sword)
(June)10 pointsBacopa monnieri  (moneywort)
(June)15 pointsCryptocoryne balansae  (balansae)
(June) 5 pointsLemina minor  (duckweed)
(June)15 pointsRotalia rotundifolia  ("orange juice")
(June)10 pointsAmmania senegalensis  (copper leaf ammania)

Questions for Michael

You were last year’s Rookie Horticulturist.  What got you started in plants and what keeps you engaged with HAP?

Michael Clough tanksWhen I first started, I used fake décor and didn't plan how the tank would be setup. Throw some rocks over here, a few fake plants there and keep a good cleaning schedule. After keeping fish for a few years, I was looking for a new challenge. I didn't want to breed fish or try saltwater, but live plants caught my attention. I stumbled upon the Tropica website and their gallery floored me. I was amazed how anyone could mimic such a natural setup. 

To say aquascaping has been a challenge is an understatement. At first, it was a struggle just to keep any plant alive. But after hours of googling, reading forums and countless mistakes, I had success with low tech plants. Once I had low tech plants figured out, I moved on to harder to grow species. Venturing into high tech plants, requiring C02 and higher light felt like going back to square one, with many failures. With more research and patience I was able to not only grow high tech plants, but propagate them.

With so many variety of plants to grow, there are endless possibilities to each aquascape. I've started creating different style aquascapes, which are challenges within themselves. The past two years, I've shifted to propagating as many plants as possible to share with the community. Once one is shared, I add in a new one. Hopefully many new additions are in store for 2022!

Tell us a little about your fishroom and your set up for propagating plants.

display tank by Michael CloughI'm lucky enough to have enough space in our downstairs bar area to have all my tanks on display. They are on 3 different walls, so you get a 360 degree feel when viewing. Currently I have 5 tanks in various shapes and sizes. The largest is a 5ft 120 gallon natural style. Also natural style are a 45 gallon cube and a 10 gallon cube. A 10 gallon "pennisula" is a loosely attempted dutch style. The smallest tank is a 4 gallon iwagumi. I propagate plants in the setups from mostly trimmings. If I am working on a specific plant, I reserve some space in that tank. Each tank gets a 50% weekly water change. I use a 30 foot water line ran through a whole home filter tapped into the bar's sinks water lines for clean water. Waste water uses a 300 gph pump attached to another 30 foot line that I drop in the sink.

How high-tech have you gone in your working with plants?  how much effort have you invested in growing plants?

Enough for me! I don't have a Felix Smart system or anything but I do have some great equipment. I enjoy keeping an eye on things and adjusting levels as needed. All of my tanks are dosed EI, have C02 and a high light capable fixture. While high light is available, I stick to medium light. Once I got a PAR meter I knew I was invested in high-tech. Two tanks split a CO2 tank but all others have their own CO2 setup.

Lots of trial of error has been put into each tank but they are mostly on cruise control now. Countless hours tinkering with CO2, adjusting waterflow and measuring light levels have been put in.

To what extent, if any, do you see yourself as an aquascaper? (or are you interested only in growing plants?)

I don't plan on building scapes for competition but I do enjoy the planning, setup and execution of different designs or styles. The hobby provides a lot of relaxation and I don't want to bring stress into it.

 What plans do you have with your fishroom and plant work over the next year?

Currently planning a redesign of the 45 gallon and 10 gallon cube. Would like to reset, with all new plants. Debating on turning the 45 gallon cube into a mangrove tank for a new challenge. For plants, I want to add a few rarer anubias and add more red plants.

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