I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about taking care of planted aquariums. So, I decided to start a new Aquarium Care series that covers this topic. Over the next several Aquarium Care articles, I’ll explain the basics of keeping aquariums with a thriving assortment of plants.
So, what is a planted aquarium anyway? What makes these aquariums different from other tropical fish tanks?
To put it very briefly, planted aquariums are ones that rely primarily on plants for aesthetic appeal. In other words, plants serve as the heart of the planted aquarium with tropical fish accenting and complementing the lush underwater garden.
For this reason, planted aquariums are specially made for providing plants with a suitable environment. Success with this planted type of aquarium, therefore, requires a bit of extra planning in order to ensure the health of your plants. Indeed, lighting quality, water-flow, substrate type, the variety and amount of tropical fish your aquarium sustains, and perhaps the addition of extra equipment are all issues to consider before setting up a new planted aquarium or converting an existing freshwater fish tank into an aquatic garden.
That said, the extra planning and input will go a long way. Moreover, both the presence of plants and the extra attention you’ll pay to maintaining optimum water conditions will significantly contribute to the health and vitality of you fish. Believe it or not, tropical fish and aquarium plants share many basic needs.
Like all plants, aquarium plants rely on photosynthesis for the production of food. They need light for nutrition and growth. Choosing suitable aquarium lights, therefore, seems like the natural starting point for planning a planted aquarium.
While regular tropical fish tanks will do well with normal output fluorescent lights, planted aquariums require a more heavy duty solution. That’s because normal output bulbs – the type used for household use and, unfortunately, for most aquarium “kits” and complete setups – produce a small amount of poor quality light.
In other words, the intensity of normal output fluorescent bulbs is not strong enough to sustain aquarium plant growth. These bulbs also tend to produce a reddish yellowish hued light that will stimulate algae growth, but won’t do wonders for your plants.
Fortunately, there are other lighting solutions for the planted aquarium. Metal halide bulbs work wonderfully. Nevertheless, they are both costly and expensive to operate (they’ll double your electricity bill!). Power compact fluorescent bulbs are also great and cost much less than their metal halide counterparts, but they’re still not the best way to go.
Instead, I highly recommend T5 fluorescent bulbs for planted aquariums.
T5’s are long lived, they produce a high quality of light, they pack more punch per Watt than other bulbs (excluding metal halides), they’re more compact than their normal output fluorescents (T12’s or T8’s, depending on where you live), and they don’t produce excessive heat! T5’s stay cool. They are by far the best lighting solution in the planted aquarium hobby.
With T5 bulbs, I suggest getting about 2 to 3 Watts per gallon. This arrangement will ensure that your aquarium plants will receive the sustenance they need to thrive under your care.
That’s it for this Planted Aquarium Care 101 post. In the next installment of the series, I’ll discuss plant varieties according to lighting needs: namely the so called low light, medium light, and high light aquatic plant categories.