Best Live Aquarium Plants

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Designing a Fish Tank with Live Giant Hairgrass

Eleocharis montevidensis or giant hairgrass is a gorgeous edition to most tanks. For those who like to keep a tank that looks simplistic and modern, a great edition to a Fluval design will do well in implementing a planting of hairgrass.

Hairgrass should be grown in tanks with fish that are smaller than one inch. I like it in my neon tetra and zebra danios tank. It also looks way more attractive planted in longer rather than taller tanks. To pull off the short and tall look one needs a large center piece like a twisting and crooked driftwood piece that starts from the bottom and goes to the top.

The best photos of hairgrass are deceptive. Typically a 5-10 gallon tank will have 15-20 of these planted to give the field of grass look. This is the most desirable look. One or two plants looks kind of out of place and does not provide the desired look of giving the fish a natural location for protection and breeding.

Eleocharis montevidensis also pairs well with mosses. Because it makes such a showy scene, reminisient of a Japanese garden only one or two companions should be choosen. Less is more as far as variety is concerned. Stick with a moss because it will make the foreground look much larger and the difference in size between the moss and the hairgrass will be more pronounced.

Besides a strong and tall piece of driftwood in tall tanks, longer shorter tanks would be well to include several smaller rocks. Focus on dark, metallic, gray looking rocks with rough edges, and natural dark spots. The dull elements in the dark crevices of the rock will really couple with the drama you are building.

As usual, this scene is set up nicely with Fluval Stratum. Here's my guide to choosing a substrate for your aquarium.

Monday, November 28, 2016

What are the Pros and Cons of Buying Fluval Aquariums Over Cheap Tetra Tanks?

This is a question I get a lot: "what makes Fluval tanks so expensive?" Or better yet: "why should I buy any other tank other than a Fluval aquarium?" The two are related because the Fluval brand is one of the most expensive on the market. Usually more than one hundred dollars for a modest 10 gallon or less tank. Whereas for less than $50 you could go to your local market and get a 50 gallon tank for under $50.

Here's what you should consider before buying a Fluval tank and why I think they might be the right fit for you.

First of all, I have upgraded all of my tanks to Fluval. That's the full disclosure. I know the pros and cons and can live with them.

Fluval Tanks are a Pain in the Butt to Clean

And just to be honest, here's the biggest con associated with the Fluval brand: they are really hard to clean. The attractive square design and the look of an infinity pool at the top leaves little space for the dilligent fish keeper to clean. If you are like me you prefer to get in there with a brush or even a magnet algae cleaner on a regular basis, often a few times a month.

What I have learned from this is to be really diligent about filling the tank with what I want, cleaning it prior and introducing the right living material in the tank so as not to make it a real pain in the butt when I absolutely have to clean.

For starters, anything you put in the tank has to come from a great source. If you are going to your local pond or lake and pulling pond scum, plants, frogs and turtles, Fluval is not for you. Go for Tetra. You will need to diligently clean the tank and you will need to constantly rearrange the space to accommodate the needs of the living species in there as they adapt to their new environment.

Don't buy fish at just any big box store. If you are buying a Fluval tank order your fish from a specialist. This might be in town, probably not anymore though. Online orders are actually a great idea. Choose same or next day shipping.

Finally fill the tank with the right species to keep it clean. I choose live plants that are not going to be constantly falling apart or decomposing in the aquarium that I have to fish them out. If you don't get an algae-eater fish, go for snails. In my Fluval's I have two snails for each, sometimes many more when they reproduce. This is a necessity even in a five gallon tank.

Fluval Tanks are Sexy

That chic square design that feels like something out of Europe or better yet, IKEA is pretty slick. It actually looks really sexy in a modern home design. Even in a cozy, shabby chic home Fluval tanks look like they belong.

You might be thinking this is no big deal but it really is the biggest deal. How long are you planning on keeping a fish tank in the house? Realistically, it's not going to sit there for a year or less. Most people buy a tank, fill it up, and forget about it except for a couple of times a year over the next decade or two. If your tank is going to be in your house for 10+ why not get something that's going to look great?

Because of the square and elevated designs of the Fluval tanks viewing is much easier. This can be a huge advantage for someone who really appreciates showing off their tank and species within it. I like to enjoy the shrimp crawling over and out of the mosses that I have attached to driftwood. It is relaxing and totally therapeutic.

Overall everything just looks natural. The lack of plastic barriers between the sides of the glass gives the impression that the tank is just part of the landscape of the house. You almost forget the fish are in a tank.

Bottom Line: You're going to have a tank for a long time. Decide what you want. Tetra tanks are much easier to manually clean and are significantly cheaper. Fluval tanks are gorgeous looking, but difficult to manually clean and a lot more expensive. What fits your lifestyle?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What Size Aquarium or Fish tank do I Need to Grow Live Plants?

This was a topic I was going to write about a couple of years ago actually when the idea for developing this blog first came about. I like most people started filling my first tank (10 gallon Tetra kit) with plastic neon plants. I never realized as a youth that I could be afforded the chance to replace those with way better live plants that I could buy at my local Meijer or Walmart. Of course, later I would buy them online or reputable hobby aquarium shops. One thing that took a long time to understand though, was what size of tank I needed in order to grow my live plants. Here's my simple guide.

If you are going to be putting live plants in the Tetra 3 Gallon like the one pictured to the right, which I don't recommend you buy if you are serious about this hobby, you are going to be limited to 2-3 plants max! This is mostly due to the size, though the awkward entry point from the LED light at the top makes maintaining and planting in these cube tanks tough.

Planting live plants in anything smaller than a 3 gallon is just irresponsible and stupid. I've seen pictures all the time of fancy home designs in magazines or on Pinterest that have tiny fish tanks all around with one betta or guppie each, and some with a huge plant. All of us hobby aquarium keepers know that that is immoral and no fun for the fish or the hobbyist. Three gallon is the minimum with the only exception being moss balls.

Once we get a little higher than three gallon it starts to open up some doors for more elaborate live plantings. It also allows for some really cool dedicated aquascaping which is really what our eventual goal is. In a five gallon tank consider the placement of the plants and the focal point you want to create. Starting at that size, a lot of aquarium owners love to make a piece of driftwood or lava rock the center piece with the plants surrounding it but not overbearing it.

When you get to a ten gallon or more tank you are able to take advantage of beautiful lush landscapes of live plants like you never imagined. Though you will have to keep in mind, limiting natural light because it will cause algae outbreaks, and the use of C02 since you will have so many plants in there working so hard to thrive.

In the bigger tanks I've always enjoyed creating a full background. Instead of buying those neon colored backgrounds with photographs of someone else's tank, why not fill your own? Look for tall and full plants for the back. In the mid ground leave pockets of space open so that you can view your fish and create more natural focal points. I love placing smaller river stones in those locations, giving my snails a place to hide. And finally in the foreground place the smaller mosses and java ferns that are short and stubby. You don't want to hide your beautiful designs with plants that grow way to tall and bushy.

So what's the rule? There really is no rule. Just consider the space your fishes need to swim in to be comfortable and enjoyable for both you and them. Stuffing a bunch of live plants in a one gallon or less tank is really not a good idea. Three gallon is your minimum for planting and should be limited to just a couple of breath-taking or forgettable plants, depending on what your centerpiece is. After you get past five gallons the sky is the limit. Just remember it's more maintenance for you then.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Moving and New Gear - Aquarium Plans for 2016

It's been a long time since I've posted on here and just wanted to stop by and touch base. I'm still in the aquarium hobby, but I moved just after my last post in 2014 and just moved more recently a couple of months ago. During that two year period I was without aquariums completely. It was hard and actually quite brutal.

Thankfully, I'm back to civilization at a place where I can have my own tanks again. Hopefully over the next couple of months I can share some more reviews with you as I have some new Fluval tanks, some new gear, new substrate to review, and some different plants to write about.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

3 Important Needs to Consider Before Putting Live Plants in your Fish Tank

Growing live plants in your aquarium takes some work and discipline. Notably, it generally requires a hobby aquarium keeper to keep a clean and tidy tank, to keep track of everything and to react to changes. Here are a few things to consider before putting in live plants. 

Needs for Photosynthesis and Light

The first thing though before getting into live plants is to understand how they work. Live plants remove carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the water during photosynthesis and use nitrates generated by the nitrogen cycle.
In low light or in darkness, plants do not photosynthesize; instead they produce carbon dioxide like fish. Have you noticed the dirtiness of the tank, the ease with which plants wilt and look like mush? Without proper light, the pH and water quality will be adversely affected.

Food – Plants Provide it but Should you Rely on it?

Another important factor to consider before putting live plants in your tank is that they are another element of food for your fish and other animals. The reality is, some fish will eat plants down to the roots, others will slowly nibble on them over the course of months and years. The sooner you can cope with this the better. That is why it is of incredible importance to pair the right plants with the right fish.
With that in mind, you now have to budget your fishes food more carefully. Will you constantly supply live plants instead of food, or will you continue to buy fish food, stocking your tank with plants that fish are not likely to eat? Again, it’s in the research.

Filtration is Essential but a Great Filter is Better

The average filter that you get at Wal-Mart or the big box store from a company like Betta, is not going to be the best filter for keeping live plants. Yes, you can use one and at the absolute least you should. However you need to consider a more reliable filtration system for your tank. The more consistently filtered it is, the more it is like real life fresh water bodies.
The greatest filters are not alone in saving your plants. You may need to invest a few more bucks into a heater (not expensive), a lighting unit (not expensive) and a C02 system (a little more expensive). The point I’m getting at here is, you can get by without the highest end supplies. Just remember, with aquariums and live plants, the best the product, the better experience and life of your plants. They are an investment.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

How to Pick out a Healthy Live Aquarium Plant at the Store

Have you ever looked at the live plants in the aquarium and pet section of your average big box store? Most, like Wal-Mart and even Pet Smart are in awful shape. They look bruised, decayed and dead. Before putting down your hard earned money on another plant for your tank, consider these guidelines for choosing the optimal healthy plant to add to your aquarium.

Dividing the Roots

Although often forgotten, because they might be difficult to see, the roots are the most important element of the live aquarium plant. Look for a specimen that has sturdy looking roots. If the employee will allow you, touch the roots. They should be firm and not mushy. If only a few roots are mushy but, overall the plant is looking great you should be okay, just cut them off when you get home with a sterile and sharp blade.
Besides the health of the roots, look for evidence of new growth in the roots. You want to buy a live plant that is actively growing, not one that is struggling to survive. You should see some small rootlets and roots emerging from the massive of roots at the base. Even if you only see one or two, that is fine, the more the better. They will often appear stubby and pearly white in color.

Looking at the Color

The color of the plant is an easy indication of whether or not it has received the proper nutrients and essentials in the tank at the store.  If you know what it is supposed to look like, compare it to an example in your home tank or guide book.  Most plants at big box stores are often yellow or light green in complexion when they should be dark green. Examples that are darker or deeper in color are often those that receive plenty of light, good filtration and are absorbing nutrients from the substrate properly.

Inspecting the Leaves

Although it is the first thing most people look at, the quality of the leaves is probably the least consideration because they are the easiest to repair and grow back, even on an injured or dying plant. If all else looks good and you are only choosing your plant based on the leaves, look most importantly for growth on the leaves. 

Many plants go through cycles and will drop their leaves or allow them to waste away in an effort to use more energy (photosynthesis) to create younger, stronger leaves. Sometimes these leaves are even the basis for a whole new plant.

If you do decide to buy a plant with struggling leaves that are heavily decayed and have an odor to them, cut them off when you get home, using a sterile sharp instrument. They should recover just fine.

Things to Remember - Final Thoughts

Remember that in a big box store, or even pet supply store, fish and their plants are not exactly the highest priority. You might have to wait and wait for a long time before an employee will help you. The reality is, money is not made here and the company hardly cares about keeping things in good shape.

Nevertheless, you are a paying customer. Take your time to pick out the appropriate plant for you and your aquarium. You are the one who has to live with it and is spending the money. You should pick something that is healthy and looks to be growing. The employee helping you might not know much about aquarium plants, so don’t assume so. Educate yourself.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Beginners Guide to Aquascaping – Planning your Planted Tank

Aquascaping is the term used to describe setting up the inside of your aquarium or fish tank so that it is pleasing to the human eye as well as your inhabitants – namely fish. Although it does include rocks, gravel, soil, wood, live plants will often play the most important role.

First, you absolutely need to plan how your set up will look and how you will use your space. Nothing is more frustrating than finishing an aquascape, only to find that it is unappealing, unrealistic or does not allow a healthy environment for the fish. Sit down and draw out your design. Be realistic with the space that you have and don’t overdo it. This step will also help you save a lot of money. Another great idea is to get a photo of a favorite tank and copy that design.

The next consideration in aquascaping is where the tank is located and how it can be viewed by the average person. If the tank can only be viewed from the front and the sides, for example are attached to the wall, a scene that depicts a never-ending tank might be appropriate. Always plan for what yourself and your guests can and should see. If the tank can be viewed from all angles, be sure to keep that in mind.

After that you will need to decide on your focal point. What will be the center of attention? Or will there be none? Generally this is a large rock or branch in the middle of the tank. However it could also be a series of rocks or a series of plants. Maybe it is a large plant. What is it that viewers will first be drawn to? What impression do you want to make? The rest will follow.

Less is often more in these designs. When aquascaping, avoid the temptation to overfill your tank. Nature rarely provides such a crowded space in just 10 or so gallons. Likewise, try to stick to odd numbers. Nature also rarely provides even numbers, pairs or sets of anything. Grouping like plants and rocks together makes sense, arranging them in order or symmetry will not.

When choosing your rocks, stone and plants go to a trusted source. Digging them right out of a local freshwater body will often have dangerous consequences. Rocks that you just find outside could be rough or sharp, injuring fish. Driftwood from your local beach will often have diseases and microorganisms that are dangerous to your fish. At the least they will need to be boiled. Forget outdoor plants too. Quality pet supply stores will have everything you need. Otherwise, find a great seller on eBay.

Finally, have a theme in mind or a plan. Nothing looks and feels more ridiculous than plants growing with rocks which don’t fit or colored sand with plastic pirates. Try to be as realistic as possible and capture a scene from nature that could be actually available in some fresh body of water. Always maintain a swimming spot (wide open area) and stick to the theme.