A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

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A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:04 am

And here we go...

Lots of questions about starting planted tanks lately, so I'm finally getting around to typing up a little something-something. Here's what you need to know about growing some green.


Tank Size

When it comes to tank size, the only limitation is your budget. Tanks have been successfully setup on the pico/tea-cup scale(literally...a teacup) all the way up to 400-500 gallons and beyond. As can be expected, the larger the tank, the deeper you are going to have to dig into your wallet.


Heat and Temp

Anything works really...if you are running a canister I suggest a Hydor inline that will be adequate for your tank. Remember, as with everything in the world of aquaria, factory ratings are usually about half of what you should really run. Plants, for the most part, don't like higher temps. I keep my planted tanks around 76*. If you get into higher you'll see limited growth and poor results overall.

Filtration
There are all kinds of options for filtration. Planted tanks can honestly be run with no other filtration other than something to move the water around, and a lot of people explore this option. Air driven sponge filters also work great for a variety of tank size. Hang on Back filters are a popular option as well. If you are serious about your planted tank, a canister filter is probably your best option. This allows you to get a lot of your equipment out of the tank, giving a cleaner appearance, and makes it easier to setup an inline heater and CO2. Canister filters also produce a lot of nitrates, which plants suck right up for growth. The only filtration that is "frowned upon," for lack of better words, is an Under Gravel Filter. The roots dig in to the undergravel filter not only clogging it up, but making it ridiculously difficult to rescape.

Substrate
Oh where to begin...most substrates will allow you to keep plants fine. Pea sized gravel and smaller will work for plants to root into. Any bigger, and your plants will just float away and not be able to develop any sort of root system. Larger substrates also do not hold nutrients well.

A popular option is pool filter sand or black blasting crystals. Both of these substrates are clean, cheap, and effective. They hold nutrients fairly well, lend themselves pretty well to the development of plant root systems, and are normally aesthetically pleasing. Pool filter sand is preferred over playground sand because it is much cleaner. Playground sand can be used, but should be rinsed before use, and even then...usually causes massive dust storms perpetually clouding your tank.

Another popular substrate is Eco-complete, or similar "planted tank specific" substrates. Its easy. Its clean. It has a variety of grain sizes. And its loaded with nutrients. Looks good and natural. No muddy mess. No dust to worry about. Its my favorite. While being a little more expensive than most substrates...you get what you pay for, and Eco gives results.

Potting soil and clay are rich in nutrients, and many planted tank enthusiasts use these combined with something like a fine gravel or pool filter sand. The substrates layered placing the nutrient-rich substrate on the bottom of the tank, with a "cap" of sand or fine gravel placed on top. This helps reduce the mess of having the soil or clay in the tank. It does yield great growth. However, if you are like me and like to mix your substrate around and rescape often...it may be more of a hassle than its worth. I keep crypts in all of my tanks which are incredibly heavy rooters. Pulling a crypt out of two layers of substrate trying not to mix them together and make a mess does not sound like my idea of a good time. As always, though, your mileage may vary.

Many people are experimenting with other, less common substrates nowadays. Cat litter is one of them, and while I have no experience with it...it sounds like a dusty, cloudy mess to me. I may give it a shot sometime though to see if I change my mind.

Flow
Unlike saltwater tanks, flow really isn't a huge deal in planted tanks. It really comes down to personal preference. Most people don't want their plants bent over in a whitewater current, but you should have enough flow to keep any debris from settling and building up on your substrate.

Lighting
Lighting is another very broad category with more options than you can shake a stick at(natural sunlit, led, T8 fluorescent, T5 fluorescent, Metal Halide, Compact Fluorescent...etc). Again...personal preference as they have all been proven to work with a little tinkering. Planted tanks usually develop nicely when sticking to the Watt Per Gallon(WPG) theory. Its as simple as it sounds...a watt of light per gallon of water. Simply put...a 20 gallon tank with a 20 watt light over it would be rated at...1 WPG. This idea does get a bit skewed when you mess around with goofy tanks that are either really tall or really shallow. For the most part though, its a good baseline to start with.

Plants are usually described as low light, medium light, or high light. Low light being about 1.5 WPG and below. High light being closer to 4 WPG and up. Medium light being anything in between. More light demanding plants are generally more visually appealing, but are also more nutrient demanding. When setting up your tank, it is important to consider your goals with the tank. Its easier to buy a more expensive light the first time, than to buy a lower light fixture and replace it later, because you want to open up your options for light.

Higher light gives you the ability to successfully grow a wider variety of plants, but it also has its drawbacks. Aside from the additional financial expense, higher light and more light demanding plants will usually require the introduction of fertilizers for additional nutrients in your water column. Also, the more light you have, the more algae you are likely to grow in your tank. Fertilizers as well as CO2 will help with the algae, but again...at the cost of reaching a little further into your wallet.

I prefer T5 lights for planted tanks. You have a wide variety of options for bulb length and color. Regardless of your bulb type, a bulb temp of 6700 seems to yield the best results, and combined with a 10000k bulb, you get the growth of the 6700k bulb with the white color of the 10000k bulb. Anything over 10000k isn't really beneficial to your plants, and anything lower than 67000k looks too yellow for most people. However, as with anything...your tanks color is personal preference.

Carbon Dioxide
The addition of Carbon Dioxide(CO2) to your planted tank will enhance growth and reduce algae growth. The most common ways of doing so are DIY CO2, which involves creating your own CO2 with yeast and sugar, and pressurized CO2, which uses a pressurized CO2 cylinder to inject CO2 into your tank.

DIY CO2 is usually setup using 2 liter soda bottles, a couple cups of sugar, and a pinch of yeast. Exact "recipes" can be found using google, and I'll post a couple at a later time. The sugar and yeast are mixed in the 2 liter soda bottle. A bit of air tubing then runs from the soda bottle to some sort of diffuser in your tank. The sugar and yeast release CO2 as fermentation occurs, and the CO2 travels through the tubing to your diffuser.

A CO2 diffuser is basically any device used to diffuse the CO2 into your water column. Commercial diffusers are usually a small glass piece that resides in your tank. Other methods involved routing your tubing into the intake of a powerhead to create tiny micro bubbles of CO2 that dissolve in your water column.

Pressurized CO2 is more expensive, obviously, but more reliable and easier to control. A pressurized CO2 setup consists of a pressurized CO2 cylinder, a regulator, a pair of gauges, a solenoid, a needle valve, a bubble counter, air tubing, and a diffuser or reactor...in that order. The gauges measure the tank pressure and the pressure after the regulator. The solenoid is used to turn your CO2 on and off(I'll dig into this deeper later). The bubble counter is simply a plastic cylinder usually filled with mineral oil or something similar to measure the amount of CO2 being injected in your tank. This is adjusted by the needle valve which allows fine tuning of your CO2 pressure. The airline tubing from a pressurized setup is usually plumbed inline with your canister filter. If you are using your canister filter as a diffuser/reactor, the CO2 line will be plumbed into the intake line of your canister. The canister's impeller then breaks up the CO2 into microbubbles in your water column. Otherwise, a reactor is used which can be as simple as a large PVC pipe with a bunch of bioballs thrown in it. This reactor is placed in the output line of your canister filter and diffuses the CO2 into your water column.

The amount of CO2 being injected into a tank is usually referred to as bubbles per second(BPS). This is calculated by the number of bubbles of CO2 that pass through your bubble counter each second. Injecting more CO2 is used to reduce algae growth, and enhance plant growth. However, too much CO2 can become a problem with your fish which can only stand certain CO2 levels in the water column. If your fish seem to have a hard time breathing, are staying near the surface, and are gasping for air, you need to adjust your CO2 or your surface agitation to increase O2 levels in your tank.


I tried to cover all of the equipment topics of setting up a planted tank. My next post will go into actually setting up and running a planted tank such as the actual "planting" process, some suggested plants, and I will touch on fertilizers, etc.
Last edited by black hills tj on Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:40 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby THills » Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:31 am

black hills tj wrote:The only filtration that is "frowned upon," for lack of better words, is an Under Gravel Filter. The roots dig in to the undergravel filter not only clogging it up, but making it ridiculously difficult to rescape.


Unless your using a tight-weave filter media over the UG plates with sand over the media.

Ridiculously low maintenance and low initial and continuing cost. ;)
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:38 am

THills wrote:
black hills tj wrote:The only filtration that is "frowned upon," for lack of better words, is an Under Gravel Filter. The roots dig in to the undergravel filter not only clogging it up, but making it ridiculously difficult to rescape.


Unless your using a tight-weave filter media over the UG plates with sand over the media.

Ridiculously low maintenance and low initial and continuing cost. ;)


To each their own.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby isu712 » Wed Feb 06, 2013 12:21 pm

black hills tj wrote:
THills wrote:
black hills tj wrote:The only filtration that is "frowned upon," for lack of better words, is an Under Gravel Filter. The roots dig in to the undergravel filter not only clogging it up, but making it ridiculously difficult to rescape.


Unless your using a tight-weave filter media over the UG plates with sand over the media.

Ridiculously low maintenance and low initial and continuing cost. ;)


To each their own.


I'm with Mike on this one. They'll just turn into nitrate factories. Some nitrates are necessary in a planted tank, but you can definitely go too high as is apparent from some other threads here.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby Korrine » Sun Feb 10, 2013 8:32 pm

Nice!! I'm thinking about turning the boy's 29g into a freshy planted :)
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby isu712 » Sun Feb 10, 2013 8:36 pm

I think we have another convert. I love it.

If you decide to change it over let me know. My tank will be coming down soon, so I'll have some great additions if you want them.

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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Sun Feb 10, 2013 9:51 pm

isu712 wrote:I think we have another convert. I love it.

If you decide to change it over let me know. My tank will be coming down soon, so I'll have some great additions if you want them.

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Do this.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby Korrine » Sun Feb 10, 2013 9:55 pm

Yep. I pm'd him to ask his time frame.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby Korrine » Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:45 pm

With the help of isu, I have decided to buy the dual T5 HO light for the 29g.

It's the 30" freshwater.
http://www.drsfostersmith.com/product/p ... atid=23753

I'm also getting a new heater. I figure if I'm going all out with live plants I better not skimp on a necessary part. Old one is several years old.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby Shepherd_00 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:49 pm

Substrate.... I know sand works pretty well for most anything planted, but what about other stuff? Anyone else have experience with other planted tank substrate? Like Seachem Flourite, Carib Sea Flora Max, Eco Complete, or this stuff from aquariumplants.com (which is located in Tea, SD.... Who knew?).... So far my pool filter sand seems to be working pretty well, specially now that I have a new light on it. However I have a gift card to Petsmart burning a hole in my pocket and was thinking about trying one of these other substrates, maybe just starting with my 5 gallon. Wondering if anyone has tried any of this other stuff has worked well.

http://www.aquariumplants.com/Freshwate ... e_p/ss.htm
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125 Gallon - 1 red devil, 1 Jaguars, 2 convicts, 3 black belts

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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby isu712 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:59 pm

Just about any of those substrates you listed will work better than the sand. They'll do a much better job of holding nutrients, which any heavy root feeders will love.

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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby Shepherd_00 » Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:23 pm

Just found this on Amazon. I guess Fluval is throwing their hat in the ring too on planted substrates. And it's a bit of an expensive hat... It's called Stratum. Looks like similar stuff of everything I just mentioned. They even have specialized Shrimp Stratum substrate. About $20 for 8 and a half pounds. Sheesh!

http://www.amazon.com/Hagen-Stratum-Sub ... B004OQSOKY
6 Gallon - Dirted & Planted Fluval Edge Tank of Red Cherry Shrimp
29 Gallon - 5 Turquoise Australian Rainbows, 2 Gold/Lavender Gouramis, Bristle Nose and Clown Pleco
90 Gallon - 2 Red Devils, 1 Large Male Piebald and a female
125 Gallon - 1 red devil, 1 Jaguars, 2 convicts, 3 black belts

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." - Romans 1:20
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby Shepherd_00 » Fri Feb 15, 2013 11:11 am

Had some store credit at my local fish store and ordered 2 big bags of Seachem Onyx Sand. Only thing I know about it is that it can raise pH a bit, sometimes a whole point. Other than that, and not being as black as I would like for the substrate, it should work well. Anyone had any experience with it before?
6 Gallon - Dirted & Planted Fluval Edge Tank of Red Cherry Shrimp
29 Gallon - 5 Turquoise Australian Rainbows, 2 Gold/Lavender Gouramis, Bristle Nose and Clown Pleco
90 Gallon - 2 Red Devils, 1 Large Male Piebald and a female
125 Gallon - 1 red devil, 1 Jaguars, 2 convicts, 3 black belts

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." - Romans 1:20
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby shifty51008 » Fri May 17, 2013 3:05 am

Is part 2 gonna be comming soon? I am gonna try setting up a low light low tech tank up. Just need some lights for a 46 gal bow tank left to get it setup i think
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 17, 2013 4:51 pm

I think I can do that. i have a 36" 4x96w CF fixture if you are in the narket. its a current orbit.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby shifty51008 » Fri May 17, 2013 5:51 pm

wouldn't that be to much light over a 46 gal tank? I am trying to make this setup fairly easy to take care of as there won't be much that he will be able to do on his own except top off the water.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Thu May 23, 2013 10:56 pm

Yeah, it would be a lot of light, just an option if you wanted to look into a higher tech tank with CO2 and whatnot.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Thu May 23, 2013 11:23 pm

How about a little more info, eh folks?

So you have your tank, stand, lighting, CO2 if you chose to go with a pressurized setup, and anything else you might want(drop checker, whatever). You are excited...stoked even! Let's get wet!

Hold your horses there young lad. Lets not jump in too quick at once...we have a cycle ahead of us! Or do we? I'll discuss some options here.

Hypothetical situation number one: Starting From Scratch

So you are setting up a planted tank from scratch. You will be cycling this tank with fresh, uncycled media that's never seen water before...so what should we do?

First, setup your tank, stand, and equipment. Then add your substrate(layer and cap if you are going the messy dirt route, but to each his own). Now let's fill her up using some RO water, or most likely tap water with a dechlorinator like SeaChem Prime(my favorite) to remove the nasties. Plug it in! Get that heater workin' to bring your water up to temp(72-78* is usually where I keep my tanks). Start your filter up and listen to her purr. Now, let's get the cycle working. Since we have a virgin tank here that's never seen a drop of ammonia, add some ammonia or some raw shrimp to get your fishless cycle going(More info here > viewtopic.php?f=5&t=1962 ).

So you've waited the cycle out, your ammonia has dropped to zero, as have your nitrites, and you are seeing some nitrates. WOOT! Now you have some nitrates for your future plants to start munching on. You don't really want to add plants before or during the cycle, because there really won't be any nutrients in the water column at all for your plants to feed from. After your cycle is complete, procede to the next step below!

Hypothetical situation number two: Jump Starting Your Cycle

Most people that are looking into really setting up a planted tank, most likely already have one or more(maybe ten or so) freshwater tanks already running. This makes things a lot easier. I always keep extra filter media in my filters in the form of a filter bag with some polyfil so that I can jump start any new tanks I decide to set up. Once you fill your new tank and get it up to temp, add the cycled filter media from your already well established tank. Depending on the amount you use, you can seed your new media or even skip over the cycle entirely.

If you use a smaller amount, then you will be seeding the new filter media and will likely see a small cycle. If this is the case, add your ammonia as if you were doing a fishless cycle, and monitor until you see test evidence that your cycle is complete. Once this is done, move on to the next step.

If you add a large amount of well cycled filter media, you may not see a cycle at all. Add some ammonia to the tank, and check your levels daily for about a week. If everything looks good, move on! If you still see some ammonia nitrites, procede with the proper steps of the fishless cycle.

In either of these scenarios, make sure your cycle is complete before adding fish or plants. You want to make sure the water is safe for your fish before you add them, then slowly add plants relative to your bioload(unless you are dosing fertilizers), as the growth of your plants depends on the amount of nutrients in the water column. If you are not dosing fertilizers and have a low bioload, you won't have many nutrients in the water column for your plants to feed off of.

Hypothetical situation number three: The Silent Cycle(as written by JChillin of fantasyreef.com)

Title: Cycling the Planted Tank
Author: Jchillin

Cycling a planted tank tosses the traditional “cycling” of a freshwater tank out of the window. Previously, you filled the tank with water and slowly added fish. You monitored your ammonia levels and got excited when nitrites and nitrates showed up. When ammonia and nitrite disappeared and your nitrate leveled out at @20ppm you knew your tank was cycled and you were proud, you were now an aquarist.

Cycling your tank with plants eliminates the need to be excessively vigilant about ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels because plants utilize these as their food sources. This method is called the “silent” method and here are the few simple steps.

The “Silent” Cycle

1. Fill tank with water, dechlorinator and the substrate of your choice. You will need a small grained substrate in order to keep your roots secure. Install your equipment and let it settle as you would with a regular cycle. Your filtration method will not matter since there is no CO2 being injected. If you are going to inject CO2, do not use a filter which has a bio-wheel.

2. Add plants, lots of them. Seriously, you need to have a sufficient amount of plant mass to handle the oncoming ammonia. Simple fast growing stem plants (hornwort, anacharis, wisteria, etc) are best because they are nutrient hogs (nutrients being the ammonia that will be present). Java ferns will also work as they are pretty hardy.

3. After two or three days (please remember to take into account the size of your tank), add a few fish. I recommend getting those tetras you already want. I discourage using any fish as “cycling fish” and being discarded when the process is complete. Refrain from messy fish at this point.

4. For the first few weeks, leave the tank alone. No water changes, just replace any evaporated water. If any plant deficiencies are observed, you can dose Flourish Comprehensive or Tropica Master Grow. Having a bottle of Potassium is also a great idea.

5. Slowly complete your stocking levels. Remember, the trick here is to go slowly…your nutrients need to stay balanced or you will have algae issues. Diatoms will probably occur as is normal with any new tank set up so do not be alarmed.

6. Slowly remove the beginner plants and replant with your desired plants. Remember to add back enough plants to keep the tank stable. Any radical change will result in an algae problem.

7. Resume usual water change schedule depending on your tank needs.

If done correctly, you may never detect any nitrate or nitrite. A word of caution, do your water tests after you’ve started stocking your tank. This is in part based on not having a PPSI (Plant per square inch) ratio and not every tank will have the same amount or types of plants as recommended. You do not want to assume that there will be no ammonia spikes that need to be addressed as quickly as possible. If you test and find ammonia, do a water change and add more plants. This method works for low and high light tanks.

Q - Can I use established media from my other tanks to jump start the cycle like I've done with other tanks?

A - The plants will use up the majority of the ammonia available and your beneficial bacteria will die off as a result. This will not be so much an issue with larger sized filters (more than 150gph) and depends on how much media you are using. Using decorations from an established tank will yield negative benefits.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 24, 2013 12:48 am

Its time to get GREEN! ...and I know how much some of you love green ;)

So we've learned about the equipment that we need, we have it all set up, and we've figured out this whole "cycling" thing. What about plants, though? I mean, after all, that's the whole goal of this tank, right? A lucious green and orange and red and yellow underwater aquatic jungle of sorts full of little critters weaving in and out of the dense foliage like an acrobatic dog running through slalom poles...

So let's touch on the various types of plants and a little bit about their placement and requirements.

(Unfortunately plantgeek.net no longer seems to be around, which sucks, because it really was my favorite planted site. So now, I'm doing a little research as I go here!)

The variety of plants, and their variations, is as endless as the species of fish that we can try to sustain in our little piece of underwater heaven. Swords, stems, floaters...the list goes on forever, so I won't be hitting everything, of course. However, if you have a question about a specific plant, I can surely help you out or do a little digging to get a good answer for you!

Low Light Plants

Low light plants are usually considered your "entry level/beginner plants" simply because they don't generally require as much as the higher light plants. However, don't get discouraged by the idea of low light plants, as there are many, many low light tanks that can seriously blow your mind. The term "low light" generally refers to those plants that can do well with less than 2 watts of light per gallon of tank volume(IE a 30 gallon tank with 65 watts of lights illuminating it). The Watt Per Gallon(WPG) Theory has its faults, but it is generally a decent starting point, I think. These lower light plants usually don't require any fertilizers or CO2, and are fairly slow growing. Some of these low light plants include:

anacharis(aka elodea) http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/myPla ... eria_densa
hornwort http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/myPla ... _submersum
duckweed http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/myPla ... emna_minor
water lettuce http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/myPla ... stratiotes
java fern(and its variations) http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/myPla ... m_pteropus
water sprite http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/myPla ... lictroides

Anubias are an entire class of very slow growing low light plants that come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
Cryptocorynes, like anubias, are a class of low light plants that come in many shapes and sizes.

Your mosses, such as christmas, java, and flame are generally low to medium light plants.

The Vallisneria group of plants will add some flavor to low light tanks, but will excel under medium lighting conditions.

Medium Light Plants

Swords of the Echindodorus group such as the melon sword, red rubin sword, micro chain sword, and amazon sword are all quite popular medium light plants. However, some of the larger swords like the amazon sword tend to soak up a lot of nutrients. The ozelot sword is a nice, medium sized sword with good color variation.

Medium light plants tend to grow faster, and require more light(1.5-3 WPG, I'd say). These plants can get by without CO2 and the addition of fertilizers for proper nutrient levels, but your experience may vary tank to tank. Many of these plants will survive in lower light, but grow tall and narrow with leaves farther apart to stretch towards the light to acquire adequate light. Many of these plants may simply melt away under lower light conditions, or when the nutrient levels are insufficient.

The Hygrophila class of plants usually requires medium to high light. Under lower light conditions some species of hygrophila will stay green and thin out. However, under higher light the leaves will often turn red/orange, especially with high levels of iron. Some of the more common hygro plants are wysteria(hygro difformis), hygro polysperma, and hygro corymbosa.

Like the hygros, ludwigias, in general, are more of a medium light plant. However, the less common variations require intense light and high nutrient levels. Some common forms of ludwigia are ludwigia brevipes, ludwigia repens, and ludwigia palustris.

Just like the ludwigias, the rotala species such as rotala rotundifolia will do well in medium light, and really show you what all the fuss is about under higher light.

The limnophilas are a little smaller group, that honestly do well in low to medium light.

The bacopa group of plants, is also a very common low to medium light plant.

Didiplis Diandra is a popular medium to high light plant, as well.
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/myPla ... is_diandra

High Light Plants

Following the trend...higher light...faster growing...more nutrients required to keep up with the amount of growth. Generally speaking, with higher light, you'll usually see more impressive red colors, especially if you keep up on your tank's iron levels!

Cabomba, especially cabomba carioliniana, is a higher light plant that will really pop if you take care of it.

The grassy/carpet type plants are usually kept under high light, because they stay lower to the substrate under higher lighting conditions. If kept in low or medium light, they will grow very tall and less bushy/carpet like. These plants include glosso and Hemianthus micranthemoides .

Myriophyllum tuberculatum is a high light, high nutrient plant that will add some nice red zing to your planted tank!



Regardless of how much light you decide to put over your tank, there are many ways to make a beautiful planted tank. Adding light, fertilizer, and CO2 simply opens up your options a little more.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 24, 2013 12:57 am

Alright...now we are really cruising! You've picked out your tank size, equipment, and have a general idea of what plants you are after. Now...where do you start looking once you are ready to add plants to your (currently empty) "planted" fish tank. Have no fear...

Local
Your first choice should be to check locally. The planted side of the hobby has swiftly grown over the past few years, and more and more people are keeping live plants now. I know in SFAAS alone we have quite a few converts. :evil: Most locals will tend to give trimmings away for nothing...or next to nothing.

Online Forums
Next, I'd personally check online forums such as plantedtank.net or even aquariumadvice.com. Generally speaking, Aquarium Advice will have the more common plants, while Planted Tank has some seriously gorgeous and rare stuff. A lot of guys on the interwebs will send you some plants for the cost of shipping, or shipping and some change for their time and effort.

Aquabid
Before I look at stores, I like to hit up aquabid. While most of these folks are trying to make a buck, its hardly ever more than that, and I think you'll find 90% of what you are after here.

Online Retailers
Finally, check the retailers. AquaticPlants.com is just down the road in Tea, and there are a ton of other online plant warehouses out there to order from.

If you are having a hard time finding something, feel free to ask me! I have brought in a lot of plants from a lot of different places before, and am willing to keep my eyes open for you.
Last edited by black hills tj on Fri May 24, 2013 1:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 24, 2013 1:11 am

Now that you have found your plants, its time to get dirty. Let's do some aquascaping.

While there are companies out there such as AquariumPlants.com that will design a complete aquascape for you down to the exact plants and where to put them, its nice to have a little basic know-how so you can throw something together on your own without wasting a buck. I like to start with the substrate and work my way from back to front.

Substrate

Whichever substrate you choose, the SHAPE of your substrate can dramatically affect the appearance of your tank. When I say the shape of it, I don't mean the shape of each individual pebble or grain of sand. I mean the physical appearance, depth, etc of the substrate. I like to almost create a half bowl in my tank to add both variation in height and the appearance of depth. To do so I keep the front center of the tank shallow, the front corners of the substrate are deeper so the very front of the tank has the substrate in a "u" shape, and as I move back in the tank, it gets progressively deeper and more level.

Hardscape

Moving off, after shaping your substrate, its usually a good idea to do your hardscape. The hardscape is simply the placement of objects such as rocks, driftwood, caves, etc. I personally dislike when something is dead center in the tank, but to each his own. Its a good idea to stagger your driftwood, rocks, etc to create a feeling of depth when you look into the tank. If everything is equidistant front to back, your tank will look very flat.

Planting

After your hardscape is setup to your liking, start planting. There is no science to placing a plant in substrate. Some guys use tweezers to individually place every little piece of plant when they initially add it to the tank. Myself, I'm not that picky. If its a stem, I pinch a few stems of that plant between my fingers and push them down into the substrate until they stay. Simple as that. If its a sword or crypt with a heavier root structure, I will often wrap the roots around the bottom of the plant creating a ball of sorts and place this in the substrate. Just seems to work well for me. Another option is to push the plant down into the substrate, and drag it through the substrate into place so that the roots are stretched out through the substrate a little. If all else fails, get some plant weights to hold the plant in the substrate until it roots and takes hold.

Soft Scape
Plant placement is personal preference and easy enough. Short stuff in the front, longer stuff like your stems in the back. I like to keep my sword or broader leaf plants somewhere in the middle. Again, I try to create a "u" and semi bowl with my plants, just like I did with the substrate. As I mentioned previously, there's no science to it, and at the end of the day...its your tank. Move things around until you get it just the way you like it.

Once you finally get everything where you want it, call it a day and admire your work. Now you get to sit back and watch everything develop!
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 24, 2013 1:20 am

You asked for part two...BOOM! A little bathroom reading material. I'll post more after dinner...all this writing has made me HUNGRY!

I realize that the majority of people reading this don't know me from Jack, so here are a few resources that I use or have used in the past to obtain some of the things that I base my "knowledge" on these days.

http://www.aquabid.com
http://www.fantasyreef.com
http://www.aquariumadvice.com
http://www.plantedtank.net
http://www.barrreport.com/

I will add more links to this list periodically.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 24, 2013 1:24 am

How about a little inspiration? For those nay-sayers that tell you that your African cichlids will never work in a planted tank...ask Travis Simonson what he thinks ;)

http://www.aquabotanic.com/?m=201104&paged=2

Image
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 24, 2013 1:28 am

And a little something from the man himself...Tom Barr

http://plantedspace.com/space/aquatic/i ... h-aquarium

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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 24, 2013 3:34 am

Now that we have the plants...erm...planted, our tank is starting to be stocked, and the ball is rolling, let's get into some of the details of how to make our tank PROSPER! WooHoo!

I think I have mentioned it in every planted tank thread that pops up here...dosing. Dosing can lead to the evolution of a beautiful creature, or an algae outbreak depending on how careful you are. I strongly push Tom Barr's Estimate Index method of dosing, aka EI Dosing or the EI Method. You'll see this all over the web. Are there better ways of making sure you have the right amounts of the proper nutrients in your tank? Maybe. Is there an easier way of making sure your plants get what they need? Probably Not. Below is an explanation of the Estimative Index dosing method.

To purchase your dry ferts, this ought to do the trick. A pound will last you way longer than you think, regardless of your tank size.

http://www.aquariumfertilizer.com/

This was taken from James' Planted Tank, but is consisten with all of the other explanations you will find.

http://www.theplantedtank.co.uk/EI.htm

Estimative Index Explained

What is it?
Estimative Index was created By Tom Barr to be a simple method for dosing nutrients to planted tanks without the need for monitoring nutrient levels using test kits. Basically the aquarist doses the tank with a slight excess of nutrients throughout the week to prevent anything from running out and does a large water change at the end of the week to prevent anything from building up. In this way we can provide a close approximation or ‘Estimative Index’ of the nutrient levels during the week as we know what is being added and also what is removed in the water change. Estimative Index works best with high light systems and well planted tanks, but can be adapted for lower light systems by reducing the dosing.

The fertilisers are the Macro Nutrients – Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) and the Micro Nutrients (or trace elements) which include Tropica Plant Nutrition, TNC Aquarium Trace (Liquid), Seachem Flourish, CSM+B, TNC Trace and chelated trace mixes.

The process of dosing is fairly simple. Each day (less for lower light systems) the fertilisers are dosed according to general guidelines based on tank size. At the end of the week a 50% water change is performed to reset the nutrient load in the tank. Then the process is restarted again. The 50% water change is just a guideline and doesn’t have to be followed but doing a larger water change will have greater accuracy of nutrient levels.





What do I need to buy?
Potassium Nitrate
Potassium Phosphate (monobasic)
Traces – these can be either chelated trace mix (TNC Trace, CSM+B) or a commercial liquid product such as Tropica Plant Nutrition, TNC Aquarium Trace, Easy-Life Profito or Seachem Flourish.

Also possibly required depending on your water supply.

Potassium Sulphate (Sulphate of Potash)– normally enough potassium is added with the potassium nitrate and potassium phosphate dosing. Some people like to add a little bit more.
Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salts) – added if you tap water is low in magnesium.
GH Booster or Seachem Equilibrium – If you have very low GH, ie. less than 3, then this will help by adding calcium and magnesium along with some potassium.

In the UK you are able to buy everything you need from Fluidsensor Online and in the US from AquariumFertilizer. If you live in Canada then Rex Grigg will ship there.





How do I use the chemicals?
There are two ways in which you can dose the nutrients, by making stock solutions or by adding dry powders using a set of standard spoons. To make up the solutions use the amounts shown below. If need be these amounts can be modified by using the Dosing Calculator to suit your particular needs.

Macro Solution
33g Potassium Nitrate
7.2g Potassium Phosphate
250ml Water


Trace Mix Solution
10g Chelated Trace Element Mix (TNC Trace, CSM+B)
250 ml Water
0.5 ml Normal Hydrochloric Acid

nb. It is preferable to make up the solutions in RO water or deionised water, but tap water can be used if need be. The hydrochloric acid is added to help preserve the solution and isn't absolutely necessary if you don't have it, alternatively you may wish to substitute this with 0.25g E300 Ascorbic Acid.





Dosing

Using Solutions

Using the daily schedule below add the following 3 times a week:
5ml of Macro solution per 50 litres of water
2.5ml of Trace solution per 50 litres of water



Using Dry Powders

Use the tank volume guide below to determine amount to use. Amounts are added 3 times a week.
To convert to UK gallons multiply the litre figure by 0.22

40-80 litres
1/8 tsp KNO3
1/32 tsp KH2PO4
1/32 tsp TNC Trace (CSM+B)

80-150 litres
1/4 tsp KNO3
1/16 tsp KH2PO4
1/16 tsp TNC Trace (CSM+B)

150-225 litres
1/2 tsp KNO3
1/8 tsp KH2PO4
1/8 tsp TNC Trace (CSM+B)

225-350 litres
3/4 tsp KNO3
3/16 tsp KH2PO4
1/4 tsp TNC Trace (CSM+B)

350-500 litres
1 1/2 tsp KNO3
1/2 tsp KH2PO4
1/2 tsp TNC Trace (CSM+B)

These figures give you a general idea of the amount of dosing required for a given tank size that is fully stocked with high lighting (approx 2 to 3 wpg). If you have very high lighting and are at the top end of the tank size bracket for your tank, it may be an idea to dose at the next tank up size bracket. Also if your tank is only 50% stocked then the amounts should also be reduced to 50%.



Daily Schedule

Sunday 50% water change. Add Macros (KNO3, KH2PO4)
Monday Add TNC Trace (CSM+B)
Tuesday Add Macros (KNO3, KH2PO4)
Wednesday Add TNC Trace (CSM+B)
Thursday Add Macros (KNO3, KH2PO4)
Friday Add TNC Trace (CSM+B)
Saturday Rest day





Notes
Estimative Index isn’t about aiming for parameters, but supplying everything to a slight excess of the plants requirements. These are general parameters that plants grow well in and as long as they are reached you shouldn’t have any problems.

Nitrate 20–30 ppm
Phosphate 1-3 ppm
Potassium 20-30ppm
CO2 30ppm

Estimative Index is highly dependant on a good level of CO2 which must be maintained at a stable 30ppm through the whole of the photo period. More than 90% of all algae problems on planted tank forums are because of poor or fluctuating CO2 levels.

Also of great importance, and often overlooked, is to have good water circulation around the whole tank. This is vital in getting the CO2 and nutrients to the plants. As a general guideline aim for 10x or more of rated filter flow to tank volume.

If you are dosing a leaner Estimative Index then you may wish to supplement the potassium levels to compensate for the lower amounts being added from the potassium nitrate and potassium phosphate. Adding an extra 10ppm potassium from potassium sulphate weekly should be fine. Use the Dosing Calculator to work out how much you require for your tank size.

If you have very low magnesium levels in your tap water then adding an extra 5-10ppm magnesium from magnesium sulphate at each water change should work well. Use the Dosing Calculator to work out how much you require for your tank size.






Also, here is another explanation with a little more detail.

http://www.ukaps.org/index.php?page=dos ... -dry-salts
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby shifty51008 » Sat May 25, 2013 8:18 am

wow that is alot to get my head stuck in.lol Thankyou very much, it really helps out alot. like I said I am setting this tank up in my dads house so I am trying to make it as easy for him as possable, he loves to watch the tank and fish but he gets scared to do much more than top off, and a water change every now and then.

with that in mind, I think I am gonna try the silent cycle with alot of plants so he has something to watch, and stick with the low light plants for now.

back to reading:D
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby nature boy » Sat May 25, 2013 8:24 am

Is algae in the next section? Or is that a different thread?
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Sat May 25, 2013 10:33 am

nature boy wrote:Is algae in the next section? Or is that a different thread?


Good idea. algae and nutriet deficiencies will be next!


And shifty...dont let all of the info regarding th endless options scare you off. its easy to end up with a gorgeous planted tank that simply requires food and a top off too!
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby shifty51008 » Sat May 25, 2013 6:05 pm

this is the soil I am planning to use, it should be ok correct? and then putting a thin layer of pea gravel on top.

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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Sat May 25, 2013 9:43 pm

Im not a dirt guy myself. Id ask Will or Matt or Brian. as long as it is organicand doeant have any chemicals in it you shoul be ok.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby Railcar79 » Sat May 25, 2013 9:46 pm

nature boy wrote:Is algae in the next section? Or is that a different thread?


When I get my blooms in my salty, it isnt a bad algae outbreak, it is a "Planted Tank" lol
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Fri May 31, 2013 1:04 am

I know I said I'd touch on algae and nutrient deficiences in the next section, but I came across this awesome article, and I couldn't pass it up. It is a lengthy read, but well worth your time. This article on lighting may even help out a couple salties :P

In my previous posts, I mentioned judging light levels in the terms of watts per gallon. While this used to be a good baseline to start with, now that we have so many lighting options, watts per gallon is not nearly specific enough to really judge the amount of light that is in your tank. A more specific way is to measure light in terms of PAR or "photosynthetically active radiation." This article dives real, real deep into the world of PAR, and how we can use it to our advantage in our tanks. I strongly suggest you read the entire thread linked below, and not just the article from Hoppy.

*I did not write nor contribute to this article, and I have received permission from Hoppy at plantedtank.net to use it for educational purposes. An insane amount of time and work was put into this research, and Hoppy and his associates deserve insane amounts of kudos for this.*



Lighting an Aquarium with PAR instead of Watts
Written by Hoppy at plantedtank.net

http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/showt ... p?t=184368

Before any discussion of aquarium lighting can proceed, first we have to debunk the myth about “watts per gallon” being a measurement of light intensity.



When the only practical source of light for a planted tank was T12 fluorescent tubes, someone decided that the way to pick out the best lighting was to figure out the “watts per gallon” that were needed to grow various types of plants. This would make sense if we could pour a teaspoon of watts of light into a tank, and get a light concentration of X watts per gallon of water, just as we pour a teaspoon of potassium nitrate in the tank to get a nitrate concentration of Y mg per liter of water. But light is nothing like a chemical - you can’t pour it anywhere, you can only shine it on something. That alone should debunk “watts per gallon” as a measure of light intensity.



But, there is more: Let us assume we have two 20 gallon tanks, with 40 watts of T12 Fluorescent light on each one - 2 watts per gallon. One tank is a 20L and one is a 20H. The 20L tank is 12 inches high, and the 20H tank is 16 inches high. If the fluorescent light sits right on top of each of the tanks, the light on the 20H tank is 4 inches farther from the substrate - 33% farther from the substrate. Because light intensity drops approximately proportional to one divided by the distance from the light squared, the intensity at the substrate in the 20H tank has to be about 56% of that at the substrate in the 20L tank. That alone should debunk “watts per gallon” as a measure of light intensity.



But, there is more: Let us assume we have two 20H tanks, one with a 40 watt T12 light sitting on top of the tank, and the other with the same light hanging 12 inches above the top of the tank. Again, because light intensity drops approximately proportional to one divided by the distance from the light squared, the intensity at the substrate for the tank with the light hanging 12 inches above the top of the tank must be about 32% of the light intensity of the tank with the light sitting on top of the tank. And, that alone should debunk “watts per gallon” as a measure of light intensity.



So, that is three strikes against “watts per gallon”.



But, there is more: Let us assume we have two 20H tanks, one with 40 watts of T5HO light, from a Tek light fixture, the other with 40 watts of T12 light. Anyone who has looked at both a T5HO bulb and a T12 bulb, when they are lit up, knows that the T12 bulb can be stared at without distress, but the T5HO bulb causes some temporary blindness if you look at it for more than a few seconds. The T5HO bulb is much, much brighter, and has to give much more light at a given distance than the T12 bulb.



“Watts per gallon” is dead!



PAR




Light intensity can be measured in lux, which is the intensity as perceived by human eyes. Or, it can be measured in PAR units, which is the intensity as perceived by plants. PAR is an acronym for “photosynthetically active radiation” - the radiation (light) that is used by plants for photosynthesis. The units of PAR are micromols of photons per square meter per second. So, a PAR of 1 is one millionth of a mole of photons striking a one square meter area every second.



Human eyes see the yellow green area of the spectrum of light very well - our eyes are very sensitive to yellows and greens, but we see reds and blues much less well. Plants are very sensitive to reds and blues, absorbing most of the light in those colors, but less sensitive to yellows and greens, reflecting a lot of the light in those colors. That is why most plants look green or yellow.

Image



MEASURING PAR



The best way to find out how much light intensity we have in our planted tanks is to measure it. To do that we must use a PAR meter. A few years ago the only PAR meters available cost a few thousand dollars apiece. Now there are much cheaper PAR meters available.



You can buy a Quantum PAR meter, Model MQ, for $329 plus shipping. That is a near laboratory quality meter, with a guaranteed calibration, which can be re-calibrated at the factory when needed. It is the Cadillac of hobbyist PAR meters, usually bought only by clubs, where many members can use it.



A lower priced version of the Quantum PAR meter is just the sensor, Model SQ, for $139 plus shipping. To use this you need to either use a good millivoltmeter, which gives the best accuracy, or a cheap lux meter, like the Mastech LX1010BS, from Amazon.com, at about $20 plus shipping. Used with the lux meter you need to do your own calibration. You can use your digital multimeter, with a millivolt scale and the sensor, to determine the PAR from a light at a fixed distance, then connect the Mastech lux meter to the sensor to see what the meter reads at that PAR. This gives you a calibration constant for that combination of sensor and meter to convert lux to PAR.



Still cheaper is to buy one of the DIY PAR meters made by Mistergreen and/or O2surplus, for about $60. These are calibrated, and the meter reads in PAR units, but they may not be available when you want to obtain one.



Cheapest is to buy a Mastech LX1010BS, at $20 plus shipping, and modify it yourself per http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/showt ... p?t=179789 but you have to calibrate this yourself. However, the total cost should be $35 or less. If the Quantum PAR meter is the Cadillac of PAR meters, this is the refurbished Volkswagon bug of PAR meters.



SELECTING A LIGHT



Before we can even start to measure the light intensity, or PAR, that a given light will provide on our tank we first have to obtain the light. It may seem that we have to be working blind when we make this selection, given that knowing the “watts per gallon” won’t tell us anything about the intensity we will get. But, because there are now many PAR meters in hobbyist’s hands, we now have a lot of data on how much PAR we can get from several different lights, made by several different manufacturers. More data becomes available every month.



Today we can chose one of several different types of lights:

T5HO fluorescent lights with 1,2,3,4, etc. bulbs

T5NO fluorescent lights

T8 fluorescent lights with 1,2,3,4, etc. bulbs

PC power compact fluorescent lights with 1 or 2 bulbs

LED lights of many configurations - DIY or ready made

CFL screw-in fluorescent lights - DIY



For each of those types of lights a chart can be made showing the PAR produced by the light versus the distance from the light. These charts show the light intensity as measured without a tank of water being involved - just the intensity as measured in air. This is necessary to avoid the many variations in intensity caused by the tank dimensions and the cleanliness of the tank glass, both of which can have about a 10-20% effect on the intensity.

Image

Image


LOW LIGHT, MEDIUM Light, HIGH LIGHT



I don't believe there is any consensus about the definition of low, medium and high light. But, here is my definiition, subject to, and almost certain to change:

Low light - 15-30 micromols of PAR - CO2 is not needed, but is helpful to the plants

Medium light - 35-50 micromols of PAR - CO2 may be needed to avoid too many nuisance algae problems

High light - more than 50 micromols of PAR - pressurized CO2 is essential to avoid major algae problems



The following charts show the data that I now have for various lights. As I get more data I will keep updating the charts and adding new ones. If you want a light that isn’t included in the charts you can study the reflectors used in the light you want and compare them to the photos following the charts to see which charted light is closest to the one you want, to get a rough guess at what PAR that light will give you.



Fluorescent tube lights produce about the same light intensity for any length of tube, from about 24 inches to at least 60 inches. The longer bulbs are proportionally higher in wattage, so that the bulb wattage is mostly a measure of the bulb length, not the bulb brightness. For bulbs shorter than 24 inches, this may not be true.



CAUTION: Not all lights use a true, full power HO ballast. Some cheaper models use lower power ballasts, and will not produce as much PAR as those with good ballasts. Compare the chart for the FishNeedIt lights to the others for an example.

Image

Image

Image

One layer of window screen over the bottom half of each bulb, right on the bulb, drops the PAR by about 30%

Image

Image



See http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/showt ... p?t=160396 for much more information on LED lights.



Photos of various reflectors used in T5 lights:

Image

Image


Hagen GLO 2 bulb light


Image

ATI 4 bulb T5HO


Image


Home Depot 2 bulb Diamond Plate Shop Light - note the reflections of each bulb.


Image

One bulb T8 light with fairly good reflector


Image

Aquaticlife 4 bulb Light
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby aquaticgeek » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:28 pm

thank you and great job. its nice to have all this information in one spot and the links for further research. theres nothing better than sitting back and enjoying a lushly planted jungle in my personal opinion. thanks again
A balanced tank is a happy tank! :)
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby black hills tj » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:45 pm

aquaticgeek wrote:thank you and great job. its nice to have all this information in one spot and the links for further research. theres nothing better than sitting back and enjoying a lushly planted jungle in my personal opinion. thanks again


Happy to help, and I'm looking forward to some other folks' input.
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby jolson » Mon Oct 14, 2013 3:12 pm

just reviewing this again so much information that I have to come back to it once in a while
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Re: A Guide to Setting Up a Planted Tank

Postby aquaticgeek » Wed Nov 13, 2013 10:42 pm

Next section CO2 methods , necessity , types of injectors etc.?
A balanced tank is a happy tank! :)
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