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First Steps Into The Planted Aquarium


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Been away with the better-half for the last few days (my 14yo daughter fed the fish - no deaths :cheer:/>). During the time away, I've been thinking a lot about aquascaping, and have now decided it's time to take that plunge. I've placed the first of what I imagine to be a lot of plant orders. I have a tank all cleaned and waiting some mis-informed moron to begin scaping within it - I stepped forward...

Tomorrow I'm off to Bunnings to buy a few things, including the ingredients needed to do this...but on a slightly grander scale.

This is going to be low-tech 100%. There will be no CO2. I don't mind adding ferts on occasion but it will be sporadic at best. The tank will have a plant-growth specific led over it. All the plants going in will be low light and reportedly hard for even someone like me to kill (we'll just see about that!).

It will be soil, covered by gravel and a thin layer of play-sand to have a substrate of around 3-4cm at it's minimum depth - there will be undulations :) There may even be props...down the track (I has a dream...)

I'm doing the dry start as I'm going to be using a carpet cover (dwarven hairgrass) and think it will promote a better root system.

I was wondering if anyone else has done it/is doing it and has any suggestions/advice.

Photos and a log to follow :)

Cheers in advance as always


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Ok - so I sat down and read through and watched all the vids from J's thread...and was somewhat devastated it all died :(/>/>/>/>/>

I thought it was all supposed to be low maintenance?

J, have you gone again with a planted tank? Did you do anything different this time round? Is Matt_95 still around?

In my research, I believe I'm supposed to wet the soil, but not a soupy consistency, and keep it that way for 3 or 4 weeks before any planting. I'm going to combine this with dry planting my smaller additions, particularly the carpet grasses to allow them to create a good root system before filling the whole tank.

I promised photos:

I started with a two foot tank and wanted to hide the soil (in the beginning) so I laid an edging of white gravel


Thought I'd try getting fancy and added a temporary border to separate substrates


That lasted all of about five minutes...

I then added standard play sand opposite the soil, but forgot to take a pic :(/>/>

I then added more soil on top of the sand - and forgot to take a pic...(I got carried away with what I was doing)

I then capped the lot with more white gravel


First lot of plants on order:

Dwarf Hairgrass

Anubias Afzelli

Dwarf Green Rush

Variegated Lime Rush

Keep in mind, I'm doing a dry start so the smaller front plants can grow extended root systems. I'll be getting more as I move forward. I'm also yet to decide on all the pieces of hardscape I want. Drift wood is an obvious one, but I'm searching for just the right couple of rock pieces for the side of the 'hill'.

I have tweezers and I'm getting an afro comb to help with the required daily poking of the soil to release gases (for some reason the wife wont lend me hers...)

Soil is Hortico All Purpose General Potting Soil - with most of the twigs, etc taken out to leave just a fine soil base. Gravel is just white stones from Bunnings. Total cost of soil and gravel = <$20.00

Edit: Sand is just standard play sand = 20Kg bag for <$5.00 from Bunnings

Plants = < $70 (including postage)


Edited by Brenton
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B - the tank was very low maintenence and once the algae issue sorted itself out it required very little maintenance. The main reason the plants died was because the timers that my lights were on stopped working. Every day I promised myself that I'd find the time to sort it out - see what was going on and either fix or replace the timers. At the time I was running back and forth to the hospital to visit my Dad in my free time. Between that, his eventual passing and a few further weeks of disinterest, by the time I remembered to do anything about the tank, it was too late. All the lush growth was dead apart from some val, which I moved to another tank (and was promptly eaten by my empire gudgeons...) Once I have completed my fishroom makeover, get some work done on the car and a couple of other pressing matters, I will re-do my tank. It was amazing to watch the female bettas interact and explore. Better than TV most nights.

The only thing I would do differently would be:

Use standard Blood and Bone (not Blood and Bone Plus)

Not have as much substrate at the front glass (over time went green and was a little unattractive.)

Forget the hairgrass and so straight to dwarf chain sword!

Looks like you are doing everything right! Good luck and I can't wait to see what happens.

Matt doesn't really post on here anymore, he got out of fish and into creepy crawlies...lol (Spiders and Scorpions) If you have any questions, I can put you in touch with him - he is on facebook...

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  • 2 weeks later...

I got impatient - and the grass was struggling to separate properly and I was worried with some strands clumping together it may kill itself - but really, I got impatient, so I filled the tank, a few inches at a time, but over a week, it's full - and now beginning to turn green :(

I knew the danger of filling it and I did it anyway :(

Will be buying some pennywort (or similar) and possibly some ACCUClear (I read on another forum it's supposed to be good if used early in these circumstances).

No photo as the tank is currently covered by a large towel to block out light - also supposed to be good in this circumstance.


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Okay - cover tank with blanket/large towel to keep light out for four days - works a treat!

Due to putting a lot of the plants I originally brought for this tank into my sorority, I know I have nowhere near enough live plants in here to keep algae away while the soil settles properly, but I'll be looking at getting lots more very soon...tax check should be here soon ;)/>/>


Water is heavily stained by tannins from IAL, as I routinely add IAL tea to my aging water storage container now so I don't have any clear aged water :)/>

The PVC tubing is just to hold down that small piece of driftwood until it truly becomes waterlogged.

The filter is also only a temporary addition, but I've found it is excellent at getting sand and soil particles to settle. I've used it in all my tanks on first setting them up and it tends to give me clean water within three or four days.

My next problem will be adding the next lot of plants as this will once more stir up the substrate, but my latest win on the Brisbane Betta auctions for the Betta Australis IBC show should help fix that:


If not...then there's always the blanket treatment to go back to. There are no fish in here presently so adding chemicals isn't going to hurt anything...

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  • 2 weeks later...

Seriously considering breaking this tank down again. Grass is dying, readings are all over the place, and not enough $$$ to buy enough plants to turn it around. Need more tanks for my fish, so the NPT project may have to go on the back burner for now...

On the up side, the green away fixed the algae problem...

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  • 2 weeks later...

you remove the grass from the pot.

try get rid of some (not all) of the packing material just with tweezers or similar.

dont go too gung ho or you will wreck the roots. we then pull it apart into small plugs approximately .5-1cm. we roll the roots between or finger to compress them a bit then palnt it (sorta weird to explain.....)

next time you order something we will send you some loose belem hair grass we have (currently floating in a fry tank) to experiment with :)

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I'm at work so not possible to do anything with photos...

The pots are all entangled with the root systems of the grass - what I would call root-bound if talking about terrestrial potted plants. It makes it extrememly difficult to remove the pots without damaging the roots.

Should I cut/shave off the roots extending from the pots (relying on the fact that some will remain within the pot and they will regrow once planted)?

If I could get them out of the pots without so much damage, then I would spend the time planting it out with my tweezers (even though I've now aced the soil and have sand - but I have plenty of tabs I could put throughout the tank).

You guys are always looking after me - it's very much appreciated


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I think your main problem is that you used a very nutrient rich substrate (is that substrate aquarium safe? The only one I've seen used is Miracle Gro Organic Potting Mix), without having adequate plant mass to deal with those excess nutrients.

You need to have a lot of fast-growing stems and floaters to act as nutrient sponges. This is why most NPTs using soil are so plant heavy.

Hairgrass just doesn't grow fast enough to absorb adequate nutrients and prevent spikes in water parameters. This is most likely why your tank failed.

I'm not sure if you have done this, but do some research on the Walstad method. It sounds similar to what you were trying to attempt and a lot of people use this method or a variation of it when doing 'low tech' set-ups such as the shrimp bowls you posted.

You definitely want to plant your hairgrass in much smaller clumps. This will encourage it to spread a lot faster. I use tweezers to gently remove the rockwool from the roots of the plants and to separate them into separate clumps.

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Hey Ash - yeah, I was trying to do the Walstad method...and got impatient :(

I went looking for the Miracle Gro, but the Bunnings I went to didnt have it, and the one I ended up with was the only one there without wetting agents or with additional boosters (as found in Blood and Bone Plus). But you are most probably right in that it is still too rich, and I dont have enough fast growing plants.

I've come to the conclusion, when I'm next ready to to try a NPT, I'll ensure I'm in a position to buy all the plants required first - and a decent aquarium specific soil.

As I said in my previous post - it's the getting the hairgrass out of the pot I'm not sure about...it seems as if I'm doing an awful lot of damage to the root system because the pot is so entangled in it :(

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Yeah, you definitely need a large amount of plants at least initially, when dealing with any nutrient rich substrate. I have to say that duckweed is amazing at absorbing ammonia and other nutrients. I use it in all my tanks where I am using aquasoil as it can really help keep parameters stable. Especially if you have more sensitive plants that may be harmed by excess ammonia.

Don't worry too much about damaging the root system. If the hairgrass pot you have is anything like the ones I have received in the past, you are going to have a ton of hairgrass to play around with even if you remove the stuff entangled in the pot (I am assuming the pot is one of those plastic ones with the holes in it). It's not supposed to be one plant you just remove from the pot and plant into the substrate.

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Generally with any method of aquascaping whether it's NPT or something else, using a ton of plants right from the start produces better results both aesthetically and for algae control. I've seen some stunning scapes that had only gravel as the substrate and liquid fertiliser applied periodically.

Not sure how much of a terrestial gardener you are but you can treat the hairgrass like any pot bound plant you get from the nursery. Just tease it out gently or divide it by cutting. You need to encourage those roots to spread.

I have successfuly made my own root tabs by wrapping a tiny amount (say 6-8 pellets) of Native Plant Osmocote in a bit of unbleached paper towel and shoving it into the substrate. The paper is really there to hold it together while you're shoving it in. After that it rots away under the substrate while the Osmocote slowly releases.

To be honest I would just keep it simple if I were you. The design you've started out with will look good if you just stick to hair grass growing around rocks. So get 5 or 6 pots of hair grass or however many you reckon you need to spread out through the whole tank. You also need 3 rocks: small, medium and large that will give your design some structure. Just plain gravel with no root tabs or anything. But perhaps use some liquid ferts and liquid carbon. And do weekly water changes.

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First up, lets dispel any nasty rumour about me liking gardening, of any sort. I'm after a low maintenance, looks nice, is interesting, and doesnt cost the earth - both wet and dry, inside and out :)

NPT reducing water changes, making things stable, and being nice to look at attracted me because it sounded like it made things easier - and I'm all about having to do less to the tanks so I can can do more research, planning, plotting, and spawning (yes, back to talking about the fish here ;))

I'll split open the pots, and take the time and care to seperate the grass strands, and then to plant them out, in the sand substrate, but I doubt I'll be going back to soil anytime soon. Ferts via slow release tabs (home made or Bunnings), will probably be about it. I may remember to squirt in some liquid ferts occasionally...

I happened to be down the coast last week and picked up some very cool rock pieces, of which only 3 turned out to be limestone. Another has a piece of limestone on it but some cold bolt chieseling will remove that quick enough. Natural, wide, holes; wave-smoothed surfaces; layered colours - this stuff would cost a fortune in the shops. I'll be needing some Anubias to tie to some of it and for some drift wood, but will have to wait till the BA after-show sale has passed ;)

Rocks have all been tested and throughly washed (with nail brush), before being allowed to bake in the sun. Do I need to boil them?

Picked up some red Ramshorn snails as well from a nice little tucked away lfs...why are all the nice shops so far away from me? One is now in with my remaining fry, while two are enjoying life in the tank with the hair grass. Another has been introduced to the sorority to clean up some dead plant matter (I shall never buy water sprite again).

Weekly water changes for all tanks are ongoing :D

Testing is more like every two or three weeks now ;)

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Grass separated and planted - some have tabs, but I added some liquid fert as well.

Rocks added. I'm going to get a large Anubias to tie to the driftwood piece. I'm also going to get a large Java Fern for the right most rock (which is actually an arch but difficult to see through the grass.

I'll be adding a heap of Pennywort to the left side to camo the filter. I'm considering a small Anubias to tie on top of the pillar rock in the centre.

I can get the Pennywort here for nix - Maddie, I'll need pricing for the fern and other Anubias plants please ;)/>

At this point, I'm just hoping the grass comes back. It's gone through a couple of cycles of going brown and then coming back towards green.

The grass to the left I separated quite a lot, but a man with a bad back should not be bent over for that long, hence the second lot (centre and front of filter) wasn't separated so much), and the last lot, barely got separated more than in quarters.

I've got some frogbit in the sorority, but it needs time to take off before I grab some and add that in here as well.

I had some young females arrive today who need an opportunity to put a bit of size on before they go into the main sorority, so they go in here in about a week/10 days. They'll stay here for a month/6 weeks before being moved, which should cycle the tank nicely for the arrival of my first lot of CTPK grow-outs (touchwood).


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Not really going for a specific 'look' with this tank, so I'm not following any of the 'rules' for scaping. I'm more playing with the grass (to see if I can get it to grow) and wanting to provide additional hiding spots for when this tank becomes a grow out.

Happy to listen to suggestions though on where people think a better place for hardscapes to sit would be...


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