Caring for Aquarium Plants
There's lots of good advice available on how to take care of your tropical fish, but aquarium plants also need attention if they are to thrive. Keeping them healthy can be trickier than you might think, and it's expensive to keep buying new ones. Properly looked after, they'll boost the health of your whole aquarium.
Plants and LightThe most important factor in keeping your plants healthy is making sure they have enough light. Some species of aquarium plants can get by with only daylight, but all will do much better if you provide a direct lighting source for them. Plants absorb light from different points on the visible spectrum so it's important to choose an aquarium lamp that produces a full range of light.
Often aquarists assume that leaving the light on for longer will help their plants do better. In actuality, the opposite is the case. Plants have evolved to respond to a natural day / night cycle. They respire differently in the light and in the dark, and changes in the light affect their growth cycles. They will do best if you provide them with a regular day period of twelve to fourteen hours followed by a period of darkness.
Plants and NutritionIn a well balanced, established aquarium, you should not need to provide extra nutrients for your plants - they should be able to get everything they need from your fish's waste products. If they are struggling, however, there are some useful products available to help, such as Interpet Flora Boost. Use these sparingly - serious problems usually have another cause.
Some aquarists help their plants by providing them with extra carbon dioxide. You can purchase this in small canisters and feed it into your tank though an air stone placed at the base of one of your plants. It's best just to do this with one plant at a time so as not to upset the overall balance of dissolved gases in the aquarium water.
Plants and AlgaeOne of the biggest hazards to plans in the aquarium is algae. This causes problems in two ways - by competing with them for resources and by directly smothering them.
To keep algae from building up on the leaves of your plants, brush them every few days with a soft cloth. Don't scratch the leaves, as this can damage their natural resistance. Algae that hasn't had long to take root can be easily wiped away. If a plant becomes overwhelmed by algae, remove it immediately to decrease the risk of others following suit.
It's important to scrape algae off your aquarium walls as a routine part of maintenance. Algae-eating fish can help, but sometimes they munch their way through a lot of plants as well! There are chemical treatments available that help to get rid of algae without damaging plants.
Plants and FishOne of the most difficult aspects of growing aquarium plants can be keeping your fish from eating them. The simplest way to deal with this is simply to find plants your fish are not as interested in. Individual tastes vary, so this has to be done by trial and error.
Fish tend to prefer plants with small, easily removed leaves. Plants with large leaves are more likely to be ignored, especially if you add some elodea to the tank at the same time as you add them. Elodea is cheap and a popular fish snack. They are likely to gorge on it (which won't do them any harm) and not have room to bother your other plants.
Some fish are experts at tracing the roots of plants underground and pulling them up to suck out nutrients. This can be very damaging for your plants. If it happens frequently, try changing to a substrate that your fish find harder to dig through, or protect the roots with stones too heavy for the fish to move.
With sufficient patience, it's possible to grow beautiful plants in your aquarium that will be a delight to you and to your fish.