How To Properly Maintain A Planted Tank

Water Changes and Algae Removal
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Now that we’ve discussed how to setup a planted tank, the next step is to properly maintain it. Using our newly established TV stand nano planted tank example, the tissue culture aquatic plants we used were starting to exhibit healthy and rapid growth all thanks to the nutrient-heavy substrate. No fertilizers were used during the first week. Often times at this stage, slight algae growth is observed simply due to two factors. 1) The plants are still acclimating to the tank and new substrate 2) As a direct result, excess nutrients unused by the plants are released into the water column and trace amounts of algae will grow. However, that’s just a sign that the planted tank is still establishing itself assuming all other factors are in check such as lighting, CO2 levels, and water flow. It’s not necessarily bad to see algae grow at this stage.

As pictured below, the plants are pearling, growing excessively, and their roots are reaching into the substrate. These are some of the easier signs to identify happy plant development. As soon as the plants have fully established themselves into the substrate, the plants should out-compete the algae.

The conditions for algae growth exists in any underwater ecosystem and algae will present itself if not kept in check. It’s easy to manage through simple maintenance and water changes. The most common algae that you’ll encounter during this stage are diatomaceous spot and filamentous algae. Although it looks discouraging, it’s extremely easy to take care of. The tools you’ll need are a clean toothbrush and an airline tube.

First, we’ll tackle the algae that has developed on the tank’s glass walls. In this case, the Ultum Nature Systems 5N tank which features ultra high clarity glass isn’t so clear anymore and we’ll need the visibility to clean the rest of the tank. In order to do this, we lower the water level of the tank just slightly so that the water does not splash or overflow when cleaning the glass with a toothbrush.

To remove the algae that has grown onto the glass, carefully move equipment such as Co2 diffusers, filter piping, heaters, etc. out of the way and start cleaning in an orderly fashion. Make sure to clean the corners too. Note that in a larger tank, it’s more efficient to use a commercially available algae scrubber that will clean larger areas of glass quicker.

Now that the walls are clean, you can see clearly what other areas have algae. Depending on the level of algae, the equipment that resides inside the tank is also cleaned. We took this opportunity to scrub down the ADA Vuppa-1 surface skimmer also.

Next, we focus on the filamentous algae that has taken residence on some of the plants. We gently twirl our tooth brush around the algae areas and remove the algae. If the tooth brush becomes dirtied by algae we’ll take it out and shake it off in clean water before repeating this process. Luckily for us the filamentous algae growth has been minimal and quickly removed. Be careful not to pull on the algae which could lead to the uprooting of plants.

Because driftwood was used, we also notice a white film that has developed on the wood itself. This is Saprolegnia, which is a bacterial fungus. Whenever new organic matter such as drift wood is introduced into an aquarium, it will likely appear and will disappear on its own as the tank establishes. Although it’s harmless, it isn’t aesthetically pleasing. If you’d like to rid your tank of it, use the same method as removing filamentous algae: gently scrub the areas affected.

By now the glass, equipment, plants, and woods are clean and it’s time for the easy part. We’ll take the airline tubing and slowly siphon out 25 – 30% of the tank water. At the same time, we’ll siphon the algae and Saprolegnia bits that are left floating in the tank. It’s very common for us to use airline tubing because it is flexible and the diameter of the tubing allows for a slow and much more precise siphon. However, in already established tanks without algae, it’s okay to use a larger diameter tube in order to speed up the water change process.

Once the water is siphoned, quickly replace it with fresh new water. We use RODI water exclusively in all our tanks 20 gallons and smaller.

This whole process takes about an hour or so, so be prepared to spend some quality time with your tank. We left the filter alone and did not clean it at this point because the filter itself has been rated for three times the tank size so less maintenance is required and we prefer the beneficial bacteria in the filter media to be left alone for a few weeks before cleaning it.

Otocinclus cocama – Zebra Oto

Although optional, an algae clean up crew such as Amano Shrimp and Otocinclus species will make short work of diatomaceous spot algae, filamentous algae and Saprolegnia.

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