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Looking to change my substrate

3lackMamba

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Hello, new here so nice to meet you all.

I've had my 70L aquarium for approximately 2 years now, it's well established and houses 20 cardinal tetras and they're doing great. This was my first proper aquarium and at the time of setting it up I was researching cycling so much that I completely skipped over plant care, so the substrate I used was just your typical inert black gravel, I thought it looked nice and had no idea how much trouble I would have with plants. My first 2 plants in the aquarium was a java fern (which is still going strong to this day, probably because it's not planted) and limnophila which grew like wildfire (but from what I hear these grow insanely well anyway), so I thought since the limnophila was growing so well I'd start dabbeling with other planted plants and everything I have put in the tank since the limnophila has melted away, most recently being vallisneria which I bought a month ago and am slowly watching it wither away, it's roots are basically non existent as one floated to the top the other day and I had to replant it.

I am toying with the idea of of changing my substrate to Tropica Aquasoil or Fluval Stratum and pretty much rescaping my entire aquarium whilst I'm at it in the hope that I can have a nice planted aquarium which is what I wanted from the beginning, but after looking into this I learned that using these active substrates can cause huge ammonia spikes and should ideally be used in the beginning of an aquariums life like when cycling rather than in an already established aquarium, OR you should have the means of removing the fish into a seperate aquarium until the ammonia spikes settle down.

Unfortunately I don't have the means of moving my fish to another tank, so is this still possible? Has anyone else done this and had any success? I guess I could buy a big plastic tub as temporary storage but I would like to find a more convenient method. I'm seeing different stories from different people and some people are saying DO NOT do it whilst other's are saying they done it with no problems. I'll admit I probably have an overkill of biological media in my filter for 20 tetra's, I have about 1.2kg of bio balls in a Allpondsolutions HOB filter for a 70L aquarium, and I don't know if that would be enough to handle the ammonia spikes of new substrate, AFAIK BB adjusts itself to the load of ammonia and nitrite, but how fast would it adjust to a big ammonia spike that the new substrate would introduce?

I'm far from an expert on plants as I kind of gave up on them after they kept melting on me, but I have recently had a new wave of motivation to get into them so any help here is much appreciated.
 

PARAGUAY

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Sòunds like your existing plants are in dire straits so IMO you would be starting again with a soil substrate and the tank would need recycling. I would rehouse the fish and transfer filter and what plants are ok into temporary spare tank bucket and put plenty of fast growing stems in the new set up . The plants should help the nitrogen cycle quicker and even transfer some existing filter media in another filter. I know its been done fish in etc but its what l would do. Plenty of water changes for the first two weeks
 

Angus

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Fluval stratum doesn't leach ammonia, fish can stay in tubs for prolonged periods with mature filtration and lighting.
 

3lackMamba

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Sòunds like your existing plants are in dire straits so IMO you would be starting again with a soil substrate and the tank would need recycling. I would rehouse the fish and transfer filter and what plants are ok into temporary spare tank bucket and put plenty of fast growing stems in the new set up . The plants should help the nitrogen cycle quicker and even transfer some existing filter media in another filter. I know its been done fish in etc but its what l would do. Plenty of water changes for the first two weeks
Obviously I'll be transferring my current filter to the temporary tub, so will I need another filterm in the aquarium whilst it's re-cycling just to have some sort of flow? Or do I literally just re-scape and re-plant and let it sit whilst doing water changes every other day?
Fluval stratum doesn't leach ammonia, fish can stay in tubs for prolonged periods with mature filtration and lighting.
Okay I'm hearning this term "leach ammonia" all over the place since looking into this lol can you explain what it means? Is it a good thing or bad thing?
 

Courtneybst

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Hey! Nice to meet you.

Firstly, although aquasoil is a better choice for growing plants I wouldn't really consider it a limitation. I've had success growing plants in only gravel, with and without CO2.

Between those two options I'd go with Tropica Soil. Fluval Stratum is a pain in the a** to plant into and the large grain size tends to trap debris in my experience. I recently did a partial rescape with Tropica Soil and soaked it in a bucket of water for several weeks and changed the water twice to get rid of the leached ammonia. Added it to the tank and planted into it without any issues. I would say that would be the least annoying way of going about it.

As you're planning a full rescape however, I'd always advise moving the fish whilst you do this.
 

PARAGUAY

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Obviously I'll be transferring my current filter to the temporary tub, so will I need another filterm in the aquarium whilst it's re-cycling just to have some sort of flow? Or do I literally just re-scape and re-plant and let it sit whilst doing water changes every other day?

Okay I'm hearning this term "leach ammonia" all over the place since looking into this lol can you explain what it means? Is it a good thing or bad thing?
Its a 70 itre aquarium so a small internal with some of the exsisting media added. Yes welcome to UKAPS
 

Angus

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Hey! Nice to meet you.

Firstly, although aquasoil is a better choice for growing plants I wouldn't really consider it a limitation. I've had success growing plants in only gravel, with and without CO2.

Between those two options I'd go with Tropica Soil. Fluval Stratum is a pain in the a** to plant into and the large grain size tends to trap debris in my experience. I recently did a partial rescape with Tropica Soil and soaked it in a bucket of water for several weeks and changed the water twice to get rid of the leached ammonia. Added it to the tank and planted into it without any issues. I would say that would be the least annoying way of going about it.

As you're planning a full rescape however, I'd always advise moving the fish whilst you do this.
Good shout on pre-soaking, my brain isn't all there recently! also very true about a nutrient rich substrate not necessarily being needed to grow decent plants.
Obviously I'll be transferring my current filter to the temporary tub, so will I need another filterm in the aquarium whilst it's re-cycling just to have some sort of flow? Or do I literally just re-scape and re-plant and let it sit whilst doing water changes every other day?

Okay I'm hearning this term "leach ammonia" all over the place since looking into this lol can you explain what it means? Is it a good thing or bad thing?
As Courtney said, you may as well keep the Aquasoil in the tub rather than the fish! at least until you are ready to tear-down and rescape, once the leaching process is done (confirmed by a test kit) you can use the Aquasoil at your leisure, ammonia leaching is only a bad thing if you get elevated levels within the tank whilst stocked with livestock they will suffer, plants really quite like a bit of ammonia.
 

sparkyweasel

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Welcome! :)

Very few aquarium plants won't grow in inert substrate. You could spend a lot of money and do a lot of work changing the substrate and find it does not help with your problem.
If you post lots of details about your tank, and what plants you tried, what happened to them and how soon after planting them, we might be able to advise you how to get plants to thrive.

Something like this;
Tank info guidelines
plus the plant info.
 

tam

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I agree, plain gravel can grow great plants. Failing at one plant doesn't mean you need a new substrate. It might be other things in your tank aren't suited to it, or just pop a couple of root tabs in and you are sorted.

Have you got a picture of your tank?
 

3lackMamba

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I've heard so many people say they can grow plants in gravel but for some reason I've just never had any success, okay I guess I will attempt to fix this problem before doing a full teardown of my tank. I'll give some details.

1. Size of tank in litres - 70L

2. Age of the set - up - Approx 2 y/o, give or take a few months

3. Filtration - 500 L/H Allpondsolutions HOB Filter with approx 1.2kg of bioballs + mechanical filtration

4. Lighting and duration - Okay so this one has changed over the tanks duration, at first I used the LED that came with the tank which was a Juwel NovoLux LED, it was very bright and non dimmable and at the start I had it on for 8hrs a day, but I thought the lighting was to extreme and thats what was causing my plants to melt and I was also getting lots of algae so I lowered it to 6 hours a day but the melting persisted, now I currently have a cheap LED that I bought of amazon that is dimmable so I have it set quite low for 6 hours a day, it gives of more of a blueish glow rather than pure white but I've noticed my cardinals appreciate the lower light so thats another factor. It's helped with my algae but like I said my newest plants (Vallisneria) don't seem to be doing great, the stems look very thin and they aren't rooting.

5. Substrate - Marina Decorative Aquarium Gravel, Black, of Amazon. Its quite thick and probably not great for plants. Like I said in my original post I was so focused on learning how to cycle the tank at the beginning that I didn't really think about plant care and all I knew was that I wanted a black substrate.

6. Co2 dosing or Non-dosing - None, until 2 weeks ago when I was at my LFS and was talking to the guy about plants he reccommended a cheap CO2 system, it was £10 and is very similar to the Tropica Plant Grown System 60, I thought heck I'll try it and see what happens, you can see it in my picture and you have to manually dose it each day but tbh I haven't really noticed much or any of a difference. Like I said my vallisneria is still withering away, I'll probably remove the "CO2 system" when I'm doing my next water change which is today or tomorrow depending on what time I have before work.

7. Fertilizers used + Ratios - Seachem flourish and Easylife liquid CO2. I was using flourish about twice a week (1ml dosage) but recently stopped as the more I look into planted aquariums, the more I learn that people aren't really using ferts that often, only really after a water change ( learned this from MD on YouTube, his plants are amazing), so that's what I do now. I was also dosing liquid CO2 (1ml) as close to daily as I could, but haven't really seen any improvement to be honest.

8. Water change regime and type - Every 3-4 weeks, 50% water change. But that's probably going to change to every 2-3 weeks as I only recently added 10 extra cardinals a month ago so for quite some time now I have only had 10 cardinals and the bio-load has been very low.

9. Plant list + When planted - Currently Java fern and vallisneria. Java fern has been in the tank since day 1 and seems to be doing well. The vallisneria is in there now to replace the limnophila as I was getting quite bored of it. The limnophila was in the tank from day one also and always grew well, maybe to well at some points :D.. I tried three other planted plants in the past couple of years ( I don't remember their names unfortunately) and they all didn't root and melted away, which is what appears to be happening to my vallisneria. The vallisneria might not look to bad in the pictures but IRL you can see how some of the stems are almost transparent and just not generally that healthy, and like I said one floated to the top the other day and it had absolutely no roots whatsoever.

10. Inhabitants - 20 Cardinal Tetras

11. Full tank shot -

It's quite sunny today so you can barley see the the effects of the aquarium light thats on the lid, so I've taken two pictures one with the curtains open and one with them closed to try and give you a rough idea of how the lighting changes throughout the day.
IMG_8255.jpeg


IMG_8258.jpeg


EDIT: Damn ,these pictures make my tank look WAY smaller than it actually is :oops:
 
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3lackMamba

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The vallisneria is a month old by the way, from what I hear this plant is supposed to grow quite easily and branch of and spread quite well around the tank but as you can kind of see by the pictures (more evident IRL) they have a bit of a yellowish tinge to them, not the best colour and there is absolutely no sign of them spreading. They look very dull compared to when I first bought them. Similar story to most other planted plants that I bought in the past.
 

John q

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I was using flourish about twice a week (1ml dosage) but recently stopped as the more I look into planted aquariums, the more I learn that people aren't really using ferts that often
Not sure where you've heard this but it really isn't true, maybe that particular youtuber uses a substrate that's heavily packed with nutrients? Either way you need to start adding a complete fertiliser, one that contains npk and trace elements.

From personal experience vallisneria grows well in gravel, however a lot of valls don't like liquid co2 (glutaraldehyde) vallisneria spiralis seem to cope fairly well with small doses of it but the twisted valls that you have don't seem to like it, at least that's what I've found.

Personally I think you just need to start feeding the plants and stop dosing the liquid C02.
 

bazz

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Easylife liquid CO2
Hi,
If this is EasyCarbo, then although I don't personally grow Vallisneria I think there is a general consensus that any of the Glutaraldehyde Carbo Supplements will melt this plant along with one or two others, E.G. Blyxa, Mosses etc...
Cheers!

Edit.. @John q beat me to it.
 

3lackMamba

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Okay so how often do you guys dose ferts? And what ones do you use? I thought flourish was a good all rounder and I also thought to much fertiliser can be harmful to fish. But I’m here to be educated, so fire away!
 

3lackMamba

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Sorry for the double posts but I forgot to mention I run my aquarium on the warmer side for my cardinals, about 26C, can this negatively affect plants?
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
Welcome to UKAPS. I'm definitely hoping we can help.
The vallisneria is a month old by the way, from what I hear this plant is supposed to grow quite easily and branch of and spread quite well around the tank but as you can kind of see by the pictures (more evident IRL) they have a bit of a yellowish tinge to them, not the best colour and there is absolutely no sign of them spreading.
Do you know how hard your water is? I use rainwater in the tanks and Vallisneria won't grow for me either.
Seachem flourish and Easylife liquid CO2. I was using flourish about twice a week (1ml dosage) but recently stopped as the more I look into planted aquariums, the more I learn that people aren't really using ferts that often, only really after a water change ( learned this from MD on YouTube, his plants are amazing), so that's what I do now. I was also dosing liquid CO2 (1ml) as close to daily as I could, but haven't really seen any improvement to be honest.
<"Seachem Flourish"> gets a few mentions on the forum.
......Seachem Flourish may be a complete Fert and does contain some trace elements which many commercial ferts don't, although if using tap water you will be getting enough of these trace elements in your tap water to meet your plants needs. However Seachem Flourish is soo weak we had to disable it on the IFC calculator for a short time...........
so how often do you guys dose ferts? And what ones do you use? I thought flourish was a good all rounder and I also thought to much fertiliser can be harmful to fish. But I’m here to be educated, so fire away!
I agree with @tam and @sparkyweasel and I'd try a <"complete fertiliser"> before I changed the substrate. Plants can only make use of "extra" CO2 if they have all of the other <"fourteen essential nutrients for plant growth">.

People will use all sorts of dosing regimes. Some people use <"Estimative Index"> (EI), which aims to maximise plant growth by ensuring that mineral nutrients are never limiting.

Others (myself included) use the <"health and leaf colour of floating plant"> (a plant that isn't CO2 limited) as an indication of when to add nutrients.

cheers Darrel
 
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MichaelJ

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4. Lighting and duration - Okay so this one has changed over the tanks duration, at first I used the LED that came with the tank which was a Juwel NovoLux LED, it was very bright and non dimmable and at the start I had it on for 8hrs a day, but I thought the lighting was to extreme and thats what was causing my plants to melt and I was also getting lots of algae so I lowered it to 6 hours a day but the melting persisted, now I currently have a cheap LED that I bought of amazon that is dimmable so I have it set quite low for 6 hours a day, it gives of more of a blueish glow rather than pure white but I've noticed my cardinals appreciate the lower light so thats another factor. It's helped with my algae but like I said my newest plants (Vallisneria) don't seem to be doing great, the stems look very thin and they aren't rooting.
Make sure the intensity of the light is not too high. With proper intensity (as in low) you can run your light for much longer without any adverse effects. Yes, cardinals do prefer lower light intensity and that works to your and your plants advantage - and the Cardinals also look much better at lower light intensity IMO.

5. Substrate - Marina Decorative Aquarium Gravel, Black, of Amazon. Its quite thick and probably not great for plants. Like I said in my original post I was so focused on learning how to cycle the tank at the beginning that I didn't really think about plant care and all I knew was that I wanted a black substrate.
That is fine. Plants grow fine in inert substrate if your fertilizer scheme is appropriate. I always picked my substrate based on the look that I wanted - just like you did. If your running a high-tech tanks its usually beneficial to use (more expensive) enriched substrate - in a low-tech tank not so much. For your tank, changing the substrate would be the last thing I would consider with all the implications.

6. Co2 dosing or Non-dosing - None, until 2 weeks ago when I was at my LFS and was talking to the guy about plants he reccommended a cheap CO2 system, it was £10 and is very similar to the Tropica Plant Grown System 60, I thought heck I'll try it and see what happens, you can see it in my picture and you have to manually dose it each day but tbh I haven't really noticed much or any of a difference.
Right, thats a waste of money. CO2 has to be applied continuously during the photoperiod (when the plants are "inhaling" CO2) and in proper amounts. Arguably the most stunning tanks are CO2 injected, but I wouldn't recommend going there until you mastered the low-tech domain and when you do, you will have to consider if you want to deal with the complexities of CO2 injection.

Like I said my vallisneria is still withering away, I'll probably remove the "CO2 system" when I'm doing my next water change which is today or tomorrow depending on what time I have before work.
That could likely be related to the dosing of liquid CO2 and your fertilizing scheme in general (see below).

7. Fertilizers used + Ratios - Seachem flourish and Easylife liquid CO2. I was using flourish about twice a week (1ml dosage) but recently stopped as the more I look into planted aquariums, the more I learn that people aren't really using ferts that often, only really after a water change ( learned this from MD on YouTube, his plants are amazing), so that's what I do now. I was also dosing liquid CO2 (1ml) as close to daily as I could, but haven't really seen any improvement to be honest.
I would switch over to a complete fertilizer as suggested by @sparkyweasel and @dw1305, such as TNC Complete. Vallisneria are prone to melting when dosing liquid CO2 so you might want to stop that if you want to keep the Vallisneria - happened to me several times until I was told about the adverse effect to certain plants and mosses.
8. Water change regime and type - Every 3-4 weeks, 50% water change. But that's probably going to change to every 2-3 weeks as I only recently added 10 extra cardinals a month ago so for quite some time now I have only had 10 cardinals and the bio-load has been very low.
I would up the WC's to 40% weekly. It's not carved in stone how much you actually need, but 3-4 weeks is far too long in-between WC's IMHO. When you increase the WC frequency, make sure you also dose a proper amount of a complete fertilizer, otherwise there is a good chance your plants will starve. Dosing fertilizer will not harm your fish... You will have to dose wildly over the recommended dosing to get anywhere near toxic levels for your fish.

9. Plant list + When planted - Currently Java fern and vallisneria. Java fern has been in the tank since day 1 and seems to be doing well. The vallisneria is in there now to replace the limnophila as I was getting quite bored of it. The limnophila was in the tank from day one also and always grew well, maybe to well at some points :D.. I tried three other planted plants in the past couple of years ( I don't remember their names unfortunately) and they all didn't root and melted away, which is what appears to be happening to my vallisneria. The vallisneria might not look to bad in the pictures but IRL you can see how some of the stems are almost transparent and just not generally that healthy, and like I said one floated to the top the other day and it had absolutely no roots whatsoever.
I highly recommend adding more plants to the tank, its always beneficial... More Vallisneriia, Swords etc. Go for plants in the Tropica easy category.

10. Inhabitants - 20 Cardinal Tetras
My all-time favorite :)

Sorry for the double posts but I forgot to mention I run my aquarium on the warmer side for my cardinals, about 26C, can this negatively affect plants?
26 C is unnecessary high. My cardinals and other tetras, shrimps and plants are doing just fine at 23.5 - 24 C - and Cardinals in their natural habitats are routinely found in waters that are 23 C. At lower temps your slowing down the metabolism of the tank (fish and plants), increasing the amount of dissolved Oxygen and CO2. Not much, but everything counts.

It's quite sunny today so you can barley see the the effects of the aquarium light thats on the lid,
I am not a big fan of having direct sun light hitting my tanks. It's not necessarily always a problem, but it can cause uncontrolled algae blooms... I would limit it.


Welcome to UKAPS! :)

Cheers,
Michael
 
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sparkyweasel

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I also thought to much fertiliser can be harmful to fish.
It can, but it would take a LOT to cause any harm; a lot of people dose 2, 3 or even 6 times the recommended dose without any problems.
You really need a complete fertiliser, TNC Complete has worked well for me (and others). I would start with the recommended dose.
'Liquid carbon' divides opinion on whether it helps plants growth, but it's certainly bad for some species, including Vallis so I would stop using that.
Then I would add some 'easy' plants such as Hygrophila, Water Wisteria (technically another Hygrophila) Indian Fern, Bacopa, Ludwigia, Amazon Swords and Hornwort accoding to which you like the look of. Cryptocorynes are also good, as long as you accept that they very often melt when you plant them, but they usually grow back.
Plants often grow better when there are lots of them, so more plants should help.
 

Hufsa

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I just grabbed this quick picture of my tank right now with no CO2 and completely inert sand as substrate, to show you that you dont have to have soil to grow plants :thumbup:
I definitely have to feed my plants well, since nothing is in the substrate, they depend on water column fertilizer for their needs.
It might be not all plants will like your tank, but a majority will. Ive failed with vallisneria before, I think my water is too soft.

20211115_203622(0).jpg

I see you have gotten great advice already, I would try out what they say before any substrate change.
 
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MichaelJ

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I just grabbed this quick picture of my tank right now with no CO2 and completely inert sand as substrate, to show you that you dont have to have soil to grow plants :thumbup:
I definitely have to feed my plants well, since nothing is in the substrate, they depend on water column fertilizer for their needs.
It might be not all plants will like your tank, but a majority will. Ive failed with vallisneria before, I think my water is too soft.

View attachment 177308

I see you have gotten great advice already, I would try out what they say before any substrate change.
Hi @Hufsa Awesome tank and a great case in point! :)

Yes, Vallisneria tend to prefer harder water (~8-10 GH), but then again, I've seen several examples around here where people successfully grow them in the 4-5 GH range.
 
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