(I apologise in advance for the length of the post) Hi my name is Steve and I'm new here. While I don't profess to having quite the technical expertise as some of our more esteemed members (you know who you are) here are some words of advice based on my own experiences. If you know all of this already (and you probably do because you are on this site) I apologise. But for those that don't here goes. To begin with a bit of background and a few words of warning. I have been keeping fish and growing aquatic plants for more years than I care to remember, and believe me when I say I think I have made all the mistakes in the past that just about anyone could make. Also I have lost count and given up trying to work out how much this hobby has cost me over the years. Some of my biggest mistakes were trying to do things on the cheap and taking short cuts. Trust me it is false economy in terms of time effort and money spent on plants etc. How did I get started, well I got my inspiration from a Japanese guy called Takashi Amano. He has written several books, for example the best one is called Nature Aquarium World. If you can get hold of this book it will spur you on to try and reproduce what he has done. The information and pictures in this book are truly staggering. So what do I think? Well I am going to list the things which I think you need to consider as important firstly in no particular order and then I will try explain a bit about each one and prioritise the top three or four. 1. Water quality and parameters plus the correct testing kits. 2. The correct supplements for the plants, including CO2. 3. Lighting. 4. Water temperature for the plants and the fish. 5. Quantity of fish and the feeding regimes for just keeping and or breeding. 6. Time and patience. 7. Substrate, including undergravel heating and base fertiliser. 8. Under gravel heating. 9. Good quality plants right from the start. 10. Good filtration. 11. Pre-planning on how you want your tank to look before you even put anything in it. If I was to list my top three priorities when it comes to growing plants and producing a healthy looking show tank I would say that they are, 1. Water quality after all thats what the plants and the fish are going to live in. 2. Lighting, this is critical both in terms of what type and how long the lights are on for. 3. Substrate and supplements. Plus CO2. All my water is from my Reverse Osmosis system which is good but you need to add the correct amount of supplements. Every single product I use is from a company called SERA. It is a German product but it is pretty much widely available in this country. (Since I wrote this I have discovered "The Green Machine" in wrexham. Â£$%&*"Â£azing. I use a 4-5 millimetre light brown quartz gravel with a base mineral fertiliser from SERA which goes under the gravel. A thin 1.5 centimetre layer of gravel goes over the under gravel heating cable. Make sure your heating cable is at least 300 watts. Then on goes the mineral soil fertiliser at a depth of around 1.5 to 2 centimetres and then 2 to 3 centimetres of gravel on top of that. Add any rocks or bogwood etc putting them into the places that you have already planned before hand. Make sure you have got all your water ready and prepared to go in. To be honest the first water I put in during the planting stage is warmed up tap water. The reason for this is because when the tank has finally been planted there is usually a bit of debris and stuff floating around, so this gets siphoned out and I don't want to waste the prepared RO water which I am going to use to fill the tank up with later. Also have your filter in position and ready to switch on as soon as you have finished planting. Make sure you have your plants ready in the order you are going to plant them. Start with the short foreground plants and work gradually up to the bigger plants. There is a reason for this. Draw a rough diagram of where you are going to plant in advance as part of your planning and stick to the plan. Carefully add just enough water to cover the height of the smaller foreground plants. Finish planting the foreground plants and then add just enough water to cover the height of the next level of plants you are putting in. You can use a fine net to catch any bits that are floating about at this stage. Keep repeating this process until all your plants are in and you are happy. Then you need to get the undergravel heater on and if you are using any other internal heater get that on as well. Set the thermostats for a temperature not higher than 24 degrees. Then get your filter switched on. You can use any make you prefer, but I use an Eheim Professional 2 series external canister filter. The good thing about this one is that you can regulate the flow through of water and adjust it so that there is not a lot of turbulence. Too much turbulence will cause the CO2 to disperse from the water and therefore your plants will not get the amount they need even though the CO2 sytem is almost permanently on. The lighting I used on the tank you probably saw in the photographs is a Guisemann Moonlight 260. This had two 30 watt Grolux tubes and two 150 watt, 6000 Kelvin (heat rating) HQI metal halides built into it. I bought the light mail order from a company down south which imports the Guisemann lighting systems from Germany. I had it originally on my marine tank with higher powered lighting in it. But I adapted it with lower rating lights so that I did not bleach or burn the plants with too powerful lights. Here comes the shocking bit, the lighting system cost me around Â£1,300.00 when I bought it. I have to say it was well worth the money, every penny. At night time when all the other lights are off there is a small 5 watt dichroic spotlight that comes on. This small spotlight is set on a timer which coincides with the lunar cycle of the moon, so it gets brighter as the moon reaches full moon and then fades again over the next fifteen days to coincide with the new moon. I spent hours watching the fish and plants in the moonlight, it was absolutely amazing. The light is boxed and is in the loft now because I sold my big tank and got a Jewel Trigon 190 instead. It is bow fronted and looks very nice. As far as supplements and plant food are concerned, every body has their own views and ideas, but here is what I use and why. Firstly SERA mineral salts to add to the water to put back some of the minerals that are taken out by the RO system. I use these minerals in conjunction with SERA Karbonate Hardness (KH)buffer. I use these together because my CO2 system is triggered by a rise in the PH of the water. If the KH is too low the PH will stay low and therefore the CO2 system does not kick in therefore the plants do not get the right amount of CO2. I set the amount of CO2 using a bubble counter between the C02 cylinder and the feed to the main tank. I set the bubble rate at between 40 and 60 bubbles per minute according to the amount of plants there are in the tank. The only other additive I use with the mineral salts and the KH buffer is liquid Iron again from SERA. If you are using the KH and the Iron you need the right testing kits to make sure you get the balance right. The only other testing kits that I use are for Nitrate and Phosphates. High nitrate and phosphates are your worse nightmare when it comes to keeping and growing plants successfully, and keeping the dreaded algae at bay. This is where you need to think very carefully about the type and amount of fish you are going to keep. One mistake I have made in the past is keeping too many fish which led to overfeeding to make sure they all got fed. This causes sky high nitrates and phosphates and loads of algae problems. If you do this the only way to combat it is almost daily massive water changes which is not good because you have to replace all the minerals, iron, KH buffer and so on. It can become a time consuming and costly business, which then takes all the fun out of it. Once you have got everything set up don't add any iron, kh buffer or minerals to begin with, keep the CO2 switched off and the lighting on only for a few hours a day. In this first week what you want is for the plants to get settled and start setting their root systems into the gravel and the minerals. You can add a few Dwarf Otocinclus Affinis(small cat fish type) almost straight away. Don't put any flake or tablet food in for the first week. They will spend their time happily grazing on the plants already looking for algae. You can add one or two small slices of raw tomato without the seeds, they love this and it also helps to sweeten the water. Do not add any Plecostomus or Flying fox fishes. Also avoid the Clown loaches, they are too busy and can disturb the plants before they have rooted properly. If you want to you can add these later but, personally I would advise against it. This is just my opinion, they can get a bit boisterous especially if you are going to be adding discus fish later. I said you should keep the water temperature in the early stages at 24 degrees, this is because in the early stages the plants will not handle the high temperatures. Even later when I had the discus in the tank I kept the temperature at between 24 degrees and a maximum of 26 degrees. This is because the discus will adapt to the lower temperatures but the plants will not do well in water that is 29 or 30 degrees. Once the plants are well established the lighting is usually kept on for around nine hours a day. Finally I will say that if you are successful you may find yourself a victim of your own success. The plants grow so well you will find yourself cutting and trimming off more plants than you planted originally. I have thrown away literally bags full of plant cuttings just to keep the tank in balance. If you don't it grows wild and becomes like an unkept garden. I wish you all the luck in your quest, and most importantly have fun and enjoy what you do. PS I am not on commission from SERA. Cheers Steve.