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The Life Aquatic with Snail Zissou(s): my first planted tank


7 Jul 2020
Chicago, Illinois
Well, after months of hemming and hawing, I've started my first ever planted tank. But I'm facing some challenges due to lack of supply and long delivery times due to lockdown... hoping for a turnaround.

Tank: Aqueon 29gal (~98L), 30" x 12" x 18" (76 x 30 x 45cm)
Light: Finnex 24/7 Planted+ HLC (6 hours on ~60%, 2 hours on ~10%)
Filter: Aquaclear 50 HOB
CO2: None for now. As of Jul 7, even if I wanted it, I couldn't buy any kit.
Ferts: Aquarium Co-op Easy Green (all-in-one macro + micro fert), 3ml once per week; 3ml Easy Carbon (1.5% glut) every other day, per instructions.

Substrate is mostly Seachem Fluorite Dark, with some fine sand to the right as a future corydora sandpit. I used Seachem Flourish root tabs in the substrate. The hardscape is a mix of smooth river stones, black lava stone, a piece of spiderwood and a piece of Malaysian driftwood. I then added a grab bag of botanicals: catappa leaves, a mix of seed pods, and some banana stem.


Right after scaping...


Just after planting.

The first round of plants I used were:
- Assorted bucephelandras (Kedagang original, mini coin, red blade, black pearl, brownie blue)
- Anubias barteri var. coffeefolia
- Rotala coin leaf
- Alternathera reineckii
- Staurogyne repens
- Marsilea hirsuta
- Cryptocoryne lutea
- Najas indica
- Hydrocotyle leucocephala
- Christmas moss

Unfortunately, as you can see, a lot of the plants came in pretty banged up in transit. Nearly every node on the guppy grass was brown, I threw out half the pennywort because the stems had gone brown and melty, the Christmas moss was more brown than green, and the AR started shedding leaves pretty much immediately. That, plus some amateurish planting techniques, meant that over the next few days, the rotala and s. repens also started merrily shedding leaves, stems, and sometimes just whole chunks of rhizome...


Two days later.

I planted the bits that looked OK, floated the pennywort to get it more light and CO2, then more or less left everything as is and hoped they'd make it. Meanwhile plenty of tannins leached out of all the leaves, pods and wood. On top of all this, due to a lot of conflicting advice on cycling tanks, I'd added ammonia... then after another four days of reading, rereading, trying to track different arguments and understand different points of view, I did a 50% water change and a trim of all the very leggy stems. I tossed all of this first batch of guppy grass: none of it had recovered inside of a week, I wound up with far less than I started, and everything that was left was extremely fragile, breaking apart, and still as brown (or browner) than the day it arrived. Didn't matter if it was floating or planted.


Which brings us to today. No more added ammonia, only fertilizers and a bit of liquid carbon going in from this point on. What gives me hope is that all the faster-growing plants in the tank are sending up new buds: the very mangled s. repens has tiny leaf buds, I see small m. hirsuta leaves, the pennywort is recovering nicely and most of the rotala has new growth. The AR is doing surprisingly well, with lots of new leaf nodes sprouting at about the same pace that it's shedding old leaves. I'm trying to get my hands on some salvinia minima and some replacement guppy grass/bushy fast-growing background plant, but supply shortages and shipping delays means that it's all a bit up in the air.

If you've made it this far... I'm pleased to announce that the only truly thriving inhabitants of my tank are all of the snails that hitchhiked on the plants! There's 2tbsp of crushed coral in the filter just for them, since I have very soft water (1 dKH and 3 dGH out of the tap). I spotted 1 bladder snail on day one, and naturally, by day 7 there's at least six, and a bonus baby ramshorn. I suspect they (and the liquid carbon) are the reason I'm having very little algae, only a light dusting of brown diatoms here and there and the fungus growth on the driftwood. In keeping with the title of this journal, every single one of them will be named Snail Zissou.


Hopefully I can come back in a week and have a heartwarming update of how all the plants made it. Fingers crossed :)
Hi all,
I like the snail. I'm a <"Physella fan">, my guess is that your plants will perk up and start growing.
Nearly every node on the guppy grass was brown,
It is a shame, because it is a good plant <"but it doesn't travel very well">.
I'd added ammonia... then after another four days of reading, rereading, trying to track different arguments and understand different points of view, I did a 50% water change and a trim of all the very leggy stems.
Which brings us to today. No more added ammonia,
Yes, you don't need <"to add ammonia to cycle a planted tank">, <"opinions differ"> but I like just planting the tank and then when the <"plants have grown in"> you can add the fish.

cheers Darrel
Got some replacement guppy grass from a fellow hobbyist. This stuff looks much much healthier. I made a corral out of a length of airline tubing (held the ends briefly over a candle and pressed the melted ends together) to limit flow. I've also got a ziploc bag of mixed salvinia cucullata, salvinia natans and red root floaters coming next week, and with that I think my plant selection will be complete for now.


I've still got a little bit of ammonia left over (maybe 0.25ppm?) but I figure I can just let the plants take over that. Nitrites are high, and nitrates are in the l20-30ppm area - I've been doing 50% water changes weekly and additional 20-25% changes when the nitrates get high. Or just when there's too much snail poop on the sand and I need to vacuum it out :)

My one ramshorn snail has grown enormous and I now have a dozen tiny baby bladder snails running around. I counted five egg clusters today so pretty soon I should have a real snail population explosion!
Well two weeks in and I've made a fair few changes.


I added more plants, specifically Hygrophila salicifolia 'blue', some anubias nana, and replaced the Alternathera reineckii with Ludwigia ovalis. I've added a mixed selection of floating plants - Salvinia cucullata, Salvinia natans, and red root floaters - and made a little corral for the right side of my tank out of craft mesh, zip ties and suction cups.

sad AR.jpg

The sad remnants of the AR. Mostly mushy, no real root growth.

Somehow I've managed to kill my lovely replacement guppy grass. The snails are currently eating all the old growth, but all of that old growth went clear and wispy before the snails attacked. I can't figure it out for the life of me - maybe a nitrogen deficiency? I've already increased my fertilizer doses to compensate. I have a suspicion that the guppy grass might also be affected by the liquid carbon? I've never seen a thread on guppy grass growing problems, it's always "I've got too much of the stuff". In any case, between the hygro, ludwigia, and surface floaters, I think I have all the nitrate-removing capability I need, plus the surface cover I got the guppy grass for.

Speaking of snails, I added a few more! Bought some blue ramshorns and nerite snails, four of each. The nerites love to be on my driftwood and the ramshorns are all over, very active. I lucked out and I only have one female nerite, so not too many eggs to deal with, so far.

I'm still waiting for nitrites to come under control. Twice-weekly 50% water changes seem to be helping but I have to keep adding nitrogen back in for my very hungry plants. I'm also starting to get concerned about the stupendous quantity of K that Seachem Equilibrium adds - is there such a thing as a potassium overdose? It's got me looking into DIY ferts anyhow. As an aside - I got into a conversation with the building manager of my apartment complex, and long story short I might have just volunteered myself to take care of a future tank in the lobby. 😅

I leave you with this inspiring image. Reach for the stars, little buddy.

floating snail.jpg
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Hi @veerserif

That scape has potential, it's a shame so much of your plant stick arrived in poor condition.

You really need a bit more in terms of plant mass, or you will soon be facing lots of algae issues.

I would try to get some more planted ASAP, even if it's a quick growing stem that you don't really want - you can always replace it later when the plants you want come back into stock.

I understand you are using Equalibrium to increase your KH and GH. Plants don't result care about KH, but GH is important, your tap at 3GH is borderline for plant growth IMO.

6-10 GH is what I consider to be the sweet spot. Although plants can grow great in much higher.

What is your GH after Equalibrium?
What is your GH after Equalibrium?

I try to keep my dGH between 6 and 8. There's crushed coral in the filter for a bit of extra calcium and KH... Sending dKH to the lofty heights of 2-3.

As for the extra plant mass, that's what I hoped the guppy grass would do for me, but I might try water sprite or hornwort given how poorly it's doing.
I try to keep my dGH between 6 and 8. There's crushed coral in the filter for a bit of extra calcium and KH... Sending dKH to the lofty heights of 2-3.

As for the extra plant mass, that's what I hoped the guppy grass would do for me, but I might try water sprite or hornwort given how poorly it's doing.

6-8dGH sounds good.

My tap water is also 0KH, 1-3 dGH, 54 TDS - very similar to yours.

Took me months to realise it was the low dGH preventing plant growth.

I've played a lot with crushed coral, but find it tricky as it takes so long to build dKH and all the good work is washed away with the next water change.

Also after a while the coral becomes depleted and stops being effective.

I've only recently established a stable 3dKH, which I achieve with a tsp of calcium carbonate powder fed directly into my surface skimmer (more on that in the last couple of posts in my journal below).

I use Epsom Salts for the Mg portion of my dGH, but Equalibrium should be giving you plenty of Mg.

I would avoid Hornwort as it is prone to dropping it's pine like leaves / needles, and making a mess.

I would suggest Egeria Densa as a bullet proof super fast stem.

Alternatively, any number from the Hygrophila or Limnophila species.
I got impatient and added a 50ml bottle of Tetra SafeStart Plus a week ago. Good results off today's test though! If it is indeed 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites, is it amano and cherry shrimp time?

And more hygrophila is coming in the mail - doubling the number of hygro blue stems, plus some more hygro compacta.


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Quick one-month update! I added 8 amano shrimp and 12 cherries to the tank. Unfortunately 2 of the cherries died soon after adding, but everyone else seems quite happy and healthy. I've counted five successful complete molts so far. Also, they were so stinkin' cute that I promptly went and bought a 5-gallon portrait aquarium to be set up as a dirted shrimp tank. MTS is real.

The hygro has not taken off the way I had hoped for, because they also arrived half-dead. Not having great luck with these plants. I'm hoping that after a month of recovery they'll properly take off. They are growing right now, just not as quickly as I hoped. The older plants have really stabilized though, with much better growth on the rotala, ludwigia, s. repens and hydrocotyle. The hydrocotyle is putting out a new leaf every other day! The surface plants are also putting out a lot of new growth. I'm slowly ramping up my light intensity as well, one step brighter across the board every two weeks. No big algae outbreaks yet, though I can see a little hair algae here and there.

I suspect an iron deficiency on the hydrocotyle and S. repens, they have very pale new leaves. I'm overdosing my all-in-one liquid fert to try and compensate but it's not working great. Once that bottle runs out (it's only 250ml anyway) I'll switch over to DIY... unless I should just go DIY now to up the level of iron?
I suspect an iron deficiency on the hydrocotyle and S. repens, they have very pale new leaves. I'm overdosing my all-in-one liquid fert to try and compensate but it's not working great
Given the soft water and a commercial fertilizer solution, I’m sceptical regarding any iron deficiency ... though you should have an elemental analysis from the Aquarium Co-op Easy Green???

Got yeast?
Try a DIY CO2 set up - just take care not to overdose the CO2 - depending upon the yeast recipe, initial growth can be explosive (definitely recommend gelatine/agar agar medium, also only tiny amount of yeast to start, and not a lot of sugar, champagne yeast will give the longest run, yeast “nutrient”, Equilibrium and baking soda as tap water is soft - if there’s still a local active plant group, see what others are doing for DIY CO2)
Re Equilibrium and K, Seachem has several comments on this on their discussion board
Having had a couple days to sit down and think about it, I think my problem is much more likely to be flow because the hygro compacta in the center is showing carbon deficiency signs (melty stems, holes in leaves). I've moved my filter to a more central spot to get a better flow pattern. I can see its leaves swaying very slightly now, so will keep the filter there for the next month and see how it does.

As you say, between the Equilibrium, soft water and commercial all-in-one fert, it probably isn't a micronutrient deficiency, so it's probably a micronutrient delivery problem.
In soft water, you’re more likely to see toxicity problems than in hard water aquatic systems
Shrimp babies have hatched and they're swimming all around the place. The hygro compacta did not make it, but the other plants are now growing steadily. The only algae I have is a touch of green hair algae which is easy enough to manually remove. Ever since getting the ppm/dose of my fert (thanks to the people on this forum), I've been doing double or triple doses and it's made a big difference. You can see the stunting on this stem of rotala very clearly!


In two or three weeks, when the shrimplets are big enough to not be immediately eaten, I'll look for some pygmy corydoras to introduce to the aquarium. Worse comes to worse, I set up a dirted 5-gallon desktop tank (hornwort, pearlweed, and crypt wendtii) that's going to be shrimp-only, so I can put some in there as a refuge. If I decide I need more plant mass in this tank, I can always just chuck a handful of hornwort in from the dirted tank as well.
Pygmys have gone in, as well as espei rasboras. Sadly, as detailed in another thread, one of the corys and one of the rasboras didn't make it after a three-day course of Ich-X. I'd love to get more pygmy cories in the future, I think 7 is on the low side. However, the remainder are very active and schooling together, and there's plenty of life in the tank. The shrimp in particular just WILL NOT STOP breeding.

I'm also a little worried about food - the cories do scavenge all day but the rasboras are much more aggressive (relatively), and will go after absolutely anything edible in the tank. The pygmys are timid enough that they're always last to the dinner table, which generally means most of the pellets have been eaten either by the rasboras or amanos. Any feeding tips? I use a turkey baster to make sure sinking foods hit the substrate and spend minimal time in the water column, while distracting the rasboras with a tiny bit of food on the surface.
Cherry shrimp will absolutely breed endlessly. I bought half a dozen in June 2019 for a 20 liter tank. There are now quite literally hundreds of them, I could not count them if I tried. The only possible way to reduce the numbers in a tank would be to introduce fish that are large enough to predate on baby shrimp.

I feed my Pygmy Cories on Vitalis Catfish Pellets. They go straight to the bottom, and would be much too big for a rasbora to swallow while it's on the way down (in fact my Dwarf Gourami can't even manage a whole one). They are soft pellets so the Cories can graze on them slowly once they reach the bottom. As you have shrimp, they will certainly eat any remnants. If Vitalis is hard to find in the US, Hikari also do a sinking wafer (and again, you should let the Cories graze on them over time rather than following the "as much as they can finish in two minutes" rule that many think is ironclad).
Thanks for the tips. I actually just ordered a microworm culture because I wanted to try feeding live foods, and I'll grab some Hikari wafers. I've definitely noticed that they prefer grazing and scavenging over time!