Some people mistakenly think setting up an aquarium is as easy as pouring water into a bowl and throwing some fish in. This could not be farther from the truth! One often overlooked aspect of aquariums is aquascaping—the underwater version of landscaping.
Just as you would want every tree, bush, and blade of grass to look precisely as you want, think of aquascaping as the same practice for your underwater environment. Your underwater landscape includes the plants, substrate, rocks, and other decorations that make up the tank’s decor.
Various aquascaping styles have cropped up, including the Dutch style of plants with contrasting leaves, the Iwagumi style of always following the golden ratio, and jungle styles where constructed disarray is the goal.
Let’s take a closer look at aquascaping basics – fertilizing methods.
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Before You Fertilize, Add Light and CO2
When your aquarium plants become yellowed and look weak, it’s not always the answer to add more fertilizer. Chances are your aquarium light is insufficient, or there is insufficient carbon dioxide (CO2) in the water. Usually, an aquatic system has a healthy balance between fish breath and feces to provide for the needs of the plants, while the plants provide enough oxygen to maintain the fish, and the plants absorb the excess CO2.
New aquatic systems, where the balance between fish and plants hasn’t been established yet, may require additional carbon added to the water to maintain healthy plants.
Adding a carbon filter can help reintroduce enough carbon to the water, and adding different spectrum lights that provide UVA and UVB light can help ensure the plants have sufficient light to manufacture food and grow with the process of photosynthesis.
A light such as the hygger Auto On Off LED Aquarium Light works really well as you can program the light cycle, which is excellent if you have to leave your aquarium unattended while on holiday.
To boost the CO2 production in the aquarium, a NilocG Aquatics | Intense Atomic Inline Co2 Atomizer Diffuser is an excellent addition.
Choosing a Fertilizer for Your Aquascape
Fish need oxygen to live, and plants need carbon dioxide to live. Since each one exhales the gas the other one needs, it creates a harmonious system!
But fish and plants have different nutritional needs: fish need food, while plants need fertilizer. Fish feces can become a type of fertilizer for plants, but it can also cause algae to bloom, causing your aquarium to turn green.
This means you need to balance fertilizer requirements for plants, how much you feed your fish, and how often you clean your aquarium to ensure healthy aquatic plants and fish.
Most plants you purchase from aquarium supply stores will come with information regarding their food requirements.
Consider researching the plants online to get information regarding what fertilizer and how much fertilizer your plants need. Correctly fed plants will appear like plants you find in the wild.
Under fertilized plants may exhibit brown or yellowing leaves, appear wilted, or look partially transparent.
Liquid Style Fertilizers
Some fertilizers are available in liquid forms. Just as you would imagine, they can be added to water like food coloring to a clear beverage. The liquid fertilizers increase the nutrients in the tank, greatly benefiting the plant life therein.
You can administer the liquid fertilizer via a syringe with an extra aquarium tube fitted so your fertilizer can reach the plant roots if your plants need to get a specialized fertilizer.
Or, you can add the fertilizer near the outlet of the pump, ensuring that the fertilizer spreads throughout the tank. Most liquid fertilizers will contain iron, a necessary element for growing healthy plants, while being free of phosphates, nitrates, and any other harmful chemicals (which would be found in feces).
Those chemicals are known to increase algae growth, which can be an issue in maintaining a healthy environment inside your tank. Schedule a time to add the liquid fertilizer, typically once a week (if your plants need it), to ensure beautiful, vibrant plants.
If you decide on liquid fertilizers, look for types that contain iron (as mentioned earlier) as well as potassium, zinc, manganese, and cobalt. My personal suggestion would be Seachem Flourish Excel.
Soil…in a Fish Tank?
Another popular fertilizer option is aquarium soil. Similar to how normal soil feeds plants at their roots, aquarium soil provides vital nutrients at the root layer of your aquarium’s plants. Nutrients are typically held in a clay base, such as Flourite Red, and are released slowly over time.
Some aquarium soil brands have enough nutrients to be placed in an aquarium and “forgotten.” It may be months before the soil substrate will need to be replaced. These types of soils have sometimes been collected in volcanic areas, where vast amounts of nutrients have been formed in the soil through natural processes.
One such aquarium soil is CaribSea Eco-Complete. This substrate is enriched with nutrients such as iron, sulfur, calcium, and many others that your plants require. No artificial chemicals are used in the soil composition; thus, you do not have to worry about contamination.
Fertilizer Tablets—the Convenient Option
One more fertilizer option is a fertilizer tablet. Fertilizer tablets are like vitamins for your aquarium. Essential elements are packed into pill form, which is then pressed into the tank’s substrate to serve as a time-release nutrient deposit. Fertilizer tablets function like a blend of liquid fertilizer and the longer-term aquarium soil or fertilized substrate solution.
Most tablets will provide about a month’s worth of nutrition. Like other options, they should all be free of nitrates, phosphates, and other algae-inducing chemicals. The fertilizer tablets are pushed into the tank’s substrate delivering power-packed minerals and nutrients directly to the plants’ roots.
Some of the recommended fertilizer tablets are:
And the Winner is…
Before you finally decide on what fertilizer to use, consider all the variables of your tank. How many fish do you have? How many plants do you have? Do you plan on adding more of either in the immediate future? How often do you siphon clean your aquarium?
Research the types of fish you have to understand better how many plants to get and what species to get. Research those plants to see what fertilizer makes the most sense for your aquarium. Having the right fertilizer will enhance the fish and plants in your aquarium.