Care and Maintenance of Aquarium Plants
by Ruby Bayan
As caretaker of the simulated natural environment in your tank, you will have to make sure that your aquarium flora are planted well, and receive adequate light, nutrients, and the constant care and maintenance they need to thrive. This may all seem a bit overwhelming, but once the plants are established, they do not really require much fuss.
Once you've chosen your assortment of aquatic plants and are ready to introduce them into your tank, be sure you are not also introducing unwanted elements such as snails and tiny predators. Rinse your newly acquired vegetation under clean water and remove damaged or decaying leaves, stems, and roots. Plant them into their designated places gently to minimize bruising.
Rooted plants should be planted into the substrate only up to where their leaves meet the roots. Burying them too deep will cause the stems to rot. If the plant is mature and has a good root system, you can trim off a third of the roots, including the old brownish ones because these are, in effect, dead roots.
Tubers should be planted at an angle, with the shoots just above the substrate; otherwise, the plant will not survive.
Cuttings, which are usually sold in a bunch or cluster, should be separated and planted one by one, and properly spaced out for better growth. Spacing them will also help provide adequate lighting to the bottom leaves. Thrusting clusters into the substrate, or tying them together, will crush the stems and cause them to rot. Trim off a few leaves from the bottom of the stem and sink the stem into the substrate up to its first bottom leaf.
As to the placement of plants in your tank, try to follow some basic principles:
- Put tall ones, and those that tend to grow tall and thick, at the sides and at the back.
- Plant short and rosette-type plants in the front and center.
- Do not use the rooted plants in areas where fish that have a tendency to dig can uproot them. Instead, plant them behind rocks, driftwood, or other dominant decor.
Backdrop of Vallisneria
All plants have unique lighting requirements. Some require intense light while some can't tolerate it. Most aquatic plants require about 10 to 12 hours of light exposure in order to thrive, and very few will continue to flourish if the light source is partially blocked by tall neighboring plants.
Remember that if certain species like the red-leafed and fine-leafed ones need bright light, extending their exposure to regular light (i.e., the standard fluorescent tube that came with the tank) will not suffice. Putting the aquarium by the window so that it will catch the sunís rays is not a good idea either ó too much light will encourage algae growth. The best strategies are to add fluorescent light tubes or install aluminum reflectors behind the light source, and to ensure that the glass cover is always clean so that proper illumination reaches all the plants.
Regular Care and Maintenance
Just as you would diligently check on the health and wellness of your fish, give a little attention to your aquatic plants as well. Here's a list of things to do:
- Fertilize. Aquatic plant fertilizers that are rich in nutrients like iron and potassium are available as pellets and in liquid form. Follow the product instructions on the quantity, schedule, and manner of applying these fertilizers. Some substrates are mixed with laterite clay that is specifically beneficial for tank vegetation.
- Change some of the water. Aquarium plants play an active role in the tank's nitrogen cycle, but sometimes the water composition degrades into one that is not any longer highly beneficial to plants. This is when your assistance is required ó once a week, changing the water (less than 20 percent) helps in refreshing the quality of the environment. Be sure to de-chlorinate and check the temperature of the new water before introducing it into the tank. You may also add fertilizer to the new water if appropriate.
- Do regular check-ups. Regular maintenance for plants also includes trimming dead or damaged leaves and branches, propagating by cutting or separating new growth, and removing snails. Some serious aquatic plant enthusiasts introduce CO2 into the tank to boost the plant systems. You can inquire from your vendor about this option.
- Avoid toxic elements. The standard manner of treating fish ailments is by dropping medication directly into the water. Unfortunately, some fish medications are harmful to plants, affecting leaf coloring, absorption of nutrients, and overall health. Therefore, when medicating fish, transfer them to a tank containing no plants. Also, when using water conditioners and anti-chlorine treatments, never pour them directly on the plants.
And finally, address warning signs. Be aware of indications of poor maintenance. When environmental conditions are not ideal, you will see the effects on the leaves of the plants themselves. Pale and widely spaced leaf growth in the stems is a sign of poor or insufficient light. Yellowing of the leaves is a sign of lack of nutrients like iron. Blackening of the leaves indicates pollution. Holes or damage indicates the presence of either snails or vegetarian fish. Attend to these distress signs immediately so that your aquarium garden will always be in good health.
See also: Choosing Aquarium Plants