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Breaking in the new Planted Aquarium

This article addresses breaking in the new planted aquarium and initial aquarium plants setup advice.

Matt Helgeson's Tank
Matt Helgeson's five month aquarium pictured above and achieved by using our setup advice

Starting a new planted aquarium

When beginning a planted aquarium from scratch, first you must cycle the aquarium to allow beneficial bacteria to grow. During this period after adding substrate and water we run no lights, add no fish or plants yet. Why? We allow roughly two to three days for the water to circulate and "offgas".

Adding Fish

Depending on the size of the aquarium we only want to introduce a small number of fish to start. Why? To begin the cycling process.

Stages of the Nitrogen Cycle

There are three stages of the nitrogen cycle, each of which presents different challenges.

Initial stage: The cycle begins when fish are introduced to the aquarium. Their feces, urine, as well as any uneaten food, are quickly broken down into either ionized or unionized ammonia. The ionized form, Ammonium (NH4), is present if the pH is below 7, and is not toxic to fish. The unionized form, Ammonia (NH3), is present if the pH is 7 or above, and is highly toxic to fish. Any amount of unionized Ammonia (NH3) is dangerous, however once the levels reach 2 ppm, the fish are in grave danger. Ammonia usually begins rising by the third day after introducing fish.

Second stage: During this stage Nitrosomonas bacteria oxidize the ammonia, thus eliminating it. However, the by-product of ammonia oxidation is nitrite, which is also highly toxic to fish. Nitrites levels as low as low as 1 mg/l can be lethal to some fish. Nitrite usually begins rising by the end of the first week after introducing fish.

Third stage: In the last stage of the cycle, Nitrobacter bacteria convert the nitrites into nitrates. Nitrates are not highly toxic to fish in low to moderate levels. So now you may add more fish! Routine partial water changes of once a week will keep the nitrate levels within the safe range, and allow organic matter to be removed. Established tanks should be tested for nitrates every few months to ensure that levels are not becoming extremely high.

Adding and maintenance of plants in a new aquarium

Ok, we are ready to add the plants! You don't need to remove the water or fish to plant, just do a regular twenty five percent water change and wait to add the water back in until planting is completed. Initially I recommend doing a twenty five percent water change every three to four days for the first two weeks, rinse the filter material in the old water removed during these changes, run lights for only eight hours and add half the amount of weekly fertilizer the first week, ten hours the second and third week with full fertilizer dose, and twelve hours thereafter. Use as much biofilter material or bioballs as possible, use a submersible pump in addition to the primary filter to move the water (preferably one that also removes organics from the water with filter material), and feed fish and then test an hour later for phosphate and nitrate levels (phosphate target should be .25MG/L to .3MG/L ideally, nitrates 3-6MG/L. If lower or higher adjust fish feeding to hit these levels. Also, in a heavily planted tank (eighty five to ninety percent planted, run carbon in the filter for the first month and use a daily dose fertilizer like Tropica Master Grow!

Want to Bypass The cycling?

Yes, there is a product that really works to bypass cycling, it is called Seachem Stability, you can use that product for seven consecutive days, add all of your fish the very first day, and it will be cycled in seven days with no harm to the fish or plants! Yes, add all of the fish you plan to have the first day! We will be adding this product soon to our list of supplies.

Aquatic Scapes
P.O. Box 1115
Faribault, MN 55021
Telephone: 507-331-5801
Fax: 507-384-3146

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