1. Do you have a nutrient rich substrate such as organic potting mix or crushed lava rock? I currently use Carib Sea Eco Complete substrate because it’s a great deal and the rocks are the size that I like for securing plants properly.
2. Is your aquarium’s pH within an acceptable range for your SPECIFIC plants and fish? (Most often between 6.5 – 7.5) See pH Chart for more info.
3. Do you have full spectrum lighting? White, red, and blue lighting are the best for accelerating plant photosynthesis, but white and blue alone can still produce great results. LEDs are certainly recommended but a fluorescent light with ‘plant growth’ listed as an attribute on the box will suffice for low maintenance plants. If you really want to have thriving aquatic plants you will certainly want to invest in an LED light system. There are certainly more expensive and higher tech lights out there but the NICREW is a great budget option if you’re not trying to spend too much and still get great results.
4. Do you have a sufficient amount of CO2? Aquariums don’t necessarily require a CO2 system unless you are running excessive lighting (More than 10 – 12+ hours per day) or there are very little to no fish in the aquarium. The fish convert the oxygen to Co2 and the plants convert it back to oxygen so you most likely do not need a CO2 system or liquid Co2 if you have a community of fish without an excess amount of aquatic plants.
A simple way to slightly increase the CO2 in your tank is to turn off your oxygen bubbler from time to time. This allows the fish to convert more oxygen to CO2 without more oxygen constantly flowing into the tank. Increased CO2 levels will decrease your aquarium’s pH which is a very easy way to make slight changes to it. Reducing your aquarium light cycle is another way to slightly increase CO2 as plants will stop converting CO2 to O2 while fish will continue to convert O2 into CO2 with the lights off.
Example of tank not needing Co2 on the left and needing it on the right.
(Image from Atlantis Aquatics) (Image from @aquariumgardens Instagram)
5. Are any of the fish in your tank eating the plants? How about uprooting the plants? This is typically avoidable on the front end but sometimes, certain fish that aren’t typically a problem, can be a problem with certain types of aquatic plants so it’s something to watch for. Common types of fish that eat aquarium plants include goldfish, buenos aires tetra, silver dollars, gouramis, scats, mollies, monos, and african cichlids.
While some fish eat plants, others can swim fiercely on the ground floor and uproot your plants never letting them get established roots and weakening them over time from having to replant them. I don’t think there is a particular breed of fish that is known to do this but that it’s more likely to happen when you have a fish that is too large for your tank or is easily frightened. For me personally, my clown loach has outgrown my tank and often swims along the ground floor with no respect to the plants and causes them to uproot. I will need to relocate him soon as it’s becoming a more common problem.
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