Live plants provide a host of benefits for any freshwater aquarium. Plants provide natural filtration, aeration and algae control. These plants also offer the fish a natural habitat complete with the beneficial shade and exchange of nutrients that aquatic plants can provide. Aquarium plants require a certain amount of care to remain healthy. These plants should be tended to on a regular basis to ensure that both the plants and the fish in the aquarium are thriving.
For proper photosynthesis, plants need adequate lighting. Plant growth light tubes are the ideal choice for freshwater aquarium plants. These tubes encourage plant growth while discouraging the growth of algae. Daylight tubes are a good choice as well, and will give off a brighter light than plant growth tubes, enhancing the color of both the plants and the fish. Use one of each for optimum lighting conditions. Set your aquarium lights on a timer to provide 10 to 12 hours of light each day.
Carbon dioxide is produced by the fish in your aquarium, but your plants may need additional carbon dioxide to properly fuel photosynthesis. A pressurized cylinder system will allow for a controlled application of carbon dioxide in the tank. The system should be turned off at night when the lights are off to avoid an over-application of this gas, which can harm fish.
Silica sand and grit are the ideal substrates for a planted aquarium. Provide these to a depth of about four inches. Silica substrates are very dirty and must be rinsed before they are added to the aquarium. Rinse the silica until the water runs clear. Substrate heating coils installed at the bottom of the tank are beneficial to plant growth as they will allow for a slow, steady release of nutrients to the plants' roots.
Select a filter that utilizes biological filtration rather than chemical filtration. Carbon should not be used in the filters of planted aquariums as this will disturb the already delicate balance of carbon dioxide in the tank. The aquarium volume should be turned over two to three times an hour. Avoid under gravel filters as these can disturb the substrate of a planted aquarium.
Aquatic plant fertilizers can be added to either the water or the substrate. These fertilizers should add potassium as well as small amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium. A liquid plant food added to the water once a week is adequate for many planted aquariums. If your plants have deeper roots, you may also need to provide a tablet fertilizer in the substrate. Over-fertilization can result in algae problems, so cut back on your fertilization if you notice excessive algae growth in your tank.