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Deficiencies? I’m so lost and overwhelmed.


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I hope you all can help guide me. I’ve spent so many hours researching what my aquarium plants need and I’ll continue to let this consume me while I neglect other responsibilities. So, I’m reaching out for guidance in hopes to add balance back to my life. This is long because I’m hoping to provide all of the info needed for people to help me. 


20g tank, it’s been up around 11/12 weeks. 6 tiger barbs, 2 peppered corys, 3 mystery snails, and 4 ghost shrimp (I think, although I have physically only seen 2 lately). 
I bought 2 of my plants from Petsupplies Plus, about 6 from PetSmart, (all of those have been in the tank most of the time), and 2 from Aquarium Coop (my newest plants- they’ve been in there about 4 weeks). 

Based on other people’s photos in reviews, I left my Aquarium Coop plants in their baskets. I think that was a mistake. I had a huge algae bloom that took about 10/12 days to get rid of. I installed a 3w UV light that attaches to HOB filter, which I’m not sure did much, and did many water changes (which were lifesavers). My water parameters have been good and steady, and algae has been under control. I cleaned the filter a couple of days ago and forgot to plug back in the UV light. It seems like some algae is afoot so maybe the UV light does work. I plugged it back in this morning. 
I was having trouble keeping the Ph where I wanted it (API Ph test was above 7.6), so I started using distilled water for water changes during the algae bloom. 
My Aquarium Coop plants melted badly. I removed them from their baskets. After a while I read that it could be due to lack of water hardness (I’ll use purified water and treated tap water in the future instead of distilled water).  So, I put a little tap water in to replace evaporated water, then added in Seachem Equilibrium about 5 days ago. The AC Amazon Sword color improved substantially but the AC Monte Carlo didn’t change. I use Seachem Flourish 2-3 times a week, API CO2 booster 2-3 times a week, (except this week it’s been about 5/7 days), and API root tabs periodically. 
This weekend I read that perhaps the dark spots on the plants could be caused by too much phosphorus. I was going to get Seachem PhosGuard and put in a bag to put in my penguin HOB filter with bio wheel. Then, reading this forum today I am now questioning other things. I feel I could go nuts trying a million things. 

Water parameters this morning:

Temp 77 degrees Fahrenheit - API Ammonia test 0 - API Ph test 6.8 - Aquarium Coop test strips: Nitrates 25, Nitrites 0, GH color doesn’t match any options on chart, KH 0, Ph 6.4, CL 0. 
API test strips: Nitrates 0-20, Nitrites 0-.5, Ph 6.5/7.0, KH 0, GH 180. Water change will be done this evening  

I appreciate any guidance you all may have. Thanks in advance! 





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Besides root tabs you might want to look into a simple liquid supplement that you can add once to a couple times a week to add trace minerals back that will constantly be exhausted by the plants. 

One thing to keep in mind about plants that come in plastic tubes (talking about your big box stores plants, not AC) is that they are sold to you as what's known as emersed growth. Emersed growth is what you see when plants are grown in wet, but not submersed conditions as a lot of aquarium plants can live above and below water. Plants being sold emersed in general go through a conversion period where they will look sad to even horrible as the old growth dies or at least withers as it's form is specific to the emersed environment. After some time of getting nutrients  back to the plants through fertilizers you'll see new leaves or shoots that are submersed growth, and those will be hardier in the environment and even will look a bit different. 

IME when it comes to broadleaved plants (such as Swords, Crypts, and Lillies) they will benefit from direct root feeding from root tabs, but bunched plants generally prefer to be dosed with a liquid supplement (look into something off the shelf, skip the estimated index (EI) method for now as it's a whole other animal to work with.) You might have noticed I skipped broadleaved species such as Anubias and Ferns as they are epiphytic and depending on how you have them placed in the aquarium (on rocks/wood) or planted (remember to not plant a rhizome) the method for fertilizing will differ.  Foreground plants, you're very low to the substrate) plants are going to benefit from root feeding supplements as well as a liquid fert. Keep in mind, your best growth from these foreground plants will be in setups with non inert substrate (so the aquarium gravel you have isn't going to provide the best results.)

Plants can be a bit of a learning curve, and from the years of AC videos I've watched the topic is covered very well. Just be aware, planted aquarium research can turn into a giant rabbit hole... There are some methods that work for some, some for others, and some that are specific to the point you will need hardware (lights and CO2 injection) to support the method being used. For the simple broad leaved plants you should be fine with a decent light, a liquid fert regiment, and root tabs. 

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You are on the right track, but you're working in reverse.

To simplify things, I recommend mixing your source water to the parameters that you want the tank to be. Example, you've determined you want the tank to be 8dGH and 2dKH, so you need to test source water. If source water was 6dGH, and you want 8dGH, then add the appropriate dose of Equilibrium to the source water that raises it 2dGH. Same with KH. Then by doing water changes, you adjust the tank parameters to the source water.

When fertilizing, you want to dose enough. And by enough, I mean an amount that plants always have access to, with out depleting it to zero, and not so much to hinder plant growth. 

You seem to be adding things with no specific goal in mind. I know that Equilibrium has Ca, Mg, K and Fe, but I don't know how much. Same with the root tabs. What ppm is in a root tab, and what nutrients are in them as well? 

When our nutrient parameters are fluctuating our plants will suffer. This is why we want to know what is being dosed and be consistent with that dosing.

My best advice is to research what each of those fertilizers is adding to your tank(ppm). And set a per week ppm goal. A good starting point might look like:

7ppm NO3

1ppm PO4 

10-15ppm K 

.1-.9ppm Fe 

Additionally, I would go really light on root tabs. Personally, I don't use them, but they can fill in the gaps.

I would find a more comprehensive fertilizer, Flourish is just a supplement. Choose something like Easy Green. Equilibrium and Easy Green should mesh well. 



And the ppm is available to us with Easy Green. But certainly, there are other "all in one" options mixed in different ratios.

MC Cuba is a high light high CO2 plant. Don't get too upset it's not doing well.

Learn/Understand GH and KH, ignore pH. Understand nutrient PPM and how to calculate nutrient PPM when dosing. Once I was familiar with these few things, the tank got easier to figure out.

Light also drives all uptake, try reducing light intensity or photo period. 8 hours is plenty.

Hopefully I didn't bore you ☺️

Edited by Mmiller2001
Forgot to mention
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I didn't hear anything about CO2, so I suspect I have an idea of what is happening:

1. Plants use all the CO2 within 4 to 5 hours of the lights turning on. No CO2 = no photosynthesis,  which means no competition for the algae. I work **with** the plants by setting my timer for 4.5 hours on, 4 hours off and 5 hours on. The 4 hours off allows CO2 levels to go back up, so when the lights come back on there's sufficient CO2 for photosynthesis. 


2. This will allow the plants to outcompete the algae, which will mean you can go back to using dechlorinated tap water, which is both easier and cheaper *and* provides much needed macronutrients. 

3. The increased growth will mean the plants need more nutrients. Start with weekly liquid fertilization, watch the plants, and be prepared to increase fertilization as needed. 


Irene, in Girl Talks Fish, does a great job explaining the different vitamin deficiencies if you don't see an improvement in the next 3 - 4 weeks. 


Mostly, patience. 


Plants will melt with every water parameter change, and can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months before reassuring you that they have chosen to live, lol

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