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Fix My Gross-Looking Plants?


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Posted (edited)

Looking for ideas to improve the appearance and health of my plants. (See attached pictures.)

They grow and I’m not worried about them dying. Also I’ve had them for years. They just don’t look all that great. 

I want them to be more solidly green with more intact leaves. I’m wondering if I can make adjustments with the stuff I already own and use. 

No injected CO2, which honestly may be the problem. But again, I’d like to try making adjustments with what I have, if at all possible. 

  • 8 hours of lighting, Twinstar 60B + add-on dimmer set to level 3 of 7. (No idea what this may mean in percentage or PAR. Just telling you what I know.)
  • Liquid fert 2x week at recommended dosage. NilocG Thrive, Sunday and Wednesday. 
  • Seachem root tabs every 90 days and I’ll add more when things look especially bad.  
  • Water changes each week, 20-some-odd percent. I’ve heard well-articulated rationales for both frequent and infrequent water changes, with purported reasons why each method is “better” for plant health. 

Honestly everything above seems super standard and I’m not sure y’all can help. Yes I’ve seen the nutrient deficiency chart and looking at it doesn’t offer any actionable insights since as far as I can tell I’m already doing the things I’m “supposed” to do. 

But maybe I’m wrong. That’s why I’m writing y’all. 

Or am I being too ambitious trying to grow these stem plants without injected CO?

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Edited by s_in_houston
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I'd say you've left out one critical step. What are your water parameters? Dosing 2x a week, your plants might devour that dose in 6 hours, leavin them starving for a few days between doses.

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On 7/5/2024 at 12:31 PM, Cory said:

I'd say you've left out one critical step. What are your water parameters? Dosing 2x a week, your plants might devour that dose in 6 hours, leavin them starving for a few days between doses.

Good question. I honestly don’t know how much information to include. 

Ammonia and nitrites are 0. 

Nitrates are somewhere within a “5 to 10” ppm range according to my best attempt at reading the API color chart. (And after performing the correct procedure.)

Ph is 7.5

GH reads 11 from my aquarium right now. I discovered only a few weeks ago that the GH in my aquarium rises as days pass. Tap water  is 8. Aquarium water after a big change is typically 9. Aquarium after a week with no top-offs has GH 11+  I actually thought I solved this problem but I guess not. I’ve inquired multiple places and whatever it is that causes a rise in hardness is not one of the “usual suspects.” (ie aquarium stones known to cause hardness). It’s something unintuitive. 
 

Thank you. Let me know if there’s specific information that might help.

 

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On 7/5/2024 at 4:27 PM, s_in_houston said:

GH reads 11 from my aquarium right now. I discovered only a few weeks ago that the GH in my aquarium rises as days pass. Tap water  is 8. Aquarium water after a big change is typically 9. Aquarium after a week with no top-offs has GH 11+  I actually thought I solved this problem but I guess not. I’ve inquired multiple places and whatever it is that causes a rise in hardness is not one of the “usual suspects.” (ie aquarium stones known to cause hardness). It’s something unintuitive. 

Evaporation and top-offs will cause hardness to creep up over time, since minerals don't evaporate, unless you're doing top-offs with RO or distilled water. The easiest way to prevent that (other than, you know, doing top-offs with RO or distilled water) is to do regular water changes. But it sounds like you might be doing that, so I'm not sure.

I'm sorry to not be able to answer your original question about your plants, other than to say that 5-10 ppm nitrates may be a little low. I'm hoping you get some good answers because my stems sometimes look like that, too.

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Posted (edited)

Show a picture of your entire tank, please.  Also, what is the substrate?  

As far as ferts go, have you tried changing the dosage?  Sometimes it seems just a slight adjustment makes a BIG difference.  For me, I got a big improvement simply by adding ferts... but then a while later, I got what you could call a perfect adjustment in terms of algae, by reducing that schedule by half.  So its about finding that sweet spot.  

CO2 will regulate how much of the other ferts your plants can actually use.  More CO2?  Your plants will need more fertilizers.  

Edited by daggaz
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On 7/5/2024 at 6:43 PM, Rube_Goldfish said:

'm sorry to not be able to answer your original question about your plants, other than to say that 5-10 ppm nitrates may be a little low. I'm hoping you get some good answers because my stems sometimes look like that, too.

Ha! At least you still have some stems. Apparently, mine required co2 and it was not labelled where I got them. so, they fizzled on me.

@s_in_houstonyou're going to want your nitrates between 20 and 50ppm for a planted tank. being that's the fertilizer they use. even after water changes it's best to top up your nitrates above 20ppm to keep them growing strong

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On 7/5/2024 at 6:57 PM, daggaz said:

Show a picture of your entire tank, please.  Also, what is the substrate?  

I’ll concede when writing this post I wanted to provide a balance between providing useful information and avoiding a big wall of text so I left a lot of info out. 
 

Anyway. Seachem Flourite. 

IMG_0088.jpeg

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On 7/5/2024 at 6:58 PM, Tony s said:

Ha! At least you still have some stems. Apparently, mine required co2 and it was not labelled where I got them. so, they fizzled on me.

@s_in_houstonyou're going to want your nitrates between 20 and 50ppm for a planted tank. being that's the fertilizer they use. even after water changes it's best to top up your nitrates above 20ppm to keep them growing strong

Well I bought some tissue culture mini alternathas that *poof* disappeared in a couple of days recently.

The nitrates one is tough. I have 23 fish, 4 snails and a colony of 15 or so shrimp in my tank and they still don’t make a dent, nitrate-wise. I eliminated 100% of my frogbit and no increase in nitrates.

I’m hesitant to dump a bunch of all-purpose fertilizer into my aquarium for the sake of increasing 1 nutrient. I’m wary of unintended consequences.

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So looking at that, immediately, you need a LOT more plants or you are just going to have algae issues all the time.  Try to at least double it.   If you really dont want to add more plants, I would actually try to cut ferts down a bit and see what happens, because most likely your limited number of plants cant use all the nutrients provided (especially with limited CO2), and the algae grows.  And it grows ON the plants, and fights them.  And thats what you see.   If it gets worse, then go the other way and dose more (and Cory is probably right what do I know).   But I am firmly in the "add both more plants and more ferts" camp, just to be clear.  

But my understanding of it is, this is really hard to balance with only a few plants, and the more you have, the easier it gets.  Its better to have the plants eating all the nutrients in the water column and going hungry a bit, than the other way around.  This is because plants can store energy and micronutrients for much longer periods of time than algae can, so plants can withstand "famine" and/or long periods without light, whereas algae just dies out. The other thing that plants do to fight algae, is to directly release hormones that counteract their growth.   So just in general, the more plants the better.  That seems to be the wisdom from the internet, and its my experience so far as well.  So have a lot of plants.  Add a lot of fertilizer until your plants grow really well, but you probably still have some algae problems, too.  Then cut back a little on fertilizer until your algae clears entirely up.  

I'll add tho, that with the substrate just being an inert material, it could also be your plants just aren´t getting enough food.  You have a lot of stem plants, you could definitely try adding more root tabs (keep the food out of the water column as much as possible if you are staying with this low number of plants!).

Edited by daggaz
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On 7/5/2024 at 8:14 PM, s_in_houston said:

Well I bought some tissue culture mini alternathas that *poof* disappeared in a couple of days recently.

yep, those are the ones🤣

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If it was my tank, I would be doing a 50% water change, gravel vaccing the substrate well after doing as much manual removal of algae as I could and wiping down all of the glass etc to dislodge as much algae as possible and then pulling as many free floating fragments out in the water change. Also clean the filter well to dislodge what it is mechanically filtering but to preserve beneficial bacteria.

 

Then I would dose at least three times recommended  dosage as a trial.  Heck, I think I might go 4 times dosage as a trial after a 50 percent water change and then midweek redose at least twice recommended dosage.  End of the week I would repeat the same, but I would test nitrates, GH and KH before and after.  I would redose the same, and I would be looking carefully for new growth at the end of the second week.

my gut feeling is that your plants are starving with nitrates at the 5-10 ppm level.  1 pump per 10 gallons adds around 7ppm nitrate.  4 pumps would raise nitrates to around 28 x 30 ppm, but the baked clay substrate might soak some of that out of the water column initially… and your nutrient starved plants might as well.

Longer term without CO2 injection, my inclination would be to dose to about 15-20 ppm nitrate levels.  More plants would not be a bad plan, as well as increasing flow in the tank.  I would prefer 2 smaller sponge filters using the Co Ops easy flow risers on them as that adds tremendous flow relative to a sponge filter without the easy flow kit… or add a hob for flow.

Flow helps to circulate nutrients to all the leaves, and also flushes metabolic waste products from the plants away from the leaves.

I would be looking for encouraging signs after 2 weeks, and if they are showing I would expect it to take about 6-8 weeks for the plants to start looking dramatically better in a tank without co2 injection…. The old growth will not improve dramatically.  It is the new growth that will benefit, and without co2, growth is much slower, hence the 6-8 weeks.

 

As vibrant new growth occurs on the stem plants cut it off and replant it and discard the bottoms.   Healthy new growth defends itself very well against algae growth.  Old weak suffering plant growth tends to get leaky as the plant stops defending it and the leaking  decaying nutrients  are fed upon by algae…

 

well, that is what I would be trying…

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On 7/5/2024 at 7:14 PM, daggaz said:

So looking at that, immediately, you need a LOT more plants or you are just going to have algae issues all the time.  Try to at least double it.   If you really dont want to add more plants, I would actually try to cut ferts down a bit and see what happens, because most likely your limited number of plants cant use all the nutrients provided (especially with limited CO2), and the algae grows.  And it grows ON the plants, and fights them.  And thats what you see.   If it gets worse, then go the other way and dose more (and Cory is probably right what do I know).   But I am firmly in the "add both more plants and more ferts" camp, just to be clear.  

But my understanding of it is, this is really hard to balance with only a few plants, and the more you have, the easier it gets.  Its better to have the plants eating all the nutrients in the water column and going hungry a bit, than the other way around.  This is because plants can store energy and micronutrients for much longer periods of time than algae can, so plants can withstand "famine" and/or long periods without light, whereas algae just dies out. The other thing that plants do to fight algae, is to directly release hormones that counteract their growth.   So just in general, the more plants the better.  That seems to be the wisdom from the internet, and its my experience so far as well.  So have a lot of plants.  Add a lot of fertilizer until your plants grow really well, but you probably still have some algae problems, too.  Then cut back a little on fertilizer until your algae clears entirely up.  

I'll add tho, that with the substrate just being an inert material, it could also be your plants just aren´t getting enough food.  You have a lot of stem plants, you could definitely try adding more root tabs (keep the food out of the water column as much as possible if you are staying with this low number of plants!).

Interesting points. Honestly my tank used to do better but over time it got worse, especially after moving in January. I look at my "grungy" leaves and the algae and I speculated that the first problem was plant health and that drew the algae, as opposed to vice-versa. I will say however I had these problems even when I had frog bit. I got rid of all of them because I feared they were vacuuming up all the nutrients. But its been a few months now since that, and still my stem plants don't look great. 

On the matter of substrate, I just got an order of monthly root tabs in the mail. They should be faster-acting than the Seachem ones, so they might combine well and help things out. 

My strategy for "adding" more plants has been to divide and conquer, ie propagating the stems. It is literally happening but its slow-going. I did buy 2 batches of Caroliniana bacopa recently and only 6 stems survived. I'm reluctant to sink more money like that. 

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On 7/6/2024 at 5:14 AM, Pepere said:

If it was my tank, I would be doing a 50% water change, gravel vaccing the substrate well after doing as much manual removal of algae as I could and wiping down all of the glass etc to dislodge as much algae as possible and then pulling as many free floating fragments out in the water change. Also clean the filter well to dislodge what it is mechanically filtering but to preserve beneficial bacteria.

 

Then I would dose at least three times recommended  dosage as a trial.  Heck, I think I might go 4 times dosage as a trial after a 50 percent water change and then midweek redose at least twice recommended dosage.  End of the week I would repeat the same, but I would test nitrates, GH and KH before and after.  I would redose the same, and I would be looking carefully for new growth at the end of the second week.

my gut feeling is that your plants are starving with nitrates at the 5-10 ppm level.  1 pump per 10 gallons adds around 7ppm nitrate.  4 pumps would raise nitrates to around 28 x 30 ppm, but the baked clay substrate might soak some of that out of the water column initially… and your nutrient starved plants might as well.

Longer term without CO2 injection, my inclination would be to dose to about 15-20 ppm nitrate levels.  More plants would not be a bad plan, as well as increasing flow in the tank.  I would prefer 2 smaller sponge filters using the Co Ops easy flow risers on them as that adds tremendous flow relative to a sponge filter without the easy flow kit… or add a hob for flow.

Flow helps to circulate nutrients to all the leaves, and also flushes metabolic waste products from the plants away from the leaves.

I would be looking for encouraging signs after 2 weeks, and if they are showing I would expect it to take about 6-8 weeks for the plants to start looking dramatically better in a tank without co2 injection…. The old growth will not improve dramatically.  It is the new growth that will benefit, and without co2, growth is much slower, hence the 6-8 weeks.

 

As vibrant new growth occurs on the stem plants cut it off and replant it and discard the bottoms.   Healthy new growth defends itself very well against algae growth.  Old weak suffering plant growth tends to get leaky as the plant stops defending it and the leaking  decaying nutrients  are fed upon by algae…

 

well, that is what I would be trying…

Thank you for this!

Flow-wise: Well. I can open up the valve on my airline and let all the air flow through to my current filter, which should make noticeable difference. I turn down the flow probably as a leftover habit from when I owned betta. But either way, more flow is better for plants?

I do wonder if there's a deficit of nutrients, but I'm scared of overdosing! And on top of that, I have the "big boy" Thrive as opposed to the variant they sell that is supposed to be better for low-tech tanks. But really I look at my plants and they seem to be struggling so something's not quite connecting. 

Question: How soon after adding fertilizer should I check my water to see if the fertilizer has had an impact?

I'm sadly very familiar with the realities of how long it takes to see changes. I've tried things here and there and I always give it time. If anything, I get complacent where I don't like the results but I keep doing the same thing. 

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On 7/6/2024 at 4:22 PM, s_in_houston said:

Flow-wise: Well. I can open up the valve on my airline and let all the air flow through to my current filter, which should make noticeable difference. I turn down the flow probably as a leftover habit from when I owned betta. But either way, more flow is better for plants?

The increase in flow from the Co ops easy flow kit simply astounded me when I experienced it.  I use them on Lee’s Triple Flow Filter that I weight down with a bit of gravel and then add polyfill on top for mechanical filtration in my low tech 17 gallon fish bowl. Biofiltration is supplied by diy under gravel filtration with an easy flow kit replacing the stock air riser

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this is what the polyfill looks like after a single week.  If you have any experience with box filters, this gives you a real eye opener as to how much it increases flow.

 

yes. Flow is good for plant health both ensuring nutrients are evenly distributed to leaves, and flushing away waste organics leaching from stressed leaves.

 

you might be able to fit an easy flow kit to your existing sponge filter, and then consider adding another co op sponge filter with the easy flow riser on it on the other side of the tank.   Very low cost upgrades…

 

On 7/6/2024 at 4:22 PM, s_in_houston said:

I do wonder if there's a deficit of nutrients, but I'm scared of overdosing! And on top of that, I have the "big boy" Thrive as opposed to the variant they sell that is supposed to be better for low-tech tanks. But really I look at my plants and they seem to be struggling so something's not quite connecting. 

They look to be starving to me.  And you are seeing low nitrates when testing.  If the Thrive you have is more potent than what I found on internet simply dose it after a water change and about an hour later test for nitrate levels.  I would be wanting to dose it up to at least 30 ppm nitrate after first water change and then test the water a fewdays later to see where it is at.  Baked clay type substrates can soak up a fair amount of fertilizers when they are depleted…zAnd your plants will soak up a bit as they are depleted…

On a non co2 tank, I would aim for around 15- 20 ppm nitrates after about 2 weeks….

 

regarding CO2 it is a significant investment.  Everything is faster onceyou get it.  If you dial in lights and ferts with CO2 you see the same amount of improvement in 2 weeks that takes you about 6 weeks without CO2.

I pulled the trigger when I got frustrated with algae after 8-9 months of trying to (balance light to nutrients).  Immediately things started improving, but I also learned an awful lot about other techniques to tackle algae.  Ie co2 was not a silverbullet, buta useful tool.  I have since started a 17 gallon Sphere with air driven filtration and no co2 and have it free of visible algae, and thriving (simple) plants…. Had I pulled this off before getting CO2 I never would have spent the money for it…

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You can try increasing ferts for a  month and evaluate….  If you are not happy with results you can try something else…

You most certainly should see new growth looking better in 2 weeks.  On a non co2 tank things should look significantly better in 6-8 weeks…again it will be the new growth that is looking better.  6-8 weeks should give significant new growth…

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On 7/6/2024 at 3:57 PM, Pepere said:

I would be wanting to dose it up to at least 30 ppm nitrate after first water change and then test the water a fewdays later to see where it is at.  Baked clay type substrates can soak up a fair amount of fertilizers when they are depleted…zAnd your plants will soak up a bit as they are depleted…

Well. I went hog wild and did a double-dose of ferts and ended up with whatever this reading is. 

hmmm could my substrate be “stealing” nutrients from my plants? 

IMG_0116.jpeg

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On 7/6/2024 at 7:44 PM, s_in_houston said:

hmmm could my substrate be “stealing” nutrients from my plants? 

Well, what the substrate absorbs from the water column gets released to the roots later on , or so goes the theory…

 

worth dosing more…

looking at your chart you can see where discriminating between 10 and 20 ppm can be dicey, but easier between 5 and 10…

 

also discriminating between 40 and 80 could be difficult as well..

taking a sample of tank water and diluting it 50% with water with no discernible nitrates in it and testing a sample of that mix can help you discern between those difficult levels.  Ie if you have difficulty saying 10 or 20 ppm, and a 50% dilution looks pretty close to the same, then you can know the tank is closer to 20 ppm than 10.  However if the dilution tests out looking closer to 5 ppm, you know the tank is closer to 10 than 20 ppm…

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