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Hard or soft water?


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What's best for plants hard or soft water?  I've seen a bunch of videos online and some say soft water is the way to go and other say hard all the way. Which is it?  I would have never guessed when getting into thos hobby growing plants in water would be so difficult.  I'm not giving up by no means but there's way more to it than just burying some plants and having great growth!  At least it is for me.  I've got a whole house prefilter than a water softener and my GH was like 1 or 2* My KH is always 20* PH 8.4  and calcium and magnesium is almost zero and my plants weren't doing so well even using root tabs and dosing the water (Easy line Products all the way) I found out right off that it was going to be a challenge for me having a sand substrate but I also seen multiple videos saying as long as the sand was a finer sand it wouldnt choke out my roots and I've got the cichlid sand and it's very fine it doesnt compact at all so I would think it would be easy for roots to travel.  Anyhow back to the water subject my water has almost nothing in it as well so I contacted a buddy right down the road and he has unfiltered well water so I drained 1/3rd of my tank and added his hard well water which has brought my GH up to 9 to 10* KH  and PH has stayed the same and I've also added wonder shells for Calcium and magnesium  and between his well water and the shells its brought my Calcium level up to 5*.  I've got root tabs about every 3 to 6 inches throughout my 55G. I do have quite a few amazon swords anubis and val's in my tank plus another that I'm not sure the name.  So has all these changes going to get me better growth?  I'm not even looking for explosive just some growth. Hell I'd be happy just to have a nice green forest 20201108_184805.jpg.bc6ba21a1d9ecfdea48ad2ac378461e0.jpg

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In my experience, aquarium plants do what they want to do and we're just along for the ride. I've got four planted tanks. The same substrate in each. The same water in each. Similar lighting (6500K LED) in each. And plants that thrive in one tank wither away and die in another and vice versa. Some plants are completely agnostic and thrive wherever I put them (Java fern, java moss, anubias nana petite.) They just grow and grow well in every tank. Duckweed does very well in three of the tanks, but not so well in the fourth. Red root floaters thrive in one tank, survive in another and die in two. Water sprite literally grows like a weed in two tanks, survives in one and dies in another. I brought in some water hyacinths to hold over the winter. They're doing great in one tank, hanging on in another and died off in the other two.  

Rather than chasing the water paraments I recommend buying an assortment of plants and seeing what does well in your tank. When you know what likes your water/substrate/light combination, you'll get a lot of it. My 30 high had an absolute jungle of jungle val. I added a Madagascar lace plant and the jungle val all melted away. It all died. I tried replacing it and no go even after removing the lace plant. Aquarium plants are quirky little things. I can grow everything in the way of terrestrial plants with no trouble. Aquarium plants are a whole different story for me. I marvel at the people who can get anything to grow in their aquarium. I'm not one of them. I can grow orchids just fine, but some aquarium plants just keel over within days of hitting the tank.  The stuff that grows for me grows very, very well. I remove a bowl full of excess growth every weekend. I just never know what's going to grow in which tank. 

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I have soft water. I think, like anything, "it depends on the plant", with some being suited to hard, some to soft. I would say, having soft water is easier to correct than having hard water that you have to install a RODI system to correct.

Sand is less than ideal, but you know that. It is less that they truly compact I think, than that fish poo and other nutrient rich mulm sits on top and doesn't penetrate.

It looks like you have a lot of swords, and some anubias...Those are kinda opposite. The anubias is a water column feeder, grows slowly, has low light requirements, and doesn't use the substrate. The Swords have higher light requirements, are heavy root feeders, and once established will really grow pretty fast. That "once established" part is key--with root feeders they start growing right away, but all the initial growth is underground where we can't see it. They build a root system first and then add leaves. It looks like you have good light and so far not much algae. I am guessing your tank has been set up for under 2 months. Your plants look fine for their age. 

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Actually my tanks been up for a couple years! And the only time I get algae is when I use Seachem Flourish.  I can double my easy green fert and leave my light on for 12hrs and still dont get algae.  I dont get it.  But ya my tank is well established I just have an fx6 on my 55G so my water is always spotless. I do water changes weekly or at least biweekly 

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Soft water is better for plants. Hard water makes it difficult for a plant to absorb the nutrients it needs from the water column, and it tends to bind up aqua soil nutrients so root feeders have a more difficult time as well. I live in a hard water city, my tap is 13dGH, so I've been doing experiments the past couple years by literally buying plants to see which will and won't grow in hard water, and so far I have only found 3 that grow really well in hard water. I've read so much conflicting info on line regarding this as well, so I decided to test it myself. If you have an API water test kit for GH, they have a little chart in there for different fish and plants and what are the ranges of hardness. Their chart says plants should be 2 dGH to 6 dGH, and from my experiments I completely agree with API's chart. I also keep a soft water tank by cutting my tap water with RO, and I keep that tank at 6dGH, and I have never had any issue with plants not growing well. I think the sand may be your issue. It is inert and has no nutritional value for plants.

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My parameters were sitting at 1 to 3* GH, 20* KH. Calcium levels was barely registering at 1 to 3*, Nitrates always run higher 60 to 80ppm.. My Friend down the street has a well that's unfiltered so I added 10 Gallons of it to my tank which after a couple days I retested and it brought my GH up to 8 to 9* KH stayed at 20* and my Calcium levels jumped to 5* So I guess my next question is should I mix the two waters still or just run my super soft water?  Also I used wonderShells to bring up my calcium levels and after a week or so its dissolved how often should I add them?

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You mentioned you had a water softener, which I feel may be part of the issue here, I had one in a previous house, and I had issues keeping plants. I had a by pass line that went to all my outside spigots, as well as a spigot in the basement, which I started using for water changes. Since it was only cold water, I would have to fill buckets and either let it sit at room temp for a day or put a heater in to warm up, which was fine with just one tank. Once I started doing that, I was able to grow plants. I know they say a softener doesn't put salt into the water, but I think it has something to do with the ion exchange that goes on. 

The second issue could be the sand. Sand has no nutrients in it, you have to add everything. I have pool filter sand in several tanks of mine, and I can tell you, the tanks that I have eco-complete or other substrates in grow plants far better. 

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3 hours ago, Daniel said:

What are your results, which 3 plants like hard water?

 

3 hours ago, Daniel said:

What are your results, which 3 plants like hard water?

The three that grow well in hard water are Alternanthera Reineckii, Java Moss and Hygrophila Corymbosa. I'm kicking myself for not taking photos of all my experiments over the past couple of years, however I did take photos of my latest experiments. The first photo I took the day after I planted the Hygrophila, which was on Oct. 24th, and the 2nd photo I took one month later on Nov. 24th. Both had a huge amount of growth in just 1 month.

Hygrophila & Java Moss 10-24.jpg

Hygrophila & Java Moss 11-24.jpg

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Soft water definitely makes things easier, but I generally haven't had major issues growing plants in my hard water, in high or low tech. I have grown everything from easy plants like anubias and crypts to relatively difficult plants like rotala walichii and HC Cuba. This wasn't always the case. Initially my plants really struggled in hard water. For me, the change came when I started using active clay-based substrates and paying attention to consistency with my fertilizing rather than doing it "when I remember". I think it will be different for everyone but, in your case, I would guess that the cichlid substrate is the culprit. Not only is it a sand which has the downsides that @Wes L. pointed out, but it will also hold the pH up in the 8's given your water. I've found most plants to be fairly pH tolerant, but things have gotten more difficult for me over 8. Not that it can't be done. It absolutely can but, for me, it has added a degree of difficulty for some plants. I might test this by taking one of your plants that is potted in something else and dropping it in a bucket with a spare light/under a bright house lamp and see if things get easier? Not sure if that will work given all the variables...

Good luck!

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1 hour ago, Wes L. said:

 

The three that grow well in hard water are Alternanthera Reineckii, Java Moss and Hygrophila Corymbosa.

Can cornfirm that about the corymbosa lol. My water is about 19dGH and they grow like weed. Explosive growth in weeks, went from tiny stems to giant palm-like plants.
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Also have a lot of success with these plants, forgot their name though (circled in red), big leafs and very fast growth. And well, ambulia and elodea, these grow anywhere hehe.129180171_167615075081371_4401716245082161903_n.jpg.6bc8609a2baa72063cbcdf4a026b2c7b.jpg129361456_382560012820854_9167133148895836324_n.jpg.00ab84fc4cbbc0757ea8cd2a511b6714.jpg129478442_377360839996595_3617060142171751573_n.jpg.86825a7d10896c8c512a3d0de98e32ff.jpg129458916_215122100016103_4444824369569340520_n.jpg.e01c9b39108db3e57270e927f471b226.jpg

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3 hours ago, HenryC said:

My water is about 19dGH

Wow! Your tanks are crazy impressive! It looks like the photos are of more than one tank? Hope you don't mind me asking....how old are your tanks and how long have the plants been in them? I'm speechless. I've never seen that hard of a water tank with so much thriving vegetation. You're doing something really right.

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1 hour ago, Wes L. said:

Wow! Your tanks are crazy impressive! It looks like the photos are of more than one tank? Hope you don't mind me asking....how old are your tanks and how long have the plants been in them? I'm speechless. I've never seen that hard of a water tank with so much thriving vegetation. You're doing something really right.

Thanks! Both tankns are reaching the 2 year mark, but I've redone them a couple of times. Both have only tap water, which comes out as liquid rock over here in Baja California, Mexico (same water as Southern California if I remember correctly, Rio Colorado supplies both countries/areas).

Most plants have been doing fantastic in my super hard water. Obviously they have easy green and tabs too! But I think harder water is great for them, at least to what I've observed with my plants! The only ones that I feel don't do that well (not sure, might be just me) are vallisneria (slow growing) and cryptos (they grow sooooooooo slow too)

Here are some pics of the 20 long over the 2 years:
Started like this, with ambulia and the other one (forgot the name lol). Those both did fantastic, as you will see later on in the 40 gal.
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Changed it to this, you can see the corymbosas at the right, this was the same day I bought them at the fi
IMG_20200525_190849.jpg.ee6b9e16308c6da2edac25fb52c9aefd.jpg


Couple weeks/month after and everything grew great, corymbosas were getting huge so I transfered them to the 40gal.
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Here they are in the 40 gal:
IMG_20200819_194450.jpg.01d7de20c1bf5c271a7cfb17b3adec29.jpg

This amazon sword was enormous, was one of the original 3 swords that I bought 2 years ago when I started this tank. It grew to truly gigantic proportionns, so much that it was shading other plants below it, so sadly it had to do. Imaginne, too big for a 40gal tank! Luckily the plant is thriving now it a buddy's 120gal aquarium with discus.
IMG_20200813_193001.jpg.8f615160136bba54a887eb9c00e4a795.jpg


This a fluval flex, also with the liquid rock hard water. This one has tropcia substrate though. Every plant does great here, have dwarf lily, ambulia, amazon swords, chain swords, melon swords, etc.
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This was the 40 gal before the remaking though. For the most part of the time I've had it, this is what it looked like. I loved my ambulia jungle, I wish I didn't get rid of it haha. But I wanted to try new plants!117294244_3446989768653627_1901819389429094980_o.jpg.fedc7cd69e85f516ab521147767013c2.jpg
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This is when I got rid of the ambulia wall, (gave it away). You can appreciate the giant amazon at the right better! It actually became a mother plant and gave me a load of other amazons that I gave away to local hobbyists. I probably gave away like 10-12 lol.
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The motherplant, when it grew the stem where babies were being made.
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at one time, the anubia even bloomed!

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This is the 40gal right now, been running like this for about a month now. Everything seems to be doing good. I added vallisneria on the background, elodea and those big leafed stems that I forgot the name of haha. We'll see if vallisneria can keep up with the liquid rock water too! I hope so.

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Edited by HenryC
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