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Shaji Bhaskar: HiTech

(F) Plant tank description (long)

by (Shaji Bhaskar)
Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1993

What follows is a description of my current plant tank. Comments and suggestions are welcome. I can try to make a picture available by anonymous FTP if there is enough interest, and I can find an FTP site.

The tank is a 70-gallon All-Glass aquarium. It has been running for about three months now, and it is the most successful plant setup I have had so far.

[ Editor's note: Shaji provided me with some photos: First there's the the left picture showing the ambulia, some cabomba, and crypts; the right picture with some giant Hygro, Nymphaea sp., and some Kribs; a close-up of the Lily taken at a later time (see the growth!).]

The Substrate

Sandblasting sand has been recommended by several folks. The coarsest sandblasting sand I could find locally was too fine for my liking, so I used 125 lbs of washed, #3 aquarium gravel. Substrate fertilization consists of 500 gms (~ 1 lb) of Dupla laterite, and one root-activating tablet that came with the laterite. The laterite and tablet were mixed in with the bottom third of the gravel. There is no substrate heating.


The lighting consists of four 40-Watt fluorescent tubes - one Vitalite Power-Twist, two Groluxes, and one Cool White. The resulting color balance is on the whole appealing. In fact, I think the tank looks a bit too green, but that could be because of all the plants. I replace one bulb every couple of months.

The bulbs are mounted on two shoplights framed in a home-brew wood hood that I painted black. I have had this hood for a while (I used it earlier on my 55-gallon tank). There hood used to overheat in summer, so I cut out a square section of the top directly above the ballasts in the shoplights. This hole is not very noticeable since the top of the hood is about eye-level for a short guy like me (I am 5'6"). The plastic molding on the top of the tank is 49" long, and the hood is 49.25 inches long, so the hood is slightly longerd than the tank.

I am thinking of building another hood which better matches the trim of the tank. This new hood will be exactly 49" long, and I will remove the ballasts from the shoplights to eliminate the heating problem.


Filtration is provided by a Magnum 220 canister filter and a Fluval 2 internal canister.

Most of the time, I use the carbon container in the Magnum, with filter floss as the only medium. Once in a while I use the micron cartridge. I'd like to use the micron cartridge all the time, but it begins to clog up in a couple of days, and in a week's time, the flow is very significantly reduced. The Magnum is also used for injecting carbon dioxide.

The Magnum plumbing sits at the right rear corner of the tank, and the Fluval is at the left rear corner. The outflow of both filters is directed towards the middle front of the tank. The intention is to agitate as much of the surface of the tank as possible, to prevent the formation of surface scum. Since the plants are usually spreading across the top of the tank, this is easier said than done.


I use a single Visitherm 200 watt submersible heater.


The water from the tap is soft, with a KH of 1 and a GH of 2. the pH is about 7.4. I add approximately 1 level teaspoon per 10 gallons of water to bring the KH up to between 3 and 4. I leave the GH alone. I try to keep the pH at about 6.8 with CO2 injection.

Nitrates are consistently below 10 ppm NO3-. That is all I can say, given that the only test kit I have is the Tetra Laborette, and the lowest it goes is to 14 ppm or so. Nitrites and ammonia are undetectable with the same test kit.

A fifth of the water is changed every week. Refilling is done straight from the tap, after about 20 cc of Dupla water conditioner (Duplagan) is added to the tank.


I add three drops of Duplaplant 24 every day, and half a Duplaplant tablet after every water change. That's it for fertilization for now. Eventually I will have to replenish the laterite.

I don't measure fertilizer levels.

CO2 injection is manual (but I am working on a version of Gary Bishop's controller). The injection method used is the *.aquaria standard, with the CO2 being allowed to bubble up the canister filter intake.


I have a fair mix of plants in the tank:

Ammania gracilis
Anubias lanceolata
Anubias nana
Aponogeton (unknown species)
Bolbitis heudelotti
Cardamine lyrata
Echinodorus osiris
Echinodorus parviflorus
Echinodorus quadricostatus
Gymnocoronis spilanthoides
Limnobium species (Frogbit, but a dwarf variety)
Limnophila aquatica (Ambulia, the one with the finer leaves)
Nomaphila stricta (Temple plant)
Nuphar species (sold as dwarf red lily)
Nymphoides aquatia (Banana plant)
Microsorium pteropus (Java fern)
Rotala macranda
Rotala indica
Rotala wallichii
Vallisneria australensis

There is also an unidentified bog plant.

The plants are growing very well. I trim most of the stem plants back every couple of weeks, taking not to trim too many plants at the same time. I usually pull the plants out, cut off the bottom part, and plant as much of the the tops as I wish to keep. Many plants tend to grow roots above the gravel level, so just planting the tops keeps the tank looking good. The stem plants don't seem to mind being uprooted every two weeks.

The Limnobium also propagates very rapidly. It doubles every week.

Of the swords, the E. osiris is the most striking. It grows a new leaf every week. It stays sort of low rather than reaching for the top of the tank, probably because I make sure that the plant receives direct light.

I do, however, have a problem with erratic growth rates. The plants will grow fabulously for weeks. Then, suddenly, the growth slows down dramatically. This effect is most noticeable in the Nomaphila stricta, the Echinodorus parviflorus and the Ammania gracilis. The growing tips of the Ammania and Nomaphila will occasionally produce stunted leaves and even stop growing. This problem is usually accompanied by (and is maybe caused by) a drop in pH of about 0.3. But in a few days, side shoots appear, and growth resumes. I am hoping that my CO2-controller-in-the-works will end this problem.


Most of the fish in this tank were moved from the 55-gallon tank that the 70 replaced. I have the following:

7     Kribs
5     Cardinal tetras
5     Blue tetras
4     Tiger barbs
2     Otocinclus
4     White clouds
3     Pencilfish


Although I had much of the stuff lying around, here is my best estimate of the cost of a setup like mine if you were to start from scratch and buy everything new. The cost of most of the stuff is about what you would pay mail-order. The big fuzzy is the "plant" category. I spent practically nothing. You can do very well if you are willing to spend $150 ordering through the mail.

I have also put in my estimate for a bare-bones system where you buy used as much as possible, and are not too much concerned with cosmetics - i.e., you can do without a stand, don't mind shoplights sitting on top of your tank, and so on.

For $80, I bought enough Dupla fertilizer to last me about a year.

       Item                                            Cost   Bare-Bones Cost 
70G tank and cabinet stand:............................$340........$ 70
Homebrew hood, shoplights, fluorescent lights..........$ 90........$ 40
Gravel.................................................$ 35........$ 10
CO2 system.............................................$150........$150
Filter (Magnum, Fluval)................................$ 70........$ 40
Dupla laterite, Duplaplant, Duplaplant-24, Duplagan....$ 80........$ 80
Misc. stuff (Electrical, heater, test kits)............$ 50........$ 30

Total                                                  $965        $520

Overall Comments

This is the first tank that I have set up using the Dupla fertilizers. I am very happy with the results. I must say that this tank has produced the best results I have been able to obtain so far.

The closest I have come to similar results was with my CO2-injected 55 gallon tank. The substrate in that tank consisted of washed gravel, with the bottom third consisting of equal parts by volume of gravel. Sphagnum moss (the strands, not peat) and potting soil. Although the nitrates in that tank were at the same level as in the current tank, my current setup seems to have a lot less algae. I never tested for phosphates, so it could be that some phosphates were leaching from the substrate.

I don't know why, but the 55 gallon tank did not go through the fluctuations in growth rate that my current tank is going through. Some plants (especially the Ammania) also seemed to be in better color in the 55 gallon tank.

I was surprised to find that Dupla fertilizers are not that much more expensive than other brands. The initial costs are high, but the fertilizers themselves last a long time. I still cannot bring myself to justify the cost of MH lighting (It looks great, though) and substrate heating. Maybe after I win the lottery...

Shaji Bhaskar * BNR, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA * (
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