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Aquarium Maintenance: How to Keep Aquatic Plants Healthy

Aquatic plants obtain their sustenance for proper growth from the environment inside the aquarium. However, changes in the aquatic conditions may warrant the need for supplementation in order to keep the aquarium plants healthy. These factors include available planting conditions, plant species, available plant nutrients, and planting density.

Most aquatic plants are quite resilient and all they need is regular maintenance to keep their growth in check. Regular pruning will also keep plants looking well-manicured.

Aquarium plants utilize nitrates as a nutrient for growth. Nitrates are produced in the aquarium via the nitrogen cycle. The good bacteria that function as efficient biological filtration systems utilize ammonia in the water to produce nitrites and convert these into nitrates. When nitrate levels are low, aquatic plants may not fare well thus there is a need to apply fertilizers that contain nitrates. Low nitrate levels are also a common occurrence in newly established tanks.

As your tank ages, the live plants will continue to utilize nitrates thereby helping minimize the growth of algae. Iron additives may be regularly needed by plants with bright red or reddish orange foliage. To supplement the natural nutrients inside the aquarium, you may need to use plant additives that contain nitrates, phosphates, iron, and other nutrients which can easily be administered to the tank on a regular basis.

Lighting, whether natural or artificial, is important for plants to undergo photosynthesis. It is also a critical factor in the reproduction and growth of plants. The two main factors associated with lighting requirements in aquariums are intensity and photoperiodicity.

Most aquatic plants need red and blue spectrum in sunlight. In the tank, this factor is replicated by using fluorescent or metal halide lighting which is specifically designed to give off these spectrums. As a rule of thumb, two watts of lighting per gallon of water is recommended for optimum plant growth.

The length of time that light is turned on is called photoperiod. For planted tanks, it is recommended to have a 10-12 hour light cycle. A light timer can help maintain consistency in a photoperiod.

Water Parameters
The growth of aquatic plants are also dependent on specific water parameters particularly water hardness and pH. Test kits are available commercially to monitor the levels of these parameters.

Water hardness is a measurement of the amount of minerals in the water. When selecting what type of plants you will put in your tank, it is necessary to know their requirements of these water parameters. Most tropical plant species thrive well in 8 degrees or less of water hardness. However, there are those that do well with 8-12 water hardness.

There are two common ways to adjust pH and water hardness to desired levels. These include:

1. Using reverse osmosis (R.O.) or de-ionized water (D.I)
2. Using peat moss to filter aquarium water

Laterite is a clay-based mixture that contains fertilizers. It is a unique type of aquarium substrate that contains necessary nutrients to support good growth of plant roots and development.

Carbon Dioxide
Since plants need sufficient amounts of carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, some hobbyists choose to inject CO2 gas to boost plant growth.

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