Adding live plants to an aquarium does more than just improve aesthetics - plants provide shelter, food for vegetarian fish, and prevent green water. Plants also soak up carbon dioxide, waste products, contribute oxygen to the water, and promote the growth of algae, tiny worms, rotifers, and protozoa, providing live food for the fish.
Lighting is important if you want your plants to grow successfully. They need 12-14 hours of light each day, just like in nature. Opinions vary concerning how much light live plants need, but generally 3-5 watts per gallon works well. Compact fluorescent bulbs and par 20, 50-watt halogen bulbs both do the job right, so experiment with different types of lighting to find out what works best for your plants.
Plants also require the proper nutrients to stay healthy and green. Everything works together in a well-planned aquarium, so keeping the plants fed isn't a difficult prospect. Nutrients to feed the plants come from the fish in the tank - you can add more if needed. Fertilization is easy as well because plants are able to naturally use fish waste as fertilizer. You can add a commercial fertilizer when you change the water, but it's usually better to follow the "less is more" philosophy when it comes to fertilizing your plants. Too much fertilizer can cause problems with algae growth in the tank, and you can always add more if required.
What about water temperature? The majority of aquatic plants thrive in water temperatures between 72f and 78f. The pH of the water is also important - a pH of 6.8 to 7.8 is ideal.
Snails are another natural component that help the overall health of the aquatic environment. Snails clean plants of food and small algae, as they crawl over leaves and foliage. However, some snails can actually cause problems. Ramshorn, pond, and other species eat the leaves instead of clean them, and can cause unwanted damage. Luckily, it's quite easy to remove troublesome snails. Simply place lettuce leaves at the top of the aquarium to attract the snails - remove everything with a net once all the snails have assembled on the lettuce pieces.
Before placing new plants in your aquarium, rinse them thoroughly in warm water to remove any insects you don't want invading the aquarium. Healthy plants have solid roots and firm leaves, so this is what you should look for when purchasing aquatic plants. Avoid plants that give off a strange smell, especially bulbs, as this is an indication that the plant is not healthy and may not grow properly once placed in your tank.
Younger plants generally adjust better to transplantation, so keep this in mind as well. Although the plants you buy will need a period of time to adjust, and may lose some leaves, don't be alarmed. This is completely normal. To promote healthy new growth, just remove dead leaves as they appear, being careful not to damage the roots.
Aquatic plants make a beautiful addition to any aquarium and help keep the fish comfortable, healthy, and happy.
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