If you are reading this article you must be interested in having live plants in your aquarium but are not quite sure where to start with them. You may not even know if they’re worth it or not. They are. Live plants are the holy grail of aquariums. They are simply the very best thing you can add to an aquarium to make everything better for your fish. Yes, they are that good! The first question you may ask is why are they so important.
Live plants, like your fish, are living organisms. They require food, and they produce waste like any other living thing. Waste? Isn’t that bad?!? With your fish, the answer is yes, but with plants the answer is no. Their waste is oxygen. Just like in our air breathing world, plants in an aquarium will use carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce Oxygen (O2) as a byproduct. One man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, as it were.
But Carbon isn’t the only thing a plant needs to grow. Another major nutrient it needs is Nitrogen. So where does it get Nitrogen from? I’ll give you a hint, the Nitrogen Cycle everyone talks about with a new tank. That’s right, Ammonia, the waste that your fish produce and the waste created by bacteria breaking down extra food. In fact, plants can use so much Ammonia that there is little to no need for the beneficial bacteria you here so much about in aquariums.
It’s true! With enough live plants, there is no need at all to have filters packed full of bio media like ceramic rings or bio balls. You can even add fish on day one, without the negative consequences of an Ammonia and subsequent Nitrite spike. However, caution must still be taken. While enough plants will use all the Ammonia produced by fish, you still need to make additions at a slow pace. Plants when first transplanted into the Aquarium will take time to get fully up to speed. If you are going to do this method, only add one fish or your smallest school of fish and wait a week or two so you can be sure you are not getting a buildup of Ammonia.
Plants will take up all kinds of impurities in your water, because they need them to continue to grow. Have Iron in your water? Plans need lots of that. Have copper? Plants need that too. They need so many different nutrients it is actually recommended that you do not put activated carbon in a planted aquarium! So if you do not need bio media, and you do not need activated carbon, what the heck do you need a filter for?
The truth is, you don’t NEED a filter for much of anything in a planted tank. The only important functions they provide is keeping the water moving, ensuring there are no dead spots in the tank, nutrients are distributed, and there is a nice even temperature throughout. So all of that can be accomplished by nothing more than a powerhead or even an air powered sponge filter in smaller tanks.
The secondary function for a filter, and this is only a cosmetic need, is to remove floating particles in the water to make it look nice and crystal clear for yourself and other viewers of the aquarium. So, yes, in a planted tank all you need to do is stuff your filter with sponges and pads, and you only ever need to clean them out if water flow gets restricted. Sponges and filters can be rinsed repeatedly and reused until they fall apart or lose shape. You can even use a blast of tap water to do the cleaning, because as you recall from above you do not have to worry about beneficial bacteria in a fully planted tank. Now that’s a pretty sweet deal!
In my next article in my Aquarium Plants Series I will talk about substrate choices!