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I am new to planted tanks. I had big freshwater South American Cichlid tanks in college--a 90 gallon Hex and then a Short rectangular 90 Gallon. They had Eheim canister filters, and a fluidized bed sand type filter thing. I would buy big cichlids, vacuum the gravel every 2-3 weeks, never had a problem other than fish fights.

I always wanted a nice planted tank, but I kept trying plants with the Cichlids and ended up with algae all over the leaves and the fish ripping them out. So now 10 years later, I want to try again, and I'm looking for your help to hopefully save me some time. I'm buying a whole new set up. Here's what I'm thinking...

Tank--Aqueon 37 Gallon 30x12x22 for a cabinet space that is 34x17x48. Would the taller tank be better, or the shorter 30x12x12 tank that is 20 Gallon long? Some problem with light penetration or something? http://www.beldtsaquarium.com/index_files/beldts.htm

Substrate--I was planning to use the Eco-Complete because it's almost black, and no one seems to have ever had trouble with it, it'd be the easiest for a novice like me to start with. And it seems that it would be all I'd need to put, wouldn't need sand or fine gravel, just use all Eco-Complete and nothing else, about 3 inches deep?

Plants--with no fish, the plants and substrate will have to do the cycling/creating beneficial bacteria culture. I've been reading to start with fast growing stem plants. What are the common ones, easy to grow ones, darkest green ones?

Fish--After the plants are established, right? Or should I put some cheap ones in from the beginning to build the bacteria bed/cycling. If I could cycle with no fish, great. Do I ever need to put fish? would algae run amok without fish to eat it? Some bright red shrimp would be cool, but what fish go best with plants? SAE's will eat moss? What fish won't eat moss, cause I like moss alot.

Filter--I'm planning to just buy an Eheim canister because I've used those before. Is that good? What size? Is that all I'll need? Sponge filters sound real easy and practical if I want to have a hospital tank later? And they're cheap, too. Is a canister filter overkill for a planted tank, or will I need one to have clear water?

Lighting--I don't have any idea what lights to get. How much? What I do know is I like the pictures where the plants are dark, lush green, and the light looks white or almost blue. Do different lights look different to the human eye, make the plants look greener? I know metal halide lamps look like yellow light. Fluorescent lights look like cold blue light. I don't want pink looking light, or reddish yellow light.

Nutrients/Fertilizer--Reading about fertilizers sounds real complex. What is a simple basic starting point for a fertilizer program for plants. Does it have to include BOTH dry sticks/pellets below the substrate AND liquid nutrients in the water column?

Testing--What do I need and can I buy an all in one testing package for planted aquariums?

CO2--I am a homebrewer, I have 2 CO2 tanks in the garage now, with a spare regulator that can be set to 5-10 PSI, so all I'd need is a needle valve and tee it into a canister filter? How do I tell where to set the needle valve to control HOW MUCH CO2 goes into solution? Trial and error and a test kit? Or is there a better way?

Cleaning--With no fish, or very small fish, and plant roots in the gravel, do people vacuum planted tanks? The vacuuming I did on Cichlid tanks in the past seems pretty destructive to plant roots. When people say weekly water change, is that vacuuming up trash, or just siphon a third of the water off the top and replace it? If you trim plants and get a bunch of plant trash in the water, you just let the filter get it, or do you vacuum it out or net it out or what?
 

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Read this article: http://www.aquatic-plants.org/articles/basics/pages/index.html for some very helpful answers to your questions.

In the mean-time:

The tank depth won't be much issue. It's recommended to use Metal Halides for tanks deeper than 24" though.

Eco-complete sounds fine. Read through the substrate forum for more info, but it really doesn't matter which one you use or if you layer them.

Start out with a fully/heavily planted tank and you won't need to worry about cycling. The plants will take care of that for you. Just make sure you have adequate lighting and nutrients.
Some fast growers are any Hygrophila, Anancharis, Hornwort, Vallisneria, Myriophyllum, Ludwigia repens...

You don't actually need fish in a planted tank, but some algae eaters will help (Otocinclus, Bristle-nose pleco, stay away from SAE's if you cherish your mosses) . What you need is good fertilizers.

Canister filters are preferred by most, but any filter that gives good circulation is fine. I don't have a canister, but I'd like one.

See the lighting forum for better info. You need at least 1 watt per gallon for low-light (anubias, java fern, moss... ) and maybe 2-3 for moderate, and up as high as you want I suppose. More light = more care to be taken.

You only need ferts in the water column except for some of the heavier feeders (cryptocoryne and swords in my experience) . It doesn't matter if you use dry or liquid, as long as you provide macros (N, P, K) and micros (everything else)

I've never tested my aquarium water, but I recommend it. That said, I've never tested and things are going fine...

About CO2 - A bubble counter would help to know how many bubbles per second are going in (I'd shoot for 2-4). But a drop-checker will tell you how much is getting dissolved into the tank. You migth had better ask this in a separate thread for a better explanation than I can give.

For cleaning, I siphon around the plants taking out 30-40% of the water weekly. I don't ever go into the substrate with the siphon. If you have low-light (hence less ferts added, etc... ) you could probably get away with monthly water changes.

Hope that helps. Don't take my word as 'gold'. Alot of planted tank keeping is trial and error, and I'm still a rookie with just a year's experience. ;)

-Dave
 
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