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Plants for a Show Tank

1174 Views 5 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  cs_gardener
I've been lurking around here for quite a while (due to the goodness of RSS feeds) but this is my first post. And, as is usually the case with first posts, I'm looking for your expertise.

I bought my first aquarium, almost on a whim, about a year and a half ago now. I came across a sale at a Big Al's up here in Canada (Oakville, if you must know) and walked away with a 60 gallon show tank and the conviction that I had to have my own planted tank. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have purchased a tank with these dimensions--48" long, 12" wide and 24" high. But it's a good-looking tank, complete with a base and a hood, at my wife lets me keep it in the living room. I have fallen in love with the hobby.

During the past year I've encountered all of the blessings and curses of this hobby. I love the fish but am amazed at how often fish turn into fish food. I love the plants but have seen almost as much algae as plant growth. But as time has gone on, I've started to figure things out and now have a pretty stable tank--healthy plants, healthy fish, relatively little algae. The pH is a bit high (7.6 or a tad higher) but every other level is good (though the temperature stubbornly stays at around 84 or even higher). Once I start with CO2 I'm expecting the pH to fall a bit.

I love finding new plants and new, cool fish. As it stands now the tank is moderately planted and has quite a few different fish. In both cases I've been buying different things and just experimenting with what works well. Right now I've got a few gouramis, a bunch of ottos, a school of neons, a school of glass cats, and a handful of algae eaters. There are also a couple of zebras I used to cycle the tank that haven't died and that I haven't been able to catch! But for one grumpy gold gourami and one insane yoyo loach who just swims in circles all day, the fish all seem to get along and seem to be doing well.

The plants are also pretty healthy, I think. I've got onion grass and hornwort along the back (the hornwort mostly as a temporary measure to compete with algae and to provide quick and easy background plants that are easy to replace later on). There are a few other plants here and there including some very large leafy thing I need to keep pruning or I'm pretty sure it would just take over the entire tank. I have been dosing with Flourish Excel and just recently began with Flourish as well. I'm about to buy my first CO2 system (CO2 Pro by Red Sea). I don't run into much algae except for some slime algae that grows in the occasional plant leaf (it's kind of odd--five of the leaves of the onion grass will be perfect and the other will be totally coated with algae).

The reason I'm posting here is to ask for advice on aquascaping with a tank that only offers a foot of room to work with. I'd love to get advice on how it can be successfully aquascaped. Surely someone here must have worked with a similar tank! I'd love to get some ideas and maybe some visual inspiration. Particularly, I've found it tough to find good background plants that will get 2 feet high (and maintain their good looks).

Secondly, I'd love to know if there are some good threads around here about "re-aquascaping" an existing tank. I'd love to tear down the tank and start from scratch, or nearly so, but I don't have a second tank into which I can put all of my existing fish while I do so. I do have a neighbor who has a couple of tanks and maybe I could bump my fish over there for a bit. But I don't quite know where to begin with tearing things apart. If my tank has just gotten stable would I want to drain it and have to begin again? Also, right now I have a high-quality substrate, but it makes an awful mess when I shovel it around. Immediately the water gets filthy. So how do I move that around without turning the tank into a mudbath and killing everything? Over the substrate I've got some fairly fine gravel (that I hate--blame my brother-in-law) and on the very top a fairly thin coating of some much nicer coarse gravel that is a light color. So maybe you can tell me what you'd do in this situation. Work with what I've got and just move things around? Or pull the fish out, recycle the tank, etc?

Your thoughts and wisdom would be much appreciated!
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Take a look at some 10gallon tanks. They have the same depth dimension. That will give you some scaping ideas.

As far as re-scaping tanks, there are many tanks that have been rescaped. Just do a search for that word and start reading.

So potential hazards
1. ammonia releases, do necessary water changes, add some extra Prime.
2. cloudy water, micro/micron pads in your filter and Clairity will take care of these. Even really cloudy water won't hurt the fish. Think of hard rains in ponds and rives.
3. changing out substrate - new tank cycle. If you look at my 125g tank thread I did this. Others have too. You need to decide how fed up with your present tank to justify the amount of work involved. I only lost 4 fish - 2 ottos, and 2 khulis that committed suicide.

Good luck with your decisions.
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Welcome to APC. I hope you'll find lots of good advice here. I did. I was a lurker a long time before posting questions too.

Plants and fish in nature are often subject to very, very cloudy water. Storms kick up lots of sediment and most fish don't even seem to notice. I do pretty significant re-scapes in my bigger tanks all of the time. I usually uproot the plants, remove hardscape items, and give the gravel a good vacuuming. LOTS of debris gets stirred up - so much that I sometimes can't see what I'm doing. It's always gone by the following day though. Some of it will eventually settle out on the plants. A little swish the next day will clean the leaves off again.

Unless I physically relocate the tank, I never remove the fish. Netting and transferring them is almost always more stressful than working around them. Leave them a little cover and they'll find places to hang out while you work. If you do decide to remove them, they can live quite happily for several weeks in a large tupperware bin, a clean garbage can, or just about anything else. Before you got them, your fish went through some pretty tough environments.

Like you said, aquascaping a narrow tank is difficult. If you are planning a major re-do, you might want to consider buying a different size aquarium. Once you have everything set up, the actual cost of the glass box is only a small part of the total. If you stick with a 48" length you can probalby re-use your lighting and much of the original equipment. The first tank would make a good quarantine setup, growout tank, or plant farm.

If you're stuck with the original setup, you can use a few tricks. You'll want to focus on front to back sightlines, leaving open space in areas to give it a sense of depth. Don't let anything touch the front glass. Focus on developing the forground and midground. Taller species are easy and will quickly overtake the scenery. Use them sparingly.

Unless they're truly overstocked, moderately or heavily planted tanks don't need to cycle. The plants will consume available ammonia long before it ever becomes toxic to the fish.
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I rescaped my tank, my only problem was a couple of fish loses. leaving them in the tank would have helped. plus i made a mistake.
here are my threads.

the rescape

the mistake

my fav. tank thats the same size as ours. or evidence a 12" deep tank can be scaped.;)
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"Take a look at some 10gallon tanks. They have the same depth dimension. That will give you some scaping ideas. "

This is true, except that 10 gallon tanks aren't 24 inches high. That adds a particularly difficult aspect to a show tank!
There are quite a few plants that you could use as a background in a tall tank. Hygrophila corymbosa "angustifolia" is a great one, well actually most Hygophilas should work, tall Cryptocorynes (spiralis, balansae, retrospiralis), Vallisneria nana has a nice thin leaf, Cyperus helferi (if it likes your tank). With the stem plants the base may look a bit ratty when it gets tall but if you have other plants in front of them it doesn't matter.

Have you considered using some thinner driftwood (branchy rather than trunklike). You can use it to put some ferns and anubias up higher in the background. I've collected some boring, nearly straight driftwood pieces and attached ferns to one end and then stuck them in the substrate upright to get the fern up high. With other plants around the base of the stick you can't see the boring wood.
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