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Tank "Stalled Out"

3121 Views 16 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  C_perugiae
I work at a pet store, as a few of you may recall, and I'm in charge of a few of the display tanks there. One of them, a 65 gallon, doesn't have tons of algae or anything, but the plants have kinda stalled out. The only plant that does anything is a green tiger lotus... everyone else just kinda sits there. I realize that's not the biggest curse in the world, but I'm a little leery of plants that aren't growing. It creeps me out. :)

This tank has 2 96 Watt PCs, pressurized CO2 at about 30 ppm, 3" Eco-Complete, and gets tested for CO2 and NO3 levels about three times a week to make sure everything is staying stable. I dose with KNO3 to keep the nitrate levels at 5-10 ppm. I also dose about 10-15 mL of Flourish three or four times a week.

I noticed last week that my NO3 levels weren't dipping as quickly as they used to. That tank usually "eats" about 2ppm of NO3 a day, but lately, it's been eating about 1ppm every few days. The hairgrass, after being thinned out a huge amount, hasn't really started growing back, either.

Here's the list of plants in the tank:
Red Tiger Lotus
Green Tiger Lotus
Myriophyllum simulans
Lysimachia nummularia (I think)
Eleocharis acicularis
Crinum natans "aquaticum"
Aponogeton ulvaceus

I do water changes with reconsituted RO using Equilibrium and Acid/Alkaline buffer every week or two and have noticed during this stagnant period that I get a huge burst of growth (4"-6") from the Myriophyllum immediately afterward, but it stops again a day later.

I suspect it's a nutrient issue, but that's where my question is... I'm not sure which nutrient. The only clue I have is in the Lysimachia; it has blackish spots on some of the lower leaves and it's been sending out side roots more than usual. I've heard side roots are usually a potassium problem, but with the steady KNO3 I add, I wouldn't think it would be an issue...

Sorry about the long post... if anyone is still awake, please give me ideas you might have about what I can do. Keep in mind that this is a store display and I'm supposed to be using Flourish products because those are the ones we sell. The KNO3 dosing issue was a HUGE issue and I don't really want to start any new battles...
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Sinice this is a display tank for a shop and you are using the SeaChem line you may also want to ask the same in the SeaChem forum.

Have you tried using the entire line of Flourish products as they are designed to be used in concert.

One thing I did notice from your post is while you are using Flourish, are you also using the Flourish Trace? Lack of Trace Elements could cause the plants to stop growing.
Traces and PO4 would be my 2 guesses as to your problem. It could be K, especially if your NO3 dosing has slowed down. Check for PO4, or try adding and extra 1-1.5ppm a week. Adding the reccommended dose of Flourish Trace wont hurt a thing either. Adding some K also won't cause a bit of problems either. Try adding 10ppm of K, a dose of Flourish Trace and some PO4. Really would be interesting to try each one for a few weks seperatly to see wha the real problem was, but adding all three at once would speed things up a bit and help through this slump. Try and keep an eye on your NO3 levels a bit more as they will surely start to be used at a faster rate.

I am sure you know all this but double check your CO2, make sure your testing reagents are not bad, or that your probe does not need calibrated(if you use one) Hope that helps:)

If Myriophillum is not growing, something is missing. Do the acid buffers have a phosphate base? I know some do and that would surely be a sign. Plants that are starved for P can uptake large amounts in a less than a day.
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I didn't think potassium would be an issue in this case. Equilibrium is FULL of it... like 65 ppm for every 3 degrees of hardnessit adds. I considered that for a while, but with that much K (I keep the tank at 6 deg of GH) plus the K that the tank gets from KNO3, I don't know if it would really be an issue. I guess I could throw some Flourish Potassium in there, but the stuff is pretty weak compared to the dosage I do with weekly water changes.

I'll see if we have Flourish Trace... not sure because we suggest using Equilibrium and that has a really balanced list of nutrients included. If we do carry it, I'll give it a try, anyway. The trace thing could be a possibility, considering that big growth spurt I get at each water change.

I am almost completely positive that there's no phosphate in Acid/Alkaline Buffer; it's another Seachem product and I think I remember reading that on the label. I'll find out for sure tomorrow by asking my manager... Steve knows everything about Seachem. :)

I know for sure my testing solutions are fine. We test water for free at the store I work for so we go through a few bottles of each test a week, at the minimum. In fact, every time I test KH, I'm using a relatively new bottle because it gets used really quickly (big saltwater store, so it gets used by both disciplines). The only test kit that is used strictly on the 65 is the nitrate test kit and that's only been open for three weeks now.

I was considering the possibility of the phosphorous levels being low because the NO3 levels have been on the high side (around 10 ppm) and not going down like they used to. We do carry Flourish Phosphorous, so I can give it a try. I think I'll try that one first, actually... I had a feeling that's what it was, but I didn't want to say anything until I heard other responses.

Thanks for replying, guys. If anyone else has anything to add, please do so. I'd really appreciate it...
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I am almost completely positive that there's no phosphate in Acid/Alkaline Buffer
You are correct. Both the dry form and the liquid version are phosphate free.

The Discus Buffer and Neutral Regulator are both phosphate based.

From experience I know that Equlibrium does provide plenty of potasium but it does not contain any traces save for a small bit of iron.

The fact that right after water change you get some growth and then iit stops is telling that something is missing. Trace Elements are what seem to be lacking by your discription.

I'll also harp on the fact that since this is a store display and part of its reason for being is to showcase what can be accomplished with the notions and potions you sell you should ask the source. I'm not 100% sure but I do believe Seachem will have a rep at AGA too.
Hi, I happened to stumble on your post and I have a question and some suggestions: why are you adding a acid/ alkaline buffer to the tank? Wouldn't this render your C02 readings useless? Now there is an alkaline buffer (white powder) that adds to the KH (alkalinity)- this shouldn't cause a problem because it's really just baking soda, which many here use to raise their KH without a problem, but if your using acid buffer (the red/pink granules) then you may have less C02 then you think. Also Don't even think about adding more K. THere's more then enough IMO- like you said 65 mg/l for each dosage of equalibrium. "Flourish" is a trace mix I've been using it for the last year on my tank as a trace and it does the trick. If there is a "flourish trace" I can't find it on their website. If you are not dosing any Phos. then dosing to 1ppm will definately get you closer to success. Unfortunatly I can't say how much to add because I never really used it, but like anything start with the recommended dose and go from there.

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Yeah, I would look into what Jeff mentioned. It sounds like your Co2 might be a problem. Are you getting pearling at the end of the day? Are the plants growing in smaller than they should be. Why are you using R/O? From what I've learned recently, its best to keep things simple not complicate them. If your set on R/O, maybe do a mix of tap and R/O rather than reconstituting the R/O, aim for 6 KH. Then you can verify your Co2 with the Co2 chart better.

Similar problems, last couple of weeks,
I'm using RO because that's what my boss wants me to use... we sell a lot of it at the store, especially for people with well water, so it's best if I don't rock that boat too much. :) It's not straight RO; I use about 15% tapwater to bring the RO up to temperature, so it's not completely sterile. KH also varies a lot out of the tap at the store, so it's nice to keep it predictable. I wouldn't mind using straight tapwater like I do at home, but I'm trying to play by the rules.

I'm using Flourish, usually about 10mL, three or four times a week.

I'm almost completely sure Seachem endorses the use of both Acid and Alkaline buffer with RO to get the KH at a stable level... I remember my manager telling me that they told him the ratio that we recommend at the store. When I mix them, the KH stays stable for way longer than just the use of Alkaline buffer. I keep the KH at 4 dH, GH at 6, CO2 concentration at about 25 ppm.

I think I'm giving you guys the wrong idea about this tank... it's going well, I was just surprised to see the plants slow a bit. There's absolutely no hair algae and the plants are pearling like crazy. I have a couple "Riccia toupees" on the top of the driftwood I forgot to mention and they're having some fun about three hours after the lights turn on in the morning and stay covered in bubbles all day long. The lotuses are sending up streams of bubbles in several places, as well. I was worried because the Myriophyllum only grows after water changes and the hairgrass hasn't filled in much lately.

A few days ago, I added about 3mL of Flourish Phosphorous to the tank after my usual 50% water change. The plants looked even more vivid than usual the next day and of course had that growth spurt they always do... I added more PO4 the next day and my NO3 levels actually went down by 4 ppm. I'm going to continue the PO4 in small amounts, according to how quickly the tank eats NO3, and make sure I keep up on Flourish addition, in case the plants are hungry for trace elements. With that big jump in NO3, however, I'm thinking it's a phosphate issue.

I guess my questions are more of a quest for nutrition info than a "help me because the tank looks like heck" post, but thanks for all the replies anyway... this is a pretty cool discussion.

My boss told me that he has a bunch of articles that our Seachem rep sent us (probably the same ones on their website, actually) Once I have time to read those, I'll let you guys know if there's anything pertaining to the questions we've raised here.
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That's great your adding some phosphate to the tank. It sure that can help. I really see a red flag when someone is using acid and akaline buffers in a planted tank. I used to use these products, but soon stopped because I found it rendered the Co2 chart useless. And test kits for CO2 were so inaccurate.... honestly you are shooting blind on your C02 injections using that acid buffer.

If you must and being your boss is so on to seachem, maybe you can remove the co2 injection and do the tank on Excel. At least then you'll know how much Co2 you are adding and then maybe you'll get that gowth you are looking for?

I know that you are just following orders and all that, I get that, but your procedures are just adding more factors to the tank and complicating this whole thing for you and your customers- who would subscribe to these methods and spend a lot of money using these products-not all of which they need. (not to say it can't work- it sounds like your making it work). One must wonder what the objective here is: demonstrating overly complicated procedures that involve using products that make it harder to have a successful planted tank or demonstrating easy to follow, tried and true methods that will increase the chances of the customer's success. One way will give you a happy customer with a lush planted tank that comes back for more business and advice, the other will be a quick buck and see you later when they give up. Just something to think about.
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Since you are using RO, adjust the KH to 3 using only the alkaline buffer.
Adjust the GH to 3-4.
50% weekly water change

KNO3: 1/2 teaspoon3x a week and some PO4(about 0.5ppm) 3x a week the same day as the KNO3.

Add Flourish: 15mls 3x a week on the off days.

That's it.

Everyone was right about PO4 BTW.
You can see the NO3 uptake decline.
You can read about this in TAG and AquaPlanta(if you read Italian).

Tom Barr
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Thanks for the replies, guys.

I'm still confused. Why is it a problem to use the Acid/Alkaline Buffer concoction? When I mix it to 4 dKH, it makes the pH of the solution 7.6, which is pretty much what a KH of 4 will have out of the tap. I've been doing it that way forever and it's really never been a problem. Again, it "holds" way better than just Alkaline buffer and Seachem actually lists the mixtures you can use on the side of the bottle. I know the "I've always done it this way" argument is really weak, but I guess I'm just trying to understand why I should change something that seems so stable. Keep in mind that these products are different from other buffers on the market...

I'm also confused about what part of my method is difficult for people to understand. I've been "in charge" of helping out the more advanced plant people for a while now and no one has a hard time with this. There are people using the methods that I learned from the store that have had their tanks set up for five or ten years. I don't think that anything in how we do things at the store is really all that bad... I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say that people aren't going to want to keep it up.

I'm not being defensive here, guys, and I don't wanna start a flame war. I just want to be clear on stuff, especially since I keep getting such a strong opinion... what you guys think may be the same thing that a customer is thinking, although I haven't had any complaints yet and the people I deal with for the bigger setups have a really good relationship with me.

BTW, I really do believe it was the PO4 now. The tank ate another 4 ppm of NO3 in the last two days, just from adding 5mL of Flourish Phosphorous to the tank. I haven't changed anything else in my dosing habits.
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I was not meaning any bad connection when I asked about the buffers. I only wondered if they contained P, which would provide the misisng element right after the wc and cause increase of growth. The only bad thing I have heard about buffers is that it messes with the kH/Ph table, but i thought it was the P in th ebuffer that messed things up :? Really don't know any more than that.

I personally don't see anything wrong with your setup or procedures. Maybe ther are a few extra steps due to using R/O and adjusting it to suit you rpurposes, but soem folks have crappy water and have to do that anyway, others like to start from ) and have complete control. You know you don't need RO for a successful tank and thats what matters:)

You seems to have followed a natural course and solved you problem, ie slow growth. Why? Low PO4. You added some, NO3 uptake increases, growht improves...all sounds good and logical to me. The only thing I will say is, keep a closer eye on NO3 and trace levels as they will be used up faster than you may be used to. That is only logical to due to increased growth, but you know that anyway:)

Now, the important part... PICS!
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I came back from my weekend at the AGA to find the tank doing very well. Another 6 ppm of NO3 were gone, thank goodness (avg of 2 a day) and the plants are pearling like there's no tomorrow.

I'll get pics of the tank in the next week or so. I have to wait until someone else can take them because I can't find the docking station for my camera. :(
C_perugiae said:
I'm still confused. Why is it a problem to use the Acid/Alkaline Buffer concoction?
BTW, I really do believe it was the PO4 now. The tank ate another 4 ppm of NO3 in the last two days, just from adding 5mL of Flourish Phosphorous to the tank.
I haven't changed anything else in my dosing habits.
You should not be the least bit confused, I said add only alk buffer.
Just do this and do not use acid "buffer".

Simple, plants want a certain amount of CO2, not a pH.

Plants want CO2, not a certain pH.

So you need to add precisely what the plants want and need to grow, not acid buffer which does not have any CO2.

If you need more CO2, then add more CO2.
This is deceptively simple.

The small amount of PO4 present in the Flourish PO4 is very small.
You can add 2-5x this amount.
I suggest KH2PO4.
1-2lbs will last a few decades for most. sells it for 3-4$.

Tom Barr
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Hey Tom, thanks for the advice about where to get the phosphate. I can use that at home, but at the store, I need to stick to manufactured aquarium products as much as I can, though, so until it becomes very expensive to do so, I gotta stick with the Flourish Phosphorous. It seems to work pretty well and it's not my checkbook that the money's coming out of, so I'd better play by the rules for now. I did notice how weak the solution is, so I'm upping it as I go to play around with growth rates.

I think I should explain the Acid/Alkaline buffer thing again. I'm not adding it to drive the pH down; like you said, that's what the CO2 is for. In fact, at a 1:2 ratio with the Alkaline Buffer, it doesn't really affect the pH of the water much, if at all.

The reason that it gets mixed in, however, has to do with the stability of the KH. When I use only Alkaline Buffer, it takes a lot more to bump the KH to 4 degrees. That level doesn't stay for long in the aquarium, either; it falls about 1 degree every week or so. It shouldn't be an issue since I do weekly water changes on the tank, but other people have had major issues using only the Alkaline Buffer with RO water. The products are designed to be used together and we see fewer problems with customers who use both, so I need to continue my methods in that respect.

Again, thanks for the reply...
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Baking soda and KH and alkanity are all HCO3............

Why would that change?
Unless something is consuming it, eg plants with low CO2 etc

Tom Barr
Here's a pic of the entire tank, finally. I've been using Flourish Phosphorus for the last couple weeks and haven't seen a ton of new growth, but I can tell the plants are doing better, at least.

A couple Mondays ago, I caved and totally redesigned the tank because I didn't like the way it looked before... ditched the troublesome Myriophyllum and tried dwarf sag for a foreground plant in place of the hairgrass. The Aponogeton was getting way too big and shading out everyone else, so he was evicted, as well. Anyway, here's a pic of the new tank... not going through much NO3, but everything looks a whole lot better with the addition of the PO4.

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