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A real newbie question, but I've always judged water quality on my fish behavior, plants are a little different. Are test kits a necessity for planted aquaria? If so, which ones? Also what brands and types(dip stick/liquid) do you recommend/advise against? Ease of use and clarity of results/instructions are important to me.
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Are you willing to spend $50 on Lamotte NO3 test kit ?
Are you willing to spend ~$50 on Hach Fe test kit ?

If those are too expensive, I wouldn't bother with other brands.

PH by Lamotte works for me like a charm. I don't use it now b/c I have PH controller.

NO3 by Lamotte - I use it once in a while. When my NO3 is high (since my fish load is high) I add more PO4 and things are resolved

KH/GH by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals work like a charm.

PO4 by Salifert and Seachems - used it once, didn't like it, sitting in my closet.

Fe by Seachems - used it once, didn't like it, sitting in my closet.

NH4/NO2 are necessary unless you cycling a tank, and even then you don't need it if you plant your tank heavy from the start.
 

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Aquarium Pharmaceuticals makes a really good GH and KH test kit. Their pH tests aren't too hard to follow, either. Those are the three that you should test for the most, but it's good to have ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate handy (those are NH4, NO2, and NO3). AP tests are really easy to use, as well; it just takes about 10 minutes for the NH4 and NO2 to develop. I've never used the AP test for NO3; I only know the Tetra kits for that parameter, which seem to work well enough.

I have no experience with phosphate or iron test kits as I've never used them and haven't had issues with those nutrients in my tanks. If you're new to planted tanks and don't keep very demanding species, you probably don't need to worry about those two until you get more experience. Read up a little on their importance and decide if they're worth the investment at this point.
 

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The GH/KH test kits by Tetra are also pretty good.

pH test kit is recommended, but I haven't had good luck with the AP one.

With the GH/KH test kit and pH test kit, you can get the CO2 value.

AP's NO3 (nitrate) test kit is really accurate, very comparable to Lamotte's. I have both AP and Lamotte, and they always register the same NO3 value when tested side by side.

Seachem's Phosphate test kit is excellent. It won't tell you if you have 1.2 ppm or 1.3 ppm PO4, but it is accurate enough to know if you have 1.5-2ppm, 1.0-1.5ppm, etc. It's also very easy to use.

Those are the only test kits you really need for a planted tank, IMO...

Carlos
 
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