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For March's APC's aquascaper in focus...

Name: Luis Navarro
Location: Texas, USA

Thank you for volunteering your time to this interview so that you can share your aquascaping knowledge and technique with us. Here are the questions I would like to ask you.

Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Luis: I remember my parents giving me my first aquarium in 1985 after a horrible earthquake that killed thousands of people in my country. It was a therapeutic gift. While living in the tropics, it wasn't long before I realized that we have plenty of native aquatic plants and fish too, so collecting was an everyday thing to do.

Carlos: Luis, your planted aquariums have more light than most hobbyists in the USA. Is there any particular reason why you chose to use so much light (5-8 wpg)? Even experienced hobbyists have a difficult time balancing an aquarium with these high light levels. How do you keep your aquariums stable with so much light (i.e., describe your water change, substrates, and liquid fertilizer routine)?

Luis: Honestly, the only reason why I started using so much light was because there was not very much information back then about how to keep plants alive. My only book Aquarium Encyclopedia by Dr. J.D. Van Ramshort has many pictures of planted aquarium canopies with plenty of light --flourescent and incandescent. It also has beautiful Dutch aquarium pictures in it, and the biggest list of plants I have I have ever seen for such an old book printed in English. I will strongly advise you to get the book if you ever see it they even mention Co2 injection! I guess the intense lighting became a habit, and once the tank is well established, I never have any problems other than the light bill and a very unhappy wife.

Substrates are the second most important factor when making a planted aquarium. I have tried nearly all the products (flourite, eco-complete, florabase), and I have great success with most. The most important aspects of a good substrate material are a long lasting supply of nutrients and good porosity to support a healthy bacterial colony.

As for fertilization, I would like to say that the way I fertilize may not be the best for everyone as the biology (bioload, lighting, maintenance routine) of each tank is different. I use a lot of iron and micro nutrient fertilizer, added up to 4 times a week. Twice a week, I add another fertilizer with trace elements. I add macro nutrients only when I see an obvious sign of deficiency! The reason why I don't have to dose large amounts of macro nutrients to my aquarium is due to the high bioload in my tanks.

I use the Dupla drops in most of my aquariums, but soon I will go with the American brand fertilizers which have proved just as efficient and way more affordable than Dupla.

Water changes are done on a weekly basis 50% at the time.

Carlos: On your excellent web page, you state that you blend the philosophies of wood and rock of the Nature Aquarium style with the use of color from the Dutch Aquarium style in your aquariums. Could you please explain? If you would have to describe your own unique aquascaping style, how would you describe it?

Luis: I really like both styles, and I try to blend a little of the two to create something more appealing to the every day people. The Nature Aquarium is beautiful to most of the people who like aquatic plants, but the use of just a few plants and one kind of fish is not enough for some people. The way I see it is that we live in a country where almost everything is abundant, and we like to have choice. The blending of different cultures and food is what makes America unique. I like to think of this when I aquascape, keeping in mind my family, my friends, and my culture --how to get their attention and complement the plants and not the fish. I also like to study how to make Nature Aquariums. The human brain is extraordinary at creating new, original designs so I don't worry about trying to imitate Amano's work. I do use simple nature aquarium techniques in my aquariums, though, including ryouboku (driftwood) and iwagumi (rock) techniques. I then touch them up and high light them with plants common to Dutch aquascaping.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Luis: Make an impression. I really enjoy when people ask me if the plants in my aquariums are real.

Carlos: Are there any tactics or techniques you use to make arrangement decisions in your designs? Do you use any guidelines or rules for wood or rock placement? How about the use of colored plants? Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?

Luis: In Houston, we are lucky to have many different sources for rocks and driftwood that it makes you think twice before making a final decision. A long term layout goes well with driftwood, rocks, and plants that will not overwhelm the aquascape. If you want plenty of color and a more sophisticated design, you will have to work on it three times a week just to keep it looking the way it is supposed to look like.

I usually choose branchy driftwood for my designs. Driftwood should not take up all the space, however, as the stem plants will be the main focus of the tank. I usually attempt to do two focal points in my aquarium --creating a heavier, main focal point and a weaker, secondary focal point. I think this helps make the layout less boring.

Rocks are a different story, because plants grow rapidly and often hide them from view. Only the very dominant ones will show up in the long run so thinking about the future helps me create a better layout.

About the fish, I hate to admit it, but yes I can take up to four months to put the first fish in a new aquascape. It doesn't have to be perfect, but I try make a good choice.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Luis: Looking at them. I like to sit in front of them with a hot cup of coffee in the morning, because later I am too busy maintaining them that I end up tired by the end of the day. This also applies to the workplace, because we have six tanks there --and I maintain those as well.

Carlos: What is in the horizon for you in terms of aquascaping? Are there any particular ideas you look forward to implementing in future arrangements? Do you feel that you have anything left to learn?

Luis: Good aquascaping skills are acquired through experience. You will never learn if you don't try getting your hands wet so to speak. I have made many mistakes, but I fix them and move on. Reading and learning from people like Tom Barr, Claus Christensen, and Takashi Amano to name a few who have devoted their lives to the study of aquatic plants back up their studies is very important. They made me ask: why? I may not post a lot on other forums, but I do read a lot and probably know most of you through your posts and articles. I like to listen with a closed mouth and do what works best for me.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Luis: Be persistent and don't let algae or a dead plant discourage you from continuing. There aren't any green thumb people in the world. There is a reason for everything, so read, learn, and get your hands wet.

Carlos: Is there anything else you would like to say that I may not have
asked about in the previous questions?

Luis: Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my ideas and points of view in your forum.
30g (20 x 18 x 20 in)
2x96w --6.4 wpg
Substrate: Eco-complete topped over Fertiplant
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Micranthemum umbrosum, Marsilea quadrifolia, Eleocharis montevidensis, Eusteralis stellata, Vallisneria nana, Echinodorus tenellus, Cryptocoryne wendtii 'brown'
Fish: SAEs (C. siamensis), Pearl Gourami (T. leeri), Harlequin Rasbora (T. heteromorpha), Norman's Lampeye

58g (36 x 18 x 18 in)
4x96W 10,000K PC, 4x55W 10,000K PC --10.41 wpg
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Eicchornia diversifolia, Rotala sp Green, Bolbitis heudelotti, Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hygrophila corymbosa v stricta, Eusteralis stellata, Anubias barteri v nana, Ludwigia glandulosa, Hydrocotyle verticellata, Echinodorus tenellus, Echinodorus 'Rubin', Hygrophila lacustris, Marsilea quadrifolia, Micranthemum umbrosum, Cyperus helferi, Ludwigia brevipes, Nymphoides sp.
Fish: Rummynose tetras (H. bleheri)

75g (48 x 20 x 18 in)
6x55w 10000K and 6700K, 2 x 55W 10,000K --5.87 wpg
Substrate: Florabase over Terralit
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Anubias barteri v nana, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Cyperus helferi, Hygrophila corymbosa v stricta, Hygrophila augustifolia, Hemianthus micranthemoides, Microsorum pteropus, Anubias barteri v barteri
Fish: Bleeding Heart Tetras (H. erythrostigma), Rummynose Tetras (H. bleheri)


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The technique is very basic the placement of the driftwood (mostly branches) is decided by the size of the tank the most common you see in Mr. Amano work is and X shape that is used in very square tanks or tanks that are slightly taller, the arrangement of the plants helps to break the center of the X and is a very easy way to create additional depth to a layout. For longer aquariums they tend to section the tank in two parts creating a more dense side. And the most conventional the old triangle that can be worked in many ways to achieve different looks.
BTW rocks are OK to use as long as they don't take over the driftwood arrangement.
Luis Navarro

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303 Posts
I would just like to have the pleasure of saying that it's been a real
great opportunity to talk with Luis direct on several topics related to
Aquatic Plants..
He has been more than helpful on various matters and I hope to be able
to achieve his Patience and " Personal Touch" in times to come!

Mark- (Seattle WA.)

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147 Posts
Thanks for providing so much insight with this type of posts... what happened to the tank pictures on the post, I cannot see them? Is it only me?

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He Luis, awesome tanks! I really like the pink coloration you got on the Ammania, what's your secret? With such high lighting, how do you manage to keep H. micranthemoides growing vertical? And are all your tanks high-tech? :)

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557 Posts
Hemianthus umbrosum

Many thanks to everyone for the warm welcome I always enjoy a good conversation about plants and Aquascaping. I also want to say that there no secret I just pay attention to my plants and dose accordingly I actually learned this from Chuck Gadd when he came to Houston back in 2002.
BTW I think the plant in question is H. umbrosum not micranthemoides. and is the nature of the plant to grow vertically unlike micranthemoides which happens to be one of my favorite stem plants.
Best regards,
Luis Navarro

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179 Posts
Nice interview Carlos good job.

Hi Luis Navarro, I'm a fan of your creations, your 55 gal in the 2002 AGA is one of my favorvite tanks that I studied in detail.
Thanks for sharing your time with APC. I look forward to your next design.

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