Setting up an Aquarium

A Quick-Start-Guide

1. Preliminary Remarks

According to newest findings, observing an aquarium offers relaxation, decreases stress and has a soothing effect. It offers possibility to exactly observe many procedures of mother Nature and also leads eventually to understanding such procedures and connections. In addition to that, an aquarium can just be beautiful and fascinating, too. It can serve as a decorative eyecatcher in the apartment… Enumerating the advantages would let itself continue at will.
Besides all these advantages it should not be overlooked to create and maintain the  surroundings in regard to respective needs of the fish and plants, which is an effort you simply have to make because otherwise serious disadvantages overshadow too fast from these advantages, if e.g. the aquarium transforms into a gloomy alga soup, which can lead to a sudden end to a hobby that begun with big enthusiasm.
On this Page I would like to inform you, how to get all the initially enumerated benefits of an aquarium and how you can also assure them long-time by special and to species-appropriate care of this small underwater world of yours. By that it can happen that you rather soon will get a serious infection of the “fishkeeping virus” that will hopefully accompany us in pleasant way for the rest of our  life.

Of course this Page can only put a spotlight on some major parts of the big framework that an aquarium represents. I want to try to point you into the right direction. For getting more insight and information you should purchase at least one of the books mentioned on the respective Page. Since an aquarium is a small eco-system for itself with a countless number of organisms affecting each other, you will not be able to find just one simple instruction as for a machine, which one only needs to follow and forget about everything else. Perhaps sooner or later you will encounter problems, which are not discussed in the literature, too. So I therefore would recommend the exchange of ideas with like-minded people. The first contact will surely be your qualified zoo specialist dealer. Then perhaps after some time you join a local aquarium club. In hot, often all-night-long led discussions you will then experience that often there isn’t just one way of doing it and each aquarium behaves differently to another one. But exactly that is one of many facts that make this hobby so interesting and instructive!
In a short overview I will show you first the substantial steps to setting-up an aquarium. In the following chapters you will get to know the details of the respective subjects.

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Aquarium Plants and Fish

2. Overview of all Steps

2.1 Cleaning the new Aquarium
If you set up your new aquarium at the place planned for it, clean it first using lukewarm tap water.
This could be done easily using an aquarium sponge.
Don´t useany type of detergents!

2.2 Adding the Substrate
At first, bring in 2 cm a high layer of unwashed gravel of the granulation 2 – 3
mm and mix it with a substrate fertilizer.
More comfortably would be the use of a finished fertile soil mixture as JBLAquaBasisplus in 2cm layer thickness. Spread the first layer evenly. After having that done cover it with a layer of washed gravel of granulation2-3mm.If you use prepurified gravel this would save a lot of washing work.

2.3 Installing Heater and Filter
Proceed in accordance with the instructions of the individual manufacturers. Install the devices in the rear part of the aquarium in such a way that it will be possible to cover them later on using decoration and plants.

2.4 Decoration
Next, decorating items are brought in such as roots and stones. Use only one kind of stones and don´t try to start a underwater stone collection. Stones and roots are presented on the substrate or even slightly embedded in it.

2.5 Adding Water
Now fill uptheaquariumwith moderate temperature (25°C) tap water almost fully.In order to prevent a dispersal of the substrate with the fertile soil,just put a dinner plate or a pane on the ground at the spot you pour the water on.Subsequently,still possibly necessary corrections at the decoration can be made and water conditioners can be added.

2.6 Activating technical Items
Now it´s time for plugging in heater and filter and installing the lighting according to the respective instructions. It is advisable to attach the lighting still to a time switch.

2.7 Bringing in useful Bacteria
In order to have useful filter bacteria in your aquarium right from the start add now and in the following days an additive containing useful bacteria, for example JBL Denitrol.

2.8 Inserting Plants
Now that the technology is working perfectly and the first dose of bacteria is brought in, the aquatic plants can be inserted.

2.9 Inserting the Fish
Please be patient and do that some days later. Details on this can be found in the chapter concerning fish.

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3. The Aquarium

3.1 Location
The window sill as a location for an aquarium has become obsolete, since modern lighting systems have been developed. Also daylight can not be proportioned well or even controlled which lead to problems (seasonal fluctuations also add to this) namely ugly growth of algae. For best results select a location as far as possible away from a window, where the aquarium receives as little direct daylight as possible, but although well observable from your favourite armchai. A special lighting for aquariums from major companies provides an adapted light climate and minimizes algae problems. At the same time you perhaps can put some nice background light to a former dark corner of your apartment. Furthermore there should be a power connection in the proximity of your aquarium or it should be at least easily manageable to get the needed connection at the future location by multiple power outlet or an extension cord. You later need to plug in 3 – 4 devices depending on your equipment. Above the aquarium there should be enough space in order the care of it later on (e.g. regular partial water change) without having to perform perhaps funny but really annoying acrobatic dislocations or contortions. As a rest for the aquarium you need a sufficiently sturdy piece of furniture. For smaller aquariums this could be a shelf, a table or something similar. For larger aquariums starting from approximately 80 Liters I would suggest to buy a special aquarium furniture type of thing. There a lot of types available to fit each and every auquarium. Please take care that it must stand absolutely horizontally (check with a spirit level).
Between the surface of the furniture and the aquarium one should put a so-called Polysoftsheet, which are offered especially for aquariums. It adjusts small irregularities and isolates the aquarium downward against loss of temperature.

3.2 Size
Generally, it can be said that in a large aquarium the living conditions remain more stable and not directly to smaller or even bigger disasters by unintentional errors made in the first time of aquarium care. That means, that for example can be an unnoticed died fish in a large aquarium without considerable disadvantages for water and other fishes because it would be eliminated by bacteria. In a small aquarium this process could perhaps lead to a dangerous oxygen deficiency, since the bacteria need a lot more oxygen for this work than there is available in this aquarium is in a short period of time. Also a once forgotten partial water change is digested by a larger aquarium more easily than it would be in small one.

On the other hand beginning with a small aquarium than that can be right way regarded didactically, because errors are inexorably acknowledged immediately and one gets educated to conscientious care by this fact. I would like to suggest and recommend a middle way at the beginning with an aquarium of at least 60, better 80 cm of length. Such an aquarium takes 50 or 80 – 100 l water contents is manageable in financial regards and also to some extent already grants stable living conditions for the passengers when taken care of well. Such aquariums are often offered inexpensively as complete aquarium starter kits with all necessary accessories included.

3.3 Design and Form
Nowadays nearly all glass aquariums on the market are held together by silicone rubber. So when you buy an aquarium of a proprietary brand, these aquariums fulfill all requirements concerning security and stability. Also this type of high quality gluing creates new formative possibilities. Now aquarium forms can be built that deviate from the usual rectangular form, which can be chosen to perfectly integrate into your style of living. However you should not forget the well-being and the requirements of the organisms living inside your aquarium which can collide with some „interior-architectural high-altitude flights“, meaning that the rectangle shape is still the best choice, especially for the beginner.

3.4 Useful Accessories

For care of your future small underwater world you will need some practical things, which can facilitate your work substantially. In detail these are: A clean bucket, which is used only for working on the aquarium only and has to be an absolute taboo for other finery activities in the household! A suction hose of approximately 1.5 – 2 m length and 15 – 20 mm in diameter lets the aquarium water flow into the bucket while doing water changes. There are also complete Sets available which can be not only for changing the water but also make you able to clean the gravel at the same time. For example the “AquaEx” Set offered by JBL. The special thing about this set is that it has valve gears, which ensure that the water flows automatically into the bucket without annoying sucking it in with your mouth.
For catching a fish there are different nets available. You can choose the one you find appropriate to your purpose, size of aquarium and fish, too.
To remove annoying alga surfaces of the glass of the aquarium you need a cleaner. Like the nets different models, size etc. are available here to suit your needs. The biggest difference between them is that there are models to use every side of the aquarium and others, that are held together by a magnet. With this kind of cleaner you don´t get your hands wet while removing algae but one has to say that it is difficult or even impossible to use these one on the back of the aqaurium. All these utensils should be kept together and separately from other household utensils in a specific place near the aquarium.

4. Substrate & Decoration

Before I begin to share a few thoughts on the ground and decoration I want to mention a few things in advance:
Your aquarium should be a natural-looking and, above all, being able to function like a natural small water biotope. For this reason, you should refrain from using unnatural decorative items such as plastic divers, shipwrecks or even plastic plants! It should have priority to nurture the requirements of fish, plants and perhaps also other animal you want to have in your aquarium than concerning decorative and artistic regards. However, you do not have to forgo aesthetics and a sense of beauty, as you will find while reading these Pages.

Their aquarium is to become once as naturally as possible more working and particularly in natural way a functioning small water biotope. For this reason you should from the outset on unnaturally working decoration articles, like e.g. Plastic divers, ship wrecks or plastic plants do without! The requirements for life of the fish which can be maintained should have priority before decorative-artistic brilliant achievements. Completely on aesthetics and sense for the beautiful you do not need to do without nevertheless, as you will determine with further reading of this brochure.

If one wanted to exactly rebuild the habitat of the fish (no matter which) absolutely identical to nature in an aquarium it would just make a desolate impression. What is important is that mostly all functions of this habitat is also offered in the aquarium. For example, fishes who love to hide between plants should not be nurtured in aquariums without plants or those that need caves, not in bare aquariums and so on.

But back to the substrate. If you have placed your aquarium in the designated place, wash it with lukewarm water (without any detergent!). After that, you can start adding the substrate. This has to fulfill various functions: it serves as a nutrient substrate and should offering anchoring possibility for the water plants and also most fish should not be kept without the necessary “soil under their feet”. I recommend the following soil structure:

As a bottom layer of approximately 2 cm thickness, use unwashed aquarium gravel with a grain size of approximately 2-3 mm, which you can mix well with some kind of fertilizer additive  like JBL Florapol. But you could also save the mixing work by using a ready-mix of JBL AquaBasis plus in the same layer thickness instead. Then cover this first layer with a 3 – 4 cm thick second layer of well washed gravel. If you buy pre-cleaned gravel, you can save yourself the washing work. It is advantageous to have as darker, round grained grains with a grain size of  2 – 3 mm.

With natural decorating materials, such as some stones and one or two roots you can now build some hiding places for the fish or optically hide away the later on installed technology, such as heaters and filters, as far as possible. The proper functioning of these devices should be ensured, and the filter, if necessary, should be able to being cleaned easily. Stones with many caves and niches not only look beautiful, they also provide your fish with many hiding places. But only use materials that do not release harmful substances to the water. When buying it from reliable brands you can rest assured in this regard. This is particularly true for roots. So never use wood right out of the forest!

In the meantime, the pet shops also offer so-called savannah and mangrove timber, which is also suitable. Rinse all stones and roots thoroughly before use under running water, possibly a little help with a brush. Avoid family anger by not cooking these items as often recommended. This is absolutely unnecessary. In order to ensure that your root does not float when water is being filled in the aquarium, just put a stone on it to add some weight.

Even the most beautiful aquarium decoration loses its charm when one can see the living room wallpaper behind it, so you perhaps should add a nice background. A big variety is available and certainly you will find a motif that also fits to your aquarium. For professionally attaching it to the aquarium glass I would recommend a special set of glue for this purpose, for example JBL backwall glue. This ensures that background sticks flat to the glass without air inclusions and can thus be viewed optimally.

In order to preserve your energy consumption, you can isolate the aquarium to the outside with a styrofoam coating to prevent heat loss which can be put just on the background.

Red Cichlid behind Ornament
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5. Technology

In order to optimize the living conditions for the occupants in your small biotope, a certain degree of technique is required, since this small biotope does not regulate and maintain itself by itself, as in nature, although it basically works according to the same laws. What you should know about technology and what you need, that´s what I want to point out here.

5.1 Filters

A filter should, as the name says, filter something, namely the water in the aquarium. The absence of visible particles and thus a beautifully clear aquarium water is rather a welcome side effect. The main task of an aquarium filter is not the purely mechanical filtration, but the dismantling and conversion of invisibly dissolved pollutants in a bacterial way. Let me briefly explain where these pollutants come from, and how this bacterial water purification takes place:

The excrements of the fish, feed residues and dead parts of plants are going to dissolve into the water as a kind of waste, which can be more or less harmful to the fish in the long term. Certain bacteria have now specialized to removing and converting these pollutants into harmless substances. These bacteria will find good living conditions in the filter material of the aquarium filter and settle there over the course of about 2 weeks. You will find more information about this in the following chapter.

For the beginning, you should be aware of the fact that there are internal filters and external filters. Internal filters are located inside the aquarium, which has the advantage that no water-bearing hoses, which might leak, run outside the aquarium. On the other hand, the cleaning which is required from time to time is an intervention in the aquarium and you have to reach directly into the aquarium. For standard aquariums of 60 cm and 80 cm (approx. 50 and 100 l), I would recommend internal filters. Most comfaortable are filters using pre-filter inserts, which can be cleaned or replaced regularly, whereby the actual biological filter mass Is protected against unnecessary dirt and thus achieves a longer service life.

Air-operated internal filters are not recommended, since they remove a lot of Co2 that is most important for plant growth (see also chapter on plants).

For larger aquariums, I would recommend a motor driven external filter. This filter can be placed comfortably under or behind the aquarium and in the aquarium there is only the supply and drain hose which both can be hidden easily. In contrast to internal filters, there is a larger space available for filter materials. Be sure to purchase a product in where the hoses can be secured against slipping by means of screw connections, clips or similarso you can rely on that they want fall off when you are not at home.

Built-in or quick-disconnect couplings with shut-off valves facilitate cleaning work on the filter. The selection of suitable filter materials, which offer optimal settling conditions for the already mentioned useful bacteria, is not an issue with engine internal filters since these are already supplied with excellently suitable foam cartridges. For the outer filter, I suggest a slightly coarse filter wool or a combination of coarse filter wool and ceramic foam as the bottom layer (about 1/3 of the filter content) ceramic tubes and above (2/3 of the filter content) an effective biological filter mass.

All other filter materials, such as peat and, above all, active carbon, should not be found in the filter of your new aquarium! Later in the course of your further aquarium career you will also learn cases where activated carbon is needed, e.g. for temporarily eliminating residues of former medication in the water.

From time to time, it will also be necessary to clean the filter materials. When such a cleaning is required, you will recognize by getting a by far reduced water flow at the filter outlet. In this case, remove the filter mass from the filter (observe the instructions for use!) And rinse out under lukewarm (25 ° C) water. Never use hot water or detergents. You also should not do the cleaning too thoroughly in order to preserve the beneficial bacteria that are stored inside of it. After the initial installation of the new aquarium you should wait at least 4 – 8 weeks before cleaning the filter mass for the first time.

5.2 Aquarium Heaters

Since the overwhelming majority of the easy to care for and therefore suitable fish for a first aquarium have their origins in tropical countries, you well need an aquarium heater. With a temperature of 23 – 26 ° C (depending on the type) you are offering most of them the right temperature to live. There are numerous brands and types available. These heaters are completely immersible and should have a scale that can be used to adjust the temperature directly. The temperature should be precisely controlled to +/- 0.5 ° C. In addition to that, I would recommend monitoring the temperature with an aquarium thermometer. As a rule of thumb to get the power that suits your need, you can estimate 0.5 watts per liter of water in normal heated living room surroundings.
Most aquarium fish love temperatures of 23-26 °C. But a slight swaying of the temperature of 1-2 degrees is not bad for them, too. Even in natural waters the temperatures vary according to the season.

5.3 Lighting

Sufficient lighting does not only make the aquarium contingents inhabitants in the right light, but it also provides the vital energy that the plants need to thrive and develop in full splendor. By the way, the plants supply your small underwater world with vital oxygen. The well-stocked pet shop offers aquarium lighting as single lights or complete covers in a variety of design and equipment. For economic reasons, we recommend lighting or coverage with one or more built-in fluorescent tubes. With fluorescent tubes you get the most right kind of light per energy consumed. According to recent findings, plants in the aquarium need the full natural spectrum of the light in order to thrive optimally. So full-spectrum tubes are the right light source for your underwater They do not only allow the plants in the aquarium to grow healthy, to the detriment of the algae, but also show the fish in their full natural color splendor. For hoods with only one fluorescent tube, I would recommend a light color that is optimally adapted to the needs of the plants. If two or more fluorescent tubes are possible, a combination of a color-enhancing tube and one that is providing good plants growth is highly recommended. This will also lead to a particularly good depth effect. I strongly advise against the (even if they seem so tempting) use of tubes that emit more or less pink light and make your underwater world appear in a unnaturally pastel like color. And even if the candy-colored aspect falls under the heading “taste”, it is nevertheless proven that this light rather promotes algae growth rapidly and this is exactly what should be avoided from the beginning as far as possible. If you do not want to miss out on the candy-colored light despite all this, you can select one of these tubes for a lighting scenario with 2 or more tubes.
As to the duration of the lighting, most of the water plants would thrive if one imitates the duration of a day of the tropics, which is divided fairly exactly into 12 hours day and 12 hours night. Underwater this would be a 10-hour day because of the flat angle of incidence in the morning and evening hours. Therefore, leave the lighting switched on for 10 to 12 hours a day. It is best to have a timer switch for that. This way, you will save your fish unnecessary stress. You can set it up in a way so that your fish are even more lively when you want to watch them in the evening: e.g. 11 am and 10 pm.
DAMMER LIGHT
Anyone who “beds” his fish in the evening with twilight (for example spotlights up to 60 watts) will be able to enjoy a very special kind of colors and behaviors of the fish!

6. Water

The water in your aquarium is a vital element of fish and plants. On the one hand, the water and its components influence the fish and plants that live in it; on the other hand, the life processes of these fish and plants can again influence water quality. For this reason I would like to introduce you to some facts about the water.

If your aquarium is already filled with tempered water, this water has to be prepared for fish to live in it healthily. In accordance to drinking water hygiene, our tap water is treated for us humans and, as it comes out of the faucet, is not an ideal living element for fish. But you easily can change this by adding some kind of water conditioner. These supplements  bind chlorine that is present in the aquarium, as well as heavy metals (e.g. copper) which are not suitable for fish. In addition, it adds organic protective colloids to the water, which the fish need to maintain their mucous membrane in optimum condition. Such protective colloids are also found in their native waters. In the tap water, however, they are undesirable for drinking water reasons and therefore have to be added to the aquarium water.

If you want to cultivate South American fish in your first aquarium, which prefer so-called black water, you should also add a suitable supplement. In nature, the water contains all the important substances for the life of the fish. Faucet water, on the other hand, must be made “fish-friendly” by the addition of supplements.

All other water treatment measures, such as softening or mixing with rain or distilled water, should be omitted, unless otherwise stated in the following sections. Your tap water is of continuous quality and is thus the best guarantee for constant living conditions in the aquarium. Later, if you have already gained some aquaristic experience, you may also want to cultivate specific, so-called problematic fish by suitable water treatment. For the beginning, however, you should choose such fishes that are able to cope with the available tap water. More Information on the requirements of the fishes can be found in the specialist literature or in a consultation your pet shop dealer.

Here are some basic concepts of water chemistry, which you should know in spite of everything.

6.1 Hardness

Perhaps you have already noticed that in many areas washing hands requires a lot of soap in order to get foam and in other areas only a little. Where you need little soap, the water is soft, where you need a lot, it is hard. The water hardness is caused by the fact that the water can dissolve different amounts of so-called hardeners from the substrate on its journey through the subsurface until it collects as ground water, depending on the area and the substrate. Where the water flows through calcareous subsoil, more hardening agents are dissolved than where so-called primary rock (eg granite, etc.) is located. Water hardness can be measured and the level ​​is given in degrees of Hardness. A distinction is made between total hardness and carbonate hardness.

For both, there are easy-to-use test sets from different brands. For the beginning, it is important to know that the carbonate hardness caused by the dissolved lime in the water is significantly more important and even more vital to your aquarium. The carbonate hardness ensures that the PH level which we will treat immediately afterwards does not make any “big jumps” which the fish and plants do not like at all. For this reason, you should ensure that the carbonate hardness in the aquarium is at least 5 degrees and is kept as constant as possible by regular partial water changes. This is also the only reason for an additional water treatment, which we recommend for the beginning: If your tap water has less than 5 degrees of carbonate hardness, you should set it to about 5 degrees Celsius with JBL AquaDur plus for the safety of your fish. This is best done in a separate vessel, from which you then enter the water (during partial water change) into the aquarium. Higher carbonate hardness from the faucet should simply be taken as given and at values ​​over 15 degrees, the selection of the fish should be directed accordingly. Also you can simply take the total hardness as given and do not need to worry about it first. It would only need more attention if you want to breed fish from extremely soft water.

6.2 PH Level

The PH level indicates whether a liquid reacts as acid, neutral or as basic (alkaline). The value scale ranges from 0 (extremely sour) to 14 (extremely basic). The neutral point (neither acidic nor basic) is 7. The phenomenon of PH is constantly encountered in everyday life. Cola has, for example, a PH level of about 3. All the dishes we feel as savory are more or less sour. The majority of fish and plants can be maintained reliably and successfully at PH levels ​​around the neutral point. It is important to note that the concentration of the substances causing the PH changes by a factor of 10 by one unit, by a factor of two by 100 units, and so on. For this reason, sudden fluctuations should be avoided. In your new aquarium, the carbonate hardness ensures that the PH level is generally speaking not below 7 and not above 8 – 8.5. It can be that in the morning it is rather at 7 and in the evening rather at 8. You can measure the PH level using a PH Test Set.

The pH level is essentially determined by the interplay of carbonate hardness and CO2. The carbonate hardness has a certain effect of increasing the PH level and reduces CO2. If the content is balanced, it is around 7 at the neutral point. By their assimilation activity, the plants withdraw CO2 from the water, causing the PH to slowly move towards 8. A further increase above 8 can be achieved, if necessary, by switching off the lighting. Air bubbles additionally drive CO2 from the water and the PH value upwards and their installation therefor should be reassessed.

If you want to spend more money on your fish and plants, you can also use the JBL PROFLORA CO2 Set to supply your aquarium with CO2. This allows the PH level to be adjusted permanently in the optimum range by 7 and the plants are supplied with the important nutrient CO2. This offers you a greater choice when purchasing the plants. More about this in the chapter on plants.

6.3 Nitrite

Nitrite is a highly toxic intermediate that is produced during bacterial reprocessing and degradation of fish and other organic substances. As already mentioned in the chapter on filters, certain useful bacteria, which are also called nitrifying bacteria, are responsible for this work. Unfortunately, these bacteria grow and multiply very slowly. Without “help” it takes approximately 2 – 3 weeks until these bacteria have increased and settled sufficiently in the filter (and in the soil). Characteristic of these 2 – 3 weeks of propagation and settlement is a nitrite content, which initially rises slowly to very high values, which then decreases again slowly. Only when the nitrite concentration has dropped again and is below 0.2 mg / l, you can safely put fish into your new aquarium.

Info Graphic about the Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrite values ​​above 0.2 mg / l are rarely measured in weakly populated aquariums with good plant growth. Check your aquarium water regularly at the beginning.

As this waiting period of 2 – 3 weeks has been severely strained by patience, aquarium accessories companies has developed bacterial preparations which can be used to shorten this waiting period. With for example JBL Denitrol, you bring these useful bacteria into the aquarium from the very beginning. Follow the instructions carefully. In addition, add half a feed tablet on the first day into the water, which also accelerates the growth of these bacteria. As a rule, you can then start with stocking the fish from the 5th day onwards. However, a prior measurement of nitride should ensure that the nitrate content is below 0.2 mg / l.

6.4 Oxygen

Oxygen is the lifeblood of all creatures in the aquarium. Fishes need it to breathe, the bacteria mentioned above need it to carry out their useful work, and the plants must also breathe oxygen at night, in order to stay alive. A sufficient oxygen content is therefore the basic prerequisite for an optimal health of your whole aquarium. In order to achieve an adequate oxygen content, you should pay attention to the following: Install your internal filter so that the water outlet is about one inch below the water surface, thus producing a non-rippling surface flow. For external filters, the water outlet should be installed accordingly. In this way, the water can absorb enough oxygen without unnecessarily losing a lot of CO2. Please refrain from aerating! By the assimilation of the water plants also the water is enriched with biologically produced oxygen. In well-planted aquariums with C02 fertilization, there is always plenty of oxygen available for the entire living world. (Small gas bubbles appear as a visible sign of good oxygen supply)

tilted image of light blue water wave
Ghost Fish
Aquarium Plants and Fish

7. Plants

7.1 Why living Plants?

Apart from the beauty and decorative effect on the viewer, well-thriving plants have only positive influence on the small biotope inside an aquarium. In a unique chemical process to which all animal life (also human beings) owes its existence on this earth, the so-called photosynthesis, the plants build the bulk of their own substance from water and CO2 with light energy. The waste product is oxygen, which is released to the surrounding water by the plants. So the aquarium inhabitants are advantageously and effectively supplied with vital oxygen. At night this process (lack of light energy) cannot take place and the plants must breathe normally. Healthy growing plants submit much more oxygen during the day than they consume in the night. Living plants also offer ideal hiding-places for young fish and settlements for useful bacteria and small animals, which serve the young fish as a first food. In aquariums with healthy plant growth the fish are much less ill than usual. And last but not least, healthy plants also offer something for the eye of the beholder.

7.2 What Plants need to live

In order to be able to develop the above-described positive effects also in your aquarium, some needs of the plants have to be fulfilled. This will certainly not be difficult for you with the right products and the following advice. Light is the energy source that plants need for photosynthesis. An aquarium lighting device offers this energy source. Regarding the lamp type and the duration of the firing, let us recall the same as in the chapter Lighting.

Do not forget to replace fluorescent tubes after a year or more, even if they are still intact! Of the nutrients that the plants need, the most important is the CO2. With a CO2 fertilizer system such as the JBL PROFLORA CO2 Set you can optimally provide your aquatic plants with this nutrient. Keep in mind that the aquarium must be at least 16 inches high in this case, which is usually the case with aquariums from 32 inches length. If such a set is too expensive for the beginning or you choose a smaller aquarium, it can also go without the appropriate selection of the plant species. However, you should pay particular attention to the fact that the few CO2 contained in the water is not expelled by bubbling air-stones or rippling filter spills. The supply of mineral nutrients and trace elements over the soil and the water are other important factors.

The soil should have a two-layer structure. The lower layer with nutrients in depot form adapted to the needs of aquarium plants will feed the plants through the roots. For the upper layer of washed aquarium gravel, a grain size of 2 – 3 mm must be taken in order to ensure proper soil water circulation.

Regular doses of fertilizer later on provide the water with all the necessary nutrients that the plants need to absorb through the leaves. In this way you bend iron deficiency and your plants always have lush green leaves. You can easily control the correct dosage of this fertilizer with a so-called Iron Test Set. If, after about three years, the depot effect of the lower layer of the soil subsides, you can fertilize your plants with, for example, API Root Tabs in your soil.

7.3 Selection of Plants

Before you decide to choose the plants for your new aquarium, you first have to decide whether your aquarium is to be equipped with a CO2 fertilizer system or not. If you want to start without a CO2 fertilizer, you should limit yourself to slow growing plant species. Fast-growing plants would increase the PH too quickly to 8 by their high CO2 consumption. Therefore, when you buy the plants, you should explicitly focus on slow growing, unpretentious plants, for example the Cryptocoryne species wendtii or affinis.
Let your pet retailer show you slowly growing and easy to care species. If you are installing a CO2 fertilizer at the same time, you can take advantage of the full selection and decorative variety of the aquatic plants at your zoo dealer. The optimal supply with the main nutrient CO2 allows fast and slow growing plants to thrive equally well. In both cases, whether with or without CO2, you should not save on plants from the beginning. Sparsely planted aquariums are causing considerably more problems with unwanted algae growth.

Look for your plants in such a way that a decorative overall impression is created in the aquarium. For the background choose plants that grow to the water surface. In the middle ground, semi-high plants come into their own and the tiny ones find their place in the foreground. Stem plants and smaller foreground plants should always be purchased in groups of several plants and arranged as such in the aquarium. As an eye-catcher, you can also purchase a particularly beautiful single plant.

7.4 Inserting the Plants

Before you insert the aquatic plants you have to pay attention to some of them. Of course, the aquarium should be filled with tempered water and the filter, lighting and also heater should work properly. First of all, remove all trays, plastic pots, stone wool and what else should stick to the bottom of the plants. On roset-shaped plants cut the roots about 1/3 with sharp scissors. Any rotten or dead leaves have to be removed. As a rule, stem plants have no roots or only few roots. Here you can only remove dead leaves or stalks. Before the actual planting, you should already have an idea of ​​how you want to order the plants. A sketch prepared beforehand can be helpful here. Be careful not to create monotony, so use the variety in form and color by creating contrasts. In addition to broad-leaved plants, fine-flowered plants are more prominent, light-green next to dark green, etc. Stem plants and smaller rosette plants should be always arranged in groups. Now get your sleeves up and go! Stem plants are simply inserted with the lower end carefully into the ground. Press the rosette plants deep into the ground and then gently pull them back up to the root neck. When you are finished with the plants, the plants need to rest in order to grow and adapt to the conditions in the aquarium.

7.5 Algae

Unwanted algae growth is probably the most frequent cause for the early abandonment of the beautiful aquaristic hobby. What you can do from the outset, so that something like this does not happen to you, I would like to explain to you. In general it can be said that algae are also plants and therefore need in principle the same nutrients and care conditions as our aquarium plants.

And something else: here and there a few algae are not a cause for concern, they simply belong to an aquarium. The completely algae-free aquarium does not exist! Only too many are not supposed to be there.

The more nutrients consumed by well-growing aquarium plants, the heavier it gets to grow for the algae. Therefore, a good plant growth is the best insurance against unwanted algae. Only if plant growth is disturbed, for example, by constantly moving around in the aquarium, constantly moving the plants, changing lighting (light color), etc., the hour of algae growth has come. Since they are able to adapt to the new situation much more rapidly than all other plants are, they are sprouting up and utilizing the nutrients that cannot be used by the plants because of the disturbance. And they love something else: the nutrients nitrate and phosphate. For this reason, water plant fertilizers should not contain nitrate nor phosphate, since these substances are supplied by the metabolism of the fish anyway.

In the first weeks after setting it up, the aquarium is particularly vulnerable to algae. The plants have to get used to the new environmental conditions and therefore do not consume nutrients during this time. Forming algae must be removed immediately.

Algae-eating fish, which should be in your “aquarium crew”, are a very useful aid in the fight against unwanted algae. Smaller catfish, such as otocinclus or even livebearer fish (Mollys, Guppys, Platys), are possible here.

Untiring algae invertebrates are also siblings of the Siamese proboscis. Unfortunately they become somewhat quarrelsome in old age and do not love the “green” anymore.

Also fast-growing swamp plants remove many unwanted substances from the water, look very nice with their delicate root netting, and offer ideal hiding possibilities for many fish. But keep an eye on them because they could diminish the efficiency of your lighting if they get too big.

8. The right Fish

8.1 Selection

Concerning selection of fish I would like to leave you and the expert advice from your pet shop dealer largely free hand. However, you should insist on purchasing easy-to-care species that fit the size of your aquarium and also tolerate each other. Proven beginner fish, which, as already mentioned, also support you in the fight against unwanted algae, are livebearer fish. These fishes have an interesting breeding method: they are live-bearers, as the name says. With a little luck, you will soon be able to experience the “joyful event” in the aquarium. But also other fish families offer interesting beginners fish, such as the Characiformes or Gouramies.

And as I mentioned earlier algae-eating fish, mostly from the family of the catfish, should never be missing!

8.2 How many Fish?

From the outset, exercise “noble restraint” in the total number of fish! Begin with a few fish when the nitrite test is OK. If you find after 1 – 2 weeks that still everything is going well, you can acquire more. Thus, the filter bacteria also have time to adapt to the waste offer from the excretions of the fish. As an approximate guideline for the upper limit of population density, you can take the rule of thumb 1 cm of fish per liter of water. This applies, however, to adult fish! Since all fish are usually offered at young age at most pet shops, you should also include “room” in your calculation. Ask the dealer for the final size of the animals. Each overstocking of the aquarium increases the chance for unwanted algae growth.

8.3 Inserting the Fish

When the great day has come, and you have arrived with your newcomers in front of the aquarium, it is necessary to release them properly into their new home. The following procedure has proved successful:

  1. Turn off the lights first. Then place the sealed transport bag on the water surface of the aquarium and let it “swim” about 15 minutes.
  2. Open the transport bag and fasten it on the aquarium edge (eg with a clothes pin). Carefully and slowly fill water from the aquarium into the open transport bag until the water volume in the bag has doubled.
  3. Remove the transport bag from the aquarium and carefully pour its contents into a scoop held above a bucket. Then place the fish in the aquarium. Or catch the fish directly from the bag with a scoop. Dispose the transport water. One or two hours later the lighting can be switched on again. Do not feed until next day! In order to eliminate transport stress as quickly as possible and to avoid any impairment of the vital mucous membrane of the fish, you can add some fluid like JBL Acclimol to the aquarium water. JBL Acclimol enhances the immune system of the fish through valuable plant extracts and vitamins, thus ensuring an easy introduction into the new environment and reducing the risk of disease.
Albino Corydoras on Aquarium Wood
Ancistrus on brown Stone