November 2001

November 2001


Hello to all:)

Welcome to the second installment of the DPH Tank project 2001.
I will be continuing with the history of the new tank setup and show updates a little later on.

In this installment I would like to touch on one of the first things you may come across when deciding to have a planted Discus tank: confusion and many questions! (It never goes away just to let you know, so don't worry)

In many email correspondences and posts on the forums that I have seen, I think most of the questions and confusion could be answered and alleviated if we were to look at this topic and all it encompasses.

November 2001

What is it and why is it pertinent to the many questions that are asked such as:

  • What type of plants should I get?
  • What type of substrate should I use?
  • Should I use CO2 or not?

First lets try and define the word.

I found many who have written on the subject, but by far have found Karen Randall's definition "The act of creating aesthetically pleasing arrangements in an aquarium…" to be the best as an overall definition of the word aquascaping.

In my research to define the word "aquascaping," more often than not I was lead to descriptions of the term rather then the word. So let's touch on this first. The term "aquascaping" is described more often than not by most, by style. These styles are broken down into two major groups:

The Dutch Style
As the name implies, this style was originated by the Dutch and is usually described as and incorporates the following:

  • The illusion of depth - it is one of the major keys to this style.
  • Contrast and variation of plants and how they are juxtaposed together is the other major guideline to this style. For example, no two plants that have the same type of leaf or color of leaf should not be planted side by side, nor should they be the same height.
  • Never show any symmetry. Showing symmetry takes away from the whole visual effect of depth in the aquarium.
  • A plant must never grow taller then a plant behind it.
  • Do not put a large solitary plant dead center in your tank, as your eye will always gravitate to this plant alone.
  • Use terraces that are not at the same height - this will help achieve your goals of depth.
  • Step-by-step "how-to" to achieve this style using most of its precepts and any specific mechanisms that are dependent to run such a setup.
  • Etc.

The Natural Style
This is a style that Takashi Amano and many of his followers use and is usually described as:

  • Taking queues from nature by looking around one self and choosing what may work and inspire you, and then incorporating them into your tank.
  • The greater the variety of plants in an aquarium, the more natural it looks.
  • Depth.
  • The background should be dense to give the illusion of wilderness.
  • Following the rhythms of the tank itself and rearranging as these rhythms tell you.
  • Above all else, do not force your tank into something it does not want to be.
  • Step-by-step "how-to" to achieve this style using most of its precepts and any specific mechanisms that are dependent to run such a setup.
  • Etc.

Both styles have been around for many years and have been used and implemented with much success in Europe and Asia and to a smaller degree in North America. As you can see there are some commonalties to both styles. In recent years there has been a new style developing In North America, it utilizes these commonalties into its own and has one Golden Rule.

The North American style and it's Golden Rule:

  • There are no rules and whatever works, works!
  • Incorporating many of the best values from both of the styles listed above.
  • Many, many "how-to" instructions, all different.

Taking Karen Randall's definition, the guidelines of the three styles and my personal experience with planted tanks (let's not exclude my artsy-fartsy background!), I would like to take the definition of aquascaping a few steps further and suggest that aquascaping is not only regulated to making the tank look good. It encompasses much, much more for me. Aquascaping is, and should, never just be about an aesthetic. When I look at my tank, I am not only concerned about the look of the plants alone and how that rock or tree root looks "oh so right" in that corner, but also with:

  • The well-being of the fish population in such an environment,
  • The well-being of the plant population in such an environment,
  • The coexistence of the two together,
  • The interaction of the two together.

I am also interested and intrigued by how the tank fits into its surroundings and interacts in those surroundings and how we as the viewer interact with the tank itself (how's that for artsy-fartsy?). For me aquascaping is all encompassing!

Therefore, I would define aquascaping as: "Creating an environment that is in harmony with itself and it's surroundings."

So you can see by looking at the above lists of styles that there are many options to choose from in your approach to building a planted discus tank. Hopefully you can eliminate some of your questions by deciding which style you would like to incorporate into your tank and doing some searches on these styles. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Above all else, make sure that you and your Discus are happy!

This brings us to the much-anticipated update and your first look at the new DPH Tank.

When I first set up this planted Discus tank it was for the article I wrote on "how-to" use sand and gravel as a substrate. At the time this was my first Planted Discus tank and I only had two small runted Discus (3" at the most) plus a myriad of other smaller creatures living in the tank (my other Discus were growing out in a BB tank at that point). The setup, the way it was, was fine until another problem showed up. The plants would just not stop growing at an amazing rate and I had to prune every twenty minutes! (Obvious exaggeration, but it felt that way) I had used too many fast-growing plants in the tank. I had also over planted the tank and had troubles reaching a lot of the plants to prune them! After about a year of the tank being setup this way, and me finding the rhythm of pruning and maintaining the tank, I decided to put my 5 Adult Discus into the tank. What a surprise that was! What looked to be a great environment for the previous occupants was like being caught in a bramble bush by the new occupants! They had no room to move around in! I have to say I did not realize how big an actual Adult Discus is and how 5 of them make a 100gal planted tank look really small until I placed them in there! All of this I can attribute to poor planning and poor aquascaping on my part. This was another reason I decided, when I was asked to do the DPH Tank project, that I would start from scratch again using all that I had learned and experienced. Below is a picture that Rob Charite would call a lettuce garden:) It is a picture of my previous setup without pruning it for two weeks ( I knew I was taking it down and got lazy with the pruning). If you look really hard you can just make out the Discus in the tank! They are 5" at this time.

(picture of overgrown tank)

Here is another example of how an aquascape changes over time and may not be what you planned in the first place (many thanks to Leo Reinhard for the pictures provided):

With all of this in mind, I set myself to the task of creating an environment that would be suitable to 5 Adult Discus, be compatable with the plants, allow me to view the Discus at the same time and also allow for growth of the plants and easy maintenance. I still wanted this tank to be "Geographic specific" in the plants I chose (for a definition please refer to sand and gravel article). I pretty well had all the plants to use in such a setup to begin with, since I had approached the last setup in the same manner and all that I would need to do now is a bit of rearranging.

I decided I could kill two birds with one stone this time around. If I was to create an area in the tank that the larger Discus could roam around in and feed in (I learned my leason with the bramble bush), this area would provide me with a viewing space for me to look at the Discus. I decided to have a large "Lawn" like many of Amano's tanks do. This effect would be achieved by large plantings of Lileaopsis brasiliensis and Echonidorius Tenellius.

The hiding spots would be achieved this time by the addition of two root systems in the aquascape. I didn't use them in the last setup and found something lacking in the setup; a couple of swords would also help with this part. Properly planted this time! In the last setup I had overdone it with the amount of sword plants I had used and found it very dificult to prune the leaves of one sword that was smooshed into the back corner behind two other swords I couldn't prune either!

I also don't want to prune as often as I did the last time, so there are not as many fast growers in the tank. When I took the old setup down it took me 4 hours just to prune the Limnophilia Sessifloara! The numbers of Vals I had was incredible also, there were 300 of them in the tank! So in this setup I am planing on using only only about 10 Vals and 2 batches of Limnophilia Sessifloara (about 20 stocks). In my mind the Sessifloara will be removed once the tank settles in, in my tank it only takes about 4-5 days for this plant to hit the top water mark and need pruning again, and I realy want to get away from that. Another fast grower I am going to keep in the tank will be the Heteranthera zosterfolia because I really like this plant.

Also the Limnophilia Sessifloara will be planted in a plastic 500ml container this time. One of the things I learned the last time was every time I had to prune this plant I had to uproot it and replant the upper cuttings. Well here is the pitfall of using sand and gravel as a substrate. The roots go so deep that when you pull the plant up you end up pulling up a lot of the gravel to the surface and after a long time it looks real messy and is mostly gravel in this area. Again, I plan on not having this plant around for a long time so will be easier to just have it planted in this container in the mean time.

Here is a topographical drawing of where the plants will be located in the new setup:

The heater, CO2 diffuser and intake of the filter are located in the back left hand corner behind the root located there. The outflow from the filter is located on the upper right hand side of the tank and the spray bar is pointing so the flow will be length wise from the right side of the tank to the left side. The gravel and sand substrate is sloped so that the back right hand corner is the highest point and the front left hand corner is the lowest.

Here are pictures of the tank (please exuse the bad quality of the shots I am still learning how to use my 35mm SLR and until I get enough money together for a Digital camera, hate to say it but they may not get any better):

The first month of running the tank:

Well I thought that this would be a simpler setup……we do not always get what we plan, or think we plan for. Within the first week I was hit pretty bad with BGA, mostly concentrated in the Lilaeopsis are of the tank. And the tank water smelt like a sewer! I decide to try a couple of different things that had worked for me in my previous setup when I had a similar outbreak. I upped the CO2 content in the tank to the upper limits that the fish could tolerate, 30ppm, while keeping a very close eye on them to make sure I did not kill them all in one fell swoop. My hope was to give the "higher" plants a boost and get them to start out competing the BGA for nutrients. I also started sucking out the BGA and infected sand layer everyday instead of just mixing it around into the top layer. I changed my water change schedule from only doing 10% every other day to 15% everyday. I tried this for a week but none of it helped this time around. I ended up losing all of the Lilaeopsis Brasiliensis plantings (through them dying off from not getting any light due to the BGA and also from me constantly sucking up many of them while syphoning up the BGA-infected area of sand). Well I decided to try again and syphoned out about 1" worth of sand in all of the BGA areas and replaced with new, clean sand. I went out and bought a lot more of the Lileaopsis Brasiliensis and replanted.

Things were going along fine for about 4-5 days and guess what?…..BGA AGAIN! And in the same areas! This time I thought I had better try other tricks to get rid of it . One of the other ways I have heard of that will work to get rid of BGA is to drop your pH to 6 or below. This option would not work for me, I was already at my upper limits of CO2 addition to the tank and this method of droping the pH only would drop it to 6.5 for me. I have no holding containers for water changes to this tank and use straight tap so I could not use R/O nor acid to alter the water parameters. The only other option I felt that would work was to darken the tank for 4 days. I first did a massive water change (75%) and tried sucking up as much of the BGA as possible. I turned off the CO2 injection and the lights. I covered the tank with a thick dark blue blanket so no light could enter. Everyday I checked the tank just to make sure the fish were ok. On the second day of "lights out" I did another 50% water change, in the evening while it was dark and I had no lights on. On the fourth day I uncovered the tank, did another 50% water change and cleaned my pre-filter sponge and the filter. I turned all the shut off systems on (lighting and CO2). Man, I could slap myself silly! I could probably have gotten rid of the BGA the first time around! As I was turning the lights back on I realized I had forgotten to turn the duration time down for the new setup! It was still set to have the lights on for 12hrs! What a nid I am! I corrected this little problem and adjusted the timer to have the lights on for only 5hrs a day. Over the last week I have adjusted the lights to 6hrs now and will adjust 1hr a week until things settle. One of the other things I have done is to do my daily water changes as soon as the lights come on, I have found if I do this I get instant bubbling (oxygen) from the plants and have had amazing growth compared to if I do my wc's later in the day or just before the lights go out.
So far so good! No BGA anymore and everything seems fine.

The Setup:


  • 100g/400L


  • DIY Hood, 8 tubes, 6 x T8's 32 watts each mix of 5000k, 3500k and 2 x T12's Growlux. All 8 are paired up on timers so simulates daylight and sunset. Two are on 12hrs a day, two @ 11.75hrs, two @ 11.5hrs and the last two @ 11.25hrs.


  • Fluval 403 with sponge pre filter


  • Fully automated system. 15lb bottle of CO2, solenoid, regulator, secondary regulator, needle valve, bubble counter and diffuser. All on timer to turn on and shut off in link with lights.

Tank Occupants:

  • 5 Adult Discus, Red Turq x Blue Turq cross.
  • 3 German Rams
  • 14 assorted Corys
  • 2 Golden spotted bushynose plecs
  • 33 Amano shrimp
  • 13 Ottos


  • Alternanthera renecki "roseafolia" (Red Hygro, Copperleaf)
  • Echinadorus bleheri (amazon sword, broad-leaf sword)
  • Echinadorus uraguayensis
  • Heteranthera zosterifolia (Water Stargrass, Star Grass, Mud Plantain)
  • Lilaeopsis braziliensis (Mat grass)
  • Limnophila sessiliflora (Ambulia)
  • Vallisneria spiralis "Tiger" (Eelgrass)

I'm just gonna sit back on the couch now and wait to see what happens next………….

All the best to everyone and see you next month


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