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
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.
What is it and why is it pertinent to the many questions that are asked
- 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.
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
- The greater the variety of plants in an aquarium, the more natural
- 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.
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
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
- 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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
All the best to everyone and see you next month