Januari 2003

Januari 2003


DPH Tank of the Month questionnaire
With Geir Rolfsnes

How did you get into keeping a Planted Discus Tank?

I started with an aquarium ten years ago, but this was a small aquarium with ordinary fishes like Platy’s and Neon Tetra’s. This was before the Internet came. I just had a little book as a guide. Hence, I did many things wrong. For instance I can mention a horrible event when I introduced small size Neon Tetras to my aquarium that already was inhabited by a couple of quite large Scalares, not very smart… huh. After a few years I ended up with the algae plague and gave up. But I learned that keeping an aquarium was a fascinating hobby and knew that I would try again sooner or later.

When I got the Internet at home, I started to surf the aquarium sites on the net. Reading articles and studying pics. I had hardly heard about discus before, and had never seen any in my local pet-shops. But these fishes were attracting my attention more and more. I found a very good Norwegian discussion forum on the net, and started to follow the discussion there. Here I met other discus keepers and found a discus breeder that was living close to me. My interest was growing and there was no way back. I started to look for a used aquarium and suddenly I had a 312 liter Akvastabil waiting to be installed in my living room. But I did not rush anything and used a lot of time to read more about keeping discus. In the beginning it surprised me that most discus keepers used bare bottom tanks. I found that a little boring, cause my dream was a heavy planted tank. Thanks to the Internet I found descriptions of how to keep discus in a planted tank and decided to go for this setup. I thought that; if others can make it, then I can make it too. The “DPH project 2000” was one of my favorite sites at that time. Articles by Karen Randell were also studied with great enthusiasm. And pictures from the Norwegian Master of Aquascaping Frode Roe inspired me a lot: http://www.ntnu.no/~foksen/Aquaindex.htm

I read a lot about what tank mates and what plants would be suitable for a discus tank, and after a few weeks I felt that I knew everything about keeping discus in a planted tank. Of course there was a lot more to learn, but I managed to steer round the most common beginner difficulties.

What do you feel has been the most rewarding aspect of keeping such a tank?

A nice planted discus tank is one of the most astounding views you can think of. And to be able to watch this in your own living room everyday is like a blessing. That’s why some people say “discus is religion”. For me discus will never be a religion, but it certainly brings out thoughts of an imaginative Creator.

To keep discus is much easier than what I believed. As long as you keep the water parameters stable and do regular water changes, the discuses are happy. To grow plants with temperatures of 28-29 degrees is neither not a big problem as long as you have enough light and select suitable plants.

However, keeping discus in a planted tank is a challenging hobby. You must be prepared to solve a lot of unexpected problems and you often need help from others. And that’s what makes the hobby interesting. It keeps you busy and there are always new things to learn. Exchange of experience with other hobbyists all over the world is also very interesting and I have now got my own web site. Hence, my interest for discus has brought me into new interesting hobbies like web-design and photography.

What has been the hardest challenge for you in keeping a Planted Discus tank and have you overcome it?

The challenge is to keep the tank clean enough to avoid diseases and algae growth, and to maintain the nutrient balance. Nutrient balance is the ultimate keyword to a successful tank. To maintain a heavy planted tank is much more work than most people think, and if you don’t enjoy it, it will be a pain in the ass.

Everything that you can do to prevent diseases and algae plague is better than repair actions. Use of chemicals to fight algae, snails or disease is forbidden in a planted tank and you have to find the reasons for any problems that arrive. To keep control of all the parameters that influence on the tank environment is the most challenging aspect of keeping a planted discus tank. The problem is that you have to compromise all the time. Cause the ideal setup and maintenance procedures for discus keeping is not the same as the ideal setup for aquascaping.

I have had two major fights against algae. The first fight started one month after I introduced 10 young discus to my tank. Heavy feeding with ox heart is required to make young discus grow. This introduced phosphates to the tank, which again trigged algae growth. I also struggled to find the balance between light, nutrients and CO2-supply. With help from my friends on the discussion forum, a lot of fast growing plants, ruthless pruning and a group of effective algae eaters I finally won the first algae battle.

The second fight started when I came home from 3 weeks holiday this year. Unfortunately I killed my beloved Crossocheilus Siemensis (SAE) with a CO2 overdose some weeks before my holiday started, and I did not manage to replace them before I left. Extreme summer temperatures pushed the water temperature up 2 degrees and something got out of control. My poor teenage son, who took care of the water changes and feeding in my absence, did not know what to do and the algae growth exploded. This time I knew a lot about how to fight the algae, but it took me almost 3 months to bring the tank back into a healthy balanced condition. I had to through away a lot of hairy plants and for a while the tank was very sparsely planted. It was quite easy to get rid of the green and hairy algae, but the blue green algae was hard to eliminate. Mechanical removal by rubbing the leaves (with my fingers) and siphoning of the gravel every other day finally gave results.

What kind of approach do you take in maintaining your tank the High Tech way or a more natural way?

Somewhere in between I think. My tank is not connected to a computer, which controls the water parameters and performs automatic adjustments. But I have a professional CO2 system with timer controlled magnet valve and I use a Surface Suction Extractor to get rid of biofilm.

“How to maintain DPH tank” (19 august 2000) was the first article I read about maintenance, and I still follow a lot of the procedures given in this article. This means:

  • Never use any chemicals or water prepares
  • 10% water changes every other (or third) day
  • Vacuum the bottom and remove rotten plant leaves 1–2 times a week.
  • Clean the glass and prune the plants once a week.
  • Once a month I do a more thorough cleaning. Plants that grow on stones and roots are removed from the tank and washed in tap water. Old leaves and leaves with algae growth are removed. All plants, which do not have a wide root system, are removed from the tank and trimmed. Before I put the plants back to the tan, I do a thorough cleaning and vacuuming of the gravel.
  • Every 6th week the filter and hoses are cleaned

My target values for water parameters:

Nitrite (NO2)
< 0.3
Nitrate (NO3)
28 °C

My tap water has PH above 8.0, GH 3-4 and KH 2-3. I reach my PH target value by controlled CO2 supply. The only thing that needs to be adjusted is the buffer capacity (KH). I add a teaspoon of bicarbonate (Natron - E500) at every water change to maintain the KH in the tank at 3.5-4.0. Hence, KH is the only water parameter that is checked regularly. PH is checked only 1 or 2 times a month. Other water parameters are only checked if there is any sign of imbalance, algae growth or irregularities.

What piece of advice can you give to others who are thinking about setting up a tank like this?

There exists no ideal setup for keeping discus in a planted tank, but there are some setups that are more ideal than others. Read as much as you can before you start. (If you understand Norwegian, it would be a good start to visit my homepage: http://home.online.no/~grolfsne).

Use the discussion forums on the net and listen to discus keepers with experience in planted tanks. Try to keep the water parameters stable. Do a lot of testing to get familiar with the water parameters and learn how they influence on each other. Select tank mates and plants that are suitable for this setup. Fast growing plants are important at the start to prevent algae growth. Do not overstock the tank, and prune the plants regularly to provide adequate swimming room for your discus. Algae eaters and bottom dwellers are important helpers when it comes to tank cleaning. Be patient! Wait until you have full control over the planted tank, before you introduce the discus. If you can afford it, buy some expensive, large size, good quality discus. To bring up small discus in a planted tank is not a good idea. You have to limit the feeding to avoid algae growth and your discus will probably never reach full size.

Be prepared to do a lot of water changes and to spend some hours a week for maintaining the tank. Enjoy the view of your nice tank every day, and always look for alternative ways to improve the composition of plants and decorations.

Try to learn from your own faults by keeping a logbook. But remember that it is cheaper to learn from others faults.

Key Data

My setup:

CO2: 12 hours per day (approximately 2 bubbles per second)
Light: 12 hours per day
Nutrient: Tropica Mastergrow - 25ml per week
ADA Fe-sticks under sword plants
Crypto Nutrient tablets under Cryptocorynes
Substrate: Plain gravel with no fancy additives. Hence, I don’t have to be afraid of nutrient leek (Fe) to the water column during vacuuming of the substrate.


  • Akvastabil 312 liter tank LxBxH =1.25x0.5x0.5 m
  • Akvastabil cover with 4 x 36W fluorescent tubes
    - 2 x Philips TDL 965
    - 2 x Philips TDL 950
  • 4 Arcadia reflectors
  • Heater 300 W
  • Eheim 2028 Professional II canister filter
  • JBL Proflora CO2 Set vario 500 (connected to 6 kg CO2 bottle)
  • JBL Proflora Magnet valve
  • Timer for light and CO2
  • Eheim Surface Suction Extractor


  • 5 Discus (2 Marlboro Red, 2 Red Turquoise, 1 Blue Diamond)
  • 10 Corydoras Sterbai (5 of these are born in my tank)
  • 2 Corydoras Elegans
  • 2 Ancistrus dolichopterus
  • 30 Paracheirodon axelrodi (Cardinal Tetra)
  • 5 Crossocheilus siamensis (Siemese Algae Eater)
  • 5 Gyrinocheilus aymonieri (Chinese Algae Eater)
  • 1 Otocinclus affinis (Otocinclus)


Chinese Algae Eaters should not be kept together with discus, and these will be removed from my tank soon or later. This fish is often exchanged with SAE, and that is why they ended up in my tank. However, they are quite effective algae eaters and have still not been aggressive to my discus. Therefore, I have decided to let them stay in the tank a little longer.


  Rocks      Tree roots with plants

1 Alternanthera reineckii ‘roseafolia’ 8 Hygrophila polysperma
2 Alternanthera reineckii ‘lilacina’ 9 Hygrophila polysperma ‘Roseanvig’
3 Anubias barteri var. Nana 10 Microsorum pteropus 'Windeløv'
4 Bacoba monnieri 11 Vallisneria americana var. Biwaensis
5 Cryptocoryne beckettii ‘petchii’ 12 Echinodorus bleheri
6 Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Tropica’ 13 Echinodorus tenellus
7 Cryptocoryne crispatula var. Balansae 14 Echinodorus ‘Red Flame’


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