June 2003

June 2003


DPH Tank of the Month questionnaire
With Don Moyle

How did you get into keeping a Planted Discus Tank?

I started with planted tanks as I’ve always enjoyed aquascaping but tired of replacing dead or dying plants. About 2 years after I’d learned how to drive a planted tank and make it work, a friend’s Discus spawned and he successfully reared the youngsters. He gave me half a dozen juvenile Discus. I had some doubts about this as I was primarily focusing on the plants and I was aware of all the horror stories surrounding Discus but they were cute as babies and displayed quite a bit of personality – by fish standards anyway. I never seriously considered taking them out for a pizza or anything. To my surprise, the Discus not only survived in my planted tank, but truly thrived and fairly soon outperformed their parents in size and colouration. This had the additional advantage of irritating the friend who had given them to me in the half-expectation that I would kill them and he would then be able to say something condescending

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

I often wonder how many months or years of my life I have spent sprawled on the comfy couch in my living room staring vacantly at the fish as they float serenely in and out of their private forest for my entertainment and generally chilling out. I have found that beer is an excellent accompaniment to this activity and I have banished the television to another part of the house.

A close second is the “wow!” factor you get from people who walk into my living room and are immediately captivated by the tank. After a while you can get a little immune to the thing and it’s other peoples reaction that remind you how truly beautiful your time-consuming submarine money pit truly is. There is a fair percentage of friends, relatives and even visiting tradespeople who will spend the entire duration of their visit seated in front of your tank staring intently into it which is probably just as well since all of the time you have spent working on the tank has caused your conversational ability to atrophy anyway.

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

I’ve had some issues with phosphates and surface scum (protein) due to the high volume, beefheart based diet demanded by those weird, flat fish and I wish they liked cooler weather. The higher tank temperatures demanded by these can limit plant performance for some species and accelerate algae growth. Most likely as a consequence of this and their rich diet, I started to have minor algae issues. The Discus bio-load “footprint” is much greater than the few tetras and algae eaters that used to hide amongst my plants. I’ve had to switch to a surface-skimmer intake on my Fluval and also to be a little more aggressive on water changes than previously which seems to have brought things back into some sort of balance.

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

I would say that I have used “appropriate tech” to drive a natural process. It’s been necessary to synthesize with technology the lighting and fertilization environment to drive the plants but I have opted for low cost, available technology and adapted it to my needs rather than throwing unlimited amounts of money at custom-designed aquarium solutions. Once the plant environment was thriving, I use this as a “natural” way of supplementing nutrient conversion and water filtration. I don’t use many chemicals and I’ve avoided the “scorched earth” policy of ultra-violet sterilization and bare tanks

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

In the interests of not only meeting but exceeding the expectations of our dear readers, I’m going to give not one, but three crucial pieces of advice to those considering tanks like these:

  1. Art is a lie and planted tanks are art. The “natural” environment with its lush foliage is actually pretty artificial (take a look at a biotope one day) and highly dependent on your monitoring, managing and maintenance. So the first part of my advice would be to understand and accept that getting there and staying there can be time and resource intensive (although these demands can be moderated with a little adaptation and modification) and there will be many Sunday afternoons where, as you stand in damp clothing in your living room amongst hoses, buckets, spilled water and suspicious stains on the carpet when you will wonder to yourself why you didn’t just decide to collect stamps instead.
  2. Get the “planted” bit right before introducing the “Discus” bit and not the other way around. I believe the success of your Discus in a planted tank is due in a large part to the success of the plants with the consequential soft, oxygenated and nutrient-absorbent environment. If you’ve gotten the hang of running a planted tank and want to move Discus into it, I say “go for it” but if planted tank technology is new to you, expect to make some mistakes and as a consequence, have some pretty interesting water chemistry along the way. It might be best to do this without fish that are so expensive they deserve proper funerals trying to make it through your learning curve.
  3. If you are married, never make the mistake of applying kitchen utensils to any aspect of tank maintenance. Divorce is messy, expensive and can interfere with valuable tank-maintenance time.

Everything else I have by way of advice would qualify as “detail”..



  • 48" x 25" x 24" tank (~450 litres)
  • 2 x 150 watt metal halide lights (colour temp 5200K)
  • 2 x 200w Hagen heaters
  • 1 x Fluval 404 canister filter with ceramic noodles

  • CO2 injection via modified CO2 fire extinguisher and gas solenoid, Nupro metering valve injected into canister filter
  • Pinpoint PH probe (for monitoring only)

Bio Stuff:

  • Soil substrate
  • PMDD supplements (every 3rd day or so)
  • Fern sticks every 6 months


  • 20 x cardinal tetras
  • 8 x discus
  • 2 x Siamese Algae Eaters
  • 4 x Clown loach


  • Echinodorus Tenellus
  • Anubia bart. v. nana
  • Echinodorus Bleheri
  • Limnophilia sessiliflora
  • Rotala Macrandra
  • Hygrophila Stricta
  • Nymphaea Lotus
  • Ludwigia (not sure of the sub-species)


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