Should You Give Up on Your High Tech Tank?
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High-tech tanks demand larger financial investments, a lot more work, and consistent high-end management to achieve the best results. So, it’s not a surprise why high-tech aquariums are only fit for experienced aquarists who know what they’re doing.
But what can you do if your high-tech tank simply won’t bloom? You will most likely run into this problem a lot when looking to set up your first high-tech tank. That’s because there are several moving parts that need to work in harmony to ensure the project’s success, as you will soon see.
So, let’s get into that!
10 Tips to Get Your High-Tech Planted Tank Working
First, let’s work with our terms here. The notion of a ‘high-tech tank’ refers to a planted aquarium that relies on CO2 injections. The type of environment we’re talking about is lush, as the goal is to create a legitime underwater jungle. These are the most beautiful aquarium settings you can get with proper knowledge and the right equipment.
Unfortunately, there’s a thin line between success and failure when it comes to crafting blooming and self-sustainable high-tech environments. The main problem relates to the use of CO2 to support the plants. While CO2 is necessary for plants, it can also come with downsides along the way.
For one, it lowers the water’s pH, which your fish might not like. Another issue is that plants also produce CO2 during nighttime and consume oxygen in the process. This can lead to excess CO2 in the habitat, causing fish to suffocate. These problems can blow out of proportion in large, lush aquariums with plenty of plants and fish.
In that case, you need a strategic and stratified approach, so let’s get into that. Here are the 10 essential tips to help you create a stable and thriving high-tech aquatic setup:
– Choose the Right Tank
This is a given when creating a high-tech aquarium. The entire magic of a high-tech setup comes from its visuals. Your tank needs to provide a lot of room, the right format for your vision, and allow light to travel through the material uninhibited.
So, no acrylic or plastic tanks. While these are lighter and more resilient, they will deform the light passing through, altering the quality of the image you’re seeing.
You need a clean, solid, rimless glass tank for the best effects. The tank’s size and shape are up to you, depending on your vision. I would recommend at least 20 gallons if you don’t have the space, confidence, or money to go larger. Naturally, the larger the tank, the greater the effect you’ll be getting, but smaller ones work too. It’s not uncommon for people to create high-tech tanks with only 5 or 10 gallons available.
– Regular Water Changes
High-tech tanks operate based on CO2 injections. These are necessary because CO2 represents a vital component in plant photosynthesis. Fortunately, plants extract CO2 from their environment since this is a byproduct of normal fish and bacterial respiration.
The real problem is that the natural levels of CO2 in a high-tech tank will always be underwhelming. Plants may not require CO2 in a low-tech tank, but they will require them in a high-tech scenario. That’s because you have too many plants growing too fast, which need additional CO2 to support their accelerated physiological processes.
The other problem is that plants only consume CO2 during the day, as the lights are on. As soon as the lights go out, plants will consume oxygen and create CO2 instead. This can quickly cause excess CO2 in the environment, which can kill your fish. Regular water changes are necessary to maintain the environment well-oxygenated, dilute nitrates, and, most importantly, eliminate excess CO2.
How often you should perform your water changes depends on the tank’s size and setup. Smaller aquariums require frequent water changes because the excess CO2 has nowhere to go and will flood the habitat quickly.
But larger tanks also require more frequent changes if they’re overplanted and overpopulated with fish. For ideal results, you should perform at least one partial water change (up to 20% in one session) per week.
But feel free to adapt to your unique situation and tweak the frequency and amount of your water changes accordingly.
– Avoid Over-Fertilization
Over-fertilization is a problem in all tanks, but especially high-tech scenarios. The idea is to have a nutritious type of substrate since you’ll mostly be using rooted plants. Enriched soil, maybe mixed with some gravel, peat moss, coconut fibers, or other materials, is the best choice in this sense.
As they grow (and they will grow fast in a high-tech environment), additional fertilization is necessary, but within certain limits. The problem is that the more nutrients you add to the environment, the more you will be feeding the population of algae just waiting to bloom.
And an algae invasion in a high-tech tank can spell doom fast. Algae utilize the same nutrients that plants do and will use them just as effectively. Combine the excess nutrients with the higher lighting conditions required by the high-tech setup, and the algae will spread fast and cover everything as they grow.
Including the plants, restricting their access to light and causing them to starve. So, balance is key here.
– Avoid Over-Feeding Your Fish
Over-feeding comes with several environmental hazards, primarily the excess production of ammonia and nitrites. In a well-cycled tank, ammonia and nitrites are transformed into nitrates which the plants can use as nutrients. These are less harmful for fish, provided they don’t exceed certain limits.
However, over-feeding your fish in a high-tech tank comes with additional challenges to overcome. The most obvious one is that of food residues getting lost among the numerous plants composing the habitat. These will decay out of sight, causing ammonia spikes and affecting the environment even more severely.
High-tech plants are more difficult to clean since food residues and fish waste can get lost pretty easily in the décor.
Not to mention, over-feeding is also responsible for digestive problems in fish, such as constipation or compaction. If that doesn’t happen, your fish will simply poop a lot more, and this isn’t too ideal, either. Especially when housing professional poop producers like goldfish.
So, always feed your fish according to their needs. They should be able to finish their meal within 2-3 minutes at most.
– Stable CO2 Injection
This point refers to the amount of CO2 to inject in the habitat. Not all plants require the same amount of CO2. Some could use more to support their accelerated growth rate, while others are fine with whatever the environment provides them with. So, you need to avoid pairing plants with different CO2 requirements to avoid the conflicts of interests that are bound to happen.
Using too much CO2 will also affect the tank life as a whole. Fish have no use for CO2, especially since the more CO2 there is in the environment, the lower the oxygen levels. Make sure that your fish aren’t affected by the added CO2, and tweak the use if they do.
– Good Water Circulation
The last thing you want for your tank water is to get stale. The tank water should display a healthy circulation pattern for several reasons, such as:
- Improve oxygenation – A good filtration unit allows you to adjust the water flow to your desired values. This will improve the habitat’s oxygenation levels, greatly boosting the quality of life for all tank inhabitants.
- Help fish breathe better – Most fish require some type of water movement to breathe better. The water currents will pass water through their gills, bringing in more oxygen along with it. Fish also swim to maintain this effect, but some water movement will aid them tremendously in this sense as well.
- Prevent algae – This is an important one because algae despise water currents. They thrive in stale, light-filled, and nutrient-rich waters. A good filtration system will protect the tank from algae while improving the environment’s stability and cleanness at the same time.
An important note to consider here – don’t go overboard with the filtration. Excessive water currents are known to break plant stems, unearth more sensitive plants, and destroy the environment. They will also cause discomfort to fish who prefer calmer waters. So, make sure to adjust and adapt the water flow to your unique tank setup.
– Avoid Excessive Light
All aquarium plants demand some level of lighting to perform proper photosynthesis. The difference is that not all plants demand the same lighting conditions. Some will do just fine in low-light environments, while others require a plus of watts. The problem with excessive light is that it promotes algae spread better than anything else.
Algae thrive in high-light conditions, and you don’t want that for your high-tech tank. An algae bloom in such an environment would be a disaster and a nightmare to fix. So, prevention is always preferable. Always understand your plants’ light requirements to prevent any excess along the way.
– Test Water Parameters
Plants require specific water values, the same as fish. So, temperature, lighting, nitrate, CO2 content, and overall nutrients are essential for plants long-term. The problem is that a high-tech tank is one filled with vegetation, generally of different types. This means that water parameters can and will change over time, especially after performing your regular water changes.
Here are the main water parameters to look out for:
- Ammonia – Ammonia is the natural product of dead organic matter decomposing in the environment. A healthy and stable aquatic setup will eliminate ammonia via bacterial activity, which turns it into nitrites and then nitrates. You may have a problem if you notice ammonia getting constantly above 0. You should have a solid tank cleaning routine in place to remove dead leaves, fish waste, and food residues regularly from the environment. This will prevent ammonia buildup, keeping the tank water safer and cleaner.
- Nutrients – Plants require a variety of nutrients in different quantities. These include iron, magnesium, manganese, boron, potassium, calcium, etc. If your plants display signs of sickness (curled, yellow, brown, or rugged leaves), they may struggle with nutrient deficiency. These are common in overplanted aquariums with insufficient fertilization. Another trigger is using sterilized water during water changes, as this type of water is inert (it is devoid of nutrients). In that case, you need to use a water conditioner and fertilizer to re-mineralize the water and fix the issue.
- CO2 – We’ve already discussed the importance of CO2 in the tank water. Always monitor CO2 levels to make sure they don’t fluctuate excessively or reach undesirable values, no matter the direction.
- Temperature – Most aquatic plants do just fine in temperatures between 60 and 80 F. However, this varies based on the plant’s type. Some may require higher temperatures. If the water temperature drops too low, the plant may experience hindered growth and even signs of death. A tank thermometer and a heating system are necessary to prevent that. Especially if you have the aquarium in an area with unstable temperatures.
This may sound like a handful, but it’s really not. Plants won’t die all of a sudden. They will always display foretelling signs, depending on what’s affecting their physiology. This offers plenty of time to identify and correct the problem in time.
Not to mention, once you’ve achieved the ideal parameters, keeping them as such shouldn’t be too difficult.
– Change One Thing at a Time
Whether you’re planning to have a new filtration system, a different heater, change the light source or perform any radical change, take them one at a time. Both plants and fish require time to adapt to any major change within their habitat. This is where the notion of new tank syndrome comes from.
New tank syndrome affects both plants and fish when they’re first added to a new environment. This is due to the excess nitrites still being processed by various bacterial cultures. In other words, the tank’s cycling isn’t finished yet.
Fish and plants require time to adapt to the new conditions, during which they will all exhibit some type of discomfort.
The situation is even more sensitive for plants, as they also have to deal with the rooting stress. Plants take time to anchor themselves in the substrate and become accustomed to the new conditions. The same effect occurs when performing major changes in the tank.
Adding a new filtration system will necessarily destabilize the habitat, causing fluctuations in water currents, oxygenation, filtration power, etc. We can say the same for any other component or change. Your aquatic life requires time to adapt to these changes, so it’s better to introduce them gradually, one by one. This will minimize the stress along the way.
– Regular Plant Trimming
This is a must in any high-tech environment. It’s always better to have more plants, but there is a limit even to that. Most high-tech environments showcase different plant types, differing in terms of size, color, shape, spread, and requirements. The problem is that some plants grow taller, wider, and more aggressively than others, which can create issues in the long run.
The more aggressive plants will overshadow the rest, spread throughout the environment, and cut the others’ access to light and nutrients. As a result, the smaller plants will die, while the taller ones will take over, effectively ruining the environment as a whole.
Fast-growing plants require trimming to keep them in check and prevent them from overgrowing their environment.
– Bonus: Be patient
Patience is your most powerful ally in this circumstance. Every planted environment requires time to settle in and begin to function properly. Plants themselves need time to adapt to their setting, root accordingly, and get accustomed to their water parameters.
The tank will also take some time to become fully cycled. All these will add up to several weeks or months of patience on your part, which the high-tech tank becomes more stable and optimized.
When Should You Restart Your High-Tech Tank?
First, we should unpack the notion of restarting (resetting) a tank. This refers to changing the tank’s substrate and rearranging the tank’s layout based on your new vision. The latter is optional.
But why do people restart their tanks, and should you do it? In most cases, the restart is necessary due to the soil’s inability to buffer water parameters anymore. In other words, the tank’s substrate has lost its nutritional value and requires replacement. Another reason is the discontent with the current layout. People simply look for a different look, or maybe they’re increasing the tank’s size and want to move the entire habitat into a new aquarium.
Needless to say, the entire resetting tactic requires careful planning, handling, and execution to prevent problems along the way.
So, here’s how to perform a high-tech tank restart:
- Catch the fish – The first step should involve relocating all fish, snails, shrimp, and other life forms from the environment. Move them into an already cycled container with conditions similar to those present in the main tank. Make sure water parameters are in order to prevent temperature or pH shock. And be gentle about it since most fish don’t like being handled.
- Remove the plants – This is an even more delicate process due to the rooted plants. A high-tech tank generally consists of a multitude of rooted plants which most likely display entangled roots, forming an intricate underground network. Removing them is bound to break some of the roots in the process. Make sure that the damages aren’t too extensive to prevent plant death. How you deposit plants is also critical. I recommend placing them in wet bags or even wet newspaper cones. These will keep the plants safe and healthy for potentially weeks. Even the more sensitive species can last several days in this manner.
- Handle the soil – This part depends on your goals. You generally don’t need to replace the entire substrate since old and used aquasoils are viable for long-term usage. But you might want to eliminate any dirt, fish waste, or dead organic matter trapped on the substrate’s surface. Clean the substrate thoroughly before removing it so that you won’t mix the waste with the good soil. Then you can move the soil into a separate container. Don’t wash it with tap water or use any disinfectant solution that could kill the biofilm inhabiting the substrate. Otherwise, your new high-tech tank layout will require cycling; a process which lasts weeks.
- Remove the tank equipment – The filter is the main producer of beneficial bacteria, so you should only clean it sparingly, if at all. And never use any chemical or tap water in the process to prevent disturbing or killing the biofilm. You should adopt the same cleaning tactic with regards to all of your tank equipment that goes into the water. Any chemical or contaminant adhering to their surface will carry over into the tank water with potentially deadly consequences.
Once everything is removed, you can clean the tank, add the new, cleaner soil, fill up the tank, and replant your plants. You should always check water parameters and give the tank some time to re-cycle. The cycling process will be shorter because your filter media is already online.
A high-tech tank is a more advanced environment for experienced aquarists. That being said, you, too, can set up a decent and thriving high-tech environment with proper know-how and patience.
So, follow the steps I’ve provided, better inform yourself about the set-up process itself, and refer to this article for any troubleshooting support you may require.