Days are long gone when aquarium meant a glass tank with some weird toys and ugly looking plastic decorations. These days they are more vibrant with live aquatic plants. And even a lush green carpet inside your aquarium has also become a reality. A small piece of nature inside your living room, how cool is that? Today we will focus on a situation which may occur to most of the aquarists, yet very little resource is available to overcome this situation.
Yes, it is related to carpeting plants. Achieving a carpet is always a dream for the new aquarium hobbyists. But at beginning they might not have the fund to invest in a high-tech planted aquarium. So we will talk about carpeting in a low-tech tank. Not only that, we will also provide a step-by-step actionable guide for you to achieve a lush carpet without injecting pressurized CO2. So, stay tuned!
What is Carpeting Plant?
In proper condition, like high light, pressurized co2, good substrate, proper nutrition and optimum temperature, some aquatic plants grow sideways and form a bushy carpet at the bottom of the aquarium. It is visually very pleasing and as a result every aquarist wish for a perfect carpet in their planted tank.
Carpeting plants are those smaller plants that grow on the substrate and by default their access to the lighting source is limited as they grow furthest from the source. For this reason they are more delicate than larger, robust plants. With some specialized care, various carpets can be grown within a low tech tank.
Requirements to Grow a Good Carpet in Your Planted Tank
Achieving a beautiful carpet is not much difficult in a high-tech planted tank set up. Pressurized CO2 helps in many ways. High CO2 prevents severe algae issues and makes it lot easier for concentrated plant growth. Plants pass through a transition period when they are planted in your aquarium. CO2 boosts plant growth a lot and thus helps to pass the transition period smoothly.
Carpeting plants grow at the substrate level and remains there. So good substrate is another requirement. Commercial aquasoil can play vital role for a successful carpet in your aquarium. Very small plants like HC cuba, Monte carlo or Glossostigma has tiny roots. So the powdered version of commercial aquasoils are better for carpeting plants.
Another very important parameter is light. Light penetrates the lest at the substrate level. So high light is essential for a successful carpet.
Challenges of Growing Carpets Without CO2
You can compare plant growth with human running. When you start to run, you need more oxygen. When lights are on in a planted tank the plants start photosynthesis which is similar to running. Plants need CO2 for photosynthesis. So more CO2 will be required. When you run for a longer period you will need more oxygen and you will get hungry. Same happens with plants. They need more nutrition which comes from fertilizers.
When you are limiting the supply of CO2, a few challenges will arise. We need to overcome these challenges by finding out the proper balance for the aquarium –
High lights will require for carpets. But lack of CO2 and high light is a good combination for algae outburst. This is the first challenge in a no CO2 carpeting.
In nature plants grow in a CO2 rich condition. And here we are not injecting CO2. So for more supply of CO2 we need as much gaseous exchange as possible. Gaseous exchange increases with surface agitation. For more surface agitation you can use lily pipes at the outlet of your canister filter and also a surface skimmer at the inlet of your filter.
3. Nutrient Rich Substrate
More nutrients in the water column and low supply of CO2 will make the system imbalanced. This will encourage algae issues. Again there is a struggle to find balance.
For a carpeting plant the most difficult stage of growing is at the start. It passes through a transition state where it adjusts with the new environment. If the plant was grown submerged then it needs to adjust a immersed condition. If the water parameters were different, it needs to be adjusted at the new condition as well. Success rate will increase if the initial acclimation is as much stress free as possible.
How to Grow Carpet in Low-Tech Aquarium – Step by Step Guide
1. Tank Height
For some advantages, we shall go for a shallow tank. Height should not exceed 12 inch. The main advantage of a shallow tank is, it allows stronger lighting at substrate level without any expensive lighting setup and the light gradient remains less steep. Here you can read about some of the best aquarium lights for planted tank setup.
Shallow tanks also helps for better gaseous exchange which is very important to maintain a certain co2 level without injecting from a pressurized system.
Last but not the least, shallow tanks are easier to access which makes maintenance easier.
2. Plant Selection – Carpeting Plants without CO2
Carpeting plants require strong light. Though it also depends on the plant species. In our case we are limited with option of no CO2. So we need to avoid some of the highly demanding carpeting plants like HC Cuba. Here is a shortlist we recommend for no CO2 carpeting –
- Dwarf Hair Grass (DHG)
- Monte Carlo
- Marsilea species (crenata or hirsuta)
You can consider glossostigma also if the light is good and temperature favorable.
3. How Much Light?
Adjusting the light is a bit tricky. You need a PAR meter to perfectly adjust required light for a particular plant. Recommended PAR is 70 to 100 Umols at the substrate level. If you can’t find a PAR meter there is an alternative solution. If you have a smart phone, you can download an app called “Lux Light Meter Pro“. It actually measures luminosity in Lux. Now if you are using LED lights in your setup then divide the Lux value with 38 and you will get approximate PAR.
Try to avoid anything above your light requirement otherwise you will be struggling with algae blooms.
4. What Substrate?
Garden soil is a good option if you want everything low-tech. But you need to cap the soil with 1/2 – 1 inch sand layer. Otherwise soil will stir up and you will get cloudy tank. Regular fertilizer dosing will be needed in case of garden soil. To be in the safe side and avoid lots of hassle, you may go for commercial substrate. They are wonderful, no capping is needed and provides excellent nutrition for plant growth. A layer of 2 inches is enough to grow carpet.
Soil decomposition generates low levels of carbon. Though it is not enough to replace CO2 injection but for easy carpets it helps a lot.
5. Plant Transition
When you purchase a healthy plant and put it in your tank some times they die. This is not because the new condition is missing necessary growth elements. When plants are transferred they go through a transition period to adjust with the different water parameters.
In a CO2 rich aquarium plants get quick boost which helps plants to adjust rapidly. In non-CO2 injected planted tanks, things become tough. You can apply 2 steps to reduce the transition shock as much as possible –
Step 1: Perform Full Aquarium Cycle Before Planting
Tank cycling is often considered as a requirement before adding fish and completely avoided before plantation. But pre-cycling makes it easier to grow plants and control algae issues. This step is even more important for our case as we will be starting with high lights for carpeting.
Step 2: Collect Plants Locally
Plants which are grown in a similar water condition reduces the initial stress of transition and chances of melting also reduces. Most important parameter for transition is alkalinity (KH), and it is safe to be within 3 dKH range. To avoid hassle of measuring water parameter, collect plants from someone in your locality or grown in your local fish stores. Try to avoid imported plants from far away. Your chances will increase a lot.
6. Planting Technique
Spread the plants thinly across the substrate thinly rather than planting in thick clumps. Planting in smaller clumps ensure better light, nutrition and water flow for each individual clumps. Also they root better compared to planting in a crowded location.
7. Water Temperature
Plants are hugely effected in higher temperature, specially carpeting plants. They will melt easily. So if you are living in a comparatively hot zone, think about getting a chiller to keep constant 78 F or below temperature. If you are living in a cold zone and temperature drops below 68 F, go for a good heater to keep it within the range.
Tips For Better Success Rate with Low-Tech Carpet
You need to remember, the goal is to achieve carpet in a low-tech, no CO2 planted tank. So first of all, forget about fishes, at least till the plants are flourished and a decent carpet is achieved. You need to wait before a balance is existing in your closed Eco-system. Adding live stock will induce fish waste and it will be difficult to control algae as we are using high light.
Second tips, you can add some dwarf shrimps and Amano shrimps after the tank cycling is complete. Shrimp has a very small, almost negligible, bio-load and they are awesome cleaning crew to keep most algae at bay. Maintenance becomes easier with shrimps in the tank.
Well, that’s it for today folks. Hope you enjoyed the experiment and would like to try it in your aquarium. If you face any difficulty and need further clarification please feel free to leave a comment below. You will definitely get an answer. Happy fishkeeping and aquascaping!