How to Fertilize your Plantted Tank in an EASY Way
We’re big proponents of getting live aquatic plants because of their natural beauty and ability to purify water, but a common question we get is, “Do I need to fertilize my aquarium plants?” From our experience, most people have to fertilize because fish waste does not provide the proper amounts of nitrate, potassium, phosphate, and other trace minerals that plants require to flourish. The water quality of your tap water is another factor. Your tap water might contain heavy metals and high levels of nitrate. This can make it unsafe to drink but could be great for growing plants. In contrast, the tap water at our fish store near Seattle, Washington is so soft and stripped of nutrients that it is almost like RODI (reverse osmosis de-ionized) water – which is perfect for raising discus fish but insufficient for plants.
Different tap water and lighting choices, as well as tank setups, make it difficult for aquarium companies to offer the same fertilizers. It can be confusing to get started in planted aquariums. This is why we created the Easy Green fertilizer. Our Easy Fertilizer product line consists of four beginner-friendly products. These products are intended for use in planted tank setups that have low to medium lighting and require no CO2 (carbon dioxide). Because they have the right nutrients for aquatic plants, most of our customers are happy with Aquarium Co-Op fertilizers. A small percentage of users already have so many nutrients in their water that they don’t need as much help from fertilizers. Also, some hobbyists may want to set up high light planted tanks with pressurized CO2 that have specialized nutrient requirements to meet their objectives. To show you how easy the Aquarium Co-Op fertilizers are to use, let’s get started with a quick guide and figure out which of our fertilizers are right for you.
1. Easy Green
Simple Green is the only fertilizer you need. This all-in one liquid fertilizer gives you the right ratios of micronutrients to plants so you don’t have a lot of work. Like all of our fertilizers, Easy Green is completely safe to use with fish, shrimp, snails, and other invertebrates. While other fertilizers require you to measure out certain milliliters or capfuls, we offer two sizes of Easy Green with an easy-to-use pump head or dropper cap for quick dosing. For the recommended dosage instructions, please refer to the product page.
Because every plant’s setup is different and each plant has a different stocking density, we recommend that you test the water each week to dial in the fertilizer dosage. It is better to test for each nutrient one at a time. Instead of trying to test for them all, you can use a 60-second test strip to figure how many drops or pumps it takes to get to 25-50 ppm. As long as the nitrate comes predominantly from the fertilizer and not from fish waste, then your plants will thrive. If you have 75 ppm nitrate or more, don’t stop fertilizing because fish waste is missing a lot of key elements like potassium. You can use our water change chart to slowly lower the nitrate level to 25 ppm, then you can dose Easy Green as needed. For more information on nitrate and proper dosing for plants, read the full article.
2. Easy Root Tabs
Easy Green is a fertilizer liquid that is absorbed by plants through the water column. But heavy root feeders, such as cryptocoryne, sword, and bulb plants, prefer to be fed from the ground. Heavy root feeders still need some nutrients from the water columns, so you should provide both liquid and ground fertilizers for the best growth. Many hobbyists like using nutrient-rich substrates such as organic dirt or expensive aquarium soil, but be aware that they can come with side effects like lowering the pH or leaching ammonia into the water (which is toxic to fish). To fertilize your ground, you can add Easy root tabs if you’re using an inert substrate such as regular aquarium gravel.
Easy Root Tabs contain a mix of mineralized topsoil, high-quality red clay, and many essential nutrients (like nitrate, phosphate, potassium, and iron). Insert a capsule as deep as possible in the substrate using your fingers or tweezers in a grid pattern spanning every 4-6 inches. The root tabs can be placed directly underneath the plants if the heavy root feeders do not get evenly distributed within the tank. A small crypt might only require one root tab while a large Aponogeton may need seven. We can use liquid fertilization to determine when to add more. But, for substrate fertilization we need to keep an eye on the heavy root feeders so that they don’t melt away or show other signs of nutrient deficiency. See the article on root tabs for more details.
3. Easy Iron
If you’re trying to grow red plants, but don’t see the vibrant scarlet colors you see online, you might need to increase lighting and add CO2 injection. Then, consider adding an iron supplement. Easy Iron has its own bottle. This is because Easy Green’s formula already contains iron. Plus, if Easy Green contains too much iron, it could potentially lead to algae problems, such as hair algae.
Iron is an essential element that plants use to make chlorophyll. It is particularly important for plants with high growth rates and high levels of light. If you notice that the leaves of your plants have become yellowed or pale due to a lack in chlorophyll, but the veins remain dark-colored, then it is time to try Easy Iron. To learn about specific dosing guidelines, read our article on iron supplements.
Fun fact: The liquid carbon products that aquarium companies sell – such as API CO2 Booster or Seachem Flourish Excel – are not fertilizers. They serve as poor replacements for CO2 gas systems within planted tanks. Instead, these products usually contain glutaraldehyde, which is a fish- and invertebrate-safe algaecide commonly used to inhibit algae growth. Our liquid carbon version is called Easycarbon. It can be used to treat small amounts of algae or for the whole aquarium to reduce algae growth over time. You can also use a pipette for spot treatment of black beard algae and other hard-to-remove algae.
Dosing Easy Carbon might not be enough if the whole tank is infested. The algae will grow back quicker than you can kill it. We recommend that you balance the lighting, fertilizer, as well as CO2 levels in your tank to ensure healthy plants. Although liquid carbon can be used to treat the symptoms of an imbalanced tank, it will not address the root cause of the problem. Don’t forget to mention that liquid carbon can have a negative effect on more sensitive plants such as mosses, vallisnerias, anacharis and Marimo-moss balls. See the article on liquid carbon for more information.
Aquarium Co-Op aims to make fertilization simple. We want to help people who don’t know how to grow plants, or those who struggle to keep them alive. Most hobbyists need Easy Green, and then get Easy Root Tabs if they have rooted plants. For high light tanks with red plants, Easy Iron can help. And if you have algae problems, try Easy Carbon. Check out the full Easy Fertilizer line to boost the growth of your planted aquarium.