How to Use Root Tabs to Fertilize Aquarium Plants
Is your live aquatic plant not growing or losing leaves, even though you’re giving it plenty of light and liquid fertilizer? Although most aquarium plants can absorb nutrients both from the water and the substrate (e.g. gravel or sand) some species prefer one to the other. We need to provide nutrient-rich substrates or ground-based fertilizers for plants that are “root feeders”.
What Are Root Tabs?
Root tabs can be either dissolvable capsules or tablets that contain fertilizer. At Aquarium Co-Op, we recommend our Easy Root Tabs that are made with mineralized top soil and red clay containing essential plant nutrients, such as:
– Magnesium – Nitrate – Phosphate – Potassium – Manganese – Zinc – Molybdenum – Iron
Easy Root Tabs come in green fertilizer capsules that are safe for fish even if they dissolve in the water.
Are root tabs safe for fish, shrimp, and snails? Yes, our brand of root tabs is safe for all animals. Our root tabs are safe for all animals because they contain actual soil that is non-toxic. Some people try to save money by making their own DIY root tabs or using fertilizers meant for houseplants and vegetables, but those terrestrial products can cause dangerous ammonia spikes in the water that may kill your fish and invertebrates.
Which Aquarium Plants Need Root Tabs?
Root tabs are a great way to get root tabs for cryptocoryne (or crypt) plants. They feed off the substrate like sword plants, bulb plants and carpeting plants. Stem plants like bacopa and moneywort can absorb fertilizer from the water or ground, but they seem to prefer the former. Plants that don’t need substrate to grow – such as mosses, floating plants, anubias, and java fern – typically do not use root tabs as much.
How to use Root Tabs
Root tabs are water-soluble so it is important to insert them as quickly as possible into the substrate. It’s okay if Easy Root Tabs accidentally pop out or get unearthed by your fish because they won’t harm the water quality, but ultimately, we want the root feeders to have access to more nutrients in the ground. Use your fingers or a planting tweezer to push the entire root tab down to the substrate. (Do not remove the fertilizer from the capsule or else it will dissolve in the water column.)
Drop the root tab into the substrate as deep as you can, preferably under the roots of the plants.
How often should you add root tabs? Add one tab to every 5-6inches (12-15cm) and place them in a grid. If your fish tank is very densely planted, you may need to add root tabs every 4 inches (10 cm) or closer. Ideally, the root tabs should be inserted directly underneath or near the roots of your plants. In fact, larger plants like Amazon swords may need multiple root tabs placed in a circle around their base to keep them well fed.
The root tabs float because of the air in the capsule. Make a hole at one end of the capsule with a pushpin to make it sink. Once it is underwater, squeeze the root tab. The hole will allow air bubbles to escape, but your root tab will not be affected.
How Often Do You Need to Add More Root Tabs?
Nutrients get used up over time (even if you’re using a nutrient-rich substrate) and therefore must be regularly replenished. To maintain healthy growth, we recommend adding more root tabs about once a month to continually build the nutrient base in the ground, especially if you are using an inert substrate like aquarium gravel or sand that doesn’t contain any nutrients on its own. Remember that plants will grow larger and require more root tabs. While a baby Amazon sword may only require one root tab every six weeks when it is new, three months later, the same plant might need six tabs to maintain its health.
You can determine if your plants have eaten all of the fertilizer in the substrate by looking for signs of nutrient deficiency. These symptoms can include lack of growth, yellowing and browning, or melting leaves (after the plant was growing well previously). The full article is linked below. Enjoy your aquarium, and good luck!