Aquarium plants add to the beauty of any water tank. Aquarists spend hours deciding on water plants best suited for their aquarium. It takes a lot of effort and care to select and plant these specific varieties of flora in an aquarium. Usually, we select low light aquarium plants for several reasons. They need lesser maintenance, have a longer life and are cost effective.
There are several low light water plants available at the aquarium shops. You need to consider several factors while selecting low light aquarium plants. We bring to you a list of what-to-know before you step out on your aquarium adventure.
What do we mean by low light?
Water plants, like any other plants need light for photosynthesis. It is a process of using light to make food for themselves. Depending on the variety, water plants needs differing amounts of light. Some plants need more light to generate food where as some can do with less amount of light.
We measure light in lumens. A 10 watt bulb emits about 160 lumens. A low light aquarium plant needs 15 to 20 lumens of light where as a medium light aquarium plant needs up to 50 lumens. Plants needing higher lumens have a higher rate of photosynthesis. And thereby better growth rate.
Apart from the amount of light, the light spread is also important. As aquarium plants are at the bottom of the tank, it is advisable to ensure that the light reaches till the lower end. Aquarists used bulbs as light sources. Nowadays they prefer LED lights due to their running cost and long life.
Advantages of using low light aquarium plants
You may wonder why use low light aquarium plants. There are several reasons for doing so.
• Medium or high light aquarium plants have a higher growth rate. This leads to the need of trimming the aquarium plants on a regular basis. Or you can use slow growing, low light aquarium plants.
• Lower lighting reduces the growth of algae. Algae in aquariums spoil their environment.
• Low light aquarium plants need smaller lighting periods (as less as six hours). This reduces the running cost of an aquarium.
Types of low light aquarium plants
You can classify low light aquarium plants into two groups:
• Column feeders: These plants live over the soil and take nutrients from the water. The develop rhizomes for the purpose.
• Root feeders: These plants have a root system and draw nutrients from the soil below.
There are several low light aquarium plants available in the market. We recommend the following:
• Java ferns (Microsorum pteropus) have thin, dark-green, vertical leaves. These leaves grow from their dark, tangled roots. They propagate through little fernlets which grow with the mother plant’s leaves. When the plants develop fernlets, they float around until they find a place to grow.
• Anubia, a family of low light water plants. They have broad, large round leaves. Anubia nana is a popular variant of the family.
• Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) is suitable both for tropical and cold water tanks. They have thin, rough leaves. They grow and provide cover for fish eggs and baby fish. They grow in the upward direction and a piece of the original plant break off to create a new plant.
• Aponogetons have long, narrow leaves and flower above the water surface. They need less maintenance and are popular amongst the beginners.
• Dwarf sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata) have bright green leaves and look like grass tufts. They are hardy, need less maintenance and propagate through runners.
What you need to maintain your low light aquarium plants
Low light aquarium plants need nutrients and diffused CO2 in water. It is handy to have the following material at your ready disposal.
• Flourite: The aquarium soil needs to be rich in iron and aluminum. You can use laterite for the purpose. It is advisable to replenish the soil with iron substitute to keep the pants healthy. You can also use root tablets at the base of the plant roots.
• CO2 supply: You need to ensure that the plant has enough amount of CO2 to work with. Either use a respirator to pump air in the tank or use aquatic grade chemicals to produce CO2 in the tanks.
• Liquid fertilizer: For column feeders, add liquid fertilizers on a regular basis.
Tips for starting and maintaining low light aquarium plants
The following points are useful for starting and maintaining low light aquarium plants.
• Plan the landscape of your tank: Choose tall plants for the background. Keep medium sized plants for the mid ground and small plants for the fore ground of your tank.
• Clean the plant before adding it to the tank: Do clean the plant of any harmful bacteria or parasite. Make a one is to one solution of white vinegar and tap water. Immerse the plant in it for five minutes and wash it with running tap water. Remove any dead or decaying leaves.
• Remove snails: Snails tend to eat away plants in an aquarium. To get rid of them, make a solution of kosher salt and tap water (one cup of salt in four liters of water). Wash the plants with it. Remember not to wash the roots of the plants with the brine. Rinse the plant with de-chlorinated water before planting it in the tank.
• Maintain tank pH: Certain plants need acidic conditions and some need alkaline conditions. Select your plants and main the pH balance of your tank.
• Avoid adding extra fertilizers: Measure and add fertilizers as per the recommended doses. Over fertilization will lead to algae growth.
• Avoid red and purple plants: They need extra CO2 and iron to flourish.
• Prune once a while: Remember to keep an eye for dying or rotting leaves. Do prune the plants once in a while.
Low light aquarium plants are a great alternative to regular plants. They are a hassle free solution which are cost effective and last longer. There are a variety of low light aquarium plants to choose for your aquarium. These plants add to the look of your tank and become your long lasting friends.