Using plants in the aquarium
When plants and bacteria control the system. A planted aquarium is not just a tank that has a couple of plants placed in it. In a planted aquarium, the ecosystem is created by plants, plankton and bacteria; the fish are beneficiaries. Nowadays you hear the expression "heavily planted aquarium" for a system in which plants and healthful bacteria are in control, as opposed to an aquarium that has a couple of plants in it, for decor. Maybe people have been too rash in refering to their "planted aquarium." I tend to ask, "If there's a plant on your desk, are you in a planted office?" But that's how I am. Aljen revealed his more tolerant personality with a post at AquariaCentral, Aug 2001: "A 'heavily planted tank' is a tank that is more densely planted than a moderately planted tank but contains less vegetation than an excessively planted tank. When a visitor asks, 'How come your plants aren't growing?' you have a sparsely planted tank. "When someone says, 'Your plants look nice' you have a moderately planted tank. "When you hear, 'How did you get your plants to grow like that?' you have a heavily planted tank. "But, if someone asks, 'Hey, do you have any fish in there?' you have an excessively planted tank."
Links. For authentic Dutch "Dutch"-style aquaria, scope Wim Heemskerk's densely-planted tanks,on the "Planted Aquariums" page at Adrian Tappin's "Home of the Rainbowfish." His contrasts of yellow-greens and bronze-colored leaves are more garden-like than explicitly natural. But his massed plants never devolve into stiff ranks and rows like the fruit-stand displays of less successful "Dutch"-style plantings. Part of the secret is in leaving open, sgadowed voids, which set off massed plantings that could otherwise feel somewhat breathless.
Cathy Hartland's own planted aquaria are off-line now, but she posted these general thoughts, 24 Jan 2001, in answer to a question at AquariaCentral: "I start aquascaping with some general shape in mind. It might be a slant from one side to the other, might be a U-shape, or the double triangle shape in my 30 gal tank. Often there is driftwood (I have found hand-collected to be more satisfactory than store-bought stuff) and/or rock to help define the shape and give it substance right away. I look at photos of other tanks, comb through plant books, and figure out what plants I think will work well within this shape, given the amount of light I have to offer, and the plant selection available.
"Sometimes I just wander through the LFS every week, looking at the plants and waiting for something to show itself. Once I needed small foreground plants and came across Cryptocoryne petchii. I knew when I saw them that they would work well for me. In other words, it's a process.
"I try out the plants I think will work well. Some of them don't like my conditions, so I pull them and try something else. Eventually I find plants that like my tank and fit aesthetically. I try to keep in mind variety of leaf size and shape, texture, color. I consider other possible layouts within the larger plan - e.g., once I had an Anubias barteri in the front right corner of a tank, but upon further consideration, was sure it would be better in the right rear, in place of some limnophila. I looked and looked at the tank, imagining the change, until I was quite certain it was what I wanted. Then I uprooted and replanted. More of the process.
"Once you get started, further fine-tuning will suggest itself to you. Don't be afraid to try things. That's the fun of it! To some extent the tank creates its own aquascape once it gets growing. Plants find their best locations, refusing to grow anywhere else.
"As for pruning, depends on the plant. Some plants get clipped at the top and allowed to get more and more bushy. Some are replanted from top cuttings (Ludwigia arcuata seems to need this). Some need weekly small prunings (Micranthemum). Some get major hacking and then have to fill in again (Anubias barteri). Again, don't be afraid to try out this and that to see what works with your plants. "Most of all, see to it that you are providing what the plants need. That will prevent much frustration. Sufficient light of good spectrum for the plant type you are growing (tritons should do it, although I'd mix one triton with one full-spectrum daylight), enough CO2, daily fertilization of water and periodic fertilization at the root zone - your plants will be happy."
Movable plants grown on bogwood... Some aquarium plants resent repeated disturbance: Cryptocoryne, for example, like to get their roots permanently established in the substrate, where they can increase into a stand. Disturb them, and they may even melt away for a time. But other plants don't flourish if you bury their rhizome, which is the thick main running root, from which their leaves spring. Two plants that behave like this are Anubias and Java Fern. You'll find information about growing them among the "Beginner's list" in the "Plants" folder. But as far as aquascaping is concerned, Anubias or Java Fern grown attached to a rock or coconut shell or to bogwood makes an element of your aquascape that both suits the plants' requirements and has the added virtue of being portable. So you can remove the plant along with its woody substrate for pruning, or if you have to net a wary fish.
Individual aquarists have been growing plants attached to bogwood for years, but it was the Danish aquarium plants firm Tropica that pioneered the marketing of young plants already attached to wood or rock, at quite a steep price, to sophisticated European aquarists.
You can staple roots (but not rhizomes) to wood if your stapler is powerful enough. You can tie plantlets with black cotton thread, which rots away soon, or nylon thread, which doesn't. Or if you can tease out a long thread of Java Moss, you can use it to tie down a young plant such as Java Fern to a branch of bogwood. Later, the Java Moss can be unwound without disturbing the plant's new rootlets.
...or grow them on rocks. I never have had much luck getting the rootlets of Java fern to get a grip on rocks of any kind. Then I read this at the Tropica website: "For reasons of freight the stones used could not be too heavy. So instead of chunks of rocks, lava imported from Iceland was chosen. The shops purchasing the end-products were delighted. If their fish were difficult to catch they simply removed the plants and the rest was straightforward! But soon other benefits also materialised. Newly introduced fish acclimatised much more quickly to the tank environment - they assumed their natural colouring in record time and appeared less stressed. Sales soared!"
Hah! To me, that sounds like de-nitrating bacterial colonies at work! Now when I want plants attached to rock, I have begun to rubberband my young Java fern to chunks of that porous reddish lava from my LFS. (NB: you wouldn't confuse porous pumice with porous tufa, would you? I did for years.)