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. Another big factor is your local tap water. If you live on well water, your water may contain lots of heavy metals and high nitrate levels, which is not great for drinking but might be really good at 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.
Because everyone’s tap water, lighting selection, plant stocking, and tank setups are so different, some aquarium companies try to compensate by releasing many different types of fertilizers to address every corner case. It can be confusing to get started in planted aquariums. This is why we created the Easy Green fertilizer. The Easy Fertilizer range consists only of four products, which are easy to use for beginners. They are designed for planted tanks with low to moderate lighting and no CO2 injection. Because they have the right nutrients for aquatic plants, most of our customers are happy with Aquarium Co-Op fertilizers. Some users have enough nutrients in their water to not need fertilizers. Hobbyists may also wish to create high-light, planted tanks that contain pressurized CO2 and have specific nutrient requirements in order to meet their goals. 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 liquid fertilizer is all-in-one and provides all the nutrients your plants require. 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.
Since everyone’s setup and plant stocking density are different, we suggest you test the water each week at first to really dial in the fertilizer dosage. Rather than test for every single nutrient, the easiest way is to use a 60-second test strip and figure out how many pumps or drops of Easy Green it takes to reach 25-50 ppm nitrate. 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. Our water change flow chart will gradually reduce the nitrate to 25ppm or less. Then, you can apply Easy Green as necessary. For more information on nitrate and proper dosing for plants, read the full article.
2. Easy Root Tabs
Easy Green is a liquid fertilizer that plants absorb from the water column. However, heavy root feeders like sword plants, cryptocoryne and bulb plants prefer to feed from the ground. (Heavy root feeders still take some nutrients from the water column, so providing both liquid and ground fertilizers gives you 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). You can use Easy Root tabs to fertilize a substrate that is inert, such as regular aquarium dirt, or if the nutrients have run out.
Easy Root Tabs have a mix mineralized topsoil, high quality red clay and essential nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates. Use your fingers or tweezers to insert a capsule into the substrate as deep as you can. Make a grid pattern that spans 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. For more information, see the article Root tabs.
3. Simple Iron
If you are dabbling in red plants but aren’t getting the vivid scarlet hues that you see online, most likely you need to provide high lighting, perhaps add CO2 injection, and 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. Therefore, if you notice the newest leaves on your plants are yellow or pale-looking from a lack of chlorophyll but the leaf veins are still dark-colored, then try dosing some Easy Iron. For more information on specific dosage guidelines, see our article about iron supplements.
4. Easy Carbon
Fun fact: Liquid carbon products sold by aquarium companies, such as API CO2 booster or Seachem Flourish Excel, are not fertilizers. Instead they serve as poor substitutes to CO2 gas systems in planted tank CO2 gas systems. Instead, these products usually contain glutaraldehyde, which is a fish- and invertebrate-safe algaecide commonly used to inhibit algae growth. Our version of liquid carbon is called Easy Carbon, and if you have a little algae, it is good for treating the entire aquarium to help minimize algae over time. For spot treatment of black beard algae and other difficult to remove algae, you can use a pipette.
Dosing Easy Carbon might not be enough if the whole tank is infested. The algae will grow back quicker than you can kill it. In those cases, we recommend focusing on balancing the lighting, fertilizer, and CO2 (if used) in the system to grow healthy plants that outcompete the algae. Liquid carbon is a good aid for treating the symptoms of an unbalanced tank but will not solve the root of the problem. Remember that liquid carbon can cause more sensitive plants to be affected such as anacharis, vallisneria and Marimo, so it is worth limiting the amount you use. You can read more about liquid carbon in the article.
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. Easy Green is required by most hobbyists. If they have already rooted their plants, Easy Root Tabs are needed. Easy Iron can be helpful for tanks that are high in light and have red plants. Easy Carbon can also be used to combat algae problems. For more information on Easy Fertilizer, visit the complete line.