How to Use Root Tabs to Fertilize Aquarium Plants
Are your aquatic plants not growing properly? 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. If your plant is a root feeder, it will need to be given a nutrient rich substrate or ground-based fertilizers known as root tabs.
What is Root Tabs?
Root tabs contain either capsules or dissolvable tablets that can be used as plant 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. The reason is because we use actual soil in our root tabs that is nontoxic if the nutrients get released into the water column. 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.
What Aquarium Plants Require Root Tabs?
Cryptocoryne plants (or crypts), sword plants, bulb plants, carpeting plants, and plants that produce runners all tend to feed from the substrate and will greatly benefit from root tabs. Bacopa and moneywort, two types of stem plants, can either absorb fertilizer from water or the ground. However they seem to prefer the latter. Plants that do not require substrate for growth – like mosses and floating plants, anubias or javafern – tend to not need root tabs as often.
How to Use Root Tabs
Because root tabs are water soluble, the key is to insert them into the substrate as quickly and deeply as possible. 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. Therefore, use planting tweezers or your fingers to push the whole root tab to the bottom of the substrate. You should not remove the fertilizer capsule from the substrate, as it may 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. Root tabs should be placed underneath or close to 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. To make it sink, poke a hole in one end of the capsule using a pushpin and then squeeze the root tab once it’s underwater. The hole will allow air bubbles to escape, but your root tab will not be affected.
How Often Should You 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. For healthy growth, we suggest adding root tabs every other month. This is especially true if the substrate you use is inert like aquarium gravel, sand or sand. Remember that plants will grow larger and require more root tabs. A baby Amazon sword that is newly planted may only need 1 root tab every six weeks, but three months later, that same plant may need six tabs per month to sustain it.
Look out for signs that your plants may have not consumed enough fertilizer. 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!