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planted tank maintenance

How to Do Planted Tank Maintenance Without Going Crazy


by: Chris (@shrimpery)


Tank maintenance is one of those topics that planted aquarium hobbyists sort of gloss over when talking shop. Most hobbyists recognize the importance of keeping their tanks clean and healthy, but it can seem difficult to get good information on the subject beyond the basics. Routine upkeep is often portrayed as a tedious task, outshined by more interesting details such as specs, setup, and flora/fauna.

In reality, it’s the cornerstone of having a great-looking scape. I’d like to share my process in an attempt to show that it doesn’t have to be a chore- it can be fun!

planted tank maintenance

First and foremost: water changes. In a small closed system like a planted tank, it is critical to have a turnover of water to help eliminate excess waste, nutrients, and other dissolved solids that are constantly accumulating. Failure to do so can only be tolerated to a certain extent, at which point plant or animal health begins to suffer or algae begins to rear its head.

For a high-tech tank with CO2, enriched substrate, fertilizer and livestock, I recommend doing a 20-25% water change two or three times a week, on a regular schedule.

In a low tech tank, especially one that is lightly stocked, once a week is generally adequate.

Learn more about water changes by clicking here.

planted aquarium maintenance

I prep my water in advance (I use a portable RODI filter that screws onto my faucet and remineralize with Saltyshrimp GH/KH) and store it in large 5-gallon jugs in my basement. That way, when it comes time to do maintenance, I don’t have to stress about obtaining water in the moment. I also have a container of pure RODI water (not remineralized) at the ready to top-off any evaporation in my open top tanks, as needed. Once I have my water available, I gather my other tools for maintenance (siphon, bucket, UNS aquascaping scissors and tweezers, algae scraper) and get started.

I do a quick survey of the tank, noting any plants that appear to be in poor health, excessively tall, or in need of pruning. I also note any random debris or algae (not much of those in my tanks, but common in newly set up scapes) that will need to be removed. I scrape any algae, clip any plants that need to be clipped, and then proceed to siphon out the water into the bucket (either from the top, or targeting any debris that I see).

planted tank maintenance

Next, I try my best to replant any clippings, using the tweezers to nestle them amongst the plants that are already rooted.

  • Hint: This is one of the ways I can achieve aggressive density, especially under powerful lighting. 

Once I’m finished replanting, I gently add my prepared water to the tank, taking care to pour it in a manner that avoids disrupting the substrate or otherwise making a mess.

Then I add fertilizer, depending on the tank’s plant mass and energy demands. Once every three or four months, I use my discarded aquarium water to gently rinse my filter media.

planted aquarium

That’s it! That’s all I do in terms of maintenance. There is no need to overcomplicate your maintenance routine- instead, focus on consistency. If you consistently do what I outlined above, without skipping days (or worse, weeks), your tank should be in great health and a balance will be maintained.

For me, the time I spend doing maintenance is the time I really appreciate all the little details I’ve created and notice any progress in plant growth. I’m actively engaging with the tank, experiencing it in a tactile way (instead of blankly staring at it while drinking a beer, for example). It couldn’t be further from a chore.


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akwtkeyxvf - March 16, 2021

Muchas gracias. ?Como puedo iniciar sesion?

JFarmer - November 18, 2020

Thank you for the encouraging how to. I’m a mom with littles at this point in my life. Sometimes we tend to over complicate things. I recently slacked on my aquarium maintenance and just really distanced myself from the hobby a bit. I did my weekly water changes to keep everyone healthy but seriously let my plants get out of hand and algae was taking over again. It became just another chore that I didn’t need more of and I almost wanted out of the whole planted tank hobby. When I decided to really get back to my tanks and get into the maintenance of my plants and shapes and checking on my fish daily I remembered why I love this hobby. Thanks again!

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