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