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Perfect Parameters

January 07, 2024 2 min read

Perfect Parameters

Above: brown algae (Diatoms) and plant melt is common in new tanks.

When starting a a new tank, it is common for users to have seemingly 'perfect' water parameters and still face significant plant melt and algae.

This is because the microbial ("beneficial bacteria") community isn't established yet. It is hugely important, but cannot be directly measured by hobbyist test kits.

"But I measure 0 Ammonia, 0 Nitrites, <5ppm Nitrates, have a pH of 7.5 and have added lots of starter bacteria & water conditioners that bind all the bad stuff "

Interestingly, we intuitively know that 'perfect' measurements have limitations because if we are asked "Is the water therefore safe to drink?" we know the answer to be "not necessarily".


slow growers


The 2Hr way:

  1. We use the dark-start method to cycling tanks. This involves adding substrate, hardscape, APT START, and letting the filter run, without lights & CO2, for at least 2 weeks. No water change in these 2 weeks. 

  2. At the end of the 2 weeks, we perform a 90% water change, taking care to use APT PURE when adding new tap water. After another 48 hours, we take Ammonia readings. If it measures zero, it is OK to add plants.

  3. We add a large mass of hardy, fast growing plants. By large mass, we aim to cover at least 70% of the tank substrate with plants. If possible, we refrain from adding slow growers (1-Alternanthera reineckii, 2-Bucephalandra, 3-Hygrophilia 'chai', Crypt 'flamingo' above) and delicate hybrids (Anubias 'white' etc.) at this time. It is better to add them AFTER the tank stabilises in another 2 or 3 weeks. 

  4. We start to dose APT1 immediately upon planting, as this helps plants to adapt faster. We start weekly water changes the 2Hr Way (i.e we take extra effort to siphon away surface detritus during water change). For the first few weeks, we may do larger (70%-90%) and/or more frequent water changes.

  5. We anticipate some algae and possibly some melt. This is because plant health 'on arrival' can vary. Importantly, we understand that old growth does not recover, and we plan to replant the healthy tops (and discard old stems and roots) after the plants grow tall. We add fish only after another 2-3 weeks after planting.


Above: notice the tiny snails. While commonly considered a pest, we find that these critters hasten the path to biological stability / microbial maturity....so we actually welcome them :)

For those who do wish to decontaminate plants, it is important to do so gently. Damaged plants have far higher chance of melt / failure. FIX or FIXLITE can be used to create a 5% dip solution (20 parts water to 1 part APT FIX / APT FIXLITE). Dip plants in solution for around 10 seconds, not more. And remember not to let the plants dry out.

"What if I'm impatient?"

On many occasions, we find ourselves in a rush as well. So we may cycle tanks for less than 2 weeks, and add delicate and slower growing plants even at the beginning. When we do so, we accept the natural consequences: much higher chance of algae at the start, more chances of plant melt. 

Where can I find out more?