The best way to learn a new hobby is by getting the knowledge and information from those who are experienced in the hobby. I recently had the chance to interview Rachel O'Leary, a passionate & professional fish keeper from USA.

Travelling nationally and internationally to speak at clubs and conventions, Rachel is a big name in our hobby.

To find out when and where Rachel's next speech is, please visit her events page.

Rachel i would like to thank you for taking time to do this interview for the Barr Report.

Date of Interview: September 10th 2017

Rachel O'Leary

Age: 39 (almost)

Country: USA

Rachel's website and YouTube channel:

Could you introduce yourself to our members?

Hello members! My name is Rachel and I have been absolutely fascinated with fish for most of my life. About 15 years ago, I got back into the hobby as an adult when I was gifted a small aquarium from my family for mother's day. I quickly got exceptionally interested in small invertebrates, which had just hit the US market, and then the small fish that complimented them.
Growing up, we had aquariums- even those with live plants, and my hobby as an adult quickly grew into an obsession, and then a business which led to writing a book, writing many magazine articles, traveling nationally and internationally to lecture, and most recently my education YouTube channel.
I work with fish full time (really more than full time, but I am not complaining) and have been focusing on trying to help educate folks on how to choose livestock that is suitable for their planted aquariums, both in scale and desired behaviour to interact with our contrived environments- I am sort of a fish whisperer!

Do you have any other hobbies / interests?

I am extremely interested in Carnivorous plants, and am putting in a greenhouse to expand that interest. I also really enjoy waterfall hunting- a pastime my family and I pursue at every opportunity- traveling everywhere we can in search of new, neat waterfalls and the "secret gardens" they contain.

When did your first become interested in planted tanks / aquascaping?

I don't remember a time that I didn't have live plants in my aquariums- to me it seemed intuitive and necessary for the comfort of the inhabitants. I didn't really start TRYING to make my tanks deliberately attractive until about 6 years ago. To me, there are two stereotypical "types" of planted tanks- those about the plants, and those that utilize plants for the fish. I very much fall into the latter but have become more and more infatuated with aquascaping as an art form and really focus on appropriate pairings and stocking to flatter our scapes, and benefit our fish. My artistry is still growing!

Who is your favorite aquascaper / idol / inspiration?

I don't actually find my inspiration from other artists- I find mine from nature. As I travel, I like to find little "secret gardens"- plants growing in places that seem unlikely or impossible- and take inspiration from that. This can be ferns and mosses growing out of a rock face in near darkness in an industrial building, jumbles of plants being captured in a moment of calm near the rapids of a river, or small flowers caught in the sides of boulders. The amazing resilience and beauty of nature is my biggest inspiration.

If you had to choose your favorite aquascape of all time which one would it be and why?

I can honestly say I cannot choose one. I have always been drawn to scapes whose impression gives one of longevity- most often, these are not the tanks who win awards or get notice. My favorite pictures of tanks are those that have been running for years and have a certain maturity and imperfect imperfection you don't see in most of the formal aquascaping entries.

Whats your favourite plant?

I have a few- none are particularly exotic but they are my favorites! I LOVE narrow leaf java fern- mainly because it is so versatile for such a range of tank sizes because of its scale. The same can be said for Anubias bonsai- there are not a ton of lower light plants that can really be considered appropriate for a 2g aquarium! I also particularly love Bolbitis (of any of the varieties) as I have a very passionate interest in hillstream style aquariums, and is it particularly well suited. In recent years, Bucephelandra have become extremely attractive to me, as they are so versatile and easy to flower. And let's face it- a flowering plant makes you feel like you are doing something really right!

Whats your favourite fish?

Now you have opened a can of worms- that is absolutely impossible for me to answer. I am a horrendous hoarder. If you watch any of my YouTube species spotlights from the past two years, you will hear me say almost EVERY Sunday that the fish I am featuring is my favorite. I was once asked in a podcast if I had to pick ONLY one fish to keep for the rest of my life, what would it be and I answered honestly the White Cloud (Tanichthys albonubes). This was for a few reasons- they are beautiful, durable, flexible to parameters and I LOVE the idea that this is a fish that is extinct in the wild, and being maintained SOLELY because hobbyists and fish farmers care about them.

How many aquariums do you currently manage?

I promised my husband and myself never more than 50- that was 7 years and many, many racks of tanks ago. I run several thousand gallons outside, and quite a bit more than that inside. I have almost the same square footage dedicated to aquariums as I dedicate to my family- Every tank, except 2, are heavily planted.

What substrate do you prefer in your aquariums and why?

For my display tanks, I like to use a few substrates. I really like the Tropica soil, as well as Brightwells substrates. For my species that are more particular, I tend to use a fine biotope gravel made by Caribsea that is totally inert and very, very neutral.

What brand of fertilizers do you use in your aquarium/s?

I do not fertilize my aquariums (gasp). To be fair though, I run a fish business and my tanks that are not displays (yet still planted) are EXTREMELY heavily stocked. I also have a well that seems to have high natural co2 content, and I do very very frequent water changes. My plants thrive and I am able to keep quite a few plants that I am told should never work in what I provide. I DO use fertilizers outside for my lilies and container gardens- but for those, brand does not really matter.

Based on your chosen Fertilizers what is your dosing routine?

For my outdoor tubs, I dose root tabs every 2 weeks- inside, I don't dose any liquid or dry fertilizers though I do often use enriched substrates.

What should a hobbyist learn before he gets into starting a planted aquarium?

Patience and perseverance. This is a marathon not a sprint.

What is your recommended option to prevent algae in a planted aquarium?

I really think a consistent water change schedule and light schedule goes a LONG way to helping with algae. I don't overfeed and pay close attention to my tanks. IF I see algae starting- I try and figure out what has varied in my routine or in the tank to figure out what is going wrong.

Whats the most challenging plant you have ever kept and why?

You guys will laugh at me- I cannot keep watersprite alive. I can grow tough stem plants, carpet a tank, flower all kinds of plants and yet watersprite is absolutely impossible. Every time folks hear this, they say "oh, you haven't tried MY watersprite, no one can kill it". Trust me, I can, and will if you send it to me. It is my secret shame.

Do you have any personal tips for other hobbyist?

Oh man- I have a million! I guess the most important thing is that it is important to remember that there is not always a precise formula for success. Trial and error, and good notekeeping is really helpful for figuring out what works with YOUR tank, YOUR water, and YOUR scape. Other people's experiences are a guideline.

In you're opinion. What is the single most important piece of advice you can give someone to help them be successful in this hobby?

Do some research and set yourself up for success. We are so lucky to live in a time when there is a plethora of information literally at our fingertips. It can be hard to tell the fact from fiction, but even the experiential input from others can be invaluable for problem solving. Really think about your livestock choices and remember we are providing an ecosystem for living things.

What question do you get asked most often regarding planted tanks, and why do you think that is?

Everyone wants to know the magic formula for how I can grow plants without following "rules" of co2 and fertilization. My only answer is magic water. I think everyone wants this to be easier than it is, but the reality is aquariums take work- whether they have plants or not, and our attention to detail is what will make them thrive in the long run.