Is leaf dropping normal in healthy planted tank?

tiger15

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My 75 planted tank has been set up for 7 months with medium light and CO2 injection. I concentrated on low light plants, chiefly Anubias, Java Fern, Crypt and Buce. Now that the plants are growing with new leaves weekly, I still have to pick up a small amount of fallen leaves on daily to weekly basis. This can be a maintenance issue for me because if I am away for a few weeks travel, leaf debris tend to clog up the intakes.

How much leaf dropping is considered normal in a healthy planted tank?

I am comparing aquatic plants to terrestrial plants. Deciduous plants drop off leaves massively in fall to be replaced with new leaves in spring, whereas evergreen drop off and replace leaves slowly throughout the year. I am not aware of any deciduous aquatic plants, but do aquatic plants drop off old leaves regularly similar to terrestrial evergreen?
 
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Pikez

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Some leaf drop is common and normal.

But a sudden spike in leaf drop may indicate that your biomass has exceeded your fertilizer input. It probably means that the plant is tapping into older leaves for mobile nutrients and moving those nutrients to produce new leaves closer to light and CO2 (air). If you have enough nitrate and potassium, leaf drop will be reduced.

You can't easily compare tropical aquatics to temperate evergreens. Slightly different biology.
 
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tiger15

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I don't have any shortage of macro nutrients. My planted tank is atypical as it is heavily loaded with medium to large cichlid. The fish wastes alone generate about 20 and 2 ppm N and P weekly before my weekly 75% WC. I dose 20 ppm potassium plus micro nutrients at 0.2 ppm Fe weekly. I recently was away for 10 days and skipped one WC . When I returned, the nitrate level shot up to 50 ppm and I had to collect a net full of fallen leaves. I am wondering if the excessive fish load and nitrate level is causing excessive leaf dropping.

The leaf dropping seem to shift from one plant species to another. Before it was mostly from Anubias. Lately, it's mostly from Buce. My Java fern always drop leaves here and there including baby plantlets, but isn't normal for the species. Can there be allelopathy effect when certain plant species are doing well, others may suffer.
 
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fablau

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I don't have any shortage of macro nutrients. My planted tank is atypical as it is heavily loaded with medium to large cichlid. The fish wastes alone generate about 20 and 2 ppm N and P weekly before my weekly 75% WC. I dose 20 ppm potassium plus micro nutrients at 0.2 ppm Fe weekly. I recently was away for 10 days and skipped one WC . When I returned, the nitrate level shot up to 50 ppm and I had to collect a net full of fallen leaves. I am wondering if the excessive fish load and nitrate level is causing excessive leaf dropping.

The leaf dropping seem to shift from one plant species to another. Before it was mostly from Anubias. Lately, it's mostly from Buce. My Java fern always drop leaves here and there including baby plantlets, but isn't normal for the species.

Do you really have leaf dropping in Anubias? That never happened to me... do you have Anubias in the substrate or outside of it? (i.e. on driftwood, etc)? If you have heavy fish load, could that be spikes of ammonia? Just throwing ideas out there...
 

tiger15

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Yes, my Anubias dropped leaves before, but that was before I had CO2 injection and fert dosing. Now that I improved the conditions, the Anubias stopped dropping leaves, but the leaf dropping shifted to Buce. My Java fern , Buce and Anubia are all attached to rock. I had no luck with stem plants. They all dropped leaves massively on me and I gave up.
 

tiger15

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Leaf drop is not normal for adjusted and healthy growing plants. I'd have to question light here and feeding the plants. And then question if ammonia comes into play.
Yes, I believe some of my plants are not in the healthiest condition and this is why their leaves are dropping. There seem to be a zero sum game in my tank that when certain plants are doing well , others suffer.

I don't believe I have ammonia issue as the tank has been set up for 10 years (for fish only until this year with plants also). I believe the organic load is high due to heavy fish load and this is why I have been doing massive 75% WC weekly. Not sure if high organic load makes certain plants unhappy.
 

fablau

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Hmmm... I think something else is going on there, 75% WC weekly should be enough to reduce organics. I am wondering how's your source water... I'd be also curious to know your filter size and type, as well as your used substrate.
 

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What lighting do you have? What specific light fixture, manufactured by who, etc? Too little light could cause your problem, I think.
 

tiger15

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Hmmm... I think something else is going on there, 75% WC weekly should be enough to reduce organics. I am wondering how's your source water... I'd be also curious to know your filter size and type, as well as your used substrate.

My source water is nothing extraordinary. Based on water reports from my water provider, tap water nitrate is nearly non-detectable, pH around 7.6, kH around 5, Fe < 0.25 ppm, and P<0.25. No parameters are reported to exceed human drinking water standards, but that doesn't mean they are harmless to fish and plants. The reports do not provide full analysis of all parameters so I have no idea of the levels of K, zinc and other micro nutrients. So I just dose 20 ppm of K and micros at 0.2 ppm Fe weekly.

What lighting do you have? What specific light fixture, manufactured by who, etc? Too little light could cause your problem, I think.

My lights are LED strips ordered from Ebay from China. None are named brand and the combined total wattage is around 112 Watt and Lumen 13416 or around 1.5 watt per gal. My estimate of PAR from Rotobutterfly calculator is around 56 PAR, but it is questionable at best. I think I have medium light, so I concentrate on low light plants only. I tried several stem plants before but they didn't make it. The only stem plant that is surviving is Ludwigia Repen. My plants are not doing badly with new growth in Anubias and Java Fern. There is a set back in my Buce, which used to do well. I may have to blame on my 10 days travel without dosing micros and excel during my absence. I noticed when I returned that my Buce were getting BBA and the leaves are dropping. Other plants are OK. Having heavy fish load, I have been dosing 2x Excel daily to keep BBA out of hardscape and inured plants from fish abuse.
 

Greggz

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I don't have any shortage of macro nutrients. My planted tank is atypical as it is heavily loaded with medium to large cichlid. The fish wastes alone generate about 20 and 2 ppm N and P weekly before my weekly 75% WC. I dose 20 ppm potassium plus micro nutrients at 0.2 ppm Fe weekly. I recently was away for 10 days and skipped one WC . When I returned, the nitrate level shot up to 50 ppm and I had to collect a net full of fallen leaves. I am wondering if the excessive fish load and nitrate level is causing excessive leaf dropping.
I wouldn't be so sure you don't have any shortage of macros. I keep a heavily stocked Rainbow tank, and I generate easily more than your levels of N & P with just fish waste/food. My levels are closer to the numbers you posted AFTER a large water change.

I've experimented with this many times, and in my tank, if I don't dose macros, regardless of measured levels, my plants rebel (including dropped/melting leaves). Now that is just in my tank, but I have tested it many times now and it is predictable.

And you also mention CO2, but no information on the concentration? And guessing on light levels really is just a guess. I've been surprised several times when I actually get my hands on a meter. Your actual light level will drive everything else you are discussing.

One other thought for you. With a heavily stocked tank, maintenance becomes even more of an issue. In addition to large water changes, pay attention to clean filters, well trimmed plants, clean substrate, heavy surface agitation/oxygen, etc. In my experience a very well maintained tank leaves a lot more room for error.

Good luck and hoping you get all worked out soon.
 
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tiger15

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Thanks for the info. Light seems ok. About tap water, do you use any conditioner? If you use Prime you’ll make sure to “reset” any possible metal buildup, so that’d help.

My tap water has chlorine only, so I use API Tap Water Conditioner which is sodium theosulfate and EDTA. I also dose Flourish comprehensive and DTPA Fe on alternate days. Since I do 75% WC weekly, I hope that there is no accumulation of heavy metals, but won't know for sure because I do not have full list testing of my water.

I wouldn't be so sure you don't have any shortage of macros. I keep a heavily stocked Rainbow tank, and I generate easily more than your levels of N & P with just fish waste/food. My levels are closer to the numbers you posted AFTER a large water change.

I've experimented with this many times, and in my tank, if I don't dose macros, regardless of measured levels, my plants rebel (including dropped/melting leaves). Now that is just in my tank, but I have tested it many times now and it is predictable.

And you also mention CO2, but no information on the concentration? And guessing on light levels really is just a guess. I've been surprised several times when I actually get my hands on a meter. Your actual light level will drive everything else you are discussing.

One other thought for you. With a heavily stocked tank, maintenance becomes even more of an issue. In addition to large water changes, pay attention to clean filters, well trimmed plants, clean substrate, heavy surface agitation/oxygen, etc. In my experience a very well maintained tank leaves a lot more room for error.

Good luck and hoping you get all worked out soon.

What you said make sense. When I first started my planted tank 6 months ago, I was under the wrong assumption that my heavy fish waste will provide all the nutrients. I soon found out my plants were deficient in macro and micro as they developed pin holes on leave, burnt edges, chlorosis, twisted new growth, melting leaves and death. So I started dosing K, Fe DTPA and Flourish comp, and the symptoms were gone and the plants started growing. But I still have leaf dropping daily, and can't grow high light stem plants.

My testing showed high level of N and P. Are there bio unavailable form of N and P that render my testing results misleading?
Yes, I just guess that my light is medium based on Rotobutterfly calculator and 1.5 watt per gal. Same with CO2, guessing to be around 20 ppm, based on calculator and pH drop from 7.6 to 7.0 at kH 6. I keep hard water cichlid and am uncomfortable to drop the pH further. My low light and slow growth plants shouldn't demand too much light and CO2, right?

I do massive WC including substrate vacuuming weekly, and filter cleaning twice a week. I have been religious to keep my tanks clean as cichlid are more polluting than rainbow. I haven't relaxed my routine with plants but have been cleaning more often.
 

Greggz

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My testing showed high level of N and P. Are there bio unavailable form of N and P that render my testing results misleading?
I wouldn't consider those levels high N & P. Mine are far higher. And I know T. Barr has kept heavily stocked tanks at considerably higher levels.

And the question about bio availability and testing results is open to debate. For me, I have to dose regardless of my readings. Over time, I've learned to pay more attention to the plants than the readings. It might be worth a try just to eliminate any deficiencies.

And by the way my tank really is heavily stocked, with 32 fish (Rainbows, Clown Loaches, Roseline Sharks) in a 120G. Like I said, I can get well past your readings without dosing a thing. And on a side note, I've always felt that fish are very adaptable, and the effects of pH on fish are very much overstated. At least that has been my personal experience from decades of fish keeping.

One other random thought. You say you clean the filter twice a week? Just one filter? Have you ever tested for ammonia? Crazy thought but just wonder if you are cleaning filter TOO much, and if bio field is able to stay stable?
 
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VaughnH

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Yes, I just guess that my light is medium based on Rotobutterfly calculator and 1.5 watt per gal. Same with CO2, guessing to be around 20 ppm, based on calculator and pH drop from 7.6 to 7.0 at kH 6. I keep hard water cichlid and am uncomfortable to drop the pH further. My low light and slow growth plants shouldn't demand too much light and CO2, right?
A pH drop of 0.6 means the ppm of CO2 in the water went up by about a factor of 10 to the 0.6 power, or 4. Since the CO2 level may have dropped to as low as 3 ppm when the CO2 is turned off, depending on how much surface ripple you have, you may have as little as 12 ppm of CO2. It isn't likely that you have 20 ppm, but you could have.

Flourish Comprehensive isn't a good fertilizer for NPK. It is a trace element mix, with just a little nitrogen in it.
 

tiger15

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I wouldn't consider those levels high N & P. Mine are far higher. And I know T. Barr has kept heavily stocked tanks at considerably higher levels.

And the question about bio availability and testing results is open to debate. For me, I have to dose regardless of my readings. Over time, I've learned to pay more attention to the plants than the readings. It might be worth a try just to eliminate any deficiencies.

And by the way my tank really is heavily stocked, with 32 fish (Rainbows, Clown Loaches, Roseline Sharks) in a 120G. Like I said, I can get well past your readings without dosing a thing. And on a side note, I've always felt that fish are very adaptable, and the effects of pH on fish are very much overstated. At least that has been my personal experience from decades of fish keeping.

One other random thought. You say you clean the filter twice a week? Just one filter? Have you ever tested for ammonia? Crazy thought but just wonder if you are cleaning filter TOO much, and if bio field is able to stay stable?
I have 20 fish in a 75, including a 10" Vieja Bifas, 10" Green Terror, 6" Frontosa, half a dozen 3 to 5" African and CA cichlid, and 10 bristle nose plecos. These are bulky fish and big eater, so I have to do massive WC weekly to manage the nitrogen cycle. I thought I could never have cichlid and plants co exist, but they have been well behavior, except for digging and spraying the substrate. This is why I concentrate on tough leaf epiphytes only by glueing them to rock. When plant people like Tom Barr say their tanks are heavily stocked, they typically meant light weight schooling fish, not bulky fish like cichlid. A 6 inch cichlid, for example, is roughly equivalent in mass to 100 neon tetra.

I love and had several clown loaches that had grown to old age and large size, but got wiped out by an ick infection. I love Roseline Sharks and Rainbows and want to introduce them to my planted tank, but they must be big enough to avoid getting eaten.

I run two Penquin 350 HOBs which I changed filter pads about twice a week when the media got clogged up. My CO2 is dispensed by a motor driven Tunze Diffuser that adds more circulation. The combined flow is around 900 gph or about 12 times turn over an hour. Unlike canister filter, HOBs never never slow down in flow rate when the media get clogged, only to bypass onto the spillway. I only test for nitrate periodically, and not NH3 for ages as the tank has been set up and running fine with healthy fish for over a decade. BTW, I read that plants prefer uptaking NH3 to NO3, so biological filtration in a planted tank is redundant.

A pH drop of 0.6 means the ppm of CO2 in the water went up by about a factor of 10 to the 0.6 power, or 4. Since the CO2 level may have dropped to as low as 3 ppm when the CO2 is turned off, depending on how much surface ripple you have, you may have as little as 12 ppm of CO2. It isn't likely that you have 20 ppm, but you could have.

Flourish Comprehensive isn't a good fertilizer for NPK. It is a trace element mix, with just a little nitrogen in it.

According to the Rotabutterfly calculator, my CO2 level could range between 10 to 20 ppm during photo period as matching the pH color chart is hard and half guessing. I don't intend to increase CO2 injection rate further to lower the pH below 7 for fear of killing my hard water fish. Right now, I am injecting one bubble per second, and the plants are growing.

My dosing of Flourish Comp is for Fe Glue and trace only, not for NPK. The only macro I dose is 20 ppm K after each WC, as my testing show high level of N and P from fish waste. I also dose extra Fe DTPA on alternate day. The question I am asking is whether fish waste N and P are equally bio available to plants as fertilizer N and P. I learned the hard way that fish waste or rock mineral Fe are not, which got me into dosing chelated Fe.
 
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VaughnH

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Hard water fish are not harmed by the drop in pH due to adding CO2 to the water. Too much CO2 can harm them, but not the pH change from the CO2. Fish waste N is likely to mostly be ammonia, which is the form of nitrogen that is the most available to plants. I'm not sure about P from fish waste. Iron is a special element - ordinary iron oxide is not available to plants.
 

fablau

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I second Greggz and VaughnH advice: dose more macros, aim for 7ppm KNO3 and 0.7ppm PO4 minimum per dose 3x a week. That won't hurt even if you have already some of that stuff coming from fish waste. As for possible metals accumulation, forget about that, if you use the API conditioner anything harmful will be neutralized. And as for Co2, aim for 1 full pH drop, so you'll be sure to have enough Co2 [emoji6]
 
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Renan Ogiwara

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I second Greggz and VaughnH advice: dose more macros, aim for 7ppm KNO3 and 0.7ppm PO4 minimum per dose 3x a week. That won't hurt even if you have already some of that stuff coming from fish waste. As for possible metals accumulation, forget about that, if you use the API conditioner anything harmful will be neutralized. And as for Co2, aim for 1 full pH drop, so you'll be sure to have enough Co2 [emoji6]

So if I mix Sodium thio and EDTA (The chelant pure thing sold in chemical stores) I can make a water conditioner that neutralizes heavy metals in water? This simple?