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New Tank. Plants Melting. Please Advise

Discussion in 'Are you new to aquatic plants? Start here' started by Ian Chan, Mar 28, 2018.

  1. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Hi everybody,

    I'm new here on this site but I have spent some time reading through the beginner threads and I really appreciate the expert level advice that many members, including Tom Barr himself, provides. Right now, I really need help as most of my new plants are melting.

    I feel as though as I've had black fingers ever since I got into this hobby. I couldn't even keep Anubias alive in a well lit fertilized low tech tank. I finally had enough and decided to dive deep into the aquascaping and planted tank hobby, sparing no expense.

    My problem
    :
    I just installed a new high-tech CO2 planted tank in a fishless cycle. More than Half my species of plants are melting/ completely melted away.

    Background Information/ Set Up
    I followed the esteemed South East Asian aquascaper, Dennis Wong, who takes quite a bit of inspiration from Tom Barr. I watched all 25 of his indepth planted tank videos where he discusses CO2 to nutrition to trimming.

    Plants:
    When I first set it up, I planted the following tissue cultures:

    1. Rotala Rotundafolia
    2. Rotala Macandra
    3. Hemianthus micranthemoides (Hemianthus Glomeratus)
    4. H. Tripartita
    5. HC Cuba (dwarf baby tears)
    6. Pogostemon Helferi
    7. Staurogyne Repens
    8. GlossoStigma
    9. Ludwigia Sp Red (only non tissue culture plant)

    Tank:
    My current tank had the dimensions of an ADA 60, so 60cmx30cmx36. So around 15 gal or 57 litres.

    Hardscape:
    I used garden crate to give shape to the scape and hold the rocks in place
    Ohko Stone (dragonstone) was used for the Hardscape

    Soil:
    As my tank has a very steep slope, I filled in a lot of it with non-aquarium soil
    Foundation bottom Layer: Burnt Soil
    Mid Layer: Garden Soil with Osmocote Fertiliser
    Top Layer: recycled ADA soil (2+ inches) from a previous tank. The previous tank with the ADA was very sparsely planted and only used for 6 months.

    Fertilising plan (first plan from Dennis):
    Intial fertilisation:
    Daily: 2ppm K (from potassium sulfate)
    3 times a week: 4ppm NO3 (from Calcium Nitrate as potassium nitrate is illegal in my country)

    After the tank stabilsed I planned to introduce:
    Daily: 0.05ppm-0.1ppm Fe/ Traces
    3 Times a week: Phosphorous (in Potassium Sulfate)

    Temperature:
    25.5C/78F via Arctica 1/20hp chiller. Measured with a thermometer and it's accurate.

    CO2:
    between 2-3bps. Between 30-100ppm.
    Varied as I kept trying to dial it in, raising and lowering it every 3 or so days.
    I had a lot of difficulty in deteriming the CO2 level as the API ph test isn't clear cut. The ph was between 6 and 6.4 and the kh between 3 and 4.
    I wasn't too worried about running higher than necessary CO2 as everyone seemed to advocate that the more CO2 the better.

    Lighting:
    Twinstar 600E. Used by George Farmer. Supposedly provides 50 par of light at the corners of the tank at substrate level. Never tested myself.

    Water:
    Relatively soft water with low ph used for Water Changes. Did not use RO water. Kh between 2-4 and Ph 7.6.

    Filtration:
    Eheim Pro 2028. Flow Rate - 1050/hr (277 gal/hr). (perhaps too much flow? is that a thing?)
    Viv Intake surface skimmer. No surface scum as a result. High gas exchange and I presum, high O2 levels
    Glass Lily pipe outlet.


    What happened in the first week:
    1. I forgot to add dechlorinator for the first 16 hours. In the mess of setting up my first planted tank, I forgot to add sechem prime.
    2. All my plants started to melt EXCEPT H. Tripartita and Hemianthus micranthemoides (Hemianthus Glomeratus). Both of which started to grow at a decent rate. S Repens melted first.
    3. Everything else started to melt.
    4. I attributed this to the chlorine I forgot to remove.

    What I tried to do:
    1. I reduced CO2 to 1.5bps (didnt check what the actual ppm was) and reduced lighting hours from 9 hr to 7 hr
    2. Doubled the amount of NO3 and K I was dosing, going all in.
    3. There was ADA "dust" and decomposing plant bits all over my tank.

    Did a water test:
    Ammonia (NH4): 4-8ppm
    Nitrite- Oppm
    Nitrate- 5-10ppm


    Second-week problems

    Plants introduced:

    Topped up some more old plants of:
    1. Hemianthus micranthemoides (Hemianthus Glomeratus)
    2. Staurogyne Repens
    3. Rotala Rotundafolia
    Introduced new plants:
    1. Monte Carlo
    2. AR Mini

    1. I did a 30% Water Change and added the new plants. This time I remembered to add Seachem Prime. Immediately, the S Repens started to melt away. This was followed by the Monte Carlo
    2. Surprisingly, the Hemianthus micranthemoides started to melt too, even though it was the one of the only 2 plants that were flourishing in the first week. Hc Cuba was actually doing better than Monte Carlo, but is still barely hanging in there.
    3. Also surprising, the Rotala Rotundafolia grew really well. They are currently pearling and the pink leaves are starting to show. Pogostemon Helferi from the first planting is doing well now too.
    4. AR mini is hanging on as well but not growing and is always covered in ADA dust or brown algae (diatoms).
    5. My tank became infested in brown sludge (diatomsy?) and green string algae.

    What I tried to do:
    1. I did some research into the problem and specifically looked for Tom Barr's Advice. I found info detailing how high Ammonia Levels from a new tank can actually kill off some plant species. (It's a herbicide I belive he said) . As my ammonia levels were quite high (4-8ppm), I started doing 50%+ Water Changes 3 times in the second and third weeks.
    2. I also starting P 3 times a week and fe/Traces twice a week

    Week 3 Problems

    1. Rotala Rotundafolia is now pearling and growing very nicely,
    2. H. Tripartita is constantly covered in brown sludge (diatoms?) but looks to be doing fine. The H. Tripartita is not growing as quickly as before.
    3. Pogostomen Helferi looks to be doing well, with new "bunches" of leaves growing out.
    4. H Cuba, Glosso, H Micranthemoides are just barely hanging on.
    5. Rotala Macandra completely melted off in the first week, S Repens completely melted down to the roots in DAYS, Monte Carlo melted down over the second week and Ludwigia melted from roots up to the leaves.

    Ammonia is now between 0.25ppm to 1ppm with all the water changes done, but the melting plants are still melting, the brown sludge is increasing, and short green algae keeps taking over the Ohko Stone. Something of note is that my tank has not been clear since the frequent water changes. The water is translucent. I expect it's due to a bacteria bloom?

    Please help me fix my tank. Heck, I'm willing to pay whoever can help me and donate to whatever page necessary. I have wasted so much money and time trying to get to the bottom of this. I do not understand how everyone seems to have immediate success with high tech planted tanks for at least the first months whereas more than 2 thirds of my plants are melting away.

    Current issues:
    1. Brown sludge (diatoms?) growing very quickly. Visible layer on the glass just after being removed 2 days earlier.
    2. Most plants melting as discussed.

    My theories on the problems:

    Too much flow? 18 turnover rate shouldn't be too much right? Well, the rising oxygen bubbles from pearling do not go vertically upwards, they get blown away in the mist of CO2 and O2 gases in the tank from the high flow.

    Too much Co2? Ph with CO2 is quite a bit lower than my tap water. In fact, I would not be surprised if my tank water's ph is lower than 6 but my test kit isn't working. Could very low Ph (acidic) levels be killing my plants?

    Lurking effects of ammonia. Even though ammonia levels are quite low now due to so (SO) many water changes, perhaps the herbicide effects of ammonia that affected the plants a week ago are still occurring.

    Not enough nutrients? I dose 4ppm of K every day and 8ppm of Nitrate three times a week. It's not exactly lean dosing but it isn't Tom Barr level EI either. Dennis Wong (mentioned previously as my primary source of knowledge) has a lot of success with 2ppm K daily and 4ppm Nitrate 3 times a week ONLY.


    Doubtful. Even George Farmer uses these lights on high tech tanks. Also, I increased lighting to 9 hrs in week 3 but no changes for the plants.

    What do I do next? Please please advise.

    Best Wishes and Much Appreciated
    Ian
    Novice Aquascaper
     
  2. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Current state of the tank:
    20180328_192216.jpg 20180328_192219.jpg 20180328_192208.jpg
    AR Mini hanging on, Pogostemon Helferi and H Tripartita growing but slowly. Note the cloudiness in the tank.

    20180328_192202.jpg
    Rotala Rotundafolia is growing well and pearling. The pearling only began in week 3

    20180328_192157.jpg
    This is the current state if the tank. The large patches of soil show where there was once H Micranthemoides, Monte Carlo and Glossostigma.

    20180328_220914.jpg
    Hardware: Co2 system with a timer, Eheim 2028 filtration and Arctica 1/20hp Chiller.

    20180215_181447.jpg
    Hardscape: Only the base and mid layers of burn soil and garden soil with promote plus has been added. The garden crate is used to hold up the ohko stone and give th tank shape.

    20180328_192252.jpg
    Soil. There are 3 layers of soil. Burnt soil, Garden soil with osmocote plus and reused Ada soil.

    Planting:

    20180308_002849.jpg
    First planting

    20180315_213229.jpg
    Second planting

    20180322_203032.jpg
    3 days after the second planting. Melt is visible. Brown algae is consuming everything

    20180315_213225.jpg
     
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  3. Kyalgae

    Kyalgae Lifetime Members
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    I had a similar issue, melting tissue culture plants, only thing that helped was large water changes. I did three 80% changes per week to bring down the ammonia and nitrite. The ammonia can burn the plants I am told.
     
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  4. Phishless

    Phishless Lifetime Member
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    I really want to blame this on excessive ammonia.
     
  5. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    I see. Thank you for your advice. How many weeks did you do these very frequent water changes for?
     
  6. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Can you please elaborate.
     
  7. Phishless

    Phishless Lifetime Member
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    You gave us the ammonia report. IMO this could easily burn/melt plants without heavy WC's.
     
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  8. Kyalgae

    Kyalgae Lifetime Members
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    I looked back at my journal, and it looks like one week of 90% changes fixed things right up. I did two back to back 90% changes. You have a lot more soil in your tank so after doing two, you might do a third. Do two back to backs, wait a day, then do a third. After the third I would dose 30ppm potassium. You’ll get this, the tank just needs to cycle better. Also remove any dead plant material, that’s going to make things worse.

    I measured only 2ppm ammonia in my tank, and that was causing issues.
     
    #8 Kyalgae, Mar 30, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2018
  9. Allwissend

    Allwissend Article Editor
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    Hi again Ian,

    what you are describing is not as rare as you seem to think. Along the years I have seen many new high tech aquariums with soil / aqua soil behaving similarly. I know it's frustrating, but you come out knowing much more.

    So let's start.

    1) Soil is pretty much a wild card. There are many things that can be in soils and will influence the aquarium water. Sand, Clay, Calcium, Mg, carbonates, readily available organics (eg worm castings), hard organics(wood pieces, bark, cellulose etc), metals, NO3, PO4, tanins, fulvic acid etc. are all factors that are hard to estimate and vary from soil to soil. That is why it is a bit of a wild card.

    That being says for many years people used peat and mineralized topsoil to grow aquarium plants, so it is doable, no debate there.

    Aquasoil, though 6 months old already may still have enough in it to add an extra punch to the substrate but I would not blame it entirely here.

    Osmocote fertilizer... this is a little vague as there are many types but this is like a nitro booster for nutrient levels. If capsules and if many, it is possible they will influence your aquarium for a good time now.

    In light of all this, it is pretty possible that your plants suffered from ammonia burn as others have said. The plants just melt to nothing. Check out my current journal, I also recently started a tank with soil and even a month after I still see some melting. From past experience, soil aquarium take at least 6 months to truly stabilize and see if they are good or bad.

    2) You mention using the API pH test kit. These kits change color once a certain pH is reached and hardly change until the next pH on the scale's reached. This makes it hard to determine an accurate pH. Look for a pH pen online, you can find some cheap which may give you a little better indication on how you are doing. Lower pH actually makes ammonia less dangerous to all living organisms, so aim to keep it below 7 at all times.

    3) CO2 - Determining CO2 concentration from the pH/KH table is hard in soil aquariums. This is because the soil, at least at first, is a great reservoir for many organic acids that influence the pH and can also influence the KH. This means that you will be hard pressed to separate the effect of the soil from the effect of the CO2.

    A better method for you might be to aim for a 1pH drop between water at atmospheric equilibrium and the pH of the water when lights turn on, 1-1.3 by the end of the day. To bring the water to atmospheric equilibrium, take a water sample out of the aquarium and put an airstone in it for 15-30min. Then measure the pH of this water. This pH is the pH of the water when the CO2 levels are at equilibrium with the atmosphere.

    A drop checker will also be a good idea as it is not influenced by the aquarium water. You can move it around the aquarium and check the distribution.

    4) Light. At first aquarium do better with lower light intensities and durations. If you can dim that light, do it. And it should not be on for more than 6 hours until your plants have a solid growth.

    5) Water changes. In aquarium with new Aqua Soil I would generally say 50% or more daily for the first week, every other day for the second... by the 4th week you can start with 50% weekly. Try it... the main purpose is to lower the NH3 and other organics released by the soil. It's work but you only have to do it at the beginning.

    6) Dosing. With more frequent waterchanges you may also have to increase your dosing. The amount of NO3 you add is probably very low compared to what the soil is proving at this point. What is in the water column is a small % of what is actually at the bottom of the plants. But keep dosing the full spectrum N P K and traces. So to be clear, do start dosing P and traces, no need to delay their dosing, plant need them.

    You also say: "3 Times a week: Phosphorous (in Potassium Sulfate)" - be careful K2SO4 (potassium sulfate ) does not have and P in it. The most common fertilizer is KH2PO4. The rotalabutterfly.com site will help you with calculations.

    7) Plants. Remove all dead or rotting leaves. The bacteria that flourish on these rotting leaves / signals released by the plant can trigger more melting in the vicinity. It basically spreads if conditions allow it. Get some fast growing, floating plants. They will reduce light stress and give uptake large quantities of nutrients independent of the aquarium CO2.

    8) Hang in there. Give the aquarium time to mature.

    Keep us updated and hope it works out for your.
     
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  10. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Thank you Kya!
     
  11. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Thank you for your encouragement and in-depth advice. It's rare to find a community that reassures it's members and provides guidance as well as barreport does.


    What I've done

    I did four 80% water changes in a row to remove all the organic waste from the 7 tissue culture cups that rotted. It did take a while but I think I got most of the decayed plants out.

    I've been doing some tests and it looks like my tank is mostly cycled after 3.5 weeks, with Ammonia and Nitrite at zero and nitrates at 80ppm (before the massive back to back to back to back WCs I just did.) I think it helped that I used some established filter biorings from an older tank in week 2

    I also reducing lighting, as per your recommendation, to 6hr/day and have ordered a PH meter online to measure CO2 more accurately. Will be measuring atmospheric equilibrium CO2 as well.

    I will be dosing phosphorous more regularly now (I meant Potassium Phosphate).

    As my Rotala is flourishing very nicely, I think I'll propagate it around the tank to take up excess organics.

    What should I do next?
    I'm planning on leaving the tank to mature for another 2-4 weeks and will start planting again once my H Tripartita begins to flourish again. It seems to be a strong plant and has endured a lot but I not growing much now.

    I'm assuming that if I starts to grow nicely, it'll be an indication that my tank is ready for other plants.

    As for other plants, what should so start with? I don't want to plant a bunch of tissue culture for it to melt on me again and have to clean up the whole mess. Not to mention the growing cost.

    These are some plants that I want in my tank

    Pearlweed (Hemianthus micranthemoides)
    S Repens
    Hc Cuba
    Monte Carlo
    Rotala Macandra Green/ or Red.

    I think that it'll be wise to plant pearlweed first and see how it does? It seems to be a decently hardy plant and did grow in my tank during week 1.

    Once again, thank you.

    Much appreciated,
    Ian
     
  12. Allwissend

    Allwissend Article Editor
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    It seems you are on the right path. Rotala and H. tripartita are good, hardy plants that can serve as an indicator and grow very fast when conditions are optimal. H tripartita is also close to the substrate and in my experience prone to melting by ammonia, so keep an eye on it. At this point I would wait until the CO2 is resolved. After that you can start adding plants.

    All the plants you have listed are not overly difficult to grow, but I would leave HC and Rotala macrandra the last ones. R macranda likes good and stable CO2 with good flow. HC likes a little more light than most plants, but lots of light without good biomass can quickly lead to algae.

    I would add that many times the plants we bring home are already at less than optimal health, improper conditions at the shop, low/high temperature during transport etc. This can be the case even for in-vitro plants. With in-vitro plants I noticed that they do better if light levels are a little lower until they can get established/adapted to underwater conditions. And maybe also relevant to you in the future,when adding in-vitro plants to an already planted aquarium make room for them, otherwise they will quickly be out competed by the larger more mature plants which are already in the aquarium.

    What I often do in farm aquarium with a new sp. is to plant in more than one place and leave a few stems/bits as floating . Floating plants have easier access to CO2 and distributing them throughout the tank hedges the chances that some will get optimal conditions and grow. Once you get good growth you can replant and scape to your liking.
     
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  13. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Thank you for the advice:) I will keep you updated.
     
  14. iamaloner

    iamaloner New Member

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    Was wondering if you had an update to this issue?

    I'm going through this exact same thing infact.



    Sent from my PH-1 using Tapatalk
     
  15. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Hi.
    My plants are doing well now. Even my HC cuba is carpeting and pearling. I don't have a perfect tank and some growth is slower and weirder than I'd like, bit overall, things are going very well.

    I'm 90% confident that my plants were dying due to the ammonia spike. Ammonia was between 4-8ppm. I had the impression that plants did fine with ammonia and even enjoyed it as a source of nitrogen.

    For one, I assumed this since I had cycled tanks with plants before and they turned out fine. In hindsight those were very hardy plants like anubias and swords. After doing some reading, I have learnt that tissue culture plants are especially sensitive to ammonia and will just melt away. Secondly, I always saw aquascapers plant immediately after laying down the soil/aquasoil on youtube. Eg, The green machine, tropicatank, ADU etc. Thus, I assumed that even though ammonia would be released, that it would be fine. I No longer believe this and am peeved that they would mislead us in that manner. I used a very thick layer of soil, burnt clay and aquasoil so I'm sure I had higher ammonia levels than normal (and those scapers) and those aquascapers, but I still wish they would have included this vital piece of information.

    It is worth noting that I increased the nutrients levels in the tank as well, esp Micros, Iron and Phosphorous. I raised them to EI levels. Perhaps this contributed but I strongly doubt that a lack of nutrients was the underlying reason I had plants melting on me in a matter of hours (e.g. Staurogyne Repens).

    Other parameters like co2 and light were unchanged. (30-35 ppm co2)

    I quickly cycled my tank using media from an old aquarium as well as used seachem stability. I'm not 100% convinced in its efficacy, but many notable aquarists swear by it. Within 2 weeks ammonia was down to 0.

    I then bought more tissue culture plants and replanted. Everything survived and is doing well now. I was very very satisfied when my dwarf baby tears (HC Cuba) started to grow.

    Hang in there! Half the fun of this hobby is in problem solving.

    20180602_193832.jpg
     
  16. Ian Chan

    Ian Chan New Member

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    Thank you so much for your guidance.
     
  17. Lilyann

    Lilyann New Member

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    Nicely done!
     
  18. burr740

    burr740 Micros Spiller
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    Looking good these days!
     
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