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Rotten black roots, smelling like a sewer

Discussion in 'General Plant Topics' started by jonny_ftm, Sep 24, 2009.

  1. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Rotten black roots, smelling like a sewer: Is it a substrate issue

    Since a few weeks, I noticed that I have a hard time to make small plants root. I failed to plant small stems, P. helferi, crypts and tenellus. They just don't root.

    P. stellatus is doing very fine above substrate, but it grows quiet only from water. When I trim it, lower part melts in substrate. Also, lower parts never restart, they'll melt from the substrate. Newer long stems, if planted deep in the substrate will eventually grow, but not like before.

    On the other side, I have many big swords that are growing rather fast, but my crypts are growing extremely slow and not so nice as before.

    Also leafs don't show any deficiency, and are nice looking, like before.

    I unrooted a crypt today, and its roots were rotten, black in most parts, but the leafs were still ok. Few weeks ago, unrroting a crypt showed a black rotting smelling like a sewer

    Substrate is "JBL Aquabasis Plus" (only micro+clay, no N or P) topped with 1-3mm gravel.

    The fact that small plantlets that can't reach the undergravel substrate, won't root, I can understand it, but seeing this nasty unusual bad smelling rotting of old established crypts + my P. Stellatus behavior described above is concerning me.

    Substrate is one year old.

    I also noticed that since I use CaSO4, MgSO4 and K2SO4 I have white deposits on all my filter rubber parts, despite a lower GH than before. I heard of the concerns from long term use of SO4 salts. Can this cause my root issues?
     
  2. Tom Barr

    Tom Barr Founder
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    No,

    I think the issue is one of general growth.
    SO4 does not = black anaerobic conditions, there's also so much in tap as it is......that you will never have any issues supplying reduced sulfur sources to sediments.

    You need to add organic matter to have reduced condition.
    In some cases in natural systems, SO4 can limit sulfur reduction and H2S production.

    For us however, it's much more a question of organic loading.
    If you replant and the plants are rotting, there is your organic carbon source.
    It has much less to do with any Sulfur.

    SO4 does not reduce without a lack of O2.
    So the organic carbon is eaten up by bacteria under very reducing conditions(no O2).
    As the bacteria do this, they first gobble up all the O2(aerobic respiration), if no new source of O2 is coming in..........only then will start to have reducing conditions. As that goes on......it's gets progressively more reducing if there's a good supply of reduced carbon(say dead roots) AND........importantly, no new influx of O2.

    You have to have both to get strong reduction.

    If you had good plant root growth, then the plants pump lots of O2 into the sediment= no reduction or only mild rates. If the pore spacing between the gravel is larger/not clogged, then that is also not an issue.

    You can deep vacuum the gravel in sections, say 1/3 of the tank a week to pull any muck out and clean it up again. Not a bad idea to do it every year or so anyway. This will remove any excess reduced carbon muck and open up the pore spacing in the gravel.

    Also gives you a chance to re slope the level of the gravel and clean good.
    Still, you should look at the general growth issue that led to poor root growth, plants will grow in the most foul sediments and anaerobic as they come, but only if the growth demands are met above.

    Still, deep vac the gravel at this point and keep the sediment cleaner, plants growing better. P helferi and P stellata should do well with good nutrients and CO2. If not, look at the limiting factor.


    With poor CO2, nutrients, they will melt whereas some things like Swords and after the Crypts adapt, do not suffer as much.

    Regards,
    Tom Barr
     
  3. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Thank you Tom for your answer,

    P stellatus is doing very good. Growth is slow under my light and I trim every 2-3 weeks. When I trim it, usually I discover that the lower part has melted below gravel. Above gravel, plant has a normal aspect. So, it grows with no roots in fact

    Also, that bad smelling, black rotting of the crypts roots is strange...

    Another strange issue: H. Corymbosa, usually when trimmed, the lower part restarts even if no leaves are left on it. Now, If I don't keep the leaves, lower part melts

    I vacume whole tank energically every week, but not too deep indeed, like I always used, never skipped a WC. 50% WC, EI (lower dose since many months now), CO2 stable on drop checker, good perling all the week, no unusual melting leaves or any deficiency sign on any plant

    It really looks like a substrate issue, with anaerobic conditions. Plants do well, but roots are not happy. Established plants are still ok, new ones have a very hard time to root
     
  4. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Hi jonny,

    Could it be a combination of factors?

    1. The substrate is packed and needs a good cleaning as noted and suggested. Esp after 1 year of use.
    2. Your c02 rate has fallen off and you have not noticed? Clogged lines, dirty disc, etc?
    3. You have more bio-mass than before and have not increased c02 and EI accordingly?

    Your crypt roots should not be black and rotting, but that may be why they smell as they are decomposed..

    However, as Tom states substrate may not be the (forgive the pun) 'root' cause, but a contributing factor, and is exacerbating the situtation caused by some other limitation(s).

    Trim the bad roots off and replant after a nice gravel vac. As Tom suggests, do a section at a time. Pull the plants, gravel vac, trim the plants nicely, and replant. Give a week or two between sections and do an extra water change or two mid week.

    If the gravel is clean and tank is well maintained and there are NO LIMITING factors, you should have healthy growth top to bottom.

    Hope this helps.

    P.s. don't forget filter maintenance as a contributing factor to poor growth!
     
  5. Biollante

    Biollante Lifetime Charter Member
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    Underlying Situation

    Hi Jonny,

    I am so glad Tom Barr explained this in both the technical and practical sense. :)

    Of course, Gerry is as usual; spot on, with the advice.

    I will echo Gerry’s recommendation on increasing nutrients, being, well a ‘Nutrient Type’, I simply cannot help myself.:)

    I am not familiar with JBL Aquabasis Plus, but was there anything ‘off’ or wonky about it, was it by any chance, moist?

    I would encourage you to remove any rotting or dead material, roots stems whatever immediately.

    Are you missing any critters? Some when sick, burrow and die.

    I once planted a bunch of bulbs that a good percentage did not grow, enough did grow to lull me into thinking all was well. I had not the wit or wisdom to dig up the ‘bad’ bulbs and ‘bad’ is indeed the way they went, what a mess. Regardless the source, the science or material it is organic in nature.

    I encourage you to poke gently around with a glass rod or probe of some sort to check for any of the above possibilities. Working in concert with a gravel vacuum is ideal, since of course big water changes are in order.

    The added benefit is that it will help oxygenate the substrate and get all those good bugs back and growing.;)

    In addition, your filtration system is taking a beating and will continue to do so until the underlying (pun not intended) situation is corrected.

    Biollante
     
  6. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Many thanks for the precisions.

    Again, CO2 and nutrients should be fine. I put a big focus on CO2. We can never be sure, but I'd say, it is far better than I had before.

    Two things you say that can be a concern in my case:

    - vacuming: I'm vacuming every week, but rather superficial since a few months indeed. Some parts are not vacumed because hard to access

    - Filter: didn't maintain it since 3 months now, as the flow is still very good and water crystal clear

    I see parts of my gravel, in the front window, very dark in the deep parts.

    I'll begin with serious deep vacuming and filter maintenance and see how it goes. I'll also add some mineralized fertilizer pills under the roots (with P and N) of some of the crypts I'd like to grow faster (the beautiful crispatula, namely)

    Thank you again for the feedback
     
  7. Signus

    Signus Prolific Poster

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    So wait, you're dosing the water column and now will fertilize the substrate?
    Why not just try to get all of the organic mulm out of the substrate and dose the water column? It seems like the main problem is what Tom pointed out: anoxic zones building up in the substrate. You might actually find that root growth becomes more vigorous as a result of removing the excess matter.
     
  8. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    I had some pills that I never used and wanted to get my crispatula grow faster... A mineralized soil will never harm I think.

    And yes, I'll try to vacume agressively the substrate in portions
     
  9. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Jonny,

    It would be better to get on a scheduled filter maintenance program rather than wait for the filter to clog if at all possible......

    I now maintain my filter every 4 weeks whether it is 'NEEDED' or not. The PSI and flow never seem to change this way, even though I know the filter can get 'dirtier' lol

    It is one less thing to have to factor out and the filter is a pretty vital component, so may as well take care of it. A dirty filter can cause and/or contribute to many issues. Higher organic load, downstream affects on plumbing, BGA, etc.

    Your filter can contain a large amount of bio material that is rotting/decomposing.

    The 'filtered' water is also affected by this as it is always passed over it. Plus it is less work as the filter does not get as dirty as it is cleansed more often...

    Just a thought....(or two lol)
     
  10. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Hi Gerryd,

    Indeed, I just changed my filter to an Eheim Pro III electronic series (2078). With my last filter, it was a disaster if I exceed a month or two. Now, I was testing how far I can go with the new one. Maybe a bad idea indeed... I test my nitrates to look for excess waste accumulation but their accumulation speed didn't change, so I was leaning on maintaining the filter.

    I could maintain the prefilter every month indeed, and the main filter every 3 months maybe. I'll give it a good cleaning this weekend
     
  11. Gerryd

    Gerryd Plant Guru Team
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    Hi jonny,

    Just my opinion but I think monthly and quarterly are much too long of an interval for the pre-filter and main respectively. I am not familiar with the Eheim line personally, but that sounds like a long time.

    I rinse my sponge pre-filters (on the intake pipes) every 2 or 3 days. The main filter (Nu-clear canister model 533) gets the cartridge swapped to a fresh clean one every 4 weeks max, and I am now swapping to 3 weeks. I know Jdowns swaps his WEEKLY.

    If it takes that long or is too arduous to clean the filter more regularly, than it is not as user friendly as I would like :)
     
  12. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    Cleaning the new Eheim is very easy, the prefilter is removed in a small mn, but this is one thing I don't like to do regularely :)

    The filter is very big, enormous in volume (4 gal) and it really doesn't clogg as my previous filters. Probably the extra power (500 GPH) and the volume
     
  13. Signus

    Signus Prolific Poster

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    Are you running the sintered glass beads, noodles and two different pore-sized pads in your Eheim unit?

    The small pore final filter is prone to clogging in about 2-4 weeks, so you start to see more bypass and lower psi.

    Think you're on the right track, however.

    When these forums first started (and on some forums in another location) there was debate over whether or not fert tabs were worth the cost. Some people swore by them, others were not impressed. I think there's some consensus here that they tend to have unequal amounts of nutrient leaching which makes determining what exactly is in your water column (and by extension, the water in between the spaces of the substrate) difficult.
     
  14. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    I no longer use the white media with fine pores. I replaced it with a larger pores washable blue moss.

    Also, I didn't put filtering media in bottom compartment. I left it empty, so full of water ---> less resistance = extra power and a larger bottom compartment for sediments to rest and not clogg the media.

    About pills, they won't leach more than the new organic and mineralised substrates Tom tends to use. Also, with EI, we know that nutrients don't cause algae, if all other conditions are maintained.

    Anyway, I'll open the filter to see the media aspect and how it is clogged. I'll give it a deep cleaning and could decide, depending on the evolution and its aspect, how often I'll clean it
     
  15. nipat

    nipat Guru Class Expert

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    How long does it take generally for mulm to be mineralised (if it can be at all)?

    And what prevents this (substrate clogging) situation in nature (because if it readily
    occurs, all areas will have no aquatic plants growing)?
     
  16. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    A substrate very rich in organic matter, like casting, not many clay... usually will avoid this So just the opposite of our classical substrates. Now, with Tom recommendations, I'll be always using casting as a nutritive layer

    For the organic part to be mineralized, it will need an anaerobic phase anyway. Just, the equilibrium between aerobic and anaerobic must be maintained
     
  17. nipat

    nipat Guru Class Expert

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    Isn't it should be the opposite: more clay and less organic matter is better?

    From http://www.barrreport.com/co2-aquatic-plant-fertilization/5633-earth-worm-casting-nutrient-enriched-sediments-how.html

    About the part that says “the sediment gets mineralized anyway(several weeks)”.
    If the mulm in your aquarium gets mineralized anyway, then why must we vacuum
    it from the substrate? Or maybe because the quantity (mulm) is too much? And in
    nature there are less fish population density so this doesn't cause problem? But if
    that's true, then a tank with very few fish needs no substrate vacuum? I'm just
    finding a way to be lazy.:p
     
  18. Signus

    Signus Prolific Poster

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    Mulm is what?

    Organic detritus composed of excrement, dead plant material, uneaten food, microbes, and any invertebrates that colonized your aquarium.

    The organic detritus will contain minerals and through decay, release organic nutrients like: PO4, SO4, CO2, NH4, CH4, etc. It also can pack more tightly than our commercial substrates, giving rise to anoxic zones which favor the development of bacteria that release the "sewer" smells you've been experiencing (mainly H2S, which interestingly enough is one of the few chemicals you can smell in minute quantities). Mulm that has cast off this organic phase is now only left with the insoluble mineral components. - Hence your "mineralization."

    Florida lakes and swamps often have a problem with this high organic and low mineral loads. The high amount of organics create a haven for bacteria which gobble up all of the O2 in the microenvironments created from the impacted mulm. Hence, when you go out to the Everglades and wade around you smell the odoriferous emanations from all of those bubbles.

    Most substrates in nature either: have a flow which moves organic matter out of the system (seasonal flooding of lakes in FL helps move tussocks onto dry land... or at least used to till the developers came and forced the watershed managements to shrink the size of the lakes to protect those abysmal "waterfront properties") or deep ravines where organic material builds up in anoxic environments.

    Litoral zones are often the only areas where we see macrophytes dominate in the northern hemisphere. Reason: the majority of lakes in this hemisphere were created in glacial events, cutting deep chasms into the bedrock. There's very little area for them to grow on. However, the cast-off organic matter is deposited deep into the deepest parts of the lakes, where the conditions are already anoxic.

    So, we see a lot of emergant growth in shallow areas, of which the plants have developed adaptations for transporting O2 to their root systems in anoxic soils. It is true that aquatic plants do have adaptations for dealing with the same situation. They have no access to atmospheric O2. However, they often just grow roots above the anoxic zones through the mulm. You now have no connection between roots and mineralized/inert substrate. You just have roots growing through mulm and decaying matter.

    It can be noted that plants also can play a role in turning mulm into "mineralized" content. Through the structure of the particles, plants will uptake and replace certain minerals and nutrients in the mulm.
     
  19. jonny_ftm

    jonny_ftm Guru Class Expert

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    I hope my earthworm castings layer, in my actually dry setup won't rot and smell so bad :confused:
    You can't get it more reach with castings, though Tom is saying it should work

    Cross fingers
     
  20. Signus

    Signus Prolific Poster

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    Earthworm castings do help new tanks. From what I've seen it's been a very light layer. Earthworms pass the majority of the material they eat undigested, but the particle size as been greatly diminished. This allows for more surface area for microbes ad plant roots to attach to. There's still going to be a lot of decomposing organic matter in the castings; bacteria thrive as a result and you get low O2 in the microevironment of the substrate if the particle sizes are too small to allow exchanges of water.

    The mulm in our aquariums builds up quicker than flow (filters) and decomposition can remove from the substrate. We place our plants in a eutrophic environment to promote growth of new leaves and roots and by extention, death of old parts. It's part of the weekly flushing we do to remove that old organic material.

    Most fish populations are tiny in comparison to the volume of water they inhabit. Those that do well in low O2 enviorments we don't care to keep. Fish developed lungs before swim bladders. Example: You see more "primitive" fish like tarpon and menhaden gulping (often called rolling) air.


    Off topic:

    Menhaden and several other clupeids will also burp or fart this extra air in their swim bladders to communicate. You also don't see them in deep/benthic environments due to their air demands.
     
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