Starting an Iwagumi tank from scratch...algae concerns


Guru Class Expert
Jun 26, 2008
Albany, California
I just got a 60P this week. This weekend I cleaned it up and got it all preliminarily scaped out, lit up and the filter and CO2 running. I am running a Fluval 203 and seeded it with some "cocoa puff" sintered-glass media balls from my well-cycled (2 years?) 72 gal Eheim 2028, also squeezed out one of the filter pads from the 2028 into the filter and after a few initial water changes to clean out the gunk in the existing Aqua Soil, I did one last water change with water directly from the my 72 gal tank. So, in a few days I imagine it will be a fairly well-cycled tank. Lighting is 65W PC for 8 hours/day. I plan to dose EI. CO2 from a ceramic diffuser misting up bubbles into the filter intake and in front of the output spray bar.

This 60P (18 gal) tank will be replacing my existing basic 10 gal endler and my 5-gal hex which currenly houses a small group of white clouds.

I've decided in doing this tank it's going to be a new direction vs. my collectoris. dutch-scaped 72 gal and I'm going for the more minimalist "Iwagumi" style. I have three main rocks lined up as a sort of small mountain at the 1/3rd from the left position (sort of a Guilin, China look) and have planted tufts of tall hairgrass in the back and small tufts of dwarf hairgrass variously around the foreground. I may do a few small crypts too. That's it for plants. My hope is the tall hairgrass fills in the back and slowly sways in the current, the dwarf hairgrass fills in the foreground as a nice emerald green lawn and that my endlers and white clouds will school peacefully and in estactic joy while I observe, listen to soft, plunky oriental music and meditate each evening to relax myself.

Ok, so that's all well and good. Here's the thing: Since becoming more knowedgeable and skillful in planted tanks in the last year or so I have never really gotten one started from scratch. It's been me taking my low tech, BBA-infested and heavily-planted 72 gal and my low tech 10-gal and just adjusting those well-cycled tanks to better and more sophisticated dosing, CO2 and lighting regimes eventually leading to success in controling algae and growing my plants well.

But now with this tank starting from scratch it will have very little plants at first (in line with the Iwagumi style) and I am worried about hitting myself with a big algae bloom in 2-3 weeks because of the lack of plant bio-mass.

How does one normally solve this? (other than a dry-start method). Should I perhaps shove a whole bunch of my fast-growing stems (sunset hygro, L. incliniata 'cuba', L. aromatica, etc.) and floaters (Salvinia) from my 72 gal in the 60P for now to get a good strong plant biomass going to help prevent algae while the hairgrasses get established, and eventually pulling out the stems?


Junior Poster
Mar 15, 2009
Vancouver, BC
I'm looking at a very similar situation myself, actually - I too am going to start a new Iwagumi tank for the first time since learning some of the finer points of planted aquaria (mostly through this site).

And I came to largely the same conclusion as you: throw in some fast-growing stem plants for the first few weeks, then remove them once the tank has achieved some maturity.

More recently, though, I've been thinking about using the Dry Start Method instead, as articulated in a number of postings on this site. Just grow the carpet of dwarf hairgrass emersed (substrate damp, but not enough water to form pools on the surface) for 4-6 weeks. That starts the cycle, avoids algae problems, and the plants grow in nicely because they get all the CO2 they need from the air.

Once the carpet is nicely established, just fill the completely cycled tank, plant the e. vivipara in the back, add fish, and enjoy. Tom Barr swears by it, and plenty of others here on the board have testified to using the method successfully. The only drawback as far as I can tell is that you need a certain amount of patience for the emersed growth period...

EDIT: Ooops! I just realized after posting this that you said "other than a dry-start method"... please feel free to ignore everything I wrote above! :eek:


Plant Guru Team
Lifetime Member
Sep 23, 2007
South Florida

I think a lot depends on the amount of light and c02 you give it.

I think that giving it less light than you would for a more heavily planted scape and providing good c02 for the plants you DO have is a good start.

Can you mount the lights for more adjustment?

We know that algae can thrive on very little nutes and light/c02.

So I would think that filter maintenance and size, lighting, and regular water changes from the start are also key.

We know that algae issues are usually related to poor c02, but poor/irregular dosing and tank maintenance have also been culprits in the past.

Just caution yourself against assuming a quick cycle. What you have done will help, but just do maybe 2x a week water changes for the first 6-8 weeks just to be sure. It won't hurt general tank health either..........Remember that bacteria also need something to feed on, and they will adjust their numbers based on available food supply. This may take time to develop.....

Hope this helps.