There are certain items that I've found are extremely useful if not essential for maintaining a successful planted aquarium. Here are the top ten that I wouldn't be able to live without:
1. Python No Spill Clean N' Fill - ($28.99) This is a lifesaver when it comes to doing weekly water changes on three tanks. I've never had to live without it and I hope I never will. This handy tool allows you to use your faucet as a vacuum to draw water out of your aquariums and then fill them back up with a flip of a switch.
2. Mag-Float - ($5.99-109.99) This powerful magnet makes it really easy to clean off algae on the glass of your aquarium. It's designed not to scratch the glass and can be bought for acrylic aquariums as well. A few simple strokes with one of these and green spot algae is wiped away. A quick fix so you can see your plants and fish!
3. Aquatic Forceps - ($1.99-4.99) Extremely helpful when planting tiny plants in deeper aquariums, and even for grabbing things when fingers are too clumsy. If you are planting any sort of ground cover or small stemmed plants, these can prevent much frustration and ripping out of one's own hair.
4. UV Sterilizer - ($30.00+) Although many will argue with me that a UV sterilizer is not necessary, it sure does help a lot. After trying to combat my first outbreak of green water by myself with blackouts which killed half my plants, I invested in a cheap UV sterilizer and it has made the difference between having crystal clear water and pea soup. Even if you don't have green water, it cleans up the water so well the water is extremely clear.
5. Fertilizers - (prices vary) A good set of fertilizers (nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, and trace elements) is vital for keeping healthy plants. There are a number of different sources of fertilizers, but the two best are Seachem Flourish and Greg Watson. Seachem fertilizers come ready to use in a bottle but are far more expensive while Greg Watson's fertilizers come in dry powders at must be measured yourself but they are very inexpensive.
6. Water Conditioner - (prices vary, under $10.00) A decent water conditioner will make the difference between healthy fish and dead fish. A staple even in fish only aquariums, you may already have a water conditioner. However, some are better than others and some remove more impurities than others. Generally, Tetra Aquasafe, Kordon NovAqua, and Seachem Prime are the top of the line conditioners.
7. pH Test Kit - (prices vary, under $10.00) You may already have one of these if you keep a fish only aquarium, but it will be invaluable in a planted aquarium. pH allows you to roughly determine CO2 levels and keep them within an acceptable level. Also, some plants prefer acidic or alkaline water, so frequent pH testing will become habit. Dip strip test kits are fairly accurate and generally alright, but are not accurate enough for extremely precise measurements.
8. Nitrite/Nitrate Test Kit - (prices vary, under $10.00) Somewhat more important than a pH test kit in a planted aquarium is a nitrate/nitrite test kit. Nitrite is poisonous to fauna and is converted into nitrate by bacteria. However, if something goes wrong, having a test kit to measure levels of nitrate/nitrite may be the only way to prevent all of your fish from dying if you act quickly. It is also important because nitrate is one of the three major fertilizers for plants, and maintaining a steady level keeps growth regular and plants from stunting.
9. Aquatic Tissue Scissors - ($2.99-5.99) When it comes time to trim plants, you'll need a pair of sharp, precise scissors to make clean cuts to prevent damage to your plants. You'll also need scissors that won't rust when exposed to water frequently. These aquatic tissue scissors are perfect for the job, making trimming quick and painless for your plants.
10. Planted Aquarium Substrate - ($15.00-$40.00) Last but not least, a good planted aquarium substrate makes an enormous difference in a planted tank. If you've ever tried planting some plants in regular aquarium gravel or struggled to get fine-rooted pants to grow, you'll understand. These substrates are specially made to make it easier to grow plants. They are often more fine, allowing better root growth and many contain fertilizers as well. Each brand has its own positives and negatives, but I've never been unhappy with my Eco-Complete from Caribsea. Most substrates are black or dark brown too, which brings out the colors of your fish and plants better than a white or artificial color often found in regular aquarium gravel.
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