People usually don’t listen to advice and they wanna realize it on their own. This is very good, but makes the whole process a lot longer when we have only limited amount of time in our life. That is also the reason of this website, to present more empiric info about planted aquariums and aquascaping, to save your time. It is also the reason why I started using pressurized co2 in my aquariums while growing plants. I would be glad to help in this process, so that you may focus on a good path and head quickly into a successful direction.
This direction will also save you money. Sometimes people take shortcuts later causing many issues with their aquariums. They ending up with buying equipment again, usually the most expensive they can afford to minimize the risk of failure. It is necessary only when this is the kind of look you are trying to achieve.
I love low tech aquariums, but the fact of supplementing co2 while growing plants gives you much more time. Plants grows up to 10x faster,
so you can experience more in shorter period of time. It also depends on light intensity, tank stabilization (how mature it is) and fertilizing. Things you would learn in 5-10 years with no co2 setup you will know in less than a 1.5 year. Same when you listen to someone who actually knows all that and who is just trying to help.
Talking about the balance people need facts or examples. With aquariums like with anything else there is many ways to get to your destination (goal). For example, you are setting 29 gallons aquarium. First question I would ask myself is – what kind of plants and fish I will be keeping in it? You need to match water conditions for the fish then choose the plants which grows the best in those conditions, or in the opposite way. Second question would be –what can I do to create the best setup for growing aquatic plants in my new aquarium? Third is – how much time am I willing to devote to it daily, weekly etc.
You need to set your aquarium to your lifestyle, not being inseparable. If you often spend weekend outdoors you need to include it in your aquascape or hire someone who will do it for you.
Once you choose a tankmates and made sure they are compatible with each other, it is good to research their natural habitat (what kind of plants lives there and what water conditions they like). With co2 you have to look at the fish and plants which likes more acidic water with ph below 7.0. Then you can start with choosing the substrate and equipment. Regular 29 gallons aquarium dimensions are 30″ x 12″ x 18″. While choosing plants you need to focus on what substrate will feed them the best and what kind of light intensity they need.
Deeper the plant is in the water more light it needs. Water stops the light and it can lower the light intensity. While you lifting your light more than 4 inches you may have up to 40% loose on light intensity . So, you can get a stronger light which will allow you to tweak it later by hanging it higher. It is always better to choose a stronger light with co2, because plants metabolism is much faster and they need more light to produce more food and grow faster.
Another thing to focus on is a substrate which you will use. If you wanna do a cheaper setup, but also very successful you could use regular organic potting mix (1-1/5 inch) capped with black sand 2-3 inches or small grains gravel. Gravel makes it look natural and plants still have plenty food from soil. You could use small lava rocks under the soil or ADA powersand to prevent very bottom layer from compacting and becoming anaerobic. To make it all easier you could start breaking up this soil by putting it on the flat board or pan and making it wet with dechlorinated water. You don’t wanna use tap water, because there will be already beneficial bacteria starting to grow in the substrate. Once you make it wet you have to expose it on the sun so it dries out, then make it wet again and repeat few times. Other thing is mineralizing soil. You can use regular top soil and do the same thing it will take even 2 months on the sun to fully soak it with tap water. It will be ready once it gets hard and easily breaks in your hand. You could dissolve some magnesium in the water you use to make it wet again.
Doing it will help spread organics and make them faster available for the plants. Mineralizing will give you a source of magnesium in calcium for your plants roots for a long time. You can also use potash to deliver more of the third macro ingredient from the roots. You could use any substrate you want. With proper dosing you can grow plants even in a pool sand. However plants absorbs a lot of nutrients thru the roots and if you wanna grow them fast and steady you need a good nutrient rich substrate. It is much more forgiving and you don’t have to dose that strictly when your plants have enough nutrients from the substrate. If you are going to grow plants with bigger root system you can also add osmocote fertilizer on a very bottom of your substrate layer. Other option is just using and aquasoil.
Once you figured out plants, fish and substrate you can start thinking about your aquascape . How do you want it to look. It is always helpful to know how the plants grows and how to trim them properly. Proper planting will set you for a success and you will achieve amazing look. Second thing are aquascaping rules. Read a little about a common rules which will help you create better depth and look. This way your aquarium will look bigger and you will have 1 or two focal points. Anybody who sees your aquarium will remember it for long after looking at it for a few minutes.
While planning your aquascape it is good to include where will the equipment go. So, it is a good time to think about what kind of equipment will you use. Heater, filter, co2 diffuser or reactor, cover, additional power head when needed, prefilters and most important – lights. The easiest way for a successful setup is to choose t5 bulbs. 6500k daylight bulbs have a good spectrum for growing aquarium plants. Note that from the beginning you will need much less light intensity or shorter photoperiod 7-8h a day. Your plants will be acclimating and growing roots for a few weeks. After that they will start growing like crazy and you may start using more light. You can buy LED light or bulbs and make your own DIY fixture, which is always much cheaper and gives as well good effects. Harmony between light intensity and photo period, co2, fertilizers and water changes will create balance and make that everything will compliment each other and plants growth will be stunning.