3g plants-only tank (no animals) - What is my water-change schedule?

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LeahK

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Jul 5, 2007
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Hi all: I just set up a Marineland Contour 3, with Aquasolum Black Humate substrate, some dwarf hair grass, java fern, and anubias.

Back when I had community and betta tanks, 10 years ago, I had a regular water-change schedule, and I understood the nitrogen cycle, etc., and all that went into maintaining water quality for fish.

Now that I have this little 3 gal plant tank, I am not sure about what to do to maintain it, or what water parameters I should be looking for. In particular:
  • Water changes: How often and how much?
  • Water parameters: Do I need some test kits? What am I looking for? I wasn't sure if this tank will cycle at all, without fish.
  • The filter: I'm running it 24/7 now. Is this necessary?
At this point, I am not planning on adding any animals, so I just want to learn about growing aquatic plants. Thanks for your help!

tank 1.jpgtank 2.jpg
 
Apr 2, 2002
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New York
Hi-

It takes ammonia to cycle a tank. But if there are no animals and only plants, you have no need for a cycle. Plants eat ammonium which is the for, ammonia takes in water. So you can even add some small fish down the road and not worry.

Basically, you only need to do what it takes to meet the needs of the plants. This would basically fall under the areas of water parameters OK for them, food, i.e. ferts, they need and do not get from your tap water, light and then co2/oxygen.

You should change water weekly. As plants use what the need they also leave what they do not. So over time two things are happening, The water is becoming depleted of needed things and unneeded things are building up and both conditions can be a bad thing for the plants. So change about half the water every week and fertilize what you need (if anything) when you refill the tank.

I would not count on the dwarf hair grass thriving as it likes high light and added co2. The other two plants will outgrow the tank over time. However, it appears as if the rhizome of the anubias is buried in the substrate. That will kill it. It is OK to bury the roots coming out of the rhizome. It is also O K to secure the rhizome to a rock, to wood or to other decor. The roots should attach themselves to something over time.

Finally, you need something to roil the surface to foster gas exchange. As long as your filter does that, you are fine and let it run. You do not need any media or cartridges in it. Its job is to roil the surface and help circulate the water in the tank. If you removes the media and the return flow is too strong, put the media back in. Clean it when you notice the return flow slowing.
 

LeahK

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Jul 5, 2007
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Thank you! That is very helpful and informative. I will change 50% of the water weekly. And I'll leave the filter going--it's a fairly strong flow, enough to keep the hairgrass moving in the current.

The hairgrass is an experiment for me. I'd never grown it before and wanted to give it a shot. I do supplement the LED that came with the tank kit with an additional LED lamp that I can position either above or to the side. But I didn't know about adding co2. I'll learn about that! I saw bottles for it at the store.

You can't tell very well in the pic, because of the angle of the soil line, but the anubias rhizome is above the substrate, and just the white roots are poked down into it.

I definitely put in too many plants, so when things get overgrown, I am planning to give cuttings away to another friend with a tank. If I understand correctly, I can propagate rhizome cuttings from both the anubias and the java fern, and divide the hairgrass if needed. I might give away the java fern entirely later. I am also interested in trimming the hairgrass in the front--but I guess I should just try to keep it alive for now :)
 

fishorama

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Jun 28, 2006
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I've never had such a small tank, it's cute! There are other plants I'd try rather than the 1s you have now. I have had no good luck with hairgrass, as TTA said it would prefer co2. A good experiment though, I hope it works for you. The other 2 will get too big eventually, but slowly.

There are smaller anubias (anubia?) like nana (1 inch leaves) & tiny nana petite (1/4+ inch). Bucephalandra (bucies) are the " newer cooler" but similar genus with different colors & leaf shapes, mostly very small & grown the same way.

For a "grassy" plant I have or had dwarf swords. Some form a little clump 3 inches high & are likely labeled echinordoras. Then there a lilaeopsis (a few species) that are "chain" swords only an inch or so high that form runners maybe an inch apart. I have novo-zealanderae (?) right now in a deep no tech tank doing well so far.

A different tiny ground cover for "no tech" might be glossostigma. I had it do well at times & lost it others. HC is similar but much more difficult, HM is easier but can be a tiny stem plant instead & may need control (both are hemianthus genus I can't think of the species right now).

My favorite plants are cryptocorynes. There a few smaller 1s that might work for you. They are planted in the substrate & would like a root tab fertilizer nearby. the "wendtii" group come in several colors & grow to 4-6 inches at most. My fav is "mi oya" a maroon with puckery leaf texture (bullation). There are newer similar small crypts like nurii & jacobsenii "pink", a little more difficult than wendtii. C. lutea is a bright green more upright growing 1. & C. parva, very tiny & very slow growing. I think it may need harder water, my local plant clubbers were impressed mine were doing as well as they are here in soft water. I was given them from someone who gave up, still an experiment for me...

I very recently saw very tiny ferns that I haven't tried yet or know much about, the genus is crepidiomanes (I think). Very much like java ferns only more leaf shapes & really, really small. I'm looking into them...
 

the loach

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Aug 6, 2018
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I hate to be negative about such a nice idea, but... the combination you want is going to be a problem. Once you add CO2 and want fish too, you need pH and KH test kits and monitor often (it's just 3 gallon) so the fish don't die from asphyxiation. Once you add CO2 and more light, you no longer have slow growth in the Anubias and Java fern. Like Fish'orama said you need the nana, that will be fine, the larger varieties will outgrow the tank very quickly, and won't look pretty when you prune them. I have a 100 gallon and the Anubias literally still grows out of it...
 

fishorama

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Jun 28, 2006
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Leah says she doesn't want fish...but I'm hoping she gets a few neocaridina shrimp (yes! just a very few...of the same color). I have seen very awesome tiny tanks but with different plants. That was the direction I was trying to steer her with tiny anubias etc. My plant club had a Zoom meet last Sat. & that's where I got some of of my suggestions...I want to get some tiny ferns a couple people had, ooh, so cool!

CO2 will change things up if Leah goes there, not something I've ever done, but I stick by my plant ideas for her tiny tank...with no co2.
 

the loach

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Aug 6, 2018
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I like your suggestion for plants and low tech, I meant Leah's original idea. Shrimp can die from too much CO2 as well.
 

fishorama

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Jun 28, 2006
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Well, you know I've never done co2...& yes, her plants are too big as it stands... for very long. I was just offering up some options for her to think about in a very small tank..so much smaller than I've kept; a 10g is as small as I've done. But I have seen tiny tanks in my club & LFS so that's what I offered up, just a few ideas for Leah to look into. My last 10g was a low tech cherry shrimp/ton of plants tank that was great! for several years. I had to give it away when I moved to CA...
 

LeahK

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Jul 5, 2007
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Thank you everyone! I appreciate all the advice. This gives me lots of ideas. When I bought the tank, I just picked plants from what the lfs had in stock (based on some vague memories of java ferns and anubias varieties that I grew in my old 55 gallon way back when). But, it sounds like these plants will either fail or outgrow the tank, so next time around, I'll look into special ordering or buying online to find some different dwarf varieties. Those dwarf swords look great! And I do think, based on this conversation, that I want to avoid the co2, so I have the option of shrimp one day.

If the hairgrass dies back, that would give me a whole half of the tank to play with, and it sounds like the java ferns and anubias have some time before they get too out of hand. So I guess I'll wait and see how this hairgrass does and take it from there.
 

fishorama

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Jun 28, 2006
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SF Bay area, CA
Lots of time for research while you see how your plants do for now. That's part of what I like about slow growing plants...no weekly trimming or remembering ferts too often; just my speed, lol...but we would like updates as things move along or change in your little tank.

I see you're an AC "old timer" like me & many others. It's funny how everything can change for us over the years isn't it?
 
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