How to have a densely planted bare bottom tank - a tutorial

Molch

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Hi all,
I thought this might be useful...

here's how I plant my bare-bottom tanks. If you want the best of both worlds - soil substrate and dense plant growth AND the convenience of bare bottoms, this method works very well.

I use shallow containers which I fill with a soil/gravel layer according to Diana Walstad's method. The plants grow extremely well.

some advantages of this method:

- you can grow plants that need to be rooted in substrate (e.g, crypts, swords, Vallisneria), which expands your plant repertoire beyond the free-floaters and rootless plants typical for bare bottom tanks

- you get the benefit of the bacterial action of the substrate which helps to process food leftovers and poop etc

- you can move planters between tanks. This is very useful when setting up a new tank for new newts or larvae: simply move an established planter from an old tank which comes complete with growing plants and bacterial colonies. This helps to cut short or even completely avoid any cycling in the new tank

- if you set the planters on small pebbles (see below), the blackworms cannot hide underneath them and the planters double as hideouts for the newts

here goes:

1) planters should be about 2-4 inches deep but not too deep. Shallow dishes with a large surface area are best because they allow better gas exchange between the substrate and the water, which makes anaerobic decay in the substrate less likely.

I like pyrex glass dishes, which can be found in the kitchen section of grocery stores. They look nice and come in different shapes and sizes.

However, plastic dishes or tupperware containers work just as well.

you will also need aquarium silicone and a few small pebbles





2)
using aquarium silicone, glue three small pebbles to the bottom of the dishes (3 is most stable; if you glue 4, the planter will invariably wobble like a table with one short leg). This elevates the dishes from the tank bottom and prevents blackworms and debris to "hide" underneath. I make sure the pebbles are just large enough to allow adult newts to crawl under the dishes. That way, the planters act as hide-outs as well.

If you use plastic containers, the silicone will not stick very well. In that case you can simply set the planters onto the pebbles without gluing them. However, that makes moving the planters around more difficult.





3)
lay down a layer (1-1.5") of organic potting soil. I use Miracle grow organic potting mix, which is recommended in Diana Walstad's book. I sort it manually to remove the largest pieces and twigs





4)
cover the soil layer with 1-1.5" of gravel or coarse sand





5)
1-1.5 inches of soil covered with 1-1.5 inches of gravel is enough. If much deeper, there is a greater possibility for anaerobic decay in the soil





6) plant. For stem plants, clip about 1/2 inch below a leaf node. For rooted plants, trim old roots down to approx. 1/2 to 1 inch. Insert into gravel with pointed tweezers. This will avoid disturbing the soil layer under he gravel.

I have found that I get better plant growth if I plant only 1 or 2 different species per planter.





7) lastly, here a few examples of what the planters look like when in the tanks.

a round planter with Vallisneria and Sagittaria in a 5 ga for T. marmoratus larvae



my C. pyrrhogaster tank



my 40 ga alpine newt tank. The planter on the left has newly planted clippings of Shinnersia rivularis and Bacopa; the one on the right has Elodea and Rotala.




 
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Delirio

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What a BRRRIIILLLIIIAANTTTTTTTT idea! As soon as I get paid I will prepare one for Camilo. I'm sure he will love it.
Thank you for sharing!

:happy:
 

Molch

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if you're interested, these are the plants that have done best for me (hard alkaline water):

- Elodea densa
- Rotala rotindifolia (prefers warmer water; grows more slowly in 60 F)
- Shinnersia rivularis (needs good light)
- sagittaria subulata
- Vallisneria spiralis

the last two will take over a planter and eventually crowd out other plants; I now always plant them on their own.

I also have java fern and hornwort, which are not planted into planters

of course, as it goes with the mystery of all growing things, what worked for me does not necessarily work for others :) and vice versa
 

Azhael

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Very functional and surprisingly aesthetic! Thanx for sharing :)
Do you think it would work with a thin layer of sand instead of the fine gravel?

I´m the kind of guy that just chucks the plants in and just hopes for the best, but if i convince a friend of mind to send me some vallisneria i may try your idea. I´m beginning to get fed up with sand as a substrate that covers all the bottom and i´ll probably snap one day and go bare bottom in all my tanks. This would be an excellent alternative if it works with sand.
 

Molch

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hey Az,
sand should work as long as the grain is not too fine or the layer not too thick. Very fine sand may impede gas exchange of the substrate. I've used sand as well in the past - are you worried about impaction w. gravel?

Vals are awesome - the planter in the marmoratus larvae tank (3rd pic from bottom) was started with just 10 or so small Val plants and a few Sagittarias but within a couple months they had spread and occupied the entire planter. I get new clippings out of that one all the time

I get all my gravel/pebbles/sand at the beaches of the Bering Sea. We have hundreds of miles of untouched beach with the most beautiful sand and gravel already washed and pre-sorted according to grain size by the sea. All you have to do is shovel it and take it home, and dodge the occasional walrus carcass or grizz turd along the way... I have about 6 buckets on my porch with sand and gravel of different sizes.
 
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spendday

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genius I've been meaning to redo my cynops orientalis tank for a while think I might use this method

many thanks
 

Jennewt

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"If much deeper, there is a greater possibility for anaerobic decay in the soil"

One of the tidbits I got from the Walstad book is that a bit of anaerobic decay in the under-layers of the tank isn't a problem. It won't adversely affect the critters.

Thanks for posting, this thread is really nice!
 

Molch

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"If much deeper, there is a greater possibility for anaerobic decay in the soil"

One of the tidbits I got from the Walstad book is that a bit of anaerobic decay in the under-layers of the tank isn't a problem. It won't adversely affect the critters.

!
lol, yes - a ceratin amount of anaerobic action is unavoidable when you submerse soil.
What I get from Diana Walstad's book is that one should try to avoid large areas in the soil that turn anaerobic and fester and produce the dreaded "black sludge". The best way to avoid this is to:

- not make the soil and gravel layer too thick

- plant densely and avoid unplanted areas. The roots of plants will liven up the soils and also transport oxygen down there and take up some of the breakdown products produced by soil bacteria.

I must say though, that I've never had any water quality problems or seen soils go bad with this method...
 

evut

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I had something very similar some time ago (huge fan of Pyrex myself ;))
but it didn't work for me - too much waste was getting trapped in the gravel and it couldn't really be hoovered inside the dishes. I had some plant substrate from Tetra in the bottom and coarse gravel on top.

Your tanks look really nice - is the greenery so lush because it's planted in soil or are you doing something else to help it?
 

Molch

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I think the soil is the secret ingredient - it really makes the plants take off.

I just let mulm accumulate in the planters. The small larvae hide in there and it's never affected water quality that I know of. I only vacuum the bare bottom parts occasionally
 

Azhael

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Yup, i was worried about impaction, but i also worry about sand preventing adequate aeration. I guess if the layer of sand is suficiently shallow it won´t be a problem, but then again, it could be easily disturbed. I´m also considering the idea of using gravel but covering the surface with fine mess, which should allow the plants to root in anyway. I´m not sure if that would work that well, though...

Guess who is loving this idea? My father! xD I told him about it and now he wants me to re-model his fish tank following your idea :)
 

eljorgo

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Its interesting no doubt. Ive done that before. Still I didn't liked the result by finding it aesthetic. Still its a good method for those that do love the final aspect of the thing. I find the glass containers a bit misplaced.. lol. Kitchen stuff in a supposed 'newt habitat' lol Still, this is just me and my opinion:happy:
Cheers,
 

CamGillman

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that's really creative! And it looks cool too!
 

Molch

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Kitchen stuff in a supposed 'newt habitat' lol :happy:
Cheers,
yeah, I know...:wacko: I try to resist the temptation to throw forks and spoons and electric mixers in my tanks...so far so good ;)
 

Herptiles

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Whoa, this is AWESOME! I have a 20 and 30 gallon to set up for some Paramesotriton and Pleurodeles, respectively, and I couldn't have found this post at a better time :D
 

Guppykeeper

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Would you happen to know of any soft water plants that could be grown using the same method?...Thanks
 

Steve B

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I thought you did not want to use potting soil with salamanders?
 

ZombieAxolotl

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I thought you did not want to use potting soil with salamanders?

A lot of potting soils have additional fertilizers or chemicals in them. These you want to avoid.
And just because it says organic doesnt mean it doesn't have natural fertizliers that wouldn't be good to submerse
 

Kaysie

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I've used "Earth-Gro" brand soil for years. It seems to be just plain dirt.
 
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