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Low-Light Plants

Posted: December 27, 2013, 11:15 a.m. EDT


By David Lass

When you have been keeping fish for as long as I have (more than 50 years), you come to more than a few conclusions about how to do things. One of the most important conclusions I have drawn about fishkeeping is that aquariums look better, and fish do better, with live plants growing in the tank.

This fact has been proven by many of my colleagues who keep fish on a professional basis. My good friend Jeff Nethers, who owns Winchester Aquarium and Pet Center in Winchester, Va., told me that about two years ago he started keeping live plants—just some ferns and crypts—in all of the tanks he sells livebearers and tetras from. Since implementing the live plants, Jeff said that his losses in those tanks have been cut pretty much to zero.

Now before you throw something at me because you don’t want to have to mess around with injecting carbon dioxide or putting mega lighting on the tanks with plants, please allow me to qualify my "all-fish-tanks-should-have-live-plants–in-them” dictum with the fact that the plants can be those that do not require a great deal of light or food.

Low Light Plants
David Lass

Right now I have eight tanks in my house (my fish room is dry and dark, as I stopped wholesaling fish more than a year ago) that range in size from 50 to 65 to 120 to 300 gallons—and all of them have live plants growing like gangbusters. The secret is that I make absolutely no attempt to keep the latest and greatest plants that my friends at the Aquatic Gardeners Association found someplace in Asia or Africa.

My criteria are that the plant must grow well in relatively low-light conditions and require no food other than that from fish waste.

The tank in the picture accompanying this blog is a 4-foot-long, 120-gallon tank (my favorite size) that has been set up for about eight months. The fish are gold angels, F1 new wild angels and sterbai cory cats. The filter is one of the new Cobalt EXT canisters, and the lighting consists of a standard 4-inch, two-lamp shoplight fixture that I bought at Home Depot and retrofitted with two 20-watt, 4-inch LED lamps. It’s easy to set up the LEDs, as they do not require a ballast of any kind, and they fit the standard tombstones on a T8 fluorescent shoplight. The plants, which you can see are thriving under 40 watts of LED for 12 hours a day, include a large Amazon sword plant, crypt, sag, val, regular green hygro and red hygro, lotus bulbs and three kinds of Java ferns.

There are plenty of plants that will do great in low-light tanks. However, please do not sell nonaquatic plants, such as sanderianna, Brazilian swords or purple crinkle; they will die under water.

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