It is natural to be apprehensive about where and how to position the plants. Look at the book "Nature Aquarium World" by Takashi Amano for artistic inspiration. Then just go ahead and do it, and remember that it won't look good until the plants grow in, so wait a month or two before repositioning anything. Mosy plants don't like to moved too often. One rule that you should follow is to plant very densely. Remember that plants use up available nutrients and thereby prevent algae from getting a strong hold. If you try to save money by planting one plant at a time, you'll only grow an algae garden. Excess space can be filled in with cheap fast growing plants like hornwort, which will quickly use up excess nitrates, and can be replaced later withfresh cuttings of more attractive plants. As a fast growing stem plantreaches the top of the water, you'll want to cut off thetop 1/2 to 2/3 of it and replant it, leaving the rooted bottom to produce new sideshoots. In this way a small amount of a stem plant (even one cutting!) can be turned into a thick garden. Rosette plants with roots should be pushed too far into the sand first, then pulled up so that the point where the leaves join the rootstock is above the sand. Small plants can be held down with pieces of bent wire untilthey root.
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The importance of CO2 injection cannot be overemphasized for growing beautiful planted aquaria. Sounds complicated? Actually it's easy and cheap! Aquarium companies sell extremely overpriced CO2 setups costing at least $200 for no frills models. These consist of a high pressure tank of CO2 and a pressure regulator, as well as a reaction chamber where the CO2 is dissolved in the water. The setups on the my aquaria cost about $5 for supplies that will last a year (this includes 2 liters of Coke that you get to drink). Here's the idea (which is due to Thomas Narten off of internet as far as I know). CO2 dissoves into (and escapes out of) water very quickly, so we need a way to produce bubbles of CO2 and to hold them in contact with a fast flowing stream of water so the CO2 has time to dissolve. CO2 is produced by yeast fermenting sugar into alcohol, so take a 2-litersoda bottle and fill it with lukewarm water to about 2" from the bottomof where the screw cap would be. Pour the measured water into a bucket and add approximately 2 cups sugar and 1/4 teaspoon baking yeast (e.g. Fleishmann's brand from the baking section of Safeway). Stir until both are dissolved, especially the yeast which is harder to dissolve than the sugar. Pour this stuff back in the bottle and fill to the point it normally would be filled with soda. Drill a hole in the center of the top of the cap which is just wide enough to tightly fit a piece of aquarium airline tubing into it, and glue the tubing into place with aquarium silicone sealant. Leave the cap off the bottle to dry for a day. Then screw on the cap and put the other end of the air tube into the intake tube of the filter, so that the CO2 will bubble into the filter. The CO2 may start bubbling the next day, or maybenot for up to 3 days. The bubbles get sucked into the pump propeller and some end up in the filter sponge where they slowly dissolve into the water where the plants can use it for photosynthesis.
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I think a novice can handle live plants. As long as they do their research their fine. My first fish tank was a 20 gallon reef tank. If a beginner like I was can keep corals alive and keep up with their demand, the beginner can keep plants. Plants are way easier then coral. And fake plants do not look the same as live, same with corals. I love my live plants and corals. And, unlike coral in the aquarium, plants actually benefit your fish and are fairly cheap.
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