Which plant-based fertilizer is best for you?
Ever wonder how professionals and even advanced hobbyists make those gorgeous aquascapes bursting with plant life? It all boils down the three essential ingredients that make aquatic plant happy:
– Good lighting. – Substrate when necessary. – Nutrients such as fertilizers.
Because the world of fertilizers is a confusing and complicated maze, many beginners will overlook this last piece. Dry fertilizers are being advocated by everyone online because they are affordable and highly customizable. But they forget to mention the steep learning curve that can occur and how easy it can be for chemical balances and other issues to become out of control if one doesn’t know what they’re doing.
So Do Aquatic Plants Really Need Fertilizers?
The simple answer to your question is “Yes” if you want your plants thrive, not just survive. Just as humans require certain nutrients to live, plants must have fundamental building blocks to grow:
– Macronutrients are nutrients that plants consume in large quantities, such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. – Micronutrients, which are nutrients that plants require in small amounts, include iron, boron and manganese.
Plants can grow differently if one or more of these compounds are missing. This plant deficiency diagram shows what happens when certain minerals or elements are missing.
(Source: Aquatic Central)
Hobbyists use fertilizers to ensure their plants have all the nutrients they need. Let’s take a look below at the most common and readily available fertilizers for your average tank.
The Easy Option: Aquarium Co-Op Easy Green
You might be thinking, “Uh… I just bought my first couple of plants.” I have no idea if they’re doing well, much less what nutrients they might be missing. Where’s the easy button?” That’s where Aquarium Co-Op’s Easy Green all-in-one fertilizer comes in. We created it initially for our own use in-store because we needed something that was:
1. Easy to use, without having to measure out a ton of different supplements 2. This product is much more potent and has a higher nutrient content than other products on the market. Reasonably priced because a little bit goes a long ways
Easy Green all-in-one liquid fertilizer
Intended For: aquariums that are at least moderately stocked with plants
Easy Green is rich in all three macronutrients necessary for healthy growth. This fertilizer is not suitable for tanks with high bioloads, or only one plant. If you have an aquarium with normal bioloads and a bunch of plants that you want to look nice, this is the fertilizer for you. And yup, it’s fish and invertebrate safe.
Note: “High bioload” generally refers to aquariums with lots of animals, poop, and excess food floating around. High levels of organic matter in water can lead to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that plants can eat. If not managed well, high bioloads may also cause toxic levels of ammonia which can be harmful to animals.
Ingredients: all three micronutrients (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) and the top six macronutrients – in higher concentrations, for maximum effectiveness
Cost: $15 for 8 oz bottle
Easy Green is an all-in one fertilizer which covers most of your needs for plants. Easy Green can also be purchased through Amazon.com Canada. Easy Iron is a great way to get iron if you have lots red plants. If you need help fighting algae, consider adding Easy Carbon. That’s all there is to it.
Easy Root Tabs are for plants that prefer to feed their roots, such as Cryptocoryne and sword plants.
Easy Fertilizer Package
Directions 1 pump for every 10 gallons water once per week for low- to medium-light tanks; and double for high-light tanks.
One bottle of this product will last approximately one year for a 55 gallon tank. If your aquarium has medium to high light, then dose two to three times a week. Use test strips to measure the water in your aquarium and aim for 50ppm of Nitrates. It’s easy as pie.
Summary: Easy Green’s name means “Easy Green”, because it is simple to use and can make green leaves. Easy Green could be the right fertilizer for you if you are a beginner and need a reliable, bulletproof fertilizer.
API Leaf Zone: The Best Option
API Leaf Zone will most likely be available in your local pet shop’s selection of liquid fertilizers. The cheapest bottle should be enough.
API Leaf Zone
Designed for: low tech planted tanks with high bioloads
Translation: your plants are fairly low maintenance and are currently living off fish waste and flakes in the tank.
Ingredients: has only potassium and iron
API assumes you have high-bioload tanks with tons of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Leaf Zone provides this macronutrient. It also throws in some iron because it helps with new leaf growth. But where are all the micronutrients?
Cost: $6.50 for 8 oz bottle
It’s hard to beat the price, but what you get is what you pay for.
Directions: 5 mL per 10 gallons per week
This is a very diluted product, so you will go through the bottle quickly.
Summary: Although it won’t bring about super-growth for your plants, it’s better that nothing.
Seachem Flourish Series – Mix-and-Match
Seachem Flourish fertilizer line
Intended for: Any planted tank
The reason why Seachem has so many supplements is because everyone’s planted tank is unique – different bioloads, water hardness, low vs. high light, and so on. Seachem wants everyone to be able customize their nutrients to meet their needs.
Ingredients: totally depends Most novices should start with Flourish Comprehensive, which contains most of the elements and minerals you’ll need for low-light plants. Seachem recommends that you add Flourish Trace to your diet on separate days in order to get enough micronutrients. Seachem has made it possible to separate key nutrients into products, so you can purchase the building blocks that you need individually if you are still experiencing plant deficiencies.
Cost: $0 to $70 or More
Flourish Comprehensive and Flourish Trace are about $10.50 each for a 16.9 oz bottle. However, like API Leaf Zone, they’re very low on the two of the main macronutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – just in case you have a high bioload tank. You can also spend $10.50 more on Flourish Nitrogen or $10.50 more on Flourish Phosphorus. By the time you have added all nutrients, you could be purchasing seven bottles or even more.
Directions: totally depends
It is not only a hassle to have multiple bottles but also each bottle has different treatment frequencies and measurement amounts. It may say “5 ml for 60 gallons per Week” or “2.5 ml for 40 gallons twice per week, but add more if necessary.” The nutrient concentrations are low enough to prevent beginners from overdosing. Therefore, you will need more fertilizer than what the bottle suggests.
The bottom line: Flavorish Comprehensive has a lot more nutrients than you need to grow plants. But, be prepared for additional supplements and spending time fine-tuning the amount and dosing schedule.
For more details on the Seachem Flourish series, check out our video on How to Use Aquarium Fertilizers.
Final Tips for Aquatic Plant Fertilizers
No matter what nutrient sources you use (e.g., fish poop, root tabs, liquid or dry fertilizers, potting soil, CO2 injection), most likely they will help. Because every person’s preferences and settings are different, there is no one product that is the best. The key is to do your research, make a decision that works best for you, and learn from your mistakes. Your aquarium is a living ecosystem that is constantly changing – water, number of fish, plant size – so have fun seeing nature in action and earning your aquatic green thumb!