Which Planted Tank Fertilizer Is Right for You?
Wondering how professional hobbyists and advanced hobbyists create stunning aquascapes that are bursting with plant life? It all boils down to three things that make aquatic plants happy.
– Good lighting – Substrate as needed – Nutrients, like fertilizers
Many beginners will ignore that last piece of the puzzle because the world of fertilizers seems like a complicated hot mess. While dry fertilizers are highly affordable and customizable, everyone on the internet recommends them. However, they neglect to mention the steep learning curve and how easy it is for chemical balances to get out of control if you don’t know what you’re doing.
So Do Aquatic Plants Really Need Fertilizers?
If you want your plants to really thrive and not just survive, the simple answer is yes. Plants must also have the fundamental building blocks for growth, just as we humans need certain nutrients.
– 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 will grow differently if any of these substances are lacking. Check out this plant deficiency diagram that shows what happens when certain elements or minerals are missing:
(Source: Aquatic Plant Central)
These problems can be avoided by hobbyists who use fertilizers to ensure that their plants receive all the nutrients they require. So let’s take a look at some of the most popular, readily available fertilizers that will work for your average planted tank.
The Easy Option: Aquarium Co-Op Easy Green
You may be thinking, “Uh, I just bought my first few 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. It was initially developed for our own use in-store because we wanted something better.
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 contains healthy amounts of all three macronutrients to get great growth, so it’s not intended for tanks with very high bioloads and 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. Having high levels of organics in the water produces nitrogen and phosphorus, which plants can consume. However, if not managed properly, high bioloads can also produce a lot of ammonia, which is toxic to animals.
Ingredients All three macronutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) as well as the top six micronutrients are in greater concentrations to maximize 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 is now available in Canada via Amazon.com. 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. There are no other bottles you need.
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.
For a 55 gallon low light tank, that means one bottle will last you about a year. 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.
The bottom line: Easy Green is easy to use and great for making green leaves. If you’re a beginner looking for a comprehensive, bulletproof fertilizer or you’re not getting the results you want, Easy Green may be just the thing you need.
The Cheap Option: API Leaf Zone
If you go to your local pet store and find their selection of liquid fertilizers, most likely API Leaf Zone will be one of the options. It’s cheapest bottle on the shelf and should do the trick, right?
API Leaf Zone
Intended for: Low-tech, planted tanks with very high bioloads
Translation: your plants are fairly low maintenance and are currently living off fish waste and flakes in the tank.
Ingredients only contains potassium and iron
Because API assumes that you have a high-bioload tank with a ton of nitrogen and phosphorus, the only macronutrient you’re missing is potassium, which Leaf Zone provides. Because it aids with leaf growth, it also adds iron. But… what about all the micronutrients?
Cost: $6.50 for 8 oz bottle
The price is not too bad, but you do get what you pay.
Directions: 5 mL per 10 gallons per week
That’s pretty diluted, so you’re going to run through the bottle pretty quickly.
Summary: Although it won’t bring about super growth, it is better than nothing.
Seachem Flourish series – The Mix-and Match Option
Seachem Flourish fertilizer line
Intended For: any planted tank
Seachem sells many supplements because each plant has its own unique bioload, water hardness, light intensity, and other factors. Seachem wants to give you the freedom to adjust the nutrients to suit your needs. Their fertilizers are not necessarily for beginners.
Ingredients it all depends. The majority of novices should start off with Flourish Comprehensive. It contains most elements and minerals that low-light plants need. Seachem then recommends adding Flourish Trace on separate days to ensure you have an ample amount of 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 or Flourish Trace cost about $10.50 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. Flourish Nitrogen can be purchased for $10.50 and Flourish Phosphorus is available for $10.50. You could end up buying seven bottles.
Directions completely depends
Not only is it a hassle to deal with multiple bottles, but each of them have very different measurement amounts and treatment frequencies. 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.
Summary: Flourish Comprehensive provides a lot of the essential nutrients required for growing plants. However, you should be prepared to purchase additional supplements and spend some time fine-tuning how much and when to use them.
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. There is no single “best product” on the market because everyone’s individual setups and preferences are so different. You need to do your research and make the right decision for yourself. Also, don’t forget to 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!