Best Live Aquarium Plants

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Review of the Tetra Cube Aquarium Kit, 3-Gallon


I have been out of fish keeping and aquarium for a long time and just finished moving. I used to own a 20 gallon and 10 gallon filled with tetras and live plants. Since moving I have more limited space and thought the 3 gallon cube would work well on a desktop or bedroom dresser. Here's my review.

Where I Bought it

Wal-Mart had these for $31.99 which is not a bad price for a full kit. They had the same 1.5 gallon cube for $19.99. The difference in size is that this one is just a larger cube. The height is the same, but there is a small increase in width. It looks like both are the same price on Amazon as of this writing.

Taking it Out of the Box - Initial Thoughts

I was quite surprised at how light weight this tank is. I should have realized it was cheap plastic but was very concerned with how it light it was coming out of the box. Upon further notice the top of the plastic was severly scratched right below where the lid is placed. Already I was dissappointed.  The worst was yet to come!

What this Start Kit Comes with

The Tetra 3 Gallon Cube comes with a whisper filter, LED light, a cartdridge for the filter and the two corresponding power supplies for the devices. The filter has a suction cup attachment on the back but I am very weary of suction onto plastic tanks.

The Filter

The Whisper Filtration System is supposed to be well know for keeping things quiet so I did buy it on that principal alone. Though I was displeased at the sheer lightweight of the device and the poor construction of it. It is flimsy and does not fit with its corresponding parts all that well. This leads me to believe its usage is quite limited as many reviewers on the Wal-Mart and Amazon site suggest.

Perhaps the most unsettling find was that the instructions for the Whisper Filter are missing. The general directions state that it is very important to follow the directions included with the separately packaged Whisper Filter so as to ensure the quality and performance of the unit. There were no instructions! To anyone new to aquarium filters or someone new to these mini junk ones this is very frustrating! The parts do not look like they assemble well and appear to be very fidgety.

The LED Light

The LED light looks pretty and conveniently clips on to the tank so as to allow the top to be completely see-through. This is one of the features that I thought was really cool about this unit and convinced me to purchase it. The LED though which has a number of lights on it is very bland and very weak. It is useful for looking at fish at night but certainly not for a planted tank.

Final Thoughts

I will be returning this tank to Wal-Mart for a full refund and take my business elsewhere. This is the second time in the last month that I have tried to buy a Tetra Starter Tank and have been very dissappointed by the lack of quality instruction and the flimsy irresponsible filter systems.

Thus, I will likely be buying a nice glass tank by itself (5-10 gallon) which is not made by Tetra and buying a nice filter separately.  I'm looking at getting the Marina S10 Power Filter or the Aqueon 06079 QuietFlow 55/75 Power Filter, 400-GPH.

Lately I've come to the conclusion that with aquarium keeping, patience is the best solution. Patience will allow me to learn more about what I need and slowly acquire good quality equipment that will last and not cause me or my fish headaches.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Choosing a Substrate for Growing Live Aquarium Plants

If you want to grow live plants in your fish tank or aquarium one of the most important factors in growing plants that will survive is choosing the right substrate.

Substrate is a fancy word for the rocks, gravel, sand, soil or a combination of all of them at the bottom of your tank. For most live plants you will need a substrate for them to hold their roots in and be fixed to the bottom of the tank. However for me, the right substrate will give them the proper nutrients and ability to have a long healthy life.

Aquarium Gravel 


The most common substrate that we use is gravel. You can buy aquarium gravel at any pet store or department store. Many live plants will grow in this gravel but very slowly and not with the desired size or color. Plus you will need to continually add fertilizer and supplements.

Aquarium gravel is also often treated with dyes and chemicals that are likely to be damaging to your fish and plants. This is most common with quartz gravel. If you do choose quartz gravel you will need to supplement with laterite or Fluval Substrate. Pea gravel is a much better choice and generally considered more natural looking. It is a great match on top of white sand and mixed in with it.

Aquarium Sand 


Sand can be a great alternative to gravel and is an ideal substrate to many available in stores. You will have to be careful though to not get play sand or construction sand. Getting the right sand should be available in the aisle with gravel.  The best sand is available online where you can choose the color and size you need.

If you do use sand it can get very compact and cause sinking. Many aquarium owners complain of it eventually turning to mud.When it sinks, the larger substrate will eventually move to the bottom of the tank and the sand will appear at top, potentially ruining your display.

Natural White Sand is preferred and really cheap

Aquarium Soil aka Aqua Soil


Aqua soil is a much better alternative to growing aquarium plants than rock, gravel or sand. However you must be careful with what you choose and be ready to pay for it. Most aqua soils are only available at specialty pet stores. Most pets stores like Pet Pro, Petco, Pet Supplies Plus will not have it.  Amazon is the best option for buying aqua soil. It is rather affordable now, gives several options and is usually under free shipping.

Aquarium soil is best used by it self. Many manufactures, most notably Fluval will tell you explicitly on the directions to not mix the soil with any other substrate. This has angered many people but it is because the light construction of the Fluval substrate will be crushed by anything rock based.

Flourite is one of the best rated options.

Plants that Require Gravel, Stone or Sand

Some of the easier and less demanding plants like the Sea Onion, Vallis or Vava Fern will be just fine with gravel or sand.  They do not require nutrients as much as other aquarium plants but do require something strong and hardy for their roots to be positioned. If you used high end substrates and soils it will be difficult for them to hold their roots and they may float to the top of the tank. You can fill your tank with lots of these because they are light and thin.

Plants that Require a Mix of Stones and Soil

Plants that are quickly growing, branching and sending off shoots are going to require something to hold their roots but also something to give them nutrients for their constant growth. Examples might include Anubias barteri, Orchid Lily, Brazilian Pennywort. These plants will be aggressive and take over your tank. One of each will be enough.

Plants that Require Aqua Soil

The most difficult to grow plants will include those that require constant nutrients. Instead of continually supplementing them with fertilizer tabs and liquids you could use an aqua soil and a CO2 attachment. These plants will include Hairgrass, Dwarf Helzine, and Echinodorus 'Red Special.' These plants will usually require a stronger light too.

Plants that Require No Soil, Gravel or Anything

There are a number of aquatic plants that actually need no substrate to live in your aquarium! One class of plants that will grow perfectly without substrate are those that float at the top. Their nutrients are gathered from the water and bacteria left from fish waste. Some of these plants include the Salvinia's, Water Lettuce and Crystalwort.

Another class of plants that need no soil or substrate are the mosses. These are very easy to grow and only need something to attach themselves to. These could include driftwood, rocks or decorations in your tank. The most commonly used mosses are Java Moss and Christmas Moss. They are slow growing but easy to maintain and often spread easily.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Different Kinds of Live Plants for the Background of the Aquarium

The background will be filled mostly with the tallest plants. The theme for plants in the background is to cover up any unsightly aquarium devices like your heather, thermostat, filter and CO2 system.

Cabomba Family

You can make use of plants that are both tall and bushy like those from the Cabomba family. Most common amongst these are Green Cabomba, Yellow Cabomba and Red Coboma or  c. caroliniana, c. aquatica, and c. piauhyensis respectively. These plants are some of the most commonly duplicated in plastic plants. They are lush, full and grow very well in the back. Mixing the colors can easily hide equipment.

Onion Plants 

Other common theme is to use plants that are purely tall but lay their leaves across the top of the water. One such example is the onion plant (Crinum Thaianum). This plant has a 'fountainlike' effect at the top of the water which is matched well right next to the filter. Although it will not cover the heater completely it will draw your eyes away from the heater to the surface for a tranquil site.


The greatest benefit of having background plants are those that can interact with the flow of water in the back. The leaves of Hygrophilia's can do an incredible job of taking care of that task. These plants which are native to India, Malaysia, and Singapore appear dainty and delicate but they are indeed quite strong. Their leaves will move with ease near your filter and are great paired near oxygen stones. The most common is Hygrophila difformis also known as Water Wisteria.

Vallisneria and Corkscrew Plants

The three main samples of the Vallisneria family are distinguished mainly by the way their leaves point. All of them are tall, thin plants very similar to the aquatic onion. Corkscrew Vallis is perhaps the most famous because of its use in professional Japanese Aquascaping. It does become invasive which can be good for your wallet is you can produce more plants. The Giant Vallis can command dominancy in the tank and is great for covering up portions of the background. The Straight Vallis is shorter and thinner. It is ideal for filling in gaps.