I define a “high tech planted aquarium” as an aquarium with CO₂ gas injection to at least 20 ppm and high intensity LED lighting with blue and crimson components (“grow lights”). In general, high tech planted aquariums have the following characteristics:
|Bottom substrate||2 inch (5 cm) commercial planted aquarium soil|
|Carbon dioxide||Heavy injection|
|Lights||Very High 14 on – 10 off|
|Number of fish||Light|
Note this is ONLY a TYPICAL set up. None of these parameters are cast in stone. They can all be changed with success.
The main downside to high tech planted aquariums is the cost. One must have a lot of equipment for the CO₂ injection and the good stuff is not cheap. Expect to pay $400 to $700 for the system when all is said and done.
Most high tech planted aquariums have the following characteristics in more detail:
- Substrate: Expensive commercial “Aquarium Soil”
- Fertilization: Frequent and heavy
- Carbon Dioxide: CO₂ injection to 30 ppm
- Lights: High powered LEDs with blue and crimson
- Filter: varies
- Aeration: None
- Water movement: Some low in tank
- Fish: Small numbers of small fish
Note that a high tech tank does not have any certain “look” to it nor does it have to have a careful aquascaping done to it. And be forewarned, there are some “aquascaping police” who think anything other than a finely manicured Dutch style aquarium is a “swamp” which is beneath their contempt. The following very beautiful “natural” tank had a very high tech CO₂ system on it. But the “aquascaping police” will denigrate it.
Substrate for High Tech Aquariums
Most “high tech” planted aquarium hobbyists use expensive commercial aquarium “soils”. And they are all buying into a huge amount of marketing hype which simply isn’t true. Commercial aquarium “soils” are just high-priced marketing hype that make a lot of money for some manufacturers.
Most commercial “hard” aquarium “soils” are calcined clays or ground weathered lava rock. The term “calcined” means clay which has been heated to around 1,300°F (700°C). and literally fused into a hard ceramic product. This calcination process basically turns clay into rock.
These hard “soils” do not have organic matter or fertilizer in them. Contrary to their marketing hype, these “soils” are NOT fertile and do NOT have “high cation exchange” capacity. These high-priced “soils” do NOT store nutrients well. But many have beautiful planted “high tech” tanks using these commercial calcined “soils”. If these hobbyists had used good old aquarium gravel they would have had the same results at a lot lower cost.
There is a second type of “soil” which is softer, lighter in weight and tends to decompose. This product apparently has some fertilizer in it. These “aquarium soils” typically last about one year before becoming mud. These appear to be “baked” clay products (i.e. clay heated to about 300°F (150°C) with a binder). These products are very expensive and simply not worth the money.
In truth any substrate will work well in a “high tech” (CO₂ injected, high fertilization, high light) planted aquarium. The substrate just isn’t anywhere near as important as all the marketing hype suggests it is. Indeed, many experienced hobbyists say that a “dirted” tank is the best way to go with high tech tanks. By “dirted” we mean one inch of cheap organic garden soil covered by one inch of sand or gravel.
More on substrates can be found at this link:
There are about as many fertilization schemes as there are keepers of high-tech planted aquariums. We go into that in great depth in this link:
One key feature of all high-tech planted tanks that allows them to become the lush gardens they are is carbon dioxide injection.
Carbon dioxide levels are VERY important in high tech aquariums. The aquarium below was where the operator ran out of CO₂ and just let the tank go for a while with no CO₂. The result was stopping of active growth by the plants and the start of a huge algae outbreak.
Note the deep blue color in the drop checker. And the coating of green algae on SOME of the plants. The hobbyist tore the tank down. This was unfortunate as if the CO₂ level had simply been taken above 20 ppm the plants would have resumed growth and killed the algae.
The lighting for high tech planted tanks needs to be very intense. It also needs close control of the spectrum of the lights. Plants need blue and crimson lights (i.e. violet “grow lights”) while they are growing. But the human eye likes a different spectrum. So planted aquariums typically have two lighting “schedules”. One type of lighting while the plants are in view, and one type of lighting when the plants are not being viewed.
More about this at this link:
Fish for a High-tech Planted Aquarium
Like most planted tanks, high-tech planted tanks utilize small schools of small fish. Some have shrimp in them. More about this at this link:
CO₂ and Aeration
Most high tech tanks I’ve seen have very little aeration in order to conserve the CO₂ in the aquarium. But a few use high aeration. The amount of CO₂ being put into the tank, the amount of aeration and the time to get up to a decent level of CO₂ is a very complex relationship.
A fifty gallon (189 liter) tank with fish might get to various CO₂ levels under several different scenarios:
- Rapid injection of lots of CO₂ and large amounts of aeration might only take 30 minutes to get to 30 ppm and it will safely hold the 30 ppm for the rest of the day
- Rapid injection of lots of CO₂ and no aeration might only take 40 minutes to get to 40 ppm and kill the fish in the tank
- Three bubbles per second of CO₂ and moderate aeration might take two hours to get to 30 ppm and it will safely hold the 30 ppm for the rest of the day.
- One bubble per second and no aeration might take six hours to get to 30 ppm and it will safely hold the 30 ppm for the rest of the day.
- One bubble per second and large amounts of aeration might take ten hours to get to 12 ppm and it will safely hold the 12 ppm for the rest of the day.
Most planted tank enthusiasts do not have significant numbers of decent sized fish in their tanks and low aeration. The air stone, air pumps and wavemakers can be removed from aquariums with only small schools of small fish in them. In low stocked aquariums one can safely go as high as 30 ppm CO₂.
More information on setting up a high tech CO₂ injection system can be found at this link:
Filtration for a High Tech Aquarium
The trick with filtration in most high tech aquariums is to add the filtration in such a way that the outlet of the filter is deep in the aquarium and moves the water slowly down or across, never up. This is to keep aeration low. Diffuse and slow the water flow via oversized caps.
There are a whole series of DIY filter designs that will work very well with this type aquarium (low flow deep in the tank) and can be seen at the following article:
Planted Aquariums in Depth
The following sections will tell you how to make a planted aquarium:
Here is another “natural” high tech aquarium