Fertilizer Requirements: Low-Tech vs. High-Tech Planted Tanks

April 03, 2022 6 min read 0 Comments

When planning out your aquarium fertilizer regimen, it is important to consider the type of tank set up you have. Generally speaking, low-tech and high-tech tanks require the same type of nutrients. Where they differ is what concentration of each type of nutrient is needed. High-tech tanks are often equipped with lots of lights and an injected carbon dioxide system. These devices will drastically increase the rate of growth for your aquatic plants, while simultaneously increasing the demand for plant nutrients. Low-tech tanks will encourage slower plant growth and thus will require less nutrients.

Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK) are the macronutrients needed in the largest quantities. Micronutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, boron, copper, molybdenum, manganese and a few others are needed, but in much lower concentrations compared to the macros.

Low-Tech vs. High-Tech Planted Tanks

The terms “High-tech” or “low-tech” are loose references to the amount of light and nutrients that are being added into your aquarium. The difference is usually whether or not the tank has ample lights and an injected carbon dioxide system.

It is important to note that there is a difference between a “planted aquarium” and an “aquarium with plants in it.” A planted aquarium is heavily planted, it has a substrate formulated for plant growth, and the main focus of the tank is the aquatic plant growth. Both styles of planted aquariums can be rewarding when correctly maintained. Having a high-tech planted aquarium is not for everyone, as it requires more dedication to maintain. However, a low-tech planted aquarium is fairly simple to maintain. 

Low-Tech Planted Tanks

The term “low-tech” actually has nothing to do with aquarium technology; it simply refers to planted aquariums that run without injected carbon dioxide. This comes from a historical convention, back when carbon dioxide injection systems were deemed high-tech. When you choose to build a low-tech planted tank, you are often foregoing some quality of life systems in favor of saving money. There is nothing wrong with that, but it likely means you aren’t using pressurized carbon dioxide injectors and may not have the greatest lighting set up. 

A low-tech planted aquarium is the perfect choice for a beginner. These planted aquariums will be easier to maintain since slower plant growth is to be expected. This means fewer nutrients required for growth, less plant pruning, and fewer water changes will be required. It also means that you need to choose tank-appropriate plants for the low-tech environment you are creating. Some plants will grow very slowly or not at all in a low-tech aquarium, while others will not grow to their full potential. Some plants won’t produce the same colors as they would in a high-tech planted tank.

To be clear, just because you are going for a low-tech set up doesn’t mean you can’t have a carbon dioxide injection system, just that most don’t. Some aquarists choose to use a sugar and yeast replacement system instead of a pressurized carbon dioxide system. 

Many aquatic plant species grow well without injecting carbon dioxide. This technique requires very little equipment or technical knowledge to make work. Ultimately the plants will provide a great environment for fish by filtering the water and providing a natural-feeling aquatic environment.

High-Tech Planted Tanks

A high-tech aquarium is one that uses a pressurized carbon dioxide system, high-intensity lights, and has normally has a strict nutrient dosing schedule. The strong lights make your plants grow quickly. Coupled with a carbon dioxide system, the plants will not only grow quickly, but will also grow healthy and strong. As a result of the rapid growth of the plants, your nutrient supply will be used up much faster, hence the need for frequent nutrient dosing. Large frequent water changes are also highly suggested, normally at least weekly 50%.

No matter how you frame it, a high-tech tank will ultimately be more work and maintenance than a low-tech tank. The rewards for your efforts are the ability to choose from a much wider range of aquatic plants which will grow much faster on average. You can also expect a much more diverse set of vibrant colors from you plants grown in a high-tech tank.

Your pressurized carbon dioxide injection is essential to meet the needs of rapidly growing plants. Without proper carbon dioxide levels, Algae is likely not far behind.

Liquid Fertilizers

Liquid fertilizers are probably the most popular fertilizer of choice right now. While they are slightly more expensive than a dry fertilizer, liquid fertilizers are perfectly measured and mixed, ready to get to work as soon as you pour them in. There is essentially no room for error with a liquid fertilizer.

Liquid fertilizers are popular amongst aquarists for all types of plants. These fertilizers supply all necessary nutrients to the plants. They often contain both macro and micronutrients, making them ideal for regular dosing schedules. 

Dry Fertilizers

Dry fertilizer will work just as well as liquid fertilizers.  The advantage is that they are normally going to be cheaper than their liquid counterparts, however they take more work on the users end figuring out what and how much of each individual dry fertilizer is to be added to your tank.

Substrate Fertilizers

Another option for adding nutrients to your planted tank is root tabs or capsules.  They are placed in the substrate and slowly released over time.  While it is not necessary to add nutrients in both the water column(how you would do with liquid or dry fertilizer) and substrate doing so can ensure there are nutrients available to your plants where and when they need them.

Fertilizer Dosing Methods

Once you have decided on your tank set up, it is important to learn exactly how much to dose your aquarium and when. If you are using liquid fertilizers, it can be a bit tricky to know exactly how much is enough fertilizer. Most products will provide you a recommended amount for dosing, but it’s important to not follow those suggestions blindly. It’s important to monitor your plants and adjust your amounts and frequency accordingly. Remember, not all plants grow under the same conditions and their nutritional needs will vary greatly.

If you’re just beginning a new dosing routine, keep in mind that some plants will absorb greater amounts of nutrition in the first few weeks. As time goes on, you may need to adjust the amounts according to your plant’s growth rate and pattern. If your aquarium has lots of fish, your plants will need less fertilizer. If you plan on doing frequent water changes, you will need more fertilizer.

In order to fully understand what is going on inside your aquarium, you’ll need to get comfortable with taking measurements. Setting your own custom dosing schedule and amounts will be the difference between a mediocre tank and a breathtaking underwater paradise. 

There are several different fertilizer dosing methods available to try, all of them with their own philosophy and disadvantages and advantages. Which one will work best for your tank depends entirely on your own goals and preferences. No two aquariums are the same and it’s best to simply go by what you see happening in yours.

EI Dosing

The most popular dosing method today is Estimative Index, also known as EI Dosing. Its basic philosophy is that by ample nutrients, your plants will always have the nutrients they need. A large water change is needed weekly to remove excess nutrients.

ADA Dosing

This method doses fertilizer into the water column combined with using an enriched substrate. With the ADA method, you dose limited liquid fertilizers.

PPS-Pro Dosing

The Perpetual Preservation System (PPS) dosing method is based on the fact that each aquarium is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all. It involves a specific DIY method of creating your own fertilizer and dosing according to the PPS system

PMDD Dosing

The Poor Man’s Dosing Drops (PMDD) method works on the theory that restricting phosphate means restricting algae growth. The original method is now considered outdated, because it’s been proven that your plants do really need those phosphates to thrive. That said, some aquarists still use the PMDD method, especially on low-light tanks that can benefit from the ratios provided by the schedule. They just make some modifications to ensure things run smoothly, such as adding a little extra phosphate.

Thrive Aquarium Plant Fertilizer

  • Can provide plants with all vital macronutrients and micronutrients
  • Highly recommended for both low and high-tech aquarium setups
  • Comes in highly-concentrated liquid fish plant fertilizer formula

If you are really serious in spoiling your aquarium plants with essential nutrients, then Thrive Aquarium Plant Fertilizer will help you achieve that.

More than that, by simply providing your fish tank plants with complete nutrients, they can grow healthily, fresher and looking great. This size is big enough to medicate a total of 2,500 gallons of tank water and adding it to the aquarium is made easier and this is made possible by its user-friendly pump dosing bottle.