The Three Essential Components of the Planted Aquarium


How to Optimize Plant Growth in your Aquascape:

A Guide for Beginners


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I want to personally welcome you into what will be the Premier Aquascaping and Planted Tank destination for all Aquarium enthusiasts. We have been hard at work preparing a number of How-To, News, and Review articles for you. Now let us dive in!


This article is a part of our “Planted Tanks and Aquascaping for Beginners” series. Throughout this article you will learn the fundamentals behind how our beautiful Aquascapes grow and thrive. At the end of every article I will present you with a “TL;DR”, which stands for “Too Long; Didn’t Read”. If you’re in a rush or just looking for the rundown then go ahead and skip to the end and check it out.

plant growth

Light, Nutrients and CO2:

The Essential Components

There are 3 Essential Components of the Planted Aquarium and they are: LIGHT, CO2 and NUTRIENTS. When these 3 are harnessed properly the aquascaper will have beautiful plant growth with minimal to no algae growth. Sounds great right? Okay let’s examine each in detail so we can determine what will work for each of us.



Light is the MOST important factor in a planted tank. Unlike the other essential components, a lack of light results in ZERO plant growth. Right now you’re probably asking yourself “well what is a good light?” And I would tell you you’re asking the wrong question. The right question is “how much light should I have?” And in general lighting is broken into the three categories that plants are.

  1. Low-Light: approx 1-2watts/gallon or 15-30 PAR
  2. Medium-Light: approx 2-3watts/gallon or 30-55 PAR
  3. High-Light: approx 3+watts/gallon or 55+ PAR

In general, low/medium/high plants need a corresponding level of lighting. Because of this it is important to establish the type of tank you will have before you start your aquascaping adventure.
For example if you decide you want to aquascape a “High-Light” tank you will be able to grow almost any plant you want. This is because each plant has a certain minimum amount of lighting needed to grow. When you meet that need, no matter how much more light you provide, the plant will thrive. For example, Micro-Swords require a very high amount of light and can only be grown in those conditions. However, a low light specimen like Java Ferns need only low light conditions, but will continue to thrive in medium and high light levels.

Finnex FugeRay Planted+ Aquarium LED Light

For the beginner I personally recommend the Finnex FugeRay Planted+ Aquarium LED Light. It will meet all of the above lighting requirements. 



A lot of people quickly become overwhelmed when first starting to learn about nutrient and fertilizer dosing. The concerns usually are due to the misconception that excess nutrients cause excessive algae growth. But that is just plain wrong. Algae growth is produced through an IMBALANCE of nutrients. I’ll outline how to tackle the task of balancing our nutrients. Check it out.

Our first goal is to fulfill the TWO needs of plants.

  1. Macronutrients
  2. Micronutrients

Macronutrients are usually the limiting factor for plant growth meaning without providing these your plants will not grow. Our macronutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium elements aka our NPKs.

Micronutrients are required for plant growth as well and are usually depleted by utilization, oxidation and precipitation. Our micronutrients include Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Boron, Cobalt, Copper, Manganese, Nickely, Rubidium and many others.


The key to a successful aquascape is plant growth + no algae. To do this we require a balance of our macro and micronutrients, then we balance our Lighting/CO2/Nutrients.
To balance our Nutrients we use a very simple tool called the The Nutrient Calculator.

  • Step 1. Enter the size of your tank.
  • Step 2. Enter your method of dosing (see below for more info)
  • Step 3. Choose your Fertilizer
  • Step 4. Choose your dosing regime
  • Step 5. Hit “Gimmie”

For example: Let’s dose (fertilize) my 40 gallon tank using the Estimative Index method. Let us use KNO3 – Nitrogen for our example.


As you can see we chose the tank, then checked DIY, chose our nutrient source and our method of dosing.

The program provided us with how much we should dose and how often. Pretty easy!

The next logical question is what fertilizers do I use?

Well you have several options, you can buy premixed fertilizers like Seachem – Flourish Fertilizers line of products or you can buy dry fertilizer and premix those or dry dose them. Personally I suggest using the dry chemicals because it is an inexpensive alternative to the premixed variety.


3. CO2

The final Essential Component of the Planted Tank is Carbon Dioxide – CO2. Just like Light and Nutrients, Co2 is absolutely essential for explosive plant growth and propagation.

CO2 requirements for plants are relatively static most of the time. Maintaining a level of approximately 25-35ppm of Co2 will usually meet the conditions that most plants require. However, it is important to note that if you keep very high levels of Light or Nutrients you will be overdriving your plants. To prevent algae growth it is necessary to keep your CO2 levels in balance with the other 2 components. To keep balance you should experiment by raising and lowering the CO2 in your tank and checking the algae growth every few days, making adjustments until your tank is perfect.


Introducing and diffusing Co2 into your tank is the next step. Check out my article: Pressurized CO2 for Beginners: Setting up your first CO2 system in a planted tank. There you will find a beginners guide to designing your first Pressurized CO2 system.


If pressurized CO2 is out of your budget or perhaps you are designing an aquascape that utilizes low light plants that don’t require much CO2 then you can consider other methods of CO2 injection.

Alternate CO2 Dosing Methods

I recommend DIY if you are looking to experiment and have plans to save and move onto a pressurized system in the future. Setting up your own DIY system is a great learning experience and will put you on your way to becoming an expert. Check out this awesome video on DIY CO2 systems.

ARVE Error: Mode: lazyload is invalid or not supported. Note that you will need the Pro Addon for lazyload modes.



I know that was a lot to take in, but hopefully you learned a lot today! The key to success is to remember that our tanks are living ecosystems that require balance. In the real world, nature has perfected that balance through billions of years of trial and error. It is our goal as aquathusiasts to learn that balance and incorporate that into our art. Let’s recap what we learned, check it out.




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Hi I'm Ryan, the owner of Aquathusiast. I've been keeping fish and aquatic plants for several years now. Along the way I've learned a lot. My goal is to take that knowledge and experience and help you, my readers, create the best aquariums and aquascapes possible. Drop us a line at or join us in the forums for a free aquarium consultation.
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