Bringing the Outside In

(Unedited version)
Originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of
Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine

I was browsing through the discounted books on a shopping trip last winter. I found a nice little one on pond plants. Now I've had tubs and kiddy pools, and once in high school a short lived small pond that the garter snakes thought was their own personal goldfish sushi diner, but I've never really done a formal pond and haven't really been looking at the pond plant books. This was a foolish mistake on my part. I had no idea the selection of pond plants was so large. I also recognized several plants in the pond books that I was growing in my aquariums. Many of these I already knew were crossovers, plants that were popular in pond and aquarium, but I also noticed several "new" plants, ones that I had recently acquired for my tanks that weren't as commonly used previously.

There are quite a few plants that will live happily in your pond or in your aquarium. Since fall is rapidly approaching I thought this would be a good time to look at some of the issues involved with transferring plants from outside in the pond to inside in the aquarium.

There are two major concerns in moving aquatic plants from an outside source to inside your home aquarium. First you don’t want to introduce unwelcome organisms in to your tank. These could include algae, insect larva or worms among others. The second concern is trying to keep the plants alive while you change them from very different environments.

There are several options you have in regards to keeping unwelcome guests in your tanks from any plants you may wish to transfer. There’s a sliding scale of options depending on how much you want to keep out and how much you’re willing to stress the plants to achieve that ends.

Quarantine tanks are important for bringing new fish into your aquariums and can also be very useful for introducing new plants. A plant start-up or quarantine tank can be useful not only for bringing in plants from the outside but also for starting off any new plant. Plants often have a period of adjustment. Whether going from your pond or a new plant from the shop that was grown emersed, many plants can have some die-off and new growth before settling in to life in the aquarium. Using a plant quarantine tank can keep the die-off or funny two different types of growth that can occur (emersed and submerged) on the same plant out of your show tank.

When setting up a special aquarium for bringing in plants from your pond, whether you want to encourage or discourage the invertebrates that may come in with them, you will still need to set the aquarium up properly. Remember that you need to take as much care in providing lighting, nutrients, temperature control, filtration and cleaning as you would with any other aquarium. The tank should be prepared and cycled in advance in order to achieve the best results with your outside plants. Lighting is particularly important as these plants have been growing outside where the lighting is naturally from the sun. Don’t scrimp on plant care just because this is a quarantine tank. These plants are going to have to make some major adjustments and some will need tender care if they’ll survive the transition.

The more extreme change in environment the more likely you will have die off from your plants. Temperature control can be either up or down. Plants that have lived in very cool water will often have more trouble adjusting to the warmth of a home aquarium.

Some of the creatures that may be on outside aquatic plants are interesting enough in their own right, though most are not suitable to be housed with fish. In many instances it’s a matter of eat or be eaten. Dragonfly larva will be happy to eat your small fish and most fish will be happy to eat any small invertebrates they can. If you are interested in seeing some of the insects or other small invertebrates that may be found in a pond, you should do this in a specially set up aquarium. Just adding these things to most established home aquariums with tropical fish, is asking for trouble.

Even in a tank set up specifically for the invertebrates remember that they will still need food and will most likely eat each other if they are carnivorous which many are. Basically you will need to feed these animals just like you need to feed your fish. A few may eat flake or frozen foods but others will only survive on a steady diet of live foods. I have had nice success with carnivorous aquatic insects feeding them on mosquito larva, just be careful with these so they don’t end up flying around your house. Family members and roommates may not be thrilled if your animal food starts feeding on them. Smaller invertebrates that may show up in your tanks like snails, worms, daphnia, and cyclops will usually be able to find enough food in the tank to take care of themselves. They are also very likely to become food for the larger invertebrates that may be in the tank.

Most aquarists aren’t as interested in keeping these types of freshwater invertebrates and would like to just get the plants clean and free of such things. There is also the very likely possibility of introducing new algae into your aquarium with outside plants. Almost all of us that enjoy planted aquariums do not enjoy the algae that may invade our tanks.

There are several options for reducing or ridding outside aquatic plants of both stow away invertebrates and algae.

First you should visually inspect and hand clean the plants. This is usually easy to do in a plastic tub full of cool clean water, lighter colors make things easier to see. Remove any algae, leaves covered with algae, any leaves or stems that are soft, or mushy in any way or discolored.

Remember that the most important part of a rosette type of plant will be the central area where the leaves and roots grow from. If this area doesn’t seem healthy or is mushy or smells bad, then that part of the plant is dead. Use healthy firm plants when transferring them from outside.

In stemmed plants the important part of the plant is also the area where roots and leaves grow from, this is also where new stems will form and is called the node. When trimming stemmed plants make sure you leave several nodes to each piece. You need at least one or two to go under the substrate and two or more above to have the best chances with your plants. Even if the current leaves need to be removed new growth should come from the nodes.

You should also inspect the plants for snails, eggs, insect larva and other invertebrates. If you want to keep them you’ll want to check the water to save them for your wild freshwater invertebrate aquarium. If you want them to go away you’ll want to be careful to remove them from your plants. Even if you want to try to keep some it’s nice to know what you have and you may wish to separate some of the larger carnivorous animals.

There are several methods for more thoroughly cleaning plants for your aquarium that are meant to kill any remaining algae or invertebrates. I tend to like surprises and I haven’t personally used any of these dips for my plants. There is a risk that the dips can kill not only the undesirable things in plants but the plants themselves. Still there are many people I know who have incredible tanks and won’t put a plant in them that haven’t been dipped before hand.

Potassium permanganate is considered one of the safest dips. This is mixed with water to make a dark pink dip. Plants are left in it for 10 minutes, longer with more risk of injuring the plant. Plants are then rinsed well with dechlorinated water before being added to the tank.

A similar treatment that is more extreme and has a greater risk of killing your plant uses 19 parts water to one part household bleach. Plants are dipped for no more than 3 minutes, some delicate plants like mosses can stand no more than 2 minutes. The plants are then rinsed in water with an extra large dose of dechlorinator.

The information I’ve given about dipping plants is very general. If you’re interested in dipping your plants you should do some extra research as there are other methods used, including one using Alum and another using Hydrogen peroxide. Any plant dipping should be done with caution for your own safety and that of your plants and fish. A quick on line search can give you more detailed information on the different types of plant dips that others have recommended.

Whether you’re interested in a more detailed look and understanding of the secret life of your pond, are interested in trying some new plants in your aquarium, or are trying to keep some of your pond plants alive through the winter, bringing them inside can be an interesting new option to your planted aquarium hobby.

Welcome to the Jungle | Into The Forest | The Creepy Crawlies | A Clearing in the Thicket | Algae Eaters for the Planted Aquarium
North American Natives | Why things go wrong Pt 1 | Why things go wrong Pt 2 (Algae) | Algae Eating Shrimp | Lo-Tech Tanks
Welcome to the Fish Room | The Stemmed Plants | Mosses | A Livebearer Biotope | Planted Tank Social | The Genus Hygrophila | Cyanobacteria
Easy Plants | What I Did Last Summer | Decorations in the Planted Tank | Botany-An Introduction to Plant Biology | Botany-Anatomy of a plant
Botany-How Plants Work | Easy Rosettes | Going High-Tech | Floating Plants | Dealing with Success | Bringing the Outside In | Vallisneria
Hair Algae | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 1 | Flowering Aquarium Plants Part 2 | Liverworts in the Aquarium | Elements of Design
Planted Aquarium Maintenance | More Mosses | Invaders | Ferns in the Aquarium | Setting up a Planted Aquarium
Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest | Proserpinaca | Hardware for the Planted Aquarium | Rotala | Neocaridina Shrimp | Lo-tech Tank Tips

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