Can I grow plants with this mix of cichlids?

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Neale Monks has some advice for a PFK reader who's keen to add live plants to a cichlid community.

Q. I have a 600 l/132 gal tank which is home to South American cichlids, namely Green terror, Blue acara, Severums and one Oscar.

The decor is river sand, rock and bogwood.

I am contemplating adding some plants. I know from past experience the Oscar can be a bit destructive when it comes to plants.

Can you please recommend any that you feel would survive in the tank and not be ripped up — or do you think I should leave well alone?

Marcus Ford, Dublin

A. You've a stiff challenge adding plants to this aquarium!

Severums (pictured above) are herbivorous fish, so view plants as food; that's why you give them things like cooked peas and spinach alongside the usual flake and pellets.

Green terrors are a bit hit-and-miss with plants; while they do like to dig, they don't normally eat plants.

Blue acaras are largely plant-friendly though they will dig a bit when spawning. Outside of spawning, they actually like a bit of plant cover and appreciate an aquarium containing lots of sturdy, shady plants around the sides.

Finally, the Oscar is a definite plant-uprooter, particularly when spawning, but even outside of spawning they will uproot all but the largest plants in their attempts to "improve" the layout of the aquarium!

Basically, live plants aren't an option here. You might just get away with large, sturdy specimens of Java fern and even better Anubias attached to bogwood roots, but don't bank on it! Given a large, well-established specimen of either plant will cost £25 or more, you may want to think carefully before experimenting.

But why not try plastic plants? One approach rarely taken is to get large, bushy plastic plants and attach them to the top of the aquarium, using aquarium-grade silicone perhaps, so they trail downwards into the water, swooshed along by the water current. The result is a good amount of shade as well as something that suggests the flooded forest habitat of many of these cichlids. It also leaves the bottom of the tank free so you can leave your cichlids to dig as much as they want.

Alternatively, you could experiment with floating plants. These can't be uprooted, won't be bothered by boisterous fish, and usually grow so quickly that if some are eaten, that's not big deal. Amazon frogbit and floating Indian Fern both work well and provide a "canopy" of green that extends downwards from the surface anything up to 20cm/8” or more, and generally most fish love aquaria with floating plants because of the shade provided.

Both these plants grow quickly under bright light, absorbing ammonia and nitrate, so they do good work helping to maintain excellent water quality. They also tend to do well under aquarium hoods, something that can't be said for most other floating plants.

Neale Monks

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