Many people know of pothos as a hardy houseplant, but its also popular among fishkeepers for use in sumps, overflows, hang on back filters, refugiums, and aquariums. Adding a pothos plant to your aquarium is a good way to reduce nitrates and give it a more natural look.
Fish waste (ammonia) is transformed into nitrates by the bacteria in your filter. Nitrates are harmful to fish and need to be removed from the aquarium, typically through water changes. In nature, plants perform this function by absorbing nitrates. While a single pothos plant will not absorb enough waste for you to skip any water changes, it will help to reduce these excess nutrients.
How to add Pothos to Your Aquarium
You can find pothos (in the US) for sale at most local garden centers, any store that carries houseplants, or on Amazon. Once you've purchased a plant, you can either add the whole plant to your aquarium - after removing it from the soil - or take cuttings from it. One healthy mother plant can produce dozens of cuttings. I have been taking cuttings from the plant shown below for several years. The vines eventually grow back after being cut.
Pothos is also known as devil's ivy because it is so difficult to kill. The stem can be cut and inserted directly into water. After a few days, white roots will sprout from the stem and grow down into the water. This works even in a glass of tap water, but pothos plants grow much quicker in an aquarium where they have access to lots of nutrients.
Pothos does not require much light to grow, so you don't need to have a light shining directly on it unless you have it under a cabinet or in some other very dark location. The leaves will turn to face any nearby light sources as the plant gets established.
I secured the plant pictured above using a suction cup with a clip for airline tubing. This is a good way to hold the vine in place inside your aquarium. You can also insert a stem into a hang on back filter, an overflow or breeder box, or build your own DIY container to hold pothos plants.
More Info on Pothos in Aquariums
There are lots of examples on YouTube of how people are using Pothos in their aquariums. I recommend starting with the one below from Aquarium Co-op.
Odin Aquatics isn't affiliated with any YouTube channels
Microworms - which are actually nematodes, not worms - are a convenient live food because cultures can be maintained almost indefinitely with very little maintenance. Unlike live brine shrimp, microworms don't have to be hatched and then immediately fed to your fish. An individual culture will last 4-6 weeks, with live worms being harvested and fed every day.
Microworms are a good food for fry that are too small to consume baby brine shrimp or dry foods. In my fish room I feed them to Melanotaenia Praecox (dwarf neon rainbowfish) fry because their mouths are not big enough to eat baby brine shrimp for their first 1-2 weeks.
I shot the video below using a small microscope to show microworms moving in water. The larger hash marks are 1 mm apart, the largest microworms are about 1 mm in length, however they are only about 0.1 mm wide. This allows very small fish to slurp them up like noodles. You can also see much smaller worms that are only 0.2 - 0.3 mm long. The round objects are pieces of potato flake from the culture.
How to Start a Microworm Culture
The first step to starting your own mircoworm farm is to obtain a starter culture. These can be found for sale on eBay, Amazon.com, or through local fish shops and aquarium clubs. A starter culture will be relatively inexpensive (usually around $10 for a good culture) and the best part is you will only have to pay this one time. Some people out there are selling cultures for as low as $3-$4*, but I strongly recommend paying slightly more for a culture that comes with worms, yeast, a container, and some instructions to get you started.
*I tried buying a culture for less than $4, and when it arrived it was a tiny bag in a standard letter envelope containing about a teaspoon of worms that smelled like death. It was a waste of money & time.
Once you have a starter culture and you begin setting up your own cultures, you should be able to keep live microworms available for your fish for as long as you want. The video below by Aquarium Co-op has a lot of good information on how and why you should set up a microworm culture.
Selecting a Container for your Microworm Culture
You can use just about any plastic container for a microworm culture, as long as it has a lid and a flat bottom to spread the culture media on. I like to use plastic containers from salad mix or packaged lunch meat that have been washed out.
Nematodes need oxygen to live. I use a utility knife to cut small air holes in the lid of the container. These holes don't need to be very big, just enough to allow some air to reach the culture.
Selecting a Medium for your Microworm Culture
I use an instant potato mix as the base for my microworm cultures, as recommended by Aquarium Co-op. Other options include oatmeal, cornmeal, and baby cereal. Any of these soft grain mixes will work, but I've found the potato mix to be very cheap and easy to use. Just make sure whatever you buy has no additives.
Starting a Microworm Culture
Once you have starter worms, a container, potatoes, and some bakers yeast, you can mix up a new culture.
Pour enough mashed potato mix into the container to cover the bottom with about a half inch layer. This will expand when water is added.
Add water from an aquarium and stir until the mixture is similar to mashed potatoes. You don't want it too runny or too dry, it should look like the photo on the box.
Smooth out the mixture in the container
Add a little bit of baker's yeast, and gently stir it into the top layer of the mix
Smooth out the mixture and add two spoonfuls of aquarium water to wet the top
Add the worms from your starter culture to the top of the mix, put the lid on the container (make sure you date it!) and wait a few days (3-5 days on average)
Once you can see the top of the mixture shimmering or wiggling, you know the worms are multiplying. They can now be harvested using your finger or a spoon, paintbrush, etc. Just dunk them into the aquarium!
Keeping Your Microworms Going
To make sure you never run out of microworms, its a good idea to always have 2 active cultures. I start a new culture every 3-4 weeks. Make sure you write the date you started the culture on the container!
Your existing cultures should be stirred gently about once a week to keep them thriving. They will have a vinegar-like smell to them, which is normal. If you can see live worms and don't see any mold, it is probably still good. Eventually the culture will start to stink badly or grow mold, and it should be discarded. This will happen after several weeks.
Choosing live plants for your aquarium can be difficult when you're just getting into the hobby. There are dozens of species to choose from. Many require high light levels or, in some cases, carbon dioxide injection. To make selection even more complicated, many stores sell plants that are not truly aquatic.
Knowing what plants will thrive in your aquarium as a beginner can save you a lot of headache. These 5 beginner aquarium plants are all hardy enough to tolerate relatively low light and less than ideal water parameters.
Java fern, named after the Indonesian island of Java, is a slow growing aquatic fern that is widely known as one of the best beginner aquarium plants. Microsorum pteropus will tolerate low light quite well, so you won't need to go out and spend a lot of money on a high output light fixture. There are several varieties of java fern available in the hobby, including "narrow leaf", "needle leaf", "Windelov", and "trident".
To cultivate java fern in your aquarium it is best to attach the rhizome (the stem that the roots emerge from) to a rock or a piece of driftwood. Burying the the rhizome in soil or gravel will usually cause it to rot away and die. For this reason, java fern can even be grown in a tank with no substrate! This makes it an excellent choice when setting up a bare bottom quarantine or breeding tank.
#2: Anubias (anubias barteri)
Another slow grower, anubias is a genus of aquatic and semi-aquatic flowering plants native to Africa. Anubias barteri is one of the most common species in the aquarium hobby and can be found in multiple varieties. Like java fern, anubias tolerates low light very well. It also doesn't need to be planted in a substrate.
#3: Cryptocorynes (cryptocoryne wendtii)
Cryptocoryne is a genus of aquatic plants containing dozens of species. Crypts come in a variety of colors, sizes, and leaf shapes. There are hardy green varieties, such as Cryptocoryne wendtii, and also varieties that have brown, red, or even pink foliage.
Unlike the first two plants on this list, crypts need to be planted in a substrate for their roots to develop. The good news is they can usually be grown in a basic sand or gravel bed under low to medium light. While they are somewhat slow growers, crypts will send out small runners (baby plants) that can be uprooted and replanted, or allowed to form a carpet.
#4: Vallisneria (vallisneria spiralis)
Also called tape grass or eel grass, vallisneria is an aquatic grass that can grow quite long - in some cases up to 6 feet - if left untrimmed. Vallisneria can be planted in a standard gravel substrate, or a soil base capped with sand or gravel. When it has enough light and nutrients, it will send off lots of runners and start to form a tall forest of underwater grass.
The tank shown above is a "dirted tank", which is a great way to get rapid and healthy vallisneria growth. This method was popularized by Diana Walstad, whose book, Ecology of The Planted Aquarium, is a great resource on aquatic plants.
#5: Guppy Grass (najas guadalupensis)
Named for its utility as a hiding spot for baby guppies, guppy grass is easy to grow under low light and does not need to be planted or attached to anything. It grows into floating bunches that provide cover for small fish and will branch off into a tangle of thin stems and leaves. Like all the plants on this list, it does not require CO2 injection for successful cultivation, and is not too picky about water parameters.