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Plant Fertilizer

Root Tabs - Why Such Aquarium Bottom Fertilizers Are Good & How To Use Them

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Root Tabs - Why Such Aquarium Bottom Fertilizers Are Good & How To Use Them

Today, we focus on nutrient supply for plants, and the spotlight falls on root tabs, also known as root caps or sticks, which can add important plant nutrients to any aquarium substrate. Plant nutrition for planted freshwater aquariums is extensive and sometimes seems like a closed book. Fortunately, there are many helpful sources of information nowadays, and, coupled with your own experience, your understanding of fertilization will grow steadily. By the time you're done with this article, you'll know why it makes sense to use root tabs and how to use them. Well, let's go.

General Information On Plant Nutrition

The most important and perhaps also the most challenging theme in planted aquariums, especially in aquascaping, is to implement a smoothly running plant nutrient supply. The indispensable nutrients include light, CO2, and macro and micronutrients. The deficit of a single nutrient is enough to limit the uptake of available nutrients and thus also obstruct plant development. That is why we want to provide the plants with all the nutrients through different sources, according to the saying "as little as possible, as much as necessary". Because we wish to have magnificent plant growth and, if possible, without significant algae problems.

Dennerle Plant Care Root tabs

Regarding the supply of macro- and microelements, aquarium plants have different access points through which nutrients can be taken up. Some plants take up nutrients mainly through their leaves, e.g., epiphytes like Anubias, while others are strong root feeders, e.g., Cryptocoryne, and get most nutrients through their root system. Such information as just given help us to understand that a nutrient-rich substrate in combination with appropriate liquid fertilization is a reasonable basis for the nutrient supply of aquarium plants.

Why Root Sticks & Tabs Are Good

In general, root tabs are ideal for adding essential nutrients to depleted or neutral aquarium substrates, which may be the case after only a few months of use, even with nutrient-rich substrates. Strong, root-feeding plants such as Cryptocoryne and Echinodorus benefit tremendously from such fertilizers, as a lack of nutrients in the substrate can lead to a loss of rich leaf color, especially for these plants, but for all others as well. Overall, such root fertilizer tabs help intensify leaf color and contribute significantly to the positive development of more demanding plants. Moreover, they help to a better developed and healthier root system, which is reflected in more robust plants.

APT Jazz root tab

It is also exciting that the root tabs follow a depot effect and require the help of microscopic creatures for nutrient release. In fact, it needs bacteria located at the plant's roots. Only such bacteria can trigger the release of nutrients and make them available to the plant. The released nutrients are immediately absorbed by the plant roots without any parts of them being released into the water. This is an excellent feature because overfertilization is impossible with such root fertilizer tabs. You can't make any mistakes with the dosage, which is another reason root tabs are a great thing.

lilaeopsis brasiliensis foreground plant roots

How And When To Use Them

Since plants usually absorb their nutrients through the small, heavily branched roots rather than the stronger roots, this should always be considered for plants with such strong roots as Echinodorus or Cryptocoryne. For these plants, root tabs should not be inserted too close to the center of the plant. A good guide for the right spot is the tips of the outermost leaves because below these leaves are almost certainly the smaller roots. For stem plants, which often have a more tender root system, follow the instructions below or the manufacturer's instructions.

aquarium plants stem plants

  • We recommend adding root tabs 3-4 months after the initial aquarium start to avoid nutrient deficiencies.
  • 1-3 root tabs on an area of approx. 10x10 cm.
  • Insert the root tabs 3-4 cm deep into the soil. This can be done with aquarium tweezers or unique tools, e.g., ADA offers the ADA Bottom Release tool. Before buying, consider that such special tools are only designed to fit some root tab products and thus cannot be used universally.
  • The time to re-fertilize depends on various factors such as light intensity, CO2 fertilization, and the nutrient requirements of the plants. Usually, every 2-3 months, one should renew it.
  • Root tabs are compatible with all types of substrates.

Note: With the wide variety of root tab fertilizer products, giving equally valid dosage information for all products is impossible. Therefore, consider our information on dosage rather as a guide. We advise you to read the manufacturer's instructions for each fertilizer product before using it!

Tropica plant nutrition capsules

Further Tips

  • Use root tabs already during setup to enrich the substrate with additional nutrients from the start, thus achieving particularly lush plant growth. Especially for large solitary plants, the supply of a nutrient depot through root tabs is excellent.
  • For an aquarium mainly set up with soil-rooting plants, fertilizing should be done regularly with root sticks or tabs. In addition, it is also recommended to use liquid fertilization. Especially with advanced bushy growth, e.g., stem plants absorb many nutrients through their leaves. Imagine a formerly single stem that has been pruned back a few times and now has several shoots. The initial stem can no longer cover the nutrient supply via its root system, so it also needs nutrients via the water column to continue to thrive.
  • The release of nutrients, unlike liquid fertilizer, is not measurable. As mentioned, root tabs do not release nutrients into the water. Therefore, their nutrients are not detectable with water tests. This finding falls under the "good to know" category, which should be considered when dosing liquid fertilizer. It is pretty advisable to start with low liquid fertilization and, if necessary - if the plants show signs of deficiency - to increase gradually in 2 - 3 weekly cycles. It is crucial to keep such a period because it takes time until any fertilizer adjustments cause a change in the appearance of the plants!

aquarium stem plants

We hope you enjoyed reading this article and found the information you sought.

Do you have further questions or need help?

If you have further questions, don't hesitate to contact our customer service. Indeed, we will help you with other questions regarding aquariums and the beautiful world of aquascaping, too!

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