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Live plants for a goldfish tank?

 
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Still with the new library job - feels like I'm going to be mining here more for work than I've ever had time to do for the farm!

I've inherited care of critters in my new role, including a 40 gal tank with 3 goldfish; 2 plain, one of those with an impressive tumor and 1 fancy. Also included, one fake log, two fake plants, one large snail and one small one that keeps disappearing.

I'd like to replace the plastic algae-prone plants with actual living, breathing ones. What would be even better, if I could find plants in the hood to use. Like maybe from my very own pond.

Anybody have any advice about what types of plants might work best and how I go about finding that out without killing our fishy friends?

AtDhVaAnNkCsE!
 
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Many pet stores sell live plants for aquariums. When I kept fish, I also preferred live plants. I never had any bad interactions between the fish and the plants. But a knowledgeable pet store clerk should be able to give better recommendations.

AtDhVaAnNkCsE!

 Hee hee! I just noticed this...took me a minute to understand, but I like it!
 
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I asked my husband (who's been an avid fishkeeper for 20+ years) and he said that:

[1] That's probably too many goldfish for that size tank (see recent NPR article about how big goldfish get in the wild. That's how big they should grow if they are healthy.

[2] The best plants to ensure the health of the goldfish are probably pothos (the roots go in the water, and the leaves come out of the water) and duckweed. Duckweed and pothos are the best at eating the fish poop and keeping the water from getting deadly from too much nitrogen. Goldfish make way more waste than most other fish. He also says a sponge filter would be really helpful if there isn't one already in the tank.

[3] For native plants, you could sprout a willow or an amazing amount of plants in there. Put a basket in the corner with gravel at the bottom of it, and put the willow branch in there. Just make sure the willow roots don't get into the silicone on the side of the tank.

[4] You can totally use plants from your pond. You'll want to do a salt dip or a quarantine (a couple of weeks in a vase should do it and watch for any critters). Or you can do a power rinse of the plants and try to get off any critters that way. You don't need to worry about the plants hurting the goldfish--just the little snails/etc that live in the pond from getting into your tank.

[5] Do you know how often the water has been changed in that tank? If it hasn't been changed/maintained well, you'll want to do small daily water changes  (like just 5% each day for a week or two), and then you can get into your normal, weekly 80% water change.

[6] The tank is a bit small for those fish.You can do it with the plants and regular large water changes. It'd be easier to maintain if you (A) got a larger tank, or (B) got easier to maintain fish. I asked my husband for other fish ideas, just in case other people are looking for good fish for a 40 gallon, and he said: a pair of peepuffers would be really cute, or paradise fish, or some dwarf ciclids, white cloud mountain minnows, exodons. There's lots of choices. He'd stock it with dwarf puffers, a hillstream loach or a butterfly pleco, and 5-7 white cloud moutain minnows. If you stock the tank lightly and have plants, you can get away with just doing water changes once a month, rather than once a week or every few days.    
 
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Agree with the above.  The only caveat being that most small-tank fish you buy in fish stores are tropical and will need a heater.  Goldfish and some minnows you can get by without.

A good native north American flower that works in aquariums is the Cardinal flower, a species of lobelia.
 
Nicole Alderman
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I asked my husband about the heater, and he said most tropical fish will do very well as long as they are kept above 65F. So, if the library is heated over night to stay above 65F, they might not need a heater.

His tanks in the garage are at 72, and it drops down to 55 during power outages. And the fish are doing fine. And they are tropical fish. It's healthier for temperatures to fluctuate a little during the day, like happens in nature.

He's telling me now that if someone is going to do no heater, and it gets below 65F at night, and wants healthy fish, minnows and a hillstream loach are a safe bet. It'll be an interesting, low-maintence tank.
 
Laura Rutherford
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Thanks so much for this detailed response, Nicole - I appreciate your husband's 5¢ too!

It's a new tank, considerably bigger than the old one, so I guess the fishies are happier than they were. They've been here for years and don't seem too cranky about it. I've talked with the other staff here and we all agree some different fish would be nice, once this lot move on...

I'm trying to figure out how to make pothos work with a lid that covers the whole top of the tank. Maybe I'll cut some holes in it. Anyway, I'm going to try experimenting with a couple of the plants in my pond and some willow. Cardinal flower would be nice, but I guess it'd have to be able to grow out of the water as well.

The water was being changed once a month, but just 25-30%. That was not enough. I did it today, taking all the bits out to clean and replaced about 40% of the water after scrubbing down the sides and vacuuming the floor. Maybe once I get some live plants in there things will improve, algae-wise. Or I'll just start cleaning it every 3 weeks.

Thanks again everyone - I'm going to do some plant-hunting this week!

 
Nicole Alderman
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my husband wrote:Goldfish live 20-40 years. A water change is necessary whenever nitrAtes exceed 40 parts per million (40ppm). Ammonia and NitrItes need to remain at or near zero.

simple nitrogen cycle for water
image taken from 'Manage your freshwater aquarium, tropical fishes and plants.' Click picture to go to the article


size of 2 year old goldfish
image from 'It's not just a fish's guide to goldfish.' Click for the article



Maybe there's a local that has a (contained) pond that would like some goldfish for it? Because these guys seem to live a long time if healthy and get rather large. Nitrogen test kits aren't too expensive, and maybe testing the nitrogen would be  cool experiment for story time with the library kids? (Our library does weekly story times with the kids, or at least did before covid. I could see reading some cute fish books to them, having a goldfish craft, and testing the water as a little story time....but that's the teacher in me )
 
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Goldfish can be ferocious plant destroyers, they love to dig and nibble. They really require a lot of water per fish (more than tropicals of the same size) for best health.

For both plant protection and goldfish health, have you considered an aquarium sump tank?  It's basically a second tank piped up to share water with your display tank, but out of sight. Your display tank may be 40 gallons, but when set up right, your fish are chemically in an environment that's display + sump gallons. And if your fish are rough on the plants, you can move some or all of them to the sump where they can grow in peace. Or grow unprotected plants like duckweed. Fish may find activity like water tests to be less stressful when you're using the sump instead of "their" tank.

 
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Gold fish can be quite destructive on plants, I'm not sure they actually eat many of them but they do dig and wallow around a bit. They are also very dirty fish, they poop a lot. If you are new to aquarium keeping and especially a planted aquarium the pothos and duckweed mentioned earlier would be good choices. With plants though light becomes an important factor, both in intensity and duration. Pothos isn't really an aquatic plant but does very well grown hydroponically and is very tolerant of low or varied lighting. Just drill a hole in the aquarium cover and stick a stem of it down into the water, just and inch or so. It will root and develop into a cool looking mass that will help clean up the mess the fish make.  I'm not sure about the lighting requirements of duckweed but the roots hanging down from it are also cool looking and the fish like nibbling at them.

Other, truly aquatic plants vary widely in lighting and other requirements but they have the advantage of releasing oxygen into the water. You can actually see it in a phenomenon called pearling, where tiny bubbles of oxygen form on the leaves but the light and nutrient balance needed for that isn't easy to achieve. It also isn't essential to be able to see it for reaping the benefits.

There are lots of kinds of truly aquatic plants, defined as plants that grow their leaves underwater. Many have to be grown in a substrate of sand, gavel or even soil. They have root systems just like terrestrial plants. They may really be the best for achieving a fully balanced system but I do not recommend for a beginner. A couple good aquatics that grow outside a substrate are hornwort and Java fern, and they are both a little more forgiving on lighting. Hornwort is very common and can be collected from about any pond or lake. It grows in long string with circular rows of leaves, some people call it coon tail. I like the looks of it best anchored to the bottom it doesn't need that, it can grow just floating around freely. Plus any part actually burred will eventually rot so it ends up floating anyway.

Java fern grows a long rhizome and will attach itself to wood or rocks. That rhizome must also not be buried in the substrate or it will rot. I'd recommend that if you buy some to find a source where you can purchase a plant already attached to a rock or piece of wood cause it is kind of hard to achieve that from scratch.

There are few plants I can think of other than the hornwort that you might gather in your own area that are likely to thrive, at least not until you experiment and learn about all the different parameters I mentioned above, namely lighting, nutrition and rooting habits.

For health and of your fish and to make it easiest I'd suggest the pothos, although I'm sure there are lots of other plants that could be used similarly.   Actually sweet potato vines do very well hydroponically but would require more light than the Pothos.

When it comes to adding fish, keep in mind that gold fish are slow, with big frilly fins that many other fish can't resist nibbling on so go with docile ones such as guppies or platies. Yes they are often called and sold as "tropical" but have done fine for me without a heater and they are both live bearers so it's fun to watch the babies grow up. A big mess of Pothos roots would be a good place for the babies to hide too, cause the parents will eat them.

Some one mentioned Paradise fish and the are gloriously beautiful fish with interesting personalities but they are murderous bastards. They will just eat anything smaller and rip anything bigger to bits. Florida Fag fish are neat little fish too and very docile but they like to eat plants, especially algae.

I haven't changed the water in my aquarium in 20 years, I just replace as needed due to evaporation. A biofilm whose technical name I don't recall right now covers all surfaces except the front and sides glass. There is no heater, no filter other than a small sponge to catch big stuff and no charcoal. Java fern, hornwort  are abundant. At one time I did have pothos but noticed my other plants were suffering, it was too aggressive and hogging all the nutrients.
 
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K Kaba wrote:Goldfish can be ferocious plant destroyers, they love to dig and nibble. They really require a lot of water per fish (more than tropicals of the same size) for best health.

For both plant protection and goldfish health, have you considered an aquarium sump tank?  It's basically a second tank piped up to share water with your display tank, but out of sight. Your display tank may be 40 gallons, but when set up right, your fish are chemically in an environment that's display + sump gallons. And if your fish are rough on the plants, you can move some or all of them to the sump where they can grow in peace. Or grow unprotected plants like duckweed. Fish may find activity like water tests to be less stressful when you're using the sump instead of "their" tank.



In my aquaponics, I've never been able to grow duckweed if the goldfish can reach it. They eat it all. I had to put it in a floating basket to keep it from them. If your sump gets plenty of light, you could possibly grow it there and give the goldfish the surplus to eat. I bet they'd love it.
 
Laura Rutherford
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Murderous bastards, hahaha - thanks for the laughs, Mark, and all the info too!
Time to do a shout-out to the local populace to see who's got duckweed, dig up some bits from the pond, clip some pothos and grab my drill.
I will also start documenting The Tank and its Experiments and if I can ever figure out how to upload pics here, I will share.
 
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Some of the best plants for goldfish tank are:
1. Crinum calamistratum
2. Anubias
3. Marimo Moss Ball
4. Java Fern
5. Bolbitis Fern
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