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How can we become as popular as reef tanks?


Staff member
Founding Member
  • Oct 29, 2022
    Miami, FL
    So I've found myself with a little time this evening and have poured myself a little Glenlivet.
    Yes, I'm feeling philosophical so I will ask the question I seem to ask once every few years.

    "How can we (the planted aquarium hobby) become as popular as reef tanks?"

    I live in Miami, Florida. It's warm like Singapore and we have the Everglades just minutes from our doors. However, I feel like I'm one of a small handful of aquarists that keep planted aquariums. I'm talking less than 5 people in all of South Florida. For goodness sakes, we have Florida Aquatic Nursery about a 30 minute drive north from us.

    What's it going to take? What's wrong?

    I just got back from Houston and eagerly started planning my new tank. My brother-in-law asks me, "Are you going
    saltwater this time?" I looked at him like if he had just said the stupidest thing I've heard and said, "What?? No!".

    Help me out here, what do you think is the problem? Here's a list of possibilities:
    • There are no good examples of planted aquariums in LFS so the newbies don't know about it.
    • Aquarium plants are not easily available.
    • LFS and Big Box Store employees don't have a clue about keeping plants.
    • We don't have an "Amano" to be the spokesperson for the hobby.
    The reality is that you can set up a beautiful planted aquarium for 1/4 the cost of setting up a reef tank and your chances of success are much higher. So it can't be a cost thing.

    Don't tell me about complicated set up. The only complication we have is CO2 and fertilization. That is NOTHING compared to the dosing that happens on the reef side. Just their skimmers cost more than our entire CO2 setup.

    I just don't get it. The planted aquarium hobby is much bigger in other countries. Why not here?


    So, come on my friends, tell me what you think?
    I think for one thing the reefing hobby has been around a lot longer than the plant hobby. Im talking about the serious plant hobby running big lights and CO2 and all the diverse colorful species we have access to today.

    I remember when I first got into the hobby about 12 years ago, reading Tom talking about 10 years before that there were maybe 100 plant species available to hobbyist, whereas then (12 yrs ago) there were 2-300. Well today theres at least twice that many, and thats if you count the 200 Buce varieties as one plant.

    And just look at the evolution of lighting, even recently in the last 5 years LEDs made specifically for hi-tech plants are catching up even surpassing T5. You just bought one. Five years ago the only options close were BMLED and SB Reef, and they didnt look particularly good or have the adjustability of these new ones out today. Now there's half a dozen good ones to chose from

    25 yeas ago the reef hobby already had all the latest bells and whistles technology could offer, and tons of people doing it. Good luck if you wanted a co2 regulator made for an aquarium. The freakin Walstad method was considered the latest thing.

    Speaking of Tom this is another good point. His 120 gal that he used to journal on a couple forums is what got me into plants. Swear to God. I was just googling around for inspiration on rock arrangements for my 75 gal dwarf Tanganyikan chiclid tank, which Id been into for a decade or so. I stumbled across some pics of his tank and was like, That's what I want!! The point being, only recently (relatively speaking) has there been good examples of planted aquariums out there to entice folks into the hobby. Again unlike the reef hobby which has been dropping jaws since the 50s

    So I think the plant hobby is just now catching up in a lot of ways. Both in technology available for it and folks doing it. There's a couple plant fb groups with over 200K members, several pushing 100K. Sure those numbers are trivial compared to the global reef hobby. But they're nothing to sneeze at and growing exponentially

    This is why you dont (yet) see hi-end plants and equipment in every LFS. Because unlike the reef hobby up until recently there just wasnt any money in it, because not enough people were doing it.

    Idk those are just some thoughts off the top of my head. Its a really good question
    Thanks, Joe. Good points.

    There is no doubt we've come A LONG WAY in the last 20 some years. I jumped in to the hobby in the mid-1990s and have seen the evolution. Rather than comparing our hobby to the reef side and complaining it hasn't grown enough, I should appreciate the growth that has happened which has been considerable.

    I guess my question is, "is there anything we should be doing to keep the growth happening?"

    If anyone has an interest, this is a very interesting article on the history of the reef keeping hobby by Roger Vitko of Tunze USA.
    Here is another good article on the reef hobby's history that I ran into. This one is Milestones & Pioneers of The Reef Aquarium Hobby by Mike Paletta. My take away is that hobbies tend to grow or evolve slowly. That's good. But, there are some pivotal moments that happen when one person or one innovation spurs a period of rapid growth.

    I wonder if wider access to LEDs now is such a moment? I always thought it would be wider access to quality plants.

    Another thing that comes to mind is how much interaction there is between regular hobbyists and scientists in the reef hobby. The science of Marine Biology means that there is constant scientific study being conducted that benefits that side of the hobby. There isn't, as far as I'm aware, a corollary in the freshwater side. Any freshwater biologists or ecologists out there?

    I do know that the University of Florida has a great program on aquatic plants. I believe @plantbrain went there. The now retired professor, Dr. Michael Kane, was a pioneer in tissue culture. However, it seems to be much smaller than the field of marine biology.

    Anyway, I'm rambling.

    I look forward to seeing what the next 10 years brings us!
    My guess is most people think of freshwater aquariums as blue gravel and a bubbling treasure chest. There's not as many examples for people to look at when it comes to tanks that are as beautiful or more beautiful than Salt water tanks.

    Sadly, you really have to search to find tanks that are at Joe's and Gregg's level and the top NBAT tanks. I'm glad George Farmer has become popular just so people googling planted aquariums can see what freshwater has to offer, if only it's the natural style.

    We are living in a YouTube world and I'd imagine exposure is only going to increase. I get it, salt water reef tanks are awesome, but a truly gorgeous Dutch tank is so much more fascinating, to me at least. I mean, just look at this. VanWezel.jpg
    I dunno really. Overall maturity of the hobby is probably the main thing. Most people in the US haven't ever seen a nice planted aquarium, but virtually everyone has seen a nice reef setup. When "tanks with plants" do show up, they're usually a sad little things with a couple petshop scraggly plants that aren't even true aquatics.

    Also, in one sense, our hobby is a bit artificial, with the best 'scapes all relying on CO2. Anyone who has snorkeled has seen something more or less like a reef setup (especially if people focus on the fish). Dutch aquascapes don't really exist in nature. Even "nature" scapes are at best an imitation. So, we have a uniquely beautiful hobby, but maybe some people just don't relate to it on a basic level.
    Neon Colors and alien like animals that look like plants. Fish and live stock? Clown shrimp vs Amano shrimp? Scolly vs an Erio? Heck even the macro algae are pretty rad.

    A good plant tank will impress any neophyte though. We can play with hardscape materials more, we can rearrange things, we do not have to do water changes with salt water.......we can actually use the wastewater for irrigation etc, most LFS's than are not chains realize to make it, they MUST be able to do well at Freshwater planted tanks and Reefs.

    Jeff Miotke is coming up to our place in July to hang out for a week or so. Why? Well, he's looking for hardscape materials. I'm like, come over and hang and we can collect our own and see some nice habitats. Maybe toss you into the waterfall of death? But he's a good scaper, so I have my 255 gallon to do as well and would like to get it completed by the end of summer. So we both can storm together on ideas and concepts. We have relatively long drives, 1-2 hour ranges to go to several locations, then hikes etc. Plenty of time to think and talk.

    Several folks have gotten into the top 10 here in the USA. You MUST have high end hardscape materials and be able to assemble a nice hardscape to effectively have a good competition and a good ranking. The China aquarium contest are awesome because they have massive cool rock and hardscape materials because most are collected there, or brought in raw and processed. USA? Nope, we cannot sell it cheap outside the USA really. India? They have plenty of resources, but little interest. South East Asia is where you have a lot of wood, rock, and interest. Philippines has jumped up really fast. In less than 10 years, they have top scapers already. They have plenty of reefs all over there too.

    I'm not sure there is a competition really between the two areas of aquatic scapes for FW and Marine.
    The markets are different. Marine reefs are money pits for most aquarist. Algae stops most FW plant folks. But the cost is nowhere near the same.

    Folks with the $ or commitment will go to the colors and weird stuff. Many of the marine folks are NOT aquascapers. They try a few things, but nothing like us.

    Mike and Jeff Senske have consistently put out really well done scapes for 3 decades now. More than Amano by far. Amano did almost exclusively FW planted tanks. A reef or so here or there in the show room but not much there. Senkes are actually full fledged aquarist. AF Rift tanks, done. Paludariums? Done. Vivariums? Done, Reefs, SPS and LPS? Done, And award winning planted tanks. Cool fish, marine, Brackish and Fresh? Done.
    Amano, mostly one genre.

    Most Dutch NBATS also, rarely other genres.

    Me? Bonsai, Vivariums, California native plants, Horticulture generally and Greenhouse production. I need to get back to scaping and shall.
    I have a few ideas, but reinventing something cool and thought out takes some time. Plant species wise, I like to use new interesting plants, that takes a very high priority with me(Im pretty secure with my plant choices and have a good idea what I want to do hardscape wise ATM). What hardscape designs work well with those? Hard to say often times, you try and see. I have not even a tiny bit interest in entering any contest, this is my own passion and interest. There is no other motivational factor for me. Well, Jeff Miotke coming up will get me moving along a bit more haha.
    Irrigation for the Bonsai and native plants, I've done about 1/2 acre now, then the bonsai need shade cloth as do some of the veggie crops. Houses need some work. Many things pulling at me away from the tanks.

    I've done no dose and no water change methods for a few years and have a pretty good feel for those, seemed like it would work based on the non CO2 approaches, why not with the Gas? It does with the similar sediment: nutrient rich sediments in both are what make that no dose , no water change thing work. ADA AS is a lot richer and better long term than MTS or whatever mix of DIY folks have done.

    So I have kept busy on some things. Collecting tons(Literally) of hard scaping materials. That gives me nothing but ideas every load and every piece I pick up. 10 years of that? That's a lot.
    I think it's a matter of people's culture and mentality. Easterners, especially the Japanese, have a greater connection with nature in general. The sense of naturalness and harmony can be clearly seen in the planted aquarium / aquascape. On the other hand, we, a little further west, do not really have it developed to that extent and kitsch culture often prevails.
    In Croatia, the TV series "Tanked" was broadcast on the television, you will agree, you could see a lot of kitsch there. A marine aquarium, although it can be beautifully arranged, is more kitsch with its bright colors (almost psychedelic).

    There is nothing better in my country. The only difference is that people here have a smaller hobby budget, so marine aquariums are not very popular, so kitsch is expressed in freshwater aquariums, which is even worse. LOL
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    @plantbrain Jeff is a great guy. You're going to have fun together and I'd love to know what you two come up with. Also looking forward to seeing your new scaped tank!

    Maybe you should become the wholesaler of hardscape to all of those Mom and Pop LFSs out there?

    No question the Senskes are the real deal. I do remember having a talk with Mike about 10 years ago where we were agreeing that aquatic plants was just too hard for people to get into in the US. At that time, they had turned more to their hardscape aquariums as they are easier to maintain and also beautiful.


    Sadly, although we don't usually see this because we are here or in another serious forum or in the Facebook Groups, this is what most Americans think of when you mention a freshwater aquarium.


    How guppies and tetras can live with the clownfish, corals on the rocks, and octopus, I don't know!