ScapeFu017: The Basics of Lighting a Planted Aquarium & George Farmer

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Basics aquarium lighting

Basics aquarium lighting

ScapeFu017: The Basics of Lighting a Planted Aquarium & George Farmer


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Lighting is one of the most important, but also one of the most confusing, aspects of a planted aquarium. “What’s the best type of light for my aquarium?” is probably the most asked question we see in aquarium forums. Today, we de-mystify lighting by sharing with you what you need to know so that you can make an informed decision for your aquarium!

This is ScapeFu Episode 17 – The Basics of Lighting a Planted Aquarium. Let’s Go!

Thankfully, I’m not flying solo this week!  JJ and Juris join me to talk about Interzoo, an interview with George Farmer and lighting the planted aquarium.

Aquascaping News

In Aquascaping News, Juris gives us his roundup of Interzoo 2014! We also listen to his interview with George Farmer. What great information and tips George gave us!!

George FarmerSome things George mentioned:

Stay tune for more interviews Juris did while at Interzoo. You’ll hear from Dave Chow, Oliver Knott and Heiko Blessin.

The Basics of Lighting a Planted Aquarium

The beginning aquarist is likely to think that if there’s enough light to see then it’s enough for plants to grow. However, that’s not true. If you want to grow healthy plants, and not just algae, you need enough light for them to use for photosynthesis and create energy. It used to be that people advised 3–4 watts per gallon as a VERY basic principle. But, due to modern lighting technology this is now considered an outdated notion. Nonetheless, it is still a reasonable starting point as long as the other important factors are considered as well. Carl Strohmeyer

Why is lighting so important in planted aquariums?

  • Plant requirements – slow and fast growth, bushy or elongated, photosynthesis – the process by which green plants and some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water. Photosynthesis in plants generally involves the green pigment chlorophyll and generates oxygen as a byproduct.
  • Pleasing to the viewer
  • Creates natural biological cycles

Basic ways to think about light in an aquarium

  • Type of light – Flourescent (T12,T8,T5,T2), VHO, CF, SHO, Metal Halide, LED, Mercury Vapor (from Dupla!), HID Xenon Duplalux Mercury Vapor
  • Watts per gallon
  • Kelvin – color temperature of light. 6500K being what is normally recommended for planted aquariums because it will likely contain enough light within the spectrum needed for photosynthesis
  • Spectrum – 450–700 nanometers is used by photosynthesis and of that, really the red and blue spectrum as opposed to green and yellow
  • Lumen – a measure of the total “amount” of visible light emitted by a source
  • Lux – one lumen per meter squared
  • PAR – photosynthetically active radiation
  • PUR – photosynthetically usable radiation 400–550 and 620–740

What’s the current thinking on which measure to use?

  • all of them!

Anything different if you’re aquascaping for a contest?

  • You can change the light using the white balance in photos so not really

What we’re using

JJ uses T5 lighting at the moment.

Juris is on the LED bandwagon.

I currently use the Ecotech Radion LED lighting and I love it.
– It allows me to dial in the kelvin and spectrum. It has 38 high-efficiency LEDs and six channels of control, plus custom-designed TIR lenses and heat sink.
– It was a pain to hang though

Tips for beginners

Now, some things to think about when you’re deciding on the light for your aquarium.

  1. What’s your budget? Initially and monthly.
  2. What type of aquarium do you want? Slow or fast growth?
  3. Are you able to provide other equipement to balance the amount of light such as CO2?
  4. Decide on a couple of options and research feedback on them in the online forums. Specifically, try to see how much PUR the light fixture puts out at different distances.
  5. Think about how you will hang your light BEFORE you buy it.

From the Forums

In the From the Forums segment, this week we look to a wonderful thread from The entitled The LED Lighting Compendium.

The thread is there to try and keep new and seasoned aquarists informed about LED lighting. It asks to please post any information, especially relating to PAR vs Distance that you have for the various LED lighting fixtures and emitters out there.

The first post summarizes what people have posted and the collective knowledge on LEDs. For example, for PAR:
* Values between 10–30 are considered low light.
* Values between 30–80 are considered medium light.
* Values between 80–120 are considered high light.

Go check it out, it’s a great thread with 20 pages to it so far.

Focus on You

Finally, in Focus on You segment, we read some feedback:

  • Sandy wanted to know if we thought her new LED lighting could be contributing to her recent green algae outbreak. We gave her our thoughts and suggestions.
  • Joao in the UKAPS forum says “Excellent work! Keep it coming”
  • Sacha also in the UKAPS forum says “I’m loving these podcasts. great work. Thanks a lot”
  • an iTunes 5 Star review!! LTB1111 says “Great show, very informative! The name is great too, although when my four year old decided to spell it outload, I caught just the tail end. There was an awkward moment of silence till I figured out what she was spelling. Keep up the great work! I love the topics and all of the new segments. This is truly beneficial for anyone trying to get into the planted aquarium hobby

Next week’s episode

Next week on the ScapeFu Podcast, we are back to talking aquascaping. This time, we focus on the use of color to improve your aquascape. We’ll also have an interview done by Juris at Interzoo with Oliver Knott. As usual, we’ll have Aquascaping News, From the Forums and Focus on You.

If you liked this episode, please leave us a written review in iTunes and mention us the next time you’re in the forums. We do no advertising so it’s the only way we have to spread the word about ScapeFu. It’s VERY much appreciated.

If you’d like to give us some feedback, you have choices:

You can reach JJ at

You can find Juris on Facebook.

Lastly, please subscribe to the ScapeFu Podcast so that you won’t miss an episode: iTunes , Stitcher, Soundcloud

Speak soon! Have a great week!


Some reference links that made this episode possible:

americanaquariumproducts 2
americanaquariumproducts 3
americanaquariumproducts 4
aquarium-pond-answers 2

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