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More than just a pretty face  Many Discus keepers find it easiest to maintain an "empty" aquarium - the thinnest of possible substrate, or none at all, no plants, and minimal decorations. However the under-gravel filtration system is the most common biological filtration system used by aquarists around the world and does more than just improve the appearance. The gravel substrate actually provides a great home for the friendly bacteria that helps to maintain a  healthy nitrogen cycle in your tank. An under-gravel filter is usually a fitted plastic layer with lots of holes to allow water to pass through it.   A minimum of three inches of aquarium gravel or substrate is needed for this type of filtering system. The under-gravel plastic layer must be completely buried by the gravel substrate. Solid debris, like uneaten food and solid fish waste, should be removed from the substrate. A gravel vacuum may be used to accomplish this maintenance task easily. Make sure that when you clean , only clean about a third at a time - you want to leave the bacterial colonies that help with the nitrogen cycle mostly intact . Follow the cleaning with a partial water change as well. (never clean the substrate with detergents) Rocks or driftwood - Add some rock or driftwood in your aquarium for raising the pH. Make sure the driftwood has been treated specifically for use in the aquarium. Also some are mounted on heavy bases - make sure they don’t interfere with the water flow. Crushed coral is used as the substrate in many African cichlid tanks (African cichlids prefer a high pH of 7.0) and the coral helps maintain a higher Ph. Peat moss, on the other hand, has the exact opposite effect. Limestone and petrified coral will also do the trick. If you do not want to add these rocks, you can add a bag of crushed coral to your filter or hide some of these rocks behind the rocks you do want to showcase. For a discus aquarium, you cannot keep rocks whereas you can keep driftwood.
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Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle by Eliasch via Wikimedia Commons
Ideal Plants for your Discus Tank
some common (and not so common) aquatic plants:    Sweet flag (Acorus calamus) Ribbon-leaf water plantain (Alisma gramineum) Calico plant (Alternanthera bettzickiana) Giant red bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana) Giant cabomba (Cabomba aquatica)  Green cabomba (Cabomba caroliniana) Forked fanwort (Cabomba furcata) Starfruit (Damasonium alisma) Uruguay sword (Echinodorus uruguayensis) Amazon sword plant (Echinodorus grisebachii) Large-flowered waterweed (Egeria densa) Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides) Pearl weed (Hemianthus micranthemoides) Dwarf hygro (Hygrophila polysperma) African elodea (Lagarosiphon major) Lesser duckweed (Lemna minor)
When “aqua scaping” there are of course many other fun things you can add to your tank but keep in mind that Discus love open spaces.

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