The short or long answer to this question is it DEPENDS. For most plants to thrive and maintain their vibrant colors they require three key components:
A good source of lighting for photosynthesis
An appropriate substrate to anchor themselves and allow their roots to grow
Compounds in the form of micro and macronutrients for sustainable and healthy growth
If you were to ask that same question about plants that grow above water, any gardener will tell you the same key requirements to enable their gardens to thrive. Yet depending on your goals for your aquascape, be it having a low-maintenance tank or wanting to win the next International Aquascaping competition will be a top consideration on whether you choose to add fertilizers. When I set out to open an aquascaping specialty store, my original idea was that I would cater to the experts. I wanted to provide all of the products, fauna, and flora for the group of people that wanted a high-tech aquarium. I had visions of showroom-ready aquascapes in every household in the San Francisco Bay Area. However, having met so many people new to aquascaping, I've found that many just want to have a beautiful tank with live plants but don't want the maintenance burden. I definitely want to allow people to dip their toes into the aquascaping world to simply appreciate that little piece of nature.
Therefore, in the case of beginner aquascapers who are beginning their aquascaping journey with a low-tech, low-maintenance tank, my answer to fertilizer requirements is a NO. You can achieve a beautiful aquascape without the need for fertilizers and CO2 injection for that matter. For low-tech tanks, having a good substrate like Landen aquasoil and a good quality LED light like those provided by Twinstar will enable you to grow many vibrant plants. In my next blog, I will talk about some of the many plant options you have in a low-tech tank.
Now if the goal is to be able to grow all varieties of plants such as the more advanced plants like Hemianthus callitrichoides 'Dwarf baby tears' or Micranthemum tweediei 'Monte carlo' and/or you are planning on injecting CO2 into your aquarium, then my answer to this question is YES.
Once you've decided to begin using fertilizer the question then becomes what type of fertilizer should I be using? Should I use a root-based or liquid? It may seem like the question is starting to get complicated and if you are anything like me, who is looking for the most simple path forward I would and I continue to do the following.
Use or switch to aquasoil This consideration is probably obvious if you already plan on a high-tech tank, but it is a major consideration if you are torn between a root-based or liquid fertilizer. In the majority of cases, you shouldn't need a root-based fertilizer given that aquasoil should provide enough nutrients for your rooted plants. There is certainly a debate that can be had if your tank has been running for years to supplement with a root-based fertilizer which I won't argue with but for most who are still starting their tank or are in the midst of dialing it in, I would not feel the need for this type of fertilizer.
Use Aquavitro Envy I could certainly go into excruciating detail regarding all of the macro and micronutrients that plants need like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, etc, but let's just cut to the chase. Use Aquavitro Envy as the starter fertilizer and you'll be set up for success. Aquavitro is the plant-focused line from Seachem, who's been in the planted tank game for decades and so it is a trusted option. There are many good options for all-in-one starter fertilizers but I have simply found success with Aquavitro.
With a full-spectrum LED light like Twinstar S-Series lights, CO2 injection, good quality aquasoil like Landen or UNS controsoil, and Aquavitro Envy, you'll be ready to start creating your showroom-ready aquascape. You simply dose your aquarium aquascape 3 times a week based on the size of your aquarium and your tank should flourish.
For a future blog, we will discuss the other Aquavitro products such as Activate, Propel, Premier, and Synthesis for those scenarios when your plants are having health issues. Check back regularly for plant, fish, shrimp, and equipment advice. Happy Aquascaping!