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Here is a link to NICREW LED lights. Fits your price range and is effective for growing easy low light plants. I have one for my 20 gallon and have a bunch of thriving wisteria, Anubias, java fern, etc.
I was going to use the aquarium coop easy green fertilizer and their root tabs as well because they claim to not contain ammonia and be safe for fish and snails!
For lighting I just got this one in from Amazon
NICREW ClassicLED Plus Planted Aquarium Light, Full Spectrum LED Fish Tank Light for Freshwater Plants [link]
No co2 and a relatively cheap nicrew led of Amazon. What you see in my tank is probably half of what I’ve grown in it in about four months. Off a ziploc sandwich bag starting portion. Grows like a weed, must like cincy water.
NICREW ClassicLED Plus Planted Aquarium Light, Full Spectrum LED Fish Tank Light for Freshwater Plants, 18 to 24 Inch, 15 Watts [link]
Grab the 24" Nicrew ClassicLED plus, a timer from your local home improvement store, or Nicrew's inline dimmer/timer which I believe is compatible with that model as well.
You'd be in business for just shy of $50 after tax.
For my ExoTerra I use an aquarium LED like this . Since it’s meant for aquariums, it has adjustable arms that you can pull out to fit on top and it’s slightly elevated above the screen.
That light is only 11 watts on that unit at max output. Do you have it directly over the plants? It looks like it sticks in the back of the tank. My opinion is you could have a better light. I use this model on my 20 gallon long. Measure and get the widest light you can. [link]
Also your substrate looks to be larger pea gravel. Plants like a thinner inorganic substrate or an organic substrate. I use black inorganic sand because my shrimp don't like an organic substrate.
I would buy an LED light designed for plants. Current USA, Finnex, and Nicrew are all good brands with reasonable prices. I have a current USA plus LED light on my non-co2 10 gallon planted tank and it works well. Nicrew has the best price usually and it should work just fine for easier plants: [link].
And don’t forget to get an automatic timer for the light
Ah, I got this one because a website recommended it, and the amazon reviews seem to say that it's fine for aquariums. I'll see if I can return it, but do you have another recommendation? I don't mind the evaporation, I do 90%+ water changes weekly and I was actually thinking that it'd allow for better airflow compared to a hood.
As for lighting I'm getting this one: [link]
Which is going to be raised a bit above the water, so it should probably be fine in regards to splashes?
EDIT: I'm looking at reviews and I do see some people saying it rusts if water gets on it, do you think some kind of cover below the lid could help prevent that? Like nylon netting or something stretched over the top below the mesh screen.
How tall is your hood? Because I have had really good results from Nicrew's Classic LED for basic lighting in a 10 gal. Their 18"-24" is only $30, but it doesn't come with a timer or anything, just a basic on/off switch, although they make a timer and dimmer that you can buy separate for about $20. I just used a wall timer from home depot for not that much. Here's a link to the light, if you're interested.
The 20" NICREW Classic Plus LED is pretty high PAR and might be able to work in your tank. I don't know its PAR at 35" deep, but it was 119 PAR on a lidless 10g (12" deep). For plants in general, you want at least 15 PAR since that's the bottom of low light (some can survive with lower like anubias/java fern). Some plants need more though, so hopefully your plants don't need anything super strong since that's hard in such a tall tank.
On a 10g, the couple of commercially available lights that I tested have been high light (60 PAR for Beamswork EA 6500K and 59 PAR for NICREW ClassicLED 20-27"). At the short height of a 10g, almost any light fixture is going to be enough or too much light, so I would recommend a dimmer. Almost all LEDs these days have a day and night mode, so really all you're looking for is the spectrum and a certain look that you like.
I like my NICREWs and they recently came out with a Plus that is even more PAR and a better light spectrum for plants:
I prefer Fluval lights but Nicrew is a great choice for not to much money.
1) For lights and the types of plants you are talking about, something like this will do the job...
will work fine on a normal mechanical timer. Or get one of these...
which will act as a timer but you can also ramp up and down the light instead of just ON/OFF. Also you can use it run the lights all the time at a reduced level if for whatever reason full blast is too much.
2) Most swords are not all that low light, but the rest you mentioned are great. Java Moss is good as well and water sprite is a versatile plant that can be grown both planted and floating.
3) So the simply answer is yes a sponge filter can work fine. Personally I prefer hand on the back filters and my go to are the Aquaclear line which I just run sponges in and like you mentioned for the sponge filter, you can simply pull the sponges out of the power filter and rinse them out and reuse. I have some sponged going now for about two decades straight.
4) I don't have a ton of experience with Shrimp but generally it will be if the betta leaves them along. The shrimp won't bother the betta. Snails are usually fine.
Hey man, sorry for the late response. If your plants are doing good with your current setup, it is 100% okay to keep your current lights, just bump it up to I’d say around 16 hours. I have mine set up for 8 am (or when you wake up) to about 11:30 or so. I keep my shrimps lights on as long as I’m awake.
Here are a few lights that might make your plants and algae grow a bit better:
Nicrew long light: NICREW ClassicLED Plus Planted Aquarium Light, Full Spectrum LED Fish Tank Light for Freshwater Plants [link]
Or a clip on gooseneck spotlight: Lominie LED Aquarium Light, Full Spectrum Saltwater Freshwater Fish Tank Light for Coral, Reef, Planted Nano Aquarium Tank (F20 Freshwater) [link]
I only recommend them because their lumens are much higher than package lights that come with the tank themselves. They also have red and blue light, which helps the plant absorb the light more effectively, i don’t know the exact science to it, but I know it makes a huge difference!
NICREW ClassicLED Plus Planted... [link]
It’s this light. I think I need to dose ferts more often. I was doing half doses twice a week. Just have to bump it up to full doses I guess
I've got these lights in both my tanks. Relatively affordable, and are great for plants. Nicrew light
I would recommend the NICREW lights. They sell a dimmer accessory that also functions as a timer and even has a schedule for different light intensities throughout the day with a sunrise/sunset feature for gradual lighting.
You could also opt for the 12-18 version if you don't need the light bar to span the whole tank.
NICREW ClassicLED Plus Planted... [link]
I actuallt had the cheaper $20 version for the longest time and it did just as good
It honestly seems like you should just look in to paludariums. It's essentially exactly what you're trying to accomplish just in a slightly different visual format. It also gives you a good search term to do some research with. You just happen to be looking at it from a pond perspective. I love this concept BTW.
Example of an adorable tiny one.
Also, plants grown with fish technically = aquaponics.
Plants grown without fish technically = hydroponics
So absolutely plants can be grown without fish. I'm personally doing that now in a designated grow out / species storage tank.
Yes, if the light is good for underwater plants, it'll work for the above water plants too. I suggest making it easy and getting a nicrew aquarium light.
Cheap enough, powerful enough, known decent brand in the hobby. Also, get a cheap plug in timer. The timer will let you set what times of day you want the light on and off. Or at bare minimum it needs to be able to unless you want to do it manually every day which doesn't sound fun to me. They're like 10 or 20 bucks.
Wood stands are used regularly. As long as they don't get wet constantly and are sealed it should be fine. Liner is a great safety blanket.
[link] I have this one on my 8 gallon and I love it
Personally I like the NICREW ClassicLED Plus LED, I have it on both of my aquariums but there are alternatives.
$20 Petco $1 sale or Craigslist for the tank.
$28 aquaclear 30. Get a sponge to cover the intake.
$7 substrate. Link included for black or white.
I'm a big believer in getting hardscape from around you. If you can make a trip to a lake or stream you can find great driftwood and rocks! Look on YouTube for how to clean and sterilize. If not budget $50 for hardscape, head to a LAS for wood, and a nursery/mulch and rock dealer for rocks.
$32 light. I've heard good things about this one, should be a good one to start.
$20 heater. Search Amazon.
$107 before fish and plants and if you want to buy hardscape. Leaves $43 for those.
As others have suggested check local clubs and forums for clippings. For plant suggestions, I love red dwarf lollies, green myrio, marimo moss balls, crypts, and java moss. Anubias and buce are other great options!
Check out aquarium co-op on YouTube for a lot of great info on getting started. Good luck and sorry if I left anything out!