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Re: Do I Need Silk, or is Plastic OK?
I'm about to write an overly long post (I can feel it coming on). It'll be worth reading simplified as it is, and if you know how to make it shorter let me know.
1) Live plants are awesome and really aren't that hard. A very simple setup can get you a nice tank (see the post that will follow this).
2) Starting with the basics, *light* drives the need for everything else. If you have a lot of light you need a lot of fertilizer, a lot of CO2, and a lot of work (comparatively). More light makes everything go faster (to a point) and really cuts down your margin of error.
3) Continuing on that, less light lets you use less fertilizer, no added CO2, and a lot less work. All you need to do is be a bit of care and patience.
4) Just to put it out there, a 55 is a hard tank to decorate due to its dimensions, so don't be disappointing if it isn't a magazine worthy look on your first try.
5) Don't go in to the "OMG, phosphates are bad!!!" camp. Yes everything in excess is bad, but most things in moderation are good. In this case moderation is a very wide window.
6) I rarely say this, but your light is probably insufficient. Get us a model or picture and we can confirm. There are LEDs that will keep up with the best lights, but those don't tend to come with tank kits. A nice 2 bulb T8 fixture is probably on the lighter end of "close enough" to make plants thrive. You could also get away with a dual bulb T5HO setup. Since you have a 55, a 4' shop light from the hardware store is a good low cost way to get you feet wet while deciding how much you like plants. You could also use CFLs in clamp lights, but that can be a bit trickier for a whole host of reasons.
Some things TO do:
1) Get a generic fertilizer. Seachem Fluorish (not Fluorish Excel) is a good start. Eventually you'll develop your own fertilizer preferences, but that's close enough to get you started and readily available.
2) Root tabs, same thing. You can worry about what is "best" later, but for now "close enough" really is. Don't worry about planting them 6 inches away from the plant though, put them right in next to them.
3) Don't worry about planting your plants too deep. If you plant them too shallow they will uproot. If you plant them too deep they'll sort the issue out on their own. Anubias and java fern are exceptions in that you should never bury the rhizome. I like to use a drop of super glue (pad both surfaces dry first) to hold them to a rock or driftwood until they attach on their own.
4) Pick some easy plants. Some won't make it, but most will and you can go from there. The easy cryptocorynes (crypts) such as wendtii (any color) are a good choice. Jungle val, dwarf sag, rotala colorata (often mislabeled as indica), anubias, and java fern are also easy starters. Stay away from crypt parva as it is an extremely slow grower.
5) Do change water periodically. On the high side 80% a week, on the low side, 50% once a month. As long as the temperature is close and you dechlorinate properly there won't be any issues with "too much" water being changed. I'm always amazed how much better my plants look a couple days after a water change if I've neglected the tank.
Some things NOT to do:
1) Seachem Excel is like CO2, and you don't need it unless you need CO2. With a moderate to low light setup you are not going to derive any benefit from it, so concentrate your efforts and money elsewhere.
2) Don't remove your crypts if all the leaves 'melt' and die away. This is normal when you move those and they often grow back from the stump.
3) Don't bother to swap your substrate out right now. Personally I like sand over dirt, followed by just sand. Others like different things, but it isn't worth tearing your tank up for until you get the hang of things.