Dad keeps pushing me to try live plants in the tanks [because ya know, he had a tank back in the 80's & knows everything apparently...]
Yes. Yes he does.
I prefer less messy plants myself. Zero mess makers are anubias, anacharis and marimos. I also have some baby java ferns that have promise to be mess-free. Anubias and java ferns need to be tied down to rocks or wood. The roots will glom onto that and you won't need to bury them in substrate. Anacharis can float but I loop it around wood or rocks. This makes it easy (for me) to move things around and clean.
In the "kind of messy but I can work around it" category I have hornwort and wisteria. Both can float. I like to use wood to anchor ropes of hornwort to the floor.
Refer to some of the links in my sig for more plant info.
No, your rocks/gravel should be fine, no need to add dirt :)
Smaller rocks/gravel just make it easier for the roots to dig down and become rooted. Enough fish poop and leftover food should get between rocks for the plants to breakdown into plant food...most hobby aquarists that just have a few plants, don't even need to get plant fertilizer (which is fish safe). Yes, continue to clean and vaccuum tank on regular basis.
No, you do not need to get a special water conditioner...what you use for your fish is safe and perfect for plants.
I can only think that you have preconceived idea of plants making a messy tank by watching all that anarchis melt away in dad's tank back in the 80's. I watched this happen, so I might be a bit anti-anarchis. If it's unhappy, it will shed and melt all over....
Otherwise, it might interest you to know that plants don't make a dirty tank...they CLEAN it!
Plants breakdown and eat fish waste such as ammonia, which we knows will kill fish in fairly small quantities.
If you want to keep away from the messier plants, don't get any fine leaves plants...if it looks like a for tree, its not for you...they are more difficult and they usually like CO2 injection and high lighting.
I would stick with java fern, anubias, hornwort...I would also add most crytocoryne (crypts) species to the list as the are inexpensive, slow growing plants that take much abuse :)...try and get rooted plants that say "low light" ...if you are using a light that came with your tank, it is low light...even if you get a "plant" bulb, it is low light.
I have over 20 tanks of various sizes and lighting. They are all planted to some degree...nothing beats putting a betta into a planted tank...they adore it; natural camo for a fish that has probably never seen reall plants before...that is fun to watch!
On a side note, I am with registereduser on Marimo balls: mine just sit there!...well, except the 2 (out of 3) that seemed to explode...talk about mess: nothing beats exploded dead marimo for mess :(
Sorry to all on this website that adore their Marimo balls, and name them, etc...
Not what I would suggest for green for your tanks.
You can get pretty cryptocorynes and anubias in tiny terracotta pots. I love these, easy for tanks that get 100% changes, no mess, and they pretty much thrive on fish waste. I throw a few drops of Flourish (liquid plant food) in once in a while for the crypts but they do okay without it, too.
Also, you can get anubias on driftwood or an ornament ready-made, so to speak. Easy care, lift them out when cleaning...
They will need light though. A desk lamp with a daylight globe will do fine.
Well I went to the pet store today, they really don't have much option though, & a lot of it was about $20 for a small bunch
I got something called Baby's Tears because they told me they were easy care, then when I got home & looked it up the internet said otherwise. But I've planted some in each tank anyway. Flake absolutely loves it, Ollie doesnt even care. Both tanks have lights so I'll just monitor how the plants go anyway.
It's my first attempt & if it dies, it dies. Not much I can really do about it but know next time not to get it.
try some water wisteria and water primrose....i started out in august with one plant of each, and they've grown so much that i've got those two plants and their replanted clippings as the backbone plant of two different tanks.
oh goodness ur in Australia... where in NSW? I got my plants from Asquith aquarium, and one near hornsby aling pacific Hwy. Also in hurstville theres a chinese aquarium that was part of a grocery store. they had some cheap plants for $5 a bunch. got my water wisteria and dwarf hair grass there...
Planted tanks are great. I used 3 weeks of my time in Australia to set up a natural planted tank in my uncles house. mind you they know nothing about fish. it was practically self sustaining by the time I left. i left the light on a timer so that they dont even have to turn it on... now they just feed the fish and watch the jungle grow and wait for me to prune it when I get back in december. Also check on gumtree for some great plant deals.