Aquarium plants are an amazing addition to nearly any fish tank. Not only are they beautiful and natural-looking, but they also help greatly with biological filtration and create a comfortable environment for your fish. However, many people are afraid to try them because growing plants underwater is such unfamiliar territory. Not to worry – here are our top four tried-and-true tips for getting started with your first aquarium plants!
The great thing about plants is that they consume the toxic nitrogen compounds produced by fish waste. But to truly grow well, plants need more “food” than fish poop can provide. Key building blocks for plants include both macronutrients (like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) and micronutrients (like iron, boron, and manganese). Plus, they require these nutrients at all the proper concentrations.
Experienced aquascapers like to use customizable products that offer separate containers for each nutrient, allowing them to create specific fertilizer concoctions for their aquariums. But if you’re like me, I just want an easy, all-in-one solution that’s already premixed by the experts. That’s why we offer Easy Green liquid fertilizer to make your life simple. Simply add 1 squirt per 10 gallons every week for low tech tanks (and increase to twice a week for high tech tanks). For plants that feed primarily from their roots, use root tab fertilizers or a specialized planted tank substrate to offer nutrients from the ground.
For more information on plant nutrients, see our article on picking the aquarium fertilizer for you.
Plants also need a steady source of light to photosynthesize, but direct sunlight is not preferred since it’s hard to control the intensity and you may run into serious algae problems. Instead, you need a dedicated light that is intended for aquarium plants, so do some research on which light works well for other planted tank keepers. Our favorite light is the Fluval Plant 3.0 LED because it allows you to control the light intensity from very low to very high, depending on your tank’s needs. With this light, you can start with low light plants (i.e., plants that only need low amounts of light) as a novice and eventually graduate to high light plants without having to upgrade your lighting setup.
For more information on which planted tank light to get, check out our quick selection guide.
For the best growth, pick an aquarium light intended for plants. Regular aquarium kit lights are usually too dim and don’t have the optimal spectrum for growing plants.
This factor may not be something you’ve ever considered before, but certain fish love to eat plants! For example, silver dollar fish, certain plecostomus, and even goldfish thoroughly enjoy their vegetables, so certain plants may not be well-suited for their aquariums. Other fish have the tendency to sift through substrate and uproot plants, so you may need to switch to floating plants, rhizome plants attached to hardscape, or potted plants to decorate your tank. The easiest way to figure out which fish are plant-friendly is to do a little online research or talk to people on our Facebook group.
Goldfish and other species are prone to destroying aquarium plants, so make sure to research beforehand whether or not your latest pet is plant-safe.
Low light plants are the easiest species to start with because they tend to be slower growers and more forgiving as you’re learning how to grow plants underwater. For beginners, we recommend buying one plant of each species you like. In other words, instead getting five of the same plant, get five different beginner plants. This method increases the likelihood that some plants will survive and you’ll still experience some measure of success, even if your husbandry isn’t perfect. Also, certain species will naturally prefer your local water parameters, so talk to local hobbyists to find out which plants grow the best for them.
Finally, make sure to only buy true aquatic plants that can be grown fully submersed or underwater. (Some pet stores sell “semi-aquatic” plants to be used in terrariums, not aquariums.) An interesting fact is that most aquatic plants are actually cultivated out of water at plant farms to speed up growth and eliminate algae problems. So, once you put a newly purchased plant in your fish tank, it may melt back a bit and then start producing new leaves that are used to being fully underwater. At Aquarium Co-Op, we try to jumpstart this process for you by putting them in holding tanks with lots of good lighting and fertilizers so that they start converting to submersed grown leaves before they reach your home.
With this in mind, remember that a plant that looks like it’s dying may still be possible to save! It may be melting back as it gets used to your new water parameters, so give it a chance and see if new growth comes back. In the future, we’ll be covering more planted tank topics in greater detail, so create an account to get email notifications as soon as new blog posts are released.