How to Get Started with Aquarium Plants
Aquarium plants are an amazing addition to nearly any fish tank. They are beautiful and look natural. However, they can also be used to biologically filter water and provide a safe environment for fish. However, they can be intimidating to start because it is so unfamiliar to grow plants under water. These are our top 4 tried-and-true tips to help you get started with your first aquarium plant.
Tip #1: Use a Good Fertilizer
Easy Green all-in one fertilizer for water fertilization
Plants can eat the toxic nitrogen compounds found in fish waste. To grow properly, however, plants require more food than fish poop can provide. Both macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are key building blocks for plants. They also require these nutrients in the right amounts.
Experiential aquascapers love to use customizable products that provide separate containers for each nutrients. This allows them create customized fertilizer concoctions to suit their needs. You may be like me and want an all-in one solution that is already premixed by professionals. Easy Green liquid fertilizer is here to simplify your life. Low tech tanks only need to add 1 squirt of Easy Green liquid fertilizer per 10 gallons once a week. For high tech tanks, you can increase this number to twice a week. For plants that feed primarily from their roots, use root tab fertilizers or a specialized planted tank substrate to offer nutrients from the ground.
Easy Root Tabs for fertilizing the ground
For more information on plant nutrients, see our article on picking the aquarium fertilizer for you.
Tip #2: Use Good Lighting
Fluval Plant 3.0 LED light
To photosynthesize, plants need constant light. However, direct sunlight is not recommended as it can be difficult to control and could cause 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. Fluval Plant 3.0 LED is our favorite light. It allows you to adjust the light intensity to suit your tank’s needs. This light allows you to start with low-light plants (plants that require low levels of light) and then move up to high-light plants as an advanced user without needing to replace your existing lighting.
For more information on which planted tank light to get, check out our quick selection guide.
An aquarium light designed for plants will ensure the best growth. Regular aquarium kit lights are usually too dim and don’t have the optimal spectrum for growing plants.
Tip 3: Choose the Right Fish
Although this may seem strange, certain fish enjoy eating plants. Certain plecostomus, goldfish, and silver dollar fish all love vegetables. However, some plants may not be suitable 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. You can find out which fish will be plant-friendly by looking online or speaking with people in 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.
Tip #4 – Start with Beginner Plants
Low-light plants are the best to start with. They tend to be slower growers, and they can be more patient as you learn how to grow underwater plants. For beginners, we recommend buying one plant of each species you like. Instead of five plants, buy five 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. Some species prefer certain water parameters. Ask local hobbyists for advice on which plants are best suited to your environment.
Finally, make sure to only buy true aquatic plants that can be grown fully submersed or underwater. Pet shops may sell “semi aquatic” plants that can be grown in terrariums. It is interesting to note that many aquatic plants are grown in water at farms to increase growth and reduce algae problems. Once you place a new plant in your tank, it will melt a bit, then produce new leaves, which are more accustomed to being completely underwater. Aquarium Co-Op will help you get this going by putting your plants in tanks with plenty of lighting and fertilizers. This will allow them to convert to submerged grown leaves.
With this in mind, remember that a plant that looks like it’s dying may still be possible to save! You may see it melting as it adjusts to the new water conditions. Give it another chance to grow and you might be surprised at how much it grows 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.