Quick Guide: How to Plant Live Aquarium Plants
Congratulations on your new aquarium! You will need to follow different guidelines depending on what type of plant you have for adding new foliage. This quick guide leads you step-by-step through the recommend ways for adding live plants to your aquarium.
Are Aquarium Plants Safe to Remove Pots?
Most plants purchased online or from a local fish store come in a plastic pot stuffed with rock wool. You will need to take out the little basket and all of the stuffing unless you purchased a carpeting or Easy Planter decoration. These are the steps to take your plant out of its packaging.
1. Push the rock wool out of the pot by pressing down on it. You may have to trim the roots a bit if they are too long or tangled. 2. Divide the rock wool in half and remove the plant from the middle. 3. If rock wool is stuck to the plant, use your fingers, a fork, or large tweezers to manually strip off as many pieces as possible. 4. Make sure to remove all the small, yellow fertilizer balls so that they won’t cause a nutrient spike in your aquarium. 5. You can now wash away any debris and plant the plant.
Anubias gold in a pot
1. Rhizome Plants
Anubias, Java Fern, and Bolbitis are some of the most well-known rhizome species. They all have a rhizome, which is like a thick, horizontal stem or trunk. All the leaves and stems grow upwards out of the rhizome, while the roots grow downwards from the rhizome. The best thing about rhizome plant is that they don’t require any substrate. They can be tucked between rocks, or attached to driftwood with super glue gel or sewing needle. (For more details on how to use super glue gel in aquariums, read this article.) The hardscape will become difficult to remove as the roots of the plant grow eventually.
It is even simpler to plant your Rhizome plant by placing it in a plastic basket with rock wool, and then dropping the pot into an Easy Planter decoration. You can also plant your anubias, or javaferns in the ground by burying the roots. However, it is important that the rhizome remains exposed. Rhizome plants absorb nutrients primarily from the water column, so feed them an all-in-one liquid fertilizer as needed.
Place your anubias or java fern with its plastic pot into an Easy Planter to prevent fish from uprooting it.
2. Sword Plants
A rosette plant is a plant that produces swords. This means that all of the leaves are arranged in a circular fashion from the base. The red flame sword and Amazon sword are examples. Sword plants can grow to be very tall so you should place them in the background or midground of your aquarium. Dig a hole through the substrate with your fingers and place the roots of the blade. You can also use planting tweezers or your fingers to push the roots into the substrate. The crown, i.e. the part of the plant that holds all the leaves, should not be covered with substrate. Swords are heavy feeders of nutrients, which means that they prefer to absorb nutrients through their roots. If you use inert substrate, or if the substrate is depleted, make sure to add plenty of root tabs.
Note: most aquarium plants are grown out of water at the plant farms and then must get used to living completely underwater when you put them in your fish tank. Your sword’s round, large leaves may become brittle as the plant absorbs its nutrients and makes shorter, more narrower leaves.
Amazon sword (Echinodorus bleheri)
Cryptocoryne plants, also known as “crypts” for short, are another kind of rosette plant that requires substrate and needs root tabs to grow well. Cryptocoryne parva and Cryptocoryne spiralis are some of the more common varieties. You will need to bury the roots of these plants while keeping the crown above the ground, just like with sword plants.
Crypts can melt when they are introduced to a new aquarium. Don’t throw out your crypt if the emersed leaves start falling off. Submerged leaves will appear soon after the plant adjusts to its new surroundings. Before planting the crypt, some aquascapers even recommend trimming off the emersed leaves to encourage the plant to focus its energy on growing submersed leaves, since it’s likely to lose all the old leaves anyway. Cryptocoryne parava isn’t prone to crypt melting so this technique shouldn’t be used.
4. Grass-Like Plants
This group includes vallisnerias, dwarf sagittarias, micro swords, and other Stoloniferous Plants. These species are propagated by runners, or stolons. They produce small plantslets at the ends of their stems. Like rosette, you must plant the roots in the substrate and not cover the base of the leaves. Oftentimes, one pot comes with several individual plants, so plant them separately (not in one, single bunch) so that there’s a little space between each one to grow and multiply. You can also place the plant with its plastic pot inside an Easy Planter decoration to prevent it from getting uprooted by fish.
Depending on the size of your species, these plants can quickly propagate to form a grass-like carpet in the foreground or a tall seaweed forest in the background. To spread the plant in another area, or to create a new tank, you can simply remove the runner once the plantlet is established. Then, replant the plant.
Micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis)
Mosses can be attached to hardscape using thread or glue, and they are very similar to rhizome plant mosses. In fact, instead of being packaged in pots, they’re usually sold already affixed to a mesh rectangle, driftwood, or decor. Moss can also grow as a large, free-floating mass, which is great for colony breeding since baby fish can easily hide from the adults in the dense coverage. Java moss and Christmas moss are some of the most readily available varieties on the market. Marimo moss balls are technically a type of algae, but like normal mosses, they should be gently placed on the ground (not buried) or attached to hardscape.
Christmas Moss (Vesicularia montei)
6. Stem Plants
These plants can grow vertically from one stem, with the leaves emerging directly from that stem. You can think of pearl weed, Pogostemon, and bacopa. Remove the rubber band, basket, or ring that was wrapped around the stems’ bases to prepare them. Plant each stem deeply, at least 2 to 3 inches into the ground, which means the substrate may cover some of the bottom leaves. Don’t plant the stem plants all in a single bunch but rather individually with a little space between so that the roots have some room to grow. Use tweezers for easy planting. Wrap plant weights at their bottom to keep them from floating away if necessary. Some people will let the stems float to the surface so that they grow roots. Then, they can be planted into the substrate. Stem plants are accustomed to liquid fertilizers because they prefer to be fed from the water column.
7. Bulb Plants
The banana plant, dwarf aquarium lily, tiger lotus, and aponogetons (also sold as “betta bulbs” at pet store chains) are all types of plants that grow from a bulb or tubers. To remove any rocks wool or loose substrate, rinse the bulb or tubers and then place it on top. If the bulb starts floating, you can either wait for it to sink or place it loosely under a piece of hardscape to keep it weighed down. New leaves and roots should quickly sprout from the bulb, but if there is no growth after one to three weeks, try turning the bulb over because it may be upside-down. Bulb plants can grow very tall with leaves that reach the water surface, and they tend to take nutrients from both root tabs and liquid fertilizers.
Banana Plant (Nymphoides Aquata)
There are many kinds of foreground plants and even mosses that can be used to cover the ground in your aquarium, but this section is specifically referring to short, dense carpeting plants with lots of tiny leaves and very weak roots. Monte carlo and dwarf child tears are examples. This is not the same as the grass-like carpeting plant dwarf sagittaria or micro sword mentioned in Section 4. Most websites recommend that you cut up a pot full of carpeting plants and place them around your aquarium. But, the roots are too fragile or small and they end up floating away.
Instead, we recommend inserting the whole pot into the substrate and allowing the plant to carpet out from there. The basket and rock wool will prevent the carpeting plant floating and provide a solid base from which to grow. Once the carpeting plant becomes well-established, you can go back and cut out the potted portion. Carpeting plants typically enjoy lots of light, pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2), and both liquid fertilizers and root tabs.
Monte carlo (Micranthemum tweediei)
9. Floating Plants
We don’t want to forget the easiest plant to add to an aquarium – floating plants! Frogbit, duckweed and dwarf water lettuce are all common varieties. There are also certain stem plants such as water sprite. Place them on the surface of the water, give them lots of light, liquid fertilizers, slow down current and make sure they don’t get too wet. Some people like to use fishing line or airline tubing to contain the floating plants and prevent them from getting pushed underwater by the filter output. Our final tip is to make sure that they don’t cover the entire surface of the water or else you may have issues with oxygen depletion for the fish and lack of light for the other plants down below.
We wish you the best with your new aquarium plants. If you’re not seeing healthy growth for some reason, check out our free guide to plant nutrient deficiencies for help with troubleshooting the issue.