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Aquarium Plant How To: Types Of Plants That Can Be Used In An Aquarium

Aquarium Plant How To: Types Of Plants That Can Be Used In An Aquarium


Growing aquarium plants can change an ordinary fish tank into a beautiful underwater garden. There are many different types of aquarium plants, but they all have one thing in common; they have adapted to living in a water saturated environment. They thrive with their feet wet in soggy soil and many prefer to be submerged.

Growing Info and Care of Aquarium Plants

Sometimes called hydrophytes, these different types of aquarium plants offer such a variety of shape and form. It’s entirely possible you’ll want to create an underwater garden without the fish!

For the best and easiest care of aquarium plants, your tank should receive plenty of light. Like their surface-bound cousins, these plants need the energy produced through photosynthesis to survive and photosynthesis can’t occur without sunlight or an artificial substitute.

Aquarium plant how-to depends a great deal on the plants involved. When choosing varieties, look for those that share common light and nutritional requirements. For instance, in such a closed and confined environment, it would be difficult to satisfy the needs of both a bright light and minimal light plant.

Types of Plants That Can Be Used in an Aquarium

There are three main types of plants that can be used in an aquarium that we’ll be talking about here: rooted plants, bunch plants, and floating plants.

Rooted Plants

Rooted plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They spread from runners rather than seed. These are the plants that can be used in an aquarium garden for background plantings. Learning how to grow aquarium plants begins with these. These plants need their roots firmly planted in the gravel, but take care; for plants like this shouldn’t be planted too deeply, only to the base of the crown.

Choose two different varieties for the back corners of your tank and if it’s a large tank, choose a third for the middle. Rooted plants usually grow from 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm.) tall and although there are many available, the few offered here were chosen for their contrasting shapes and popularity.

  • Eel Grass (Vallisneria): Leaves are light green ribbons. Some are corkscrewed. All bend and twist with the slightest water movement.
  • Sword Plant: This bright green beauty is one of the few types of aquarium plants that should be grown in pots. Use a shallow one with soil filling the bottom half topped by gravel or sand.
  • Fanwort (Cabomba): Light green, fan shaped, feathery leaves grow from central stalks. This one’s an eye-catcher.
  • Elodea: Narrow leaves grow around stems that can reach 3 feet (1 m.) long.

Bunch Plants

Bunch plants get their names from the way they are planted, in groups or bunches. They grow rapidly and need lots of light. Bunch plants can be used in an aquarium equivalent of middle ground plants. Each individual strand should be planted in its own hole. A pair of tweezers works well as a planting instrument.

  • Anacharis: Fine and feathery, it makes a great place for small fry fish to hide.
  • Ambulia: Light green, fan-like leaflets circle around slender stems.
  • Bacopa australis: Small round leaves. When planted closely, it looks like a miniature shrub.

Floating Plants

Floating plants take root in water, but don’t need to be anchored to the gravel. When it comes to how to grow aquarium plants, this type only needs a source of light. The more light, the faster they grow. Beware! These rapidly growing aquarium plants can take over in no time.

  • Crystalwort: Bright green and it grows in thick mats similar to moss.
  • Hornwort: An oxygenating plant with whirling narrow leaves on bushy stems.
  • Anacharis: The same plant as the bunch variety, but allowed to float free.

Growing aquarium plants can be both beautiful and functional. They absorb CO2 and release oxygen just as their land-bound counterparts. Nitrates accumulation can be a problem in the care of aquariums. However, aquarium plants help remove nitrates from the water. They harbor beneficial bacteria and help prevent algae growth. They also provide food for your fish.

With all the benefits of growing aquarium plants, why wouldn’t you give it a try?

NOTE: The use of native plants in a home water garden or aquarium (referred to as wild harvesting) can be risky, as most natural water features are host to a plethora of parasites. Any plants taken from a natural water source should be quarantined overnight in a strong solution of potassium permanganate to kill any parasites prior to introducing them into your pond. That being said, it is always best to obtain water garden plants from a reputable nursery.


How to Turn an Old Aquarium Into a Greenhouse to Start Rooting Plant Cuttings

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An old aquarium makes a good greenhouse to start rooting plant cuttings any time of the year. The miniature propagation chamber provides a humid, controlled environment that stimulates root growth on the cuttings. You can easily see the cuttings from the top and sides to check for disease or mold growth. The plants have room to produce new growth without overhead confinement. The enclosed space maintains a constant temperature, and the shape allows for the suspension of an artificial light source.

Wash the old aquarium with warm, soapy water to remove any dirt or scale deposits from the bottom and sides of the tank. Rinse the inside and outside of the aquarium with clean water.

Sterilize the aquarium with boiling water to remove mold spores or other bacteria. The residue from household cleaners, such as bleach, may contaminate the planting medium and kill the cuttings.

Add a 1-inch layer of pea gravel to the sterilized aquarium so there is adequate drainage in the propagation chamber. The pea gravel allows water to drain through the sand or planting medium but remain in the aquarium so the environment maintains a high humidity.

Pour approximately 3 to 4 inches of coarse sand over the pea gravel. The sand holds just enough moisture to keep the cuttings moist and allows the excess water to run off into the pea gravel. Coarse sand keeps bacteria to a minimum in the growing chamber.

Use a rooting hormone to accelerate the root growth on the cuttings. Use the hormone treatment according to the package directions. Powder or liquid rooting-hormone solutions give approximately the same results when used as recommended by the manufacturer.

Cover the aquarium with the two-piece glass aquarium cover that is available for most aquariums. If the cover is not available, you can use a single piece of glass or plexiglass to keep the temperature and humidity levels high in the tank.

Provide adequate lighting for the cuttings with a grow light suspended above the aquarium. Often, you can use a standard aquarium fluorescent light that is fitted with a plant bulb.

Sterilize the aquarium and the gravel or sand every time you use it to root plant cuttings.


How to Plant Aquarium Plants in Pots

While some aquarium plants can be planted in the gravel at the bottom of your aquarium, placing your plants in pots instead has several advantages. You can move potted plants around, making it easy to redecorate or to clean. If your fish decide to eat a plant or it dies for some other reason, it's a simple matter to replace a plant in a pot without disturbing its neighbors.

Soak potting soil in water. The soil should be the consistency of mud pies.

Fill your pot with the soil. Tamp down to remove any air bubbles.

  • While some aquarium plants can be planted in the gravel at the bottom of your aquarium, placing your plants in pots instead has several advantages.
  • If your fish decide to eat a plant or it dies for some other reason, it's a simple matter to replace a plant in a pot without disturbing its neighbors.

Make a well in the center of the pot with your fingers. The well should extend almost to the bottom of the pot.

Set the plant in the pot, being careful to let the roots hang down straight beneath the plant. Hold the plant with the crown of the plant above the level of the soil and carefully fill in around the roots with wet potting soil.

Cover the top of the soil with gravel. Press down lightly on the gravel to afix it to the wet soil.

Lower the plant slowly in a sink full of water until it's submerged. This will evacuate any air bubbles that might have worked their way into the pot while you were adding soil.

  • Make a well in the center of the pot with your fingers.
  • Set the plant in the pot, being careful to let the roots hang down straight beneath the plant.

Remove the plant from the sink and place in the desired location in your aquarium.

Choose plastic or clay pots. You can even use recycled yogurt containers or plastic caps off aerosol cans, as long as the pot is large enough to contain the plant's roots.


Growing plants hydroponically is a method of growing plants in water with no potting soil. The best and most simple way to begin growing plants hydroponically (other than purchasing an Aerogarden) is to set up a growing aquarium indoors under a light bulb (if you don’t get much sun inside) or next to a bright, southern-facing window. You can grow fresh herbs and vegetables to use in the kitchen, so if you have any space on the kitchen counter, a growing aquarium will fit in perfectly.

  • A 10-gallon aquarium
  • An air pump, air-line tubing and an air wand bubbler (go to the aquarium fish section of a pet store for this)
  • Rockwool or oasis cubes
  • Aquarium fish or hydroponic nutrients (one or the other – don’t add both!)
  • 1-inch thick polystyrene board

Starting the seeds. Before setting up and planting your hydroponic growing aquarium, start your plant seeds in rockwool or oasis cubes. Once the seedlings have sprouted, they will be ready to be in holes on a polystyrene board.

Setting up the aquarium. Set up the hydroponic growing aquarium next to a southern-facing window or underneath a grow light. Set up the air pump, tubing and bubbler so it can circulate the water. Fill the aquarium with water, and either add hydroponic nutrients or for more fun, add several aquarium fish. If adding fish, do not add any fertilizer for the plants. The fish will eat and provide nutrients to the plants with waste. The plants will suck up nutrients for the water, acting like a filter. If keeping aquarium fish, make sure to not keep more than five to 10 small fish in this aquarium, and do not add all of the fish at once. Research the nitrogen cycle that occurs in aquariums and how to add fish safely to a new aquarium before purchasing any animals. You will need to do water changes with hydroponic growing aquariums including fish. When choosing the type of aquarium fish you want, keep in mind that most will need a heater and a thermometer to make sure the temperature of the water stays in the correct range. With fish, it is better to grow the plants under a light rather than by a window, which is an area that can experience wide temperature swings (this can kill your fish). Fish such as white clouds and zebra danios are easy fish that do not require heaters. Also NEVER use pesticides or any chemicals in a hydroponic growing aquarium with fish.

Planting the plants. Insert the polystyrene board so it floats on top of the water. Cut 1-inch square holes in the board about 6 inches apart. This allows you to grow six different plants in the aquarium. Insert the rockwool or oasis cubes with your seedlings into the holes, and you’re done!

Maintaining the aquarium. Each week, top off the water and either add a half dose of the nutrient solution or test the water and see if the fish need a water change. If you are using the nutrient solution to fertilize the plants (and not fish), empty and wash out the aquarium after each growing season.

Check out these great plants you can grow in this hydroponic growing aquarium setup.


Bulb plants

Bulb plants like Aponogeton and Nymphaea species often arrive as small brown bulbs, without a bunch or a pot. Some will have leaves, while others will have just a tiny sprout coming out of the top.

Bulbs are best just placed on top of the substrate, where they then send their own new roots downwards. Pushing the whole bulb deep into the substrate is not advised as it needs oxygen around it to do best. Bulb species often grow very large so just a single bulb is plenty for most tanks, and many large leaves will shoot out in the next few weeks after planting.


Aquatic Plants from Bulbs

Bulbs can be dried from some aquarium plants and planted. Dry and seemingly dead, under the substrate, once planted underwater, these “bulbs” will quickly sprout and grow very fast under the right conditions. The Madagascar Lace is a prime example of this type of aquatic plant. These plants, also available in aquarium stores from time to time, are easy to grow and can be very attractive.

One drawback is that they have a definite growing season. They will grow and put out leaf after leaf from the base at a central core until finally, they produce a flower of sorts in the center of the core. Once a “flower” has been produced, the plant will go into decline and seem to die. The plant has not died, it is dormant in nature, it would stay dormant through the dry season, storing its energy until the next rainy season.

When you see this type of plant go into decline remove the “bulb” from the aquarium (sometimes there will now be two or three bulbs when you dig it up from the substrate). Dry it and keep it in a cool dark place for at least three months. If there are multiple distinct bulbs, separate them. Plant the “bulbs” the same way you did it originally and observe the cycle again.


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