Quick Guide: How to Plant Live Aquarium Plants
Congratulations on your new aquarium plant! Depending on which type of plant you have, there are different guidelines you should follow for introducing your new foliage. This step-by-step guide will show you how to add 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. This little basket and stuffing should be removed in most cases. These instructions will help you remove your plant from its package.
1. Squeeze the pot to push out the plant and rock wool. You may have to trim the roots a bit if they are too long or tangled. 2. Split the rock wool in half. Remove the plant in its 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. The rhizome is the structure that allows all the stems and leaves to grow upwards, while the roots are downward-facing. The best thing about rhizome plant is that they don’t require any substrate. You can wedge them between cracks in rocks or mount them to driftwood using super glue gel or sewing thread. (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. If you want to plant anubias and java ferns in the ground, the roots can be buried as long as they are not covered by the substrate. Rhizome plants absorb nutrients mostly from the water column. So feed them liquid fertilizer all-in one as necessary.
Place your anubias or java fern with its plastic pot into an Easy Planter to prevent fish from uprooting it.
2. Sword Plants
Swords are classified as a rosette plant, which means all the leaves grow out of the base of the plant in a circular pattern. Red flame sword and the Amazon sword are two examples. You should plant sword plants in the middle of the aquarium, or behind other plants. They can get very tall so be sure they don’t block your view. Use your fingers to dig a hole in the substrate and bury the roots of the sword, or you can use planting tweezers to push the plant roots into the substrate. Do not cover the crown (i.e., the base of the plant where all the leaves come out) with substrate. Swords are heavy root feeders, meaning that they prefer to absorb nutrients via their roots, so make sure to add lots of root tabs if you’re using inert substrate or if your nutrient-rich substrate is depleted.
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. Therefore, you may see your sword’s big, round leaves (i.e., emersed leaves that were grown out of water) melt away as the plant reabsorbs their nutrients to make longer, narrower leaves (i.e., submersed leaves that are grown underwater).
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. Common types include Cryptocoryne wendtii, Cryptocoryne spiralis, Cryptocoryne parva, and many other species. You will need to bury the roots of these plants while keeping the crown above the ground, just like with sword plants.
Crypts are very prone to melting whenever they’re introduced into a new aquarium, so don’t throw away your crypt if its emersed leaves fall off. Submerged leaves will soon emerge once the plant has adapted to its new environment. Some aquascapers recommend that you trim the emersed foliage before planting the crypt. This will encourage the plant’s energy to be focused on submerged leaves and reduce the likelihood of losing all its old leaves. 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 propagate via stolons or runners – little horizontal stems that produce a small plantlet at the end, eventually creating a long chain of connected plants. As with rosette plants, plant the roots into the substrate, and don’t cover the base of the plant’s leaves. One pot may contain several plants. If you have multiple plants, plant them in separate containers. This will allow each plant 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.
These plants can easily multiply depending on their species to create a grass-like carpet or a tall seaweed forest. You can spread the plant to another area or create a new tank by simply cutting the runners (once the plantlet has developed its roots and leaves), and then replant it elsewhere.
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. The most widely available varieties of moss on the market are Java moss or Christmas moss. Marimo moss balls can be considered a type algae. However, they should not be buried or placed on top of hardscape.
Christmas moss (Vesicularia montagnei)
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. The stem plants should not be planted in one group. Instead, plant them individually with some space between to give the roots room to grow. Use tweezers to easily plant them, and if needed, wrap plant weights at the bottom to prevent them from floating away. 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 love liquid fertilizers and prefer to eat 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. Place the bulb/tubers on top of the substrate by rinsing them to remove any loose substrate or rock wool. You can either wait for the bulb to sink or place it under some hardscape to keep it from floating. The bulb should start to sprout new leaves and roots within a few weeks. If the bulb does not grow after three weeks, you can turn it over as the bulb may be upside down. Bulb plants can grow tall and reach the water surface with leaves.
Banana (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, dwarf baby tears, and microsword are two examples. These plants are not the grass-like carpeting plants like dwarf sagittaria and dwarf hair grass, which were mentioned in Section 4. Many websites suggest breaking up carpeting plants into small pieces and placing them around an aquarium in the hope that they will spread. However, we have found that the roots of these plants are too delicate or small to be effective and end up floating around.
Instead, you can place the entire pot in the substrate and allow the plant to carpet from there. The basket and rock wool will keep the carpeting plant from floating away and give it a good base to root from. Once the carpeting plant becomes well-established, you can go back and cut out the potted portion. Carpeting plants need lots of light, carbon dioxide (CO2) pressurized, and both liquid fertilizers as 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! You may be familiar with duckweed, dwarf water lettuce, frogbit and certain stem plants, such as water sprite. Simply place them on the water surface, provide lots of light and liquid fertilizers, slow down the current, and don’t let their leaves 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.
Best of luck with your new aquarium plants! For help in diagnosing the problem, download our free guide to plant nutritional deficiencies.