Quick Guide: How to Plant Live Aquarium Plants
Congratulations on your new aquarium plant! You will need to follow different guidelines depending on what type of plant you have for adding 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. In most cases, you want to remove this little basket and the stuffing, unless you bought a carpeting plant (see Section 8 below) or you plan on using an Easy Planter decoration. These instructions will help you remove your plant from its package.
1. To push the rock wool and plant out of the pot, squeeze the lid. If the roots are overgrown and tangled, you may need to trim them back a little to free the basket. 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. Now, wash off all debris and you are ready to plant your 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 stems and leaves grow upwards from the Rhizome. Roots grow downwards from it. The great thing about rhizome plants is that you don’t need any substrate to grow them. You can use super glue gel to mount them to driftwood or wedge them in cracks in rocks. (For more details on how to use super glue gel in aquariums, read this article.) The roots of the plants will eventually grow and wrap around the hardscape, making it difficult to remove.
An even easier method to plant your rhizome plants is to place it in a plastic bag with rock wool and then drop it into an Easy Planter decoration. Finally, if you would like to plant your anubias or java fern in the ground, you can bury the roots, as long as the rhizome is not covered by the substrate. 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. 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. 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. Substrat should not be covered around the crown, which is the area where all the leaves are visible. 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. You may notice your sword’s large, round leaves (i.e. emersed leaves grown out of water) melting away as the plant absorbs nutrients and grows longer, more narrower leaves (submerged leaves, which are grown underwater).
Amazon sword (Echinodorus bleheri)
Cryptocoryne, also known by “crypts”, is another type of rosette plants that needs substrate and root tabs to grow well. Cryptocoryne parva and Cryptocoryne spiralis are some of the more common varieties. As with sword plants, it is important to bury their roots and keep the crown of the plant high above the ground.
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. 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 is not a good candidate for this technique. It doesn’t experience crypt melting.
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. As with rosette plants, plant the roots into the substrate, and don’t cover the base of the plant’s 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 your species, these plants can quickly multiply to form a grassy carpet in the front or a tall seaweed forest behind. 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 are similar in nature to rhizome and require no substrate. They can also be attached to hardscape by thread or glue. 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 an algae type, but they should be placed gently on the ground, not buried, or attached to hardscape.
Christmas moss (Vesicularia montagnei)
6. Stem Plants
These plants are known for growing vertically from a single stem with leaves coming out directly from the stem. Think of bacopa, Pogostemon stellatus, and pearl weed. 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. To make it easy to plant them, use tweezers and wrap the weights around the bottom to stop them 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
A bulb or tuber can be used to grow many different types of plants, including the dwarf aquarium lily (banana plant), dwarf aquarium lily (tiger lotus), and aponogetons. Rinse the bulb or tubers to remove any rock wool or loose substrate covering it, and place it on top of the substrate. 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 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. 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, we recommend inserting the whole pot into the substrate and allowing the plant to carpet out from there. The basket and rockwool will keep your carpeting plants from floating around and give you a strong base to root. 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 shouldn’t forget about floating plants, the easiest type of plant to add in an aquarium. Frogbit, duckweed and dwarf water lettuce are all common varieties. There are also 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.
All the best for your new aquarium plants. You can find our free guide on plant nutrient deficiencies to help you troubleshoot the issue if your plants are not growing well.