Quick Guide: How to Plant Live Aquarium Plants
Congratulations on your new aquarium! Depending on which type of plant you have, there are different guidelines you should follow for introducing your new foliage. This guide will walk you through the steps of adding live plants into 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 are the steps to take your plant out of its packaging.
1. Squeeze the pot to push out the plant and rock wool. If the roots are overgrown and tangled, you may need to trim them back a little to free the basket. 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. You should get rid of any small yellow fertilizer balls that could cause an increase in nutrient levels in your aquarium. 5. Wash off any remaining debris, and now you’re ready to plant the plant.
Anubias golden in pot
1. Rhizome Plants
Anubias and java fern are the most common rhizome plant types. Bolbitis is another popular choice. 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 best thing about rhizome plant is that they don’t require any substrate. 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.) Eventually, the plant’s roots will grow and wrap around the hardscape so that it becomes 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. 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 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. Examples include the Amazon sword and red flame sword. Many sword plants grow very tall, so make sure to plant them in the midground or background of the aquarium so they won’t block your view of other plants. 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. 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. 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 plants (also known as “crypts”) are another type of rosette plant. They require substrate and root tabs in order to grow well. Cryptocoryne wendtii and Cryptocoryne spiralis are the most common types. There are many more species. Similar to sword plants, you want to bury their roots while keeping the crown of the plant above ground.
Crypts melt very easily when placed in a new aquarium. If your crypt’s emersed foliage falls off, don’t throw it away. 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 isn’t prone to crypt melting so this technique shouldn’t be used.
4. Grass-like Plants
This category refers to vallisneria, dwarf sagittaria, micro sword, 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. 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. If you would like to spread the plant into another area or a new tank, simply cut the runner (once the plantlet has its own roots and leaves) and then replant the new plant elsewhere.
Micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis)
Mosses can be attached to hardscape using thread or glue, and they are very similar to rhizome plant mosses. They are often sold in pots and not packaged in containers. Instead, they are attached to a rectangular mesh, driftwood or other decorative piece. 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, Christmas moss, and other varieties are the most common 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 mountaini)
6. Stem Plants
These plants can grow vertically from one stem, with the leaves emerging directly from that stem. Think of bacopa, Pogostemon stellatus, and pearl weed. To prepare the plant, remove the basket, ring, or rubber band wrapped around the base of the stems. 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. 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 prefer to feed from the water column and therefore appreciate a diet of liquid fertilizers.
7. Bulb Plants
All types of plants can grow from bulbs or tubers, such as the banana plant, dwarf aquarium lotus, tiger lotsus and aponogetons (also known as “betta bulbs” at pet stores chains). To remove any rocks wool or loose substrate, rinse the bulb or tubers and then place it on top. You can either wait for the bulb to sink or place it under some hardscape to keep it from floating. You should see new roots and leaves emerge quickly from the bulb. However, if the growth is slow or incontinence after a couple of weeks, it might be worth turning it upside-down. Bulb plants can reach heights of up to three feet with their leaves reaching the water surface. They also take nutrients from both root tabs as well as liquid fertilizers.
Banana plant (Nymphoides aquatica)
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. Examples include monte carlo and dwarf baby tears (not the grass-like carpeting plants such as dwarf sagittaria, micro sword, and dwarf hair grass mentioned in the previous 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.
We recommend that you place the whole pot in the substrate, and then allow the plant’s carpet to grow from there. The basket and rockwool will keep your carpeting plants from floating around and give you a strong base to root. After the carpeting plant has established itself, you can remove the potted part. 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. Just place them on the water surface and give them plenty of light and liquid fertilizers. Slow down the current so that their leaves don’t get too damp. 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. You can find our free guide on plant nutrient deficiencies to help you troubleshoot the issue if your plants are not growing well.