How to Get Started with Aquarium Plants
Aquarium plants are an amazing addition to nearly any fish tank. They are beautiful and look natural. However, they can also be used to biologically filter water and provide a safe environment for fish. Many people are afraid of growing them underwater, which is why they are so difficult to grow. Don’t worry, these are our top four tips to get you started with your aquarium plants.
Tip #1: Use a Good Fertilizer
Easy Green all in one fertilizer to fertilize the water
The best thing about plants is their ability to consume toxic nitrogen compounds from fish waste. But to truly grow well, plants need more “food” than fish poop can provide. Plants need both macronutrients, like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous, as well as micronutrients, such iron, manganese, and boron. Plus, they require these nutrients at all the proper concentrations.
Experienced aquascapers like to use customizable products that offer separate containers for each nutrient, allowing them to create specific fertilizer concoctions for their aquariums. You may be like me and want an all-in one solution that is already premixed by professionals. Easy Green liquid fertilizer makes your life easier. For low-tech tanks, add 1 squirt to 10 gallons each week. High tech tanks will need twice as much. For plants that feed primarily from their roots, use root tab fertilizers or a specialized planted tank substrate to offer nutrients from the ground.
Easy Root Tabs for fertilizing the ground
You can find more information about plant nutrients in our article, Picking the Aquarium Fertilizer for You.
Tip #2: Use Good Lighting
Fluval Plant 3.0 LED light
A steady supply of light is essential for plants to photosynthesise. But direct sunlight is not recommended because it’s difficult to control the intensity and can cause severe algae problems. A dedicated light is needed for aquarium plants. Make sure to research which light is best for your tank. Our favorite light is the Fluval Plant 3.0 LED because it allows you to control the light intensity from very low to very high, depending on your tank’s needs. This light allows you to start with low-light plants (plants that require low levels of light) and then move up to high-light plants as an advanced user without needing to replace your existing lighting.
For more information on which planted tank light to get, check out our quick selection guide.
For best growth, choose an aquarium light that is specifically designed for plants. Regular aquarium light bulbs are often too dim, and they don’t provide the right spectrum for plants.
Tip 3: Choose the Right Fish
This factor may not be something you’ve ever considered before, but certain fish love to eat plants! Certain plecostomus, goldfish, and silver dollar fish all love vegetables. However, some plants may not be suitable for their aquariums. Some fish are more inclined to dig through the substrate and pull out plants. You may have to switch to floating plants or rhizome plants attached with hardscape. You can find out which fish will be plant-friendly by looking online or speaking with people in our Facebook group.
Goldfish, and other species can cause damage to aquarium plants. Make sure you research before you buy your new pet.
Tip #4: Start with Beginner Plants
Low-light plants are the best to start with. They tend to be slower growers, and they can be more patient as you learn how to grow underwater plants. For beginners, we recommend buying one plant of each species you like. Instead of buying five plants from the same species, you should get five different beginners plants. This will increase the chance that some plants can survive, and you will still be able to experience some success even if your husbandry skills aren’t perfect. Also, certain species will naturally prefer your local water parameters, so talk to local hobbyists to find out which plants grow the best for them.
Make sure you only purchase aquatic plants that are able to be grown completely submerged or underwater. (Some pet stores sell “semi-aquatic” plants to be used in terrariums, not aquariums.) An interesting fact is that most aquatic plants are actually cultivated out of water at plant farms to speed up growth and eliminate algae problems. So, once you put a newly purchased plant in your fish tank, it may melt back a bit and then start producing new leaves that are used to being fully underwater. At Aquarium Co-Op, we try to jumpstart this process for you by putting them in holding tanks with lots of good lighting and fertilizers so that they start converting to submersed grown leaves before they reach your home.
With this in mind, remember that a plant that looks like it’s dying may still be possible to save! You may see it melting as it adjusts to the new water conditions. Give it another chance to grow and you might be surprised at how much it grows back. We’ll continue to cover more topics related to planted tanks in the future. Register now to receive email notifications when new blog posts are published.