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 guide will walk you through the steps of adding live plants into your aquarium.
Should You Remove Pots from Aquarium Plants?
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. Push the rock wool out of the pot by pressing down on it. To free the basket from roots that are too big or tangled, trim them back. 2. Divide the rock wool in half and remove the plant from the middle. 3. Rock wool can be removed manually by using a fork or your fingers. 4. To prevent a nutrient spike, make sure you get rid of all yellow fertilizer balls. 5. You can now wash away any debris and plant the plant.
Anubias gold in a pot
1. Rhizome Plants
Anubias and java fern are the most common rhizome plant types. Bolbitis is another popular choice. All have a Rhizome, which looks like a long, horizontal trunk or stem. All stems and leaves grow upwards from the Rhizome. Roots grow downwards from it. Rhizome plants are easy to grow. You can wedge them between cracks in rocks or mount them to driftwood using super glue gel or sewing thread. You can read this article to learn more about how super glue gel is used in aquariums. Eventually, the plant’s roots will grow and wrap around the hardscape so that it becomes difficult to remove.
A even easier way to plant your rhizome plant is to leave it in the plastic basket and rock wool and drop 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 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
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. Sword plants can grow to be very tall so you should place them in the background or midground of your aquarium. 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 a heavy root feeder, meaning they prefer to absorb nutrients via the roots. Make sure you add lots of root tabs to inert substrates or depleted nutrient-rich substrates.
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. As with sword plants, it is important to bury their roots and keep the crown of the plant high above the 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. 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 is not a good candidate for this technique. It doesn’t experience crypt melting.
4. Grass-Like Flowers
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. Plant the roots in the substrate. Don’t cover the base of your plant’s leaves, as you would with rosette plants. Sometimes, a pot contains several plants. Plant them individually so there is enough space for 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.
Depending on the size of your species, these plants can quickly propagate to form a grass-like carpet in the foreground or a tall seaweed forest in the background. 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 can be attached to hardscape using thread or glue, and they are very similar to rhizome plant mosses. Instead of being packed in pots, mosses are usually sold pre-attached to a wire mesh rectangle, driftwood, and other 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 a type of algae, but like normal mosses, they should be gently placed on the ground (not buried) or attached to hardscape.
Christmas moss (Vesicularia mountaini)
6. Stem Plants
These plants are known for growing vertically from a single stem with leaves coming out directly from the stem. Bacopa, Pogostemon Stellatus, and pearlweed are all examples. The basket, ring or rubber band that has been wrapped around the base stems must be removed to prepare the plant. The substrate should be placed at least 2-3 inches deep in each stem. 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. Use tweezers for easy planting. Wrap plant weights at their bottom to keep them from floating away if necessary. Some people will place the stems on the substrate and let them grow roots. Stem plants are accustomed to liquid fertilizers because they prefer to be fed from the water column.
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). Rinse the bulb or tubers to remove any rock wool or loose substrate covering it, and place it on top of the substrate. If the bulb starts floating, you can either wait for it to sink or place it loosely under a piece of hardscape to keep it weighed down. 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 grow tall and reach the water surface with leaves.
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.
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. 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. Familiar varieties include frogbit, dwarf water lettuce, duckweed, and even certain stem plants like 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.
Best of luck with your new aquarium plants! For help in diagnosing the problem, download our free guide to plant nutritional deficiencies.