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.
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. Except if you have a carpeting plant (see Section 8) or a Easy Planter decoration, this is the only thing you need to do. Follow these instructions to easily remove your plant from its packaging:
1. Push the rock wool out of the pot by pressing down on it. You might need to trim back the roots if they are tangled or too large. 2. Split the rockwool in half and pull out the center of the plant without damaging the roots. 3. You can manually remove rock wool stuck to the plants using your fingers, a knife, or large tweezers. 4. To prevent a nutrient spike, make sure you get rid of all yellow fertilizer balls. 5. Get rid of any remaining debris and then you can plant the plant.
Anubias golden in a pot
1. Rhizome Plants
Anubias are the most commonly found rhizome types, along with java and bolbitis. 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 great thing about rhizome plants is that you don’t need any substrate to grow them. You can use super glue gel to attach them to driftwood, or you can place 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 the pot into an Easy Planter decoration. The roots can be planted in the ground with anubias or Java ferns. However, it is possible to bury them if the substrate does not cover the rhizome. 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. 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. You can either use your fingers to make a hole in the substrate to bury the roots or you can use tweezers to push them 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 (i.e. submerged 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. Cryptocoryne parva and Cryptocoryne spiralis are some of the most common types. 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. Aquascapers often recommend trimming the emersed leaves before planting the cryptocrypt. This encourages the plant to concentrate its energy on growing the submerged leaves. It’s unlikely to lose any of the old leaves anyway. Cryptocoryne parava is not likely to experience crypt melt so this technique should be avoided.
4. Grass-Like Flowers
This includes vallisneria and dwarf sagittaria as well as micro swords and other stoloniferous species. These species reproduce via runners or tolons, which are little horizontal stems that eventually form a long line of connected plants. Plant the roots in the substrate. Don’t cover the base of your plant’s leaves, as you would with rosette plants. 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.
These plants can quickly multiply, depending on the species, to form a grass-like or tall seaweed forest in either the foreground of the picture. 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 have a similarity to rhizome, except that they don’t need substrate and can be attached via thread or adhesive to hardscape. 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 can be considered a type algae. However, they should not be buried or placed on top of hardscape.
Christmas moss (Vesicularia mountaini)
6. Stem Plants
These plants are known to grow vertically, from a single stem, and their leaves come out straight from the stem. Bacopa, Pogostemon Stellatus, and pearlweed are all examples. Remove the rubber band, basket, or ring that was wrapped around the stems’ bases to prepare them. Each stem should be planted deeply at least 2 to 3 inches below the ground. This will allow the substrate to cover some of the lower 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 for easy planting. If necessary, place weights on the bottom of the stem plants to keep them from floating. 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
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. To keep the bulb from floating, either wait until it sinks or place it on top of a piece hardscape. New leaves and roots should quickly sprout from the bulb, but if there is no growth after one to three weeks, try turning the bulb over because it may be upside-down. Bulb plants can reach the water surface and grow tall, with large leaves. They also tend to absorb nutrients from both the root tabs or liquid fertilizers.
Banana plants (Nymphoides waterfoida)
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 microsword, which were mentioned in Section 4. Websites recommend breaking up large pots of carpeting plants into smaller pieces and placing them around the aquarium. We find that the roots can be too fragile and that the plant bits end-up floating away.
We recommend that you place the entire pot into the substrate, and then allow the plant’s carpet to grow from there. The basket and rock wool will prevent the carpeting plant floating and provide a solid base from which to grow. After the carpeting plant has established itself, you can remove the potted part. 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 cannot forget floating plants, which is the easiest and most cost-effective plant to add into an aquarium. Some of the most familiar varieties are duckweed, dwarf water salad, frogbit, and 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. If you’re not seeing healthy growth for some reason, check out our free guide to plant nutrient deficiencies for help with troubleshooting the issue.