Plants and You- the not-so-scary-as-it-seems guide!
Oh, plants. Next to cycling and diseases, live plants are a large anxiety and mystery to new aquarists. Sometimes, aquarium plants can be very tough to take care of and very expensive. Alas, never fear! There are plants out there that are easy to care for. Yes, I said it. Easy!
The best thing you can do when considering live plants is acknowledging your tank’s level of maintenance. No, not water changes, though these are important, Im talking about how much care can be given to them. For instance, do you have a cO2 system? Fertilizer? Proper lighting? Proper substrate?
“Low” maintenance tanks include:
-Tanks without fluorescent lighting
-Tanks with no or little substrate, or substrate like gems, rocks, and marbles.
-Tanks that require frequent 100% water changes (which would require them to be taken out)
-Tanks without cO2 or heavy fertilization/any fertilization
-Tanks without supplemental minerals
Medium maintenance tanks include:
-Tanks with proper lighting and/or access to direct sunlight
-Tanks with gravel or sand
- Tanks that are cycled or filtered/ do not need constant uprooting, etc.
- Tanks that get some/moderate fertilization, maybe cO2.
-Tanks with some supplements, probably from fertilizers.
Both of these types are easily achieved. The biggest difference between them is expense.
While not too pricey, buying correct lighting and fertilizers/ supplements can become a bit costly. Sometimes, these products can be hard to come by, especially for those with stores that carry very limited supplies. Both tanks are rewarding and an endeavor you should seriously consider!
Keep these things in mind when researching plants, knowing your kind of tank is helpful!
I myself had a LM tank, because I had no access to any kind of fertilizers or proper lighting. In fact, my tank got very little natural light from the sun. Now I have a MM tank and enjoy it quite a bit!
Plants that thrive in LM tanks are generally low-light plants and plants that require no additional fertilization. MM tanks are low-medium light lovers that enjoy or do best with fertilization or require specific/ special care.
Here are some of the easiest to care for and most common plants new aquariests like to use with great results. There are, of course, many more plants that fit into the LM and MM tank parameters, but these are usually some of the easiest and least expensive!
Bio: Anubias is a gorgeous plant that looks wonderful in any tank. It is widely available and comes in a variety of species. It has lush, dark green leaves that can come in many shapes. It likes a clean tank (which your fish should have anyway!) and subdued light.
Ideal Temp: 71-81’F
Substrate/Rooting?: Do not bury rhizome or will rot , float or tether to grow onto an object, best results in driftwood or some rock.
Ideal Spot in Tank/light: Anywhere, some species are short, others tall. Does not like direct light!
Fertilization: Little to none, but it certainly wont mind it!
Special: Grows slowly, can float and create a great resting spot for bettas, cannot be buried, can be rooted to things by tethering it down with string or fishing line, does not like direct light/too much light. Will get clear leaves or holes if too much light and can disintegrate if the tank is dirty.
Amazon Sword: Bio: Amazon Sword plants are a handsome plant in any tank; they have long stems with long leaves that can be broad or narrow. When grown well, they can get quite large and look gorgeous and make the tank look extremely natural.
Ideal Temp: 75-82’
Substrate/Rooting?: This plant needs to be buried into the substrate. A deep substrate is required for this plant, since the roots grow out long and many. Three to four inches of substrate is ideal.
Ideal Spot in Tank/light: mid-to background, needs low to moderate lighting, likes diffused lighting best.
Fertilization: Many believe this plant does need some sort of fertilizer in order to grow and/or live once nutrients in the water have depleted.
Special: This plant is slightly more demanding than others. It likes a deep substrate and needs at least some fertilization to grow at its best.
Bio: Anacharis is perhaps the easiest plant to care for, and it sucks up ammonia like a fiend. Usually inexpensive and in large amounts, this plant is highly recommended for beginners. While floating, it provides great cover for fry and fish alike.
Ideal Temp: 40-50-77’ (Though from my experience does alright from 78-82’)
Substrate/Rooting?: This plant will not root, but can be buried while slightly tethered into substrate. Best spot is left floating.
Ideal spot in tank/light: Ideally left floating, grows off chutes and can grow very tall, so keep that in mind. Likes light, but too high can cause the leaves to wither, can be kept in very low light.
Fertilizer: Not needed, though without it the leaves will stay short, less vibrant and will not grow as long.
Special: A great plant that propagates constantly. From one chute there can be multiple babies, which grow when picked off, allowing you to keep growing and growing this plant. When it dies, should be removed, because it gets messy. A siphon is recommended for cleanup.
Bio: This plant tends to ride/hitchhike along with other plants and is not overly common to buy. However, since it often tags along with other purchased non-tubed plants, its worth covering.
Ideal Temp: 56-85’F
Substrate/Rooting?: Will only float, stays at surface.
Ideal Spot in Tank/light: Will grow in all light levels.
Fertilization: Will eventually suck out large amounts of nutrients, and if you want it to stay in the tank in large amounts, fertilization or supplementation is a good idea.
Special: This plant can take over the top of your tank if you let it. Taking out moderate amounts is a good idea, as it grows quickly when healthy. If it comes in unexpectedly, taking out what you can and doing frequent water changes will serve well in getting rid of it.
Bio: A handsome stem plant with sword-like leaves, compliments any tank in almost any location within it. Stemmed trimmings can be planted back into the gravel/sand and grown. A great starter plant, well worth its money from propagation!
Ideal Temp: 68- (best from)75-82’
Substrate/Rooting?: Can bury in the substrate, *fine gravel or sand is best.
Ideal Spot in Tank/Light: Likes light, but can live in low light situations. Grows fast, so will need constant trimming to be kept short/in the front.
Fertilization: Minimal, if any. Always helps, though!
Special: Sometimes, when first planted back into your tank, it might lose its bottom or all of its leaves. Don’t worry, they’ll grow back! It also may flower while submersed completely.
Bio: Hornwort is the notorious tank taker-over in aquaria. However, this plant is a great ammonia eater and worth having in a tank, especially for beginners. Watch out, though- it shed nettles like crazy.
Ideal Temp: 39-95’ (WOW!)
Substrate/Rooting?: This plant has no real roots and will not root to things. It can be buried, though the first few rows from the bottom of nettles should be removed as they will die off. Works well while it floats.
Ideal Spot in Tank/Light: The back or sides of the tank is the best. This plant grows like a weed and gets so high that it can even grow out of the tank. This plant is fickle and may be picky as to what kind of light it fares best in, though it can live in low to high light- moderate light seems best. If the light is too* low, it will die, but this needs to be very dark.
Fertilization: Needed, at least some- because it sucks the nutrients out of the tank so effectively it will lose what it needs to survive.
Special: * PLEASE NOTE that this plant should never be allowed to grow out of a contained area, such as introduced into lakes, ponds, streams, etc. It is VERY invasive and can live nearly anywhere. Do not ever release into the wild. This plant’s nettles fall off easily, even when healthy, and frequent siphonings and/or full water changes are needed. If left to rot, it is hazardous to the tank. Do not let the plant grow too close/tall that it grows out of the water or too close to the light, as it will scorch and die.
Bio: Java moss is a strange fern-like moss that shoots out small branch-like sprouts. It’s a strange bugger but grows atop objects and décor to add a pleasing, natural look for your tank.
Ideal Temp: 65-85
Substrate/Rooting?: Can be left to float, though usually not. Usually attached to some sort of décor, rocks or wood.
Ideal Spot in Tank/Light: Anywhere where it can be attached to, REQUIRES low to moderate light for it to grow best. Not great for high-light tanks!
Fertilization: Not needed, though it couldn’t hurt.
Special: This plant does not do well in hard water and will grow more slowly when the water is warmer.
Bio: Java fern is a lovely and very earthy looking addition to any tank. It makes a tank look very natural with its sometimes rough, crinkled leaves that look like a fern, hence the name. It is an undemanding plant that requires no special treatment or lighting. It can be found nearly anywhere that sells plants.
Ideal Temp: 65-85’F, has been known to melt upwards of 83’- go higher at own risk!
Substrate/Rooting?: This plant should not have its rhizome buried, as it will rot. Instead, opt to attach it to something such as driftwood or rocks. The root bunch (hair like on the bottom) makes it easy to do. Tie to what you want it to root to with string or fishing line.
Ideal Spot in Tank/ light: Anywhere it wont get too much light. If too much, leaves will become transparent and whither. Can get large, good at all places in tank, enjoys the canopy cover of taller plants.
Fertilization: This plant requires nothing special, though it helps.
Special: Not much though can have some blackish bumps on the bottom of leaves, which is normal. Also creates “babies” (advantageous plants) from its tips when healthy, which can be removed or left to release into the tank to grow new ones.
Bio: Water Wisteria is a light and airy plant that requires no special care. Its leaves and stem provide a unique addition to your planted tank. It can be found in many places that sell plants, though is slightly less common than anubias or java fern.
Ideal Temp: 74-82’F
Substrate/Rooting?: Can be allowed to float, does well when rooted/buried.
Ideal Spot in Tank/light: Likes more moderate light, but can live in low light situations. Well placed in the background of a tank or on the sides of a tank.
Fertilization: Not required, but if left alone, will eventually run out of needed nutrients in the tank. Fertilization helps a lot.
Special: Grows quickly and propagation is easy, trimmings will grow when buried as long as there is a node, leaf shape determined by the temperature of the tank, should be pruned regularly.
Bio: This is a rapidly growing floating plant which sucks up ammonia like a champ! It is a wonderful addition to any new tank.
Ideal Temp: 64-82’
Substrate/Rooting?: Most easily cared for while left floating, other methods may prove more difficult.
Ideal Spot in Tank/Light: Floating, likes low light while it floats. If in substrate, light needs to be moderate.
Fertilization: Requires no to minimal extra fertilization.
Special: This plant does not like sudden changes in water parameters, including sudden heat changes, pH changes, etc. Take care not to shock it!
There are many fertilizers out there. Some are heavy-duty and hard to use, so here are a few that have been recommended and used with good results.
- Tetra FlouraPride
- API Root Tabs
- API Leaf Zone
- SeaChem Flourish
- Adding a tsp of Epsom salt (unscented) on occasion helps!
There are many out there, but these are readily available and can be found in many places. Use ones appropriate for your plants, water change schedule and for your fish. :)
Some medicines are harmful to plants. Check the directions to see if your medicine harms plants or inverts. Usually, what will hurt an invert, can do damage to a plant. Copper harms plants, so take care to remove them. Also, plants, while not affected by diseases, can still harbor disease. Remove them from your tank for a while if you are nervous about them harboring something.
Always QT your plants for at least a week, 3 weeks+ is best! Plants can have unwanted critters hiding in them, which you probably don’t want in the tank. Wash gently in tepid water and place into an appropriate QT for a while.
Those “betta bulbs”, found in many stores, often don’t work. Some members have managed to get them to grow, but as a whole, theyre a dud. If you have them, grow them in a separate tank as to not contaminate your tank with mold, which they are notorious for growing. If your bulbs mold, either chuck them or remove the mold.
Plants require light- incandescent bulbs; the ones commonly pre-installed into tank hoods (low, yellowy light) do not grow plants. Purchase fluorescent/ compact CFL’s for the tank under its specified specs. Do not go over the wattage for the bulb for the hood- it will usually say its maximum wattage somewhere by the light cover (“Do not exceed 15w”). Also, if a specific type of bulb is recommended (“use only Tubular bulbs”), take heed and get that type. Bulbs are sold in pet stores, and can also be found in the lighting section of most stores. Make sure you get the correct wattage and type for your tank! You don’t want to blow a bulb!
I hope this helped! Again, research is key- and this guide does NOT guarantee good results and is not a sure-fire guide to plants. Use it to help you feel more confident with your plants and find out what works best for you!
You are doing such fine work giving all of us an in depth reading of your knowledge and research. You are going to make an excellent teacher!! Even an ol' timer such as myself thoroughly enjoys reading all of your thoughts and work. Just excellent!!
Love all these plants!Especially the anubias. They cost a bit more than the other plants listed... usually...but they last a lot longer and are very hardy..so..good for beginners!
For some reason I have issues keeping anacharis and hornwort alive though... I just recently bought some more anacharis..Here's to hoping I can keep it alive and green!
Some sites to consider buying from (ones I have had god results/ones suggested by the site) are:
bobstropicalplants.com (make sure you QT them! Snails snails snails! lol!)
and many others. If you have one to recommend, let me know :) One of these sites (I think) has a discount code for members of this site, since we refer to it so often. Haha! <3
http://www.plantedaquariumscentral.com/. If you use the code BETTAFISH (all caps!) at check out, you'll get a 10% discount. Well This was a while ago but it may still work. They decided to give this forums members 10% off since we recommend buying from them so much.