Growth in plants is actually pretty universal. While the dimensions may not be, the growth process itself is. This guide will help you grow any aquatic plant once you find out the parameters for the specific plant.
You will hear people raving all the time about “watts per gallon”. I am here to tell you this is wrong. You could have one watt per gallon and still grow plants as long as the rest of the lighting is proper. Just ignore this rule for now!
A main concern with lighting is they do not have the proper spectrum. What is spectrum? In “dummy” terms, this is what light is made out of. It carries the energy and photons through waves. A ‘white’ light type of bulb in your home only has 3,500-4,000k. Your average ‘soft’ light bulb only has 3,000k. Yes, I said only! The ideal lighting is 6500k for growing plants.
You know how you have an extremely bright light bulb in your tank that can light up your whole room, but your plants are still withering? This is because light has many different colors mixed into it. Objects that appear to be a color are actually reflecting this color back. Plants do not use green light as part of their photosynthesis process and therefore look green. As your plants get greener and greener, you may believe they are doing wonderfully. To most, this is actually a concern, because it means the light may be producing a lot of green but not red and blue. We humans use green to visibly see, so this is why it looks so bright to us. Plants will need blue and red spectrum lighting, and of course some green for us to see the tank visibly. Around 430nm blue spectrum and 650nm for red spectrum is ideal.
Fluorescent vs. Incandescent. There is not a battle people! An incandescent light bulb will only help you grow algae and make the tank temperature go up. Fluorescent will radiate less heat and will give you optimal light. Take it from me; if I leave on my Betta tank that has incandescent lighting, his tank will go up3-6 degrees! This is very bad for the plants and the fish.
Color temperature only means which color it will accent. If you have blue fish, and want the fish accented, get a blue temperature light bulb. If you want your plants to be the main focus, get a green temperature bulb. It really doesn’t matter; it’s all up to you!
Lumens (or Lux) only have to do with how well we can see the light. Again, no relevance to the plants at all. If the rest of the bulb is great for plant growth, then get a good amount of lumens for your own benefit, but it really isn’t important for the growth.
Back to the watts per gallon! Ideally, 2-3 watts per gallon is a good idea, but only if the rest of the bulb is fit for growing plants.
Optimal light bulb; 6500k, blue/red/green spectrum, fluorescent, a color temperature to accent your tank, and 2-3 watts per gallon. Keep on for 8-12 hours per day. Don’t be afraid to check hardware stores!
Fertilizer is a main component people leave out that can truly benefit a plant. Water only has so many nutrients, and they need to be supplemented to help the plants maintain their nutrient needs. Every plant has different nutrient needs, so please read up on what your plant is in need of to supplement properly. Not every fertilizer is the same, it’s not universal! There are root tabs, substrate fertilizers, under substrate soils, and liquid fertilizers. It is up to you, your budget, and your plants to decide which to purchase.
What are root tabs? Root tabs are solid “tabs” that you place, you guessed it, under the roots! These are great if you only have a couple of plants because you can plant them directly under the plant so they can gain nutrients from these tabs. Flourish has some great root tabs. (I use these.) Yes, they can be a tad pricey up front, but you change them generally every couple of months, so they last a long time. Once submerged and in the substrate, they slowly begin to dissolve and spread through the crevasses of the substrate. I.e., once it is planted, don’t uproot your plants, and don’t siphon the gravel here!
What are substrate fertilizers? These are fertilizers that actually act as the substrate. I have seen sand and gravel. Basically they are made with the nutrients in them, so all you have to do is plant and wait! This can get pricey as over time it will need to be replaced, and you’ll need a lot for larger aquariums. I believe Flourish also offers a whole line of this.
What are under substrate soils? These are fertilizers that are almost like soil you will use in a garden. You put a layer down first, then put the substrate over it. A good suggestion is you don’t put any in around the edges of the tank, but rather only in the back/middle so you don’t have “ugly” black/brown soil showing through under your substrate! You can also use a lot of this then put a small amount of substrate over it and lining the rim so it looks like you have a lot of substrate when most of it is nutrient soil.
What are liquid fertilizers? This is what you purchase in a bottle. They come in liquid form so you can dose some and pour it into your water and it will dissolve. This is ideal for plants that don’t root such as mosses, floating plants, anubias, etc. It supplements your actual water so it has all the proper nutrients for your plants to grow. If you have plants that don’t absorb nutrients from the water (rooted or not) then this will just be a waste of money. Just as root tabs would be a waste for plants without roots! Many rooted plants do absorb nutrients from the water, so research on what your plants do.
Once you know how your plant absorbs nutrients, figure out which nutrients it needs. For example, there’s “Flourish Iron” that is a liquid fertilizer that adds in iron for plants that need supplement in it. “SeaChem Flourish” is a good liquid fertilizer that has a large variety of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids necessary for plant growth.
Find out if your plants absorb nutrients from their roots, the water, or both to properly choose a fertilizer. Then research your plant to figure out what kind of supplements it needs.
Why do so many plant keepers forget this aspect? One wrong move in this area and you could have your plant dead in a matter of a day! Just as it is important to fish, it is important to plants. Too many go out and purchase a plant and quickly realize it will not match up with their fish’s needs and they are out of luck. Research before you buy!
First of all, think of the temperature needs. What is your tank’s natural temperature, and what do your fish require? (Since we keep Bettas on this forum, we’re looking at 74-82* usually.) Instantly we know that plants in that range are basically a must. Purchasing a plant out of that range is just a waste of money. Now, does your tank fluctuate a lot in temperature? Do you wake up with it at 76*, and when you check in the afternoon it is 83*? This is something you’ll need to know. There are plants out there that specifically require 80-82* with very minimal fluctuation, and other plants can deal with 60*-90*. Figure out what your tank does, what your fish needs, and match the plants to that, not the other way around!
In Bettas, we aren’t too concerned with the pH level, but your plants sure as heck will be. pH is how acidic our base your water is. Again, match the plants to your natural levels, don’t force them with chemicals one way or the other to match the plant! There are plenty of aquatic plants to find what you like to match to your aquarium water. Some plants like neutral pH (7), others like more acidic (4-6), others like a more base (8-9). Tropical Hornwort, for example, enjoy 5-7 pH range. This is something very simple to look up and is on most aquatic plant profiles online.
Alkalinity is in relation to the pH level. This is actually important to consider in my eyes. Alkalinity tells you how resistant your water is to pH level changes. Plants cannot tolerate drastic, nor constant, pH changes. If your alkalinity is low, get a hardier plant that can resist the pH change better. If your alkalinity is high and stables at a specific pH, then get plants in that range.
The hardness of the water also helps determine how well your plants will do. Some plants need very soft water to properly grow, and others prefer the extreme hardness. What is hardness? It is the concentration of calcium and magnesium. The levels of hardness will vary on your area if you use tap water, what kind of bottled (or treated) water you use, if you use reverse osmosis, or if your water comes in contact with real rock. It is easier to make soft water hard than hard water soft! If you have hard water, I’d just stick with it. My water is very hard and to reduce it the only way is to get full reverse osmosis system or get one of those “pillows” at pet stores that can be time consuming to soften the water. Yet again, it is so much easier to just match your plants to your natural levels than trying to chemically adjust them!
Believe it or not, ammonia/nitrites/nitrates all are involved with growing plants as well. Some plants actually use these as nutrients (anacharis sucks up ammonia like nobody’s business!) and some these can be toxic to. It’s your job to find out what your plant can tolerate and keep the levels in that range. It is also good to know that algae just loooooves nitrates, and will steal the nutrients from the water if it’s allowed to grow. This is why keeping the lighting proper, the tank clean, and keep up on water changes is so important! Don’t ever let the nitrate levels get up or else algae will just go mad.
Here is the battle… Co2 or no Co2? This very much depends on your aquarium, but if you are wanting to grow plants like a mad man/woman, it is essential. If you have a couple live plants with some fish in a smaller aquarium, you’ll most likely be fine and won’t need any or perhaps some cheap Co2 tabs. Fish give off Co2, decaying processes give off Co2, there is plenty of Co2 in a tank that has minimal plants. Once you get a bunch of live plants and want rapid growth (or they are rapidly growing), it’s a good idea to supplement Co2. If you’re giving amazing lighting, supplementing nutrients, and have great water parameters, you should definitely supplement with Co2 or else the rest is basically a waste. Now, it is possible to over dose Co2, so watch the levels and try to measure it as best as possible! You do not need some fancy, expensive Co2 system, especially for smaller aquariums.
Before buying a plant, see if it fits your aquarium’s water parameters. It is easier to match your plant to your aquarium than your aquarium to your plants. Main points to consider are temperatures, pH levels, alkalinity, hardness, ammonia/nitrite/nitrate levels, and Co2.
Substrate can actually mean the whole world when growing plants. Here’s that word again, research! Some rooted plants will only grow in very fine substrate like small gravel or sand. Others really need some space and enjoy river rock or large pebbles. Find out what your plants will need before you purchase!
A good idea to consider as well is what species of fish you’re housing. If you have a fish such as corydoras, you may not want to choose a plant that doesn’t tolerate being up-rooted very well. If you have fish that are notorious for leaf-picking, then don’t choose a slow growing, sensitive plant. It’s such a simple concept most people over-look!
What can your tank accommodate? You need to be realistic. If you have a 3 gallon tank don’t buy a plant that grows to 20 inches or don’t over fill it with plants. If you have a 20 gallon high tank, it is best to buy plants that grow ‘up’ rather than ‘out’.
Sometimes leaves will brown at the tips. It is imperative that you remove this leaf because it is already dead! If you leave it then it will begin to take over the plant. Prune the plant regularly to keep it at its best, if you let it grow wildly out of control it will suck up nutrients and will begin to wilt over time. Keep it down to a good level and just let it does its thing! Always use sterilized scissors to prune your plants for the sake of your tank and the plants themselves.
Plants over time will reproduce, especially in good conditions, so find out which way your plants propagate. Some plants stem off of themselves (like anacharis) so when you see these and they’re at a decent size you can just trim them off and have a new plant! Do this so the baby doesn’t take from the adult plant. Normally once a plant begins to reproduce you will continually have more babies off of it.
I am not super human! If there are grammar/spelling/etc mistakes, notify me! If there is information that you feel is incorrect, post what you feel is with information about correct terminology. If I have left something out, or didn't go into proper depth, please post that as well.
Thank you for posting this! I love the look of live plants but have had 0% success with mine. I had to give up and switch to fake When I have the space for live plants (and the lighting they need), I will definitely buy real ones again
Lordadamar- You're exactly right! But they do make lightbulbs with both. Probably not completely balanced, but a cheaper solution. It's definitely a good idea to try and keep it as balance as possible..
As to the watts per gallon rule, 2 watts is "low", but if you have all the other specifications, it isn't a huge worry, in my opinion. The higher the wattage you can get, though, the better! (You meaning readers, not you specifically!)
Stardancer- I tried to make it as simple and "easy" as possible! There's more into growing, or rather, keeping alive plants than most stores lead you to believe! If the water is too hard, dead plant. If the light doesn't have spectrum/proper color waves, dead plant. I thought I'd share so people like you can try out plants again and succeed!!
It goes along with that guide. Pew is great with explaining plants, what they need, and what's best for certain aquariums. THIS guide is to explain how to grow them. Many people on here buy those 'beginner' plants and then they die either that very day or within a few months.