Written by George Farmer
Aquarium plants are the paint to your glass canvas that is the aquarium. Not only do they look great but they provide so many benefits to the entire aquarium system. See our other article for more info on their health benefits - “Why aquarium plants?”
There are literally hundreds of aquarium plant species available so choosing what’s right for you and your aquascape may be somewhat daunting. Thankfully there are a few basic guidelines to help you decide what’s right for you.
Before you can choose your plants based on how they look you need to understand if they will thrive in the long-term in your aquarium. Different plants have different demands and we can split this into three main categories - easy, medium and advanced. Tropica Aquarium Plants actually have colour coded labels (green, orange and red) to identify these categories.
These plants will grow in almost any aquarium providing there is some form of lighting. They do not require CO2 injection or a specialist substrate (although they will grow much better if these are provided). A weekly dose of a good quality liquid fertiliser such as Tropica Premium will suffice to keep the plants well-fed.
Medium demand plants will require more lighting that the easy category. Most all-in-one aquarium kits that come supplied with lighting will be enough. You will stand a much better chance of success with these plants if you do have CO2 injection but it may not be absolutely necessary. A specialist soil or nutrient-rich substrate may be required for some species. Also consider root capsules to target-feed particularly root-hungry plants such a crypts and Amazon swords and regular dosing with a good quality liquid fertiliser.
These are the most challenging plants to succeed with and including many carpeting species (see the article on “Aquarium Plant Types” for more info). They will almost definitely require CO2 injection, daily liquid fertilisers and a nutrient-rich substrate. Higher levels of lighting will be needed than usual so you may need to replace or add to your current unit. Popular models include the Twinstar series that range from 30cm up to 120cm in length, designed to be fitted onto open top aquariums.
When you see plants for sale in store they can often look very different to how they will eventually turn out in the aquarium. This is because they are usually grown in the greenhouses hydroponically, meaning out of water or emerged. This emerged growth results in the plant being physically more robust and but often with a slightly different leaf shape and even colour. It is therefore important to understand how the plant looks once it’s converted to its underwater form, known as submerged. You can see many examples online or in our own display aquascapes in store of how the plants appear both emerged and submerged.
A very simple and useful way to help position our plants is to split the aquascape into foreground, midground and background. Usually we position the shortest plants in the foreground and so on. It is helpful to understand the plant’s potential size so you can best determine where in your aquascape the plant best fits. Some plants can be deliberately trimmed to keep them to a suitable size whereas others will grow to a maximum size. Some experience will be necessary to best understand what plants work best for your setup and personal taste. Some plant species need to be attached to your hardscape. These are known as epiphytes and are attached best using fishing line, cotton thread or even cyanoacrylate-based glue (superglue). These can often be used as focal point plants as they contribute to a look of maturity and can be positioned at any height in the aquascape, depending on your hardscape layout.
Examples of easy foreground plants:
Examples of easy midground plants:
Cryptocoryne (all varieties)
Any easy stem plant (may need to be trimmed)
Examples of easy background plants:
Vallisneria (any variety)
Any Crinum species
Any Aponogeton species
Most Rotala, Hygrophila and Ludwigia
Examples of easy epiphyte plants:
Microsorum (Java fern)
How to plant most species (except epiphytes)
Planting is a therapeutic process and should not be rushed. Take your time and enjoy the experience! Planting is best done into a dry aquarium with a dry or wet substrate. This creates much less mess and the plants are much less likely to float once the aquarium is filled.
- Remove the label and plant including the mineral wool from the pot.
- Peel apart the two halves of the mineral wool to expose the plant roots.
- Remove as much mineral wool as possible. Doing this underwater in a bucket can be helpful.
- The plant is usually densely packed and consists of many individual plants grouped together with entangled roots. Carefully separate these into their individual portions.
- Remove any damaged or yellowing leaves. This allows the plants’ energy to go into growing new leaves rather than fixing damaged leaves.
- Trim back the roots to approximately 2cm.
- Using aquascaping tweezers plant each portion into the substrate so the roots are anchored securely.
- Slowly fill the aquarium with water. Using a colander is my favourite tool for this as it disperses the water and helps to prevent the substrate from getting disturbed.
- Plant with the freshest and healthiest plants you can get hold of. This will give them a much higher chance of success, especially in a brand new setup.
- Plant as densely as you can afford! The more plants you have the quicker the aquarium becomes stable and the less chance of algae you have.
- Try to use a large proportion of fast growing stem plants or floating plants. These will help against the risk of algae, which is particularly likely in the early weeks from set up.
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