A beginner’s guide to aquarium plants is something that almost all of us with established tanks could have found very convenient when first starting away in fishkeeping! Hopefully our version here can help you find your aquatic inexperienced fingers.
Perhaps you have ever seen a well planted display aquarium and wished you may produce the same within your own living room? Do you get plants which in turn seem to expire off in a few weeks and don’t know why? Our guide talks about a few of the mistakes beginners often make and offers a few pointers on deciding on the best species as well as how to look after them.
Why keep plants in your aquarium plants to begin with?
Why do we keep vegetation inside our aquarium? In addition to the obvious aesthetic benefits, live aquarium vegetation also increase the water quality in your fish tank. As well as using up the carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH4) made by your seafood, in addition they use the nutrition needed for algae to increase, so they help reduce or even eliminate algal expansion in your aquarium. In addition they provide cover to keep your fish stress free and provide natural boundaries for territorial varieties, as well as cover for small fry.
1: What kinds are you looking to keep?
Generally, the novice I ask struggles to give me a varieties name. Their interest is commonly their fish and plants are very much a second thought. Often they may have purchased plants from their local seafood shop within a bunched package, often they aren’t labelled up so the customer has little if any idea what they have actually bought. Aquatic crops vary in form, size and color, as well as having different light, feeding and water parameter requirements. If you add a species which is not suitable for your aquarium set up you’re going to battle to keep them healthy from day one.
A straight bigger problem is that lots of fish outlets stock a variety of plants that are actually bog plants, never suited to life within an aquarium and which can die in a matter of weeks if submerged under water permanently. To find out more, please see our guide to non-aquatic crops.
The list below, under the “plant species to start with” section, features a number of commonly available and affordable aquarium plants that are tolerant of a wide variety of water conditions and lower light levels. It is important that you decide on species suitable for your tank so that as a starter try and avoid those with challenging specific requirements.
2: What light have you got?
Many popular types of aquarium shrimps offered on the market nowadays were made with more thought towards home design as opposed to the needs of aquatic seed species from 50 % way across the world. People often suppose that vegetation will be fine whatever their container comes with. Whilst this is sometimes true, it is not always the case. Some tanks simply don’t have what is needed for even more challenging varieties. Matching suitable species to your tank’s light is a big step in the right course.
Gone will be the times when aquarists used to manage with grolux pipes that were made for horticultural use. Today’s fish keeper is spoilt for choice with a wide array of different light types including:
Fluorescent lighting: T-5 and T-8
Easily available, inexpensive and emitting little heat, fluorescent lighting is very popular. Its main disadvantage would be that the equipment and lighting have to be substituted at least annually to become effective, perhaps even every nine a few months or so for your vegetation to thrive. In case your fluorescent tube is three years old as well as your vegetation don’t look too great, replace it! You will discover two main types of fluorescent signals found in the aquarium hobby. They are T-5 and T-8. When possible always choose the newer T-5 version. These are a better choice than the more aged T-8 lamps and also have several advantages. The light bulbs are narrower in diameter, calculating just 5/8 of any inch rather than 1 inch just like a T-8. This enables you to match more light bulbs in your hood should you want a closely planted container. It’s recommended to work with full variety (5000-7000K) light bulbs. Unfortunately anticipated to different diameters, T-5 and T-8 tubes are not interchangeable unless you use an adapter.
LED aquarium lighting
LED (LED) aquarium lighting has become extremely popular recently, and with justification. They previous over 50,000 time and emit no heat so can be put very near the water surface so that your crops reap the benefits of more from the light they emit. Their small and flexible size makes offers you an element of flexibility when setting them too. It’s also possible to buy LED lighting in a tube style to squeeze in the area of fluorescent pipes.
Material Halide aquarium lighting
In reality material halide is expensive both to get and run and is absolutely targeted at those using deep marine aquaria where in fact the aquarist needs their light adoring corals and other invertebrates to get plenty of light at depth. Therefore it will not be included in this beginners guide.
Lamps to avoid in your aquarium
Stay away from using incandescent lights. Unfortunately some of the cheaper, brand aquaria come with these equipped as standard to keep costs down. They are simply of little to no use numerous plant kinds as they simply do not emit the right kind of light needed because of your plants. When possible, replace them with a fluorescent aquarium bulb. Your local seafood shop where you bought the fish tank from should be able to give you advice upon this. As fluorescent bulbs are cheaper to perform than incandescent bulbs, you should spend less over time.
Photoperiod – just how long to leave your lamps on for to profit your aquarium plants
Whichever kind of lighting you select you should certainly try to have your aquarium illuminated for 8 to 10 hours each day. Using a timer with your light unit will make sure you achieve this daily. In the event you begin to experience algal expansion, reduce the amount of time your signals are on for (the photoperiod) and screen the situation directly, making changes as required, if you ask me light level has an improved effect on plant growth than the photoperiod.
How much light aquarium vegetation need
As for the quantity of light, we’d recommend that your aquarium has at least 2 watts per gallon (4.54 litres) as a complete minimum. If possible shoot for 4 or even 5 watts per gallon as this will ensure better progress.
3: What do you supply your plants?
Surprisingly a sizable number of folks assume that the waste made by their fish will be enough to keep their plants rather than consider adding a plant fertiliser. That is a major mistake, most likely the single biggest place related mistake created by aquarists. By not adding fertilisers you are quite simply starving them of the nutrients they have to survive. Whilst it holds true that seafood misuse, uneaten food and even tap water will give you some of the required nutrients, it won’t really provide everything needed and you are highly likely to experience issues such as holes in the leaves, discolouration, stunted expansion and thin leaves and eventually they may simply pass away off. Regardless your tank will not resemble the screen tanks you’ve been admiring online or at your neighborhood shop.
Just like terrestrial vegetation they might need both macro and micro nutritional vitamins, in addition to CO2 and light. There are several different kinds of fertilisers available to the aquarist.
Essentially they are almost soil-like or are produced from clay based compounds so that as the name suggests, form part of your aquarium’s substrate. Realistically these can only just be added when you create your aquarium from scuff. If you’re planning on setting up a greatly planted fish tank, then you want to consider using substrate fertilisers. Although on the costly area, they last for quite some time and can provide sufficient nutrition for most strong and healthy plants. The vast majority of the truly impressive planted tanks you might have seen online will feature a substrate fertiliser.
Many brands of tablet fertilisers are available readily. Nutrient abundant ‘tablets’ can be added right to your substrate, providing the mandatory nutrients for place types such as Echinodorus, Cryptocoryne and Vallisneria between others. One edge they have is that crops can be fed individually when working with them. Some aquarists also add them when adding new plants with their aquarium.
These are by far the most common kind of aquarium fertilisers found in the hobby today. There are various products available on the market and attention should be studied to find a high quality product. Usually, liquid fertilisers should be utilized regular, though do check the individual manufacturer’s instructions as this may vary. Whilst they can be ideal for vegetable varieties which absorb nutrient directly through their foliage such as Egeria densa and java moss, they do not provide sufficient nutrition to kinds such as Amazon swords therefore the aquarist might need to use a blend of tablet and water fertilisers to supply all of their plants.
When you have an aquarium heavily stocked with seafood, consider by using a water fertiliser that does not contain nitrogen or phosphor. Both of these nutrients will be present in fish misuse and too much in the aquarium can and can result in unwanted algae growth.
As well as the three main questions I begin with, there are several other factors that make a difference if plants will achieve success in your aquarium:
What substrate is most beneficial for your aquarium is usually the main topic of much issue amidst aquarists. Large gravel is not ideal for Corydoras catfish for example as the distinct edges may damage their delicate barbels, so many Corydoras keepers turn to use mud in order to avoid this. Which means aquarist must consider what fish varieties as well as what plants they want to keep before making a decision on a substrate.
We would certainly recommend that beginners avoid the likes of coral sand, coral gravel or peat moss. The past will improve the pH of water substantially and is really only suitable for specialist establish ups housing seafood that want hard and alkaline water. The last mentioned, peat moss, will have the contrary effect and lower the pH that may result in unwanted normal water conditions for hard normal water kinds such as guppies and mollies.
If you’re looking to setup a fresh aquarium and a proper planted container is on top of your set of priorities, then it might be better to avoid large diameter gravel as this is a poor choice for healthy main development. You can however progress results with smaller 2mm to 3mm gravel if this is your substrate of preference. Be warned, coloured gravels can boost the pH of your aquarium and are best avoided, while some may think they must be avoided due to good taste together!
Alternatively you may look to use sand. Either play sand from your neighborhood DIY store, sterling silver sand from your aquatics store or pool filtration system sand. However sand has a few issues of its. Be aware that it can suffer from compaction therefore must be stirred once in a while. This must be achieved in order to avoid a build up of hydrogen sulphide gas which could be harmful to the inhabitants in your aquarium. The ultimate way to prevent this is to simply give it a good stir when you perform your regular normal water changes. If it can become compacted it can also be problematic for the root base of some crops to grow through it. Make an effort to keep carefully the depth below 3cm or so and make sure you clean your sand extensively before adding it to your container. This is often a long, laborious job but can be made easier by adding your sand within an old clean pillowcase and jogging water in the sand until it’s clean.
The good news is that we now have a few substrates that are ideal for planted tanks. Included in these are commercial products such as CaribSea’s Eco-Complete, although on the costly side it can contain all the nutrition your rooting vegetation require and comes in black and a brownish red colour which looks attractive in your fish tank. There’s also clay based products such as Laterite which may be put into your gravel or sand bulking out your substrate with nutrient rich material.
Be aware that traditional style under-gravel filter systems are best averted if you want to grow aquarium crops. Oxygen rich drinking water being influenced over their origins constantly will little to aid their growth
No guide on aquarium crops would be complete without the mention of skin tightening and or CO2 for brief. Vegetation need carbon like every living thing and receive theirs through carbon dioxide. Some people assume that it’s important to include CO2 to the aquarium for good plant development. Whilst this may be true in aquariums formulated with a large amount of aquarium plants where competition for CO2 is high, or where in fact the aquarium has high light levels leading to the plant life being struggling to manage the needs of photosynthesis because of the amount of light, it is not always the truth in sparsely filled tanks with only a few plants.
That said, there is absolutely no denying that the addition of CO2 will boost plant growth. Nevertheless the addition of CO2 is a complex subject and should not be added without starting additional research as adding too much can kill your fish and shrimp and is also beyond the opportunity of the guide.
An email on red aquarium plants
There are many species and cultivars of red aquatic plants available in the hobby. These are extremely popular because of their attractive appearance. However in most cases, they have a tendency to need a much larger amount of light than their green counterparts and are thus more difficult to keep. Their red appearance often depends on them being given flat iron supplements, so if you do buy for example a bunch of red Cabomba piauhyensis and don’t add iron supplements the foliage will eventually lose its red colouration and over an interval of simply a couple of weeks start to show a more brownish colouration.
Shrimp killing plants!
Well, nearly the crops. However if you wish to avoid getting rid of your shrimps, you must read this and take notice. Aquarium plants are produced commercially in Europe and the Far East with a large proportion produced in the latter. In order to enter the European union the plants need to be cured with pesticides to avoid the transfer of unwanted ‘nasties’. This is a legal need and FERA the herb and seed inspectorate team of DEFRA will not allow any imports here in to the UK without this treatment process as it can help avoid the unwitting transfer of, amongst others, Tobacco Whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) an agricultural pest in charge of the devastation of huge amount of money worth of vegetation annually. Whilst these pesticides have no influence on aquarium fish they can and will kill your aquarium shrimp, sometimes wiping out all of them rapidly.
Sadly, not absolutely all aquarium shops know this or they forget to give all of their customers who purchase plants from them. Online companies may load up your order in a straight line from the container after receiving their shipment from china and taiwan so the crops are still protected in these specifically lethal chemicals. When added into your aquarium without soaking or rinsing the fate of your shrimp is closed.
In a perfect world every seafood keeper would quarantine all of their plants before adding them with their main aquariums. In the real world, this is not really functional for almost all people. Therefore we strongly recommend that you soak your recently acquired vegetation in a bowl or bucket of drinking water at room temp for about eight hours or so, changing the water totally at least four times. Once done, then give them a very extensive rinse out under tepid, not lukewarm water, under a tap to remove all traces of pesticide. This will ensure your plants are ‘shrimp safe’. Whether or not your supplier tells you that their vegetation are ‘shrimp safe’, we still recommend accomplishing this procedure just in case.
However some species of snail appear immune to the pesticides used before export to the UK. Therefore, before adding any plant life to your aquarium, have a look at them and look for both snails and snail eggs. Failure to take action can lead to infestation and damage to your recently purchased and existing stock of aquarium crops.
Fish species of preference
Of course it will go without saying that once you’ve invested in the correct light, substrate and fertilisers, you still need to make certain you don’t stock plant eating species of seafood. No matter how good your setup is, if you stock varieties such as goldfish that wish to eat aquarium vegetation you’ll do not have the aquatic masterpiece you wanted in your living room. Therefore you’ve planned on establishing a fabulous looking aquascape you must also research the nourishing practices of your suggested fish species of preference thoroughly too.
If you keep goldfish, or other large boisterous place munchers, and would like a planted reservoir on their behalf it’s not an impossible fantasy so do have a look at our planted tanks for goldfish article.
Plant species to get started on with
Below is a list of commonly available types which are suitable for beginners as they are all tolerant of a wide variety of water conditions, may survive in lower light conditions and also have no specific feeding needs or CO2 necessity.
A big and impressive types, amazon sword crops can form a good centrepiece in your aquarium or simply more commonly be utilized in the backdrop of your fish tank. Growing quite large at between 25cm to 50cm high, this easily available South American varieties will not require particularly high degrees of light and it is tolerant of a variety of drinking water conditions so long as extremes are averted.
The large and attractive, light to emerald green pointed, lance like foliage make sure they are a favorite aquarium favourite. Yet, in order to develop well, Amazon swords do require nourishing. For best results give a wholesome substrate or add main tab type flower fertiliser to your existing substrate. Liquid based place fertilisers won’t maintain amazon sword crops.
Propagation is most easily achieved by untangling plantlets which develop from the father or mother plant. Ensure that they have got their own main system before cutting them free, this may need you to uproot the father or mother plant first.
Perhaps somewhat confusingly, two species of herb tend to be sold as ‘Amazon Swords’ in the trade. Echinodorus bleheri are true Amazon Swords, nevertheless the directly related and similar looking Echinodorus amazonicus is also often improperly labelled as bleheri. The name Ruffled Sword Plant is sometimes given to Echinodorus amazonicus as its leaves have a far more ruffled appearance. Treatment is actually the same for both types.
A cultivar variety Echinodorus bleheri ‘Azurea’ is sometimes offered on the market. The leaves are green in coloring with elliptical and tapering ends.
Java Moss: Taxiphyllum barbieri previously Vesicularia dubyana
Origins: South East Asia
Size: the place will spread just as much as it has possibility to
Temps: 18 c to 28 c
pH: 6 to 7.5
Propagation: Propagated from fragmented shoots
Java moss is one of the very most commonly used varieties of aquatic place in freshwater aquaria. Originating from South East Asia, this hardy moss will tolerate a variety of normal water conditions from gentle, acidic freshwater to very fragile brackish normal water. It can endure in fairly dimly lit tanks so that it is one of easy and simple types to keep alive.
Best results once and for all growth though will be performed at a temperature of around 24° Celcius combined with the addition of the liquid plant give food to according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Java moss is regularly employed by fish breeders where it offers safe cover for small fry from much larger predatory container mates as well as providing a great egg laying medium for egg scattering kinds such as barbs and danios. It is also useful to culture infusoria for really small fry too very small to take baby brine shrimp or microworms etc.
Unlike most species it will not root into the substrate. Some beginners make the mistake of adding java moss straight into their fish tank where it is then blown around by the filtration, breaking apart and creating a mess. The solution is to connect the moss with dark cotton or a very low breaking stress fishing series to lumber or rock in the aquarium, using plenty to ensure it stays in place. With time the moss will effortlessly attach itself to the aquarium décor creating a nice-looking and natural looking adornment as it increases on the cotton or sportfishing line. Otherwise aquarists can purchase bits of bogwood, coconut shell and bamboo where in fact the moss was already linked with it.
Propagation is achieved easily by section, just divide it up!
An identical looking kinds called Holiday Moss, Vesicularia montagnei is sometimes available in the aquatic trade. It’s appearance is comparable, with perhaps a slightly more formal condition. Holiday moss however requires more light and is also not as hardy.
Please note that kinds is often sold by its old name of Elodea densa. Perfect for both tropical and temperate aquaria this weed like place is very easy to grow and if given a lot of light and fertiliser will expand very quickly. Attention should be given when handling as its brittle characteristics can often lead to plants snapping. Broken stems however will probably become new vegetation. A liquid based place fertiliser will ensure good expansion.
Bunches of Egeria densa are well suited for tanks where you might wish to protect small fry from predatory seafood as it’ll provide an excellent area to allow them to hide.
Unusually Egeria can utilise carbonate from the aquarium water for photosynthesis which really helps to reduce carbonate hardness in the aquarium.
Anubias barteri is an attractive wide-ranging leaved species from Western world Africa. Many man made cultivars have been created in recent years offering an array of different foliage types with some variegated kinds also. Perhaps the main aspect to consider is that there are essentially two types; Anubias barteri which can increase quite large and Anubias barteri ‘nana’ which really is a much smaller dwarf version, with the second option making an improved choice for smaller aquaria.
A hardy plant it could be kept in a number of water conditions and will tolerate low light conditions, though it’ll grow more quickly if more light is provided.
Like Java Fern and Java Moss, Anubias barteri can often be purchased already mounted on bogwood commercially. Otherwise you can buy your own plants and either put on lumber with dark cotton or plant directly in the substrate ensuring the rhizome itself isn’t buried, only the root base should be. A water based seed fertiliser will ensure good growth
Propagation is very easy with this kinds. Simply use a distinct bladed knife to slice the rhizome and put into plants ensuring there are in least four and ideally six healthy leaves per part. Take care not to accidentally slice the roots at this point!
Java fern is arguably the most bomb proof herb the aquarist can keep. It is tolerant of a variety of normal water conditions, may survive in lower light conditions which is not consumed by fish because of its troublesome fibrous foliage. Many of these factors make it one of the very most popular plants found in aquaria and terraria today.
The plant has a horizontal rhizome of which leaves grow from within an upright manner. Regrettably beginners often mistake this rhizome as root base and bury it in the aquarium substrate that will eventually kill it. Instead, java fern should be linked with rocks or lumber using dark colored cotton or a low breaking strain sportfishing collection to keep them set up. Alternatively you can buy commercially available bits of bogwood with java fern already fastened.
Nourishing with a good quality water plant fertiliser as per the manufacturers instructions should ensure good growth and attractive green foliage.
Three cultivars of java fern can be purchased in the trade. These are M. pteropus ‘slim leaf’, M. pteropus ‘Windelov’ and M. pteropus tropica. Care for all is actually the same, however bear in mind that the ‘tropica’ cultivar increases large, up to 50cm in height and so is very only ideal for large, tall aquaria.
Like Nuphar japonica, this is a kinds only really suitable for much larger aquaria, they aren’t at all suitable for smaller nano tanks. The leaves are wavy, just a little curled and are light green, almost translucent in appearance. Each leaf blade can measure between 20 cm and 50 cm long. I have in my opinion experienced one of the grow about 14 cm in a single day! They are occasionally sold as bulbs rather than proven plants, seed the bulb three quarters buried in a profound, nutrient abundant substrate. Do ensure you have at least 2 watts per gallon of light if keeping this kinds though, ideally more.
Moss balls aren’t really a moss, but a ball of inexperienced algae. They have a velvet like texture and could grow to 30 cm across, though the truth is they harvested much smaller. Sometimes called Marimo Moss Balls credited to being within Lake Akan, Japan, known locally as Marimo, these balls of algae are incredibly easy to keep. Simply ensure they have usage of light, turning them every few days so that all of the ball receives some light and supply with a water based flower fertiliser. Do ensure you have at least 2 watts per gallon of light if keeping this varieties though.
Like other species of the genus, Cryptocoryne wendtii can have problems with ‘Crypt melt’ sometimes called ‘Crypt rot’. That is a condition where cryptocorynes may actually die when transferred to a new aquarium presenting different water variables or light conditions. Some leaves perish before growing back once fully acclimated, so don’t be concerned too much if you witness this after lately planting some in your aquarium.
That is a great beginners species as it is pretty much bomb-proof and can tolerate an array of water conditions. Unusually it could even be produced in very difficult water if supplied with supplemental CO2. It really is a wonderful light green coloured plant that will if looked after produce small pinkish flowers at the leaf node. If you discover keeping live crops difficult, then this is a species you should try. It could be planted in any sort of substrate.
Hygrophila polysperma is another attractive and hardy kinds which is suitable for use in the backdrop. It could be found in both tropical and temperate aquaria and will tolerate a variety of drinking water variables so makes an ideal beginners species. Expansion can be fast and you may get needing to prune it back to keep it in balance.
This extremely popular species is available in a wild type and as several cultivar versions including Hygrophila polysperma ‘Rosa Nervis’ an especially attractive form with magenta coloured leaves with white veins. Other kinds include Hygrophila polysperma ‘Comprehensive Leaf’ and Hygrophila polysperma ‘Narrow Leaf’. The look after all is equivalent to Hygrophila polysperma.
Several to avoid
Now you understand the best kinds to get started on with, perhaps it’s worthy of list a few to avoid whilst you get started your aquarium keeping job. I’ve stated a few kinds which are normal in the trade because of the attractive appearance. These kinds can be quite tempting to get, but may well not do too well resulting in you throwing away money.
Madagascan lace flower: Aponogeton madagascerensis
Lace vegetation are a truly stunning species, possibly the most beautiful of most aquarium plant species. Alas they don’t prosper in low technology tanks. Correct setting, correct nourishing of trace elements, iron supplements and the addition of flat iron supplements are required to allow them to do well. In addition they need to be carefully supervised to avoid an accumulation of algae expansion on the lace like leaves.
Crystalwort: Riccia fluitans
Riccia is truly a floating species of herb, though in present day aquascaping it is often tied down or trapped in line mesh to form a carpet in the aquarium. It has been made popular by the past due and great aquascaping star Takashi Amano. When you have never heard of Mr Amano, yahoo his name now to find some enthusiasm for the next aquarium create. It isn’t easy and simple of aquarium plants to keep and really requires CO2 injection to expand well and thrive.
Another species used extensively by Takashi Amano as a carpeting herb. It is a requiring species which requires tender normal water and a substrate rich in nutrients in addition to excellent light and CO2 injection.