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Sand substrates are a great alternative to gravel, especially when keeping bottom-dwelling fish with barbel organs that need protecting.
And, Yes, several species of aquarium plants can grow in sand, but you would need to fertilize your substrate as most types don’t have the nutrients required by plants to thrive.
Sand is also pretty fine and compacts on plant roots, meaning only the hardiest of aquarium plants like vallisneria, Java fern, Amazon sword plants, hornwrt, and cabomba can survive. Fragile plants like dwarf watter lettuce should be planted in aqua soil.
Most of the said hardy plants can also grow in gravel. Get more details in this post.
How To Grow Aquarium Plants in Sand
As I mentioned above, if you are going to have any success growing your aquarium plants in sand, you need to make your substrate is well constituted with all nutrients necessary for growth.
Overall, most planted tanks need to have macronutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous, which plants consume in large amounts.
And micronutrients like iron, boron, and magnesium, which are also crucial, albeit required in lesser amounts.
To begin with, add rot tabs in your sand substrate before planting species that rely heavily on their roots for nutrition. But for plants that feed from the water column, hold off until they are fairly established, then dose directly into the tank with a liquid fertilizer.
Even so, be careful not to add too much fertilizer into your tank as most aquarium plants feed both from the sand and the water column.
Moveover, one nutrient may be lacking while all others are enough, in which case, check out the deficiency and do targeted fertilization for the specific nutrient.
With sand substrate placing your plants two (2) to three (3) inches in the substrate is recommended as most plants need enough area to place their roots.
It’s perfectly ok to go a little deeper when you have boisterous fish that like to dig around and redecorate such as cichlids, but going too deep is not decent because plenty of toxic gases gather underneath the substrate.
How To Anchor Aquarium Plants in Sand?
Aquarium plants grown in sand are know to notoriously float if not anchored properly, but a bit of thought will keep them in the substrate.
One easy solution is to use a small-cap like those on a milk pack or plastic bottle with a slit on the base made using a safety knife. To make it easy for your plant roots to go through the slit, make a cross instead of a single cut.
Have your plants going through the center and the roots poking out from the bottom then put the plant in the sand. Just dig it in and cover the roots and cap with several handfuls of the substrate for best stability.
Once that is done, leave your plants do grow, and hopefully, remain fish-proof.
The cap may restrict growth slightly, so beware of that, especially when looking for a carpet effect. Though, when looking for a single plant, everything should be fine as plants will still send runners underneath the pot to the rest of the tank.
Easy Aquarium Plants to Grow in Sand
If you choose sand as the substrate for your aquarium, these are the plants you’ll have the best success with. Most of which are easy to grow and will survive a fair amount of neglect.
#1— Amazon Swords
Amazon sword is easy to care for and will grow and thrive in most home aquarium substrates including gravel, sand, and specialty-substrates.
However, when planting in the sand, the plant may need a little more care than when grown on gravel, as well as with larger fish that can easily pull an Amazon sword plant from the sand before its properly rotted.
Regular doses of fertilizer particular with a formulation rich in iron are recommended for Amazon sword plant. Root tab fertilizers will also be appreciated every now and then, but CO2 dosing is not a must.
For light requirements, 3 watts per gallon is the recommended level, but anything not too far from that will be fine.
Can anubias grow in sand?
This is a question I’ve come across quite a lot.
Yes, anubias will grow in sand. You only need to make sure you do not bury the roots competely. The plant needs to be pulled up slightly so the rhizome is above the substrate.
Because anubias plants prefer to be attached on items like logs when growing your plant in sand, attach it to a small stone and push the sand against it to get the effect you want.
The plant has a medium-light requirement and needs regular fertilization, especially with iron-based supplements for optimal growth, but most anubias plants do not respond to CO2 dosing.
#3— Java Fern
Java fern is a pretty popular aquarium plant, which most planted aquarium owner have had an experience growing.
It will grow successfully in a sand substrate, but you must attach it to something and make sure the rhizomes stay above the substrate level.
I prefer to attach mine to a bunch of small rocks and line them up against the back of the tank. You can hide half of the rocks in the sand as long as the rhizomes are above the substrate.
Another thing to remember is Java fern plants require regular fertilizing with a liquid supplement because they have not true roots and get most of their nutrients from the water column.
If you want your Java fern to thrive, add a liquid fertilizer in your tank after every weekly water change.
Cabomba is an aquatic plant frequently planted in aquariums for its attractive leaves and fast growth. The leaves are fan-shaped and create a lush ornamental effect both in large and small setups.
Cabomba does well both in gravel and sand substrates particularly when there are enough nutrients in the water because the plant is more a column than a root feeder.
The plant also does best when grown in neutral water under moderate light, so make sure you provide at least two (2) watts of full-spectrum lighting.
#5 — Java Moss
Java moss is arguably the most popular of all aquarium plants and the best for carpet formation in fish tanks. The plant is also priced for its hardy nature, growing in a range of water conditions and substrates.
However, like other mosses, Java moss has no true roots, and instead, grows free-floating or send out rhizoids to attach its self to rocks, decorations, and driftwood, as well as gravel and sand.
As much, Java mss absorbs nutrients primarily through its leaves in the absence of roots, so it is recommended you add liquid fertilizer in your water regularly.
More lights mean your plant will grow faster, but strong lighting is not a must. The plant will do just fine under low-light same as Java fern and anubius.
#6 — Hornwort
If not for nothing else, hornwort is priced for there prolific growth and ability to remove nitrates from the water column. The plant is hardy as well and will grow in a range of water conditions.
Hornwort can be anchored in a substrate including sand and will also grow floating when in need of shelter for your skittish fish, shrimp, and fry.
This plant will grow in under and light, but I would recommend having low to medium lighting in your tank as too much light will result in plants with a long stringy form and large, unsightly gaps between the needles.
#7 — Anacharis
Anacharis is another attractive plant that will grow in a sand substrate. It is made up of a long stem with small green leaves covering the entire length. The foliage color can vary from plant to plant depending on the condition of the water.
You can root your anacharis in the sand or float in it in the tank, either way, your plant will thrive. Some people even wrap it around driftwood, rocks, or some type of wait and let it grow all bunched up.
An anacharis plant does best under moderate lights or even stong lighting, but it will die in a low-light environment.
#8 — Cryptocoryne
Cryptocoryne is an easy aquarium plant that will survive even in the absence of regular maintenance in a fish tank. The plant is slow-growing, requires little to no pruning, and can tolerate a low light setting.
Because of its many varieties available, Crypts is suited for background, mid-ground, and even foreground growth and planting it is quite easy.
Once you’ve figured out the perfect position for your plant, just place it in the sand or gravel and you’re done. Only make sure your substrate is enriched with nutrients for the best results.
Enjoy your planted fish tank.