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Adding live plants in an aquarium has several benefits both for your tank’s ecosystem and livestock.
Live plants reduce toxins such as nitrates and phosphates, and create food banks for plants feeders, algae-eaters, and bottom-dwelling inverts like shrimp and pet snails.
However, they also come with a ton of care and maintenance needs, which can get quite tricky for keepers without much experience.
Algae grow on aquatic plants quite often, plus the small crevices between leaves and stem at times harbor tiny debris from leftover food and substrate dirt, which gradually mess with your water quality.
For that reason, below I’ll share some pretty kickass insights and hacks to help you take care of and maintain your live aquarium plants; with the least hassle of course.
What Do Aquarium Plants Need to Survive
Aquarium and all aquatic plants are not any different from species that grow on land. They all need the same elements to develop and thrive.
For starters, proper aeration in water is imperative, with sufficient amounts of oxygen and carbon dissolved in the fish tank being quite necessary.
They also require varying amounts of nutrients that support the formation of building blocks within the plant’s system, making them look lush and healthy.
Macronutrients are nutritional elements that live aquarium plants need in large amounts, which include Nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Whereas, micronutrients are elements that plants need in trace amounts such as iron, boron, and magnesium.
The other thing that live aquarium plants demand quite a lot is lighting, and not just light but quality light for that. Even so, the necessary intensity will depend on the aquatic plants you have, with some requiring high or moderate lighting and others a low light settings.
The number of light hours a day that your plants will get matters as well. On average, most planted will need aquariums between 8 and 12 light hours, with the optimum being 10 hours (get more insight in this article).
How to Feed Your Live Aquarium Plants
We’ve already determined above that aquarium plants do need food to thrive, but how do you feed them.
#1 &mdash Fertilization and Dosing
The easiest and most straight forward way is to fertilize your fish tank. Using an ideal substrate that supports superior plant development is crucial as well.
That said, you may not need to add carbon dioxide to grow your aquarium plants, but if your lighting levels are high, you will likely have an algae problem if you do no also supplement with CO2 (see products).
If you already have plants growing in your fish tank, it is best to use liquid fertilizers like seachem flourish advance, but for plants that you just put in the substrate, adding seachem root tabs is more recommended, especially if you have regular gravel in your fish tank.
Roots tabs are also better for plants anchored on the substrate, but for floating species that feed on the water column, use liquid fertilizers.
The tabs and liquid fertilizers you use should contain essential trace elements such as iron and magnesium, plus amino acids, and vitamins, all of which stimulate photosynthesis and root development.
For macrnutrient supplementation (NPK: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Pottasium), you can use special formulations like this seachem plant pack enhancer, instead of general use fertilizers.
You can even narrow it down further and do target supplementation depending on the deficiency your plants such as nitrogen, phosphorus, pottasium or iron.
For insight on how to grow aquarium plants, including substrate and lights selection, please see the section below.
#2 &mdash Lighting
Light, whether natural or artificial is essential for the growth of development of plants, including aquatic species.
You need to consider the intensity, quality, and amount (period of exposure) in reference to the plants you have continually tweaking it for better results.
Before the era of LED lights, T5 and T8 fluorescent lights were the cream of the crop as far as aquarium lighting went. Even today they still are pretty good and will work in any tank set up especially if you get a full spectrum unit.
However, compared to LEDs, fluorescent lamps are the lesser hitters.
While purchasing a fixture, consider a full spectrum light with higher strength on the spectrum that supports photosynthesis in plants (see recommended product). From experience, most quality RGBs colored bulbs will work well.
You should also be able to simulate sunset and sunrise in your fish tank, more so, if your tank does not have access to sunlight. But please note too much light will encourage algae growth, which is one thing you do not want to deal with.
For easy light control, consider purchasing this Nicrew timer to ensure your lights come on and go off at the appropriate time even when you are not around to manually operate them.
#3 &mdash Substrate
Although hardy, live aquarium plants will grow on gravel or sand, I recommend you use a substrate that is specially formulated for plant growth especially if you plan on having fragile species like dwarf water lettuce in your aquarium.
An ideal planted aquarium substrate, more so for new hobbyists or those without much experience, would be Seachem flourite black gravel or flourite black sand if you prefer a sandy-like base.
Please note that Flourite black sand is not real-sand, but rather a clay ground to a sand-like consistency.
These soils are able to provide nutrients to your plants without much need for added fertilizers as you would with regular gravel or aesthetic sands.
Still, it’s possible, and perfectly Ok, to use regular gravel to grow your plants, only make sure you supplement with root tabs to ensure the plants get all elements they require to thrive.
Alternatively, use a mix of aqua soil and regular gravel to get the most of both products. All you’ll need to do is create a relatively thin layer of ornamental pebbles on top of your soil.
Pea gravel is particularly ideal for this purpose.
How To Grow Aquarium Plants
As I mentioned before, aquarium plants can grow in gravel, sand, or pots, with some species able to thrive while floating in the water column without an anchor.
Even so, using proper fertilizer from the onset, and adding aqua soil in your substrate is recommended for best results. Plus using aquascaping tools will equally make your work easier.
Adding your plants in pots is best if you want an aquascape you can effortlessly modify by moving your plants around, but if you want more permanent aesthetics, then anchoring them on a substrate, driftwood or rocks is the better alternative.
Floating plants come in handy when you have skittish fish that prefer to live in the top and mid-levels of the tank as opposed to the bottom.
Another thing you would need to consider are the sections in your fish tank.
Generally, you want taller plants at the back and mid-ground and shorter aquatic species like anubias at the foreground.
To plant in gravel or sand, place your plants on the ground with enough roots to sufficiently hold them in place. You’ll also need to make sure the seedlings or rhizomes are strong enough to stand aggressive fish like cichlids.
Personally, I make sure to place the plants at least 2 to 3 inches in the substrate, with the whole part above the stem sticking out of the gravel.
Add roots tabs in your substrate to help your plants thrive, and supplement with CO2 if running a high tech planted tank.
While placing the plants in the substrate, it’s ok to use your hand, but tweezers are more comfortable to use. Once the seedlings are well on the gravel, then use your finger to move fine gravel or sand around it till well anchored.
The last thing you want to do is add a source of light. However, if your tank is in a place where it’s getting enough sunlight, you are not too restricted on the type of artificial light you get.
All that said, this is the mantra for any successfully planted aquarium owner: good lighting, C02, Water movement, and Fertilization.
How to Keep Aquarium Plants Alive Before Planting
There are two brilliants ways (or places) you can keep your aquarium plants alive before adding them to your setup.
You can wrap them in wet paper towels surrounded by soaked newspapers or hold them in a temporary container, bag, or a fishbowl with a micro bubbler.
Holding your plants in a container would be my first recommendation because this will not only keep them alive but also quarantines them for a few weeks, stopping them from introducing pathogens or snails in your fish tank.
Most species will do fine in almost any food-safe container filled with clean water but make sure it is free of chlorine. If you opt to use tap-water, I recommend treating it to keep your fish and beneficial bacteria safe.
With that said, using old water from your fish tank is a brilliant hack seeing that that water is full of nutrients and will help your plants adapt to its new environment faster.
If you need to keep live aquarium plants alive when transporting them, wrapping them in wet paper towels surrounded by wet newspapers might be the better option.
Even so, the hack is only reliable for 4 to 5 days, any period more than that and some will die off.
Moreover, hardier plants like anubias will survive longer (for weeks) than fragile species. For delicate plants, put them in a container with water at room temperature.
A fishbowl with a micro bubbler, a vase, or an extra-long cup will work fine. It’s ok if you leave part of the plants out of the water but make sure the roots and bottom portion of the plant is exposed to water.
Your plants will also do best with some amount of light and nutrients, so supplement them where possible.
One last option, especially when moving your plants, is placing them in a bag as you would with live fish. However, you do not want them being in that state too long because they will deplete the oxygen soon enough and start dying off.
Enjoy your Planted tank.