One of the decisions the aquarist faces is whether to use live or artificial plants in their tank. In the past live plants were often a critical part of a fish keeping strategy but are not necessary with today's filters.
Actively growing aquatic plants can still do wonders in maintaining good water chemistry. Aquatic plants have many of the needs of their relatives that grow on land. Below you'll find tips and information on some of the things that matter to your aquarium plants.
Live plants can add a much more natural look to an aquarium than just about any other type of decoration. Natural plants do more than just look good though they can also help to process waste byproducts, reduce algae growth and provide hiding places to make the fish feel comfortable. However growing live plants in an aquarium is just as much an art and a science as keeping fish. This means that learning at least a little about what plants need will go a long way in helping you succeed.
There are a few approaches to growing aquatic plants. Most often aquarists are just looking to add some decorations to their fish aquarium but others set up a tank that focuses on plants with few or even no fish. Setting up a plant tank takes different considerations and more knowledge about plants than you need to try a few plants in your fish tank.
Just like land base plants aquarium plants need the right mix of nutrients to grow. Your fish produce some of them in their waste but not all and not in the right proportions. Some of the hardiest varieties of aquatic plants will make due for a while but eventually deficiencies result and they just slowly decline or die altogether.
Actively growing plants are one of the best ways to fight algae because they use up the nutrients that it would normally feed on. However if the nutrient ratios get out of whack the plants stop growing and the algae starts. The best way to prevent this is to add an aquarium fertilizer to help keep things in balance.
Never add any fertilizer that is not designed specifically for the aquarium as these can make matters worse and even be harmful to some of the inhabitants. Always follow the dosing directions on the package and keep track of when you fertilized last to prevent over or under dosing.
Aquarium plants require what is called full spectrum lighting. Visible light is made up of a mix of different colors. The colors in sunlight can be seen when a rainbow forms. Aquarium plants need a good portion of these colors and will not do their best without them. The type of bulb depends on the fixture used to light the aquarium.
By far the most common fixture is the single bulb fluorescent light built into the hood. These are also the simplest and most economical light to use. For these almost any bulb designed specifically for the aquarium will work. However, these only put off enough light for what are called low light plants.
If a screw in type incandescent fixture is used clear or colored bulbs will not put off the right mix of light and plants will slowly waste away. For these a bulb specifically designed for plant growth is needed.
There are other fixtures like metal halide and high-output fluorescents that are added to some tanks but these are usually used by more experienced aquarist that know which type of bulb to get.
Along with the right color of light the right length of daylight is also important. Plants need night just as much as day. A good day length is somewhere between 8-10 hrs a day. The lights should go on and off at the same time each day. The best way to ensure this is to get a timer to run the lights.
The colors that both fluorescent and full spectrum incandescent bulbs put out changes over time. After about 6 months of use the colors they emit have changed enough that a good portion of the light is not usable by the plants. This means that the bulbs should be changed at least twice a year.
Aquarium plants are usually sold one of three of different ways bunched, potted or bare root. Plants that root very easily from cuttings are normally sold with several cuttings in a bunch often wrapped in a weight to hold them down. Potted plants are usually bigger single plants that don't root as easily. They are normally planted in a mineral wool cube placed in a slotted plastic pot. Bare root plants are typically single larger plants or small groups of grass like plants. These are planted individually in the tank.
Bunched plants are a great inexpensive way to try your hand at aquatic gardening. The varieties sold this way are usually easy, fast growing taller plants. They need to be separated and each stem planted individually. To plant them you need to strip any leaves off of the bottom 2 inches of the stem, leaving any roots that have started. Next dig a hole and place the stem in it and then fill gravel around the stem.
Potted plants are typically larger heavier bodied specimen plants. These can be removed from the pot if your substrate is at least 3-4 inches deep but can also be planted pot and all. The most common cause of problems with these plants is planting them either too deep or too shallow. Most are rosette plants with single large leaves radiating out from the center. They should be planted to the depth where the leaves meet the roots. If planted too deep the leaves will usually rot off below the gravel and if too shallow the roots can't support the weight of the plant. Be sure to dig a hole big enough to spread out the roots then gently cover them with your substrate.
Bare root plants should be planted singly in the same manner as the potted plants. Again the most common cause of problems is planting them either too deep or shallow.
Before planting any of these any dead or damaged portions of the plant should be pruned. Pruning should be done while the plant is submerged with a sharp pair of scissors. Avoid touching the roots while handling the plants. Once planted several large pebbles placed around the stem will help keep them in place until they root.
Some good beginner bunched plant varieties include:
Some good beginner potted plant varieties include:
Some good beginner bare root plant varieties include: