Quick Guide: how To Plant Live Aquarium Plants

Quick Guide: How to Plant Live Aquarium Plants

Congrats on getting your new aquarium plant! You will need to follow different guidelines depending on what type of plant you have for adding new foliage. This step-by-step guide will show you how to add live plants to your aquarium.

Do You Need to Take Pots Out of Aquarium Plants?

Most plants purchased online or from a local fish store come in a plastic pot stuffed with rock wool. This little basket and stuffing should be removed in most cases. These are the steps to take your plant out of its packaging.

1. To push the rock wool and plant out of the pot, squeeze the lid. You may have to trim the roots a bit if they are too long or tangled. 2. Divide the rock wool in half and remove the plant from the middle. 3. If rock wool is stuck to the plant, use your fingers, a fork, or large tweezers to manually strip off as many pieces as possible. 4. Make sure to remove all the small, yellow fertilizer balls so that they won’t cause a nutrient spike in your aquarium. 5. Now, wash off all debris and you are ready to plant your plant.

Anubias golden in pot

1. Rhizome Plants

Anubias, Java Fern, and Bolbitis are some of the most well-known rhizome species. Each one has a rhizome which is a thick horizontal stem or trunk. All the leaves and stems grow upwards out of the rhizome, while the roots grow downwards from the rhizome. Rhizome plants are easy to grow. You can wedge them between cracks in rocks or mount them to driftwood using super glue gel or sewing thread. (For more details on how to use super glue gel in aquariums, read this article.) The hardscape will become difficult to remove as the roots of the plant grow eventually.

An even easier method to plant your rhizome plants is to place it in a plastic bag with rock wool and then drop it into an Easy Planter decoration. If you want to plant anubias and java ferns in the ground, the roots can be buried as long as they are not covered by the substrate. Rhizome plants absorb nutrients primarily from the water column, so feed them an all-in-one liquid fertilizer as needed.

Place your anubias or java fern with its plastic pot into an Easy Planter to prevent fish from uprooting it.

2. Sword Plants

A rosette plant is a plant that produces swords. This means that all of the leaves are arranged in a circular fashion from the base. Red flame sword and the Amazon sword are two examples. Many sword plants grow very tall, so make sure to plant them in the midground or background of the aquarium so they won’t block your view of other plants. Use your fingers to dig a hole in the substrate and bury the roots of the sword, or you can use planting tweezers to push the plant roots into the substrate. Do not cover the crown (i.e., the base of the plant where all the leaves come out) with substrate. Swords are a heavy root feeder, meaning they prefer to absorb nutrients via the roots. Make sure you add lots of root tabs to inert substrates or depleted nutrient-rich substrates.

Note: most aquarium plants are grown out of water at the plant farms and then must get used to living completely underwater when you put them in your fish tank. Your sword’s round, large leaves may become brittle as the plant absorbs its nutrients and makes shorter, more narrower leaves.

Amazon sword (Echinodorus bleheri)

3. Cryptocoryne

Cryptocoryne plants (also known as “crypts”) are another type of rosette plant. They require substrate and root tabs in order to grow well. Cryptocoryne wendtii and Cryptocoryne spiralis are the most common types. There are many more species. As with sword plants, it is important to bury their roots and keep the crown of the plant high above the ground.

Crypts melt very easily when placed in a new aquarium. If your crypt’s emersed foliage falls off, don’t throw it away. Submerged leaves will appear soon after the plant adjusts to its new surroundings. Before planting the crypt, some aquascapers even recommend trimming off the emersed leaves to encourage the plant to focus its energy on growing submersed leaves, since it’s likely to lose all the old leaves anyway. Cryptocoryne parava isn’t prone to crypt melting so this technique shouldn’t be used.

Cryptocoryne lucens

4. Grass-like Plants

This includes vallisneria and dwarf sagittaria as well as micro swords and other stoloniferous species. These species are propagated by runners, or stolons. They produce small plantslets at the ends of their stems. Like rosette, you must plant the roots in the substrate and not cover the base of the leaves. One pot may contain several plants. If you have multiple plants, plant them in separate containers. This will allow each plant to grow and multiply. You can also place the plant with its plastic pot inside an Easy Planter decoration to prevent it from getting uprooted by fish.

These plants can easily multiply depending on their species to create a grass-like carpet or a tall seaweed forest. You can spread the plant to another area or create a new tank by simply cutting the runners (once the plantlet has developed its roots and leaves), and then replant it elsewhere.

Micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis)

5. Mosses

Mosses are similar to rhizome plants in that they don’t require substrate and can be attached to hardscape via thread or glue. They are often sold in pots and not packaged in containers. Instead, they are attached to a rectangular mesh, driftwood or other decorative piece. Moss can also grow as a large, free-floating mass, which is great for colony breeding since baby fish can easily hide from the adults in the dense coverage. The most widely available varieties of moss on the market are Java moss or Christmas moss. Marimo moss balls are technically a type of algae, but like normal mosses, they should be gently placed on the ground (not buried) or attached to hardscape.

Christmas Moss (Vesicularia montei)

6. Stem Plants

These plants grow vertically from a single stem and have leaves that emerge directly from the stem. Think of bacopa, Pogostemon stellatus, and pearl weed. Remove the rubber band, basket, or ring that was wrapped around the stems’ bases to prepare them. Each stem should be planted deeply at least 2 to 3 inches below the ground. This will allow the substrate to cover some of the lower leaves. The stem plants should not be planted in one group. Instead, plant them individually with some space between to give the roots room to grow. Use tweezers to easily plant them, and if needed, wrap plant weights at the bottom to prevent them from floating away. Some people will place the stems on the substrate and let them grow roots. Stem plants prefer to feed from the water column and therefore appreciate a diet of liquid fertilizers.

Bacopa caroliniana


7. Bulb Plants

All types of plants can grow from bulbs or tubers, such as the banana plant, dwarf aquarium lotus, tiger lotsus and aponogetons (also known as “betta bulbs” at pet stores chains). To remove any rocks wool or loose substrate, rinse the bulb or tubers and then place it on top. To keep the bulb from floating, either wait until it sinks or place it on top of a piece hardscape. The bulb should start to sprout new leaves and roots within a few weeks. If the bulb does not grow after three weeks, you can turn it over as the bulb may be upside down. Bulb plants can grow very tall with leaves that reach the water surface, and they tend to take nutrients from both root tabs and liquid fertilizers.

Banana (Nymphoides aquata)



Carpeting Plants
There are many kinds of foreground plants and even mosses that can be used to cover the ground in your aquarium, but this section is specifically referring to short, dense carpeting plants with lots of tiny leaves and very weak roots. Examples include monte carlo and dwarf baby tears (not the grass-like carpeting plants such as dwarf sagittaria, micro sword, and dwarf hair grass mentioned in the previous Section 4). Most websites recommend that you cut up a pot full of carpeting plants and place them around your aquarium. But, the roots are too fragile or small and they end up floating away.

Instead, we recommend inserting the whole pot into the substrate and allowing the plant to carpet out from there. The basket and rockwool will keep your carpeting plants from floating around and give you a strong base to root. Once the carpeting plant becomes well-established, you can go back and cut out the potted portion. Carpeting plants need lots of light, carbon dioxide (CO2) pressurized, and both liquid fertilizers as root tabs.

Monte carlo (Micranthemum tweediei)

9. Floating Plants

We shouldn’t forget about floating plants, the easiest type of plant to add in an aquarium. You may be familiar with duckweed, dwarf water lettuce, frogbit and certain stem plants, such as water sprite. Place them on the surface of the water, give them lots of light, liquid fertilizers, slow down current and make sure they don’t get too wet. Some people like to use fishing line or airline tubing to contain the floating plants and prevent them from getting pushed underwater by the filter output. Our final tip is to make sure that they don’t cover the entire surface of the water or else you may have issues with oxygen depletion for the fish and lack of light for the other plants down below.

All the best for your new aquarium plants. You can find our free guide on plant nutrient deficiencies to help you troubleshoot the issue if your plants are not growing well.