Grow Freshwater Aquarium Plants

Real plants do wonders for aquariums, providing fish with oxygen and even food. They keep the water chemistry more balanced, and provide scenery for you and hiding places for fish and other tank inhabitants. They're easy to care for, too. Aquarium plants are part of our biological filtration. They do this by helping to remove harmful ammonia (which fish naturally excrete into the water). Many aquatic plants will help remove ammonia but not nitrites. Some aquarists use this information in natural aquariums. When planting aquatic plants, we can create new underwater worlds, or try to imitate nature.


  1. Select the plants you want to grow. It pays to do a bit of reading at this point, so check out aquarium forums and other sources of information. Consider the tank size, the scene you wish to produce and the size you want your plant(s) to be. Remember, plants grow! Want something with lots of leaves, or more of a moss? How about something your fish will be able to eat?
    • You can find tiny, dwarf aquarium plants that grow only an inch or two tall, or obtain much larger plants for larger tanks.
  2. Get a cutting of the plant you want to grow. Either get an inexpensive, small cutting and wait for it to grow larger or purchase a more costly, larger plant. Plants can be obtained at local pet shops, or a hobby specialist online can provide you with cuttings,usually for a small cost. Either way, be careful of what you introduce to your tank. Plants can carry physical inhabitants from snails and shrimp to bacteria and diseases. Always look for a source that seems to practice good tank hygiene.
  3. Inspect the plant closely for snails and other visitors. Some of the tiniest water snails, no more than a couple of millimeters long, are rapid breeders. Unless you have loaches or other fish that will snack on them, they'll quickly take over your tank. You may quarantine a new plant outside your tank for a few days, to see if any snails appear.
  4. Most aquarium plants prefer to live entirely submerged, so don't let them dry out. If your tank is not quite ready or if you want to grow more of your plants than will fit in a tank, use a bucket or bin of water.
  5. Anchor the plants. Depending on the plant, this may be mostly an aesthetic matter, to keep them from bobbing around loose. For mosses, consider tying them loosely with string to a rock until they become established.
    • In general, do not bury the rhizomes, which usually are thicker and greener than roots or stem, in gravel, as burying them can cause the whole plant to quickly die, also try not to bury the crown just above the roots on other plants that need to be in the substrate .
  6. Provide light. Aquarium plants, like any others, require light for photosynthesis. Check the light requirements of the plants you are choosing, many require high amounts of added light. Low light plants will do well if your tank has plenty of light from windows. Otherwise, plan to light your tank with a fluorescent full spectrum tank light.
    • It's recommended that when you start out, stick to less than 2.5 fluorescent watts per gallon unless you put a carbon dioxide system in place.
    • "Cool White" or "Daylight" fluorescent bulbs are cheap, efficient, and effective enough for most purposes.
  7. Add fish. While not strictly required, fish waste will help to nourish the plants. The plants, in turn, will keep the water conditions better for the fish by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen during the daytime, at night the plants of course give off CO2. Some plants are good at removing ammonia or nitrites. If you don't have fish already, wait a week after adding the plants before you introduce them to the lush environment you're creating.
  8. Change the water periodically. Plants do not need water changes the same way that fish do, but it is still a good idea to change the plant water when changing your fish water. Do not siphon in your plant bed, as you may kill and injure them. Run your siphon over the top of the soil in which the plants are planted, and make sure you don't damage them.
  9. Remove algae. Algae growing on tank walls or on plant leaves competes with plants for light. You can remove algae manually by scrubbing or scraping the walls of your tank weekly when changing the water and rubbing the plant's leaves gently between your fingers. The far easier method, though, is to let your tank's inhabitants do the job for you. Shrimp and several catfish eagerly feed on algae and can help to keep your tank far cleaner with little or no effort on your part.
  10. Divide or prune the plants if they outgrow your tank. Depending on your tank and your plants, you may find you have too much plant soon. Choosing slow-growing plants can help keep them small, but it can also mean having less plant and waiting longer for your plants to fill out. Find the right balance for your tank.
  11. Finished.


  • Aquarium plants come in all sorts of sizes and colors, so look around a bit before you choose.
  • Have fun. This is an opportunity to enjoy some plants that air-breathers don't usually enjoy, and most aquarium plants are easy to care for.
  • If you do find snails, pick them off your plants and glass before they start breeding.
  • Consider the basic chemistry of your water supply. Many municipal water systems are removing radium by exchanging sodium ions. This water 'softening' has a profound effect on water quality over time. Consider adding blackwater tonic, or a Build a Filter of Moss (Biofiltration for Aquaria) filter.
  • Start small and add plants slowly.
  • Glass or Ghost Shrimp are freshwater shrimp. They get along with tetras and guppies. Shrimp eat algae that steals nutrients from your plants.
  • Choose plants that are compatible with your fish, some fish will eat or destroy them.
  • Pay attention to the nitrogen cycle:[1] Plants do not use nitrogen in the same form that fish supply that element.
  • Aquarium plants can be good food for your goldfish or other fish.


  • Do not dispose of aquarium plants in local waterways. Many of them are non-native and do not belong there. Instead, if you have excess plants, let them dry out and dispose of them in the trash. Invasive aquatic plants reduce water quality impacting fisheries and recreational opportunities, costing millions of dollars.
  • Snails will not spontaneously appear on aquarium plants. Their eggs and larvae can come in with new plants. Examine the undersides of the plants leaves. Many snails prefer a diet of algae. Certain snails can be beneficial to aquariums as they help maintain water quality; others are pests.
  • If you keep Blue Crayfish, be aware that they will uproot and eat water plants.
  • You might also find hydras, small animals that look like tiny sea anemones. Remove them because hydras can eat very small fish, but mainly feed on small invertebrates such as Daphnia and Cyclops.
  • Using fertilizer with aquatic plants when there are fish in the tank is not needed and can poison the fish by raising ammonia levels. Aquatic plants on their own can have fertilizer. Fish waste is already a fertilizer!

Things You'll Need

  • A good light is a necessity (wattage varies between species).
  • Substrates commonly used for aquatic plants include silt, sand, and clay. Peat Build a Filter of Moss (Biofiltration for Aquaria) needs to waterlogged and covered. Layering is good technique.
  • Heater - remember to adjust the temperature to one that your plants will benefit most from.
  • A water pump is a good idea, as some plants benefit from circulation, but it is not compulsory.

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