Aquatic Plant Growing Guide

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Aquatic Plant growing Guide

How to grow aquatic plants and care for your planted aquarium

By David Pierce, Aquarium Gardens

Every aquatic plant we supply has a chance to flourish provided they are grown under the right conditions. Growing aquatic plants is not as easy as it may seem. Re-creating the condition aquatic plants naturally grow in takes careful consideration and you must be pre-pared to give some thought to what aquatic plants demand to not only survive, but flourish and look beautiful in your aquarium.

I have highlighted the main considerations you must take to grow aquarium plants successfully. The following information is derived from my own experiences with planted tanks and growing plants successfully.


Substrate is a substance or layer on the base of your aquarium, this could include gravel, sand, soil etc. Your aquarium substrate has many important roles to play:
- A natural looking layer on the bottom of your tank
- A way to anchor down the roots of your plants and for sufficient root systems to develop.
- A place to store vital minerals and nutrients for your plants.
- A home for beneficial bacteria to develop.
Beneficial bacteria formations in your aquarium are extremely important. They break down fish waste and organic compounds (toxic to fish when levels are too high) into nitrates and not only help feed your plants but are far less toxic to your fish.

Traditionally, sand or gravel is used as a substrate in the aquarium, however over recent years special industry specific substrates have been developed specifically designed to help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and contain many vital nutrients that your plants can feed on. If you have plants that bed their roots in the substrate then providing a nutrient rich substrate for them is one of the most important things you can give to your aquarium plants.

Here at aquarium gardens, we also recommend revitalising your substrates nutrients with our specially designed root grow tabs, you can find them in our  Ebay Shop. If you do not have a nutrient rich substrate e.g. gravel or sand, then we strongly advise you buy our root grow tablets to ensure your plants roots are getting everything they need. This will results in much faster and lusher growth.


Plants need light to photosynthesise. Photosynthesis is a process plants take to produce energy from light to grow and repair. If light is taken away from them then the plants will use energy from which they have stored until this runs out. When the stored energy has gone they will die. The intensity of your lighting will depend on the types of plants your growing. You should always research the light requirement of any plant before attempting to grow it. If you decide to grow Hermainthus Callitrichoides and you only have low lighting levels, chances are this plant will have stunted growth and eventually die. This is because Hermainthus Callitrichoides require very high lighting in order to survive.

Many of the basic plant collections we sell here at Aquarium Gardens contain many plants with low to medium light demands meaning they tend to be easier species to grow, such as our 86 aquatic plant collection. Most collections will have a varied mix of plants so check your lighting is adequate enough to grow them. 

Aquatic plants also only like to photosynthesise for 8-10 hours per day. You should not have your aquarium lights on for any longer. This will also help keep algae at bay.


Plants that take nutrients from the water such anubias or java fern will rely more on liquid fertilizers. It is wise to invest in a good branded liquid fertilizer. Be sure not to over feed as algae might take advantage of any excess nutrients. Follow the instructions carefully on the back of the bottle. If your tank is densely planted then your tank may require more liquid fertilization. in which case I would normally take the 'trial and error' approach by following the instruction on the bottle for the first couple of weeks and increasing the dosage if your plants look as though they require more fertz (i.e. yellowing leaves, stunted growth, slow growth etc.)

I would also recommend substrate nutrition in the form of root tablets. We sell these here at Aquarium Gardens - Buy Grow Tabs from our eBay shop. They are extremely useful for feeding plants at their roots. If you have plants that bed their roots into the substrate then by placing one of these tablets next to each plant will do them the world of good and ensures they get things like iron, potassium, magnesium, carbon, calcium among others.

Carbon Dioxide

Co2 is used during the photsythesis process by the plant. many people tend to overlook the importance of Co2. Without Co2 your plants will fail to photosynthesise properly and will have poor growth.

There are a few ways of providing Co2 in your aquarium.

1. Pressurized Co2

This method is the most effective for providing Co2. It is also the most expensive. However it may work out more cost effective for larger tanks in the long run. The rate of Co2 is consistent and you will find it easier to find the right balance for your aquariums Co2 needs. Many kits are available in the aquarium market today.

2. Yeast based systems

The yeast based system uses the fermentation process from mixed sugar, water and yeast, which produces Co2 for your aquarium.
You will find this to be a cheaper method, however the rate of Co2 is not as consistent as the pressurized systems. The Co2 rates will be higher during the initial stages of fermentation thus giving inconsistent levels of Co2. 

3. Liquid Carbon

A great method to use if you can't afford the initial cost of the pressurized Co2 kit. Although I am sure this method is not quite as effective as pressurized Co2 methods, it has certainly worked for me in the past. Requires Daily dosing.

The Balanced Planted Tank

If your going to take in anything from this article then please take in this... plants need 3 main things to survive:

1. Co2

2. Nutrients

3. Light

Plants require all 3 things to grow and if one of them is taken away your plants will not grow properly and will die. For example, if your supplying your plants with liquid fertz and high lightbut do not give Co2 in some shape or form then your plants will not grow very well at all. In order for plats to utilize nutrients and light there must be Co2 present.
If any of these 3 things are out of balance you will be sure to knwo i.e. stunted/slow growth, algae, browning/yellowing leaves, dead plants etc.

Although the main rule of thumb is to provide these 3 elements for your plants, it is not as simple as this. The amount of nutrients and Co2 you need to provide for your plants depends on two things:

1. The number of plants in your tank.

2. The amount of light you have.

So for a densely planted tank with high lighting levels requires high levels of Co2 and a generous dosing of nutrients.

Balancing these elements in your planted tank can be hard work, as when you get it wrong algae can take over. This is because of excess nutrients that are not being used up by your plants. For example, plants need Co2 to photosynthesise (unlike algae) and without the presence of Co2 plants will not utilize nutrients properly leaving excess nutrients for algae to thrive on. Likewise if you add too many nutrients for the amount of Co2 and plants you have, there will be some left for algae.

So where doe light come in? The more you increase the lighting the more your plants will photosynthesise. Therefore the more Co2 and nutrients they will need.

Getting this balance right can be troublesome for any hobbyist, but with practise and some 'trial and error' you will master the art of growing aquatic plants.

How to reduce algae blooms in newly planted tank.

At the beginning of any aquarium cycle there is a massive amount of excess nutrients present in your tank, mainly in the form of nitrites and nitrates. These will clear after time and your tank will naturally 'cycle' from the beneficial bacteria that colonises. During this period algae can be a huge problem and many new tanks have what's known as an algae bloom. To stop this from happening I recommend you try to reduce these excess nutrients down as much as possible. When planting your tank for the first time, PLANT HEAVILY. Put plenty of plants in there of all shapes and sizes. The reason for this is a dense plant population will eat up all the excess nutrients leaving none left for algae (don't forget to provide enough Co2 and light, but not too much in these early stages). You can always reduce the amount of plants and prune at a later date when your tank has matured. The 2nd thing to do is to do as many 25% water changes as you can. 1 every 2 days for the first 2 weeks if you can. This will remove the build up of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates that algae could use to thrive on (and also toxic to your fish!). It will take a few weeks to mature and 'cycle' until eventually your tank will naturally remove ammonia and nitrite. 

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