Planting Your Freshwater Aquarium: How to Succeed at Growing Healthy Aquatic Plants

Even though there are a wide variety of plants available, some may not be suitable for your tank because of the environment you created.

Plants provide a natural and beautiful habitat for aquarium fish. You can also add driftwood and rock as accents plus they serve as hiding places for your fish. Before you go to your pet shop or garden center to buy aquatic plants, you need to know which plants will do well in your tank based on the following factors:

Aquarium Lighting for Plants

You must ensure there is adequate lighting for live plants. A good rule of thumb is a minimum of two watts of light per gallon of water for good plant growth. Consider buying a lighting system that is designed for growing plants. You have to be careful in selecting a lighting system because strong lighting will cause rapid plant growth. As a result, the plants will start to rob the carbon dioxide which is essential for fish health. To compensate, you can buy a carbon dioxide generating system for your tank.

My favorite LED lights for planted tanks

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Some plants need more light than others. Just like a garden, you have to base your selection according to the amount of sunlight. Some plants can only grow in full sun and others can thrive in partial sun or shade. Aquatic plants are no different. Try to select plants with the same lighting requirements. More experienced aquarists are able to map out their plants in order to have large high-light varieties create shade for smaller low-light plants. For beginners, it’s best to keep all plants equal.

Growth Rate of Aquatic Plants

Plants all grow at different rates. You should place the slow-growing ones in front, followed by the medium growth plants in the middle, then the largest at the back of the tank. Even if you get a fast growing large plant at a small size, it has to be planted in the back of the aquarium because it soon will be over shadowing and blocking the light that the slower growing plants need.

Substrate For Aquarium Plants

Most plants need a special substrate to ensure proper growth. Some can handle coarse gravel and others need fine gravel. There are some plants that grow better in sand.

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Aquatic Plant Compatibility With Fish

You may find plants floating shortly after firmly embedding them in your substrate. The probable cause is the type of fish in your tank. Many cichlids like eating plants and digging them up. The worst offenders are the bigger and more aggressive cichlids such as Jack Dempsey, Texas Cichlids, Fire Mouth and African cichlids. You should be fine to have plants with Dwarf Cichlids. Angel Fish and Discus won’t destroy plant life, though they like to nibble a bit.

Remember as your fish grow, their adult size will also affect your planted tank. If you have a 6-inch Discus hitting your plants, it won’t take long before all of the plants are floating on the top of your tank. The best thing for planted tanks is to keep fish that don’t grow larger than three or four inches.

In order to be successful in growing aquarium plants, you need to research their requirements. Once you have a good idea of what will do best in your tank, then you should map out your underwater garden and buy accordingly.

Read about my favorite aquarium plant: Java Fern

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