How to plant aquarium plants

Aquarium plants come in three main forms – potted, bunched and invitro – and all should be prepared differently before planting. 

Potted plants have rootstock, usually grown in a rock wool base, and inside a slatted plastic pot. First, remove the plant from its plastic shipping packaging, then slide the plastic pot off and lie the plant on its side. Tease away the rock wool until the white plant roots are showing.

Try to remove as much rock wool as you can just leaving bare roots, but if some rock wool is left clinging to the roots that’s ok. Snip the bottom half of the roots off. This will make planting easier and encourage new growth. If several plants were growing together (like with Cryptocoryne,) tease them apart into separate plantlets, each with their own roots, then push slowly into the substrate using planting tweezers. 

Bunched plants arrive with a foam strip and metal weight wrapped around them. Remove the foam and metal, exposing the plants. For rooted plants like Echinodorus and Vallisneria separate the plants into individual plantlets, snip half the roots off like before and plant as before. For cut shoots like Myriophyllum, Elodea and Ceratophyllum, they don’t come with or need roots in the substrate, so simply separate into individual stems and plant with tweezers, spacing each stem about an inch apart. 

Invitro plants are baby plants which have been tissue cultured in a laboratory. They come growing in clear gel inside sealed pots, typically containing lots of small, carpeting plants like Eleocharis. Peel off the lid revealing the root mass and gel, and rinse under the tap to remove as much gel as you can. Either tease the root mass apart into 2” portions or simply cut the root mass into plantable portions with sharp scissors. Push the plantlet portions into the substrate using tweezers, as before. 

How to grow aquarium plants

Your plants will arrive fresh and healthy, but it will take some ongoing work from yourself to get them growing underwater. Plants need light and fertiliser, so invest in a light which encourages plant growth and have it come on for 8-10 hours per day, every day. Feed a complete liquid fertiliser either daily or weekly and remove any dead (yellow,) leaves and algae build up. Tiny algae eating fish and shrimp can help with this. 

For better plant growth still start from the bottom and use an aquatic soil substrate. Not suitable for large, messy fish that dig, stick to small, plant-friendly fish and just like in your garden, a rich bed of soil is the best way to grow your aquatic plants. 

The icing on the cake is to add carbon dioxide (CO2) to the water. Plants take in CO2 as they photosynthesize and release oxygen. Add extra CO2 to the water and they will grower faster, stronger and healthier, and there are a number of ways you can do this. Use soil, healthy plants, light, CO2 and liquid fertiliser and even demanding aquatic plant species will grow, thrive and enhance your aquarium.   

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Jeremy Gay is an author, lifelong fishkeeper, and aquatic specialist. He's a former editor of Practical Fishkeeping Magazine, UK editor at Reefbuilders, a former aquatic store manager, and has collected fish in Sri Lanka and the Amazon. He's been on tv and radio, contributed to Koi Carp and Gardeners World magazines, been a product tester, a judge, and a product developer. Jeremy is here to guide and advise you on all things tropical, pond and marine, from set-up to stocking, health, feeding to breeding, as well as solving many common fishkeeping problems along the way.

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