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Aquacadabra's Guide to Aquarium Plants

When it comes to creating a stunning, lively aquarium, many experienced fishkeepers will tell you not to stop after adding your colourful substrates and beautiful fish. Instead, they encourage you to go one step further and dive into the dynamic world of aquarium planting. Fun, challenging and filled to the brim with rewards for both you and your fish, building your own planted aquarium is undeniably exciting, but it can be hard to know where to start.

At Aquacadabra, our aquascaping experts are regularly met with questions on how to create and care for a planted aquarium by fishkeepers ready to take the plunge. From finding the right aquarium plant soil, lighting and fertiliser to keep your ecosystem healthy, to picking out the best plants for an aquarium and planting them in their new home, there is a lot to learn. Fortunately, with our helpful aquarium planting tips and long-term care guide, you’ll have a thriving underwater jungle in no time.

Do fish tanks need real plants?

As beautiful as they are, the answer is no; live aquarium plants are not an essential for fish tanks. While they may not be needed, however, the advantages of creating a planted aquarium are considerable, and not just from an aesthetic perspective. A multi-purpose addition to any tank, plants offer a range of health benefits to tank inhabitants, can save you from intensive algae removal and treatments, and reduce your need to encourage oxygen production through air pumps.

Are aquarium plants hard to keep?

Not unlike green garden spaces or indoor potted plants, learning to care for aquarium plants is simple and straightforward. Completely accessible to beginner fishkeepers of any skill level, the process of planting aquarium plants doesn’t take too much time or effort, and ongoing care requires even less, but there are still some equipment purchases and ongoing responsibilities that can’t be avoided. If you’re dedicated to creating the best possible planted aquarium, however, and are able to keep on top of a regular care schedule, you’ll need the following five essentials:

A Spacious Aquarium

Unsurprisingly, in order to create a planted aquarium, you’ll first need to buy a tank! Fortunately for aquarium aquascapers just testing out the waters with a tight budget, plants can be added to a wide variety of fish tank sizes and shapes, so even if you have a small aquarium, you can still test out your skills. Even so, for a big aquascaping project, we recommend investing in a large, spacious aquarium, such as those from the Juwel Aquariums collection. Tanks such as the Juwel Rio 180 LED Aquarium are big enough to allow you more freedom when it comes to your aquarium planting ideas, while simultaneously leaving enough swimming space for your tank inhabitants and giving your plants more space to grow without competing with each other for light and nutrition.

Planted Aquarium Substrate

Unless you’re only interested in floating plants, you’ll need to add plant substrate for aquariums to your tank to provide a safe, nutrient-filled base for their roots to grow. This comes in all shapes and sizes, so you have a lot of freedom to choose a substrate that you both like the look of, and that your chosen plants will be happy to grow into. At Aquacadabra, we have a wide range of aquarium plant soil, natural substrates, fish tank sand and gravel to choose from, so finding the best aquarium plant substrate for your tank is assured. If you’re not sure what to look for, we’ve also included two of our top-recommended plant substrates later on in this blog to give you some direction.

Aquarium Lights for Plants

Whether planted outside in the garden or kept inside in a pot or aquarium, plants of all types require light to grow and thrive. That’s why, when it comes to creating a healthy planted aquarium, you need to invest in suitable lighting options. For this, we would recommend everyone from beginners to experienced aquascapers invest in an LED lighting system. Not only are these economical and long-lasting, many also give the freedom to experiment with lighting intensity and colour spectrum to create a visually stunning environment that is beneficial to the growth of your chosen plant types.

Aquarium Plant Fertiliser

Essential to ensuring your planted aquarium receives all the nutrients it needs to grow, aquarium plant fertiliser is an inexpensive, low maintenance way of encouraging luscious growth quickly. At Aquacadabra, we have a range of aquarium plant food options to choose from, including Evolution Aqua’s "Aquascaper" Liquid Plant Food, Tropica’s Premium Nutrition Plant Fertiliser and Tetra’s PlantaMin, to ensure fishkeepers can find an option that suits their care schedule and brand preferences.

CO2 Aquarium Kit

An often overlooked, though non-essential, element of growing aquarium plants, including a CO2 aquarium kit in your planted setup coils help to ensure they have access to a consistent and sufficient amount of one of their absolute life necessities: carbon dioxide. Particularly useful for advanced plant species with high CO2 dosage demands, we recommend installing both a Fluval CO2 Indicator Set, which works to gauge the carbon dioxide levels in your tank, as well as the Fluval Pressurised 95g CO2 Aquarium Kit, which provides a steady stream of carbon dioxide to your tank.

How to plant aquarium plants

With all of your essential equipment accounted for, the last thing you’ll want to buy is the aquarium plants themselves. These are best bought in your local pet store as you’ll be able to ask for recommendations on the easiest plants to care for and, more importantly, which ones are able to live alongside your current aquarium livestock. Once you’ve chosen your new plants the tricky part begins: planting.

Essential to the ongoing success of your planted aquarium, getting your plants into their new environment properly shouldn’t be rushed, and the method depends on the type of plant you’ve chosen. Below, we’ve detailed how to plant aquarium plants according to type to give you the best chance at succeeding.

  • How to Plant Floating Plants

The easiest of the types to plant, floating plants simply need to be removed from any packaging and laid gently on the surface of your aquarium. The only thing to keep in mind is the leaves, which should remain facing the correct way up when planted, and should be regularly checked to ensure pesky fish and air pumps don’t flip it over.

  • How to Plant Potted Plants

A common type of plant that can be easily purchased from most pet shops, potted aquarium plants need to be removed from their plastic pots before they can be planted. With the pot removed, you should next start to gently remove the rockwool material from the base, using tweezers when needed to keep the roots in as healthy a condition as possible. With this done, all you need to do before introducing it to its new home is to carefully trim away the tips of the roots. Finally, you can plant it into the substrate, pushing some of the substrate back into place around the base of the plant to stop it from tipping over.

How to keep aquarium plants alive

Once you’ve finished the planting phase, your next step in achieving your perfect planted aquarium is to do all you can to keep your live aquarium plants as exactly that: alive. Not unlike caring for your other tank inhabitants, this requires regular maintenance and attention but, fortunately, not to an excessive degree. Depending on the number of plants you have under your care, all you need to do on a regular basis is continue to add aquarium plant fertiliser, being sure to follow the relevant dosage suggestions, to ensure their nutritional needs are met, continue to keep an eye on the carbon dioxide levels and make sure they’re exposed to around 12 hours of light each day.

What is the best aquarium plant substrate?

As we’ve already mentioned, the range of plant substrates for aquariums is incredibly wide, with everything from traditional aquarium plant soil to more unusual sands and gravels capable of housing and feeding the roots of plants. However, if you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for, or which are the best brands and types to go for, we’ve put together some of our favourites to guide you through everything on offer.

Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate - £33.95

One of the top-rated planted aquarium substrates available at Aquacadabra, Carib Sea’s Eco-Complete comes highly recommended for people just starting out with their new planted tank. Designed to give your plants all the nutrients they need from the get-go, this substrate contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulphur and a range of other essential elements.

Seachem Flourite Black Sand 7Kg - £24.20

A clay gravel that can be used alone or mixed with other gravels, Flourite Black Sand by Seachem is designed to offer a suitable plant substrate for an aquarium. At Aquacadabra, this substrate can be purchased in bags weighing 7Kg, and hasn’t been treated or coated with chemicals, helping to maintain the stability of your tank’s pH levels.

Start your own planted aquarium with help from Aquacadabra

Whether you’re brand new to the world of fishkeeping and are interested in involving live aquarium plants in your first project, or already have a healthy, happy tank that you’d like to convert into a planted aquarium, the aquascaping aquarium experts at Aquacadabra are here to help.

To get started, simply stock up on all your essential planted aquarium supplies, including substrate, lighting and a CO2 aquarium kit, or reach out to the team here by filling out our online enquiry form and we’ll get back to you with personalised advice.