A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Aquatic Plants

A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Aquatic Plants

A complete beginner’s guide to aquatic plants is something every aquarium fanatic looks forward to. Whether you have an established tank or are just starting with live plants, detailed know-how is essential for a perfect lush green tank.

Here, we provide a complete and handy guide to aquatic plants that will prove highly informative and beneficial for beginners. In this article, we will discuss the best aquatic plants for beginners and also explain some common mistakes newbies make.

At the same time, the article will discuss the right ways to take care of your planted tank and how to look after the aquatic plants. But firstly, we will give an insight into whether live aquatic plants are your cup of tea.

Is your aquarium suitable for Aquatic plants?

Watching the fish move and dance around the lush green vegetation is a sight. An aquarium with live plants catches the attention easily. However, the struggle behind maintaining such a tank is real. One wrong decision may ruin your entire effort to keep an aquarium. In severe cases, it may impact fish’s behavior and health.

Therefore, complete knowledge is essential.

Apart from aesthetic benefits, aquatic plants offer multiple advantages to the tank and its inhabitants. Some of them are listed below:

  • Improve the water quality
  • Take up the carbon dioxide and ammonia produced by the fish
  • Absorbs the nutrients that otherwise may help in algae development
  • Provide protection to the fish
  • Offers space for spawning and laying eggs
  • Keeps fish safe and secure by giving a sense of natural space
  • Provide natural boundaries for species that are territorial
  • Covers small fry and keeps them safe from predators

All in all, you will only enjoy the benefits of aquatic plants when you introduce them to your tank. Apart from you, the fish will also enjoy and thank you for bringing the right ambiance to their artificial space.

All this can happen only when you have the right knowledge about aquatic plants and how to deal with their maintenance.

One common issue that beginners face is their plants die after a few days or show signs of stress. The leaves fall off, and the plants wither. It is when it becomes important to know that aquarium plants require a combination of light, macro, and micronutrients, along with carbon dioxide in some cases, to survive.

If you are struggling to keep your plant alive, here are a few questions that we need you to answer:

  1. Are your plants suitable for your tank?

Often beginners buy an aquatic plant based on how it looks and not by knowing whether it will suit their tank. The major interest of aquarists is to make the tank look aesthetic, which is understandable, but knowing what plants are suitable for the tank is equally important.

Apart from size, shape, and color, aquatic plants also vary in their demand for light, pH, temperature, nutrients, and other water parameters. Introducing specie not suited to your tank’s water parameters will cause it to struggle to survive from day one.

Another mistake beginners make is getting bog plants for their tank. Irrespective of how compelling a plant looks, it should be clear in your mind if it is just a moisture-loving plant or able to survive in submerged conditions. Plants not suited to submerged conditions may die in a matter of weeks.

Below is a list of some of the best plant species to start with. Here, we have selected a few aquatic plants that are easily available, can tolerate wide water parameters, and are ideal for beginners.

  1. Amazon Swords: Echinodorus bleheri

The Amazon sword is one of the large species among aquatic plants that you can use in the background. Since it doesn’t demand high light and tolerates a wide range of water parameters, it is good for beginners.

The plant is emerald green in color with big foliage that looks highly attractive in the tank. Giving liquid-based plant fertilizers is enough to make Amazon sword lush green and beautiful.

  • Size: 30 cm to 50 cm tall
  • Temperature: 20 to 30 degrees C
  • pH: 5.5 to 7.8
  • Propagation: Propagated from adventitious plantlets on the floral stalk
  1. Java Moss: Taxiphyllum barbieri

It is one of the most commonly used aquatic plants. With the ability to tolerate wide water parameters, java moss can grow and survive well in fresh as well as brackish water. At the same time, it can thrive in low light conditions, making it ideal for beginners.

Apart from aesthetic value, java moss also offers protection fry from predatory fish in the tank. Also, it provides a good egg-laying medium to species like danios and barbs that scatter eggs.

Talking about how to grow it, java moss does not root into the substrate. Often beginners make the mistake of adding this plant into the tank. In such cases, the plant may be blown around by the filter, causing it to break apart.

Java moss needs to be tied to rock or wood with a sturdy cotton line and ensure that it stays in place. With time, the moss attaches itself to the aquarium accessories like decor and gives a natural view of the tank. You can also get coconut shells, bogwood, driftwood, etc., to tie the moss.

  • Size: the plant will spread as much as it has the opportunity to
  • Temperature: 18 c to 28 c
  • pH: 6 to 7.5
  • Propagation: Propagated from fragmented shoots
  1. Anubias barteri

With attractive broad leaves, Anubias barteri has made a significant place in the aquarium trade. Here, it is essential to note that Anubias comes in two types; Anubias barteri, with large leaves, and Anubias barteri var. nana, which is a dwarf version of the latter. If the tank is small, Anubias barteri var. nana could be the best bet.

Being hardy, this plant doesn’t have too many demands. It shows rapid growth under the right water conditions. The use of plant-based liquid fertilizers will ensure good growth. You can also find many manmade cultivars of Anubias barteri like Anubias barteri var. barteri ‘Variegated,’ Anubias barteri var. barteri ‘Broad Leaf,’ Anubias barteri var. barteri ‘Marble,’ Anubias barteri var. barteri ‘Wavy’ and many more.

  • Size: 23 cm tall
  • Temperature – 22c to 28c
  • pH: 5.5 to 8
  • Propagation: From the eyes of the rhizome
  1. Java fern: Microsorium pteropus

Another easy-to-grow aquarium plant is Java Fern, which can thrive in varied climatic conditions and add aesthetic to the tank. The fibrous foliage of the plant keeps fish away from eating it.

While planting Java Fern, most beginners mistakenly bury the rhizomes, due to which the plant eventually dies. To grow it well, Java Fern should be tied to rocks or wood with a sturdy cotton line. Soon the fern attaches itself and starts growing individually.

To keep the foliage green and lush, supplementing the fern with liquid plant fertilizers give the best result.

  • Size: 25 cm tall
  • Temperature: 18c to 30c
  • pH: 5 to 8
  • Propagation: From plantlets from leaves or from the eyes of the rhizome
  1. Wendt’s Cryptocoryne: Cryptocoryne wendtii

Cryptocoryne is another hardy aquarium plant that will suit beginners the best. Suitable as a mid-ground plant, Cryptocoryne can thrive in low light and hard water conditions.

As a beginner, you may experience your plant melting, called ‘crypt melt,’ which is a natural phenomenon. In this, the plant appears to be dying, especially when transferred to a new tank with different water parameters. Cryptocoryne takes time to acclimatize, and during the process, some leaves may fall off. However, it starts getting strength and becomes sturdy after a few days.

  • Size: The plant grows around 20 cm, and the leaves measure between 10 cm and 15 cm in length
  • Temperature: 20c to 28c
  • pH: 5.5 to 7.8
  • Propagation: From runners

Plants to Avoid

Here is a list of plants that you should avoid as a beginner. Even though these plants may look compelling, due to their unique requirements and special demands, they may constrain your hobby and learning process. Also, with no experience in handling aquarium plants, you may end up wasting your money on them.

  1. Madagascan lace plant: Aponogeton madagascerensis
  2. Crystalwort: Riccia fluitans
  3. Glossostigma elatinoides

So it is all about the beginner’s friendly aquatic plants. Now let’s move to other aspects of aquarium plants’ upkeep.

What about red aquarium plants?

As a beginner, you may think of adding attractive plants to your tank. In the search for attractive plants, you may come across red aquatic plants. They look highly alluring and unique from the regular green plants.

Here, one thing that you should keep in mind is the requirements of red plants are different from the plants with green foliage. They need a large amount of light and may feel difficult to keep due to high demands.

Apart from high light, they also need iron supplementation to upkeep their redness. In order to maintain them, you may end up disturbing the green plants’ health too. Therefore, as a beginner, it is better to avoid red plants initially.

  1. What lighting is in your aquarium?

Lighting in the tank is another deciding factor on how well your inhabitants will respond. Beginners often assume that aquatic plants will be fine irrespective of what tank is supplied with. Even though it may hold true in the case of certain species, others may struggle for survival.

Therefore, selecting species based on your tank’s lighting takes you one step closer in the right direction.

You can find multiple options in lighting types, for instance:

  1. Fluorescent lighting: T-5 and T-8

One of the most popular lighting when it comes it aquariums is fluorescent lighting. They are inexpensive and emit little heat, just perfect for aquariums. However, the drawback of fluorescent lighting is it needs replacement after every year or in nine months to stay effective.

Beginners can start their aquarium with fluorescent lighting. If the plants don’t look in great shape and the lights are more than a year old, replace them.

In the aquarium, two types of fluorescent lights are majorly used: T-5 and T-8. Here, T-5 is the modern version, and it would be better to choose it over T-8. It is mainly because T-5 lights are narrower in diameter, allowing more bulbs in the hood. It works well when the tank is heavily planted.

Apart from this, going for full spectrum bulbs of 5000 to 7000 K is considered the best.

  1. LED aquarium lighting

Today, LED lights are predominant due to many good reasons. Firstly, they emit no heat, making them good to place nearer to the water surfaces. It helps plants absorb the desired light easily. Secondly, LED lights last approximately for over 50,000 hours.

Apart from these benefits, LED lights usually come in small and flexible sizes. It gives you the freedom to position even in tight corners.

  1. Metal halide aquarium lighting

Such lights are good for deep marine aquaria wherein corals, and deep living invertebrates have enough light to grow and develop. Metal halide aquarium lighting is expensive and runs out easily; therefore, not suitable for beginners.

Lighting you should avoid in the aquarium as a beginner

Make sure to avoid incandescent light bulbs, as they are not good enough to provide sufficient light to your aquatic plants. Even though you may find incandescent bulbs already fitted in many aquariums, they are only to lure customers.

Incandescent bulbs do not emit the correct type of light; therefore, replacing them with fluorescent bulbs is the right choice. Since fluorescent bulbs run on less electricity, it is the best option for the long term too.

  1. What should be the photoperiod?

Photoperiod is the number of hours you need to keep the lights on to benefit the aquarium plants. Irrespective of aquatic plants, 8 to 10 hours per day is the recommended photoperiod for aquatic plants.

You can achieve this by installing a timer with your lighting. If you see too much algae growth, reduce the photoperiod. At the same time, keep an eye on your aquarium plants to ensure they are doing well under low photoperiod conditions, too, and make adjustments accordingly.

Amount of Light

As per the experts, 2 watts per gallon is the recommended amount of light for planted aquariums. If possible, you can have 4 to 5 watts also for better results.

  1. What are you feeding your plants?

When it comes to aquariums, you don’t have to feed only the fish but plants as well. Often people believe that fish excreta will be sufficient for plant growth. Believing this is a mistake and is one of the blunders new aquarists make. It is when plant fertilizers come to the rescue.

Even though waste material produced by fish, uneaten food, and even water will supply nutrients to the plants, they are not enough to make them healthy. Plants starve in the absence of fertilizers, resulting in stunted growth, discoloration, thin leaves, holes in the leaves, and much more. In severe conditions, the plant may die off, and your tank won’t look even a bit closer to those alluring tanks in the display of aquarium shops.

aquatic plants require macro and micronutrients, just like terrestrial plants. Some fertilizers that you need to take into account are:

  1. Substrate Fertilizers– These fertilizers are easy to use as they become a part of your substrate. Generally, they are made from clay-based compounds and have a soil-like structure.

So, when you set up your aquarium from scratch, using substrate fertilizer will ensure the good growth of aquatic plants. If you want to have a heavily planted tank, using this type of fertilizer is the best to attain strong and healthy plants.

  1. Tablet Fertilizers– These are nutrient-rich tablets, suitable to add anytime in the substrate. The best thing about tablet fertilizers is you can use them even in an already-established tank. At the same time, you can feed the plants individually with tablet fertilizers.

You can also use a tablet fertilizer while adding a new plant to your tank.

  1. Liquid Fertilizers– These are the most popular types of aquarium fertilizers you can find in the market. Multiple brands offer liquid fertilizers suitable for different aquatic plants. Make sure you always go for high-quality brands to achieve the best result.

You can check the user’s manual for using liquid fertilizers; however, they are used weekly. Liquid fertilizers work best for aquatic plants like Java Moss, which absorb nutrients through their foliage.

For species like Amazon Sword that absorb fertilizers through roots, you need to use tablet/substrate fertilizers. So, in a planted tank, a combination of all types of fertilizers- substrate, liquid, and tablet will give good results.

Note: Here, it is essential to note that your liquid fertilizer should not have nitrogen and phosphor if the tank is heavily stocked with fish. Since these nutrients are already in the fish waste, the excess will lead to algae growth.

  1. What aquarium substrate are you using?

Choosing the right substrate is one of the most confusing parts for new aquarists. It is mainly because plenty of options are available, and one thing that suits a plant may not suit another.

For instance, if you use large gravel, the delicate fins/barbells of certain fish like Catfish may damage by its sharp edges. In such a case, fine sand makes the best option. Therefore, while choosing the substrate, you also need to consider what species of fish you are planning to keep.

Another thing to consider is if the substrate is altering the water chemistry. It is advised to avoid substrates like peat moss, coral gravel, or coral sand. Coral substrates may alter the pH of the water and make it hard or alkaline. Since it takes the experience of years to maintain the right pH all over again, it is advised to avoid it. Likewise, peat moss may make the water acidic, an undesirable condition for species like mollies and guppies.

Gravel with large diameters should be avoided as it will not lead to healthy root development, especially in heavily planted tanks. A gravel size of 2mm to 3mm will encourage root development in such aquariums.

If colored gravel looks appealing, beware, as it may again alter the water chemistry.

Sand makes a good option as a substrate as it is safe and easy to use. However, it gets compact after a few days; therefore, stirring occasionally becomes essential. Stirring will also avoid hydrogen sulfide build up, which may harm the fish. At the same time, if the sand becomes compact, it will not allow roots to grow and develop.

So, while using sand as substrate, all you need is:

  • Stir it occasionally. It can be done every time you change the water.
  • Keep the depth below 3 cm.
  • Clean the sand thoroughly before adding it to the tank

Apart from sand, you can also find some branded substrates that are suitable for planted tanks. Even though they are expensive, your plants will obtain all the essential nutrients. Also, these substrates come in brownish-red or black color and look good in a planted plant.

  1. Do you know about carbon dioxide supplementation?

Like terrestrial plants, aquatic plants also need carbon dioxide for growth and development. If you are planning for a heavily planted tank, additional carbon dioxide supplementation becomes an essential criterion.

It is because the plants will compete heavily to obtain the available carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Likewise, if the plants are exposed to high light levels, they won’t be able to cope with the high demands of photosynthesis.

However, if the tank is sparsely planted, the plants will make use of available carbon dioxide, and there will be no requirement for additional carbon dioxide supplementation. So, as a beginner, you should start with only a few plants to avoid extra supplementation.

At the same time, if you are not an expert, you may overdose, which may hamper fish health.

  1. What fish species are you planning to have?

Once you are all set with the right plants, perfect lighting, good substrate, and carbon dioxide supplementation, you still need to ensure that your stock doesn’t include plant-eating fish.

Irrespective of all your adjustments, if you keep a goldfish that loves munching on aquatic plants, your hard work will go to waste. Therefore for the best aquascape, researching the eating habits of the fish is of utmost importance.

Final words

In this aquarium beginner’s guide, we covered almost all the essential aspects of a planted aquarium. One wrong decision may lead to an unsuccessful tank. Therefore, as a beginner, you need to plan properly and stick to the things that make a planted tank work successfully.

Aquarium Plants
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1 thoughts on “A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Aquatic Plants

  1. Vivek Joseph says:

    Excellent article! Please do one on algae in aquarium – different types including Cyanobacteria, conditions which favour their growth, preventing their growth, and what to do when they occur. Especially hair algae

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