Adding Live Plants to Aquarium- When and How?

Adding Live Plants to Aquarium- When and How

Are you planning to add live plants to your aquarium and wondering when and how to do it?

Starting with live plants is a big step, especially when you are a novice aquarist. While introducing fish seems easy (though it also has some prerequisites), adding live plants always baffles the beginners.

Once you have selected beginner-friendly aquarium plants such as Vallisneria, Amazon Sword, and species of Anubias, the next step is to add them to the tank with precision. One of the most common questions that confuse novice aquarists is what is the right time to add the live plants- immediately after getting them from outside, after adding the fish or after waiting for a couple of days?

Likewise, the question of how to prepare the live plants before adding them to the tank is also a popular one. If you are a new aquarist and puzzled with these apprehensions, keep reading to get answers to your queries. In this article we will discuss how and when to add aquarium plants when setting up a new aquarium and in an already established tank. Also, we will tell how to prepare your plants before introducing them into your tank.

Adding Live Plants When Setting up a New Aquarium

It is a great idea to add some live plants when you are setting a new aquarium. It helps to create a healthy ecosystem for the fish. However, it is important to know the right ways to add them as it will reduce their chances of dying or getting melted.

If you have bought the plants from the pet store, it will take some time to adjust in your tank. The new ecosystem may initially make the plants slightly wilt or melt. It means the old leaves of the plants may fall off before the new ones emerge out. However, once they adjust to the new water, new parameters, new light, etc., things will turn smooth.

Here’s all that you need to consider before adding live plants to the tank-

  1. Aquarium Plants Preparation

You cannot add any random aquatic plant to your aquarium, as each of them has specific requirements. At the same time, some plants are suitable for beginners, while others can be handled only by experts. Likewise, it is important that you choose the plants whose requirements most closely match your aquarium’s condition.

Some of the best beginner-friendly aquarium plants are Java Fern, Anubias, Java Moss, and various types of Cryptocoryne and Vallisneria.

The next step is ensuring that the aquarium plants are healthy and sturdy. Plants with vibrant green leaves and healthy root system will surely perform better in the new ecosystem. If you see yellow or decaying leaves, avoid the plant as it could be the bearer of pests and diseases and you don’t want to introduce them to your tank, right?

However, if you have already bought such plant, trim the damaged parts with scissor or pruning shear before adding them to the tank. It will reduce the risk of pest infestation and encourage healthy growth.

  1. Planting Method

There are different types of aquarium plants with different methods of planting. It is important that you know how to plant and grow them. For instance, if you have bought potted plants, you need to remove them from the pots by gently squeezing, shaking off the excess substrate, and planting it in the aquarium’s substrate. Make sure you are aware what substrate is the most suitable for that plant.

For rooted plants, all you need to do is plant them gently into the substrate, covering the roots properly with the substrate. Here, it is important to know that the crown region of the rooted plants should not be buried. The crown region is the area where the roots meet the stem. This portion needs to be in the water instead of inside the substrate.

The next type of aquarium plants are attachable plants such as moss and ferns. They do not need substrate but surface such as rocks, driftwoods or any décor piece in the tank to get secured. Usually, a fishing line or cotton thread is used to tie or wrap these plants to the surface until they attach naturally to them and start growing.

Floating aquarium plants are also popular that neither need to be rooted in the substrate or attached to the surface. They just float on the surface and spread naturally or you can anchor them using a thread or fishing line.

  1. Substrate Consideration

When it comes to live plants, substrate plays a huge role in deciding their future. It is important that you have a nutrient-rich aquarium soil or gravel designed for your plants. Until the substrate does not provide essential nutrients such as iron and potassium to the plants, it does not help maintain the plant’s health.

Beside ensuring that you have a nutrient-rich substrate in the tank, it is important that you make sure avoiding substrates that release harmful chemicals into the water. If you have non-aquatic substrate already, do not introduce live aquarium plants as it will be a waste of time, money and efforts.

The same goes for the aquarium decors. It is essential that like substrate your decors items do not release any chemical to the water.

  1. Planting Layout

If you are a beginner, you can skip putting stress on plating layout because at this time, your focus should be on how to maintain and care for the live plants. However, with time, you can start considering a proper planting layout that improves the tank’s aesthetic. It is also called aquascaping.

To plan the layout, strategize how you will arrange the plants in the tank. It is important to create a balance by planting them according to their growth habit, maximum attainable height, size and color. It will help in creating a visually appealing and balanced layout.

Use a combination of foreground, midground and background plants as per their heights to create depth and perspective to the aquascaping. You can create more impact by grouping plants of same species and colors together. To give an edge to the aquarium and make it more interesting, use plants with contrasting colors, textures and leaf shapes.

  1. Filling the tank

Once you have planted the aquarium plants according to the planned layout and considering other tips, it’s time to fill the tan with water. Pour water gently and slowly ensuring minimum disturbance to the substrate and plants. The flow of water should be slow.

If you add water abruptly and in a swift, there are high chances that substrate will get disturbed, leading to clouding of the water and displacement of plants.

  1. Initial Care

Even though you need to care for your aquarium plants all through the time, initial attention is essential for their proper establishment. Once you have added water, wait for the slight cloudiness to settle down. Now, check if all the plants are properly secured or not. Look for the plants that are uprooted or displaced during the water-filling process and adjust them.

Keep your eyes closed on the live aquarium plants during the initial week after the setup. If you see new leaves emerging out or roots extending, it’s a sign that the plant has established itself in the new ecosystem. If there are yellow or decaying leaves, remove them to ensure water stays maintained.

Do not fret if you may notice that the leaves of plants are dropping. Some plants show the signs of melting (dropping of leaves) while adjusting to the new water parameters. Later, new leaves gradually emerge out from them.

  1. Lighting and Maintenance

The next step is to maintain and care about your aquarium plants. For this, you need to learn a lot of things, among which are choosing lighting and managing nutrients, which are the most important.

It is essential that your aquarium lighting matches the needs of your aquarium plants. You can choose plants according to the natural lighting of your aquarium or use LED lights to adjust the light requirement of the live plants.

It’s good that most of the aquarium plants need low to moderate lighting to thrive. If you have plants that require high light conditions such as Hygrophila or Rotala, try LED lights as they are the most popular choice among the aquarists.

Usually, plants with high light requirements survive in low light conditions as well; however, they won’t be in their best shape and show their true colors and growth patterns. So, make your choice wisely.

The next step is nutrient management, in which you supply liquid fertilizers or root tabs to your plants. It becomes more necessary when the substrate is not nutrient-rich. Besides, regular trimming of overgrown plants to keep them in their shape and prevent shading of other plants is essential. Likewise, you need to maintain a cleaning schedule for your tank to keep debris out and algae growth ceased.

Adding Plants to an Already Established Aquarium

If you are planning to introduce live plants into your already established tank, you can do it anytime. Still, according to experienced aquarists, the best time to add plants is a couple of hours before the light turns off or during low light conditions. However, it needs extreme precision and huge experience to do so.

If you haven’t gained enough experience, adding plants during a regular maintenance period or when performing a water change will be the best. These times are beneficial due to the following reasons-

  1. Stability

When you change water, parameters such as temperature, pH, hardness, etc. changes. At this time, adding plant will ensure that any disturbance caused by planting is mitigated by the concurrent water change. It will keep the water parameters stable, reducing the unnecessary stress on the tank’s inhabitants.

Secondly, the biological filtration of an established tank already exists, enabling it to handle the additional load from the new plants. It ensures that there won’t be a spike in ammonia or nitrite.

  1. Less Disturbance

When you are changing water, performing tasks like adding live plants or rearranging décor and plant layout minimize the overall disturbance to the aquarium environment. This reduces the chances of unnecessarily uprooting or disturbing the substrate.

Beside less disturbance, adding live plants while changing water ensures less turbulence too. It is because water change alone causes some turbulence in the tank and adding plants during this time will prevent additional agitation.

  1. Nutrient Availability

When you change water, the old water rich in organic waste are replaced with fresh and clean water. It replenishes the essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the water column.

When you add aquarium plants at this time, they get immediate access to these nutrients, which is essential while accustoming to the new ecosystem. It also helps in their growth and development, reducing the chances of nutrient deficiency.

Is it necessary to quarantine aquarium plants before adding them to the tank?

Even if you have followed all the tips and tricks to add live plants in the aquarium, you fail if the plants are already infested with pests or diseased. It is when the concept of plant quarantine comes to play.

Quarantining aquarium plants becomes necessary if they are not sourced from a reliable place or trustworthy source. However, if you believe that the place is reputable and practices good hygiene and pest control measures and the chances of introducing pests and diseases are low, you can skip quarantining.

On the contrary, if the place seems suspicious, quarantine should be performed without any second thoughts. It will help to observe and identify any potential pests or hitchhikers that may come with the plants. This includes snails, algae, or other unwanted organisms that could harm your aquarium’s ecosystem. Likewise, it helps prevent the introduction of diseases or pathogens into your main aquarium.

Quarantine allows you to observe the plants for signs of illness before adding them to your established tank. It is the reason why many aquarists perform plant quarantine irrespective of source of obtaining them.


Adding live plants in an aquarium is not a rocket science; still, it needs experience and expertise. By following the above, you can successfully add aquarium plants to your tank, creating a thriving aquatic environment for the tank’s inhabitants.

At the same time, adding live plants during a water change or regular maintenance session will ensure a smoother transition for the plants and help maintain the overall stability and health of your aquarium ecosystem.

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