How to Plant Aquarium Plants, the Ultimate Guide for beginners

Live plants are an excellent addition to every aquarium tank. Besides adding natural beauty to the aquatic environment, they provide a wide range of benefits to the fish, including oxygen production and habitat provision. Most aquatic plants even stabilize PH in the tank, keeping your fish healthy at all times.

Are you considering setting up a dedicated aquatic garden or adding just a few plants to your tank? If so, understanding how to plant aquarium plants will help you maximize your enjoyment and success. It will also ensure you reap all the benefits of live plants.

In this article, I explore everything you need to about planting aquarium plants.

Primary Requirements For Aquarium Plants

Some aquarium plants will do well in environments that others will not. For instance, a fresh-water plant will wither and die when planted in salty water. This is because each plant has unique requirements, which must be met to ensure proper growth.

The following are the primary requirements for aquarium plants:

Water Requirements

A majority of aquarium plant species will do well in water with a pH of between 6.5 and 7.8 and a temperature of 74 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The water must have an alkalinity level between 55 and 140 ppm and a general hardness of 50 to 100 ppm.

Regarding nutrients, you should maintain nitrogen and phosphorus levels below 10 and 0.5 ppm, respectively.

Always change 10 percent of the water in your aquarium weekly or 25 percent every week. It is equally vital that you maintain proper circulation in the tank to prevent organic debris accumulation.

Light Requirements

The light specifications for your aquarium will depend on the species of plants you grow in it, as well as the aquarium’s height. Generally, aquarium plants do best with 10 to 12 hours of light every day.

The light should be full spectrum, with a Kevin rating of between 6,500K and 8,000K. For more details, please read our article on planted tank lighting.

It is important to note that light does not penetrate water immediately. Always use intense light in tall aquariums, so you don’t have to compensate by leaving the light longer. Doing so will upset the day/night cycle, which is crucial for plant growth. 

I’ve got a review article on the best aquarium lights for your convenience; you can choose among them.

Substrate Requirements

The substrate in your tank is crucial to proper anchoring and root development for your aquatic plants. While there is a wide variety of substrates you could choose from, you must be careful to choose one that doesn’t harm your plants. The best choices are coarse sand or fine to medium-grade gravel.

When choosing a substrate, try to avoid using ultra-fine sand and coarse gravel. The former is poorly aerated, and the latter inhibits proper anchoring. It would help if you also steered clear of calcium carbonate-based substrates, as they can alter the pH in the tank.

Carbon Dioxide Requirements

Photosynthesis, the process by which plants manufacture their food, is dependent on carbon dioxide. This means that your aquarium plants will require a steady supply of carbon dioxide for proper growth. 

While you don’t need to add supplemental carbon dioxide to the tank for most plants, doing so has been shown to increase their color, size, and vibrancy.

So, do you need a CO2 system for your aquarium? If you decide to add carbon to your tank, you can do it through tablets, liquid supplements, or DIY yeast generators. You can also incorporate a pressurized injection system with a co2 regulator into the tank, which is the most effective method.

Nutrient Requirements

Much like land vegetation, aquatic plants require minerals such as iron, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and manganese to grow.

These minerals must be added to the tank weekly or in partial doses every few days to ensure a steady supply. This does not include nitrogen and phosphorus, which the plants get from fish food and waste.

Remember that some plants take in nutrients through the roots. Such plants will require that the nutrients be added to the substrate through either fertilizer or nutrient-rich clay. 

More Read: Best Aquarium Plant Fertilizer for thriving plants

How to Select Aquarium Plants

Aquarium plants, like fish, have specific water, nutrient, and light requirements. Not every plant you add to your tank will flourish. Additionally, any plants you add to your aquarium will significantly affect the environment in your tank, including the fish. This means that you should carefully consider several factors when selecting aquarium plants, such as:

Fish Type

Some fish, such as tinfoil barbs, are known to feed on fragile leafy plants. Others prefer broad-leaved plants to those with thin leaves. Plant-eater herbivores would not be your right choice for a planted tank.

By finding out whether your plants and fish can coexist, you might save yourself the cost of replacing eaten plants.


In what type of water do your fish live? Most aquatic plants survive in water with a pH ranging from 6.5 to 7.8 and a temperature of 74 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Always ensure the type of plant you purchase can grow in your water type.


As your fish grow, so will your aquatic plants. Always do prior research on any potential plants to determine what size they attain maximum, so you don’t end up overcrowding your tank.

Some plants, usually who are high light-demanding, grow very fast. They will soon occupy your aquarium if not trimmed frequently. Fast-growing plants are not suitable for small tanks.


As already mentioned, different plants have different requirements. Always check that any potential plants can flourish in your tank’s environment alongside your fish.

Do not select plants that are hard-to-maintain. Your hobby should not be your stress.

How to Plant Different Types of Aquarium Plants

As you may know, there are different aquarium plant species, each of which grows uniquely. The following section investigates how to plant aquarium plants according to their species.

Rhizome Plants

How to plant Rhizome Plants

A rhizome plant gets its name from its thick, horizontal trunk, from which all the leaves and stems grow upwards, and the roots extend downwards. Common rhizome aquarium plants include Ferns, Anubias, and Microsorum.

Typically, a rhizome plant doesn’t need a substrate to grow. You can wedge the rhizomes between rock cracks or attach them to a wedge with thread or glue gel. Once a rhizome is attached to a hardscape, its roots will grow and wrap around it, making it difficult to remove.

If you do plant a rhizome in a substrate, make sure not to cover the rhizome itself. Bury the roots up to the level of the rhizome and add an all-in-one liquid fertilizer as needed.

Sword Plants

Like rosette plants, all the leaves in sword plants grow out of the base in a circular pattern. Common examples include the Echinodorus and red flame sword. Generally, sword plants grow very tall, which means they do better in the mid-ground or background where they don’t block your view of the tank.

If you wish to add a sword plant to your tank, follow the following steps:

  • Step-1: Dig a hole in the substrate using your fingers
  • Step-2: Add the sword plant to the tank and bury the roots in the substrate.
  • Step-3: Avoid covering the base of the plant from which the leaves come out.
  • Step-4: If you are using an inert substrate, add several root tabs.


Grass or grass-like aquarium plants such as Dwarf Hairgrassare propagate through runners. These are narrow horizontal stems from whose end a plantlet grows, creating a chain of connected plants. Like rosettes, grass plants should be raised with the substrate’s root without covering the leaves’ base.

Most grass plants grow to create a carpet in the foreground. Others propagate to form a tall forest in the background. If you wish to spread the grass to another area of the tank, you can cut the runner and replant it elsewhere.

Grass plants are usually sold in pots containing several individual plants. It is crucial that you don’t plant them in a single bunch so they don’t overcrowd the space when they multiply.


Mosses are very similar to rhizome plants and don’t need to be planted on a substrate to grow. You can attach them to a hardscape with glue or a sewing thread. In some instances, Monosolenium mosses are allowed to grow as a free-floating mass, which creates a colony breeding and a haven for small fish.

Stem Plants

How to plant Stem Plants in aquariums

Stem plants like Rotala, Egeria, Hygrophila, and Ludwigia grow vertically from a single stem, with all the leaves coming out of the stem. You can follow the following steps to grow them:

  • Step-1: Remove the rubber band or ring wrapped around the base of the stems.
  • Step-2: Make holes in the substrate at a depth of 2 to 3 inches.
  • Step-3: Insert each stem into the hole individually and cover the roots with the substrate. You might have to cover some of the bottom leaves to reach the required depth.
  • Step-4: If necessary, wrap weights at the plants’ bottom to prevent them from floating away.

Bulb and Tuber Plants

How to plant Bulb & Tuber Plants in Fish Tanks

Bulb and tuber plants like Crinum and Aponogeton grow from tubers and bulbs. They can grow very tall, with leaves reaching the water surface, and may require both liquid fertilizers and root tabs. Usually, bulbs and tubers don’t need to be buried in the substrate to grow.

Follow the following steps to plant a bulb or tuber:

  • Step-1: Rinse the tuber or bulb and place it on top of the substrate
  • Step-2: Allow it to sink to the bottom or attach it to a piece of hardscape.
  • Step-3: Once this is done, new roots and leaves will sprout from the bulb or tuber.

Carpeting Plants

How to plant Carpeting Plants in Fish Tanks

As the name suggests, carpeting plants grow to cover the ground in an aquarium tank. Common examples include Eleocharis and Glossostigma, short and dense with many tiny leaves and fragile roots.

To grow a carpeting plant in your tank, insert the pot it comes into the substrate. The plant should carpet out from there. You can also add rock wool to prevent it from floating away. Once the carpet is established, you can cut out the potted part.

Floating Plants

Floating plants such as Salvinia and Limnobium are the easiest to add to an aquarium. To plant them, simply place the plant on the water surface in a place where they won’t cover the entire water surface. This would cause oxygen depletion and a lack of light in the tank.

More Read: 15 best floating aquarium plants for aquarium

How to Plant Aquarium Plants in Gravel

Many aquarium hobbyists wonder how to plant aquarium plants in gravel and whether the plants will survive. Essentially, some, not all, aquarium plants will thrive in gravel if planted correctly. You can follow the following steps:

  • Step-1: Layer your gravel to 2 to 3 inches above the tank floor
  • Step-2: Add fertilizer to the gravel.
  • Step-3: Fill your tank to about half of the tank.
  • Step-4: Gently add the plants into the gravel and cover them with substrate above the root level.

If you are planting in an already-established tank, you will need to secure the plant to a fish-safe rock with a rubber band to weigh it down.

How to Plant Aquarium Plants in Sand

When appropriately incorporated, the sand creates a stunning and capable substrate for your tank. It is important to remember that it is inert and will require a dose of fertilizer. It might also be challenging to clean using a vacuum due to the tiny pieces.

With that out of the way, here are the steps you should follow when planting your aquarium plants in the sand. You can also check my detailed article on sand planting

  • Step-1: Wash the sand thoroughly to make it fish-safe.
  • Step-2: Place it into the tank 2 to 3 inches above the aquarium floor.
  • Step-3: Wet and scape it to get the shape you desire.
  • Step-4: Slowly add water to the tank.
  • Step-5: Begin planting.

How to Plant Aquarium Plants in Pots

Potted plants are not fixed into the substrate, like other aquarium plants. This means you can move them around to clean or redecorate. Additionally, you can use decorative pots to add to the aesthetic appeal of your fish tank.

Do you wish to plant your aquarium plants in pots? Here are the necessary steps:

  • Step-1: Add water to your potting soil until it gains the consistency of mud pies.
  • Step-2: Place the soil into the pot and press down on it to remove trapped bubbles.
  • Step-3: Create a well in the center of the pot with your finger, extending to the bottom of the pot.
  • Step-4: Plant your aquarium plant.
  • Step-5: Add gravel to the top of the soil.
  • Step-6: Slowly submerge the potted plant into the tank.

Purpose of Aquarium Plants

If you have discussed aquarium plants with your friends, you have probably heard that they are highly beneficial to your fish tank. But how exactly do they impact your aquarium? Here are the top benefits of aquarium plants:

Toxicity Removal

Aquarium plants add the unique benefit of a natural filtration system to your fish tank. When you plant leguminous plants, they absorb nitrates and nitrate compounds from the water through their leaves. They also break down ammonia compounds by absorbing the nitrogen molecules and releasing oxygen into the tank.

More importantly, aquarium plants play an essential role in the carbon cycle. They harness carbon dioxide from the water and release oxygen instead.

Oxygenating the Water

Like land vegetation, aquarium plants carry out photosynthesis during the day. They consume the carbon dioxide produced by the fish and release oxygen into the water column, thus oxygenating it. This aeration is crucial to the virility and survival of fish in the tank. It helps maintain a healthy balance by preventing carbon dioxide build-up.

What’s more, the entire process is chemical, unlike pumps, which only increase oxygen levels without dispensing carbon dioxide.


Algae can be a real headache in an aquatic environment. Fortunately, aquarium plants act as algae cleaners when they use up all the nutrients necessary for algae growth. Since their roots are stronger and more established, the algae in your tank have no chance of survival.

Aesthetic Appeal

One of the significant reasons hobbyists introduce plants into their tanks is the aesthetic appeal. Plants create a breathtaking environment for both you and your fish. Moreover, the blend of colors between the fish and plants can turn your fish tank into a decorative piece in your home.

Besides the beauty, aquatic plants simulate a more realistic marine environment. When blown by the water pump, their movement within the tank puts artificial plants’ stiff nature to shame.

Comfort Provision for Fish

Fish can be very territorial, especially in a small environment such as a fish tank. Some fish can become distressed to the point of exhaustion or death if they lack a hiding place in the water. In the marine world, most fish species lay their eggs among plants, where they feel safe.

Aquarium plants provide fish with much-needed protection and comfort. You will likely notice your fish resting next to or behind your plants or hiding there when they feel threatened.

How to Keep Aquarium Plants Healthy

Aquarium plants, like fish, are vulnerable to environmental changes, stress, and disease. It is your job to keep them healthy by ensuring their water, temperature, light, and nutrition needs are met. First, you must always start by choosing the right plants for your tank. You then want to ensure the following things are in place:

  • The temperature in the tank is between 74 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • The pH is within the 6.5 to 7.8 range.
  • You change 25 percent of the water in the tank every week.
  • You clean and tend to the substrate regularly.
  • The plants receive a full spectrum of light at least 8-12 hours a day.

Wrapping Up

There is nothing more eye-catching than a lushly cultivated tank. Now that you know how to plant aquarium plants, you can liven yourself up with plants of your choice. The tips provided here can also help you ensure they remain healthy and in balance with other life in your tank’s aquatic environment.

Remember, both the plants and fish in your aquarium are living organisms. They need to coexist and benefit from each other else; your planting venture will not succeed.

Sujit Modak

1 thought on “How to Plant Aquarium Plants, the Ultimate Guide for beginners”

  1. Not enough specifics. Also you have newbees and oldtimes, and newbees may need to learn to use what is on hand.

    Buying plants is not difficult anchoring them well o look good is a different story. Even in the basket you show there is no room for mud, the basket is full of holes. Also some ceramic rings for anchoring plants have no bottom.

    Of course these planting rings are two big for the stems of the plants, can you use fabric to wrap and hold the plants in the ring. Putting plants in gravel will not hold them down and also you will need to clean the gravel to keep the Nitrogen down.

    People say use glue to anchor plants to a sub-straight? What kind of glue? I have been thinking about anchoring moss to a piece of drift wood or piece of terracotta pot???

    Those little baskets are okay but they don’t look good in a small aquarium? They look like they don’t belong in the tank.

    Aquariums range from no plants to full of plants and self cleaning, with in-between being you need to clean the floor. What are the steps to get to a fully planted self cleaning foundation?

    What do you recommend for fresh water plants?


Leave a Comment