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Aquarium Plants - Nutrition, Care and Lighting Requirements

Ludwigia helminthorrhiza Myriophyllum spicatum Anubias afzelii Hygrophila Polysperma Nymphaea pubescens Anubias gracilis Lilaeopsis brasiliensis

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This article is a guide with FAQ, tips and forum - all about aquarium plants and we have a database of aquarium plants - click this link to show all records as pictures (clickable links) - the link will open in new window/tab. Or click this link to show the list of plants with requirements and characteristics (will open in new tab/window too). If you'd like to ask or share experiences regarding growing aquarium plants, use a form at the bottom of this page, please!


Aquarium plants play important role in fish tanks since they act as natural filtration media, they act as hiding places for small and shy fish, moreover plants produce oxygen and help many fish during the breeding period because lots of fish species lay their eggs on plants while other species build bubble nests on the surface and use plants as “stabilizers” of such nests. One should pay attention as regard to which plants to purchase since there are floating, background, midground and foreground plants, plants which require hard or soft water, plants that do well in tropical or coldwater tanks, plants that require bright or subdued lighting, some fish even require plants as a part of their diet while some fish will ruin, replant or uproot any plant that an aquarist wants to grow. Follow this guide to find answers on your questions...

Water gardening is almost the same as normal gardening and aquarium plants require good conditions and care. Plants produce a major part of their food themselves in strange green cells by absorbing carbon dioxide, and they excrete oxygen in a process called photosynthesis. For this process light is needed.

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Fixed plants need a lot of light and their demands can rise in proportion with the maturity of the tank. The optimum light input for maximum plant growth should be 3-5 Watts per 4.5 liters (1.18 US gallon, 0.98 Imperial gallon) of water. A “long day” (lighting time of 12-16 hours per 24 hours) supports growing, but can be too long for many tropical plants from near the equator. Most plants are accustomed to a day that lasts 12 hours, however the real influence equals to a 10-hour day.

Long periods of lighting can also promote algal growth in the aquarium so if this occurs it may be wise to reduce the lighting period slightly to prevent this. If the aquarium is well stocked with plants they should feed on the nutrients in the water column before the algae can feed thus reducing algal growth as well.

Recommended wattage
Volume 50 liters
13 US gal
11 Imp. gal
100 liters
26 US gal
22 Imp. gal
150 liters
40 US gal
33 Imp. gal
200 liters
53 US gal
44 Imp. gal
300 liters
79 US gal
66 Imp. gal
400 liters
105 US gal
88 Imp. gal
Wattage 15W – 23W 31W – 47W 46W – 71W 62W – 95W 93W – 142W 125W – 190W
In addition to wattage we also know four other variables which determine whether a plant is going to thrive or not, these are as follows:

Plant nutrition:

As the terrestrial plants, so water plants need nutrients like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. They usually take it from the water via leaves, but some of them take it via roots from the substrate. It’s crucial to understand that aquatic plants need iron for producing chlorophyll, the green pigment which is essential for photosynthesis. Other elements like copper and zinc take part in other metabolic processes. Nowadays most aquatic fertilizers are nitrate and phosphate-free as these substances can be found in fish tanks as a natural product of fish’ metabolism (excrements, waste).

In general fertilisers should be applied once a month, however heavily planted aquariums will need different approach not only in frequency of fertilisation. Moreover reddish plants will need more iron than green plants. Nutrition isn’t only about trace elements, plants need Carbon dioxide during the day.

Carbon dioxide:

Carbon dioxide is part of photosynthesis and supports optimal development of the plant. A bottle of carbon dioxide fitted with a regulator should keep the level from 5 to 12 mg/l. Higher levels than mentioned could damage the liver of the fish. Such dosing devices are based on such, which are used in garden greenhouses. The simplest dosing devices are those which can be manually set and the trickiest have pH measuring tape and even are connected into a light circuit, so they shut down with the light.

Devices that pump Carbon dioxide into the tank must be turned off at night as night is a period when plants consume oxygen and fish could suffocate if oxygen level becomes too low.

Taking care

Most water gardening is a matter of good sense. You should remove plant waste, so the tank stays clean, take care of plants, so they have enough light, by dilution, separating and replanting. No special tools are needed although effective tools are simple as knitting-needles for fluffing around the plants and a scraper for removing algae from the glass.

Sick plants

Often when new aquarium plants are added to the tank, their leaves may turn brown very quickly and rot away, this is common with many species and if the plant is healthy, new shoots should soon appear to replace the old ones. Always keep a check on the plants though, if they have been in the tank for a while and the leaves start to turn brown, this could be a sigh that the plant is not receiving enough nutrients or lighting. Plants that feed from the roots will benefit from root tabs being placed into the substrate and other species of plants will benefit from liquid nutrients being added to the water column.

If it is lighting issues then not only will the leaves start to brown, the plant may simply just stop growing, or with some species leggy growth will occur as the plant reaches for the lighting. If this is the case you can try moving the plant away from neighbouring plants that may be shading it or you may have to invest in a more powerful lighting unit.

Another case: Plants get well on the beginning, but then they fade. The main cause is that most water plants experience a period of low water level, so they poke above the surface. It happens when they are breeding, blossoming and insects are pollinating them (water plants were mostly land-based and only later settled in rivers and lakes). Most plants, when they are in water, do not blossom. About one year later they get weaker and they fade although some of them live three years. Other plants need a period of rest. But giving it to them in a tank is impossible. The only way is to replace these plants with new, stronger and healthier ones.

Plants and filtration:

Filtration systems support aquarium plants, because they keep the water clean and so they support photosynthesis. We know gravel filtration, but it is not a good choice for tanks with many plants. Permanent movement of water around the roots hinder their development and it could root them up. On the other hand, electric filters help plants prosper because the moving water from the filter gently moves the plants. So some types of plants do not always stay in the shadow. The gentle movement of water caused by the filter pump helps prevent any suspended sediment from settling on the leaves.


Some sorts of water plants, unless they are constantly dipped, breed asexually. That is without flowers and seeds.

Some kinds of plants, like Anubias release rhizomes above the bottom. While others like Echinodorus’ release rhizomes into the substrate. On the end of each sprit a new plant will grow. Some Echinodurus’ have shorter, thick sprits.

Many aquarium plants reproduce by cuttings where a growing part of a stem is planted. With a clean cutting cut down a part even 30 cm long. Many plants hardly root if they swim in the water or if they lay on the bottom. Steams usually root from the ganglion on the steam. However in some cases they can grow from any part of a plant. Typical plants which reproduce by cuttings are: Bacopa caroliniana, Cabomba caroliniana, Egeria densa, Hygrophyla polysperma, Limnophila aquatica, Ludwigia mullertii, Myriophyllum hippuroides and Hygrophila difformis.

Lateral roots:
Some favourite kinds of plants produce lateral rhizomes, little plants growing from the mother plant. For example Echinodorus’ create new plants from ganglions based on the leave rosette, while the Indian moss grows filial plants from the border of leaves which can separate and swim on the surface. But if you cut them down, you can plant them. Vesicularia dubyana (Java moss) creates a huge bunch of little plants separating from the mother plant and catching on any near surface.

Java Moss can even be attached to aquarium décor such as driftwood, other species that are often found attached to décor are the Anubias family or Java fern. The roots attach themselves over a period of time but they will need securing initially whilst this occurs. Use fishing line or rubber bands for this task but make sure that you remove them once the plant has secured itself, if using fishing line also make sure that there are no loose ends floating about that can tangle the fish.

There are some species of plants that do not need planting into the substrate and these are classed as floating plants, they simply float at the water surface and the roots drop below soaking up nitrates and nutrients from the water column, two examples of these are the Amazon Frogbit or even duckweed which is used by many aquarium keepers even though it can be a burden in an outside pond.

Plants for Angelfish, Discus and Tiger barb tanks

Some species of plants are more suited to various set ups than others; often we try to re-create natural surroundings for our tank set ups that do this – it’s known as biotope aquariums. For example if we are keeping Discus or Angelfish, we would then try to re-create an Amazonian set up using plants species that are found in those water ways, sometimes we may have to deviate slightly but this is the poetic license of the aquarium keeper.

Angelfish like to hide in the plants and their body markings are striped with the natural species, this calls for long leaved plants such as Vallisneria that can create hiding places right to the top of the tank. Discus tend to stay at mid levels in the tank, unless they are feeding at the substrate, I have always found the Amazon swords to give the best impact with Discus planted tanks, a few Cryptocoryne’s at the front of the tank to complete the effect. Other plants that are suitable for an Angelfish or Discus tank are as follows: Alternanthera reineckii, Alternanthera rosaefolia, Cabomba furcata, Echinodorus amazonicus, Echinodorus bleheri, Echinodorus latifolius, Echinodorus macrophyllus, Echinodorus major, Echinodorus osiris, Echinodorus uruguayensis, Egeria densa, Eleocharis vivipara, Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hydrocotyle verticillata, Hygrophila guianensis, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Ludwigia inclinata, Mayaca fluviatilis, Myriophyllum aquaticum, Telanthera lilacina, Tonina fluviatilis.

Tiger barbs originate from Asia and often their natural waterways have very sparse foliage, poetic license is allowed here as they (Tiger barbs) do like to rest in the plants at night after the aquarium lights have gone out. They also have a tendency to nibble at plants sometimes so a strong species should be used. Java fern is not only a hardy species but the taste of their leaves is repulsive to the barbs, this makes the Java fern ideal for an aquarium containing Tiger barbs.

A list of suitable plants for Tiger barbs follows: Barclaya longifolia, Blyxa aubertii, Ceratopteris thalictroides, Crinum thaianum, Cryptocoryne affinis, Hygrophila difformis, Hygrophila polysperma, Hygroryza aristata, Limnophila sessiliflora, Microsorium pteropus, Nymphaea pubescens, Rotala nanjenshan, Vallisneria rubra, Vallisneria torta, Vesicularia dubyana.

When selecting your aquarium plants, always check through their profiles as they may have different needs, when planting aquarium plants always take care and be extra careful with the stems, if they get crushed during the planting process they can decay and the whole plant will rot away. Be selective about the quality of the aquarium plants that you purchase, only use a good quality plant, this will give you a god start after planting as they should root quicker and start growing well. Rhizomes must not be buried in the gravel, an aquatic plant can be planted with basket that it often comes with when being purchased at the store. Never bury leaves as they'll start rotting!

Aquarium plants grow at different heights and as such are classed as being compatible in different areas of the aquarium. Obviously the taller plants are more suited to the background, medium height plants for the midground, and the smallest plants need to be at the front, namely the foreground. There are some plants that are border-line in these three areas so you will often see on their profiles phrases such as mid-background or mid to foreground, this leaves you a bit of choice as to which of these two areas you actually plant them.

Typical examples of background plants are Vallisneria which grow long, grass-like leaves or Cabomba which grow tall but are bushier with feathery foliage.

Foreground plants include Riccia fluitans or many of the dwarf Cryptocoryne’s; they are used to create green carpets at the front of the tank and need to be clear of the taller plants so that the lighting reaches them to aid the growth.

A group of plants classed as floating include: Azolla caroliniana, Hygroryza aristata, Lemna minor, Ludwigia helminthorrhiza, Phyllanthus fluitans, Pistia stratiotes.

Aquarium plants fertilizer, picture 1

Aquarium plants fertilizer, picture 2

Aquarium plants fertilizer in empty fish tank - placed under gravel


It repays to buy first class, healthy looking plants. They are usually shown in aquariums with moving water and under good lightening which keep them in good condition. It’s best to find some information about the plant you are going to buy, so you can be sure it will grow well. In choosing plants remember that different plants need different types of water. If you want, you can mix plants from different parts of the world. Before you place the plant into the aquarium, look for damage to the stem or for perished leaves or roots. Harmonizing the plants and the rocks and wood gives the tank a natural look. Tanks should have a chemically neutral substrate to absorb egested fish waste. Light gravel is better for the roots than rubble. You can mix granules from burnt clay into the gravel. They mellow the gravel and they often have trace elements. Many plants enrooting can be supported if you add special aquarium clay. Ordinary mixtures which are made for flower pots are not suitable. Pieces from them often rise to the surface and it may contain bad fertilizer. You can buy individual ingredients to go into the gravel and tablets with fertilizer for planting.

Many plants which are plentiful and quick growing are sold as snips, which the plant uses for breeding. Such plants are ideal for creating rich growth for hiding the background or machines like heating devices. They are also excellent for hiding small and shy fish. Such snips have to enroot and until that happens they will maybe need ballast so they can hold on to one place. Stems can be lined with stones, but it is important to not maul the stem because it can start to rot so it must either get to the surface or die.

Thanks for the book Aquarium by Peter W. Scott, which has been helpful when writing this article.

Other interesting reading about aquarium plants outside of Aqua-Fish.Net

If you're finished with the article and comments that can be found below (below sponsored links), and if you're finished with other articles on our website, then you're welcome to visit following webpages that help aquarists growing aquarium plants. Aquarium Plants For Beginners, How to grow & care for aquarium plants both @ AquaticCommunity.Com, Aquarium Plants of the World, Aquarium Plant Water Maintenance both @ Animal-World.Com, Problems with Aquatic Plants @ BadMansTropicalFish.Com. if any of the links doesn't work, tell us about it, please!

Questions and answers related to aquarium plants

On March 18th 2011 we merged all questions&answers originally published at with the article above in order to put all related information together. Some questions may be partially answered in the article above or in the comments below. You're welcome to ask your own unique questions, we will gladly help you! Simply use a form at the bottom of this page for this purpose, please.

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Guide on Growing Aquarium Plants with FAQ, Forum and Plant Species has been viewed 22514 times since May 26th, 2011.

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kongo on: June 9, 2009, 12:24 pm wrote
I have a question; Are wild water plants that you get from ponds and lake/ rivers good for aquariums? Are there ways you can kill bacteria on wild water plants so it won't be harmful to your fishes?
Admin wrote
Many of plants that can be found in rivers and lakes don't grow well in aquariums, and they die as time goes by. This is caused by higher temperature in home aquariums. Of course, if you take tropical plants only, then there's a higher chance for plants to survive in fish tanks too. So you just have to consider all conditions (including temperature, pH, hardnesses, ammonia and water flow).

In general, you don't have to kill the bacteria that may be present on the plants. If there are fishes swimming in lakes, rivers or ponds where you're going to take plants from, then you don't need to worry.
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charles on: March 3, 2010, 6:23 am wrote
Is there a good way to retrofit an existing tank to be a planted tank?
Admin wrote
Surely, but your question is too general. Basically you should start with background plants and then keep adding midground plants until only foreground stays without plants. Then add the smallest ones, or keep the foreground plants-free. Things also depend on water parameters, so choose wisely what plants to buy. Some prefer bright light, some like subdued lighting. Some will do better in still waters, some (such as Anubias) won't mind in strong water flow.

Never start with massive buying, start with a few plants that won't cost you much instead. And don't try to speed-up the process. Rather wait 2-3 weeks if plants survive or not.
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Chris on: April 20, 2010, 5:09 pm wrote
A question may be out there, but I'm setting up a tank. I'm going to put my substrate in my CO2, fill it, heat it and let it run. How long can I wait? Will waiting too long affect the substrate?
Admin wrote
The plants can go into the tank as soon as it is set up and the water temperature has reached its setting. If you are adding root feeding plants make sure that you add some root tabs to the substrate or use a media below the gravel to feed the plants. Why do you think that you will need a CO2 unit running, these are not always required dependent on the species of plants that you are adding. [Answer by Mick;]
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MUDDASIR HANIF on: January 6, 2011, 2:05 am wrote

I am Muddasir from Pakistan, in our country plants sand is not available, that's why the plants become weak and their leaves become brown in 5-7 days. So kindly guide me what type of sand should I use for aquarium plants.

Admin wrote
Actually you don't have to use sand or any other type of substrate at all as long as the water contains enough nutriments which can be introduced to an aquarium via fertilisation. Lighting is very important.

Read the following articles: Aquarium Substrate, Aquarium Gravel, Planting And Growing Aquarium Plants and other about lighting too.

If you still want us to answer your questions, feel free to leave them here or within any other article on this website.
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guppygirl on: February 11, 2011, 10:19 am wrote
I REALLY want a planted tank but when I started my tank I was not ready for it nor really understood it. Now my tank has been running for about 2 years and I want to replace my fake plants with real ones. I have been told you need some special substrate for this, my problem is i used regular petco-brand gravel. Can I plant in this??? I am worried if I try to replace my regular gravel with a special substrate it will put WAY too much stress on my fish... is there any hope towards a real planted aquarium. Also, can I have both real and fake plants in my aquarium?
Admin wrote
Having fake and real plants in the tank is completely OK.

Basically you don't need any special gravel, but on the other hand specialised substrates and gravels contain minerals and nutriments, so the plants have something "to eat" while being in the tank. Many fishkeepers think that plants need excrements of fish only... It's important to understand that any plant needs minerals just like living beings do, and that's why you'll have to use fertilisers.

There are various fertilisers available in the stores, I would recommend you some liquid ones as well as JBL balls (not sure if these are sold under same name in the USA - in Europe they're called so). Ensure that you're using a fertiliser regularly.
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RAKESH on: September 2, 2011, 4:35 pm wrote
Which brand is the best in terms of trace elements for plants to grow and for green colours?
Admin wrote
This depends on requirements of your plants. Some plants are just fine with normal light and liquid fertilisers. For example: I grow several plant species including Vallisneria, Anubias, Enchinodorus, Pistia, Lemna minor, and a few others. They were doing very well until I added Ceratophylum demersum which seems to pump all minerals and nutriments from the water.

Ad you can see on the pictures above, I have really great experience with JBL Florapol. JBL balls are very good too, Sera Florena liquid fertiliser is ideal for regular monthly fertilisation of aquarium plants. Of course some plants will require bright light and CO2 system much more than any mineral, but this is not related to your question.
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Hassaan on: March 12, 2012, 12:17 am wrote

I spent about 500 dollars yet, but couldn't make a planted aquarium. Actually branded things such as substrate or lighting aren't available in my country and therefore I need to do all by myself.

I was going through this article and found good information. But I need a helping hand which can let me start a new planted aquarium from scratch. I can't buy substrate as you are mentioning but I have natural plant soil with me, construction soil with me. Any kind of soil is available except these branded substrates.

Please, tell me, can you help me in person with this problem?

admin on: March 26, 2012, 3:33 am wrote
We're here to help... however it's necessary to ask questions. Simply write what you'd like to know on this page and we'll answer.
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Asif on: June 6, 2012, 1:06 pm wrote
Please tell me how to decrease pH?
admin on: June 11, 2012, 12:04 pm wrote
Add aquarium-safe peat into chambers of your filter, and if this doesn't reduce pH as per your expectations, invest into a reverse osmosis unit - however RO water cannot be used directly in any fish tank as it needs mineralisation prior to adding it into an aquarium.
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joe on: August 11, 2012, 5:40 am wrote
When peat lowers pH does it also lowers the KH? Also like peat, can Oak Bark wood or any type of driftwood lower pH?

admin on: August 17, 2012, 11:11 am wrote
Peat directly lowers the KH of the water as it acts as a softener, this in turn lowers the pH as the water becomes more acidic. Lowering the KH does have its limits, once the KH drops below 4 the pH can become unstable and sudden swings will occur, often a large pH crash in the aquarium so always test repeatedly when performing this action. You do need to be careful which types of wood you add to aquariums as some can leach toxic saps etc. but Mopani bogwood is usually the favourite type that is used and can look very effective visually as well. Answer by Mick;
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sasi on: August 30, 2012, 12:33 am wrote
If I am using liquid fertilisation, would this work effectively in an aquarium with active carbon as one filter media?
admin on: August 30, 2012, 1:55 am wrote
I've been using liquid fertilisers without any issue when having activated carbon as filtration media. Growth of plants has been noticeable.
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Conrad Menezes, Doha Qatar. on: September 15, 2012, 3:00 am wrote
I have a planted tank, but I noticed that some leaves of some plants are not looking good. They are green but look crumpled not firm to shape. Why?
admin on: November 13, 2012, 1:16 am wrote
I would like to know more especially specie and information such as parameters of water. Otherwise it is not possible to help you in this case. A photo of your tank would be ideal too.
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