A Beginner's Guide to Aquarium Plants - The Planted Tank Forum
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A Beginner's Guide to Aquarium Plants

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There are few things more satisfying in aquarium ownership than enjoying a well-planted tank. Live plants are beautiful, vibrant additions that reduce algae growth and provide natural filtration for the water while helping to keep your fish healthy and thriving. Fish use aquarium plants for a number of things, including shelter, security, food and reproduction, so live plants are vital to a healthy aquarium environment.

Plant Selection & Placement

If you haven’t kept a planted aquarium before, it’s best to start with several plant species known to be sturdy and adaptable. When selecting live plants, make sure that you select species that will thrive under water and are suitable for your specific water type and fish species.

As your skills and knowledge levels increase and you find a real love for aquascaping, you can proceed to planting and caring for more delicate species that require more attention and equipment. For now, though, let’s stick to the basics with a selection of several beginner-friendly aquarium plants. All of the plants we included will flourish best at room temperatures of about 70 degrees or slightly above.

Java Moss is one of the most common, yet beautiful plants in a tank. It’s low-maintenance, difficult to kill and grows quickly. Because of its tendency to wander off and float on the surface, java moss does best when securely attached to a rock or piece of driftwood with a piece of string (which can be removed after the plant roots).

It’s a low-growing plant with a “fuzzy” appearance and a carpet-like growth pattern, very useful as a substrate cover and stabilizer. It does well in any lighting condition.

Dwarf Baby Tears appears deceptively fragile, although it’s another tough, hard-working carpeting plant. It’s thick, vibrant growth pattern makes it unique enough to be used in many complicated styles of aquascaping, although it’s just as impressive in smaller home tanks.

Dwarf Saggitaria is another easily-maintained plant that reaches a height of from 4 to 6 inches, making it perfect for mid-tank plantings. This plant is perfect for placing near hardscapes such as wood or stone, as its bright green, curved leaves makes a lovely complement and it will root into the material.

Amazon Sword is a staple in home aquariums, as it’s fast-growing, easy to maintain and makes an impressive statement when arranged center stage and slightly toward the rear of the tank. Because it reaches heights of up to 20 inches, this plant is often used to conceal tank plumbing and hardware.

Java Fern is an extremely low-maintenance plant with an exceptional appearance thanks to its thick, semi-striped leaves that grow in clumps or bunches. While it’s a slow starter, once it gets going, it’s nearly unstoppable. Java fern can survive in almost any light or water conditions and stays small enough not to distract from your hardscape decorations.

Aquarium Lighting

Because some plant species need specialized lighting, carbon dioxide injectors and aquarium fertilizers, it’s best to choose plants that will thrive without these enhancements. All plants need light to grow and thrive, though, so you’ll definitely want to use the proper wattage for your tank.

For example, if your aquarium is no larger than 10 gallons, a single 15-watt bulb will be enough for the low-light plant species we’ll be looking at. Keep in mind that light bulbs grow weaker with age, so exchange the bulb at least once a year. For aquariums larger than 10 gallons, the general rule is 2 watts per gallon, as long as you stick to the hardier plant species.

Designing your Aquarium

As with most creative endeavors, imagination is the key to aquascaping. What do you want your underwater landscape to look like? Do you want to create a specific mood – quiet and tranquil or lively and exciting? Do you have a favorite landscape memory or do you want to “play it by ear”?

Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather a densely planted aquarium with live plants and real rocks and driftwood? To many aquarium owners, it’s simply a more natural environment: it’s creating a tank as close to a real lake or stream as possible.

If you already have a thriving community tank, determine how much space you’ll need before purchasing any plants. No special precautions are needed when setting up a planted aquarium beyond being careful of both the residents and the plants.

It’s no more difficult to have a beautiful planted aquarium than it is to have a traditional tank. It’s more about the careful selection of plants and accessories that makes the difference — and the discipline to maintain it.

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