There are so many aquarium plants on the market and it makes it very difficult to determine which plants will grow in your tank and which plants won’t. This article is written to simplify aquarium plants. It will also help you determine which plants will work in YOUR tank or aquarium. There are 4 things you need to understand before you can choose your plants:

1. Lights:

The most important thing when it comes to plants is light. Plants will not grow if they don’t get light. They also need the right spectrum light. We already made a 4 part YouTube video series almost everything you need to know about lights: PART1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4.

To sum up these videos, plants need the right spectrum light. They need a Kelvin rating of 6 000K to 10 000K. Anything outside of this spectrum will promote algae growth above plant growth. If you want cheap lights you can DIY them as per the video series or you can get these cheap LED aquarium lights on the website. Now they are not perfect for plant growth, but they can get the job done in smaller tanks. We highly recommend that you checkout lights from AquaEl for smaller tanks or Chihiros for bigger tanks. They both do a fantastic job at growing plants. Your lights should be switched on for 4-10 hours per day depending on your setup. Most tanks do best with a light period of 7-8 hours. To create consistency for you tank, put your plants on a timer. It makes things much easier!

2. Nutrients:

Plants need nutrients to survive and thrive. The more plants you have the more nutrients they need. The nutrients that the plants use can come from 3 sources:

The first is Fish Food, as it contains some of the “minerals” that plants can use. This gets added to the water on a daily basis as you feed your fish. Most of these nutrients gets absorbed by the fish. After some time the fish will poop – the result is Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrates will start appearing in the water. These excrement should be enough for a limited range of plants to survive, but not really thrive.

This brings us to the second source of nutrients that is very important for plant survival. Most Aquarius need a liquid fertilizer like Scape Complete, EasyLife Profito or ADA’s liquid fertilizer range (there are many other fertilizers on the market that also work great). These contain nutrients like Nitrogen, Potassium, Iron etc. these will help the plants show their best colour and growth.

The third source of nutrients comes from the soil or gravel and is mostly referred to as a substrate. Substrate can be divided into two categories.

You can also use root tabs with inert soils, but they are not as effective as active as nutrient rich substrates.

3. CO2:

The trees and plants outside are exposed to air that contains enough co2 for them to grow. Underwater however, plants are restricted with the amount of CO2 they have available. That is why we need to give them CO2 to see their full potential. This is done by defusing compressed co2 into the water so that the plants can absorb it. A simple CO2 setup consists of a co2 bottle, a good regulator, high pressure airline, bubble counter, non-return check valve and a CO2 diffuser.

*Please be careful with cheap co2 setups as this can lead to gassing your fish. Rather wait until you can afford a proper setup.

**Also be careful with DIY CO2. It creates more problems than solutions. You need consistent co2 supply to avoid black beard algae. Once again – rather save and buy yourself a proper setup.

***Products like Seachem Excel or Easylife Easycarbo are NOT ACTUALLY CO2. Its a chemical called glutaraldehyde and only has about 10% – 20% of the actual effect of real co2. It works to boost the plants and kill algae. 

4. Your setup + plant choices:

Understanding YOUR SETUP also makes life a lot easier. Each setup has 3 basic elements to it. The first element is light, the second element is Nutrients and the last element is co2. Whatever setup you have will determine what plants you can grow.

 – High Tech:

This means you have a proper light, an active soil with a liquid fertilizer and a co2 system then you can grow all of >these< plants. The success of these plants will mostly depend on your filter, flow, light and soil/fertilizer quality.

 – Medium Tech:

This means you have medium to high light, active soil and a liquid fertilizer, but you don’t have a co2 system. You should be able to grow >these medium tech< plants. If you have a medium tech tank, you can also grow low tech plants.

Click >here< to see how to setup up a Medium Tech Tank.

 – Low Tech:

This means you have more or less the right light, but no active soil and no CO2. You should be able to grow >these low tech< plants. (We still recommend you use a liquid fertilizer). These are plants like Rotala, cryptorcorynes, hygrophila, bucephalandra, anubias, sword plants, rhyzome plants and mos.

Click >here< to see how to setup up a Low Tech Tank.

If you have any questions after this or have a recommendation on what we can add or remove from this article, please let us know!