The Ultimate Guide to Aquarium Plants

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Living aquarium plants are becoming more popular as compared to the plastic decoration ones available at most pet stores. The beauty of these live plants is most appreciated by those who understand the amount of care and attention that goes into growing them. Their variety in shapes, sizes and color makes them a vibrant addition to any aquarium and also allows other inhabitants of the tank to have a more natural and healthy setting. There are two ways to maintain an aquarium with plants. Mostly people add them to a tank which already has a number of fish inhabitants. However, more and more people are now starting to grow these plants for their sheer beauty.

The Benefits of Aquarium Plants

There are numerous benefits of having aquarium plants. They are one of the most natural ways of facilitating a healthy environment both for the fish and the other plants in the water. This is due to the oxygen they provide, the carbon dioxide they take in, and finally by the waste they absorb that is excreted by fish. They also provide breeding grounds and safe hiding places for fish and may even possibly become food for some of the more picky eaters.

Wet Web Media: A detailed article on the advantages of live aquarium plants including behavior modification, nutrient cycling, algae control, food and the best aquarium plants for everyone.
Aquatic Eden: Aquascaping news, guidance, and tips for aquascaping freshwater planted aquariums. Includes a specific article for the benefits of aquarium plants and a great section on DIY Projects!
Tranquility Tanks: Dedicated to the power of nature this link provides the benefits of aquarium plants. This provides advanced information such as reduction of ammonia, aiding in filtration and producing oxygen.
Freshwater Aquarium Resource Center: Information on the benefits of freshwater aquarium plants as well as a free aquarium keeping mini course.
Hexagon Aquariums: Benefits of aquatic plants, including four tips for their care.

The Basics of Aquarium Plants

  • Before getting started on planting an aquarium, it's important to understand which plants are suitable for growing in your aquarium and deciding which plants you want. There are many resources on the Internet and in libraries and it's a good idea to have information on what you're buying before heading to the store.
  • Make sure that you only by aquatic or amphibious plants and not land plants. Aquatic plants thrive when completely submerged in water. Amphibious plants can survive in varying water conditions and even in aquariums that have some land mass such as those for turtles.
  • Get appropriate plants for salt or fresh water, depending on which type of aquarium you have.
  • Younger plants have a better chance of settling into the aquarium than older ones. Make sure the leaves and stems are all uniform in color and that they don't look like they have any disease or pests such as snails on them.
  • Where you situate your plants is very important. There are three different heights and locations to consider. Background plants should be the tallest, mid-ground plants in between and foreground being the shortest. Make sure you buy a few of all three to get the best look in your aquarium.
  • If you're just getting started, try to find plants which require little maintenance. A few examples of such plants are the Fuzzy Duck Weed, Java Fern, and Common Sword Plant. They won't cost you a lot and will look great in your aquarium.

The Planted Tank: Information on successfully starting and maintaining a planted tank with tons of photos and information on specific plants.
Aqua Fish: Information on aquarium plants and what they require for a healthy environment. Also has a number of links to aquarium fish, biotops, forums and articles.
Aquarium Advice: A forum dedicated to providing advice for aquariums. Additional information includes vendors, a gallery of users' tanks, forums and a very informative FAQ.
Aquarium Guide: Information on freshwater aquarium plants including lighting, filters, maintenance and tropical fish food.
Management of Aquatic Plants: (.pdf file) Detailed information on caring for aquatic plants

What you Need to Grow Aquarium Plants

It does require some effort to grow healthy aquarium plants. The amount of care you'll have to put in depends on which ones you get. If you want to get seriously involved in growing these unique plants it would probably be a good idea to purchase a book which provides details on the requirements of the individual plants. Below are a few of the basic requirements of all aquarium plants:

Carbon Dioxide: This is the most important requirement for aquarium plants. It's the equivalent of oxygen for humans and animals. Tanks naturally get CO2 from fish waste and leftover food. However since the natural CO2 is usually not enough, it's a good idea to add supplements into the tank. These are most easily available in the form of tablets though more complex systems are present as well. It's up to you whether you would like a form of CO2 which regulates itself or has to be monitored.
Lighting: A proper lighting source and CO2 go hand in hand for having healthy aquatic plants. Most aquariums come with a single tube light for the tank which usually is not enough for plants. This is especially true if your tank is large or deep. Because plants need a full spectrum of light to carry out the photosynthesis process, mercury vapor or metal halide lights are the preferred choices for aquarium enthusiasts. Both of these along with other options will probably be available at your local pet store.
Nutrients: Other than CO2, plants require four nutrients including: phosphorous, nitrates (or nitrogen), potassium and iron. Without these, the plants in your aquarium will starve and die. These can easily be supplied by purchasing fertilizer which usually is available in liquid form.
Water Changes and Flow: At least one fourth of the water should be changed every week to remove debris and buildup. There must also be significant water flow in the tank to guarantee that the plants are receiving all the nutrients and 'fresh water' they require.
Proper Substrate: Substrate is the sand or gravel that you anchor the plants too. Many substrates can provide nutrients to the plants but can also change the quality of water which may become unsuitable for the fish. An example of this is lime-based substrate which changes the water to have more alkaline properties. If the fish and side-effects of the substrate don't match you can always layer the sand or gravel so that the fish-appropriate one is on top and the plant-appropriate one is at the bottom. This way you'll be able to satisfy the requirements of both.

Aquatic Community: How to set up a planted aquarium starting with choosing plants, aquarium size, lighting, heating, filtration, substrates and a list of other helpful articles.
Aquatic Plant Management: (.pdf file) Identifying and managing aquatic vegetation
Glossary of Aquatic Terms: Brief descriptions of common terms used for aquatic plants. Great to use as a reference for any technical terms you come across while researching aquatic plants.
Substrates for Aquarium Plants: Details on different types of substrates including their materials, properties, fertile vs. low fertile substrates and suggested research.

The Different Types of Plants

Though there are numerous aquatic plants available they can be broken down into three broad categories:

Ferns and Mosses: These plants are non-flowering and usually green. They are usually placed in the midground and foreground of the aquarium.
Rosette Plants: These plants have short stems and due to their leafy nature provide a great deal of beauty to any aquarium.
Stem Plants: These plants have long stems and are probably those most popular plants due to their easy care and diverse decorating options. They go well in the back, center, or corners of the aquarium.

Aqua Plant: Plant identification with a visual and alphabetical index
Live Aquaria: Types of freshwater aquarium plants with photos and even information on coral and other live rocks for your aquarium.
Cichlid Forum: An introduction to different types of aquarium plants with exciting colorful photos for inspiration.
Animal World: Aquarium plants of the world with other information on saltwater and freshwater fish to add to your aquarium.
Aquarium Niche: A student-edited microbiology resource

More Resources:

The Tropical Tank: Dedicated to tropical fish and the freshwater aquarium hobby, this website includes an article library, fish index, a gallery of inspiring tanks and a helpful forum
Freshwater Aquarium Plants: How-to articles on caring for freshwater plants
Plant Geek: Information, news and a glossary on aquatic plants
Exotic Farm: A how-to guide for live plants for aquariums with details on fertilizer, root care, types of plant and compatibility information.
Understanding Invasive Water Weeds: (.pdf file) Classroom and homework activities for students
Live Aquarium Plant Care: Numerous links for taking care of your aquarium plants

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