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Plant Care


December 13, 2018 | By Tom Sarac

by Tom Sarac

Featuring various shades of green and red, as well as an abundance of shapes and sizes, there are numerous opportunities to create a living aesthetic underwater world within which fish and other aquarium inhabitants thrive.

Aquarium plants form the basis for reflecting one’s creativity in planted aquarium aquascaping while providing a fascinating opportunity to create balance and depth perspective. Biologically, plants naturally improve water quality for fish and reduce the chances for unsightly algae growth.


Aquatic plants or hydrophytes are not only known for being beautiful natural decoration in aquariums, they also provide the following benefits that make them a key component to recommend for a balanced and healthy aquarium.

1- Supplement filtration – they absorb ammonium, nitrates and phosphates. They assimilate other undesirable substances such as metals, from aquarium water.

2- Produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide when the aquarium is illuminated.

3- Provide natural shelter for fish (thereby reducing stress) and support natural behaviour. Plants provide hiding places for fry (baby fish) and for specimens that are being bullied.

4- Can be the main decoration feature and supply a dynamic element to aquarium displays as they grow and reproduce.

5- Compete with algae through the intake of essential nutrients and absorption of light.


When purchasing aquatic plants, there are several important points to consider:

1- Ensure that you are actually purchasing aquatic or semi-aquatic plants that can live submerged. Consult knowledgeable pet store staff and books.

2- Look for healthy specimens. Avoid plants that are damaged (holes, broken leaves, and/or stems) or exhibit yellow or brown leaves. Rooted plants should have clean-looking (usually white) healthy root masses (note: exception: bunch plants).

3- Look for proper holding facilities. Plants tanks should be well-lit and kept at approximate tropical aquarium temperatures.

4- Purchase rapid-growing plants at the beginning, commonly sold as bunch plants. This will provide maximum competition for algae.

5- Make sure plants stay wet or damp during the journey home; do not allow any part to dry out.


When planting aquatic plants, there are several important points to consider:

1- Incorporate groups of plants in your decor. Select a few species with a substantial quantity of each, as opposed to many different species and minor quantities of each.

2- Position plants in appropriate positions with respect to the species. Plant taller plants at the rear and shorter plants towards the front. Take into consideration lighting requirements when choosing prospective sites for your plants. For example, plants that prefer lower levels may be planted in the shade of tall plants.

3- Always remove devices used to bunch plants together. Any damaged or dead leaves should be removed. Bunch plants should have only the bottom 1 to 2 inches of stem planted.

4- Planting should allow for a little space between groups of stems of plants (bunch plants). Never bury the crown of a plant. Expose the crown and avoid gravel between stems (ex. Echinodorus species).

5- Remember, plants grow! Be aware of their maximum size and provide the room and correct initial placement to account for this.


Major plant nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are essential for plant growth. Aquariums that contain significant populations of fish generally contain an adequate source of nitrogen and phosphorus. However, aquariums that accentuate aquatic plants require attention with respect to adequate levels of the major nutrients.

It is recommended to test phosphorus and nitrate levels and maintain low levels to ensure availability of these essential nutrients. The use of Nutrafin Phosphate Test is recommended to test the phosphorus levels and Nutrafin Nitrate Test to test the nitrate levels.

Micronutrients, which are necessary in trace amounts, are involved in various metabolic and enzymatic functions within plants. The need for effective supplementation of micro-nutrients, such as iron, is well-documented. Iron is the micro-nutrient required at the greatest concentration. Therefore, regular testing using Nutrafin Iron Test will ensure the proper level. The iron present in Plant Micro-Nutrients is chelated, which ensures availability and safety under a variety of aquarium conditions.

New aquariums, especially those which are populated with dense plantings of rapid growing aquatic plants, require the addition of Plant Micro-Nutrients. This contains a properly balanced combination of essential micronutrients in optimal concentrations, providing plants with key elements for vigorous growth and beautiful conditions. Different essential micro-nutrients fulfill key requirements; Manganese and zinc for example are directly implicate in photosynthesis and must be present.


No discussion of plant nutrients is complete without the mention of carbon. In fact, 40 to 50% of a plant’s dry weight matter is composed of carbon. This key macro element is fortunately easily supplied with a CO2 system, such as the small pressurized convenient disposable systems by Fluval (CO2 20 g and 88 g kits).

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major nutrient taken in by plants during periods of illumination. Dissolved CO2 is usually never present in aquariums at a level required by plants. It must therefore be supplemented. The provision of CO2 is the single most important nutrient for aquatic plants that will both enable strong growth and outstanding condition.


Although the blue and red spectrums are without a doubt directly related to photosynthesis in all plants, it has been shown in some studies, that the inclusion of green spectrum in certain aquatic plants produced higher rates of photosynthesis. In general, look for lighting sources that emit a full spectrum with peaks in red, green and blue wavelengths.


Tom Sarac offers useful tips on caring for planted aquariums, while introducing several Fluval products (CO2, water treatment, substrate, etc.) designed to help grow lush, strong plants.


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