Aquarium Plant Growth

Aquarium Plant Growth

Plant growth are affected by a long row different factors among which the most important are listed below.


The first consideration would of course be the water in which the plants will grow. The kind of water you that you have and the temperature in you aquarium all play an important part in your plant life. Most aquarium plants found in marshes do well in warmer temperature, and 75 degrees Fahrenheit is usually the ideal temperature for most tropical plants. It is seen that plants flourish even better if the heat generated is from the bottom so that their roots get enough heat. This can be achieved by placing a submersible heater right at the bottom of the aquarium where the water meets gravel. Another way to keep your plant life healthy is by leaving their roots undisturbed. When you are cleaning your aquarium or changing water, care must be therefore be taken that the roots do not get disturbed. The reverse is true in case of the leaves. Plants seem to do well when their leaves move more. Therefore, regularly aerating your water using bubblers is a good idea. Just like fish, plants also need fresh supplies of water frequently. This is one more reason for making frequent water changes, but keep in mind that you should only change small parts of the water at a time.


Since photosynthesis takes place in the presence of light, light is a necessity for healthy plants. Natural sunlight is made up of a number of light waves that have different wavelengths. The plant pigment chlorophyll will absorb only certain light waves.

Sunlight will promote the growth of algae. Long exposure to sunlight will also heat up the water. Artificial light is therefore more advisable for plants growing in a aquarium. Full spectrum or broad spectrum fluorescent light is best suited for plant growth. Aquariums usually need about 1.5 watts of light per gallon of water and about 12 hours of light per day. Of course, if your aquarium is deep, you may need additional wattage, and need to keep the light on for longer hours. Using light colored gravel is a good way to create a light bottom for a deep aquarium.

The wattage of light required for healthy growth in plants is also species dependent. Some plants, like the Anubias, Java Fern and Java Moss, require only low to moderate lighting. So, a single fluorescent tube will give enough light for these plants. The Water Wisteria, the Indian Fern, the Water Lily, and the Waterweed are some plants that need bright light. These plants will require at least one additional fluorescent tube to survive and flourish. Some species like the Bacopa and the Cabomba require extra strong light. These plants are of course not very suitable for beginners.

Plant Substrate

In nature, plants are continuously receiving nourishment from their surroundings. Aquarium plants derive nourishment from the substrate. There are different varieties of substrate available now, but for the beginner a substrate that is low maintenance and stable is the ideal choice. A substrate that needs constant watching and gets messy is not recommended. Similarly, a substrate that is capable of changing the water chemistry is also something to keep away from. This kind of substrate will require constant monitoring of the water. Organic substrates, rich in nutrients, will mess with your water quality and give out excess nutrients.

Since the substrate lies at the very bottom of your aquarium, it is difficult to change it once the aquarium has been established. So, in many cases you are stuck with your substrate for a long time. That is why you need to be wise when you choose it. Ideally, you should select a substrate that is inert and that will not alter your water chemistry. The perfect substrate will also have a high Cation Exchange Capacity. The Cation Exchange Capacity refers to the ability of the medium to absorb nutrient ions. Simply put, this means that your substrate will hold on to the nutrients and make them available to plant roots.

In this respect, sand is a very poor substrate. It has none of the qualities described above. It can be used only as an anchor for your plants. Gravel will usually also have a very low Cation exchange Capacity and some types of gravel will alter the water chemistry.

Fluorite is a great substrate. Though it is a bit expensive, it is very nice looking and nutrient rich. It will not get soft when in water. It also has iron and other trace elements that are good for your plants. Vermiculite is a soil additive that is very rich in nutrients, but it is also very light and needs to be placed below a layer of heaver material. Otherwise, it will start floating around and make your water cloudy.

Using suitable additives in your substrate will be beneficial to plants. Commercially available products help to induce plant growth. Some of these are to be mixed in with water, while others need to be pushed in near the roots of the plant. You will find more detailed information about plant nutrients later in this e-book.

Do NOT use peat moss, bagged potting soil or compost in your substrate. These will decay after some time and prevent root growth in plants. A soil that has only a little organic matter and has a higher concentration of fine clay particles is best suited for plant growth.

Plant Nutrients

Both micro and macro nutrients are required by plants for growth. Macronutrients include nitrates, sulfates and phosphates. The plant requires these in large quantities. If you introduce a lot of macronutrients to your aquarium, it can lead to an undesirable 'algae bloom'. Micronutrients are nutrients required in trace amounts. Nutrients like iron, copper, zinc and calcium are some of these. Excessive amounts of these can prove harmful for the plants.

Carbon Dioxide is the most important nutrient that a plant needs. Sometimes, fish alone are not able to provide the optimum levels to support adequate plant growth. Carbon dioxide injections for your plants are an easy but pricey way out. Carbon dioxide levels in your water should be between 5-15 Mg/l. If you go any higher, your fish will be harmed.

Using commercially available tablets that dissolve in water and provide a lot of nutrients for your plants is also a good idea. Unless you feed your fish a lot, they will not provide all the nutrients that your plants need. And even if the fish produce enough nutrients, these are available to the algae and other microscopic organisms too. Plants can have a hard time getting it. That is why using additives in the substrate as well as tablets in the water really assist plant growth. When using additives, take special care that they are not harmful for your fish.

The use of aerators is also a factor in the growth of your plants. Constantly keeping your air pumps or bubblers on will deplete the carbon dioxide levels in your water. On the other hand, you need the aerators to keep your water rich in oxygen. The easy way out is to turn on the bubblers only for a few hours a day, preferably at night. This will provide enough oxygen for your fish while not depriving your plants of the vital Carbon Dioxide. Keep in mind that plants require oxygen too.

Plants will suffer when there is a deficiency in the nutrients. A deficiency in nitrogen and sulfur is indicated when the leaves turn yellow faster than usual. If the leaves seem to be very brittle, you probably need more iron in your aquarium. Over fertilization may lead to problems too. The leaves getting yellow spots can indicate an excess of iron, zinc or copper.


Almost any kind of filtration system will do for plants. Only a few things have to be kept in mind. Constant use of aerators should be avoided. Use a filtration system that will filter out floating particles. These particles will block sunlight and also form a deposit on plant leaves. The filtration should not produce too much of water disturbance, as this will deplete Carbon Dioxide levels. On the other hand, the filtration must create some currents in the water, as this will help easy circulation of nutrients.

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