Aquarium Plant Nutrition

Aquarium Plant Nutrition

The elements of aquarium plant nutrition

  • Aquarium plants require carbon dioxide. They will for instance get carbon dioxide from what fish and other animals excrete during breathing.
  • Aquarium plants require oxygen, since their cells burn sugars just like animal cells. Oxygen will be dissolved in the water. Oxygen is also a bi-product of photosynthesis, which is carried out by the plants themselves.
  • Aquarium plants require so called macro nutrients. Of these, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the most important ones. Plants must however also get ample amounts of hydrogen, calcium, magnesium, sulfur and iron.
  • Aquarium plants need certain micro nutrients, including boron, copper, chlorine, manganese, molybdenum, zinc, and possibly sodium. Most plant species will receive adequate amounts of micro nutrients from the water, from the substrate and from the food you feed your fish.   

Sources of aquarium plant nutrition

Tap or well water
Some aquarists only use distilled water, or let the water go through extensive deionization and/or reverse osmosis before they use it for their aquariums. A problem with this approach is that you risk removing plenty of beneficial nutrients from the water. For a beginner hobbyist, using normal tap or well water is therefore a better idea. Those who use heavily treated water are normally advanced aquarists that know how to add the necessary nutrients afterwards. If you are not, do not let anyone lure you into buying expensive “special water”. Ask a reputable fish store to test your tap or well water and see if it is fit for aquarium use and the species you wish to keep.

Aquarium substrate  
Aquarium substrates are normally filled with ample amount of plant nutrients in forms that can be readily absorbed by your plants. Different plants have different preferences, and this can be a good idea to take into account before you set up an aquarium. Aquarium gravel can be enhanced in several different ways, e.g. by mixing it with nutritious clay or by using artificial fertilizers for aquarium use. 

Fish food
Every time you add fish food to your aquarium, you add nutrients. (This is one of the main reasons why an aquarium can never be a closed and perfectly balanced eco-system.) Some nutrients will dissolve in the water or sink to the bottom and be directly consumed by the plants. Other nutrients will be eaten by fish first, and then expelled in the form of fish feces than can be used by the plants. 

Artificial fertilization
There are many different types of aquarium fertilizers available today, including liquid fertilizers, granular fertilizers and pellets. Liquid fertilizers are ideal if you have a lot of floating plants and plants anchored to aquarium decoration. Granular fertilizers and pellets will work during a longer period of time and is a good choice if you have a lot of plants planted in the substrate.

Always get aquarium fertilizers, because terrestrial fertilizers can poison the entire aquarium. Terrestrial fertilizers do not match the needs of aquatic plants and the aquatic ecosystem. It does not matter if the terrestrial fertilizer is artificial or natural (uera, bloodmeal etc), it will bring on mayhem either way.  

Before you start using artificial fertilizers, keep in mind that fertilization, lighting and carbon dioxide must be balanced if you want to achieve optimal plant growth. Boosting one single factor will not produce any desirable results, and may even cause problems for the other inhabitants of the aquarium.

Water circulation and water changes

Water circulation and water changes are important for plants, since it provides them with new nutrients. In the wild, currents, rains, flooding, etcetera continuously provide water circulation and water changes in most habitats. Plants from such habitats will therefore appreciate regular water changes and some type of current/water movement in the aquarium. 

Temperature, pH and water hardiness

Temperature, pH-value and water hardiness are three factors known to affect the amount of available nutrition and how easy it will be for the plants to absorb and make use of that nutrition. You should therefore avoid mixing plant species that want very different temperatures, pH-values and water hardiness levels. Check temperature, pH-value and water hardiness regularly and make sure that the figures stay within the recommended range.

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