Aquarium plants add a whole new level to fresh water fish keeping. A freshwater planted aquarium can be a stunning sight and for most fish you can’t truly recreate their natural environment without plants. There of course are natural fish environments which don’t include plants, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
Besides making the tank more attractive to people, there many other advantages to including plants in your aquarium. Many fish feel less stressed when living in a planted environment. Some fish like to eat the plants and others incorporate plants into their breeding habits. Angelfish often lay their eggs on Amazon Sword leaves. Siamese Fighting Fish and Paradise fish use floating plants to help them built their bubble nests when breeding.
The inclusion of plants also creates a more lifelike mini ecosystem within the tank. Aquariums rely on filters to keep the water clean, however in the wild there no filters and plants form an essential role by feeding on the fish waste and producing oxygen. I have heard of an aquarium being set up in an entirely natural way without additional filtration to deal with the fish waste, but with lots of plants. Although a completely natural aquarium is possible, to ensure the safety of fish I would not recommend attempting it unless you are an expert in biology.
Creating a beautiful planted aquarium is not as simply as buying some plants and sticking them in the sand / gravel, A lot of planning, care and attention goes into creating the perfect underwater garden. It can be also be expensive to achieve the desired effect. The plants themselves can be expensive depending on how you buy them, to achieve the best results you will also need a mineral rich substrate, plants weights, plant fertilizers and possible additional equipment , such as a CO2 kit, heating cable and upgraded lighting.
If you are new to the hobby you may find trying to maintain a planted aquarium and keep your fish alive too much of a challenge. If this is the case don’t worry, there are alternatives to live plants, such as silk or plastic plants. Back when I started fish keeping only plastic were available and they looked a bit fake, but the quality of plastic and silk plants has really improved in recent years.
When I first started keeping fish I made myself stressed by trying to care for live plants while also make sure all the fish were ok. In my case the gardening aspect was made much more difficult by the fish I kept. I used to keep common plecos which grew to about 13 inches. I love catfish but my Plecos drove me mad. I used to spend hours planting new plants, but with one of my Plecos tail all the plants would be uprooted and sent flying to surface. My advice to beginners would be; big clumsy fish and live plants are not a good combination.
The success of your planted aquarium will depend on how well you prepare your tank before adding any plants. The preparation should start way before you add any fish to your tank. Experience has taught me it is far easier if you get the plants sorted and growing a few weeks before adding the fish.
The garden’s shopping list will provide you will all the information you need on additional things you need to think about buying. Additional equipment is optional and will depend on your budget and the difficultly of the plants you want to grow.
Once you’ve got your kit sorted you’ll be ready to start preparing the aquarium. I would aim to have it planted at least two weeks before you add any fish; this is because fish can be quite rough with plants. When the fish are swimming about they tend to bump into the plants. If the plants do not have enough roots to anchor them into the substrate they will end up floating at the surface of the water. You can replant when they happens, but if it happens too often the roots will get damaged and the plant will die.
If you already have fish in the aquarium you can still introduce plants, but will it will be more difficult and may be more expensive. Potted plants and plants which have been grown onto objects are more convert choice if you already have your fish. In case of potted plants the weight of the pot will help to hold the plant down.
Plants which are grown on objects are much more expensive than regular plants, but you playing for the time and expertises it has taken someone to get the plant to grow on the object. A common example of this is java fern on driftwood. There is now a wide range of objects on which plants have been grown, these include, plant pots, coconut shells, nets and volcanic rock. They can help create really striking scenes within the tank, but if you were to buy lots of these to cover the tank it would work out really expensive. Expect to pay at least £10 for a medium sized piece.
Aquarium plants can be split into four groups based on where they go within the aquarium, these are; foreground, midground, background and floating. They are organised this why based on their on their height, the idea being tall ones at the back of the tank and short ones at the front. In modern aquariums, they are not always organised in this way, but it help to give shoppers an idea of how high a particular plant will grow.
There are two way you can buy aquatic plants; from a aquatic shop or mail order via the internet. In general I prefer to order over the internet. It tends to work much cheaper. Internet companies also offer a very wide range and they usually provide information about each type of plant. Buying from an aquatic shop is much more expensive and the staff will probably not be able to provide the information you need on how to care for your plants.
Most mail order / internet plant suppliers offer collections; these collections include foregrown, midgrown and background plants. You can pick which collection you want based on the length of your tank. Many suppliers also offer collections to go with specific fish, Java Plants offer a Discus collection. The advantage of buying a collection of plants from a internet company is it works out a lot cheaper and saves a lot of time. If you order a collection it will take a few minutes, whereas choosing each type of plant yourself can take hours. The disadvantage is you have no choice over which plants you get and because some will not be suited to your aquarium conditions they will either grow very slowly or die.
How I normally deal with this problem is too select the collection for my tank length and add a few extra types of plants to the shopping cart. This it still works out a lot cheaper than buying individually, it saves me some time and I still get some of the plants I really what. I always add in Amazon Swords, they’re my favourite aquatic plant. You should note that once you have ordered your plants it can take up to a week for them to arrive.