Good Aquatic Plant Husbandry Practices

  • #1
HI FishLore,

I just wanted to share some of my experiences with learning and practicing good aquatic plant husbandry in order to get the best possible results for your planted tank, whether lowtech or hightech.

When I first started this hobby, I thought a planted tank meant sticking some live plants in gravel and just simply watching it grow. Now, some plants can definitely grow like this with minimal effort, but it won't be in its best form. I went through a lot of years in this hobby with extremely mediocre results because I didn't really know what I was doing. I simply stuck a plant in the gravel and hoped it grew. If it did, great, if it didn't, that was fine too.

But once I started wanting those professional aquascapes we see on instagram, I realized that I needed to get better at taking care of my plants. Implementing better plant husbandry not only improved the growth and color of my plants, but almost entirely took care of my algae issues.

Maintaining a planted tank or aquascape is like maintaining a garden. Just like a garden involves fertilizing, watering, weeding, mulching, etc, a planted tank has its own set of unique requirements that when fulfilled, will truly bring your tank to its full potential. Here are some good practices to implement (in no particular order of importance) that I advise every planted tank owner to follow for the best results.

  • Trimming
    • Trimming is absolutely vital for the planted aquarium. It is too easy (and fun) to let the plants just go wild like a jungle. This method can actually work for a period of days, to even months, but eventually the neglect will catch up when the bottoms of the plants are starved of light and start melting. Melting can cause the plants to rot from the bottom up, which can throw off the entire balance of your aquarium.
    • Especially in a hightech aquarium, the risk of overcrowding is much greater when plants grow much faster and are actively competing for CO2. When clients often experience stunting of stem plants in their aquarium that is heavily crowded, I often advise to do a good trim, which'll fix the stunting issue since there is less competition for the CO2 and more space for the plants to grow.
  • Fertilization
    • Nearly every aquarium, regardless of water quality, substrate, bioload, etc will need fertilizer. Plants need many different types of nutrients and they are often not present in our tap water or in fish food. Fertilization is extremely important to maintain healthy plant growth. Even in aquariums with dirt substrates, I still like to dose the water column with liquid ferts. I prefer fertilizing the water column rather than the substrate because it is easier to control and accessible to a wider variety of plants (floating plants, rhizome plants, etc).
    • For most aquarists, a simple all in one fert works great. I recommend Thrive by NilocG, or APT Complete by 2Hr Aquarist. I have no affiliation with these brands, but their performance has really impressed me.
  • Substrate Health
    • Substrate healthy is a bit of an overlooked topic that I myself have only been experimenting with in the past few years. This is especially important if you have a dirt substrate, or use a fine gravel or sand. These substrates are prone to getting anaerobic toxic gas pockets and excessive compaction. I'd highly recommend using a burrowing snail like MTS to turn over the substrate to prevent compaction and to let anaerobic gas to escape.
    • Since I run a small aquatic plant farm, I am constantly harvesting and replanting. Before replanting, I'll toss around the substrate, turn it over multiple times, and sort of "fluff" it up. This helps any toxic gases to escape, as well as to prevent compaction.
    • Compaction is very common in tanks with sand. I highly recommend using MTS to prevent this, as compact sand will eventually cause many plants to fail after months of going strong.
  • Detritus/Organic Waste Management
    • Often, in aquariums that don't use a siphon, a visible layer of detritus or brown mulm will be present sitting on the substrate. While this can work to fertilize the substrate, this can also be a trigger for algae if its present in sufficient quantities. While I do not recommend aggressively siphoning the substrate (especially aquasoils), I do recommend lightly stirring up the detritus into the water column, and then siphoning it up from there. Your planted tanks do not have to be squeaky clean, but it can be a problem to let the detritus to get out of control.
    • Like detritus, organic waste should also be removed. This includes uneaten fish food, dead plant leaves, or rotting waste. Ideally, these types of wastes should be removed as soon as it is spotted, but removing them once a week works just fine in ensuring a healthy planted tank. I used to be of the mentality that these rotting wastes would simply provide fertilizer for the plants, and while this is true, rotting promotes the growth of algae and the release of ammonia, which can negatively impact your aquarium. It is more beneficial to remove organic waste rather than to let it sit and rot in your tank.
  • Ensuring Good Flow
    • Flow is so important in the planted aquarium, as the water transports nutrients and facilitates gas exchange. Dead spots in the aquarium often experience poor plant growth an algae blooms. In order to increase flow, make sure that there are no large obstacles (plants, rock, driftwood) directly interfering with the flow, or add more circulation pumps and/or wave makers.
Thanks for reading! Please let me know if you have any questions.
  • #2
Thank you for the tips, or should I say my plants thank you
  • #3
Very informative post, thanks! All the plants I ordered from you awhile back are doing very well!
  • Thread Starter
  • #4
Very informative post, thanks! All the plants I ordered from you awhile back are doing very well!

Thank you, I am glad that your plants are doing well!
  • #5
Great article! I don't want MTS so what should I use? I just have sand. Thanks

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