How Do You Add Live Plants?

  1. Lauren4events Member Member

    Hi Everyone!

    If I want to add live plants to my tank, how do I do it? Can I simply purchase them from the pet store, put it in, and that’s it? I have a feeling it’s a lot more complicated than that. But I don’t know where to start.

    Looking at the thread topics here, it seems like this might be too difficult for me. Please dumb down any advice you have. It all seems like another language. And there are abbreviations that I can’t figure out.

    So here are my questions:

    Will plants grow in just plain aquarium gravel?

    What temperature does the tank need to be kept at?

    Do you have to add anything different to an aquarium with live plants? Like plant food? Or do they just feed on the bad stuff in the tank? If you do have to add something, what would I need to purchase for this? And can it hurt the fish?

    Do you need special lighting? I don’t even know what kind I have. I don’t remember. But nothing special or designed for plants, that’s for sure. Do aquariums with plants require more or less light than usual?

    Do you need to do anything different with live plants (for example, when doing water changes)?

    Do I need to change the way I have things set up in my tank? Such as filters and air stones?

    Do fish eat the plants? And if so, is this bad?

    Pretty clueless here…

    I have 2 tanks. A 60 gallon with a bunch of live bearers: dalmation mollies and red velvet swordtails.

    And then a 40 gallon with just one red tail black shark. I’m thinking about getting him tank mates, but not sure what would be a good fit. I keep getting conflicting advice.

    Anyway, can someone please walk me through how I can add some live plants to my tanks?

    Which plants do I want to get? And where should I get them?

    How would you clean underneath them? Or would you not be able to?

    Another important thing to mention is that my cycle was lost treating the entire 60 gallon with meds. I was told live plants might help me get it back on track. For now, I’m doing large daily water changes until I get my ammonia back to 0. Would live plants be able to tolerate that? And which ones would be best for helping me get my cycle back? Keeping in mind the large and frequent water changes. And it’s fully stocked with fish.

    Is prime safe to use with plants?

    Can live plants negatively impact an aquarium in anyway? If so, how?

    Sorry about all of the questions. I know I asked A LOT. But if you guys could please try to answer them all, I would be very appreciative. I can’t afford any more mistakes. So I want to make sure I have all of the information I need first.

    And please add anything else important that I forgot to ask.

    Thank you in advance!
     
  2. Fizzfrog Member Member

    Plants can grow in plain aquarium gravel, but carpeting plants grow better/faster in soil since it's easier for their roots to spread out. Soils will also help the plants grow better than plain gravel since if it's specialized aquarium soil it usually has more nutrients in it than plain gravel does.

    The tank can be kept at standard temperatures (most plants grow well in 70-80F which is the typical range for most fish).

    Some liquid fertilizers can actually burn a fish's gills if used improperly. Most people use root tabs. Plants can grow without additional supplements if you don't want to buy them though.

    Different plants have different lighting requirements. Some such as java fern, anubias, and java moss do perfectly fine under standard aquarium lighting (such plants would be considered low-mid light plants). Other plants such as dwarf hairgrass need higher lighting. Essentially, it depends on what plants you want to grow. You'll need to be mindful of algae though, a general rule is to restrict lighting time to 8 hours or less per day, or break up the lighting schedule as algae needs continuous light to grow. This is going to be harder to manage with high light plants.

    I don't do anything different regarding water changes with live plants. Just be careful not to damage to stems and leaves.

    If your filter is very strong you might want to put a sponge over the intake tube so leaves and stems don't get sucked in. It'll damage the plant and it could clog the filter. Not sure about how air stones affect plants since I don't have any near mine.

    Some fish will eat or uproot plants. You'll probably need to research based on what specific fish and plants you'll have in each tank. Most fish will leave them alone, and will at most peck a little at them (which is harmless). Regarding your tanks specifically, dalmation mollies don't have issues with plants; in fact, I believe they like densely planted tanks. Swordtails shouldn't bother plants either. You should get a larger tank for the shark though; they need 50 gallons minimum. They also shouldn't have an issue with plants.

    I recommend starting with hardier, low-mid light plants such as java fern, anubias, java moss, moneywort, or even some Marimo moss balls. I personally get my plants from my local PetSmart or in the case of the moss balls, Amazon. PetSmart isn't the best place for plants though, I'll admit. If you have a LFS they might be more reliable in terms of quality, not bringing diseases into the tank, not harboring snails or snail eggs, etc.

    You don't need to clean underneath the plant itself, just siphon around it. You can swish the siphon gently around the leaves to stir up anything that may have settled on them and then suck that up with the siphon. Remove any rotting leaves or stems since they'll pollute the water.

    Live plants help by using up nitrate at the end of the cycle as well as ammonia at the beginning of the cycle. I don't know if getting the cycle back on track is the best way to put it - I think the plants will help you manage ammonia and nitrate levels though. The plants, especially the hardier ones, should be able to tolerate the large daily water changes until you get your cycle back. I don't know if there's a single plant that's best for getting the cycle back since they all essentially do the same thing: take ammonia and nitrates out of the water. It probably depends more on quantity rather than specific type; the more plants you have, the more toxins they'll remove. Java fern and anubias are pretty tough.

    Prime is safe to use with plants.

    The only way I can think of that live plants will negatively impact an aquarium is if they come carrying snails (which can reproduce and overrun an aquarium) or carrying a disease. Of course, if the plant dies and is not removed and starts to rot it can also cause an ammonia spike, but at that point I guess it's not really live anymore.
     
  3. Briggs Well Known Member Member

    Usually the best plants to start out with will be hardy rhizome plants like anubias and java ferns, mosses like java moss, and floating plants like salvinia, frogbit, or water lettuce. None of these need to be planted, so your substrate doesn't factor in. With the submerged plants here, you tie them or glue them to decor in your tank. Your cleaning routine won't change much, you can move the plants out of your way if you need to clean around them. If you want something properly planted, you can try a sword plant, they're pretty tough and usually do fine in gravel. You'd want to avoid gravel vacing to close to it, and try not to disturb it's roots it you can help it.

    As for lighting, most of these plants will be fine with minimal lighting. If you want to supplement the lighting without spending a ton, you can get a desklamp or two with a daylight colored bulbs in it and position them near the plants. If you'd rather buy new lights, there are a ton on the market. I like Finnex Planted+ and Nicrew's full spectrum lights.

    Fertilizers designed for aquariums shouldn't harm any fish if you dose it correctly, though you might need to avoid ferts with a lot of copper in them if you plan on having shrimp or snails. To start with, I'd get a bottle of Easy Green from Aquarium Co-Op, or Thrive from NilocG. Both are easy all in one fertilizers with clear dosing instructions. If you get rooted plants like swords, you might consider adding a root tabs under them, since they feed from their roots more than the water. Seachem makes some excellent root tabs.

    Plants only negativity impact aquariums if they die and are left to rot in the water, in which case they can add ammonia back into the water. It'd take some time and a lot of dead plants to do much damage to a 40 or higher tank, though.

    Prime is perfectly safe for planted tanks. Most anything that works for non-planted tanks is safe for planted ones. There is some debate as to if you should use carbon in your filter in a planted tank, but to start out with I don't think it matters much.

    Some fish will nibble on plants, but most don't. I know it can be tricky to plant a goldfish tank, for instance. I don't think any of the fish you listed should have any problems with them. If someone did take a bite out of one, it wouldn't hurt them. It'd just add some roughage to their diet.

    I love plants and think they add a lot to an aquarium, but I do want to warn you that low light plants that you start with are slow growers, and because of that they don't have a huge impact on your water quality. If you want plants as a way of keeping ammonia in check while cycling, and nitrates down afterwards, I recommend floating plants. They grow super fast, and use up all that nitrogen in the water pretty effectively. If you're planning on just staying with large water changes while you're cycling and are worried about starving the plants, stick with your mosses and rhizome plants. So long as they're in water and get a little bit of light they should be fine.

    As for where to buy them, if you have a local petsmart/petco/etc, you can usually find tissue culture anubias and java ferns in their aquarium sections. There are a ton of varieties of both. Mosses and floating plants you tend to have to go to a specialty store or buy online. I've had a lot of luck with plants from Substrate Source, and I've gotten some good deals on ebay and etsy.
     
  4. sunnycal Well Known Member Member

    Hi, I won't throw out a lot of different plants to you but One. Anubias. I think getting a few anubias plants to start off with will be a great start. They are a hardy plant with thick leaves that hopefully your fish won't want to eat/bite/tear apart. They can pretty much survive in any kind of lighting system. They don't require any kind of plant food/liquid. It's really a 50/50 with having plants and some fish wanting to eat/tear/bite. I'm not too sure with the fish you have though but I say give it a go for the reasons I mentioned above. Fish will be okay with aquatic plants. An expensive place to get Anubias plants (but you won't have to disinfect them for snails and parasites) but I think are so worth it is Petco. They sell plants in "tubes". Just ask a salesperson to direct you to them. You can purchase them at any lfs (local fish store) or lps (local pet store) Petco, Petsmart in their display tanks where they sell a lot of different plants. Be aware though, you will want to Disinfect the plants as mentioned above. They will carry "hitchhikers" (pond snails that you don't want. they will multiply like crazy) You want to disinfect plants too for you don't want them to carry any diseases or parasites because they were in an aquarium with fish. Disinfecting plants isn't hard though. It's just another step for a new person as yourself. You'll want to get a clean container and bleach. Pour 19 parts water to 1 part bleach in the container and add your plants to disinfect them. Leave the plants in for a minute or so. I try not to leave in the roots too long or the rymzone ??spelling is wrong. :( but you want to disinfect those too. You can always purchase live plants on line too if interested and there are lots of great places. I've ordered on line myself. If interested just let us know. I just thought Petco tube plants can get you started for a beginner.

    Temp. for Anubias or other plants, probably best in 70ish to 78ish. I did have a betta tank though and my live plants did great in 80 temp. Anubias plants, you Don't want to plant the rhymzone (spelling again:??) in gravel, or substrate. It will kill the plant. That's what makes it an easy plant to keep though. You can attach the plant to a piece of driftwood or rock if you have any in your aquarium. You can glue down with safe aquarium glue or tie down with a piece of thread or fishing wire.

    If you use Prime as you brought that product up above,...that is great. Prime is awesome. It won't effect your plants. Water changes are great. Plants love water changes as do fish. It replenishes any lost nutrients. Plants won't mind a filter or air stone. They actually will be beneficial for the water won't be stagnant.

    I'm not sure if I missed anything but this is a good start of info.
     
  5. California L33 Well Known Member Member

    You may wish to quarantine your plants for a few weeks just in case they're harboring snail eggs or babies (which can be incredibly difficult see even with careful examination.) Pest snails can be quite difficult to get rid of.

    Anubias and Java Fern are just about bullet proof and good for a beginner. The only thing you really need to add with them is root tabs.

    The only commonly kept fish that I'm aware of that really eat plants are goldfish, but some will see them as toys and peck at them or even uproot them. My Nerite snail really seemed to enjoy uprooting the biggest plants in the tank. She'd work for hours pushing my Anubias back and forth and I'm sure she celebrated whenever she got it to float skyward :p.
     
  6. Hill Dweller Member Member

    Everyone has already posted loads of great advice so I will just say it's really not hard and plants grow in dirty ditch water in nature, so we don't necessarily need to overcomplicate it by worrying too much about lighting, fertiliser or CO2. Pick a couple of types that people have mentioned as good starting plants, or buy something like an anubias already attached to wood so you can move it if you are worried about cleaning. Once you have even a little bit of nitrate happening from your cycle you will notice faster growth. If a plant dies, just try another type. Survival of the fittest is my motto! I have noticed anything with tiny leaves or the soft fan types are more fussy and make more mess.

    I truly don't do anything special, I shove plants straight into sand or tuck anubias onto a wood crevice and just leave them to it and everything grows fine. Nature is great like that! :)
     
  7. -Mak- Well Known Member Member

    Everyone seems to have covered everything, but I just want to add that the only plant fertilizer that can harm fish or inverts is seachem excel. It's not actually a fertilizer because it does not contain nutrients, only a dilute chemical that acts as a CO2 substitute.
     
  8. Lauren4events Member Member

    Wow, thank you for all of the information! That was very helpful!

    I have a 60 gallon and my filter intake tubes are already covered with netting I cut and secured with zip ties. My fish are livebearers so I have to be mindful of the fry that could get sucked in. So I think that will be helpful with plants, it sounds like.

    What do you suggest for a first plant?

    Should I remove the air stones or at least make sure they are no where near the plants?

    Are there any plants that will do well in average lighting and just plain gravel? Soil is something I can get into eventually, but I don’t want to do too many things I’m clueless about all at once.

    Is there a minimum amount of gravel required? I only have a half inch or an inch at most covering the bottom of my tank.

    When you say snails, are they what I’m thinking of? Because then I don’t know how you could accidentally put a plant in your tank with snails. Right? Because you would see them? Sorry if I’m being dumb right now.

    How do I make sure a plant isn’t carrying a disease? That freaked me out a little...

    Thank you so much again for all of this information!
     
  9. Briggs Well Known Member Member

    First plant I'd suggest is Anubias. So long as you don't bury the Rhyzome (which is a kind of horizontal stem, the leaves grow up from it and the roots grow down from it) they're easy. They're a 'drop it in and forget it' plant. So are Marimo balls, which are actually a neat kind of algae.

    The airstones shouldn't bother any of the plants.

    Anything in the low light spectrum of plants will do fine with normal aquarium lighting. Gravel depth depends on the plants you want. An inch and a half might get frustrating to keep stem plants planted in. Stem plants can be frustrating on a number of levels though, and probably aren't a great place to start anyway. If you want something like a sword plant, you can always slope your gravel so there is more to one side, and plant in that.

    Snails tend to come in on plants in egg form, which can be very tricky to see. There are a few different ways to clean your plants to make sure they aren't carrying any pests or diseases, but I'd suggest just starting out with tissue culture plants, which are grown out of the water in a sterile environment. That way all you have to do is wash off the grow gel and toss it in your tank.
     
  10. Lauren4events Member Member

    Thank you for all of that information! How do floating plants work? Are they ugly? Do they overtake the entire top of the water? If so, doesn’t that effect feeding? Which one is the best?

    Basically, I wanted to put something in my tank that would not only be able to tolerate my large and frequent water changes, but also something that would help with my ammonia and nitrate. At the same time, I don’t want to have to add anything else to a tank that could potentially harm the fish. I’ve made a lot of beginners mistakes already. If there’s the potential to make more with live plants, then maybe I’m not ready for them? In which case, I should wait until my tank is cycled... what do you think?

    Is there anything I can add that will help my ammonia and nitrate, and not require me to add anything else to the tank? Something that isn’t much work? None would be even better. What’s most important, is that I need something I can’t accidentally turn into a new problem. Because that’s kind of my thing lately :(

    I’m still learning and struggling with the basics of fishkeeping. I have a heavily stocked tank (I was left with these fish-it wasn’t something I decided to do). I’m in over my head and having an impossible time getting this 60 gallon tank cycled.

    I was hoping live plants would be the answer to my problems. Because nothing else I do seems to make much of a difference. Wishful thinking...
     
  11. Hill Dweller Member Member

    Easy plants from my tanks included: anubias (buy one attached to a rock or wood so no worry about actual planting), java fern, hygrophila (sold as blue stricta in my country), wisteria.

    You only need enough gravel to keep it from floating up, and even then people have lots of tricks to keep them down in thinner layered gravel.

    Plants are fine with an air stone

    Just wash off the plants in a bucket of tank water when you get them home. If you still miss a tiny baby snail hitch hiking in, just pull them out the minute you spot any in the tank.

    The above listed plants are all fine with average lighting (you can find lists online of low light, medium light and high light plants)

    You can't really "see" any sign if a plant harbours a disease. Look for plants sold from nice clean tanks. You can probably dip them in a weak solution of bleach or something if you are really worried. I have seen people dip plants to get hair algae off.
     
  12. Lauren4events Member Member

    Thank you!

    What are ryhmzones? I’ve never heard this word before. So by putting water and a little bleach in a bucket and adding the plant for a minute is all you need to do to disinfect it? Does it need to be water that has been left out and dechlorinated? Or is tap water ok?
    After it sits in bleach for a minute, then what? You can’t just add it to the tank, can you? I can’t imagine bleach being healthy for fish? Are there any other steps in between buying the plant and putting it in the tank? Where in the tank would I want to put it?

    I’m not sure how I would glue a plant? You all lost me there. I don’t have driftwood or anything other than fake plants and decor. I do have aquarium glue, but I still worry about it not being safe for the fish. So I’ve never used it. And what part of a plant would you glue? How does that not hurt the plant? This is all so strange to me.

    I’m pretty confused by all of this. Can you explain a little bit more, please? Sorry to be a pain.

    I’m dumb... what are root tabs that everyone keeps mentioning? You are all speaking a foreign language. Lol.
    So it’s necessary to put all plants in a QT? And for a couple weeks? I’m really trying to find something to help with my ammonia and nitrate. But I also wouldn’t want to risk introducing anything to the tank. Especially eggs and snails. Yuck! So I should do that no matter what?
    Would these gross things like pest snails become obvious after a couple weeks? Or how do I know? That would freak me out! And then I would have to kill them? Maybe this live plant thing is a bad idea for me. I hate bugs!
    I’m rethinking this now...

    I have ammonia and nitrate in my tank right now. That’s why I have to do large daily water changes. It’s very frustrating! And I don’t know why I still don’t have a cycle.. it’s complicated with so many fish. So this would actually be good for live plants and help my cycle?
    I’m still worried about these snail pests, eggs and disease though. That risk doesn’t seem worth the benefit to me. But what do I know? (The answer by the way, is nothing. lol)

    I’m going to have to take a break and re-read that again. Because it was over my head. Maybe I’m just getting overwhelmed with information. But I don’t know what you mean by grow gel or rhyzomes. Or how I know what stems need to be planted and which ones don’t. Will they say on the package? Is Anubis something that needs to go in the gravel? Sorry... my head is spinning.

    I do remember seeing plants in gel at Petsmart, now that I’m thinking about it. I just thought it was weird. How would you get the gel off? Is it bad for the fish? How do you wash the plant before putting it into the tank? And do gel covered plants need to be kept in a quarantine tank first? I don’t want to take even the smallest chance of putting in a plant with disease or eggs or pests. I wouldn’t be able to handle that
     
  13. Briggs Well Known Member Member

    I think floating plants are lovely, but they can take over the surface of the water because they grow so quickly. That's where their benefit comes in though, growing is what removes nitrogen compounds from the water. It's easier to throw away a handful of plants every day than doing a water change sometimes. My favorite is Frogbit, but it does best in aquariums with little to no surface agitation. I'd google 'floating aquarium plants' and see if any of them appeal to you. Beware of duckweed, though. Once it's in your tank, it will always be in you tank!

    Most of the plants everyone will recommend to a beginner (anubais, java fern, moss, etc) will weather your water changes fine and not need much to any work once they're in place. On the other hand, they won't do much but make your tank more natural looking and make your fish more comfortable. Fast growing plants are what help most with removing nitrogen compounds, but most of them are going to need a little extra work.

    My best real advice is to use google image search to look at planted tanks, and see what plants look best to you. You can ID them (we can help), and then research them to see what their needs are and see if you want to try them. The first plant that 'spoke' to me was Brazilian Pennywort, so I sat down and figured out what that specific plant needed. Later I found plants that would do well in the same conditions and slowly added more and more until I had some pretty heavily planted little tanks. If you start with a plant that you actually like, it's easier to get excited about it and stay motivated.

    Fish keeping has a very steep learning curve, and most of us stumble pretty badly when we're starting out. I'm really sorry you're struggling with it so much right now, but you are not alone. If plants seem like too much to take on right now, you might put a bookmark in it for now and concentrate on the other issues first. They're great, but they aren't going to be a fix-all, and you might not want to risk getting overwhelmed.
     
  14. -Mak- Well Known Member Member

  15. Lauren4events Member Member

    Pull out the snail and do what with it? Oh gosh, I don’t think I can do this. I think I just wasted everyone’s time because I can’t even kill a regular bug in my house. And I’m a baby and completely terrified of them. This is probably not for me
     
  16. cadd Well Known Member Member

  17. Lauren4events Member Member

    100%? Do I need to quarantine them first? How do you rinse them before putting it in the tsnk? And how do you get the gel off? Is the gel harmful to fish? Thank you!
     
  18. Briggs Well Known Member Member

    I'm a strong advocate for not killing anything unless it's harmful, but I've managed to avoid getting any snails in my tanks that I didn't, you know, purchase and put there myself (I love my nerites), so they aren't inevitable or anything. You can stick to tissue culture plants (grown in gel, which is harmless but a little messy if you don't get it all off before tossing the plant in your tank) or buy from sellers who guarantee their tanks are snail free. Don't be shy about asking if they don't offer the info upfront. Read reviews to see if they're honest. If you decide you want something without the guarantee, there are ways to clean the plants first that will take care of eggs. Mild bleach solutions, hydrogen preoxide, things like that.

    They're grown in sterile environments, so they're safe to add right away. You rinse the gel off in the sink (or in a bucket of water if you want to keep it out of your pipes. I got a little clog once from it, but I have long hair that prooobably contributed to that). You might need a toothpick or something to help get it out from between the roots on some plants. If it gets in your tank it won't hurt anything. It'll expand a little and become more obvious so you can clean off any you missed easier later.

    Don't worry, even if you never touch an aquatic plant, you haven't wasted anyone's time. Everyone here enjoys talking about this stuff, or we wouldn't be here.
     
  19. cadd Well Known Member Member

    That's what they claim
    No. I don't.
    The same way you rinse fake plants. Don't use ice water. Don't use boiling water. I use tap water because I'm lazy and it's easier. But using a bucket of tank water is probably best.

    It'll come off easily when you rinse it.
    Not sure. I wouldn't feed it to my fish. But I'm pretty confident it's not something toxic. You can read up on other hobbyists' experiences here for these tube plants here:
    Top Fin plants in gel - Aquarium Advice - Aquarium Forum Community

    Good luck.
     
  20. sunnycal Well Known Member Member


    Hi Again, First off you are not a pain. We have all been there at one point when starting off with fish keeping and plants. I see someone posted those tube plants I had suggested to purchase at petco. I really think that would be your best bet to get your feet wet in aquatic plants seeing you are feeling so overwhelmed. I also saw that someone sent you to a link regarding what is a rhymzone. It's that thick part on the bottom of the anubias plant where the roots will be attached to it. You can glue that rhymzone onto a stone/rock/driftwood. I think petco and petsmart sells aquarium stones to glue your plant too. Youtube can be an awesome place to go and see tutorials even. I can't think of anyone off the top of my head though but I know when I was wondering about something I'd go look there. Just be careful of the ones that might be iffy though. Aquarium safe glue is what you want the package to say. You put some glue on the rhymzone and press lightly on your stone. You want to figure out how you want your plant to stand up/stay when the stone is in your tank. Let the glue dry on the stone for a bit before putting back into water. Make sure the rhymzone is dry too before putting glue on it. Cheaper and maybe easier way,...just get some thread and wrap the plant around a stone/rock. You'll want to go in between the roots and over the rhymzone. Just secure it however it works for you. Your fish aren't going to mind the glue or thread. With the thread however it will break down eventually and break off. Hopefully your roots will attach to the stone by then. As in the roots will be wrapped securely all over the stone. Pretty neat when that happens.

    No, you don't want to add just any amount of water and bleach. The ratio needs to be 19 parts water to 1 part bleach. Depending how big your bucket/container is......let's say, 19 cups of water and 1 cup of bleach. OR, 19 half cups of water and half a cup of bleach. After you soak the plants for a minute or so....which I usually like to swish around lightly too. Dump the water out. You can then rinse your plants under the faucet several times until you don't smell the bleach. (I'm so sorry I didn't mention this to you too. It's easy to forget some steps I guess to someone new so I'll try not too now) After you rinse under the faucet several times you can then put your plants in a new safe aquarium bucket/container (or rinse that first one out that had the bleach in several times really good) and add water and the appropriate amount of prime. Rinse plants in that. If you don't smell any bleach you are good to go. By all means you can add water and prime again and again to rinse off plants until you feel comfortable. Just be careful with the roots. You don't want to ruin the roots.

    You can put your new plants anywhere in your tank that is pleasing to your eye. :) Check out photo's and video's here on fishlore. I'm sure they will inspire you. I had posted a few of my tanks very recently. I believe they are in the shrimp section. I was on here in 2015 and just very recently started coming back on fishlore so I'm getting used to the forum all over again.

    If anymore questions just ask away. We are all here for you.