Complete Guide to Java Fern in Aquariums

Anyone interested in making elaborately decorated aquariums should know about Java Fern, one of the most useful plants in aquarium decoration.

Java Fern is beautiful to look at and works well alongside many different types of plants and fish.

It grows slowly, which is great because that makes your aquarium require little maintenance. Faster growing plants can be a problem because you have to prune them regularly, unlike Java Fern.

While some plants won’t grow unless the conditions in the tank are just right, other plants, including Java Fern, grow well in a wide range of conditions.

What is Java Fern?

Java Fern is a common jungle plant native to Southeast Asia. It grows in water, either entirely below the surface or partly above it. Java fern grows on rocks, and most commonly appears in small streams.

Java fern also grows near waterfalls. It is a very tough and resilient plant that does not need a great deal of light or nutrients to survive.

Due to the plants’ appealing appearance and ease of care, aquascapers have been using Java Fern for decades. Over the years, the plant has been modified to make it better suited for use in aquariums.

Read our Aquascaping Plant Guide here!

There are several different varieties that you can buy for use in aquariums today, all of which are cheap.

Appearance and varieties of Java Fern

The tough rather than flimsy leaves of the Java Fern plant are of all different shapes and sizes, depending on what variety you buy.

The plants are small, and while they can be over a foot tall or more than six inches wide, they cannot be very much bigger than that. Some varieties of Java Fern will never grow more than eight inches high.

As well as leaves, a Java Fern has rhizomes, which are dark brown, hair-like strings that attach the plant to wood or other surfaces. You should never bury the rhizomes in the ground.

If you bury the rhizomes, the plant will have trouble growing and might not grow at all. Java Ferns grow on wood or rocks, not in substrate.

Many different types of Java Fern have been developed for use in aquariums. These include the narrow leaf and needle leaf variants (narrower leaves than the ordinary kind).

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There is also the more exotic windelov variety (with round bushes at the top of each leaf) and trident variety (a shorter plant with feathery leaves). You are usually better off with the new variants than with types of Java Fern that one finds in nature.

One of the best things about Java Fern is that it does not have trouble surviving and growing. Make sure that the java fern you buy has the rhizomes intact.

If the rhizomes have been cut off, leaving only the leaves, the plant will not grow. Place the Java Fern on a piece of driftwood in your tank, and it should flourish. The plant should easily attach to whatever materials are available.

Tank conditions and lighting

While Java Ferns do have a reputation for being easy to grow, they will still die if the conditions in the tank get bad enough. A lack of light will also kill them.

Growing beautiful plants requires the right conditions in your tank. While it is easy to get Java Fern to grow, it can be somewhat more of a challenge to grow healthy-looking plants.

The pH of the water must be somewhere between 6 and 7 for the plants to thrive. Anywhere between 6 and 7 is a rather wide range, so it is not usually a hassle to keep the acidity of the water at just the right level of acidity.

The plant is very tough and resilient, so it does not need a lot of extra light, special substrate, or even a large tank to help it grow.

Getting enough carbon dioxide into the water usually requires only ordinary filters. While the plant grows naturally in warm tropical water, it can handle cooler water as well.

You will not need to do anything special to get enough air into the tank or to keep the water at the right temperature. Java Ferns are so tough that even darkness will not kill the plant very quickly.

If you were to leave your aquarium in the dark for a long time, the Java Ferns would be among the last plants to die.

fish tank lighting.
Perfect lighting will not only help plants grow but also make your aquarium look amazing

One thing that can hurt the quality of your Java Fern is excessive light. They will turn an unappealing brown color if you expose them to too much bright light.

These plants naturally grow in jungles, where shade keeps them out of direct sunlight most of the time.

The water in the tank must also be free of salt. Even though java fern is very tough, it is a freshwater plant and cannot tolerate much salt without dying.

Planting Java Fern

The plant grows by attaching its rhizomes to driftwood. Place a piece of driftwood in your tank and attach the Java Fern to it. Rocks can also work.

Again, do not bury the plant in the substrate and expect it to grow. It cannot get enough nutrients out of the substrate and will grow slowly or die. Pebbles might work, but the rhizomes might have trouble attaching to them.

To secure the fern in place, you should tie the plants to the driftwood you want the rhizomes to attach to. After you have tied the plant in place, it should flourish.

It may take a few weeks for the plant to start growing. A lack of immediate growth does not mean that there is anything wrong.


Placement of Java Fern

The plants will often grow to be wider than you would first assume. Therefore, you do not want to place Java Fern at the front of a small tank, or else it will block the view of everything behind it.

Always plant the shortest plants near the front and the taller plants near the back. Java fern should either be at the back or in the middle if you have some larger plants to place behind it.

Maintaining java ferns

Another reason why java fern is so popular in aquariums is that the plant is low maintenance. The plants grow relatively slowly, so you will not have to trim them very often.

If you want your plants to be wild looking rather than neat looking, let them keep growing.

You may want to prevent the ferns from increasing in number over time. In that case, look for black bumps that turn into new leaves and remove them.

If you want to keep your java fern neat looking, you will have to prune it on occasion – but the plant grows slowly enough that it may be as little as once a year.

Again, these plants are ideal for aquariums because of their appearance and because of how little work they require.

You can turn one java fern into many of them by cutting growths off of the main plant and allowing the rhizomes to attach to wood or stones. If you tie the growths down as you did with the original plant, they have a good chance of growing.

The type of substrate you have in your tank never matters. Java Ferns will grow with any substrate or with no substrate at all. They only need wood and rocks to grow on.

cleaning a fish tank makes fish happy

Compatibility with other plants and fish

When building an aquarium, you have to make sure that none of your fish will eat any of your plants. Many plants are incompatible with many types of fish.

Thankfully, few of the fish commonly put in aquariums will eat Java Ferns, so you are free to use what fish you want. While fish are not likely to eat Java Ferns, they are likely to bump into them and push them around. This can be harmful to newly planted Java Ferns.

You might want to let your Java Ferns grow for a while before you add fish. Some fish also nibble on Java

Ferns without eating much of them, which can harm the appearance of the plants.

Can algae pose a threat to Java Ferns?

Algae is one of the few things that can kill these very tough plants. Since the algae plant has a rapid growth rate and Java Ferns grow slowly, the algae can prevent Java Ferns from growing.

If you have problems with algae, you might need to add algae eating fish.

Is fertilizer of any use for Java Ferns?

While Java Ferns may grow without fertilizer, fertilizer can undoubtedly help. If your plants are not growing or are only growing very slowly, add some fertilizer to your tank.

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Are these plants a good choice for my aquarium?

Absolutely! Unless dark green colors are strongly against the color scheme you want to present, Java Fern is a great choice.

If you are decorating an aquarium for the first time, Java Fern is easy to grow and a good choice for beginners. If you are a more experienced aquascaper, you may still use the Java Fern as it is a beautiful plant that can be part of an elaborate aquarium.

Conclusion: Java Fern

Without doubt Jave Fern is a popular tropical aquarium plant and now you can see why. There’s so many possibilities when using Jave Fern in a home aqaurium and that’s part of its appeal.

Easy to plant, easy, yet slow-growing means it’s a suitable plant for even the newest aquarist.