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why aquariums need live plants

This is Why Your Aquarium Needs Live Plants | With Pictures

When I talk to people who have just started to keep an aquarium they almost always ask me whether live plants in your aquarium is a must. After many discussions and research, I now always tell them the same thing – this is why your aquarium needs live plants’. Read on!

Does your aquarium need to have live plants? No, keeping live plants in your aquarium is not necessary. However, they are of great benefit to your aquarium. Live plants clean water, provide shelter for fish and look beautiful. Downsides like algae fixable with the right knowledge.

I always advise people to add live plants, because plants to me are just as beautiful as the fish. There are a couple of things you need to know that will make your life so much easier. I will tell you everything you need to know in this article.

aquarium plants

Live Plants Clean The Water

You probably are well aware of the nitrogen cycle in your aquarium. The ammonia produced by the poop and pee of your fish is highly toxic, even in low concentrations.

If your aquarium can’t handle the ammonia quickly it poses a threat to the health of your fish. However using beneficial bacteria in the filter, substrate and even on the glass of your tank, the ammonia gets broken down into nitrite (still toxic but less so) and finally into nitrate.

Nitrate is not toxic to your fish in low concentrations, and we remove the nitrate by doing water changes.

The nitrate cycle in a fish tank
The aquarium nitrogen cycle

Next to water changes, live plants is another way to remove nitrate! The live plants feed on nitrate (and other nutrients like phosphate). This is perfect because this reduces the nitrate concentration.

It can be so beneficial for your tank that it could even replace doing water changes. This is still a point of concern though, as a slow buildup of nitrate might result in old tank syndrome. If you are not sure what old tank syndrome is, Carl @ Fishkeeping Forever has written an article about it which you can find here.

Because live plants clean the aquarium water, I only have to do one water change each month. You could be doing the same.

What Happens Without Live Plants?

Without live plants, the only way to reduce your nitrate concentration in a well-established aquarium is by doing water changes. This is also the reason why a lot of people recommend doing weekly water changes. This number can, as we just learned, be reduced when you have a lot of plants growing in your aquarium.

This is Why Your Aquarium Needs Live Plants | With Pictures 1
Aquarium plants help maintain perfect water conditions for your fish

Fast Growing Plants To Battle Algae

Algae is a problem that all people keeping an aquarium will encounter at some point. Most of the time at the start even.

While algae come in a lot of different shapes, sizes, and colors, most of them have something in common. Often the source of the algae is an abundance of nutrients in your aquarium water.

An effective solution that has helped many aquarium keepers as well as myself in the past, is adding fast-growing plants to your aquarium. These plants will battle with the algae for nutrients. All the nutrients that the plants consume can not be consumed by the algae.

Plants help keep the nitrate levels low and reduce algae growth. I have to note that a more effective treatment for sudden algae bloom, is doing a water change daily for a couple of days. This is a faster way of reducing nutrient concentration in the water.

Plants Provide Shelter

There are so many fish that feel way more comfortable in their aquarium when they are able to hide when they feel like it. Whenever fish in my aquarium get scared, they immediately retreat in the plants to hide from the “danger”. Live plants can provide a lot of tiny hiding spots and other places to find cover.

In my experience, live plants that can grow and propagate by themselves are interesting to follow over time as they have a tendency to take over the aquarium. When this sounds scary, obtrusive and unwanted, you must remember that you can always trim your plants.

Moreover, you must imagine that growing plants can create natural aquascapes with many places to hide. For me, this is part of the fun as the aquarium never gets boring and never looks the same.

aquarium plants

What Do Plants Need?

So if you are thinking about adding live plants to your aquarium, you might be wondering what equipment you need to buy in order for your plants to do well. The first thing is an aquarium light.

This could be any light source, but one suitable for an aquarium or high humidity levels is highly recommended. Chances are you probably already have a light on your aquarium to see your fish.

When determining how long you need to leave your light on per day, start with 8 hours per day. Leave this for a week and see how your plants respond. The most important indicator to watch is the development of algae. When there are green algae, it often means that you have too much light and too much nutrient in the water.

If there is brown algae growing, it means that there are too many nutrients and too little light.  According to your observations, alter the duration of light and see what works and what does not. I myself, keep my lights on for about 10 hours, but I have medium-strong light and many plants.

The second thing that plants need is nutrition. When you have a lot of fish your plants might be able to grow on just the poop of your fish. I have tried this and succeeded only when there were little plants in the tank. When you are keeping more plants or your fish are not producing enough nutrients, you need to consider buying a liquid fertilizer and/or root tabs.

Here’s the plant fertilizer we use which is available on Amazon.

This will provide your aquarium plants with sufficient nutrition and will also give them all the right components they need. Just fish poop will not contain enough minerals or iron to provide for your plants.

Finally, you will need substrate for your plants to grow in. While there are exceptions, most plants will anchor themselves in the substrate. This can be cheap filter sand from the hardware store but also more expensive substrate from an aquarium shop.

Whatever you choose is up to you as there are many different varieties. One tip I want to give you is do not choose the really white substrate – this will reflect your aquarium light. I prefer a darker kind of substrate.

Aquascaping aquariums use a variety of plants and substrates to create an amazing underwater garden or scene. Take a look at one of Fishkeeping Forever’s article on Aquascaping here.

14 best aquascaping fish

Which Plants Should You Start With?

There are easy plants and there are hard plants. Start with the easy ones. These plants include Java Fern, Anubias, Cryptocoryne, Java moss and water weeds.

Take this list and go to your local fish store; ask them which ones they have in stock. Because I named rather popular plants, chances are they are all available. These plants will do well in a low-tech aquarium. This means they do not require extremely high and intense lighting or additional CO2.

Fish Keeping Forever also has a beautiful article called “Best plants for freshwater aquarium” which you can find here. There you will find more information on what plants to start with and what they will do for you.

About AquariumGenius.Com

This article was submitted and written by Aquarium Genius. We’d like to thank them for sharing.

Just like Fish Keeping Forever, Aquarium Genius is a website that provides information to people like you. My name is Bart Sprenkels and I started Aquarium Genius in the early months of 2019. Since then, I have been able to help a lot of people by providing answers to their questions as well as inspiration. If you are curious, hop over and let me know what you think.