So I don’t know about recently, but I know a couple years ago when I started an aquatic garden in a fish tank, there was basically minimal help for growing them. Sure, some sites all gave the same advice, good beginner plants, and how to set up CO2 rigs, or it would be full of way too MUCH information, down to each individual plant, which isn’t helpful when you don’t know what you’re getting yet. But there are a lot of things that no resource ever told me, and instead I had to learn myself and from my very experienced uncle. So I thought I would give a little quick guide to things that you may not hear as often as you need to when thinking of aquarium plants.
1) Some Aquatic plants aren’t aquatic. Bamboo, for instance, isn’t actually meant to be in full water all the time. It can survive for a while, sure, but a betta can “survive” in a bowl, too. A lot of other plants are sold as “aquatic” like mondo grass, when in fact they are drowning in the tank. If you’re shopping for plants, especially in a chain store, be sure to either know what you’re looking for, or take a smart phone with you and google the scientific name. The first Wikipedia page will usually say in the first paragraph if the plant is fully aquatic or not. A lot of beginners feel like failures because their plants died or sometimes “melted” and they don’t know what they did wrong, but in reality it’s because they tried growing a plant that wasn’t meant to be in a tank.
2) Pruning is an art; and there are a lot of different ways to do it. Just because one person prunes their plants in-tank with cool tools doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it. Plants will survive a little pull out and trim before putting them back in the tank ( I recommend this for tanks 10 and smaller, theres not much point making a mess in such a small tank when you can pull them out, trim them and return them). The most basic thing to remember when trimming is to do it how you like it—it’s your tank and as long as it doesn’t kill the plant, you have artistic license.
3) Plants don’t have a really good sense of direction. If you see a plant with roots growing upward and in a huge tangle (sword plants, I’m looking at you) then there is no harm in trimming those off. If there is an excess of something, they can afford to lose a few to stay neat.
4) You don’t have to trim all the damn time. Some holier-than-thou planter articles make it sound like pruning is this huge, all consuming thing. It can be, if you want it to. I do, because I enjoy it, and I like my plants more than my fish in all honesty. But you don’t have to. Trim when you need it, not on some air-tight schedule that can’t be defied. If you have a huge tank, trimming days will take a while. But if you trim right, you won’t have to do it once a week. Once a month is probably average, but more or less is fine.
5) Don’t be afraid to be the Weed Wacker. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’re afraid of hurting their plants. I’m probably going to make a huge guide for pruning with pictures this week, but for now, let’s just generalize a few things: a) there are a few different kinds of plants, and each one grows differently, and therefore needs to be trimmed differently. In general, if something is brown, cut it off. It’s not doing the plant any favors, and your leafies will thank you for removing it. If you handle your plants for pruning, run your hands around the plant gently—if something pops loose, chances are it needed to come off. If you are unsure whether or not to pull a leaf off, give it a gentle tug. If it comes loose easily, it needed to be removed. If something is brown at the base, even if the leaf is green, it’s most likely dead, and fine to remove. B) another thing that I get a lot of people worried about is the roots. If it is say, a sword plant, or other plant that is all root, trim those bitches. I mean it, these things take 2 weeks and they look like medusa. They don’t need all of them, and they grow more pretty damn fast. I had a 3 inch plant take over half my 5.5 gal in 2 weeks in the roots, and you don’t notice until you pull it up. They aggressive little boogers and they will survive a trim. C) if you have a smaller tank, prune the BIG leaves. Not all of them, obviously, but when a plant is too big, snip the big boys. That way the smaller ones have time to grow, and you won’t have to prune as often. D) the more you chop, the longer you can go without pruning again. Now, don’t go overboard, leave the poor plant enough to regroup and stay alive, but you can probably trim them down pretty small if you want to.
6) You don’t need CO2. For most plants, just having a few fish in with them is good enough. You do NOT have to spend hundreds of dollars on a system if you don’t want to. Do not let pet stores talk you into it, either. Unless you have a huge, very advanced tank, or a very large plant-only tank, chances are you don’t need one. But if you ever do decide to do one, be prepared to by the expensive stuff—just like filters and heaters, it’s better to just buy the better quality ones, even if it means a little less in your wallet. Cheap CO2 systems are just not worth the headache and they need a lot of replacing. It’s better to get the good stuff to start with.
7) Get what YOU WANT. Now, this sounds obvious, but I feel like I need to say it anyway. Just like fish and other pets, a lot of people ask “what should I get for my first plant?” There’s nothing wrong with advice, obviously. A lot of opinions make for a lot of knowledge and help you make educated decisions. But do not let someone else say “These three plants are the only ones you can have as a beginner.” It’s just not true. Just like fish and snakes and other pets, if you don’t actually want the thing, DON’T GET IT JUST BECAUSE IT IS A “BEGGINER”. You’ll regret it eventually if you do. Get what you want—if it’s a little more advanced, are you willing to put a little more effort into its care because it’s what you really want? If so, just get it. If you don’t like the way a plant looks, don’t get it anyway. Be self-aware about what you can or cannot handle, but in the end, it’s all your choice.
8) Scientific names make things a lot easier. There are a lot of different names for a lot of different plants. It helps keep them from getting confused.
I hope this helps some of you who are stressing about your leaf-babies J Feel free to message me if you have any other questions or concerns, I’ll do my best to help. Plants are my babies, and I want everyone to be successful with their own.
Some good advice for beginners
Great advice; I see a lot of people who regard plant growing as some kind of rocket science that they need 4 years of education and a certificate for. Nope, just get started and you’ll fail and you’ll succeed and you’ll learn.
To add to the top part about bamboo: those lucky bamboo things aren’t even actual bamboo, they’re usually Dracaena sanderiana which is a lovely HOUSEPLANT. Many houseplants can grow with their roots submerged in water but they are definitely not fully aquatic. Other plants you should be weary of are Fittonia and Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant). They do make a wonderful addition to your tank if you put them in a breeder box/“aquaponics” type thing or something like that with just their roots in the water.