Growing Beautiful Aquarium Plants
Courtesy of Stan Makowski, JERMACK

Even the best of plants growing in the most favorable circumstances require some basic care. Here are a few practical suggestions that should help to maintain your plants in fine condition, and in turn make your hobby more active and rewarding.

If you have to move your plants about, carry them upside down! Of course it sounds silly, but it's important. Plants that are grown under water have soft flexible stems and they can be broken or damaged if held upright.

Don't use too coarse a gravel. Many choices are available and we can help in pointing out the best choices for optimum plant growth. Depth of gravel should be a minimum of three and preferably four inches. Color is irrelevant.

Maintain adequate lighting. Recent research indicates that the intensity of the light is even more critical than the duration. A typical color enhance bulb, such as a gro-lux, may be adequate for a ten gallon (or other 12 inch high aquarium) but taller tanks need a higher degree of luminance. Some modern reflectors or hoods have the capacity to hold two bulbs. If this is the choice you make, we strongly suggest that two entirely different type of bulbs be used. One choice would be an enhance bulb in front so that your fish show to their best advantage, and a bulb more advantageous to plant growth in the rear.

Remember to use fertilizer. The old adage that fish droppings will fertilize the plants is partially true. Modern filtering techniques are often rendering the aquarium too sterile! Most liquid fertilizers, in addition to replacing needed trace elements and minerals, actually aid in changing mulm (a pretty word for fish droppings) into substances that are more easily absorbed by the plant's roots. A good quality liquid fertilizer (shake thoroughly before using) may be adequate for a beginner's aquarium or even one of small dimensions. However, those wanting optimum results, especially for swordplants, anubias varieties, cryptocorynes, and any plants that send runners to reproduce, would be wise to also purchase one of the many products available that apply fertilizer directly to the gravel.

When planting rooted plants, it's critical that they not be placed too deeply in the gravel. We have found this to be the most common cause of swordplant mortality. When planting, hold a rooted plant between your thumb, index and middle fingers. Gently drill a hole with the foremost finger, and remove after reaching a selected depth. Then, and this is critical, pull up on the entire plant very gently until you can actually see the top of the root structure. This is less critical among cryptocorynes than among swordplants, and is an absolute necessity with pygmy chain swordplants.

Prune your plants periodically. It's generally advisable to place some plants toward the rear of the tank in order to hide heaters, siphons and the like. Next, rocks or driftwood will hide the less attractive lower plant sections as well as offer both a contrast and feeling of depth. Then, place mid range plants with another level of rocks or other decorations. Lastly, small foreground plants in the very front complete the descending motif and further hide the bottoms of the plants immediately to their rear. Most of this is common sense, but this initial plan can eventually go astray if some pruning isn't done as the plants mature. When selecting plants for tank placement, pay attention to how rapidly they grow and what height they will eventually achieve. In general, bunch plants grow rapidly while rooted plants grow much more slowly.

Avoid an undergravel filter if at all possible. There are instances when we've heard of successful plant growth while using an undergravel filter, particularly one of slow water turnover. But in general, it's a no no. If you must have one, or if you already have one and don't want to remove it, consider leaning heavily on potted plants.

Be careful of medications. Some medications that are not directly harmful to fish can be lethal to plants. Dyes such as malachite green and methelene blue should not be used. In addition, many antibiotics can be equally dangerous. There are medications available that are less harmful. Carefully reading labels is always a necessity before introducing any foreign substance that can affect the balance of an aquarium's system and should be followed for plants as well as fish.

Terrestrial Plants
A word about terrestrial plants in the aquarium.

In Nature most aquatic plants grow above as well as below the water's surface. Many reproduce through flowering and pollination that occurs in the atmosphere. Some of the plants you buy in your pet store were grown above the water for various reasons. They should adapt, grow and develop a softer, and usually more attractive submerse leaf structure. Other plants that are often available are not aquatic at all. These plants cannot grow or propagate underwater. A few will exist for months, but the majority will have a life span of only a few weeks when submerged. These should be viewed as accent plants (for they are usually quite attractive) and pose no danger when added for their ephemeral beauty.