Adding aquarium plants to your tank is an excellent way to create a healthy environment for your fish. They will use them for cover to hide from threats, lay eggs or spawn, and occasionally feed on them. However, most aquatic residents won’t bother them too much, with few exceptions. Just like your fish, plants have varying needs. Some are well-suited for beginners, and others, not so much.

Aquatic plants have the same basic needs as your fish. They require a stable environment with minimal changes in temperature or water chemistry. Remember that many species live in large bodies of water that experience seasonal patterns. Our guide will walk you through the process of adding plants to your tank.divider1- goldfish

Before You Start

First, here is an overview of aquarium plant pros and cons to make sure that this endeavor is right for you. Adding plants won’t change the regular maintenance of your aquarium too much. It’s like putting a few more fish into your tank. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind.


Live aquarium plants are an aesthetically pleasing addition to your aquarium. You’ll find a vast array of tropical plants from which to choose. They also usually look better than artificial ones. They allow you to create a more realistic habitat for your fish while ramping up the look of your tank.

In addition, live plants can boost the health of your aquarium by improving the water quality. As on land, plants release oxygen and take in carbon dioxide. Both the fish and plants are vital for healthy water chemistry. Bacteria in the substrate take the ammonia from the waste and convert it into a form of nitrogen that the plants can use. Fish get an oxygen-rich environment, and the plants have a ready fertilizer source with the nitrogen cycle.

Live aquatic plants can also help keep your tank clean. They can outcompete algae for the nutrients present in the water and prevent outbreaks or blooms of this undesirable species.


It’s essential to match the plants that you choose with your aquarium setup if you want them to thrive. That can limit some of your choices, which isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. However, like your fish, plants can carry diseases that can affect other aquatic residents and you too! The good news is that it’s a rare occurrence. Even so, common sense will help prevent any issues.

The other thing to bear in mind is that plants generate waste, especially when they get sick. Trust us when we say that nothing stinks as bad as rotting vegetation. That factor comes into play with the fish in your tank. Some species, such as Cichlids, can hurt your plants. Goldfish will likely dig them up and feed on them too.


CreditL susemeyer0815, Pixabay

Choosing the Right Plants

There are many species available from which to choose, whether you have a freshwater, brackish, or saltwater tank. You’ll find plants that prefer any of these conditions. There are several types that differ in their growth pattern, size, and light needs.

Common varieties include:
  • Mosses
  • Carpeting plants (a.k.a. ground cover)
  • Rhizomes
  • Sword plants
  • Grasses
  • Floating plants

Think of it as landscaping when you start researching your choices. You should choose a variety of heights and types to make the layout of your aquarium look pleasing. You can group them into foreground, middle, and background plants.

We strongly urge you to do your homework and learn about their needs — and height! The last thing that you need is a plant that takes over the entire tank. Ideally, you’ll have enough of them to create an interesting landscape while leaving your fish enough room to explore.

Excellent beginner plants include:
  • Hornwort
  • Java Fern
  • Amazon Sword
  • Monosolenium In a Cup
  • Aponogeton crispus

Preparing Your Tank

Ideally, you’re starting from scratch with an empty aquarium. It’s much easier and safer to begin without any fish in the tank. It’ll be less stressful for everyone. You’ll need the following items:
  • Gravel
  • Clean bucket
  • Towels
  • Plants
  • Aquarium plant fertilizer
  • Hose
  • Tank decor
  • Hood light
snail on plant in goldfish tank

Image credit: Nadeene, Shutterstock


Before you start, thoroughly wash your hands with warm water and soap. Do not use hand sanitizer that may harm your aquatic plants.

1. Plan Your Design Before You Start.

Transplanting fish into a new tank is taxing enough without uprooting the plants too. Figure out where you want everything to go before you begin. The chances are that the plants are wrapped in damp newspaper, so you have time to move them without stressing them too much. Lay down towels on the floor around the tank.

2. Rinse the Gravel and Place It in the Tank.

Place the gravel in a clean bucket, and add water to rinse it. You may need to repeat this once or twice to remove any dust. If you have an under-gravel filter, place it in the empty tank before adding the gravel. You should plan on adding 1-1.5 lbs. per gallon of water. That should give you a 2-3-inch layer of substrate to anchor the plants properly.

3. Partially Fill the Tank.

Next, fill your aquarium one-third to halfway with water. You’ll find it helpful to pour room temperature water onto an upside-down saucer or small plate to avoid moving the gravel. Taking this approach will help minimize how much water ends up on the floor instead of in the tank. The temperature is vital to avoid shocking your new plants.

4. Add Fertilizer to the Water.

Put fertilizer into the water as per the directions on the bottle. This step is crucial to the health of your plants. There are no nutrients currently present in the water. That comes later after you add the fish, and the nitrogen cycle has run its course. That process takes time, depending on the aquarium size, setup, and the number of fish.

5. Gently Rinse the Plants With Lukewarm Water.

Carefully unwrap the newspaper from each plant as you get ready to put them in the gravel. Rinse each one with lukewarm water, taking care to include the leaves. You might find a few stowaways, e.g., snails, on them. Discard them in the trash.

6. Place the Plants in the Gravel as per Your Plan.

Here’s the fun part. Put the plants into the gravel according to the layout that you did earlier. Begin by digging out a hole, begin careful not to go all the way down to the bottom. Mound the substrate around the stem to anchor it in place.

7. Add Any Tank Décor After Rinsing Off Each Piece.

Make sure to remove any tags when you rinse off your tank décor before placing them into the aquarium. You may find it helpful to use your tank décor to weigh down larger plants that might float to the top.

8. Fill Up the Aquarium.

You can now fill up the rest of the tank using the saucer tip if needed. Don’t be alarmed if the water appears cloudy. Things will settle down with time. If you have a heater or outside filter, turn them on to create a welcoming environment for your plants.

9. Put on the Hood Light.

Most plants will need at least 12 hours of light a day. The UV light supplies the energy that they need to undergo photosynthesis and grow. There are a few plants that prefer low-light conditions. We suggest that you stick with the average needs of the species that you have chosen.

10. Give the Plants Time to Adjust to Their New Digs.

This step involves waiting. Plants need time to adjust and start their root networks. For some species, it’s the first time that they’ve been fully submerged. Everything that they’ve endured up to this point is stressful. That’s one reason that we suggest delaying the addition of fish.

11. Monitor the Condition of the Plants.

In the meantime, keep an eye on your plants. They may seem like they’re wilting and not doing well. Once they’ve adapted to their conditions, they’ll bounce back. Make sure to keep adding fertilizer as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.

12. Add Your Fish — Slowly.

Taking your time to fill up your tank is a smart move for your plants, fish, and the water chemistry. It can take up to 6 weeks for the aquarium to go through a complete run of the nitrogen cycle, as it takes time for the bacteria to get on the job. Waiting will also prevent a spike in ammonia levels, which are toxic to any organism.

13. Check the pH and Ammonia Levels Regularly.

We strongly urge you to monitor the water quality often, especially when you start adding fish. The pH and ammonia levels will likely fluctuate for these first few weeks. That’s another reason that we recommend so-called beginner plants that can tolerate these conditions.

14. Set Up a Water-Changing Schedule.

An aquarium is a closed environment. Therefore, it behooves you to take over Nature’s role and help maintain the water quality. That means weekly water changes of 10% of the tank’s total volume once a week. It’s a smart way to prevent the buildup of toxins that can create an unhealthy environment.

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Final Thoughts About Growing Aquarium Plants

Adding live plants to your tank is a rewarding experience. If you enjoy gazing at your fish, you’ll find it even more pleasurable with plants to add atmosphere. You’ll likely find that your fish are more active with the presence of cover around them. The key to keeping everything healthy is balance, with stable conditions in a well-maintained environment.

Featured image credit: TTONN, Shutterstock