Introduction to the planted fish tank

In addition to adding an element of natural beauty, fish tank plants play an essential role in removing contaminants that filtration and water changes alone cannot provide.

Introduction To The Planted Fish Tank

A fish tank filled with thriving aquatic plants contributes to a healthy environment which, in turn, will result in healthy fish and a visible reduction in algae growth.

Different plant species often have varied requirements, such as water hardness, pH, temperature, and lighting. Therefore, we must choose plants that are adapted to the conditions of our particular fish tank.

When selecting our plants we must take into account the following:


Some plants will thrive in low to moderate light levels. These plants will fit most aquarium LED lights available today without the need to upgrade lighting systems.

Other plants, including groundcover species in the foreground, require more intense lighting, which may mean a planted aquarium LED display is needed. Stronger lighting will also help encourage deep red pigmentation in many stem plants, although it should be noted that with these increased light levels it is important to maintain optimal carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

In nature CO2 is produced by all biological processes, unfortunately in a closed aquarium the available CO2 is insufficient to meet the increasing demands of our plants.

Low CO2 levels may also be related to nuisance algae growth. If plants don’t grow due to a CO2 deficiency, algae can thrive on the remaining nutrients. CO2 fertilization systems have been used by dedicated aquarists for many years to supplement CO2 levels, and they are now available to the hobbyist.

Starter kits, such as simple fermentation boats, offer an inexpensive option for beginners; however, pressurized systems provide more precise control. A pressurized system allows us to regulate the amount of CO2 produced and allows us to disconnect the CO2 supply at night by means of a magnetic solenoid valve.

Dosing during hours of darkness is unnecessary as CO2 uptake by plants is reduced. Using a plug-in timer in conjunction with the solenoid valve will offer a fully automated system.

CO2 fertilization has revolutionized the planted aquarium hobby. With the addition of CO2, the creation of amazing waterscapes that we see in books and magazines can now become a reality.


As with garden or house plants, aquatic plants take up some nutrients through their root system. The only nutrients found in aquarium gravel are those that accumulate from decaying organic matter and these are quickly depleted by fast growing plants.

It is much better to use a specially formulated planted aquarium substrate or substrate enrichment, usually in the form of tablets or granules. This is a particularly useful method if the aquarium is already established.

When setting up a new aquarium we have the opportunity to start with the best possible substrate. A good choice will provide a growing medium that roots can easily penetrate, a source of nutrition, and an attractive base to complement your plants.


Plants also absorb nutrients through their leaves. Essential elements like iron contribute to healthy color and vigorous growth.

Liquid fertilizers can be added weekly or, in some cases, daily to ensure a constant supply of nutrients that are quickly depleted or broken down.

fish and invertebrates

Careful consideration must be taken when selecting fish for the planted aquarium. Many common aquarium fish, such as barbs and some gouramis, are voracious plant eaters, others, including most cichlids and catfish, can burrow into the substrate and roots of plants.

Ideal species include small fish such as tetras, rasboras, and danios, along with dwarf catfish (otocinclus sp.) and nerite snails that are excellent at controlling algae without harming plants.

Due to the recent boom in popularity of nano aquariums, a large number of brightly colored dwarf shrimp have become available. These herbivores are the perfect residents for the low-tech planted aquarium where no CO2 is used. Many of these small shrimp will reproduce easily if kept in ideal conditions.

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