27 gallon planted tankGetting Started with Live Plants

A planted aquarium can provide a beautiful environment for your fish.  Many people enjoy the natural look that live plants add to a tank, but might feel intimidated to give them a try.  We’re here to let you know that keeping aquatic plants is not as difficult as you might imagine, and suitable for even beginner hobbyists.  Here are a few things you should know before you get started.


Benefits of Live Plants:

It’s not just people who enjoy the look of a planted tank: by using live plants, you will be creating an environment more similar to your fish’s natural habitat.  The plants will provide hiding spots, especially for babies or smaller fish.  They will provide an additional food source for many fish that enjoy nibbling plants as part of their diet.  This provides some nice variation from flakes and frozen foods, and can be a useful vacation feeder supplement, as the fish will enjoy nibbling on plants such as anacharis or cabomba when you are away.

Plants also contribute to the biological filtration of your tank.  They provide some oxygen to the water through photosynthesis as they grow.  Plants feed off of chemicals (such as ammonia) that are produced through fish waste and provide surfaces where beneficial bacteria can grow.

 4 gallon planted tank7 gallon planted tank12 gallon planted tank

A planted tank doesn't have to be large. In fact, having live plants in a desktop tank can add a touch of sophistication to

an office desk or other small space. Shown here is the Evolve 4 gallon, a rimless 7.5 gallon, and the Eclipse 12 gallon.



Tank: Generally, longer lower tanks provide better environments for plants than tall tanks because they are closer to the light source.  However, plants can thrive in any shape tank provided the lighting is adequate to reach them.

Lighting: Elmer’s has a couple lights we recommend for freshwater plants.  The first is Aquatic Life T5 High Output lighting.  These have two bulbs: one daylight bulb for plant growth, and one roseate bulb to show off fish colors.  We also recommend the Fluval Aqualife & Plant Performance LED Strip Light.  These lights incorporate 5 unique LED band waves to promote optimal plant growth.

Fish: Most fish will do well with your live plants, however fish such as kissing gouramis, goldfish, koi, and African cichlids will eat or dig up live plants.  (It should be noted that live plants are a good source of nutrition for these fish, and although the fish and plants do not mesh well when you are trying to create an aquatic garden, some aquarists like to provide their fish with a bunch of anacharis solely as a natural food source.)


Care Requirements:

Adding a little fertilizer to your water will keep your plants growing strong.  Elmer’s recommends Flourish Excel by Seachem and also Flourish Iron.Excel provides plants with a source of bioavailable organic carbon.  Flourish Iron contains a ferrous iron gluconate supplement for plants with additional iron requirements- generally those with reddish hues.

There are several substrates tailored specifically for planted tanks that we recommend, including Seachem Flourite, Seachem Onyx Sand, and Carib Sea Eco Complete.

rainbowfish planted tank 

Our 150 gallon display tank features live plants and colorful rainbowfish.


Algae Concerns:

People are sometimes concerned about keeping live plants because they fear algae growth from the stronger lighting and addition of plant fertilizers.  The truth is, live plants can actually help inhibit algae growth because they compete with the algae for the same nutrients.  The key is to find the right balance of light and nutrients for your plants that does not leave any extra for the algae.  If you experience an algae bloom, scrape your glass clean and adjust the amount of light and/or fertilizer.


Getting Started:

If you’ve never had plants before, you may want to try out a few before investing in a new plant specialty light.  These hardy plants are popular with beginners and often do well with low lighting, such as the standard aquarium fluorescent bulb:


Once you’ve had success with your first plants, we have a large selection of aquatic fauna to help you create a beautiful, natural aquarium.  Stop in and ask our team to help you get started with your first planted tank!

Plant aisle at Elmer's

Visit us to see our extensive plant selection- over 30 varieties to choose from!


This article appeared in our June 2014 newsletter. Not on our mailing list? Subscribe here!