How to add plants to an aquarium: Beginners step by step guide

Sword plant for Planted aquarium

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How to add plants to an aquarium: Beginners step by step guide

Adding plants to your aquarium can be a good way to keep your water quality healthy and improve the natural look of your aquarium. Adding plants is not hard once you figure out a couple of key tricks that make it all the easier. In this guide on how to add plants to an aquarium I will show you the one key trick I have learned that made it so much easier to add plants to an aquarium.

Steps to adding live plants to an aquarium.

1. Unplug all electrical equipment

It is critical to unplug all the electrical equipment in your fish tank like heaters, pumps, lights, air circulation equipment and anything else electrical. Since you are going to be working in the water and water may splash and run down your cords there is a chance for an electrical shock.

2. Turn of your aquarium filter

When you are adding plants to your aquarium you will be stirring up the water and there will be a lot of dirt and debris in the water column. You do not want all this to get into your tank filter because this will only plug up your aquarium filter and may ruin it.

3. Drain 50% of the water from your aquarium

This is one of the best time saving tricks I have learned from planting over a dozen tanks. Draining 50% of the water will not hurt your fish as long as the water you add back in is dechlorinated and conditioned properly.

By draining the water it is a lot easier to get to the bottom of the tank and position your plants exactly how you want. It also makes it easier to get the plants into the substrate of the tank. See guide on choosing best substrate for planted tanks.

4. Start laying out your plants in the bottom of the tank

Start arranging your plants to create the look you want. Its important to make sure to put the shorter plants up front and the taller plants in the back and corners. This will create a nice 3D effect and will help hide some equipment like your heaters and other filter media.

5. Plant the aquarium plants up to their roots in the substrate

When planting the aquarium plants be careful not to plant them too deep. I have hurt a couple of plants that were planted past the roots onto the stem and for some reason some of the more fragile plants seem to be more sensitive to this. The substrate that is in your tank will make the biggest difference for the health of your plants. It is important before you start adding plants you have the correct substrate in the tank.

6. Add water back into the tank

Once you are done planting your plants it is time to add the water backing into your tank. The best way to do this is by using some type of strainer or colander that will disperse the water so it does not disrupt your plants or the substrate while it is being added.

7. Restart your aquarium filter

Once you have all the water back into your tank it is time restart the filter on your aquarium. If you have trouble restarting your aquarium filter, you can check out how to restart your aquarium filter here

Best aquarium plants to add to your planted aquarium

Rhizome plants

Rhizome plants possess a unique growth habit whereby the leaves and stems shoot upward from their horizontal rhizomes, while the roots reach downward through substrate or wrap around hardscapes. Crafting aquascapes with rhizome plants is a breeze compared to regular stem plants since no substrate is necessary for them to grow. You only need to anchor them between cracks of rocks or mount them onto driftwood with super glue gel or string to hold them down. Not only does this take little time, it also results in a greener aquarium as you won’t need any soil fertilizer either. Eventually your rhizome plant’s roots will quickly grow around the hardscape, creating an animation that is difficult to remove without damaging your entire tank.


Anubias is a genus of aquatic and semi-aquatic flowering plants in the family Araceae, native to tropical central and western Africa. They primarily grow in rivers and streams, but can also be found in marshes. They are characterized by broad, thick, dark leaves that come in many different forms.


Java Fern

Leptochilus pteropus, synonym Microsorum pteropus, commonly known as Java fern after the Indonesian island of Java, can be found in Malaysia, Thailand, Northeast India and some regions of China. It is a highly variable plant with several different geographic varieties that vary in leaf size and shape. Wikipedia

Java fern

Sword Plants

Swords are nice addition to any aquarium. Unlike other plants, they tend to grow in a circular rosette pattern and many can grow quite tall. This mean that it’s important to put your sword plants in the midground or background so they do not block view of the other aquarium inhabitants. Planting these is relatively easy too – use either your fingers or some planting tweezers to position their roots into the substrate, making sure not to cover their crowns when putting them into place. Swords are also especially hearty because they are heavy root feeders meaning that its best to add lots of root tabs if you’re using an inert substrate with low nutrient levels or if your nutrient-rich substrate is depleting fast. All in all, swords make for splendid additions for livening up any fish tank.

Amazon sword

The Amazon Sword plant is a popular aquatic plant, often found in the tanks of novice and pro-aquarists alike. Echinodorus grisebachii or Echinodorus amazonicus, as it is variously known by its scientific name, has slim, grass-like blades that can reach up to 35 cm (14 inches) in length and will sway gracefully every time the current changes in the water. It is an adaptable species suited to most aquariums and ponds. Generally easy to maintain, Amazon Sword plants will grow quickly when fertilized with a good quality aquarium plant substrate such as those that are commercially available. The addition of the Amazon Sword plant not only looks visually appealing but also provides a great hiding spot for small fish or other aquatic invertebrates.

Amazon sword plant

Amazon sword

The Red Flame Sword plant is an easy to grow addition to your aquarium. It boasts a unique pattern of spots on the leaves, which are available in three colors – green, red or bronze. To get the most from this plant, medium lighting should be provided as this will encourage plenty of healthy growth and generate an especially dramatic effect. For large aquariums, Red Flame Sword can really show off its full beauty by creating a stunning backdrop and for nano tanks it can make a breathtaking center piece with its captivating colors and pattern. This brilliant aquarium plant is sure to become one of your favorites.

red flame sword plants

How to maintain your plants after planting in your planted aquarium?

Once you have planted your plants you need to add some fertilizer to the roots of your root heavy feeders like swords. While your substrate may have enough nutrients in it, it is always best to add some extra to help the plants establish themselves in the tank.

You need to do a visual inspections of your plant every week to see if you notice any discoloration, or leaves starting to whither away and fall off. While this can be a normal part of plant growth too much of it is an issue and needs to be addressed.

How to add fake or plastic plants to aquarium.

Adding fake plants to an aquarium is not too hard, once you have an idea of the layout of your tank you an go ahead and add in your fake plants where you want them. Just be sure not to disturb the substrate too much or you will have cloudy water.


How much light do planted tanks need?

Planted tanks are going to need approximately 8-12 hours of light daily, This is going to be dependent on the plants that you have in your aquarium and what each plant needs.

Can you leave the pots on the bottom of the plant that they are shipped with?

It is always better to remove the shipping containers from the plants that they are shipped in. The reason is you could be introducing something into you aquarium that you didn’t mean to like a disease or even some invasive species that is growing in the plants substrate.

Can I add Plants to an existing aquarium?

You can add plants to an existing aquarium as long as the plants are suitable for your current setup. this mean the plants are suitable for the fish you currently have, the lighting will be adequate, and the substrate will provide enough nutrients for the plants.

Can you add plants to an established aquarium with fish?

Yes, you can add plants to an existing aquarium with fish as long as your aquarium is set up to handle the variety of plant that you are looking at. This means the substrate has to be able to provide the right nutrition and your fish need to be compatible to the plants you want to add. Some fish will eat plants and consider them food, so it is always best to make sure the fish you have will not eat your plants.

How long do I need to wait to add plants to a new aquarium?

You can add plants to an aquarium right away before it has cycled. In fact sometimes plants seem to help tanks cycle faster due them adding in some beneficial bacteria and removing some of the ammonia and nitrates from your tank.

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Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson

Aquarium Enthusiast

I love sharing my knowledge about all things aquarium related. I have been keeping aquariums for over 20 years and cannot imagine a life without an aquarium. 

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