When can you Add Live Plants to your Aquarium


Starting with live plants was a big step for me when I started. There were so many questions, and one of them was when to add them. I wasn’t sure, especially because you have to wait a couple of weeks before adding your fish. Therefore I looked around and asked a couple of experienced fish keepers. This is what it has thought me.

When can you add live plants to your aquarium? You can add live plants at any point. When you are setting up your aquarium, you can add plants directly after you added the water. If there is substrate, the water will still be cloudy. In established tanks you are free to add plants whenever.

In this article I will teach you everything you need to know about the effect of live plants on the aquarium cycle. This short article will be packed with useful information that you need to know.

Adding plants when setting up a new aquarium

Whenever you set up a new aquarium, you need to let it cycle before you add fish. What this means is that the aquarium needs to grow a colony of beneficial bacteria that allow the aquarium to break down the toxic ammonia into the way less toxic nitrate.

These bacteria take about 6 weeks to establish into your filter, gravel and pretty much all other things in your aquarium. But mostly in your filter.

If you were unaware of the nitrogen cycle, and you want to know when and if your aquarium is properly cycled, check out this guide that will teach you just that.

The beneficial bacteria only grow when there is a little bit of ammonia in the tank. This is because they feed on it. Just like when there would be fish in the aquarium that poop and therefore produce ammonia.

Now there are different ways to add ammonia during the cycle stage. I always add a little bit of fish food that will start to rot and produce the ammonia I need.

And next to that, I immediately add live plant to the tank.

Because live plants always need some time to establish themselves in a new tank (new water, new light, new parameters), most of the time they will ‘melt’ a little. This means that they will drop a couple of leaves before replacing them with new growth.

And that helps start our nitrogen cycle, because those leaves and other organic material the live plants add to the water are good source for some extra ammonia. It sort off jump starts the cycle.

Remember that this does not mean that your cycle is done in a couple of days, you still need to wait for about 6 weeks before your aquarium is ready to handle fish.

Tip: do not add many fish at once. Instead, start slowly with just a couple of fish and buy more later. This is to make sure your tank does not get overloaded.

Some constraints

So you can add plants from the start. But there are just a few things you should keep in mind.

First the obvious one, you need to have some form of aquarium light present. This is because live plants need light to grow and will die without it. Now there are low to medium light plants like Anubias and Java Fern, whereas other plants might need medium – high light intensity. Therefore always do a little bit of research on the plant you are adding.

The second thing is something that might adding live plants right from the start a little bit challenging. At least in my experience. When I was setting up my aquarium the substrate I added made the entire tank cloudy. I could not see a thing.

This was so annoying because I could not see what I was doing when I was trying to position my plants at the right place.

Adding plants to an already established aquarium

Whenever your aquarium is already established, you can add plant whenever you want. I can imagine you might be looking for a ‘best time’ to add plants. If I would have to pick one I would say a couple of hours before the light turns off.

When you want to add plants to an established tank the water parameters of your aquarium are not exactly the same as in the store you bought them from. There will always be a difference. Just like fish, plants need to adjust to new water parameters.

This shift in water parameters is also the reason why so many plants look like they are dying when they have been in our own aquarium for a couple of days/weeks. This is called ‘melting’ and is a way for the plant to adjust. Cryptocoryne plants are especially notorious for melting.

Just know that the plant is not dead and it should be just a while before you start seeing new growth.

Plants might ‘die’ after adding due to emersed growth

The reason a lot of live plants ‘melt’ after adding them to your aquarium is because they were grown “emersed” which means partly under water. Most of the times only the roots and soil was under water, and the stems and leaves of the plant were exposed to air.

Now there are pros and cons to emersed growth compared to submerged (immersed) growth. It is way cheaper for the nursery to grow the plants emersed. There also are no algae on the plants and when exposed to air have all the CO2 they need.

The cons of emersed growth are the fact that the plants will die down when you start to grow them in your aquarium. The leaf structure will completely change. I have had plants changing in color, shape and structure when they were regrowing.

Preparing live plants before adding them to the aquarium

When you are going to add some plants to your aquarium, I have made it a habit to give the plants a good and thorough rinse under the tap. I always do this to rinse of any snails and snail eggs that I do not want to have in my aquarium.

I recommend you do the same. I have had a snail infestation in the past and solved it by introducing helena “assassin” snails that hunt down all the tiny pest snails.

Also, I recommend you try and get the most out of the plants that you buy in the store. Some plants you can split into multiple smaller plants to spread them out more equal. Here is what I mean:

This plant you can easily pull apart into about 3 bunches on plants.

References:
Feature image – Author: The Wandering Angel Licensed under: Some rights reserved No changes
Aquarium 1 image – Author: Pete Brown Licensed by CC2.0 Cropped
Aquarium 2 image – Author: Local River Licensed under: CC3.0 No changes made

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