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You might be wondering whether your tank plants can be grown in a gravel substrate. In truth, this depends on what species of plant you have. Generally, gravel is a great material to grow plants in. But only certain flora will grow in this substrate well.
Not just any plant will grow in this rocky product. Besides, you want to be careful about how you place some plants in gravel. Certain care requirements are required for specific species. These must be followed to cultivate plants in this type of material successfully.
Lucky for you, I did some research on plants that grow in gravel. So you won’t have to worry about placing your plants in this rocky substrate. I’ll provide all the details you need to purchase and use gravel. I’ll also introduce you to aquarium plants that grow well in gravel!
How to feed aquarium plants in gravel
I’ve composed a list of 10 great examples that will give you a lot of satisfaction, but there’s something you need to know first. The fact is that plain gravel contains no nutrients for your plants, at least not when it’s new and straight out of the bag. This is something you should take into account, because I really recommend to add some form of plant fertilizer to your tank.
The easiest way, and the way that I do it in all my tanks, is adding liquid plant fertilizer. This is something that you add at least once a week (but more often is better) and it allows your plants to suck food straight out of the water. Although your fish do produce some plants food (poop), it’s not enough to provide for your plants.
The liquid fertilizer that I have been recommending for years is from the brand API which they call Leaf Zone. It’s an all-in-one plant fertilizer that will not let you down. Check it out here on Amazon.
Other options are changing to aquarium soil instead of gravel, which is expensive and, in my opinion, not worth it. You can also add root tabs, which are tablets that contain nutrients that you can push down in the gravel near the roots of your plant. I only add root tabs to heavy root feeding plants. The root tabs from API are very good at feeding root feeding plants. Check them out here if you don’t have root tabs yet.
Let’s talk about the first plant on the list!
1. Amazon Sword (Echinodorus grisebachii)
The first gravel plant I will introduce is the Amazon Sword. This is a great starter plant that won’t give beginners a hard time. It requires moderate levels of light and can survive well in a range of temperatures.
This plant also looks great in your aquarium. It has long sword-like leaves that can be grown in the background of your tank, or it can be placed in the center of your tank alone as a centerpiece. With little maintenance, this flora will grow long and sturdy.
Just make sure to put enough gravel in your tank to root your plant. You want a little under three inches, around 2.5 inches to be exact, and the gravel should be loosely packed as well. In short, don’t plant the roots deep. Give them space to grow because they will get big! Also, make sure to provide enough nutrients by adding root tabs on a regular basis. Once every three months should suffice.
This plant scores really high on my list of plants that’s suitable for angelfish because angels love to lay eggs on them. If you’re interested in keeping angelfish, check out that list here.
2. Madagascar Lace (aponogeton madagascariensis)
Madagascar Lace can grow well in gravel as well, but it isn’t a simple plant to care for. You will need to make sure your plant has the right conditions to accommodate its growth.
Water temperature can be on the colder side, around 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, though they can handle higher temperatures when you want them to flower. Light requirements are medium to high for this plant. More light will let your plant grow faster, so I recommend using higher levels of light. Still, the light intensity is up to you.
This plant can get quite large and if you want it smaller lower light can be helpful.
In addition, the Lace should also be planted properly in the gravel. You don’t want to bury this in deep gravel. Only two inches of a substrate is required for this plant. Fertilizer should also be added to your gravel to keep the Lace thriving in your water!
3. Cryptocoryne Wendtii
Cryptocoryne is popular in planted aquariums lined with gravel. The nice thing about this plant is that it comes in a few different colors. So you won’t be limiting yourself to green plants if you choose this specimen out.
Care is fairly simple with the Wendtii. It’s a strong plant that likes many water conditions. Low lighting is preferred by this plant, and it can live in a range of Ph levels as well.
While this is an undemanding plant, you will need to root it down as soon as you can. Wendtii plants form large root systems, so gravel is an ideal substrate choice for the species. Make sure the roots are firmly placed, and make sure you have plenty of gravel set into your tank. At least three inches!
This is one of the plants for which I would recommend adding root tabs. From my personal experience, I can tell you that crypts do way better after adding a root tab. If you don’t have any yet, check out these root tabs from API on Amazon.
4. Java fern
Java Fern is another great option for new plant owners. Ferns grow well in gravel and require low levels of fertilizer to thrive. You can grow many of these in your tank with a fairly low level of maintenance.
This is because Java fern adapts to almost any type of environment. They like very low concentrations of light and grow in a range of temperatures.
Your fish will also enjoy having these plants in their tank environment. The leaves of the Fern are big and provide plenty of coverage for all types of pets. Java doesn’t grow super-fast, but over time you can have a whole tank full of these full flora.
Again, there isn’t much to worry about in terms of care, just prune this plant and get rid of any plant waste. Also, consider the lighting, too much light can kill Java Fern. And in terms of gravel, don’t put the roots of the fern too deep into your substrate. Gravel is a great way to root these plants down, but if you put this plant in too deeply it will die. Smaller gravel with some fertilizer will create the best plant growth.
5. Red Tiger Lotus
Red Tiger Lotus is a popular flowering plant, but it can also grow in gravel. If you choose to grow it underwater and grounded, you won’t see flowers form. Still, you will get a good visual from this plant species.
Tiger Lotus are not difficult plants, but you need to plant them correctly for the best results. Make sure to get the roots buried in gravel, but do not cover the bulb of this plant. Otherwise, your Tiger will not grow right. Furthermore, make sure your gravel is infused with plenty of fertilizer. This species needs plenty of nutrients to live in the water.
Warmer climates are preferred by this plant, and medium levels of light should be used. More importantly, make sure to trim this plant, because it grows rapidly if left unattended!
Anubias are large plants that provide shade for a range of aquariums. They don’t like to be buried too deep, but this plant will grow in gravel if you give it the right care. Overall though, the Anubias is a hardy tank fixture that has simple care requirements.
Medium-light works well for the Anubias, but higher levels of light can be used if you want the largest possible plant. Fertilizer is not a must with an Anbubias, as it grows pretty well on its own, but you should consider putting root tabs or other nutrients in the gravel so it retains good color and health.
On the whole, be gentle with this plant as you put it into its substrate. Again, the roots should not go in too deep and gravel should be soft and very fine. A thick layer of gravel is not necessary for this plant.
Vallisneria is a fast-growing grass-type plant. It’s found in tropical conditions and prefers warmer water climates. Vallisneria doesn’t require much to grow either, which makes it a great choice for bare aquariums that need more coverage. You can plant this fauna around the edges of your aquarium, or have it blanket your tank.
Vallisneria grows tall and lush in a harder Ph level. Again, the temperature should be on the warmer side. And you will want to trim it to keep it from overtaking your tank. Vallisneria can grow in gravel, but you don’t need a ton of it. Just a small layer should suffice, enough so that the roots can go in. The crown of your plant should stay above your substrate though!
Unlike a lot of other plants on this list, Bucephalandra will need thicker gravel to grow. You don’t need massive rocks, but you do want something a little larger than normal gravel. You can put Bucephalandra on top of your substrate, or bury it a little. Just make sure that you don’t cover up the rhizome!
Porous gravel is preferred, this way the root system can grow strongly in its substrate and fully immerse itself. You can also use other items to firmly keep your plant in place. In terms of other care tips, Bucephalandra grows slow in low light levels. Water temperature should be at 71 to 82 degrees as well.
In addition, you can get these plants in a few different colors. And with the right maintenance, they will grow large and become a centerpiece for your tank.
9. Waterweeds (Anacharis elodea)
Waterweeds are a South American plant. They are great at keeping tank water well oxygenated and filtered. And like the other plants I mentioned, waterweed can withstand many water conditions and are not picky about water temperature.
Still, for the best plant growth, try using medium-light to illuminate your plant. If you want a larger plant, fertilizer can be used along with warmer water so that it reaches its full potential. But if you want to better control the size of your waterweed, colder water can slow its growth. Put this flora on gravel and make sure you put your roots in deep.
They should be placed at least 1-2 inches within your substrate. A thick layer of gravel is not bad for this plant! Also, if you have multiple Waterweeds, make sure they are at least an inch apart. This way they can grow fully!
10. Dwarf Sagittaria
The last plant on this list of gravel growers is the Dwarf Sagittaria. If you are looking for a hardy and adaptable plant, this is one of the best options for your aquarium. Dwarf Sagittaria are typically found in America and Columbia, so they prefer more mild water temperatures. They won’t have a difficult time in the water with a harder pH.
However, when you prepare to plant your Dwarf, make sure you put plenty of nutrients in the gravel. These plants need a lot of fertilizer to grow. And if they don’t have iron they will wilt and die. When you plant your dwarf, plant it gently, but cover the roots. A little bit of care is all this plant needs to thrive!
The Importance of Plant Gravel
Gravel is an adaptable medium that helps root plants and keeps them in place. It’s a great addition to aquariums and can enhance the look of your water and aquatic greenery. And with all the varying looks and options available for this product, you can easily find something that suits the style of your tank.
Many people use gravel to finish off the look of their aquarium. The addition of other decoration and plant material creates an overall natural and better-equipped environment for your pet. Making your tank match the natural environment of your fish is important. This not only allows your aquarium to look better but lets you construct a better home for your plants.
Gravel is especially important for rooting plants. Some flora can go without gravel or other substrates, but many will need something to hold them down. While there are several materials available, gravel substrate is the perfect surface for a number of plant roots. The smoothness of gravel will help plants root firmly and properly.
Certain plants rely heavily on their roots for nutrients. These plants are often referred to as “root feeders”, and it can be hard for a beginner to recognize which plants belong to this group. Therefore, I’ve written an article called “7 Aquarium Plants That Are Root Feeders and Need Root Tabs” which I recommend you check out. It’ll really help you growing plants in gravel.
For the most part, you don’t want greenery floating in the water without roots. This could cause wilting or plant death. Most plants need roots to absorb nutrients into their cells. Gravel allows rooting plants to grow properly and get the nutrition they need.
Gravel does not typically have nutrients in it. But you can add these in yourself with root tabs or fertilizer. Another option is to use a layer of aquarium soil underneath the gravel to provide nutrients.
My Favorite Fishtank Products to Make Life Easier
Over the years I’ve found a variety of products that make the fish keeping life so much easier. Whenever someone asks me what products I recommend buying, these are the first 5 items that come to mind. I’ll briefly list them below and state why I love them so much. I’m 100% sure you’ll love them!
1. A good gravel vacuum; Without a gravel vacuum, cleaning the substrate of your tanks is near impossible. Whenever I want to remove some of the sunken detritus from the bottom of my tank I’m happy I’ve got one of these. They’re available here on Amazon and I highly recommend them!
2. Liquid plant fertilizer; It’s no secret that I do not like nutritious aqua-soil. It makes a mess and only works a given amount of time. Instead, I always use a liquid aquarium plant fertilizer. Everyone who keeps live plants needs it, it’s not that expensive and makes your plants grow better. This is the one I use and recommend.
3. A set of aquascape tools; I love keeping plants, but planting and reorganizing my aquarium was difficult until I got a set of these tools. It’s much easier to plant any kind of plant compared to using my thick fingers. They’re also available here on Amazon.
4. A liquid-based water test kit; ever since I’m able to accurately test my water parameters, keeping fish became less stressful. Before I was always stressed that my water parameters were wrong, but using a kit such as the API Master kit, which is available here, I can measure this. It really is essential to successful fishkeeping.
Choosing the Right Gravel
While gravel is crucial, you want to make sure to pick out the right gravel for your tank. Do not buy any gravel you see. Often, commercial gravel from a local tool store is too large for your fish tank. You need a product that is made for fish and fish tanks to successfully root down plants!
There are some features to keep in mind as you make a purchase. But something you should remember is size and shape. Gravel for fish tanks should never be chunky or sharp. Many fish like to rest at the bottom of their tanks. So, you need gravel that is small and smooth in order to keep your fish safe. Large sharp gravel is also a poor choice for plants and won’t give your plant’s roots enough space to spread out. Consider this as well.
Once you find good sized gravel, there are plenty of buying options. These small rocks come in several shapes, sizes, and colors. The tone of your gravel isn’t important in terms of quality. But you should choose something that fits with the theme of your tank setup. A more earthy tone will look nice in a natural-looking tank.
But more colorful or neon colors can work if you are going for an eye-popping aquarium space. The shape is also something else to think about. Some gravels are more rounded while other gravels can be a little on the rough side. You can also find bigger gravels and fine gravels. I recommend going for fine gravel for the best planting results. Around 3-8 mm is an ideal size for plant growth.
Putting Your Plants in Gravel
The amount of gravel you need in your planted aquarium depends on a few considerations. One thing to think about is tank size. With a larger aquarium, you will have to purchase more gravel. Gravel usually goes in before your plant. And the correct amount needs to be put in to make plants root.
Normal tanks without plants only need an inch (3 cm) of gravel. But if you plan on having plants in your tank you need a lot more. Three inches (10 cm) of gravel is a general rule of thumb. If you decide on the three-inch rule though, remember that the shape of a tank can impact your gravel setup too. A few inches of gravel in a vertical tank is different than a few inches of gravel in a more wide tank.
A little bit of research might be necessary though. Not all plants have the same substrate needs. Plants that need to root deeply will require more gravel. Other plants do not like to be buried in a ton of gravel. So keep this in mind!
In addition, make sure to keep your gravel clean. Aquarium gravel has a tendency to get dirty. And if you want to ensure that your plants stay healthy you need to maintain it. Obviously, more gravel will make this cleaning process longer, but it is a necessary step.
To learn all about cleaning gravel in an aquarium, check out the page I’ve written a while ago called “How To Clean Fish Tank Gravel in 3 Easy Steps (Low Effort)“. This shows you easy and convenient ways to keep your substrate clean.
And make sure to do some light rinsing before you put gravel in your tank. Warm water should be used but don’t wash it with cleaning products! You can also use an aquarium vacuum to clean down substrate once it is established in your tank.