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How to Propagate Corals in a Reef Tank?

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I think corals are the most interesting part of a reef tank. One of the first things I wanted to learn was how to propagate corals. I didn’t know how to do this but I did my research and it turns out to be pretty simple.

Hard corals such as LPS and SPS are propagated by breaking off small pieces and attaching those fragments to pieces of stone or frag plugs. A clean break is critical. Soft corals are propagates by cutting off a piece with a knife. Wear gloves and goggles to protect yourself against mucus or poison.

There is more that you must know in order to propagate corals! In this post I’ll briefly cover everything you should know to start. Stay tuned for more information!

Coral Propagation: What Is It and Why Should You Do It?

How exactly can you propagate corals in your reef tank, and what is coral propagation? Coral propagation, also known as fragging, is the process of replicating and breeding a new coral colony.

Coral propagation can be done from your own home. Before I’ll tell you how to propagate corals, I’ll briefly go over the benefits of growing and multiplying your own coral.

If you’re looking for some of the best corals for fragging, check out this list I made.

It’s important to know that you can save a lot of money by propagating corals on your own. Another huge benefit is that you also help protect the wild coral population by making your own coral fragments. Harvesting fragments from corals in the wild can put a strain on corals out in nature.

Ocean corals already face many man-made dangers. And sadly commercial harvesting of corals is further endangering them. This is why it is so important to know how to breed corals in your own tank.

It can seem intimidating at first. But with my guidance, you should have the information you need to properly propagate your corals!

How to Propagate Corals in a Reef Tank?

In nature, coral propagation is the result of a coral’s natural life cycle. Corals grow and take in energy through photosynthesis. They grow algae and stay stationary throughout most of their life. And, as they near the end of their life, the coral starts to break down and die.

The remains of the coral go to good use, though, and its exoskeleton helps to regenerate a new coral on top of its remains! Over time, the death and regeneration of countless coral creates coral reefs! How awesome is that!

But what about in a tank setting? How does propagation take place in a manmade environment? In truth, most reef tank owners are not going to wait for their coral to die before they propagate a new coral. Natural propagation takes way too long because corals can live hundreds of years.

You could wait for your corals to create new buds. However, you might want to arrange corals with your own designs or create a whole new coral tank. This is why fragging is used instead!

Coral Fragging and Propagation of Stony Corals (LPS and SPS)

Fragging hard corals is not difficult. Hard corals include Large Polyp Stony (LPS) corals and Small Polyp Stony (SPS) corals. If you have a hard coral all you have to do is cut off a branch of the coral with a knife. You want to do this quickly and efficiently. And, you never want to use chemicals or heat sources to get coral fragments. Just create a clean break!

Afterward, you can attach the coral fragment to live rock or so called “frag plugs”. You can do this with glue or with epoxy putty. Choose where you will place your coral frag first, though, and then let it grow!

This is a picture of a Small Polyp Stony coral that’s been fragged and attached to a frag plug. You can grow your frags in a separate system, attach them to your own reef or sell them to make some extra money.

Coral Fragging and Propagation of Soft Corals

For soft corals, the process is a little different. You want to cut in between the polyps and detach your coral bud. This takes a little more precision and you have to ensure that you cut a growing bud and not the “parent” coral itself.

When I was first researching how to frag corals I watched this Youtube video that perfectly shows how to frag a soft coral. In this case it’s a toadstool coral that’s being fragged. Give it a watch, I personally thought it was absolutely fascinating.

If a coral has more mature buds, it will be obvious which part needs to be cut off. Again make sure to be quick and clean with your cuts. You do not want to do multiple cuts and end up injuring your coral.

You can use a knife or sharp scissors to do this. And, once the bud is cut free you can attach it to live rock or another surface with glue or putty! I also recommend using a fishing line to further secure your coral fragment to the live rock.

And if you’re wondering whether corals can feel pain, the answer is no. You can read this page for a more detailled answer.

Safely Fragging Corals

Safety is important to consider during the fragging process. You might not think it is dangerous to cut your coral. But there are some dangers to consider when cutting your coral.

Also, make sure to not expose your corals to air for too long. I’ve written an in-depth article on this which might be interesting for you to read.

So, think about your safety as you frag your coral. If you have any zoanthid corals or other more dangerous corals, make sure to cover your eyes and hand with protective gear. Really, you want to be wearing gloves regardless of the coral you are trying to frag!

Before you start fragging I think it’s essential you first read my article on how to safely handle corals. I want to warn you again for Zoanthid coral, which can excrete a super dangerous poison if you’re not careful.

How to Grow Your Corals in a Reef Tank?

After you have successfully fragged your coral, you want to ensure that your coral grows in the right conditions. Especially after you place your new coral fragment in its new tank or location. Your fragging efforts should not go to waste.

Really, growing your coral frag is just as important as properly propagating it.  So, you want to know exactly how to grow your coral to its full potential. This way it can go from being a coral fragment to a full-grown coral colony!

Provide Good Lighting

The type of lighting you have in your reef tank is incredibly important to the growth of your coral fragments. Most corals receive nutrition through the process of photosynthesis. However, if the lighting you provide your coral with is inadequate or overly intense, your coral won’t grow right and mature fully.

Coral fragments are a little less sensitive to light changes than full grown coral colonies. However, you still want to be careful and make sure your light setup is right for your coral’s growth.

Blue and purple light is preferred by corals this helps with the process of photosynthesis. In addition, you want to keep your lights on for a limited amount of time.

Too much light exposure can actually be dangerous for your coral. Usually, 10-12 hours is a good amount of time to keep your light fixtures on. But make sure to do some research on your coral breed.

Finally, always make sure to observe your coral. Especially if it is going into a new tank with new lighting conditions. If your coral is starting to lose color, this could mean you are giving it too much light.

On the other hand, a lack of growth could indicate that you are not providing enough light for your fragments. It can be tricky to get reef tank lighting right at first, but with patience you should be able to master this aspect of coral care!

Supplement Your Coral With Extra Nutrition

Coral nutrition is a hot topic among reefers. Some aquarium enthusiasts are against the idea of adding supplemental nutrition to tanks. Other people think that corals should be fed extra nutrition to improve their color and growth.

Really, the specific nutritional requirements of your coral will depend on the type of coral you have. You might not have to feed your coral extra nutrition at all. Many corals get their food directly from photosynthesis.

However, you will not harm your coral by giving them additional nutrition. In fact, you can really improve coral fragment growth and propagation with good supplemental nutrition.

As long as you give them the right food and additives, your coral frags growth will increase and they will grow strongly in your reef tank! So consider this tip as you grow your coral fragments!

Tip: more info about feeding corals can be found here on my website. The article is called “Do Corals in a Reef Tank Need Food?” and I’m sure you’ll find a lot of good information there.

Make Sure The Water Parameters Are Perfect For Corals

Finally, you want to ensure that the water parameters of your tank are perfect for your coral. Reef tanks, in particular, can be hard to maintain. There are many water measurements that you have to keep in mind.

However, if you have had a reef tank before, you know the importance of maintaining the best possible water conditions. With other types of tank, precision won’t matter nearly as much. In a reef tank, though, you have to have exact water conditions to keep your coral alive and thriving.

And, as your coral grows from a fragment to a larger colony, tank conditions become even more crucial! So, I would recommend testing the water parameters of your coral tank as often as you can.

It’s not hard to test your coral’s water, but you have to stay committed and continue to complete this task weekly. Buying tests kits makes this process much simpler.

High-quality test kits will check salinity, magnesium levels, alkalinity and other pertinent information. In addition, keep an eye on the condition of your coral itself. Certain visual cues can help you know whether your coral is growing healthy.

In particular, look at the color and growth of your coral. If there are polyps on your coral they should be extended and fleshy. Branched corals should have strong limbs that don’t break off or look wilted. And, your color should be bright and richly colored!