TIPS FOR ROOTING, PRUNING, AND PROPAGATING LIVE AQUARIUM PLANTS
Live plants can completely transform the look of your aquarium. Keep reading to learn some simple tricks for rooting and anchoring live plants as well as some tips for pruning and propagation.
Live plants can completely transform the look of your aquarium. As realistic as some artificial plants may look, nothing compares to the real thing. Plus, live plants come with the added bonus of producing valuable oxygen for your fish.
A lushly planted tank is a sight to behold, but it does take a fair amount of work to get there. In addition to choosing the right kind of substrate for your planted tank, you also need to decide where you want to put your plants and how to keep them there. Some fish have a penchant for uprooting live plants and other factors such as strong current can make it a challenge to keep your plants where you want them.
Keep reading to learn some simple tricks for rooting and anchoring live plants as well as some tips for pruning and propagation.
Understanding the Different Types of Aquarium Plants
When you first start shopping around for live aquarium plants, you’ll find that they are sold in several different ways. Popular options like Amazon sword, crypts, crinums, and hair grass are typically sold in small pots. Rhizomatous plants like anubias and java fern are typically sold by the rhizome, also known as the rootstalk or subterranean stem from which roots and leaf nodes grow. Other plants like mosses and stem plants may be sold by the stem or in bunches.
Each of the different kinds of live aquarium plant needs to be treated differently when it comes to placing them in your tank. While floating plants will just float on the surface of the tank and moss balls will roll around at the bottom of the tank, your other plants should be rooted or anchored to keep them where you want them. This is fairly easy to accomplish with potted plants since you can just put them where you want them and then cover the pot with substrate to disguise it. When it comes to rhizomatous plants, mosses, and stem plants, however, you may need the help of some kind of framework to which you can anchor the stems.
Simple Tricks for Anchoring Live Plants
If you plan to cultivate a thickly planted tank, you may want to consider putting down a framework under your substrate that covers the entire bottom of the tank. Something like plastic embroidery mesh works well because it won’t obstruct water flow and you’ll be able to place the plants wherever you like. To use this kind of anchor, just put down the mesh and then use cotton thread to tie your root bundles to the mesh where you want them. Then, simply cover the entire tank with your chosen substrate.
If you don’t plan to plant your entire tank, you can use smaller pieces of plastic embroidery mesh or you can repurpose something you already have on hand like a plastic Tupperware lid. Take the lid and poke a series of hole in it to facilitate water flow and then simply slide the cotton thread through one of the holes and up through another and anchor your plants that way. Again, you can place the lid where you want it in the tank once your plants have been rooted and then you can cover it with substrate.
Another option for anchoring aquarium plants is to attach them to a movable tank object such as a rock or piece of driftwood. If you want to use rocks, make sure to choose something that won’t change the water chemistry in your tank – smooth river rocks are generally the best, just make sure to clean it well before you use it. You can buy driftwood for aquarium use at your local pet store, or you can make your own. When making your own driftwood you’ll need to cure it first to remove the tannins. After that, simply use the same cotton thread to tie small plants to the driftwood and place it in your aquarium.
Pruning and Trimming Live Plants
If the conditions in your tank are favorable and your plants are properly rooted in nutrient-rich substrate, they will grow quickly. Some plants grow faster than others, but at some point, you’ll find yourself faced with the task of pruning your plants.
While some plants can be trimmed anywhere without affecting the growth of the plant, others need to be trimmed in a specific way otherwise the plant will rot. So, how do you know how to prune your plants? It depends what type they are – here are some general tips:
- Stem Plants – These plants will need to be pruned more often than any other aquarium plant, so you should know how to do it properly. You can prune stem plants by trimming off the top two inches, as long as it is no more than 50% of the plant’s existing length. To propagate, place cut stems in an inch of substrate then relocate them once they’ve grown roots.
- Potted Plants – Most potted plants like crypts and Amazon sword plants require very little maintenance because they tend to grow more slowly than stem plants. If the plant becomes too thick, simply cut off a few leaves at the base of the roots – you should also do this occasionally with yellow or dying leaves. If the plant is growing too tall, remove the taller leaves and let the young leaves grow – don’t cut the leaves directly because it can stress the plant.
- Mosses – Many species of moss are easy to grow, especially with higher nitrate levels. Trimming aquarium moss is pretty straight-forward, though you may need to remove it from the tank to do it. When you replace the moss, anchor it to driftwood or rock to keep it in place.
- Rhizomes – Plants like java fern and anubias are easy to trim and propagate – you simply have to split the rhizome at the base of the plant and root them in the new location.
How to Propagate Different Aquarium Plants
In the same way that different types of plants need to be trimmed in certain ways, there are different methods for propagating live plants as well. There are two different ways by which live plants reproduce – sexual reproduction or asexual reproduction. Sexual propagation usually involves flowers and seeds whereas asexual propagation (or vegetative propagation) is completed through the production of runners, offsets, and plantlets. Most aquatic plants use asexual propagation methods – here is an overview of the different options:
- Runners – A runner grows out of the base of a parent plant and produces small “slips” on the end. These slips anchor to the substrate and then begin to grow an entirely new plant, one genetically identical to the parent plant. You can either let this happen naturally or you can separate the runner from the plant once it anchors and then transplant it.
- Offsets – An offset is similar to a runner except it usually grows off of the main plant itself, very close to it. You can remove the offset it and plant it somewhere else to propagate the plant.
- Plantlets – In this method, small plantlets actually grow on the parent plant – they can form on any part of the plant such as the roots, nodes, leaves, or stems. Once the plantlet has had a chance to grow a little, it may naturally sever from the parent plant and you can move it. If it hasn’t happened by the time the plantlet grows to 3 or 4 cm, you can remove it and replant it.
These three propagation methods are natural processes, but you can also propagate aquatic plants artificially. One option is to take a cutting and plant it in substrate, so it will grow roots. To do this, take a cutting from the top stem just above a leaf node and then remove any leaves just around the node. You can also artificially propagate certain plants by dividing the rhizome - just take a sharp knife or razor blade and divide the solid rhizome at the base of the plant into two or three sections then root each individual section where you want them. Another option is to propagate by way of seeds, but it is much more difficult to do and is usually only worth it if you plan to grow a large number of plants.
If you want to work your way up to a fully planted tank, you can do it without spending a small fortune. Simply start with a small collection of plants and then propagate new growth when you do your monthly pruning. It may take time for you to completely plant your tank, but you’ll feel good knowing that you’ve created something beautiful entirely on your own.
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