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Aquatic Plant Care Sheet

Developed with and approved by a qualified veterinarian.

Aquatic Plants


Aquatic plants are defined as species that can survive completely submerged under water. Marginal plants, such as bamboo, should only be partially submerged and may benefit from being placed into a soil substrate as they age. Planted aquariums bring a piece of nature into the home. Depending on the species you choose, all plants will grow to different heights. These are categorized as a foreground, mid-ground and background plants. Correct placement is key for proper growth and the visual appearance within the aquarium. As plants grow, they will require some routine pruning to keep them healthy and growing properly. Aquatic plants absorb carbon dioxide, nitrates and nutrients from the water. Plants provide shelter and security for aquatic life. Aquatic plants are available potted or in a loose bunch. 

Examples of aquatic plants include: 

  • Echinodorus
  • Anubias
  • Cryptocoryne 
  • Ludwigia
  • Lilaeposis
  • Microsorium
  • Vallisneria
  • Hygrophila 
  • Bolbitis
  • Rotala

Benefits of adding live plants to an aquarium

  • Improves the water quality
  • Add color and dimension to your aquarium
  • Self-replenishing natural food source
  • Adds oxygen (O2) and absorb the carbon dioxide (CO2) and ammonia (NH3) that your fish generate
  • Lessens potential health issues
  • Reduces algae
  • Can reduce tank maintenance
  • Provides soft, natural hiding places for tank inhabitants


Building your habitat

  • Aquarium size - It is always recommended and encouraged to purchase the largest aquarium you can as water conditions can change rapidly in smaller water volumes
  • Substrate - Plants can grow in just about any size aquarium and any substrate, but 2 to 3 inches of plant specific substrate such as Eco-complete, Flourite or Onyx-sand, can make a difference in the success of a planted aquarium. This will also help reduce the cost and frequency of additional supplementation as well as reducing the frequency of having to vacuum the substrate. Plants can remain in the pots they were sold in, or they can be removed from the pot and planted in the substrate but removing from the pot will allow the plant roots to spread out with less resistance
  • Lighting - A single or double fluorescent bulb with a 5000K to 7000K full spectral output will provide adequate lighting for many species of plants – LED lighting with a mix of white and red diodes will provide favorable lighting for planted aquariums. Do not utilize a lighting system with a lot of blue light, this has little benefit for plants
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2) - CO2 is an essential component in the planted aquarium. During photosynthesis aquarium plants utilize light and CO2 to produce the food required for growth. As plants continue growing or as more are added to the aquarium they will use up the supply of CO2 within the aquarium. Adding carbon dioxide is essential to prevent a drop or low CO2 level as well as preventing plants from taking in too much bicarbonates causing fluctuations in pH. Without the addition of CO2, plant growth rates may also become stunted. With new liquid CO2 alternatives such as Flourish Excel, a fully automated CO2 system is not a necessity for having healthy plants
  • Supplements - Supplementation of trace elements such as iron and manganese as well as items like carbon and vitamins will help provide additional nutrients to help the plants grow and flourish. Items like Leaf Zone, Flourish and Flourish tabs will help to fulfill these supplemental needs.

Ongoing maintenance and care

  •  Good aquarium lighting, specifically for live plants, is essential to the survival of aquatic plants
  • If not using planted tank substrate, be sure to provide your aquatic plants with food additives, iron supplements and fertilizers. 
  • Some planted aquariums may also benefit from CO2 supplementation
  • Maintaining great water quality with regular water changes and adequate filtration is important to help keep your planted tank healthy
    • Daily: Check filter, water temperature and other equipment
    • Weekly: Test water quality at least once a week. Add aquatic plant fertilizer and supplements to aid in plant growth and development
    • Weekly to monthly: Change 10–25% of the total volume of water every 2–4 weeks, or as needed; change filter media monthly. Replenish root tabs beneath plants monthly, if utilizing




Issue Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Yellowing or paling leaves Symptoms or Causes Insufficient nutrients, poor water quality, nutrients out of balance, light deficiency Suggested Action Add liquid and root plant fertilizers; test water and perform water change; improve lighting
Health Issue Green water Symptoms or Causes Algae bloom, too much light (direct sunlight), excessive nutrients, overfeeding, overstocked aquarium Suggested Action Reduce photo period and block and direct sunlight; increase water change frequency; reduce feeding; ultraviolet filtration can assist with destroying algae cells
Health Issue Brown/black leaves Symptoms or Causes Too much phosphorus, ammonia or nitrate, iron deficiency Suggested Action Test water; improve water quality; perform water change

A variety of aquatic plants are available at Petco Pet Care Centers, as well as on

Aquatic plant care will depend on the species of plant; some plants are easier to care for than others. Always do your research prior to purchasing. 

Hundreds of aquatic plant species are available to fulfil your specific planted aquarium needs.

Plants absorb carbon dioxide through their leaves and roots.

Aquatic plants benefit from food additives, iron supplements and fertilizers. Different species of plants have different needs, but an all-in-one fertilizer like Flourish works very well for a wide variety of aquatic plants. 

Bolbitis (ferns), anubias and echinodorus (swords) are quite hardy and easy to care for.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco's selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee. 

Because all aquatic life are potential carriers of infectious diseases such as atypical mycobacterium and salmonella, always wash your hands before and after handling your aquatic life or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physician before purchasing or caring for aquatic life and should consider not having aquatic life as a pet.  

Go to for more information about aquatic life and disease.

The information on this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.