Plants add beauty to an aquarium, as well as a place for fish to hide. They can also provide extra filtration, helping keep the water clean. Many plants thrive in an aquarium environment, and choosing varieties of sizes and appearances enhances the display. Live aquarium plant care can be challenging, but the reward of displaying live plants rather than plastic ones can be well worth the extra effort.
Pour a 2-inch layer of laterite or other substrate specifically for aquatic plants in the bottom of the tank; this substrate will hold nutrients.
Pour an inch of gravel on top of the substrate for decoration and to help anchor plants.
Place a filter in the tank. This filter should not be an under-gravel filter, as plant roots will clog them.
Test your water and treat as necessary to remove chlorine and other harmful chemicals and adjust for the proper pH for your plants.
Place a shallow bowl or saucer upside down on the surface of the gravel and pour water on the bowl to prevent disturbing the gravel surface.
Fill the tank with water to a depth of 5 to 6 inches; this depth will make it easier to place your plants than if you fill the tank to the top.
Set your aquarium heater to the temperature required by your plants and wait for the water to reach the right temperature before planting.
Remove dead leaves and check your plants for signs of disease.
Place tall plants in the back of the aquarium, medium-height plants in the middle and shorter plants in the foreground so you can see them all in the finished display.
Move aside the gravel and dig a hole in the substrate. Place the plant in the hole and gently cover the roots with substrate, then gravel, to anchor the plant.
Tie a small fishing weight to the stem of cuttings that refuse to stay anchored in the substrate and remove the weight when the plant has established roots.
Fill the aquarium the rest of the way with water once you've added all your plants.
Install grow lights according to the needs of the plants you have chosen. For most planted tanks, plan to use a light fixture that provides 2 to 3 watts of light for each gallon of water in the tank.
Apply fertilizers formulated specifically for aquarium plants; these can either be liquid or pellets pushed into the substrate.
Remove any leaves that begin to brown or leaves that die; algae will feed on the decaying material and can grow out of control quickly.
Reduce the number of hours you light your tank or the amount of fertilizer you add to it to starve out algae that grows out of hand.