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FISH / fun & fashion

How to Grow Aquatic Plants for Your Tank

Decorating your fish tank with live plants


5 things to know about aquatic plants

  • Purpose: Plants help regulate the aquarium ecosystem by removing harmful chemicals from the water
  • Size: They grow up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall
  • Lifespan: They can live from 1 to 5 years
  • Habitat: Aquatic plants thrive in a tropical community aquarium
  • Did You Know: Some fish species will eat plants or uproot them. However, most tropical community fish will not harm plants

How do I set up my aquarium for aquatic plants?

  • To grow properly, aquarium plants need 8 to 12 hours daily of simulated sunlight. Set up the aquarium near a power source (but out of the real sun). Then use a hood light on the tank to provide the rays.
  • The amount of light your aquarium will need depends on the size of the tank. The table below shows how much lighting to install or equivalent LED.
Tank Size
10-gallon tank
One 15-watt tube
20-gallon tank
One 30-watt tube, or two 15-watt tubes
30-gallon tank
Two 20-watt tubes
40-gallon tank
Two 30-watt tubes
50-gallon tank
Two 40-watt tubes
85-gallon tank
Three 40-watt tubes
  • When considering plants for your tank, don’t choose so many that there isn’t enough room left over for the fish.
  • Layer the bottom of the aquarium with 2 to 3 inches (5-8 cm) of aquarium gravel (that’s about 1½ pounds of gravel per gallon of water), or other substrate designed for plants.
  • Add aquarium-plant fertilizer according to the instructions on the label.
  • Fill the aquarium halfway with water.
  • Add plants. Bury them in the gravel up to the base of their stems. For bulbs and tubers, cover the bulb with gravel up to the growing tip.
  • Add fish furniture, rocks, thermometers and any other aquarium accessories.
  • Finish filling the tank with water.

Where should I place plants in the aquarium?

  • Use foreground plants, which stay short, in the front of the tank.
  • Use middle-ground plants, which grow about 4 to 10 inches (10-25 cm) tall, along the sides and to leave an open swimming area near the center of the aquarium.
  • Use the tallest plants to hide the aquarium’s filter tubes and heaters, against the back wall of the aquarium.
Shop aquarium plants & rocks Shop aquarium hood lighting Shop aquarium starter kits

How do I keep aquarium water clean?

  • For optimum water quality, change 10% of the water each week, or 25% each month.
  • Regular water changes not only prevent the undesirable accumulation of solid wastes, but also remove nitrates and other waste products of the fish and plants.
  • PetSmart offers free aquarium-water testing. Bring in a sample of your aquarium water and we can test the quality within minutes.

How do I keep aquatic plants healthy?

If you notice any of the signs described below, speak with a PetSmart store associate about the health of your plant:

  • Brown spots on leaves
  • Pale green to yellowish leaves
  • Plants cease to grow and die off
  • Rotting bulbs
  • Algae in the aquarium
  • Take care when growing semi-aquatic (that is, not fully aquatic) plants in an aquarium. Semi-aquatic plants do best when their roots are submerged in the gravel underwater, but their tops grow above the water surface.


  • Thoroughly wash and rinse your hands before contact with your aquarium.
  • Aquatic animals and plants can transmit disease to humans. Wash your hands with soap and water after interacting with your aquarium. Children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with immune-system problems should take extra care. Adults should assist children with hand washing.
  • Keep aquatic plants and habitats away from food and areas where food is prepared.
  • Do not dispose of aquatic plants in the wild. They may harm the environment.


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