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Aquatic plants are plants that have adapted to living in aquatic environments, both freshwater and saltwater. They are found in a wide variety of habitats, including lakes, rivers, ponds, oceans, and wetlands. Aquatic plants play an important role in the aquatic ecosystem by providing food and shelter for fish and other aquatic animals, helping to improve water quality, and producing oxygen.

Knowing how aquatic plants work - the biological process that occurs in them, and how to create the optimal conditions in your planted tank, are the main starting points in your Aquascaping journey. 

Table of contents


What is an aquatic plant?

Aquatic plants are also referred to as hydrophytes or macrophytes. Briefly speaking, an aquatic plant is a plant that has adapted to the living conditions of aquatic environments like lakes, rivers (freshwater) or seas and oceans (saltwater). Aquatic plants are also referred to as hydrophytes or macrophytes.

Aquatic plants in nature

Aquatic plants have an important role in the lake or river’s ecosystem.  In the natural world, most aquatic plants can be found in the shallow areas or littoral zones of lakes and rivers. The plants have an important role in the lake or river’s ecosystem: they pose as an important habitat for fish and they’re a great source of oxygen for all organisms living in the water.

Lush areas of aquatic plants are known to become a refuge for prey and a suitable environment for fish looking to spawn. Another important role that aquatic plants have, is that of cleaning the waters of pollutants and excess sediments.


Transforming sunlight energy into plant food. Photosynthesis is the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that take place within a plant with the help of light’s energy. During this process, CO2 is absorbed and O liberated.

Tiny pores found on a plant’s leaves or stems, called stomata, are in charge of allowing these 2 gases to enter or leave its body. The transfer is powered by light and tiny green pigments called chlorophyll, found in a plant’s cell.

These pigments then chemically combine carbon dioxide and water to produce simple sugars such as glucose, an important source of energy.

During this process, oxygen is released back into the water as a waste or by-product. Is then being used up by organisms such as bacteria or fish and invertebrates. Excess oxygen is transferred into the atmosphere at the water surface.

An important thing to remember is that photosynthesis is most active in the blue and red sections of the light spectrum. Take this into consideration when choosing an effective aquarium light system.

In the natural world, a plant has little control over the rate of photosynthesis. Various environmental factors influence the productivity levels of a plant’s photosynthetic cells, such as: light intensity, carbon dioxide, nutrients availability in the water and temperature.

In the aquarium setup, these factors can be easily manipulated in order to provide aquatic plants with optimal conditions that lead to more efficient and higher rates of photosynthesis. This in turn will promote faster growth and improved plant health.

Understanding Your Plants

Research: Different plant species have varying needs for light, nutrients, and CO2. Researching the specific plants you choose is crucial for success.


Optimizing the Environment


Light is the first and most important element to consider when starting out with aquascaping. Light conditions provided by the sun in natural environments need to be replicated in the aquarium, taking into consideration a couple of factors. The following factors directly affect the rate of photosynthesis. 

Light duration

In order to replicate a plant’s natural conditions, you should strive to provide your tropical plants with up to 8 hours of direct lighting, a timeframe called photoperiod. In new aquascapes, go for lower periods of 5-6 hours in order to avoid algae growth.

Intensity of light

In order to determine the brightness, or intensity, of a given light source we use a measurement unit known as lumen. In turn, the efficiency of that light source is given by the number of total lumens produced per watt of power.

A simple comparison can be made between an incandescent bulb and a fluorescent tube. The former converts a lot of power to heat, rather than light.

When discussing light intensity, another important measurement unit to keep in mind is the lux. Lux values are the equivalent of lumens per square meter. Lux is measured using a tool called luxmeter or lightmeter.

Light intensity requirements vary widely between plants found in nature and is determined by the location where a particular plant grows, be it in an open shallow area of a river or a more shaded part in a lake.

Most aquarium plants can easily adapt to living under light sources with a certain number of lux value, that’s why is very easy today to create aquascapes involving up to 20 types of aquatic plants.

But for comparison purposes, let’s round up some aquatic plants and their lux requirements:

  • Under 500 lux - Shaded Cyptocoryne wenddtii and Vesicularia dubyana (Aquatic moss)
  • 500 - 1000 lux - Moderate Anubias nanaAponogeton madagascariensisEchinodorus sp.
  • 1000 - 1500 lux - Bright Bacopa carolinianaEgeria densaLudwigia sp.Marsilea sp.
  • 1500+ lux - Very bright Heteranthera zosterifoliaHygrophila polyspermaMicrosorium pteropusRiccia fluitansHemianthus calitrichoides Cuba.

Source of light quality

Visible light ranges from Violet to Red and is described as wavelengths, ranging from 400 to 750 nanometers (abbreviated nm; 1 nm is equal to a billionth part of a metre). This range is called Photosynthetic Active Radiation – PAR.

It is well known that plants use only the Red and Blue light from the spectral chart. There’s a long debate whether Green light is also used, and the common thought is that most of it is being reflected (hence the green color of most plants).

Another light characteristic to take notice of is color temperature. Color temperature is indicated in degrees Kelvin (°K) and specifies the colour of the light. Sunlight has a color temperature of around 6500K, so when choosing an aquarium lamp for your next aquascape, look for values between 5500K and 6500K, in order to replicate natural conditions.

Higher color temperatures (7000-10000K) give off a bluish tint and are more suitable for marine aquariums.

By far the best source of light you can use for your aquascaping plants these days is the one emitted by LED lamps.

Modern aquarium LED fixtures have become so advanced in the last couple of years with most of them packing high-end features like: bluetooth connection with your phone (smart app), remote control, full spectrum settings, preset configurations, 24/7 programmable controls and many others.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Aquatic plants feed off the carbon dioxide they found in the surrounding water and substrate. The lack of sufficient carbon dioxide limits photosynthesis and thus prevents healthy and lush plant growth.

In order for your plants to reach their highest potential, you have to provide them with additional CO2. This is easily done with modern CO2 systems that can be purchased online or from aquascaping stores.


It’s a true fact in aquascaping that plants don’t feed only on carbon dioxide. By analysing plant material you’ll discover that it contains not only oxygen, hydrogen and carbon.

But a lot more other elements which are grouped into two categories: macro and micro.

Macro nutrients
Nitrogen (N), Potassium (K), Phosphorus (P), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S).

Micro nutrients
Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn), Zinc (Zn), Boron (B), Copper (Cu), Molybdenum (Mo), Chlorine (Cl).

Micro nutrients (or trace elements) are vital to a healthy plant growth. Failing to supply your aquatic plants with these elements will result in various deficiencies. Common symptoms include leaves turning brown or melting.

Both macro and micro nutrients are obtained from the substrate with the help of the roots system. Nutrients absorption is also done directly through a plants’ stem and leaves. 

Substrate: Utilize a specialized aquarium substrate that provides nutrients and anchors roots. Choose a 5-7 cm layer suitable for your plants (thicker for root feeders).


Use clean, dechlorinated water. Consider RO water for sensitive plants. Perform regular water changes (around 1/3 weekly) and maintain good water quality through filtration.


Maintain a stable temperature range suitable for your chosen plants. Most tropical fish and plants prefer temperatures between 24-28 degrees Celsius.

Plant Care


Add fertilizer according to plant needs and tank size. Over-fertilization can lead to algae growth.


Regularly prune overgrown plants to encourage healthy growth and maintain aesthetics. Remove dead or decaying leaves.


Create a gentle water flow to prevent stagnation and deliver nutrients to plants.


Arrange plants strategically. Taller plants go in the background, shorter ones in the foreground, and mid-ground plants fill the space between.

Additional Tips

Start Slowly

Begin with a few easy-care plants and gradually add more as your expertise grows.

Balance is Key

Maintain a balance between light, nutrients, and CO2 to prevent algae growth.

Monitor Regularly

Regularly check water parameters, plant health, and adjust your routine accordingly.

In addition to following these steps and thoroughly researching the types of plants you choose, we also provide a tool as bellow to help you optimize your equipment before embarking on the process of creating a beautiful underwater garden in your aquarium!

Aquarium Schedule

With our tool, you can be confident that your aquarium will be set up for success.

Step 1: Choosing the Right Aquarium Tank 

Step 2: Choosing the Right Filtration system

Step 3: Choosing the Right Lighting system

Step 4: Choosing the layout style

Step 5: Maintance schedule 

Select date to start

Follow this guide to get more pleasure and more success with your planted tank!


 By following these simple steps, you can create a beautiful and thriving underwater garden that will be the envy of all your friends. Wishing you all the best in your journey to create a stunning aquatic masterpiece.

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