Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Benefits of Plants in the Aquarium

While surfing around the other aquarium websites on the internet, most dealing with fish only freshwater aquariums, I noticed that a large part of keeping a fish only aquarium is trying to overcome the drawbacks of not having live plants. It also made me realize how hard it was to actually keep fish when I still had a fish only aquarium. Diseases such as Ich were commonplace, and although the medicine was available to treat the diseases, I still invariably lost a few fish along the way. This never struck me as strange until now. Instead of desperately trying to keep the fish alive, in a planted aquarium the goal shifts to keeping the plants happy. If the plants are happy, the fish thrive. This is due to the immense benefits that keeping live plants in an aquarium can bring, including:

Aeration - Fish only aquariums are often aerated with an airstone in a desperate attempt to keep oxygen levels high so fish can breathe. In a planted aquarium, as in nature, the live plants provide all the oxygen your fish will ever need through photosynthesis. An airstone and air pump (and all the noise and vibration that go along with them) are unnecessary in a planted aquarium.

Filtration - Power filters, sponge filters, and canister filters are the only means of filtration in a fish only aquarium. It's up to these filters to remove all fish waste and waste produced by excess food. This is achieved through mechanical filtration, chemical filtration (via carbon), and biological filtration (via bacteria growing on the filter media). There are many designs of filters out there and some are better than others, but all suffer from one flaw: if not cleaned properly and regularly, their effectiveness drops. In a planted aquarium, on the other hand, only mechanical filtration is truly needed. Plants can handle chemical and biological filtration fairly well. They absorb chemicals that are harmful to fish (in fact they live off of the chemicals produced by fish waste) and provide a perfect medium for beneficial bacteria to grow on. Of course, plants have their limits of filtration as well and most planted aquariums have a back up filter providing mechanical and biological filtration. Chemical filtration in the form of carbon will remove beneficial compounds and fertilizers needed by plants, and is not advised for a planted aquarium.

Protection - In fish only aquariums, the focus is the fish themselves, and their environment can be somewhat neglected. Not having enough protection can cause fish to be stressed and more succeptable to disease. Although artifical decorations and plants can be bought and put in the aquarium to provide protection and cover for fish, they are inferior to real plants in many ways. First, they provide none of the benefits listed so far aside from a location for beneficial bacteria to colonize. Second, they are much more likely to injure fish. Live plants aren't hard and don't have sharp edges like plastic plants can.

Food Source - The only source of food in a fish only aquarium is the owner of the aquarium (aside from algae for algae eaters). That means the fish are entirely dependent on you and the food you give them. If you don't make wise choices and vary their diet, they may not be as healthy and can become more succeptable to disease. Also, if you forget to feed them, they have no alternative food sources. In a planted aquarium, the fish have a choice. Although not all fish will eat plants, most will pick at the leaves and dead or dying plant matter if no other food is available. It also helps to vary their diet. Many fish are omnivorous and need to eat plant material.

Algae Prevention - Algae is often a problem in fish only aquariums, and although keeping algae eaters and scraping the glass with an algae scraper are ways of combatting some algae, other types of algae are more stubborn. Algae occurs because there are nutrients in the water and there is light (even low light). In a planted aquarium, plants can outcompete algae and use up all of the nutrients in the water. Although this can open up a whole other can of worms while you try to get your light levels and nutrient levels right, once you get your planted aquarium balanced, you will most likely never have to clean the glass or pull algae off the gravel again.

And there you have it. These are only the practical benefits I can think of, there are many many more benefits to owning a planted aquarium, and it's easier than you may think. Even just a few floating plants can make a serious impact in the health of your fish and the tank as a whole. So what are you waiting for? Throw out that noisy air pump and dirty airstone, toss the neon pink plastic plants and cheesy castle decoration, and take the plunge into a planted aquarium. Your fish will thank you!


  1. Also planted tanks looks way,way better then fish-only tanks!

  2. after reading practically all of your postings, I have made some great changes in my 20 Gal tank. I am still having a bit of an algea problem and I can't seem to figure if I have the correct light and CO2 balance. I can say that once I added the CO2 my plants just grew like crazy...I really enjoy your postings and I read them on a regular basis...I look forward to your posting for beginners, I have been doing this for a year now...I am always looking to learn more...thanks for your help you are a great resource...

  3. PLants are very beneficial indeed.. But at night they give off Carbon instead of oxygen. And if heavily populated with fish the oxygen will be all used up and you will see fish at water level tring to get some oxygen.

    * Absorbs CO2 (in daylight)
    * Gives off O2 (in daylight)
    * Absorbs toxins
    * Harbors beneficial bacteria
    * Serves as food source
    * Inhibits algae growth


    * Can cause O2 deficiency at night
    * Creates waste when decayed
    * Can carry parasites
    * Not easy to clean
    * Requires good lighting

    1. First... fantastic article. I was looking for something that was already written like this, so I could show someone. While it's not a definitive list, it's certainly a good one.

      Thanks for posting. =]


      Dissolved oxygen, produced by plants in the tank does not just disappear overnight. Plants create a great deal of O2 in the water column. The amount of CO2 that is produced at night is negligible in comparison.

      With that said, if you're using a filter (canister or hob), if the outlet breaks surface tension, you're also adding O2 into the water column. You're fine without an air stone/bubbler.

      Decaying plants create detritus. Detritus is also eaten by many organisms in the tank (including many fish, snails and shrimp).

      Yes, they could carry parasites (or nuisance snails), but they could also carry additional beneficial organisms, like paramecium, which can also be eaten by fish (especially fry).

      What's not easy to clean? Your plants? If they're healthy, you don't need to "clean" them. If you have an algae problem, then you've got something to worry about - such as a light/nutrient imbalance.

      Not all plants require "good" lighting. You have options... from low lighting to very high lighting plants.

  4. I just started using live plants in my Beta bowl. Is it my imagination or does the water stay clean longer?

  5. My Texas Cichlid (Pepe) HATES plants!

  6. The o2 deficency can be easily avoided overnight w/ a cheap airstone and a low power pump. Turn the air pump on when you turn your tank light off and vise versa turn the air pump off in the morning.

  7. Very cool idea! Thanks for posting this.
    Really its amazing information about Fish Tank
    Awesome job !!! well done keep it up.

    Fish Tank

  8. Greetings. I am looking to install a 40 gallon planted tank, and have been looking at many forums to find the best filtration system for my tank. And I can say that everyone and I mean everyone seems to know what is best. But I have never seen such diversity into what is best.Canister filter, HOB filter, no filter, internal filter, everyone seems to have their own idea,and it is not helping me and others in the same situation

  9. Very informative,thanks a lot.

  10. i have plants in my aquarium and a carbon filter.. is it really bad for the plants? if so what kind of filter should i get? ps Ive been thinking about getting a new filter anyway

  11. I have an aquarium to house two baby turtles with a handful of fish for them to munch on, and for some reason I was having some difficulty keeping it clean. However, there are now two fairly large plants in the tank, and I've started using a handful of useful cleaners (that use bacteria and enzymes to help keep the water clean), and it has worked fantastic. But after reading your post, I now I realize that these plants have more benefits than simply providing my turtles with a place to hide and a more comfortable environment.

  12. I have just added live plants to my aquarium and now my gold fish is getting rather fruity with my recently added commet, hes nearly tripple the size of her do i need to sepperate them? also will algae start to grow for my loach now that i have live plant matter and light?

  13. can anyone explain how the Carbon cycle works in a well planted aquarium (or the issues it may have)

  14. it is really agood post and also agood replay from different people who planting their fish tank and tell their results thank you very much

  15. We showed you what some of the types of fish are, it's very important not to mix fish that are going to fight with each other. All of these fish, although they seem very peaceful, are all very aggressive by nature.

  16. Gosh my aquarium looks so much better now after i added some live plants in it plus my goldfishies looks happier too


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