Setting up a planted fish tank and seeing your own little aquatic jungle come to life is always exciting! Having plants float up to the surface minutes later is one of the most frustrating parts of aquascaping. Learn how to anchor aquarium plants safely, and you’ll never have to deal with that annoyance again.
To anchor aquarium plants, you can tie them up to another aquascape element or place them in a generous substrate layer. Anchoring methods vary depending on what type of live plants you have.
Making sure that your aquarium plants will stay in place even after you turn on your tank’s gear is essential. Securely anchored plants will withstand the water current created by the aquarium’s filter and air pump.
There are a few external factors that can lead to living plants getting uprooted. Even the fish might put your anchoring solutions to the test. This guide will show you how to anchor aquarium plants without ruining the esthetics of your planted aquarium.
9 Easy & Effective Ways To Anchor Aquarium Plants
Anchoring live aquarium plants is a must for most plant species. Some need it to have time to form strong root systems, while others simply thrive in the crevices of rocks or wood.
Using weights to hold plants down at the bottom of the tank is tricky. You’ll need to hide your anchoring props in order to not ruin the natural look of a planted tank. You’ll also need to make sure you’re not damaging the plant’s roots or preventing it from growing.
Here are 9 safe & efficient ways to anchor aquarium plants:
1) Lay down a generous substrate layer
This anchoring method is what most aquarists use when setting up a planted tank. You can research how your plants tend to form roots. This will tell you how thick the substrate layer should be to securely anchor them.
You’ll need a layer of substrate for planted aquariums that’s at least 3 inches thick for most aquatic plant species. If you plan on adding a layer of sand as well, a 1-inch layer of aquarium sand will work to keep plants rooted without crushing the roots down.
Mature aquarium plants with an already developed root system are easier to anchor using a generous substrate layer. Unfortunately, this method won’t work on seedlings or plants with shorter roots.
2) Anchor aquarium plants in crevices
Have fish tank decorations with plenty of nooks and crannies? Textured rocks with cracks in them and even the crevices on driftwood make excellent plant anchoring spots!
You can use an ultra-thin fishing line to secure aquarium plants in any crevice. The fishing line will go unnoticed, while the plant will, in time, use its roots to grab onto the object that you’re anchoring it to.
This plant anchoring method is excellent for plants that are considered non-rooting plants. These plants rarely develop roots long enough to stay rooted in the substrate layer (Java Fern is a good example).
3) Use weights to anchor aquarium plants
Even if your live plants have the potential to stay rooted in substrate alone, external factors can uproot them if not anchored. A filter with strong output, or bottom-dwellers that like to dig into the substrate, are just two of many uprooting culprits.
To prevent this, along with a moderate layer of sand, you can use weights to anchor live plants.
Stones, pebbles, and other décor pieces laid at the base of the plant will deter bottom feeders from nipping at the plant’s stem.
Make sure any weights you use aren’t particularly heavy. They can crush a plant’s roots, or damage the stem, especially if you’re anchoring live plant seedlings. Voluminous in size but light in weight is the ideal ratio for these weights.
If you’re keeping fish that like to tug at the plants, especially tall and narrow ones, this method works like a charm.
4) Tie aquarium plants to driftwood
If you prefer aquascaping with driftwood over hardscaping with rocks, you can use the same method to anchor plants to pieces of wood.
In this case, zip-ties or rubber bands can look a bit off. You can use a fishing line to anchor live plants to driftwood. If you’re trying to secure mature plants with developed roots, you can just wrap the roots around a part of the wood
Here are a few examples of live aquarium plants that you can anchor to rocks & driftwood:
- Java Fern;
- Java Moss;
- Dwarf Baby Tears;
- African Water Fern;
- Christmas moss.
5) Tie aquarium plants to rocks
Securing live plants to rocks works the same way as sticking them into décor crevices does. The plants will eventually spread their roots to attach themselves to the rock firmly.
This anchoring method works great for tall plants with large leaves. The rock is heavy enough to hold the plant down even when fish pull at the leaves or swim through them.
You can use plastic zip ties or rubber bands to anchor a plant to a rock. The visuals don’t matter much because once the plant extends its roots sufficiently, you can bury the rock in the gravel.
Make sure you tie the plant at least a ½ an inch above the roots and do it gently enough so that you don’t damage the stem.
6) Anchor plants using fish-safe adhesive
Having a hard time not looking at the fishing line, thin thread, zip-ties, or rubber bands because you know they’re there? You can use aquarium-safe glue to anchor your plants into crevices or to secure them to rocks/driftwood.
Cyanoacrylate glue is an instant-set fast-curing glue that’s 100% fish-safe and aquarium-safe. Fishkeepers use it all the time to secure their rockscapes and even to mount corals in reef tanks.
7) Use plastic mesh for carpet plants
Nylon mesh laid underneath a thin layer of substrate is a great anchoring prop for carpet aquarium plants. The mesh will allow carpet plant seedlings to develop stronger roots, which will create a sturdier carpet.
You can hold down the mesh by securing it with weights in all the corners of the fish tank. For caution’s sake, you should avoid keeping bottom feeders in the aquarium temporarily. Wait until your carpet plants have had time to settle in and grab onto the nylon mesh.
8) Keep live plants in their nursery pots
Aquarium plants that don’t necessarily spread their root systems deep and wide can be kept in their nursery pots. You can transfer them to a terracotta pot if you’re going for a more natural look, but the principle stands.
This anchoring style will prevent your plants from floating up and most nosy bottom dwellers. To also keep greedy herbivores from attacking the stem, you can use lightweight pebbles to protect the base of the plant.
If you’re buying potted seedlings of plants that grow long roots, you might have to move the plant to a bigger pot as the live plant grows.
9) Ceramic plant anchors
Store-bought plant anchors are usually just ceramic weight-shaped like short hollow cylinders. You just stick the plant’s roots & a small part of the stem through them. If the plant isn’t mature enough to fill the hole, you can use a small piece of sponge as a buffer.
You then push the ceramic plant anchor under the substrate, and you’re all set. Because the anchor isn’t pushing on the roots, the plant can easily develop its root system.
Ceramic anchors work great if you’re keeping larger bottom feeders, like loaches. They can easily push lightweight plant anchoring stones out of the way while foraging for food.
DIY Aquarium Plant Anchors
Following the same principles as a store-bought ceramic plant anchor, you can make your own anchors using plastic bottle caps. The wider, the better!
Make a cross slit in a plastic bottle cap, large enough to fit the plant’s roots and stem. Once you push the plant’s stem through the slit, you need to weigh down the cap.
Use rocks or dense gravel.
You can then go ahead and wiggle your DIY anchor into the substrate, to hide it.
Here’s a tutorial you can follow, if you’re more of a visual learner:
You can check out more DIY aquarium plant anchoring ideas here:
Why Do Aquarium Plants Need To Be Anchored?
If it’s your first time setting up a planted tank, you might be wondering why you need to anchor aquarium plants. It’s not like there’s that much water turbulence going on in a fish tank, right?
While water movement can play its part in live plants getting uprooted, it’s actually fish that you have to worry about.
Here’s a list of the top 5 reasons why you need to anchor aquarium plants (in no particular order):
1) Bottom feeders
Bottom feeders, and bottom-dwellers in general, can easily uproot a plant that isn’t anchored securely. Even if they’re not necessarily interested in eating the plant itself, they can move enough of the substrate to expose the roots.
Bottom dwellers can uproot aquarium plants when searching for leftover food. And larger-bodied fish can even do it by swimming at the bottom level of the tank.
Banded leporinus fish are notorious for tearing apart planted tanks. Plecos, oscars, and larger cichlids can also make keeping a planted tank thriving harder.
2) Herbivorous plant grazers
Fish that have an herbivorous palate will nibble at live aquarium plants, even if they’re considered omnivores. Herbivores like silver dollar fish, mono fish, or Buenos Aires tetras can all eat massive amounts of plant matter.
All these pet fish can make keeping aquarium plants rooted a constant battle. You can try to anchor live plants in more than one way (ceramic anchor + weights) when keeping greedy herbivores.
As long as fish don’t eat the roots, most plants will continue to grow even if they’re nibbled on. So, anchoring the plants deeper in the substrate layer should be enough to keep them alive.
3) Burrowing fish
Some species of fish, shrimp, and snails will not only search the substrate for food but also burrow themselves into gravel or sand. These are normal behaviors, but they can mean trouble for an unanchored live plant.
To prevent burrowers from uprooting your plants, you can use any of the methods listed above. Placing voluminous lightweight buffers (stones, pebbles) between the plant’s stem and the substrate should do the trick just fine.
Fish that like to dig at the substrate, like goldfish, are harder to deter. But once your plants develop a strong enough root system, even they won’t be able to uproot them.
4) First-timers in a planted tank
A fish that’s accustomed to being in a bare tank, like a fish nursery, will tug at plants when first introduced in a planted aquarium. They do it out of curiosity, but once they settle in, they’ll treat the plants like all other fish do.
If you secure your plants using any anchoring method from the get-go, you won’t have to worry about this accommodation phase.
5) Filter position & flow rate
Fish aside, a water current that’s too strong for the size of your planted tank can cause plants to get uprooted. A filter with a high flow rate positioned right next to your midground plants will make it hard for the plants to stay put.
Anchoring these plants to a textured piece of driftwood will protect them from water agitation.
Your plants will lose leaves left and right with too many sources of aeration in the tank (air pump, wavemaker, etc.). If this is the case, you should definitely cut back on the number of aerators you’re using.
Best Plants To Add To An Aquarium
Here are 4 of the most popular aquarium plants in the fishkeeping hobby:
Dwarf Anubias is a popular live aquarium plant in the fishkeeping hobby. It’s a relatively slow-growing plant that you won’t have to trim too often to keep it looking lush.
Growing Anubias will provide all the benefits of having a live plant in a fish tank without sacrificing too much swimming space. It grows in short bunches, and you can anchor it using the nylon mesh method.
Trim it regularly, and you can have a securely anchored carpet in your planted tank with minimal effort.
Anubias can also be anchored to rocks, or driftwood, as the roots will wrap around the planting site.
Anubias Nana (Anubias barteri var. nana)
2) Amazon Sword
Amazon Swords stem out of a small and stubby rhizome, which makes them easy to anchor in a generous substrate layer. You’ll need at least a 3-inch substrate layer to keep the plant securely rooted.
Large grain sand is an excellent choice for growing this live aquarium plant.
The Amazon Sword plant should be anchored somewhere in the midground of a planted tank. This will allow it to grow to its full potential. Its bushy leaves make it an excellent refuge area for shy and nervous fish.
Amazon Sword Plant (Echinodorus grisebachii)
3) Water Wisteria
Water wisteria is low-maintenance and hardy aquarium plant that can withstand the trials & errors of a novice fishkeeper. You can plant it as a carpet or keep it in small compact bushes. Fish usually use it as a spawning site because it has the perfect size density to hide eggs or fish fry.
To plant a water wisteria carpet, you should anchor the stems of the plant sideways. The tiny leaves that are pointing up will grow as the plant grows its roots.
To anchor water wisteria, you can use the nylon mesh method for the carpet effect. To keep it as a dense, bushy plant, secure its roots using a ceramic anchor or by tying it to a rock. Cover your plant anchor with fine gravel or sand.
Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
Ok, we know algae aren’t true plants (they’re photosynthetic protists), but they are certainly worth mentioning. Growing algae in your tank might sound weird, but Coralline is actually a beneficial type of marine algae. It’s a type of red algae that will provide saltwater invertebrates with plenty of nutrients.
Coralline, also known as cactus algae, is a macroalgae, which means it will outcompete saltwater weeds and keep a reef tank clean. This algae’s wellbeing is also a reliable indicator of how well a reef tank is maturing.
To anchor cactus algae, you can use reef cyanoacrylate gel glue. Most aquarists secure it on live rock.
Coralline (Cactus Algae)
Anchoring your aquarium plants is just as important as trimming them and removing dead plant matter.
A secured live plant will reward you with lots of growth. Keep in mind that live plants also need fertilizers and plenty of light to thrive.
The roots of an anchored plant have the best chances of developing and grabbing onto their planting site. You’ll have an easier time caring for your aquatic garden when you don’t have to deal with the frustration of uprooted floating plants.
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