How to plant aquarium plants in gravel?

Gravel is more than stone and has many uses in aquariums as substrate and anchor for aquatic plants. The type of gravel will determine the type of aquatic plants your ecosystem can support.

Choose a substrate to help balance the water chemistry, manage the nutrient levels, and provide a support base for the plants’ roots. Aquarium gravel has a particular aesthetic. 

Let’s look at how to plant aquarium plants in gravel, which plants are best, and how to grow a planted aquarium successfully.

How to plant aquarium plants in gravel?

Once you’ve opted for gravel as your aquarium substrate, you’ll want to root your plants in it! It may all seem very challenging at first, but it is much easier than you can imagine. 

Here is a step-by-step guide explaining how to do it: 

1. Choose the correct gravel size.

Different gravel size in tank

Gravel substrate comes in different sizes. Choose gravel with grains between three and eight millimeters in size for a beneficial spread. If the pieces are any bigger, the weight could suffocate the plant’s roots and prevent growth. However, if the gravel granules are too small, they won’t give the delicate plant roots enough surface and weight to remain standing. As a result, the plant could die. 

2. Layer and prepare the gravel in the aquarium before planting the plants. 

The next step is to prepare the gravel by arranging it in a single layer at the bottom of your aquarium. Gently add the gravel to the aquarium in a uniform layer no thicker than two inches deep. We suggest keeping the layer less than two inches deep because it will help you clean your aquarium more easily. 

You can also slope the gravel bed toward the back of the aquarium to add more depth, but the back gravel depth shouldn’t be more than three inches deep.

Once you have added enough gravel, add several drops of an aquarium plant fertilizer scattered across the top of the gravel bed. Next, fill the tank halfway with water.

3. Fill the aquarium with plants. 

Gently place your plants in the gravel. Ensure that you hold the roots gently when placing them in the aquarium to prevent the roots and leaves from being damaged. Once you cover the plant root structure with the gravel, put a few extra grains of gravel to provide the plants with additional security and anchor them for maximum growth.  

To keep the plants from floating to the top after you fill the rest of the aquarium, you should weigh them down, even using a section of fishing gut to tie them to a larger piece of substrate like a stone or driftwood by a secure section of the plant.

4. Add the remaining water and fertilize the plants 

Now that you have added all the plants, fill the tank slowly by adding more water. Depending on the plant species that populate your fish tank, you might need to fill it halfway, or even all the way to the top. After adding the remaining water, fertilize the tank, and you’re all set.

Note: it’s best to let the plants acclimate before adding fish. Remove any fish gut or strings that anchor plants before adding fish.   

7 Best Aquarium Plants to Grow In Gravel

Gravel is one of the best substrates for aquarium plants. It prevents bacteria and algae from building up and causing water toxicity. One of the gravel’s most significant benefits is allowing water to circulate through the substrate, thus preventing bacteria buildup quickly. 

Here is a list of the 10 best aquarium plants to grow in aquatic gravel.

1. Cryptocoryne Wendtii

Cryptocoryne Wendtii    

Our first pick is the Cryptocoryne Wendtii. This plant is compatible with gravel and sand and easy to maintain. It is also perfect for aquarium owners who want their tanks aesthetically pleasing. Generically referred to as Wendt’s water trumpet, it thrives among plants that don’t require high light levels and is relatively low maintenance. 

Please remember to take note of the following plant requirements for the Wendt’s water trumpet: 

  • Growth Rate: A medium to fast growth rate. 
  • Max Height: It can grow to a maximum height of 15 centimeters or six inches. 
  • Light Demands: The plant requires low to medium light levels.  
  • Temperature: 73° – 84° F.  
  • CO2 Required: It doesn’t require additional CO2. 


  • It is a low-maintenance plant, making it perfect for beginners and aquarium owners on a budget because it does not require special lighting. As a result, you don’t need to purchase any new lights. 
  • The plant requires minimal levels of pruning. 


  • Since this plant thrives in low light levels, other plants in the same tank that require higher light levels may not grow well with Wendt’s water trumpet.

2. Amazon Sword

Amazon Sword    

Our second pick is the Amazon Sword, scientifically known as Echinodorus grisebachii. We’ve listed this plant as number two because it is low-maintenance and thrives in gravel. This plant is also perfect for beginners with limited experience caring for aquatic plants. 

The Amazon Sword doesn’t require many hours of simulated sunlight and can live peacefully with other plants that require different temperatures. The Amazon Sword is perfect for medium or large-sized aquarium tanks because of its moderate growth rate. We recommend that you plant it in at least two and a half inches of loose gravel so it has room to grow roots to anchor the plant’s size.

Please remember to take note of the following plant requirements: 

  • Growth Rate: The Amazon Sword has a medium growth rate. 
  • Max Height: It can grow to a maximum height of 16 inches. 
  • Light Demands: The Sword needs medium to high levels of light. 
  • Temperature: 72° – 82° F.  
  • CO2 Requirements: It doesn’t require additional CO2. 


  • The Amazon Sword is perfect for beginners and people with tight schedules because this plant does not require much maintenance and care. 
  • It thrives in a wide variety of temperatures. 


  • It grows moderately fast and would need substantial pruning if you have a small aquarium tank.

3. Red Tiger Lotus

Red Tiger Lotus    

The Red Tiger Lotus is our third aquatic plant pick. Its scientific name is Nymphaea zenkeri. This plant is in the top three of our list because, just like our previous recommendations, the Red Tiger Lotus is perfect for growing in aquatic gravel. 

The plant is also low-maintenance, and if you would like to grow lotus flowers, we recommend that you manage the water level to allow the plant top to reach the water’s surface.

This plant makes for a stunning view, thanks to its beautiful, red, arrowhead leaves. While this plant grows quickly, it is easy to start and take care of. Please note that if you bury the Red Tiger Lotus roots too deep in the gravel, they can easily rot. However, you must plant the roots at least two inches deep into the substrate to anchor the plant sufficiently. 

Please remember the following plant requirements: 

  • Growth Rate: The plant’s growth rate is moderate to fast. 
  • Max Height: It can grow to a maximum height of 20 inches. (Including the out-of-water sections.)
  • Light Demands: This plant needs medium to high levels of light. 
  • Temperature: 71° – 82° F.  
  • CO2 Requirements: Additional CO2 is beneficial, but this plant can thrive without it. 


  • The red tiger lotus is perfect for taller fish tanks thanks to its quick growth rate and tall stems.  
  • It is ideal for people in warm places since this plant thrives in warmer climates. 


  • It grows pretty fast, so while low-maintenance, this plant requires regular pruning.
  • Some maintenance requirements as the plant needs additional fertilizer at regular intervals.

4. Anubias


Next on our list is the Anubias plant. These plants belong to a plant species called Araceae, and one can typically find them in parts of West Africa. They have thick and broad leaves and usually grow in riverbeds and marshy waterways. 

One of the most exciting features of this type of plant is that it roots easily in gravel and even in other hard substrates. The Anubias is also straightforward to care for, which means this is the perfect plant if you have an inflexible schedule or a limited budget!

This plant thrives in strong light; its leaves get larger when exposed to higher light levels. However, it is essential to note that it doesn’t need lots of light to grow and that its growth rate is slow. 

Please mind the following plant requirements: 

  • Growth Rate: Its growth rate is slow.  
  • Max Height: It can grow to a maximum height of 16 inches or 40 centimeters. 
  • Light Demands: This plant grows in low light levels but prefers bright light. 
  • Temperature: 72° – 82° F.  
  • CO2 required: This plant does not require additional levels of CO2.


  • Since this plant’s leaves can grow quite large, you could buy a few Anubias plants and fill your tank while simplifying your aquarium care. 
  • They don’t require high levels of light, so less lighting equipment.
  • They also don’t require additional fertilizers or carbon dioxide injections, making them low-maintenance plants. 


  • Since these plants don’t require additional CO2 injections or fertilizer, they might not thrive in an aquarium with other plants and creatures that require the same. So these plants do best in a mono-culture aquarium.

5. Vallisneria


If you want to plant your aquarium to look like a garden submerged in water, you need to plant some Vallisneria as soon as possible! Vallisneria, known as eelgrass or tape grass, is one of the fastest-growing underwater plants that thrive wonderfully in gravel. 

Unlike java fern plants, which one cannot easily plant into a substrate, eelgrass takes root quickly and grows fast. This plant is perfect for you if you live in a tropical or warm country. 

It’s a great plant to fill space in a tank with a few plants. We recommend that you plant it around the tank perimeter at regular intervals to add a little extra greenery! 

Due to its prolific growth rate, the plant requires frequent pruning. 

Vallisneria has the following plant requirements. 

  • Growth Rate: It grows at a medium to fast rate.   
  • Max Height: It can grow to a maximum height of 17+ inches, depending on the type of eelgrass you purchase. 
  • Light Demands: This plant needs medium to high levels of light. 
  • Temperature: 68° – 82° F.  
  • CO2 Requirements: This plant does not require additional levels of CO2. 


  • Eelgrass is perfect for an empty tank that needs more plants to fill space or add aesthetics. 
  • It is ideal for people who live in warm countries and need weather-appropriate greenery in their fish tanks. 


  • This plant grows quickly and requires regular and constant pruning. It is high-maintenance, so you should closely monitor its growth levels to prevent it from growing too dense and tall. 

6. Anacharis Elodea

Anacharis Elodea    

Anacharis Elodea is one of the best gravel-growing plants on our list! Also known as water weeds, these plants hail from South America and are highly adaptable and versatile aquatic plants that are widely available. 

Water weeds are a perfect choice for a fuss-free plant that isn’t temperature sensitive. They are simple to care for and don’t need much of your time.  

Follow these plant requirements: 

  • Growth Rate: It grows fast.   
  • Max Height: Water weeds can grow to a maximum height of 17+ inches, depending on your purchase type.  
  • Light Demands: This plant needs medium to high levels of light. 
  • Temperature: 68° – 82° F.  
  • CO2 Requirements: This plant does not require additional levels of CO2. 


  • These water weeds will ensure that your aquarium remains oxygenated. 
  • They can endure various water conditions, so they don’t require special fertilizers or additional CO2 injections. 


  • This plant grows rampantly, meaning you must trim it regularly as it can grow right out of the tank. 

7. Dwarf Hairgrass

Dwarf Hairgrass    

Eleocharis acicularis, or dwarf hairgrass, is a groundcover plant that creates a lush carpet of underwater grass, softening the aesthetics of the aquarium. It grows rapidly, so you must monitor and prune it when necessary. But it’s easy to care for, a bonus for a beginner. 

The grass forms runners to propagate, and when pruning, nip off these sections to limit excessive growth. 

Dwarf hairgrass helps purify water by using harmful substances like nitrates as fertilizer and releasing oxygen into the water for fish to use. In a tank with small fries or crustaceans, dwarf hairgrass helps provide shelter and protection against larger predatory fish. 

The final benefit is the luminous glow that this carpet grass produces when lit with a good quality LED lighting unit. It really makes for a pretty addition to an aquarium.  

Follow these plant requirements:

  • Growth Rate: Fast growing.   
  • Max Height: Dwarf hairgrass reaches a maximum height of six inches.
  • Light Demands: This plant needs moderate light. 
  • Temperature: 50° – 85° F 
  • CO2 Requirements: No additional CO2 is needed.


  • Ideal for nursery tanks.
  • Low maintenance with occasional pruning. 
  • Easy growing grass.


  • Not ideal for low-light tanks or tanks with excessively bright lighting.
  • Prune regularly with more mature plants.

8. Red Myrio

Red Myrio    

Myriophyllum heterophyllum, also known as red myrio, red foxtail, or two-leaf water milfoil, is native to North and Central America. It makes for a glorious background planting that sets off the colors of vibrant fish. 

The delicate leaves create shelter for smaller fish species and act as a breeding ground for crustaceans that other fish feed on.

Follow these plant requirements:

  • Growth Rate: medium growth rate.   
  • Max Height: Red myrio reaches a maximum height of 12 inches or more (species dependent).
  • Light Demands: This plant needs moderate light. 
  • Temperature: 72-82° F 
  • CO2 Requirements: Some fertilization with CO2 and other root fertilizers are needed.


  • Easy to grow, can propagate with cuttings to populate additional tanks.
  • Beginner-friendly.
  • Adds color to the aquarium background. 


  • It may require pruning since the plant is fast-growing.
  • The CO2 requirements can be challenging to manage.  

9. Ludwigia Repens

Ludwigia Repens    

The Ludwigia repens, or water primrose, is a freshwater plant that creates long trails with a reddish color. It’s a mat-forming plant with dense foliage, ideal for hiding places for smaller fish. It makes a great nursery. 

Regular pruning will contain the plant in smaller tanks, but if you allow it to grow out of the water, seeing a yellow flower resting just above the waterline is a treat.

Enjoy the background foliage of a hedge of Ludwigia repens in your tank and watch fish forage on the leaves for a more balanced ecosystem.  

Follow these plant requirements:

  • Growth Rate: medium to fast growth rate.   
  • Max Height: Ludwigia repens reach a maximum height of 20 inches or more (species dependent).
  • Light Demands: This plant needs high light, but it can grow in moderate light too. 
  • Temperature: 68°F – 82°F 
  • CO2 Requirements: Some fertilization as needed.


  • Fast-growing and easy to manage.
  • Provides a lush green wall as background.
  • Great protection for smaller fish and invertebrates. 


  • Requires pruning when plants get too big.

10. Hornwort


Hornwort or Ceratophyllum is an easy-growing aquatic plant. It’s ideal for beginners, and it quickly establishes an underwater “forest” when planted in the substrate, though it can also grow as an unrooted floating plant.  

The hornwort plant has a central spiral with needles arranged in whorls, creating a visually pleasing result in aquariums. It’s also a great addition to tanks with currents as it sways on the current, adding motion to the tank. Hornwort also helps to clean and clarify the water quality for a more pleasing tank. 

Follow these plant requirements:

  • Growth Rate: fast growth rate.   
  • Max Height: Hornwort reaches a maximum height of 120 inches (usually in the wild or large aquariums).
  • Light Demands: This plant needs moderate light. 
  • Temperature: 59° – 86°F 
  • CO2 Requirements: Some liquid fertilization as needed (weekly if in a highly planted tank).


  • It helps to inhibit the growth of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria).
  • Provides shelter to fish at different heights of the tank.
  • Great water purifier. 
  • Easy and fast growing.

Cons: Requires pruning to keep it under control in smaller tanks as it quickly takes over.

Conditions for Best Aquarium Plant Growth

Keeping aquarium plants isn’t quite the same as growing an outdoor garden, and it may be difficult to adjust your mind to understand the plants live in water, but when you create a few basic conditions, your aquatic plants will thrive. 

Water Conditions

Your tank water quality is just as crucial for your plants as your fish. Using chlorinated water is never a good idea for an aquarium. When you first start your tank, you may need to add a water conditioner and circulate the tank for several hours to remove any harmful chemicals that could poison your plants or fish you later add. 

Each plant species also requires its own water hardness (GH) and an appropriate pH. Ensure you match the tank water hardness and pH to your plants’ requirements and also to that of any fish you add. Testing strips are vital to establish the tank pH, and a water hardness measuring kit is also available. 


The light requirements of your aquatic plants will depend on the species of plants you populate your aquarium with. It’s challenging to grow plants that need high light with plants that prefer low light conditions. So always choose plants with similar lighting requirements so you can more easily (and affordably) satisfy your plants’ lighting needs.

When keeping plants in lighting conditions that aren’t native to them, they may change color, or their leaves may burn. Over time, the plants with too much light exposure may wither and die, while those with insufficient light exposure could become diseased and rot.  


When you choose the aquatic plants you’d like to buy, you should also research what type of substrate each plant requires. There are many different underwater substrates, from gravel and sand to aquatic soil and more. Some plants even prefer to take root in decomposing driftwood to meet their unique nutrient needs.

Carbon Dioxide

Many aquatic plants don’t need CO2 to grow lush. But some plants need higher CO2 levels than what the tank water currently sustains. To balance things, ensure your plants have enough CO2 as a growth-boosting fertilizer; it’s best to research each plant species. Confirm whether you need to add CO2 injections or if you can simply balance the ratio of fish to plants better.  


Like the fish in your aquarium, your plants also have nutrient requirements. Some plants need additional fertilizers to help maintain their overall health, while some live in perfect symbiosis with the fish in the tank. 

For plants and fish to thrive in a hydroponic type of setting, you will have to carefully manage the balance between the production of fish waste and the ability of the plants to filtrate nitrates and convert ammonia, which is not so easy for beginners. 

The best option is to read up on what nutrients your specific plant species require. Also, ensure you know what signs indicate the particular nutrient deficiency your plants may have. Keep the right plant nutrient supplements on hand to provide nutrients to your plants when needed. Consider root-feeding supplements and water column-feeding additives. 

Water Temperature

You may think plants aren’t nearly as sensitive to temperature as your fish are, but you’d be wrong. Like fish, aquatic plants also have their preferred temperature range. Tropical plants won’t grow well in cold water, so you may need to add a tank heater to ensure the water is warm enough for your plants. Research each plant species you add to determine the best temperature. 

Plant Pruning

Part of your plant care routines will include pruning your plants to ensure they grow healthy shoots and avoid the plants becoming overgrown and unmanageable. By regularly pruning your plants, you can prevent the plants from growing “skinny” or “leggy” for a more pleasing plant that’s correctly grown. 

Plant pruning can also be done by your choice in fish as some fish will eat certain aquatic plants like Java moss, helping to maintain the plant’s shape naturally. However, ensure you invest in a good quality plant pruning kit to nip problem plants in the bud.

How to Set Up an Aquarium with Aquatic Plants in Gravel?

Initially, we walked you through a step-by-step process of how to plant aquarium plants in gravel. Perhaps you don’t quite know how to set up the aquarium to plant your own aquatic plants? 

Here’s a quick step-by-step walkthrough for you: 

  1. Purchase LED lighting, gravel, a filtration system, carbon dioxide supplements, and a filtration system. 
  2. Clean the tank to remove any lingering dirt or dust. 
  3. Fill the tank with a few inches of fresh water, ensuring it is level on whatever surface you’ve placed it. 
  4. Install the filtration system using the instructions provided on its packaging. 
  5. Rinse and thoroughly clean your gravel, then layer it in the bottom of your fish tank. 
  6. Rinse all plants before planting to remove any bacteria, snails, or parasites.
  7. Plant the aquarium plants. 
  8. Top up the tank with water. 

How to Fertilize the Plants in an Aquarium?

You can fertilize the plants in your aquarium by purchasing a light to improve photosynthesis. Depending on your plant species, you can inject additional CO2 into the tank to help fertilize the plants. You can also use various iron-enriched fertilizers.

Tips to Grow Aquatic Plants in Gravel

Here are three tips to help you grow aquatic plants in gravel: 

  1. Weigh your plants down with anchors like stainless steel nails and fish gut to prevent the plants from floating to the tank’s surface.  
  2. Be mindful of the type of plants you purchase. Some plants do not have the appropriate root structures to thrive in gravel, so you need to buy plants with appropriately filled roots. 
  3. Ensure that your water quality suits the type of plants you have.

Buying Guide

Buying gravel for your aquarium is simple. You need to keep two interlinked factors in mind: 

Cleanliness and Size

The size of the gravel you purchase directly affects the cleanliness of your tank. If you have a fish tank with small gravel pieces, there’s a good chance that the tank will be much harder to clean. Therefore, choose gravel that is easier to clean while remaining conducive to your plants and creatures.

Wrapping Up

This guide walked you through everything you need to know about growing aquarium plants in gravel. We covered everything from an exhaustive list of plants to a buying guide. 

Growing aquatic plants on a substrate like gravel might sound strange and intimidating, but we can assure you that it is easier than you think! All you need to do is remember that your plants will grow and live in gravel, which must be easy to clean! Once you’ve mastered planting your aquatic plants in gravel, everything will fall into place.

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