How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants

How to Quarantine, Disinfect, and Sterilize Aquarium Plants

At first, when you purchase plants for planting in the aquarium, you may be wondering whether there is something to be done before introducing the plants in the tank.

Of course there is: You have to quarantine and sterilize the plants before usage regardless of how reputable the source of purchase is. These plants should be disinfected in order to mitigate risks and prevent the introduction of parasites and other harmful organisms into the tank.

If you are keen on maintaining a clean and healthy tank then you wouldn’t want the contamination of the set-up as a result of the introduction of new plants. Plant quarantine is very important to avert the transfer of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, parasites and pathogens in the tank water.

Therefore before planting newly purchased plants in the aquarium, take precautionary measures first.

Reasons to Quarantine New Plants

1. Snail infestation. 

Frankly saying, this is the most common reason. Snails will often hitchhike on aquatic plants and make themselves at home in your tank. For example, Bladder Snails (Physa acuta), Pond snails (Lymnaea stagnalis), and Malaysian Trumpet Snails (Melanoides Tuberculata) are very good at it. All these new snails pop up out of “nowhere”, and you have no idea why and how! I mean … what could possibly go wrong?

For more information, you can read my article “How to Remove Snails from a Shrimp Tank”.

2. Parasites and Predators

This is not a joke. For example, some aquarists lost their fish and colonies of shrimp to such monsters like dragonfly or damselfly nymphs. They are natural hunting machines, they can catch including shrimp and fish of their size!

Once nymphs get into your aquarium, it is extremely hard to get rid of them. Therefore, the best option is to prevent it.

For more information, you can read my article “Dragonfly and Damselfly Nymphs. Monsters in Shrimp Tanks. Treatment”.

3. Pesticides and Contaminations

There were situations when people bought new plants and put them into their tanks without quarantine. As a result, they had massive die-offs of fish and shrimp right after that. This is probably because these plants were treated with pesticides to remove parasites. However, the residue of the chemicals can still wipe out your aquarium.

4. Algae, Fungus and other Diseases

Yes, unfortunately, it also happened to some people.

There are lots and lots of stories you can find on the Internet. So, I hope that there is no need to convince you anymore.

Step-by-Step Quarantine New Plants

  1. Remove the rockwool or any sponge-like material shipped with the plant. While doing this, ensure that you remove them thoroughly and gently. Try to get down to the bare roots and do not leave out any tiny bit of residue stuck to the roots as it can soak pesticides or other pollutants.
  2. Using a pair of scissors, cut back long overgrown roots of the plant to about 1-2cm. The plant will regrow them after a while, so you don’t have to worry.
  3. Sterilize or disinfect new plants.
  4. Water the plants to remove the last residue of rock wool and immerse them in a bucket of clean water for several days (at least 5 days).
  5. Add Searchem Prime (link to check the price on Amazon) to the bucket of water. It will bind pesticides and other residues. Seachem Prime is a water conditioner and it detoxifies ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. It also gets rid of heavy metals found in some tap water and removes chlorine and chloramine.
  6. Implement full water changes every day till the end of the process. Make sure to add Seachem Prime after each water change.
  7. After the 5-day quarantine, rinse the plants with clean tap water.
  8. The plants are now ready to be introduced into the aquarium

Note:  By doing quarantine and sterilization of the plants, you have the maximum possible protection. So, if you want to play safe, do not do just disinfection (read below).

Disinfection (Sterilisation) of new plants before planting

People often view the quarantine of new plants as a long process and cumbersome. Due to their impatience, they like to opt for faster means, which will give a similar result. That can be attained by sterilization with chemicals.

Before introducing the plants into the aquarium, it is necessary that you sterilize them first. The essence of this is to prevent the transfer of snails, toxins, parasites or pathogens into the aquarium. Unfortunately, sterilization still cannot guarantee 100% safety.

Let’s have a look at sterilization methods you can utilize.

Sterilization using Bleach

BleachBleach (link to check the price on Amazon) is a strong and effective disinfectant. It’s active ingredient – sodium hypochlorite, denatures protein in microorganisms and is therefore effective in killing bacteria, parasites, algae, fungus, and viruses. Household bleach works fast and effectively and it is widely available for purchase at low costs. Diluted bleach is strongly recommended for the disinfection of aquarium plants, materials, and equipment.

Here are the procedures to follow:

  1. Rinse your new plants with room temperature (normal) water.
  2. Use a regular bleach eg. Clorox at a recommended ratio of 19 cups water to 1 cup bleach (19:1). For this purpose, use bleach that contains as few additives as possible (no soap, perfume, colorant). If using concentrated bleach, use ¾ of a cup.
  3. Put the plants into the bleach solution and leave them there for just 1 – 2 minutes (no more!). Ensure that the whole plant is immersed. (Use gloves when handling plants with the solution).
  4. Move the plants into a new bucket of room temperature water or alternatively, drain the water containing the bleach solution and refill it with clean water).
  5. Treat it with Seachem Prime water conditioner (put a teaspoon of the dechlorinator) into the bucket of water for 3 minutes.
  6. Rinse the plants several times with tap water.
  7. You can now plant.

Note the following safety measures while using bleach to disinfect aquarium plants:

  • Avoid mixing bleach with other chemicals. You should mic bleach with plain water only.
  • Don’t use bleach in concentrations higher than 10%.
  • The soaking time should never exceed 2 minutes, for delicate plants, I would reduce it to 15 – 20 seconds.

Sterilization using Potassium Permanganate

Potassium Permanganate - Jungle clear waterPotassium Permanganate (for example, Jungle clear water – link to check the price on Amazon) is a strong oxidizing agent with disinfectant properties. It was used before hypochlorites as a water disinfectant and softener. It is a compound that is used by hobbyists for disinfecting plants or ornaments before placement into the aquarium. Potassium Permanganate helps in removing organic build-up in tank water: it kills, parasites, algae, bacteria, and fungi.

Note: Potassium Permanganate loses its potency when exposed to light. Therefore, keep any solution you make away from direct light exposure.

Procedures to follow:

  1. Rinse the plants with tap water.
  2. Get Potassium Permanganate, if it is the crystal type: add 4mg to a liter of room temperature water to form a dark purple/pink solution. If it is the bottled liquid type you have (Jungle Clear Water), all you need to do is to add a few drops to a liter of water.
  3. Dip the plants in the solution and leave them submerged for 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Move the plants to a new bucket of normal tap water and rinse thoroughly.
  5. Treat the plants in fresh dechlorinated water (Use Seachem Prime) for 3 minutes.
  6. Rinse the plants with tap water several times.
  7. Cultivate the plants in the tank

Dechlorinators like Seachem Prime will neutralize the Potassium Permanganate, making the plants safe for planting in the aquarium.

Sterilization using Hydrogen Peroxide

shrimp tank Hydrogen PeroxideHydrogen peroxide (link to check the price on Amazon) is a chemical compound with the formula H2O2. In its pure form, it is a pale blue, clear liquid that is slightly viscous than water. It is the simplest peroxide (a compound with an oxygen – oxygen single bond). Hydrogen peroxide is commonly used as an oxidizer, bleaching agent, and antiseptic.

Hydrogen peroxide might come off as a strong oxidizer, it can kill plants if dipped in it over a long period. The good thing about H2O2 is that it can kill off algae and parasites.

Procedures to follow:

  1. Clean and rinse new plants with normal tap water.
  2. Mix 3% Hydrogen peroxide, 2-3 ml to 1 gallon of water.
  3. Submerge the plants in the solution for 5 minutes, don’t exceed this to avoid discoloration of the leaves.
  4. Rinse plants severally in tap water.
  5. Treat with water conditioner and rinse once again
  6. The plant is now ready for planting.

Sterilization using Alum

Alum (Aluminum sulfate) plant SterilizationAlum (Aluminum sulfate) is the mildest sterilization method. Although this method helps to eliminate snails mostly. It is not really potent against parasites and bacteria.

Steps to follow:

  1. Dissolve 1-3 tablespoons of alum per gallon of normal temperature water.
  2. Soak the plants in the solution for at least 2-3 hours.
  3. Rinse the plants in dechlorinated water.
  4. Introduce plants in the aquarium.

Alum – check out the price on Amazon.

Important: While sterilizing new aquarium plants with bleach, potassium permanganate, and hydrogen peroxide, always remember to wear gloves to protect your skin from chemical harm or reactions. Potassium permanganate leaves stains on surfaces that it comes in contact with, so you have to protect your work area to avoid stains when using potassium permanganate.

In Conclusion

Plant quarantine is a necessity, it is not something you need to debate on whether to do it or not. Bear in mind that the health of your tank inhabitants is at stake if you fail to sterilize plants before introducing them into the tank.

It is up to you to choose the method that will be most convenient. Quarantine is the best practice but if you cannot wait for long then you should opt for any of the other sterilization methods.

 

2 thoughts on “How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants

  1. That’s some informative stuff ! Thank you I was wondering how effective uv light is on algae ? Randy

    1. Hi Randy Hubbard,
      Thank you!
      Regarding your question, it depends on the type of algae.
      UV light can be efficient only when algae spores, bacteria, etc. go through the UV sterilizer. It will not be effective against algae attached to surface areas.
      Therefore, the UV light will be useless against most types of Hair algae, Black beard algae, Green Spot Algae, Diatoms, etc.
      Best regards,
      Michael

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