Top 7 Aquarium Plants That Grow In Tanks with Gravel or Sand

Top 7 Aquarium Plants That Grow Tanks with Gravel or Sand

In this article, I have put together the top aquarium plants that can easily grow in tanks with gravel, or sand.

The key to growing live plants successfully in an aquarium is to provide them with the best living conditions. Apart from fertilization, lighting, CO2, and optimal water parameters; the choice of substrate is a vital factor that must be put into consideration if you are keen on having healthy plants in your tank.

So, why is it so important? The point is that almost all plants can be divided into two main categories

  • plants that get most of their nutrients from the water,
  • plants that get most of their nutrients from the substrate.

Here comes the most important part, in most cases, gravel or sand do not have the required nutrients. It means that these types of substrates cannot provide anything for the growth of the plant. That is why they are also called inert substrates.

Because of this fact, we have to choose plants that rely on getting most of their nutrients from the water column. Otherwise, they will not survive.

Without further ado, let’s start.

My Top 7 Aquarium Plants That Grow with Gravel or Sand include the following:

  1. Anubias
  2. Bucephalandra
  3. Java fern
  4. Vallisneria
  5. Bacopa Caroliniana
  6. Java Moss
  7. Marimo Moss Ball

Note: Some other articles on the Internet mention Amazon sword, Tiger lotus, Cryptocoryne sp., etc. Personally, I do not understand the logic. All these plants are heavy root feeders! They require a nutrient-rich substrate or plenty of the root tabs. So, what is the point?

Note #2: Obviously, in this list of the best aquarium plants that can grow in tanks with gravel or sand substrate I did not include any floating plants. Nonetheless, if you need more information, you can always read “Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners”.  

1.    Anubias

Anubias plantAnybias plants have been in the aquarium hobby for decades. There are more than 10 varieties of Anubias, ranging from the largest variety Anubias Gigantea to the smallest – Anubias Nana.

These beautiful plants will offer a great contrast to any other plants in the aquarium.

Anubias is easy to care for, it is attractive and notable for its vibrant, durable green leaves and strong root structure. It is an undemanding plant and can serve as a foreground, mid-ground, or background plant depending on the variety and the tank size.

Anubias features include:

  • Plants in the genus Anubias are notable for the coarse and leathery leaves, dark green stem, white spots, trailing rootstocks, and flowers that are whitish or cream in color.
  • These plants have a hardy leaf structure. It makes them compatible even with fish that can cause problems in planted tanks (like Goldfish, Cichlids, etc.).
  • They grow pretty slow.
  • Anubias are undemanding tank plants and can thrive successfully even without fertilization. As long as your fish and snails produce enough bioload (waste).
  • These plants do not require the substrate. Anubias can be attached to any driftwood, rocks, or decoration in the tank.

Anubias Optimal Requirements:

These plants are also very adaptable and can grow within a wide range of parameters.

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 72 – 82 °F (22 – 28 °C)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Anubias Propagation:

These plants propagate by cutting the rhizome of the mother plant.

Care level: Easy.

Anubias
PROS CONS
Very beautiful plant. Slow growth rate.
Has many varieties. Prone to algae.
Easy to care for and maintain. Not the best at sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Hardy.
Some species are great for nano tanks.
Does not require substrate.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Easy to propagate.

For more information, read the article “Anubias Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

Anubias – check out the price on Amazon

2.    Bucephalandra

Bucephalandra plantBucephalandra plant can be traced to the largest island in Asia- Borneo Island, Indonesia, where it can be spotted growing in streams, fast-moving rivers, river banks or shores.

Bucephalandra or Buce plant is one of the most popular plants for aquascaping, even though it is a fairly new species of plant to the aquarium hobby.

This unique plant has a host of varieties, and they can be distinguished by their sizes, leaf shapes, and varying colors (green, blue to dark violet), while some varieties are multi-colored. It is also one of the best plants for the tanks with the inert substrate.

Bucephalandra features include:

  • Dark green or violet leaves that are 3 – 5 cm (1 – 2 inches) long, white or yellow spots, elliptic or oblong leaf blades.
  • In lower light setups, this plant will generally stay closer to green.
  • Bucephalandra grows relatively slow. However, in medium light, its growth will be closer to medium.
  • These plants do not require However, they will surely benefit from nutrient supply.
  • These plants do not need the substrate. It is possible to wedge them between rocks and decorations or attach to rocks or driftwood using adhesives. 

Bucephalandra Optimal Requirements:

Bucephalandra is capable of tolerating varying degrees of temperature, and water parameters. Because of its natural habitat, this plant will greatly benefit if you provide it with sufficient water circulation in your planted tank.

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 72 – 82 °F (22 – 28 °C)
  • Lighting: Low to High lighting.

Bucephalandra Propagation:

Presence of a creeping rhizome for propagation and flowers that are unisexual and pink/white in color.

Bucephalandra
PROS CONS
Very nice-looking plant. Relatively slow growth rate.
Can change color depending on the light intensity.
Easy to care for and maintain.
Hardy.
Some species are great for nano tanks.
Does not require substrate.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Easy to propagate.

For more information, read the article “Bucephalandra Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

3.    Java Fern

Java Fern plantMicrosorum pteropus, commonly known as Java fern is an easy plant to keep in your home aquarium. Java fern is native to the Island of Java in Indonesia, and it is definitely one of the best plants for both beginners and advanced aquarists.

Java fern is very popular in the aquarium hobby because of its versatility and resilience. This hardy plant does not require any special conditions to grow.

It is also one of the most popular plants in aquascaping. Java fern can be used as a mid or background plant, and even as a feature plant in the display.

Java fern features include:

  • Different types of Java fern possess varying leaf forms and structures which make this species so unique.
  • Leaves change coloration depending on the intensity of lighting. For example, the higher the lighting, the darker the green coloration, and the lower the lighting, the brighter the green coloration.
  • Java fern grows very bushy.
  • Depending on the species, it can grow up to 15 – 35 cm (6 – 13 inches) in height and 15 – 20 cm (6 – 8 inches) in width.
  • Java fern grows slowly. Fertilizers are not mandatory but they will definitely improve the growth rate.
  • Java fern does not require the substrate. We can attach it to anything (for example, rocks or driftwood) and it will thrive.

Java fern Optimal Requirements:

Lighting and CO2 requirements are minimal. Java fern care is very easy because the plant can adaptable to a huge range of water parameters.

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 20 – 28 C (68 – 82 F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Java Fern Propagation:

You can propagate Java fern by splitting the rhizomes and attaching it to a surface.

Java Fern
PROS CONS
Very beautiful and decorative.
Can be used in aquascaping.
Grows very slow
Easy to care for and maintain. Blocks waterways, thereby restricting the movement of inhabitants.
Dense shade cover for shy fish and shrimp. Can block nutrient and sunlight absorption for lower-dwelling plants in the tank.
Can survive in a wide range of temperature conditions.

For more information, read the article “Java Fern Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

Java Fern – check out the price on Amazon

4.    Vallisneria

Vallisneria nanaVallisneria is a classical aquarium plant that is ideal for adding vertical accents in the background of aquariums. The plant is also known by nomenclatures such as Eelgrass, Tape grass, Vallis, or Vals.

This is the plant that cannot go wrong. It blends nicely with other green plants, thereby enhancing the intrinsic feeling of depth in the tank.

Vallisneria features include:

  • In the right environment, Vallisneria grows moderately fast and will sprout vibrant green ribbon-like leaves.
  • It is huge! The smallest Vallisneria species (Vallisneria nana) can grow up to 10 – 15 inches or 25 or 40 cm.
  • It can grow in different lighting however, for optimal conditions, Vallisneria will need moderate to high lighting. Low light will encourage the leaves to grow tall (to be closer to the light).
  • Vallisneria is a fast-growing plant. Because of it, this plant is great at absorbing and utilizing harmful chemicals that are emitted from the animals’ waste, decayed plant matter, and tap water such as nitrates, CO2, ammonia, heavy metals, etc.
  • Even though, Vallisneria is a root feeder plant, is still absorbs a great portion of nutrients from the water. Therefore, as long as your fish and snails produce enough waste, you might not even need to add any fertilizers.

Vallisneria Optimal Requirements:

  • Water pH: 6.5 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 20 – 28 C (68 – 82 F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Vallisneria Propagation:

Vallisneria propagates vegetatively through runners. Once the plant settles, it will spread numerous runners all over the tank. In addition, daughter plants will develop and start sending off runners as well.

Vallisneria
PROS CONS
Can be used in aquascaping. Blocks waterways, thereby restricting the movement of inhabitants.
Easy to care for and maintain. Can block nutrient and sunlight absorption for lower-dwelling plants in the tank.
Grows very fast. Cannot be used in small tanks
Can survive in a wide range of temperature conditions.
Good at sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Does not require substrate.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Easy to propagate.

For more information, read my article “Vallisneria Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

5.    Bacopa Caroliniana

Bacopa CarolinianaBacopa Caroliniana is another exceptionally undemanding plant species that are suitable for any kind of tank setups, including tanks with gravel or sand substrate.

It is a very common plant in the aquarium hobby. One of the reasons for its popularity is because this is a very easy and beginner-friendly plant.

Bacopa Caroliniana features include:

  • Bacopa Caroliniana can grow fully or partially submerged.
  • It produces a lemon-mint smell at the place of cut.
  • The stem of the plant has small hairs.
  • Bacopa Caroliniana has fragile leaves, therefore, it should be handled with care.
  • This plant can be kept in outdoor ponds.
  • In an emersed state, it has blue flowers.
  • Bacopa Caroliniana grows up to 10 – 30 cm (4 – 12 inches) in height.
  • High lighting will provide the best growth. In addition, the top leaves will turn reddish under sufficient bright light. If the plant is exposed to low lighting it will grow just green.
  • Bacopa Caroliniana does not need a nutrient-rich substrate. It can grow in sand or gravel. However, in this case, you may have to use liquid fertilizers, unless there is enough bioload (waste) in your tank

Bacopa Caroliniana Optimal Requirements:

The mere fact that Bacopa Caroliniana can grow even in brackish water should tell you how hardy it is.

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 68 – 78 °F (20 – 26 °C)
  • Lighting: Low to high lighting.

Bacopa Caroliniana Propagation:

Bacopa Caroliniana propagates by cutting branches off the top and planting the stem in the substrate.

Care level: Easy.

Bacopa Caroliniana
PROS CONS
Adds great aesthetic value to the tank. May require fertilization.
Easy to care for and maintain. Can block nutrient and sunlight absorption for lower-dwelling plants in the tank.
Hardy.
Good for nano tanks.
Good at sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Good at sucking up nitrates and ammonia.
Medium growth rate.
Provides a lot of surface area for shrimp and fish to feed on.
Provides a lot of cover for small fish and shrimp.
Easy to propagate.

For more information, read the article “Bacopa Caroliniana Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

6. Java Moss

Attaching Java Moss to mesh. PropagationJava moss is a versatile and hardy plant used in decorating the foreground and mid-ground of planted tanks.

It is very popular among hobbyists because of its long lifespan, and the ability to withstand a wide range of water temperature conditions/parameters.

Java moss is so hardy that it can survive where it will be certain death of the most aquarium plants.

Java Moss features include:

  • This plant has a dense structure that is ideal for baby shrimp and fry. In fact, Java Moss is considered the best plant for keeping dwarf shrimp.
  • It is great for nano tanks. Can grow up to 5 – 10 cm (2 – 4 inches) in height.
  • Depending on the tank setups, Java Moss can have a slow to moderate growth rate.
  • It does not require CO2 or fertilizers, however, they will increase the growth.
  • Java Moss does not need any substrate for planting. It can be easily attached to driftwood, stone, or decoration.

Java Moss Optimal Requirements:

Java Moss is suitable for beginners in the hobby. It requires minimal care and can survive in all kinds of tank setups (low-tech tanks to high-tech tanks).

  • Water pH: 6.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 21 – 24 C (70 – 75 F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Java Moss Propagation:

Like all mosses, it propagates by splitting or cutting off daughter plants.

Care level: Easy.

Java Moss
PROS CONS
Very easy to care for and maintain. Slow growth rate.
Very hardy. It is not the best-looking moss.
An excellent breeding place for shrimp and fish.
Excellent as a foraging and hiding place.
Its structure catches all free-floating debris.
Does not require substrates for its growth.
Great for nano tanks.
It is cheap.

For more information, read the article “Java Moss Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

Java moss – check out the price on Amazon

7. Marimo Moss Ball

Marimo moss ball (Aegagropila Linnaei)Although technically, Marimo Moss Balls are not exactly plants, but a rare form of filamentous green algae (Aegagropila Linnaei), it is not possible to make the list of plants that can grow in tanks with gravel or sand.

Even more, in my opinion, it is one of the best options for low-light planted tanks! Marimo Moss Balls are so easy to care for, that you do not have to worry about attaching them to anything. You can simply toss them in the tank and … this is it.

Marimo Moss Ballsare unique and look really beautiful! They will definitely catch attention in any tank.

Do you know that in Japan, they are regarded as good luck charms?

Marimo Moss Balls features include:

  • They grow extremely slow (about 5 mm or 0.2 inches per year).
  • They have the longest lifespan. Marimo Moss Balls can live more than 100 years!
  • These plants do not need filtration (of course within reasonable limits).
  • They can grow without an air supply.
  • Marimo Moss balls require low to medium lighting.
  • They are amazing for aquascaping.
  • Like any algae form, they are sensitive to any chemicals like hydrogen peroxide, bleach, etc. So, be careful with that or it will kill them.

Marimo Moss Balls Optimal Requirements:

Marimo Moss Balls can live in freshwater and brackish water. It should give you the understanding how undemanding they are.

  • Water pH: 7.0 – 8.0.
  • Hardness: Soft to hard water.
  • Temperature: 5 – 24 °C (43 – 75 °F)
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate lighting.

Marimo Moss Balls Propagation:

Marimo Moss Balls propagate by splitting. To do that you need to squeeze the water out of the moss ball and divide it in half. Next, re-roll it to create a ball shape. Done.

Care level: Easy.

Marimo Moss Balls
PROS CONS
Has a unique form. Very beautiful and decorative. Very slow growth rate.
Hardy. Cannot tolerate warm temperatures.
Easy to care for and maintain.
Great for nano tanks.
Does not require substrate.
Lives for dozens of years.
Great for nano tanks.

For more information, read the article “Marimo Moss Ball Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

Marimo Moss Balls – check out the price on Amazon

Some Other Interesting Options:

Why use Gravel or Sand in Tanks?

The substrate choice depends on the kind of plants you plan on keeping in your tank, and you should also keep in mind that aquarium gravel or sand provides no nutrients to the plants.

As we all know, aquatic plants that grow in aquariums have different requirements and this includes- the substrate. Some plants have delicate and simple roots while others have huge and extensive root systems that require a much stronger hold, and this affects the choice of substrate.

Sand or Gravel are inert substrates that can drastically enhance the aesthetics of your aquarium and it provides a media for beneficial bacteria to thrive. They are also available in various sizes, texture, and color, you can easily find the option that is ideal for your tank.

Many hobbyists tend to go for gravel substrates because nutrient-rich substrates like aqua soils are expensive, they are also capable of clouding the tank water and causing swings in parameters, and this will affect the tank inhabitants.

Gravel allows water to flow through it easily, and also allows for better aeration, in contrast to a sand substrate that is compact and capable of suffocating the roots of plants. In general, gravel helps to create a more appealing and catchy look in your fish tank which replicates the natural environment they come from.

Choosing the Right Gravel or Sand for the Tank

A huge percentage of plants will grow best when rooted in small gravel as opposed to large coarse ones. It is okay if that you settle for a small gravel substrate with a size of 0.1 to 0.2 inches (3-5mm), typically, gravel size between 3-8mm is ideal.

Additionally, you should never use sharp or rough-textured gravel for your fish tank, this kind of gravel is capable of scratching the body of fish or damaging their barbels when they roam and feed off the substrate.

Choosing gravel that matches your aquarium style or theme is something you should aim towards, if you desire a colorful and catchy aquascape, then you should probably go for colored/rainbow gravel substrate, this increases the dynamics of the tank and boosts its overall aesthetics. Choosing the Right Sand for the Tank

The main problem of the sand is that it often cannot be a biological filter as the particles beneath the surface of the sand are suffocated and deprived of oxygen, as a result, it cannot host beneficial bacteria deep inside.

On the contrary, if you have got a lot of sand packed up it may begin to trap hydrogen sulfide gas (creating toxic gas pockets) that can harm or even kill your shrimp and fish.

To avoid this problem, your sand grain size should be at least 0,02-0,04 inch (or 0,5-1 mm).

How Deep Should Be the Substrate?

For substrate-rooted plants depth is crucial. You will need enough depth (2 – 3 inches or 5 – 7 cm) to provide a rooting medium. If you are not going to have rooted plants, there is no reason to have a depth of more than 1 inch (2.5 cm).

In Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, the use of gravel or sand for growing plants is dependent on the aquarium theme, the type of plants you want to grow, and its root structure. Plants with very large roots will do better in aquarium gravel than in sand or aqua soil.

Aquarium gravel or sand comes in different sizes, texture, and colors, ranging from plain gravel of varying sizes to specialized gravel substrates and colored gravel coated in epoxy to avoid having an effect on the water chemistry.

Gravel adds a lot of benefits to the aquarium; it beautifies the tank, guarantees a stronger hold to the roots of stem plants, and allows for the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Top 7 Aquarium Plants That Grow Tanks with Gravel or Sand Pros and Cons pinterest

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