Can Aquarium Plants Grow In Gravel? (Explain & Guide)

Have you ever wondered if your aquarium plants can grow in gravel? You’re not alone. I’ve been there too, and that’s exactly what we’re diving into today.

In this post, I’ll unpack everything from types of plants best suited for gravel to effective ways of nurturing them.

Let’s get started!

Can Aquarium Plants Grow in Gravel?

Yes, some aquarium plants can grow in gravel. Not all types of plants are able to do so, though. Amazon Sword and Java Fern are examples of ones that can thrive growing in gravel. Other types, such as Anubias, Cryptocoryne Wendtii, and Dwarf Sagittaria, also work well with this type of substrate.

Gravel gives the plant roots something sturdy to hold onto. Also, important nutrients for your aquatic greens come from fertilizers, not gravel. It is similar to how land plants need the soil-filled ground to support them while drawing food from elsewhere.

When sitting in a bed of plain old rocks, adding root tabs will give heavy root-feeders what they need for healthy growth. Some aquarium spots need shallow layers, while others prefer substrates that are 3 inches deep or more. These substrates provide better angles for mature foliage crowns. It mainly depends on which particular plant you’re going with, but remember, our leafy friends love their space, too!

How to Grow Aquarium Plants in Gravel?

Growing aquarium plants in gravel is not hard. Follow these steps to get started:

  1. First, choose the right type of plant. Some good choices for gravel are Amazon Sword, Java Fern, and Vallisneria.
  2. Buy a good quality gravel meant for aquariums. Avoid sharp or rough stones that can hurt your fish.
  3. Clean the gravel before you put it in your tank. You can do this by rinsing it with water.
  4. Lay down the cleaned gravel in your tank in a thick layer of around two inches.
  5. Root tabs might be needed for some plants that need more food. Press them into the gravel close to the roots of your plants.
  6. Bury your plant’s roots carefully in the gravel so they can take hold and start to grow.
  7. Monitor your plants often for any signs of bad health, like wilting or death.
  8. Supplement with liquid plant fertilizer if it looks like they aren’t getting enough nutrients from just the root tabs and fish waste alone.

11 Best Aquarium Plants for Gravel Substrate

When it comes to setting up an aquarium with gravel, selecting the right plants is key to success. Some plants thrive in gravel, enhancing our underwater environment’s beauty and health. In this section, I’ll introduce you to the best options below:

1. Amazon Sword (Echinodorus grisebachii)

The Amazon Sword is a great pick for gravel tanks. It grows tall and has bright green leaves. You can put it in the middle or back of your tank. They need medium light to thrive. For food, you give them liquid plant food in the water.

Also, root tabs go into the gravel for extra feedings if they need more grub from heavy root eating.

2. Madagascar Lace (aponogeton madagascariensis)

Madagascar Lace is a great choice for gravel tanks. This plant blooms in shallow gravel with lots of light. Make sure the water stays between a little acid and neutral, as that is what it likes best.

To keep this plant full and green, add some liquid plant fertilizer to your tank. Also, use root tabs; these are like food tablets for plants that grow best in nutrient-rich dirt!

3. Cryptocoryne Wendtii

Cryptocoryne Wendtii loves gravel as its base! It likes to untangle its roots deep in the substrate, up to three inches.

Yet, it gets most food from water that flows past its leaves.

This type of Cryptocoryne is tough and strong. Changes in water temperature or light amount do not bother it much! With proper care, you can have a healthy Cryptocoryne Wendtii all year round.

Another cool fact about this hardy plant: It enjoys different types of water – soft or hard, hot or cold.

4. Java fern

Java fern is a great choice for your aquarium. It can grow with ease on gravel. Even if you don’t have much light, it stays green and looks vibrant.

The plant does not need lots of work to stay healthy, making it perfect if you’re short on time!

Plus, Java fern can even grow well in tanks where the fish are rather rowdy, or rough play often happens.

5. Red Tiger Lotus

The Red Tiger Lotus is a bold choice for your aquarium. This plant loves gravel but needs thicker pieces to hold it up. You put the bulb in the gravel and watch it grow! Just be careful not to bury the entire bulb.

It’s one of those special root feeders that like plant food right at its roots. So, you might need some root tabs as food for this plant when setting up your tank with a gravel substrate.

It also brings bright color to any tank with its red and green leaves.

6. Anubias

Anubias is a plant that loves to grow in gravel. You can find it in over ten different types. It likes to stick to rocks and wood more than being under the gravel. So, you may see its roots come out of the substrate sometimes.

This cool plant has no trouble taking what it needs from the water around it, so you don’t need special care for this one! Plus, Anubias doesn’t care much about how hard or soft your aquarium water is or what the pH level is, which makes this plant very easy to keep in your tank!

7. Vallisneria

Vallisneria is a great aquarium plant. It can grow well in gravel, and it grows fast, too! This tall grass-like plant does not fall deep into the dirt, making settling down easy.

For those who appreciate a beautiful tank, Vallisneria provides vertical shades at the back, which catch the eye.

If you want to take care of this plant, there are a few things to note. Vallisneria likes a harder pH level than some other plants. You should also feed them liquid nutrition because normal stones don’t have enough food.

Root tabs put into peel-off sections are useful if you’re growing lots of these cool plants together in one spot! They need extra feeding to stay healthy and keep sprouting high above everything else in your tank.

8. Bucephalandra

Bucephalandra is an easy-to-care-for plant that likes to grow in thicker gravel. It grows slowly, which makes it great for newbies like me! You don’t want to cover the rhizome of this plant, though.

Stick on some liquid plant fertilizer, as plain gravel has no nutrients. For a fun twist, use adhesives to attach Bucephalandra onto rocks or driftwood. The warmer water and low light are all this beauty needs to thrive!

9. Waterweeds (Anacharis elodea)

Waterweeds, also known as Anacharis elodea. These are great plants for tanks because they grow fast. They make oxygen and help clean the water, too.

You don’t need root tabs to plant them. Just put them in the gravel! This makes these plants even easier to care for than some others. Waterweeds are great for creating a natural look in your tank. They do a fantastic job as they blend well with other tank elements while standing out just enough attention to their appealing details.

10. Dwarf Sagittaria

Dwarf Sagittaria is a great plant for aquarium gravel. It takes in many nutrients from the gravel, which helps it grow strong and healthy. This plant needs to be pinned down well so that its roots spread out nicely into the substrate.

A balanced environment full of good bacteria is needed, too, which gravel can provide very well. To keep this plant happy in your tank with a gravel bed, you should feed it liquid plant fertilizer often.

11. Marimo Moss Ball

Marimo Moss Balls add a fun and unique touch to any tank. They are not like other plants. These balls come from a type of green algae strand rolled up in a ball shape. The great thing about these moss balls is they can survive well in gravel or sand substrate tanks.

If you care for them right, Marimo Moss Balls may live over 100 years! Such a long life makes them excellent pals for your aquarium friends. But be careful with what chemicals you use around them.

Things like bleach or hydrogen peroxide can harm the moss balls badly.

The Importance of Plant Gravel For Aquarium Plants

Gravel in your tank plays a big role. It gives the right place for plant roots to grab on. This helps them stay put. Plants can also take nutrients they need from gravel. The tiny bits of stone are home to good bugs that help plants grow well.

Water flows through gaps in gravel nicely. When it does, it brings air to the plant roots below it. A floor of small stones stops dirt from being kicked into your tank’s clean water.

Gravel lets you have many kinds of water plants in your aquarium.

Benefits of Growing Aquarium Plants in Gravel

Gravel helps plants thrive in many ways. Here are a few:

1. Plants can root better: The small stones offer support and keep the plants in place.

2. Strong plant health: Gravel fosters a healthy environment for plant growth by hosting helpful bacteria.

3. More nutrients for roots: It provides proper nutrients to “root feeder” plants that need them most.

4. Better water flow: Water moves well through gravel, keeping roots hydrated but not too wet or dry.

5. Good tank balance: A filled-up layer of gravel helps maintain the right biological conditions in your tank.

6. Easy care with gravel substrate: Cleaning is simple with an aquarium vacuum, so you’ll not disturb plant roots.

So, using gravel not only keeps your aquarium pretty, but it also supports healthier and happier plants!

How to Choose the Right Gravel for Your Aquarium?

Picking the right gravel for your aquarium is important. Here are some steps to follow:

  1. Look at the size of the gravel. The size should be big enough to not get inside the fish’s mouth.
  2. Think about the shape of the gravel needed. Sharp ones may cut your fish.
  3. Notice how rough or smooth it is. Some fishes like a soft floor to sleep on.
  4. Check for the color and shine of the gravel.
  5. It should match with your overall aquarium design.
  6. Gravel should not impact water quality; always choose one that does not change water values.
  7. Make sure it meets the needs of your plants.
  8. It’s a good idea to use root tabs if you have heavy root-feeding plants.
  9. Using liquid plant fertilizer helps in feeding plants.

Feeding Aquarium Plants in Gravel

Taking care of plants in a gravel tank needs the right food. Here’s how to do that:

1. Use liquid plant food. This gives them the best meal, as plain gravel has no food for them.

2. Put root tabs in your gravel for big-eater plants.

3. You will have many different types of plants, and they don’t all eat the same thing.

4. Check what each plant likes before you feed it.

5. Some love light more than others; some must have fertilizers, or they can’t grow.

That’s how you give your green friends their meals!

Aquarium Plants That Grow In Gravel And Use Fish Waste As Fertilizer

Here is my list of ten aquarium plants that grow in gravel and use fish waste as food:

1. Amazon Sword: This plant loves dense gravel. It uses the fish waste to stay green and healthy.

2. Madagascar Lace: This elegant plant thrives best in a mix of fine gravel and sand.

3. Cryptocoryne Wendtii: This small plant spreads fast if it likes its home, making a carpet over the rocks.

4. Java Fern: Shade-loving Java ferns prefer anchored on wood or rock but also work well without soil around their roots in smaller chunks of gravel.

5. Red Tiger Lotus: A dazzling lotus plant with red leaves that grows quite large given enough light, even when planted right into coarse pebbles with only fish waste for nutrients.

6. Anubias: These low-light plants do just fine stuck between two pieces of rock or rooted in medium-sized grain piles, feeding from detritus.

7. Vallisneria: Fast-growing beach grass-like strands always seeking substrate to root into make these adapting seagrass cousins thrive pretty well under properly epilithic conditions, eating leftovers our goldfish won’t ever care about!

8. Bucephalandra: There are many types of buce found today, which all love swift currents and harder water while rooting down demanding rocky substrates like river-tumbled stones where they catch organic particles carried along by the flow for nourishing themselves!

9. Waterweeds (Anacharis elodea): Easy-growing classic bushy species usually floated yet can be totally converting themselves into fully immersed submerged versions which will attach their wiry roots densely onto anything available, stabilizing them against current forces profiting from decaying organics piling up on the bottom layer materials towards ammonia absorption gains!

10. Dwarf Sagittaria: Resilient tiny sword species building up thick mat coverages across smooth pebble fields, sucking off significant leftovers buffered invisibly within any sort ecoFilterTM system installed running unnoticed inside every correctly cycled aquatic biotope, ensuring optimal health levels!

Best Gravel Types for Aquarium Plants

There are different types of gravel that you can use for your aquarium plants. Here is a list:

  1. Clay-based Gravel: This type feeds root plants with lots of nutrients.
  2. Epoxy Coated Gravel: It looks good and doesn’t change your water’s PH level.
  3. Pebble-sized Akadama Substrate: This holds roots well and stores lots of plant food.
  4. Seachem Flourite Red: It is rich in iron, which is great for growth in red plants.
  5. Fluval Stratum Plant and Shrimp Substrate: It lowers the PH of your tank water
  6. ADA Aquasoil Amazonia Light: This one helps to lower high levels of ammonia
  7. Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular: It offers the right balance between size, color variety, and price.

Caring and Maintaining Aquarium Plants in a Gravel Substrate

Taking care of your aquarium plants in gravel is easy. Here are some tips to help:

  1. Always check the health of your plants. Look for any signs of wilting or dying.
  2. Use liquid plant fertilizer often. Your plants need food to grow well.
  3. Add root tabs to your gravel. These tabs are good for plants that feed through their roots.
  4. Keep the light levels right for each plant type. For example, Madagascar Lace needs medium to high light.
  5. Think about what kind of water your plant likes best. Cryptocoryne Wendtii, for one, does well in low to moderate light.
  6. Give Java Fern low levels of fertilizer only, as it adapts well on its own.
  7. Clean your aquarium from time to time, but be careful not to harm the plant roots during cleaning.
  8. Place your plants in the right spots in the aquarium where they can get enough light and space.
  9. Trim your plants when they get too big or start looking messy.
  10. Get rid of any dead or dying parts of the plant at once so they don’t impact other healthy ones.

Can I Just Use Gravel for Aquarium Plants?

Yes, you can use gravel for aquarium plants. Gravel is good for some types of plants, while others need more care. Plants that eat a lot at the roots will get better food with root tabs in the gravel.

Some easy options are Java fern or Anubias because they don’t need fancy soil to grow well. Be sure to pick what works best for your tank and plant needs!

Can Aquarium Plants Grow in Gravel Without Soil?

Some types of aquarium plants can grow in gravel without soil. Certain plants like Anubias love to grab onto rocks and wood instead of being put into the ground. Other ones, such as Vallisneria, grow fast and have a knack for thriving in gravel.

However, it’s key to know that plain gravel lacks nutrients. To help out, you can add tablets with food called root tabs since many water plants feed through their roots. Also, liquid plant fertilizer is great for giving tank plants the extra push they need!

How Deep Should Aquarium Gravel Be for Plants?

The depth of the aquarium gravel for plants can differ. It typically depends on the type of plant. Some plants, like the Cryptocoryne Wendtii, do best with about three inches of gravel.

This helps their roots to grow deep and strong. Other plants, like Madagascar Lace, only need a little bit of gravel. But special ones like Red Tiger Lotus require thicker layers for support but don’t want their bulb covered! Getting it right will make your aquarium thrive.


You know aquarium plants can grow in gravel. But you need to pick the right type of gravel and plant. Also, remember some plants need extra food to grow well in gravel-only tanks. With good care, your aquarium plants can thrive on a gravel substrate!

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