Can You Put Potted Plants in Your Aquarium? (+ Ideas)

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This article will explore the safety and benefits of incorporating potted plants into your aquarium, from providing refuge for fish to promoting gas exchange. Gain practical insights into selecting and preparing pots, along with step-by-step instructions for planting and maintaining potted aquarium plants. Come discover the versatility of plastic, terracotta, glass, and even DIY potting options, while also navigating the realm of using houseplants in your aquatic environments.

Terracotta Potted Aquarium
Terracotta Potted Aquarium Plants by Emilia__Rose

This led me into wondering if I could get some potted plants and leave them in my aquarium without any additional care.

After obsessing over this idea for a few days, I did some research on planters.

I came to some interesting revelations about using plants in pots for my aquarium that finally put an end to my pot obsession.

Can you use potted plants in an aquarium?

Creating a heavily-planted tank takes a lot of effort, patience, and consideration, and doesn’t always shape out as one would expect.

This leads many aquarists into seeking an alternative to this painstaking and sometimes frustrating procedure.

And some see the solution to this issue in potted plants.

Here’s why it is ok to decorate your aquarium with potted plants:

It’s perfectly safe to use potted plants in an aquarium as long as they’re placed in a proper container. The container should be made out of plastic, glass, or clay, and shouldn’t contain any artificial dyes or chemicals that may leach into the water.

potted plants in an aquarium
Potted plants in an aquarium – Image by Odd Duck

Using potted plants is not only safe but also lets you:

  • combine plants with different growth requirements
  • provides refuge for skittish fish
  • promotes gas exchange.

What’s more, potted plants are also protected from the destruction caused by little rascals such as goldfish and the like. Unlike typical bare root aquarium plants, potted plants can also be easily moved if there’s ever such a need.

How to plant potted plants in an aquarium?

1. Choose the right pot

The choice of a pot will depend on some practical matters such as the type of plant and its growth rate as well as more subjective ones like its shape.

I’ve summarized all of the types of pots you can use along with the advantages and disadvantages of each one.

Here are all the different types of pots that can be used in an aquarium:

Plastic Pots

plastic pots
Plastic potted plants – Image by Wyvc

As long as they’re thoroughly cleaned, plastic pots can be used to grow potted plants in your fish tank. They are completely safe and won’t change the water chemistry in your freshwater aquarium in any significant way.

After all, some filter components and other aquarium equipment are made of plastic and don’t affect the well-being of our pet fish. However, the pots should have holes at the bottom so there’s room for root growth.

Otherwise, the plants will die once they have depleted all the nutrients from the substrate.

Apart from their low price, plastic pots also give you a lot of creative freedom.

You can use a variety of plastic containers and use them as pots.

One of the advantages of plastic pots is that they’re non-porous and retain more oxygen than terracotta pots.

Terracotta Pots

terracotta pots
Terracotta potted plants – Image by RamonManuel

Terracotta clay pots can be found in any garden supply store and look significantly better in an aquarium than plastic pots.

The ones you should keep an eye on have a plain reddish hue. They may not look as pretty as painted terracotta pots, but they don’t contain any artificial dyes that can leach into the water of your tank and poison your fish.

You should also watch out for glazed terracotta pots, for they can also impact the health of your fish by releasing toxins into the water.

Before adding them to your tank, you should rinse them with hot water to remove any impurities that they may contain.

What makes small terracotta pots great is that they can also be used as a form of decoration in a variety of ways.

You can turn them into caves by drilling a hole and turning them upside-down which will be highly appreciated by some of the more shy species of fish.

Alternatively, you can break them into pieces and scatter the pieces around the bottom for a more natural look.

In case you go this route, smooth all of the sharp edges that can hurt your fish before adding them to your tank.

Glass Pots

glass pots
Glass potted plants – Image by TheJimness

I love using glass pots as aquarium planters because of their versatility.

The suction cups on these pots let you place them anywhere in the tank, which is quite useful when you want to create more verticality in your aquascape.

Glass pots are also less expensive than terracotta pots and simply look better than them.

They have permeable holes on the bottom which help with water circulation and oxygen absorption and enhance the effects of photosynthesis.

The only drawback to these pots is their small size which limits your option for aquarium plants.

Slow-growing live plants that remain small like the Cryptocoryne wendtii, the Anubias Nana Petite, and the Blyxa japonica are suitable options.

DIY Aquarium Planters

diy aquarium planter
DIY aquarium planter – Image by M1STE2TEA

If you are feeling creative, you can also make your own aquarium planter from scratch.

All you’ll need to do this is a two-liter soda bottle, a Dremel tool, and a spark of creativity.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Cut the top and bottom parts of the bottle so the top slides over the bottom.
  2. Drill a couple of holes with the Dremel tool.
  3. Fill the bottom with substrate and add a fertilizing root tab if necessary.
  4. Put the plant inside the top of the planter.
  5. Finish by gluing the two parts together.

And before you ask – super glue is safe for pet fish.

Another idea for a DIY aquarium planter is to simply drill the bottom of a yogurt container and fill it with substrate.

It may not look aesthetic, but it’s still an option and requires less effort.

2. Remove the plant from its original pot

plants in original pots
Potted plants in their original pots – Image by Alesha

Your next step should be to take the plant out of the pot it originally came in.

To do this, simply trim all the bare roots that are outside the pot and pull the plant out.

Before your plant is ready for transfer, however, you should remove the wooly substance around its roots.

This substance is a hydroponic substrate material called rockwool.

Rockwool is made from molten basaltic rock fibers and is used to prevent over watering and root suffocation in hydroponic plants. Unfortunately, rockwool doesn’t decompose and can harm your fish by blocking their gills or ending up in their digestive tract.

It can also mess up the water chemistry by jamming the filter impeller and disrupting the water flow in the aquarium. To avoid all of these grim scenarios, simply soak the base of your plant in some water and carefully remove the rockwool around its roots.

After you’ve done this, you can proceed with the next step.

3. Fill the new pot with substrate and place the aquarium plant in it

pots with substrate
Potted plants with substrate – Image by Odd Duck

You can use a variety of both inert and depleting aquarium substrates to meet the needs of your plant. Regular soil, specialized aqua soils, and gravel are all great choices, but you should avoid using sand as some of it will slip through the gaps at the bottom of the pot.

I prefer using a combination of aqua soil and some gravel as a “cap” since the aqua soil offers a more sustainable source of nutrients than root tabs. To prepare the substrate, I start watering the aqua soil until it becomes slightly muddy after which I fill the pot with it.

I then get rid of the air bubbles from the substrate by gently pressing it down. Before I place my plant into it, I poke a hole at the center to make room for its root system.

After planting it in the soil, I bury the roots and top of the soil with gravel.

This helps to secure the plant in place so it doesn’t bend or topple out of the pot.

Can you use houseplants as potted aquarium plants?

bamboo in tank
Bamboo planted in tank – Image by shelbsbelbs

Although houseplants can be grown in an aquarium setting, planting them in pots and submerging them in your tank wouldn’t always net you the same result that a typical aquarium plant would.

This is because some indoor plants won’t be able to extract enough oxygen from the water and will die as a result.

However, some of these live plants might still be used for a fish tank if their roots are planted in the water, but their stem and leaves are left over the surface.

In the fishkeeping hobby, houseplants that fall under this description are classified as “emersed”, while those that can be fully grown underwater are known as “submerged”.

Dracaena Sanderiana is one houseplant plant that can be grown in a fish tank with the right care. The Epipremnum aureum from the Araceae family, or Pothos plant as it’s most commonly known, is also among the most popular houseplants in the aquarium community.

Pothos can be grown in numerous different ways in your tank, from planting it directly into the HOB filter to placing it in a glass pot inside the aquarium.

Unfortunately, the pothos is toxic to cats and dogs.

cat near to the tank
Cat next to beautifully planted tank – Image by OliBoliz

If you own any of these furry pets, you might want to consider a safer alternative such as one of the following:

  • Bella Palm (Chamaedorea Elegans)
  • Philodendron (Philodendron Araceae)
  • Peperomia (Peperomia Piperaceae)
  • Snake Plant (Dracaena trifasciata)
  • Roman Camomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
  • English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
  • Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura)

These, of course, do not encompass all of the houseplants that can be used in a fish tank, but that’s an entirely different topic in of itself.

My Final Words

Adding potted plants to your aquarium can certainly add some flavor and save you some effort.

In case you already have a setup with plants in pots, you can share your experience with it down in the comments.

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Momchil Boyanov is the Founder and now Senior Editor of AquAnswers. He has over 13+ years of experience in keeping home aquariums as well as providing professional aquarium services. Momchil has had his fair share of adventures in aquarium care. He has made MANY mistakes throughout his fishkeeping journey and thus learned A LOT. Through Aquanswers, Momchil shares knowledge about freshwater and saltwater aquariums with the people within this community.

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