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Do Aquarium Plants Need a Filter? (Is it really necessary?)

If you are wondering, do aquarium plants need a filter then you are in the right place.

In this article, I am going to answer the same question.

I will also tell you: 

  • Why it is a good idea to have a filter even when you have live plants in your aquarium.
  • A way to keep and maintain a thriving aquarium without a filter.
  • The benefits of having a filter in an aquarium.
  • And then I will also recommend you a few aquarium filters.

Let’s dive into it.

Do Aquarium Plants Need a Filter? (Is it really necessary?) image

So, do aquarium plants need a filter?

There are several reasons aquarium plants need a filter in an aquarium. 

The filter helps to control the algae growth. And it also contributes to the healthy growth of live plants in an aquarium.

Why do you need a filter when you have live plants in your aquarium?

Plants absorb ammonia in the aquarium and use it as a fertilizer.

Live plants need carbon for the post process of photosynthesis and they get the carbon from carbon dioxide released by fish in your tank and from the dissolved carbon dioxide present in the tank.

So basically, live plants are doing work of a filter then it is very obvious to wonder if you even need a filter if you have live plants in your tank.

Well, this is not that simple.

Let’s see why.

Ammonia

Though live aquarium plants consume ammonia in an aquarium, they will consume only the amount of ammonia they actually need.

So if your tank contains a lot of bioloads i.e. ammonia then unless you have a lot of plants and a relatively small stock of fish in your tank, the plants will not be able to consume all the ammonia.

So, over time, this ammonia will build up in your aquarium which can be deadly for your fish!

Even when you have only plants in your tank and no fish, still there are organisms like snails present in the substrate of your tank.

These organisms produce waste and they die in the tank which produces ammonia.

Besides, the leaves of the live plants degrade in the aquarium which produces a lot of ammonia.

So in a nutshell, if you have fish in your tank then most likely your tank contains a lot of ammonia that the plants in your tank not able to consume.

Also, even if you have only plants in your tank and no fish then there are still chances that your fish tank contains a lot of ammonia that the live plans will not be able to consume.

So, to cope with this additional ammonia issue, you need a filter.

The filter contains biological media where the beneficial bacteria stay and grow. This beneficial bacteria breaks down harmful ammonia into nitrate and nitrites.

The nitrate and nitrites are less harmful to your fish.

Besides, live plants also consume nitrate and nitrates in the aquarium.

So overall, the filter helps to reduce ammonia levels in the aquarium which helps to keep your live plants and fish healthy and alive in your tank.

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Algae

The water in your aquarium needs to be circulated continuously.

If you have stagnant water in your aquarium, it can cause algae growth in your tank.

So unless you have a powerhead or air pump in your tank the water in your aquarium will be stagnant which, again, can cause algae growth in your tank.

To cope with this issue you can either install an air pump or powerhead in your tank.

Or you can install a filter that will circulate the water in your tank and it will also add additional filtration.

So overall, a filter is recommended for aquarium because it not only filters the water but it also helps to reduce algae in the tank.

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Plants growth

Plants require several micro and macronutrients for their proper growth.

Most live aquarium plants get these essential nutrients through the water column.

So unless you have a powerhead or air pump in your tank the water will not be circulated.

So the essential nutrients will not be distributed throughout your tank. And that’s why there is a chance that some plants in your aquarium will not get all the essential nutrients that can impact their health and growth.

So basically, a filter can help to circulate the water in your tank that can help with plant growth and health.

Clean and clear aquarium

Though live aquarium plants absorb ammonia in the tank and they consume CO2 in the tank, they don’t help to remove debris from the aquarium.

To remove the debris from the aquarium, you need mechanical filtration.

Aquarium filter contains sponge which does the mechanical filtration and removes debris from the water of your aquarium that makes your tank look clean and clear.

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But isn’t there any way to maintain a thriving aquarium without a filter?

There is a way to keep and maintain a thriving aquarium without a filter.

It is known commonly as the Walstad method.

The Walstad method

This method is derived from a book called The Ecology of Planted Aquarium written by Diana Walstad. Check it out at Amazon here.

In that book, she tells us how you can create or emulate the natural ecosystem as much as you can in your tank so that you don’t even need a filter for your aquarium. Though you may need other equipments like a powerhead and or heater.

So what is the Walstad method?

Walstad method is also known as an all-natural method of keeping fish.

The Walstad method is all about emulating the natural ecosystem as much as possible in a fish tank.

It is also a very cheap way of keeping fish because you don’t need equipment such as filter, CO2 setup, etc.

Though you do need mechanical filtration as well as a powerhead to circulate the water in the tank.

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How does the Walstad method work?

In the Walstad method, you have to use soil as a substrate in your aquarium.

Then you need to add a lot of plants in the tank.

The plants will provide oxygen to the fish in the tank.

They will also absorb harmful ammonium produced by fish. And absorb CO2 produced by the respiration of fish in the aquarium.

After feeding the fish, the uneaten food in the tank will get break down in the soil which will fertilize the soil. And so the soil will provide essential nutrients for the plants’ growth.

In this way, the plants will regularly get nutrients so you don’t have to add fertilizers in the aquarium.

They will also get or absorb CO2 in the aquarium so you don’t need to add additional CO2 in the tank.

But you do need to provide them light if they are not getting natural light.

In the beginning, you will need to do water changes frequently.

But as the tank matures you will need to do water changes very less frequently.

Once the tank matures, you can do water changes as less as once every 3 to 6 months!

So, as you can see, this is a very natural way of keeping an aquarium without a filter.

Though you don’t need biological filtration and chemical filtration in an aquarium prepared by the Walstad method, you do need mechanical filtration in place to remove suspended debris from the water.

You will also need a powerhead to circulate the water in the tank.

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Another way of keeping aquarium without filter

If you are starting out with a new tank then as filter help to cycle the tank you can use the filter at the beginning.

Once the aquarium is established, you can start adding a lot of plants into the aquarium.

You should also use the coarse surface substrate in the tank. And put ornaments that have a coarse surface so that beneficial bacteria can form their colonies in these places.

Once a lot of beneficial bacteria are established in your tank then you can remove the filter from the tank.

If you’re going to use this method, you’ll still need mechanical filtration because plants cannot remove suspended debris from the water. And you will also need a powerhead to circulate the water in the tank.

So, as you can see, there are a couple of ways you can keep an aquarium without a filter but it is a bit tricky.

If you’re a beginner I’ll not encourage you to try any of the above methods. Instead, you should install a filter in your tank because you’ll then have a better chance of success.

Besides, the aquarium filters offer several other benefits such as they can help oxygenate the water, they can help to circulate the water, etc.

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Best filter for your aquarium

Now that you know having a filter in the aquarium is very beneficial even when you have live plants in your tank, you may be wondering, what’s the best filter for my tank.

There are several types of aquarium filter that comes from many different brands and sizes. And I know that it can be very overwhelming for a beginner to choose a filter for the aquarium.

So to make the process of choosing a filter less overwhelming, I encourage you to consider only one of the two types of filters for your tank.

  1. Hang on the back filter which is commonly known as HOB filter
  2. Canister filter

HOB filter

If you have a small tank up to 20 gallons then you should go for HOB filter.

Benefits of HOB filter

  • HOB filters are very economical. And they are very inexpensive to maintain.
  • They are very easy to setup.
  • They are also very easy to clean.

I recommend an Aquaclear power filter. It is a very durable HOB filter. It is very effective at filtration with 3 stage filtration. And the best part is, it is a very quiet filter which is rare with other HOB filters.

You can see customer reviews and the latest price of this canister filter at Amazon here.

Besides, I have written a detailed article covering the 3 best HOB filters for your aquarium. You can read it here.

Canister filter

Canister filters provide a very efficient and effective filtration system because of the fact that they can contain a lot of filter media.

So, if you have a large tank of 50+ gallons then I highly encourage you to go for a canister filter.

Benefits of canister filter

  • Canister filters are very effective and efficient at filtering aquarium water.
  • They are also very customizable so you can customize them according to your needs.

I recommend Penn Plax Cascade canister filter. It comes in several sizes so you can choose according to the size of your tank. It has multi-stage filtration so it is very effective at filtering the water of your aquarium. And it comes with additional features like self-priming and spray bar which is very convenient.

Overall, Penn Plax Cascade is a very reliable and effective canister filter. You can see customer reviews and the latest price of this canister filter at Amazon here.

Besides, I have written a detailed article covering 6 best canister filters for your aquarium.

You can read the article here.

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FAQ

Do you need a filter if you have live plants?

Yes, it is recommended to have a filter even when you have live plants in your aquarium.

Though live aquarium plants clean the water by absorbing ammonia and carbon dioxide, it cannot remove debris from the water.

Besides, unless you have a lot of plants in your tank, the plants will not be able to consume all the ammonia in the tank.

Overtime this ammonia will build up in your tank which can be deadly for your fish.

If you install a filter in the tank then the filter will help to remove ammonia from the tank.

Besides, water circulation is very important in an aquarium. Because stagnant water can cause algae growth. 

And a filter can help to circulate the water in your tank.

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How do you use a fish tank without a filter?

There is a way known as the Walstad method that you can use to maintain a fish tank without a filter.

The Walstad method basically focuses on emulating the natural ecosystem as much as you don’t even need a filter for your tank.

In the Walstad method, you have to use soil as a substrate and then plant a lot of plants in your tank.

The plants will provide oxygen to the fish and the fish poop and uneaten food will provide fertilizers to the plants.

In the Walstad method, biological and chemical filtration is not necessary but you do have to set up mechanical filtration.

And you will also need to run a powerhead to circulate the water in the tank.

In this way, you can keep a fish tank without a filter.

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What kind of fish can live without a filter?

Small fish like Guppy, Endler, Zebra danio, Ember Tetra, and even Betta fish can live without a filter in an aquarium.

However, if you are going to keep fish in an aquarium without filter then there are a few things you have to do to keep them alive and healthy.

The first thing is you need to plant a lot of plants in the fishbowl or fish tank.

You will also need to have good water circulation which can be achieved by introducing a powerhead into the tank.

You will also need a healthy number of beneficial bacteria in the aquarium.

Though you will not have to do water changes very frequently as you would have to do in normal tanks. But still, you will have to do water changes regularly.

Basically, the whole idea here is that if you keep a lot of plants in the tank then the plants will consume ammonia which will keep your fish alive.

And the ammonia produced by fish will be used by the plants in your tank as a fertilizer to grow.

However, in this setup, you can’t really keep a lot of fish because plants can consume so much ammonia in the tank.

And if the ammonia builds up in the tank then it can be deadly for your fish.

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Do aquarium plants need a heater?

Most of the aquarium plants can tolerate a wide range of water temperatures.

So for 90% of the aquarium plants, you don’t need a heater in your aquarium.

However, if you are going to keep very delicate plants that require very strict water parameters then you may need to add heater in your aquarium to keep them healthy and alive.

I have written a detailed article covering all the details on this topic. You can read it here.

Are planted aquariums hard to maintain?

The short answer is no. Planted aquariums are relatively easy to maintain.

But it is really going to be dependent on your experience and your research.

Even if you don’t have experience with planted tanks if you just do good research before getting into planted aquariums then it will be much easier for you to get success.

If I have to give you a very general overview, then basically plants require good lighting, good substrate, and fertilizers to thrive in an aquarium.

The tricky thing is to balance these three things.

For example, if you provide a lot of bright light to your aquarium plant and if the plant is not getting sufficient nutrients then it can cause an algae bloom.

In this case, you will need to provide CO2 as well as other nutrients to the plant to cope with the algae growth.

So overall, it is all about balancing your tank. You’ll get good at it as you get some experience with planted aquariums.

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Does activated carbon remove plant nutrients?

Activated carbon is present in aquarium filters for chemical filtration.

They absorb harmful chemicals from the water of your aquarium.

And activated carbon can also remove the fertilizer that you add in your tank for your plants.

However, the carbon will remove the fertilizer from the aquarium at a very slow rate.

On the other hand, plants will quickly absorb the nutrients provided through fertilizers.

So the carbon will be only able to absorb the leftover chemical fertilizer from the tank.

Many aquarists have kept activated carbon in their filters which are installed in their planted tank.

And that didn’t notice any negative impact of it on the plants’ growth.

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Do live plants keep aquarium clean?

Yes, live plants help to keep the aquarium clean by absorbing harmful ammonia in the tank.

Plants used this ammonia as fertilizer and it helps them to grow.

Do I need CO2 in my aquarium?

If you have live plants in your aquarium then providing additional CO2 can be beneficial for faster growth and lusher plants.

However, with additional CO2 you will also need to provide bright lighting as well as other essential nutrients that plants require to balance the aquarium.

I have written a detailed article covering all the details of this topic. You can read it here.

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Conclusion

So, in a nutshell, aquarium plants don’t need a filter.

And there are a couple of ways you can keep a thriving aquarium with live aquarium plants without a filter.

However, it can be very tricky especially when you have fish in your tank.

Besides, there are several other benefits of having a filter in an aquarium.

That’s why it is recommended to have a filter in an aquarium even when you have live plants in the tank.

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