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Do Aquarium Plants Need Substrate? (5 Easy aquarium plants that don’t need substrate)

There are a lot of benefits of keeping live aquarium plants in your tank.

So you want to keep some live plants in your tank.

But you’re wondering, do aquarium plants need substrate or a special substrate to keep in an aquarium?

This is what I am going to answer in this article.

I will also show you some easy live aquarium plants that don’t need substrate at all to keep in your tank.

So let’s jump into it.

So, do aquarium plants need substrate?

Yes, there are several live aquarium plants, especially heavy root feeder aquarium plants that require substrate to keep in an aquarium. And there are also several aquarium plants that don’t need substrate to keep in your aquarium.

Do aquarium plants need a special substrate?

What kind of substrate you should provide to your live aquarium plants depends on the plant.

Heavy root feeder plants

Heavy root feeder plants absorb most of the essential nutrients that they require for growth from the substrate.

So if you want to keep heavy root feeder aquarium plants in your tank then ideally you should provide them soil substrate (which will be nutrient-rich). Or you can provide a nutrient-rich substrate that is specially made for aquarium plants.

However, you can keep heavy root feeder aquarium plants in gravel or sand substrate. But then you will need to provide nutrients to the plants through root tabs.

What is root tabs?

Root tabs are basically fertilizer in the form of tabs. You have to insert these tabs near the root of the plants into the substrate.

Eventually, the root tabs will slowly break down into the tank and release nutrients in the substrate. Then the root feeder aquarium plants will absorb nutrients through the substrate.

Substrate for anchoring the plant in an aquarium

There are several live aquarium plants like Amazon Sword and Jungle Vallisneria, etc that are not heavy root feeders and can get nutrients through their leaves.

But they do form root structure into the substrate so that they can stand in the aquarium.

So you will need to provide a substrate to such aquarium plants. 

Now, these aquarium plants don’t necessarily require a nutrient-rich substrate or soil. However, if you provide them a nutrient substrate then they will grow faster.

You can plant them in any substrate whether that is gravel, sand, etc.

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Can aquarium plants live without substrate?

Yes, there are several live aquarium plants that don’t require any substrate.

These plants absorb nutrients through their leaves from the water column. So substrate is not essential for such plants.

Floating aquarium plants

Floating aquarium plants are the type of plants you can easily keep in your tank without any substrate.

As the name suggests, they are floating plants so you just have to keep them floating on the surface of the water of your tank

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Attach to driftwood or rock

There are also several aquarium plants like Anubias, Java moss, etc that you can attach to any ornament like driftwood or rock by gluing or tying them and then put it inside your tank.

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5 Easy live aquarium plants that don’t need substrate

Now I am going to share with you 5 easy aquarium plants that you can easily keep in your tank without any substrate.

This list contains floating aquarium plants and the plants that you can keep by attaching them to ornament in your aquarium.

1. Java Moss

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PARAMETERSVALUES
PLANTJava moss
SCIENTIFIC NAMEVesicularia dubyana
FAMILYHypnaceae
CARE LEVELVery easy
LIGHT REQUIREMENTLow to Bright
GROWTH RATEFast
TEMPERATURE59-86°F
pH5.0 to 8.0
HARDNESS60- 240 ppm
PLACEMENTForeground
MAXIMUM SIZE4 inches
MINIMUM TANK SIZE5 gallon

Java moss is one of the most popular plants in the aquarium hobby. It is also one of the fast growing aquarium plants.

This plant is very hardy and can tolerate a wide range of water parameters which makes it an ideal choice for beginners.

Java moss is especially popular among aquascapers because there are several ways you can use this plant in an aquarium.

It is also very popular among breeders because it provides a lot of hiding places to fish fry and eggs.

How much light does Java moss require?

Java moss is very undemanding when it comes to light. It can grow in low lighting conditions as well as under high lighting conditions.

However, you will notice difference in the growth of the plant according to the lighting conditions you provide it.

For example, under low lighting conditions, Java moss will grow darker and lanker. Whereas, under high lighting conditions, it will grow more dense and compact.

But high lighting conditions can also spawn algae in the tank.

So ideally, you should keep it under moderate lighting conditions of anywhere between 2 to 3 Watts per gallon if you are using fluorescent light. Or 35-50 micro-moles if you are using LED lighting.

What’s the best place to keep Java moss in an aquarium?

There are several places you can keep Java moss in an aquarium.

You can use it as a carpet plant and spread it across the substrate of your tank.

Or you can also attach it to any ornament like driftwood or rock by tying or gluing it and then put it in your aquarium.

Or you can literally toss it into the aquarium and it will get attached to something eventually in your aquarium!

Ideal water parameters

Java moss can tolerate a wide range of water parameters and this is the reason it is very popular in the aquarium hobby.

That being said, the ideal temperature range for Java moss is between 59° to 86° Fahrenheit so you can easily keep it in cold water or tropical aquarium. 

Its pH tolerance range is between 5 to 8 and the water hardness tolerance range is between 3-12 dH. 

How to keep Java moss without substrate in an aquarium?

There are several ways you can keep Java moss in your aquarium.

To keep it in a tank without substrate you should attach it to any ornament like driftwood or rock by gluing or tying it and then put it inside your aquarium.

Fertilization requirements for Java moss

As mentioned earlier, Java moss is a very hardy plant and it can do well without any additional fertilization.

However, to encourage faster, compact, and denser growth you can supplement it with liquid fertilizer.

Check the price of this plant at Amazon here

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2. Java Fern

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PARAMETERSVALUES
PLANTJava Fern
COMMON NAMESJava Fern
SCIENTIFIC NAMEMicrosorum pteropus
FAMILYPolypodiaceae
CARE LEVELEasy
LIGHT REQUIREMENTLow to Moderate
GROWTH RATELow to Moderate
TEMPERATURE68-82oF
pH6.0-7.5
HARDNESS60-160 ppm
PLACEMENTMid to Background
MAXIMUM SIZE13.5 inches
MINIMUM TANK SIZE5 Gallons

Java fern is a popular plant in the aquarium hobby.

This plant is very cheap and hardy.

It is a slow-growing plant but it can grow pretty tall.

The best part about this plant is that it doesn’t require strict water conditions. And you can easily keep it with almost all the aquarium fish.

Besides, it is very easy to care for, so even if you are a beginner, you can easily keep it in your aquarium.

How much light does Java fern require?

Java fern is not very demanding when it comes to light.

It does well under low to moderate lighting conditions. 

If you keep it under high lighting condition then its leaves will start turning transparent and brown.

So ideally, you should provide it moderate lighting condition of anywhere between 1.5 to 2 Watts per gallon if you are using fluorescent light or 35 to 50 micromoles if you are using LED lighting.

What’s the best place to keep Java fern in an aquarium?

Java fern can grow pretty large. So ideally, you should keep it in the middle ground or in the background of your tank.

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How to keep Java fern without substrate in an aquarium?

You can either tie or glue Java fern to any ornament in your tank like driftwood or rock and then put it inside your tank.

Ideal water parameters for Java fern

Java fern can tolerate a wide range of water parameters.

That being said, the ideal temperature range for Java fern is between 68° to 82° Fahrenheit.

Its pH tolerance range is between 6 to 7.5 and the hardness tolerance range is between 3-8  dH.

Fertilization requirements for Java fern

Java fern is a pretty hardy plant and can do well without any additional fertilization.

However, Java fern is a slow-growing plant, and if you want to encourage faster growth then you can supplement it with some additional liquid fertilizers.

Check the price of this plant at Amazon here

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3. Anubias

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PARAMETERSVALUES
PLANTAnubias
COMMON NAMES
SCIENTIFIC NAMEAnubias
FAMILYAraceae
CARE LEVELEasy
LIGHT REQUIREMENTLow-Moderate
GROWTH RATESlow
TEMPERATURE72-82°F
pH6.5 – 7.8
HARDNESS60- 160 ppm
PLACEMENTMid-background
MAXIMUM SIZE11+ Inches
MINIMUM TANK SIZE5 Gallons
PROPAGATIONRhizome Division

Anubias is another popular plant in the aquarium hobby.

This plant can tolerate a wide range of water parameters which makes it very easy to keep it in any aquarium.

How much light does Anubias require?

Anubias does well under low to moderate lighting conditions.

Under low lighting conditions, its growth will be very slow. On the other hand, if you provide it moderate lighting conditions then it will grow faster. And under high lighting conditions, it is more susceptible to algae growth.

Check my aquarium light recommendation here.

So ideally, you should provide it light anywhere between 2-3 Watts per gallon if you are using fluorescent light or 35-50 micromoles if you are using LED light.

Also, if you notice algae growth in your tank then you should reduce the lighting.

What’s the best place to keep Anubias in an aquarium?

Anubias is a slow-growing, short aquarium plant. So ideally, you should keep it in the foreground of your aquarium.

How to keep Anubias in an aquarium without substrate?

You can tie Anubias to any ornament like driftwood or rock using super glue or fishing thread and then put it inside your aquarium.

Ideal water parameters for an anubias

The ideal temperature range for Anubias his between 72° to 82° Fahrenheit.

Its pH tolerance range is between 6.5 to 7.8 and water hardness tolerance range is between 3-8 dH.

Fertilization requirements for Anubias

For healthy plant and faster growth you should regularly supplement Anubias with liquid fertilizer.

Check the price of this plant at Amazon here

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4. Duckweed

See more images at Amazon here

PARAMETERSVALUES
PLANTDuckweed
SCIENTIFIC NAMELemnoideae
FAMILYAraceae
CARE LEVELEasy
LIGHT REQUIREMENT Low to high
GROWTH RATEFast
TEMPERATURE42.8 to 91.4° F
pH5.0 to 9.0
WATER HARDNESS17 to 180 ppm
PLACEMENTFloating
MAXIMUM SIZEEach ‘pod’ is 0.8 inches long
MINIMUM TANK SIZE2 gallons

Duckweed is a floating aquarium plant. 

It is one of the low maintenance aquarium plants.

Literally, you can just throw it in your aquarium and it will take care of itself.

However, if you don’t keep an eye on this plant, it can grow very rapidly and cover all the surface of the water of your tank which can lead to issues like low oxygen level and low lighting in the tank.

But if you keep it under control then it can be very beneficial because it can work as a water purifier.

How much light does Duckweed require?

Duckweed can do well in almost any lighting condition. 

Most likely, lighting will not be an issue because its lighting requirements are very low. And as it is a floating aquarium plant, it will get some light.

Also, you should not provide it bright light because under bright lighting it will grow pretty fast and can easily take over the surface of the water of your aquarium.

What’s the best place to keep Duckweed in an aquarium?

Duckweed is a floating aquarium plant. So you should just let it float on the surface of the water of your aquarium.

How to keep Duckweed without substrate in an aquarium?

Duckweed is a floating aquarium plant so you should let it float on the surface of the water of your tank.

Ideal water parameters for Duckweed

Duckweed is a very undemanding plant and it can do well in almost any environment and water condition.

That being said, the ideal temperature range for Duckweed is between 42° to 91° Fahrenheit. Its pH tolerance range is between 5 to 9 and its water hardness tolerance range is between 17-180 ppm.

Fertilization requirements for duckweed

As mentioned earlier, Duckweed is one of the low maintenance aquarium plants so you don’t need to provide it any additional fertilizers.

Check the price of this plant at Amazon here

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5. Amazon Frogbit

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Amazon frogbit is a floating aquarium plant.

It is also known as the American sponge plant because it is found in America and its leaves look similar to that of sponge.

The best part about this plant is that it is very easy to care for. So even if you are a beginner you can easily keep it in your bank.

It is also one of the flowering aquarium plants and it produces small white flowers when it reaches maturity.

How much light does Amazon frogbit require?

Amazon frogbit does well under moderate lighting conditions.

Usually, lighting will not be an issue for this plant because it is a floating plant so it will be close to the lighting set up of your aquarium.

That being said, ideally, you should provide it light anywhere between 2-3 Watts per gallon if you are using fluorescent light or 35 to 50 micro-moles if you are using LED light.

What’s the best place to keep Amazon frogbit in an aquarium?

As Amazon frogbit is a floating aquarium plant, you should just let it float on the surface of the water of your tank.

How to keep Amazon frogbit without substrate in an aquarium?

Amazon frogbit is a floating aquarium plant so you should let it float on the surface of the water of your tank.

Ideal water parameters for Amazon frogbit

Amazon frogbit can tolerate a wide range of water parameters.

That being said, the ideal temperature range for Amazon frogbit is between 64° to 84° Fahrenheit. So you can easily keep it in cold water as well as a tropical aquarium.

Its pH tolerance range is between 6 to 7.5 and its water hardness tolerance range is between 200 to 240 ppm.

Fertilization requirements for Amazon frogbit

Amazon frogbit is a pretty hardy plant and it can do well without any additional fertilizers.

However, for healthy growth you should regularly supplement it with some liquid fertilizers.

You should add the liquid fertilizers after the weekly water change.

Check the price of this plant at Amazon here

13 Best Aquarium Plants That Can Grow Without Substrate

FAQ

Is substrate necessary for aquarium?

It is not absolutely necessary to have a substrate in your aquarium.

But there are several benefits of keeping substrate in an aquarium.

  • If you are going to keep heavy root feeder aquarium plants in your tank then you will need substrate in your tank. Besides, substrate also helps to anchor plants in your aquarium.
  • Substrate provides an area to the beneficial bacteria to create their colonies in the aquarium. This beneficial bacteria is responsible to lower the ammonia levels in your aquarium.
  • Substrate also helps to emulate the natural habitat of fish.
  • Substrate can also help to enhance the aesthetic appeal of your aquarium.

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Whats substrate do I need for a planted aquarium?

What type of substrate is ideal for your planted aquarium depends on the plants you are going to plant in your aquarium.

Usually a nutrient-rich substrate is ideal for planted aquarium. Because a nutrient-rich substrate, as the name suggests, contains all the essential nutrients that plants require for their proper growth.

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Conclusion

So, in a nutshell, there are some aquarium plants, especially the heavy root feeder aquarium plants that require substrate to keep them growing in your aquarium.

On the other hand, there are several aquarium plants that don’t draw nutrients from the substrate so you can easily keep them without any substrate in your aquarium.

So overall, do you need a substrate to keep plants in your tank or not really depends on what type of plants you are going to keep in your tank.

I hope you found this article helpful.

If you do, please share it.

Happy aquascaping!

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