Aquarium plants that don’t need substrate give you more freedom to choose what’s in your tank and where it goes because there’s no need to figure out how to plant them in the ground like normal plants or worry about finding gravel that works with their pH level.
An aquarium full of lively aquatic plants looks beautiful, but it can also look much different depending on the type of substrate you choose to grow them in. While some plant species are happy to grow in just about any substrate, many require specific lighting and watering conditions that can be challenging to recreate without the proper substrate in place.
Substrate, or the material that your aquarium plants grow in, can be tricky and time-consuming to set up correctly. If you’re just getting into the hobby of aquascaping and setting up an aquarium, it’s best to opt for the easiest route possible – aquarium plants that don’t need substrate.
If you’re like most aquarium owners, you want to keep your fish tank as beautiful and natural as possible. One of the best ways to achieve this look and feel is by having plants in your tank, but many types of aquarium plants require that you purchase substrate or at least provide it for the plants to root into.
This can be expensive and time-consuming, not to mention messy if you don’t know what you’re doing! Luckily, there are plenty of plants that do great in aquariums without needing substrate, so long as you provide them with the light and care they need to grow well.
Aquarium plants that don’t need substrate
Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)
Java moss is a type of aquatic moss that grows well in aquariums. It does not need to be planted into substrate and can thrive in almost any type of water condition, making it one of the most popular plant varieties for novice aquarists. Java moss’s ability to grow well in hard water is one of its many attractive traits, but there are other factors to consider when planting this plant in your tank.
The care requirements for java moss are minimal so long as you avoid overfeeding fish and follow these steps:
1) Place java moss on top of rocks or another object;
2) Take care not to place too much java moss in your tank (approximately 4 – 6 deep);
3) Remove excess stems by clipping them with scissors;
4) Rinse the stem every few weeks with cold tap water. If you follow these instructions, then you will have an easy time keeping java moss alive!
Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
Java ferns are popular aquarium plants because they don’t require substrate to grow in. Instead, java ferns prefer to be attached to rocks or driftwood for support. These plants can do well in low-light environments but will need more light if the tank is brighter.
To keep your java fern healthy, trim off any brown edges that show up on the leaves and feed your plant with a liquid fertilizer once a week. Be sure to change about 10% of the water in your tank every other week to avoid nutrient buildup, which could stunt growth or make your java fern toxic.
If you have very hard water, use some sort of chemical to buffer it before adding it to the tank. Otherwise, use bottled distilled water or rainwater collected from an unpolluted source to fertilize your plant without increasing pH levels too much.
Anubias are a popular low-maintenance plant for aquariums. They grow best in acidic water and can withstand a wide variety of water conditions. Anubias can be attached to driftwood or rocks with thread or fishing line, or grown emersed in the substrate like most plants.
The downside is that it’s slow growing and doesn’t look very good until it gets some leaves. In the meantime, give it some light from above so that it grows faster! It is worth the wait!
Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
Water lettuce is a floating aquatic plant that doesn’t need substrate to grow. It’s best to position the leaves in the water so they are not touching any other surface. This will provide a cleaner environment for your fish and make them feel more comfortable. When you first get water lettuce, it may take time before you see signs of growth.
The plant requires light in order to start growing and may take weeks or months before you notice anything new happening with the foliage. When looking for a supplier, be sure to find out how long it took for their plants to start sprouting after purchase as this can give you an idea of how long it will take with yours as well.
Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
This plant is one of the most popular aquarium plants because it is so easy to take care of. Hornwort grows in a variety of conditions and has a very broad range of light requirements, making it an excellent choice for beginners. This plant will grow well in your tank as long as you are careful not to over or underwater it.
You should trim this plant occasionally and replant it to prevent it from becoming too invasive in your tank, but that’s about all there is to caring for hornwort! It can be easily rooted with cuttings if you want to propagate it.
Anacharis (Elodea Densa)
Anacharis, also known as Elodea densa, is a popular aquarium plant that doesn’t need any substrate. Instead, this plant uses the surface tension of water to cling to rocks and driftwood, so all you have to do is make sure it’s in an area where it can grow without being disturbed.
It grows quickly, too! In just a few weeks, Anacharis can reach lengths of up to two feet long and produce an abundance of pink flowers. Anacharis is also very hardy when it comes to different lighting conditions, making it a great choice for beginners looking for an easy option.
Finally, because this plant does not require any special attention or maintenance, it makes for a great option for those who don’t have time to take care of their tank on a daily basis.
Duckweed (Lemna minor)
Duckweed is a floating plant that floats on the water’s surface. It has roots that grow in the water and its leaves float on top of the water. Duckweed can be found in temperate regions all over the world, but it thrives best in warm and moist climates such as those found in Florida and other southern states.
It will also thrive well in areas with high salinity levels.
Lighting doesn’t matter for this plant because it only needs sunlight to photosynthesize.
Duckweed can get really thick in some tanks, so you may want to limit how much you add at once by cutting it up into smaller pieces before adding them to your tank.
Amazon Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)
Adding amazon frogbit to your aquarium is a great way to soften the look of hardscape and make your tank feel more natural. This plant does not need substrate, but it does appreciate being planted in a pot with some gravel to anchor it in place. Frogbit grows best when watered often and fertilized with liquid fertilizer.
It can grow up to 12 inches tall, so be prepared for some long stems that may need trimming. The leaves are a dark green color and will remain upright on the stem unless they get wet. The flowers are small white or pink clusters that bloom on top of the water’s surface, adding an interesting contrast against darker colors or greenery around them.
Floating Crystalwort (Riccia fluitans)
Floating plants are a great way to add some color and interest to your aquarium, but you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t block the light from reaching the lower levels of your tank. One plant that’s perfect for this is Riccia fluitans, or crystalwort.
These plants grow in tiny tufts of green or red and can be rooted in gravel, rocks, or driftwood. They will also attach themselves to surfaces like glass and terracotta pots. They will not require any substrate since they’re capable of absorbing all their nutrients through their leaves, making them a low-maintenance choice for people who have tanks with live plants.
Rotala Indica (Indian Toothcup)
The Rotala Indica (Indian Toothcup) is an excellent aquarium plant that doesn’t need substrate. This species of aquatic plant is a stemless variety with colorful red and green leaves.
When it comes to choosing your Rotala, one of the best varieties for beginners is the Red. It has narrower leaves than most other types but they are still sturdy and hold up well in most conditions. The Golden is another good choice because it grows more quickly than many other types but can also be difficult to get rid of when you want to change up your tank decorating style.
Ludwigia Repens (Creeping Primrose-Willow)
If you’re looking for an aquarium plant that doesn’t need substrate, look no further than the creeping primrose-willow (Ludwigia repens). This little plant is happy to grow on any surface, including rocks and gravel! The Ludwigia repens is a perfect choice for beginners because it needs very little attention.
In fact, it’s often used in aquariums as a background plant. The creepers are also considered excellent oxygenators of water. However, they do best when planted with other low-growing plants like Java ferns or hair grass. They will form a carpet around your tank if given enough space to spread out, so be careful not to overplant them.
Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
Water wisteria is one of the most popular aquarium plants. It is a green plant that has flat, ribbon-like leaves. This plant does not need a substrate and it can be either left floating or tied to an object like a piece of driftwood.
The water wisteria needs an average amount of light and should be kept in water with low to moderate hardness levels. If you want this plant to thrive, make sure the roots are submerged at all times. Although it doesn’t require much maintenance, you will still have to clean up after your fish and remove any excess food from the tank so as not to rot on top of the roots.
Cabomba caroliniana (Green Cabomba)
Also known as Carolina Fanwort, Cabomba caroliniana is a type of aquatic plant that doesn’t need substrate. It’s also known as Green Cabomba and it is easy to grow. One of the best things about Cabomba caroliniana is that it spreads by runners. If you have one in your tank and want more, just cut off some pieces and they will root in your tank.
Another great thing about this plant is that it can tolerate a wide range of water conditions. You may want to use an aquarium with stronger lighting because Cabomba caroliniana needs strong light to survive. They are great for beginners because they are so hardy!
Elodea (Elodea canadensis)
One of the most popular aquarium plants is Elodea, also known as the Canadian waterweed. You can find this plant floating in the water or on rocks and plants. It is not only a hardy plant that can grow even if left neglected for long periods of time, but it’s also one of the few aquarium plants that don’t need substrate.
Elodea has many benefits for your tank, including increased oxygen levels and improved bacterial filtration with its roots. However, because it does require iron to thrive properly (iron isn’t always available from tap water), you may need to add a fertilizer like Flourish Iron to keep the plant healthy.
Another benefit of Elodea is that you can trim off pieces for your fry to hide out among its leaves. The best part? There are several varieties that you can choose from, making sure there’s something perfect for every tank!