So, you’ve chosen sand as the substrate for your aquarium, and now you’re wondering:
Can I grow any plants in this?
Sand has a reputation of being difficult to grow aquarium plants in, and for good reason. Sand tends to pack tight around your plants’ roots, causing a bunch of problems.
The best aquarium plants for growing in sand include:
- Amazon Sword
- Ludwigia Repens
- Java Fern
- Java Moss
- Italian Val
I’ll cover these and more in the post.
For the plants that require fertilization (I tell you which ones do), I recommend this water column fertilizer and these root tabs.
1. Amazon Sword
If you’re looking for an aquatic plant that will grow great in sand, amazon sword is a great one to start with.
To plant it, you just bury its roots in your substrate, being careful not to bury its crown.
You will need to provide it fertilizer in the form of root tabs to keep it lush and healthy looking.
What makes this plant so great (and why it’s able to grow in sand) is that it can adapt to a wide range of growing conditions.
This will have a big impact on how it will grow:
When provided the right conditions (proper lighting and CO2 supplementation), this plant can grow and spread quite quickly.
In lower light, without CO2, it will grow more slowly.
Because of its size and rate of growth, it’s best to plant it if you have a large aquarium to provide it the proper amount of space. If you have a smaller aquarium, seek out one of the dwarf varieties available.
|Fertilizer Required||Yes – Iron Rich + Root Tabs|
If they’re not available in your local store, you can get them from amazon here.
2. Java Fern
Java Fern is a plant that is happiest when anchored to driftwood. It will also accept rock as a good alternative.
If you do it correctly, however, you can make it grow in sand.
The key to getting it to survive and grow in sand is to bury the roots up to but not including the rhizome.
With the rhizome above the sand, it will survive and continue to grow. If the rhizome is buried, it will rot and die.
Once you have it planted, it requires relatively little maintenance.
You don’t have to fertilize it or provide CO2, though these will certainly help it grow faster. (Since ferns don’t have the advanced root system of modern plants, use a water soluble fertilizer rather than root tabs.)
|Lighting||Low to Moderate|
If you want to get them online, this seller on Amazon has an arrive alive guarantee.
3. Java Moss
Java moss is perhaps one of the toughest plants on this list.
It will grow in a wide range of conditions, requires very little care, and doesn’t really care what substrate you use.
Rather than proper roots that absorb nutrients, like you’d expect from a plant, java moss has rhizoids that anchor it to whatever surface it’s placed on, and it gains its nutrients through its upper parts.
Java moss appreciates a good current, so if you can arrange it in such a way that it receives some water movement from the pump, it will be much happier.
It doesn’t require much in the way of fertilization, and it will grow just fine without any added CO2.
The only care you need to give it is the occasional trim, and this is optional.
If you want to keep it short and neat, you’re free to trim it. Otherwise, let it grow as it will.
|Lighting||Low to Moderate|
They can be purchased in your local fish store or here on Amazon.
4. Anubias Barteri
Anubias Barteri is another good plant for sandy substrate.
Like Java Moss, it’s perfectly happy when attached to rocks or driftwood, but it will accept being anchored in substrate as well.
It will grow happily in sand as long as you avoid burying its rhizomes.
It will grow in low or moderate lighting. Putting it in too bright of lighting (or leaving the light running for extended periods of time) can harm the plant and encourage an algae bloom, so it’s better to err on the lower side of the lighting spectrum than the higher side for this plant.
It’s a slow grower, and as such doesn’t require much in the way of fertilization or CO2. These, of course, will help your plant grow fuller and faster, but they are not at all necessary.
If you want a truly low maintenance tank, it’s best to avoid them entirely once your tank has filled in to your liking.
|Lighting||Low to Moderate|
Anacharis is another plant that will grow in pretty much anything you put it in.
Sand, soil, it really doesn’t care.
Root it in your substrate, and after that you can pretty much walk away.
Well, not quite walk away.
Anacharis is a quick grower, and if it isn’t trimmed every so often, it will take over your tank.
Luckily, pruning it is just a matter of grabbing your scissors and chopping off any unwanted bits.
The cuttings will grow into new plants, though, so unless you want them to multiply, make sure you dispose of them properly.
The only thing you need to provide it is proper lighting.
If you provide it too little light, it will wither and die.
Follow the below list of recommended water parameters, however, and you shouldn’t have any trouble:
|Fertilizer Required||If in Tropical|
6. Ludwigia Repens
Ludwigia repens is a hardy red plant that can be placed in your tank even when you’re using sand as a substrate.
It can grow fully or partially submerged, so you can still grow it even if it is taller than your tank.
Alternatively, you can trim it to encourage it to become more full and bushy. New shoots will grow out of the stem below the piece you cut off.
If you choose to plant ludwigia repens, you should do the following to take care of it:
- Make sure it has the proper level of light. If it is kept in a low light aquarium, it will loose its color and leaves.
- Fertilizer is not required, but you will get a much healthier looking plant if you use root tabs.
Once you have one ludwigia, you can propogate it either by rooting stem cuttings or by waiting for it to flower and planting the seeds.
|Lighting||Moderate to High|
7. Madagascar Lace
Madegascar lace is a beautiful plant that – unfortunately – is very difficult to grow.
It requires more specific conditions than any other plant on our list, and if you’re not careful, you can easily kill it.
That said, there are reports of people growing it in sand with no problem. (Specifically, a coarse sand like black diamond blasting sand.)
If you choose to go this route, however, your plant will require fertilization.
You should use a good water column fertilizer to help keep this plant healthy. Some people have recommended root tabs, but the consensus seems to be that this plant likes nutrient poor soil.
If you are able to get the water parameters correct, however, you will be rewarded with an amazing looking plant that will be the centerpiece of your aquarium.
|Fertilizer Required||Yes, Water Column – Iron and Trace Elements|
Camboba is a plant that is much easier to care for than the madegascar lace featured above, but still has a beauty to it all its own. (Especially if you get red camboba.)
Camboba is so adaptable that it has become invasive in many areas.
As such, you should be able to easily grow this plant in your aquarium as long as you have the right conditions. (And it’s really not picky.)
It also is a flowering plant, but the flowers require much more careful attention to detail on maintaining exactly the correct parameters.
If you want to see its flowers, you’ll need to increase the light, add CO2, and fertilize, and even then it is a difficult thing to achieve.
Nonetheless, if you’re just looking at camboba for its foliage, you should be fine just to put it in sand.
9. Rotala Indica
Rotala Indica is an easy to grow plant that can happily be planted in sand.
While it does much better if you add CO2, fertilize it, and give it high light, it will grow without fertilization or CO2 and with only moderate lighting.
If you go the extra mile, it will grow faster and oxygenate your water much better, however.
If you give it the right conditions, it can be quite a fast grower. Because of this, if you want to keep it short and neatly trimmed, you will need to give it more attention than some of the other plants on this list.
When you cut off a piece of the stem, new stems will start growing out from just below the cut you made (making it bushier). You can replant the piece you cut off to produce a new rotala plant.
|Lighting||Moderate to High|
10. Dwarf Hairgrass
Dwarf hairgrass is a rewarding carpet plant that will mimic a grassy field inside of your aquarium.
It also has the benefit of being easy to grow – even when planted in sand.
While it doesn’t require fertilization to grow, if you want a full carpet of hairgrass, you should add both root tabs and CO2. Using a high light setup will benefit it as well.
This will make sure it grows into a dense field instead of being scattered and sparse.
When planting, you should spread out small clumps across your aquarium, and it will fill in any bare areas by sending out runners and growing new clumps of itself.
11. Myrio Filigree
Myrio filigree is a quite striking stem plant that looks great and grows well in sand.
What’s more, it grows quickly. I put it in my aquarium, and within a month it had filled the aquarium out nicely.
I did, however, experience some die back when my CO2 cartridge ran out and I neglected to replace it, however, so I’m going to list CO2 as required for this plant. It’s a little extra work, but the payoff is so worth it.
|Fertilizer Required||Yes (Water Column)|
12. Lemon Bacopa
Lemon bacopa, also known as water hyssop, is a very hardy plant that will do well in just about any soil, including sand.
While it will grow better if you have fertilizer and moderate to high lighting, even a low tech setup with low lights and no fertilizer won’t hold this plant back.
It is important to make sure there aren’t any floating plants above it that might keep your aquarium lights from reaching it, however.
|Fertilizer Required||No, but recommended (Root Tabs & Water Column)|
13. Dwarf Lily
Another plant that will add a lot of visual interest to your aquarium is the dwarf lily.
This is a relatively easy plant to grow, as long as you remember not to bury the plant’s bulb all the way. Just enough to anchor it (1/4 of the bulb) is enough. Any more and it will rot and die.
It does require some fertilization to stay healthy, and it needs a lot of light. If you can offer that in your aquarium, you can do well with this plant, even in sand.
|Fertilizer Required||Yes, Root Tabs|
|Lighting||Moderate – High|
14. Crypt Wendtii
Probably one of my favorite plants that I grow in my own aquarium is Cryptocoryne Wendtii. It’s a great looking plant, isn’t very fussy, and can survive a great deal of abuse.
Speaking from personal experience, it grows just fine in low light conditions and in sand both. It’s not a fast grower, so it’s going to be fine even if you don’t regularly fertilize.
That having been said, they perform best if you regularly give them iron rich root tabs. (As do a lot of plants with reddish leaves.)
|Fertilizer Required||Yes, Root Tabs|
15. Italian Val
Italian val is a great background plant for an aquarium. It gets too tall for most aquariums, so periodic trimming is required, but it should grow in sand with no problem.
Italian val will spread throughout the sand in your aquarium via runners that will sprout new plants from their roots. You do need an iron rich fertilizer, but other than that it doesn’t have a great number of requirements to grow.
One important note is that using a liquid carbon suppliment like Seachem Excel can sometimes cause vals to melt, though some people that grow vals have said this didn’t happen to them.
|Fertilizer Required||Yes, Water Column (Iron Rich)|
The best aquarium plants for growing in sand are anacharis, rotala, cryptocoryne, amazon sword (w/ root tabs), and ludwigia repens. Anubias, java fern, and java moss will also grow in sand, since they aren’t grown below the substrate. Coarse sand will work better to grow plants than fine sand.
Just because you have sand doesn’t mean that you can’t have a beautiful, planted aquarium.
There are a world of options open to you.
What it does mean is that you have to take better care of your aquarium plants. Remember:
The nutrients that would be provided by a better soil like Flourish aren’t being provided by your sand. This means that even if a plant doesn’t require fertilization or CO2, you’ll get much better results out of your aquarium if you put a bit extra into it.