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How to Anchor Aquarium Plants without Substrate or Gravel

Trying to anchor aquarium plants without substrate can look daunting at first, hopefully, there are a lot of easy alternatives you can use.

Substrate or aquarium gravel has many purposes and is nearly a must when doing aquascape. It is beneficial for both your design and the health of everything that lives inside your tank. With so many benefits,

it’s easy to understand why it’s used so much to anchor aquarium plants. Still, as you will learn in this article, there are certain situations where the substrate isn’t needed and some when it shouldn’t be used.

Hopefully, when you have finished this article, you will know how to anchor both plants that have and don’t have roots without substrate. This will allow you to only use it as a last option and not as a default solution. You’re about to discover many ways to anchor aquarium plants that are less frustrating than using substrate without being dangerous to your fishes and plants.

Why the substrate is important to anchor aquarium plants

Low tech planted tank

Since it’s such a crucial element, it’s essential to understand what it does so you know what you will need to bring in your tank to replace it. Natural water filtration is probably the most crucial thing substrate provides. It acts as a shelter for good bacteria.

They are necessary for your tank to be safe for your fishes and your plants to grow well. It can be developed naturally without substrate but not in enough quantity to make it safe for fishes to live.

Without it, harmful waste will accumulate much quicker than usual, making your tank a lot harder to maintain. If your tank is crowded, it may even be impossible to keep it healthy for your animals. As no matter how many times you change the water, you won’t be able to keep nitrates and ammonia under control.

Some fishes can only live well under a certain level of water hardness: Hard water, which is very rich in minerals. Some substrates, like coral substrate, can enrich the water and change its chemical composition.

Your fishes will love substrate as it provides a home and a place to hide for them (especially those who like burrows.). They will also be calmed by it as it will reduce water reflection that can cause them to be stressed. It can also offer shelter to fish eggs.



Large substrates can hide and keep them safe while they hatch, as a hungry fish won’t hesitate to eat its children. Microorganisms are also present and will be a great first meal for freshly hatched eggs.

Plants can also greatly benefit from the substrate. Keeping your plants healthy and growing by giving them minerals is one of the crucial roles some common substrates like laterite and vermiculite fulfill in your tank. Used together with gravel, it makes for a very healthy to anchor aquarium plants.

Since it can come in so many colors, the substrate is also a powerful tool to improve the look of your tank. You can choose a contrasting colour to your fishes’ colour to make them stand out. Being able to see your fish more clearly is also important to know if they are healthy and to locate the ones that are sick.

You would be amazed by the amount of unwanted stuff that substrate is hiding beneath it. It doesn’t make the tank cleaner, but without it, you would have a lot of debris and waste floating around and making it a lot less beautiful.

When to avoid using substrate

substrate for planted tank

Even if it fulfills so many crucial roles for your tank, there are times when you don’t really need or when you’re better off without it. If you’re looking to hatch fish eggs and raise young fry, it might not be a good idea to have substrate in your tank.

Your tank must be spotless if you want fishes to be healthy and grow well. This will require frequent water changes, as well as thorough vacuuming of your tank. But freshly hatched fishes, are so small that you can easily lose some of them in the process, making.

Plants in your aquarium are lighter than water. They will float and go to the water surface. Some people try to anchor down plants using the substrate, while it can work, it can be a very frustrating process. You should consider using other means to anchor down your plants.

Harmful materials to avoid

When trying to anchor aquarium plants without substrate, you should always keep your fishes and plants health in mind. Always be sure of what you’re putting in your tank, what it’s made of and how it will interact with the content of your tank.

Changing the chemical composition of the water in your tank can have dire consequences from diseases and stress to downright killing your fishes and plants. Be even more careful if you have fishes that need particular chemical composition like Mollies.

You should avoid materials that will degrade or change state. Stay away from metals as they will rust when in prolonged contact with water. Lead is especially something to stay away from as it will poison and kill your animals.



If you consider using rocks, always use hard stones such as granite. Weaker ones like limestone will start to degrade after staying in water for some time. If you want to gather them yourself, look for river or pond rocks. Even if those rocks won’t be degrading, they could still carry harmful bacteria for your tank.

Make sure to scrub them of dirt and let them rest for 20 minutes in boiling water to get rid of any bacteria. After letting them cool down you can then safely add them to your tank.

As you probably know, a lot of people use driftwood in their tank, and with so many different types it can be difficult to know which one you should be using. Any driftwood you buy will usually always be good for your tank since it has been treated. However, if collecting wood outside yourself, always make sure to prepare it accordingly before putting it in your tank as untreated wood will rot in water.

Here are even more things you should never put in your fish tank.

How to anchor aquarium plants without substrate

How you will anchor aquarium plants will depend on what you are using as the hook, as well as what plant you want to root down.

Be aware that anchoring plants can be dangerous for your fishes as if they like lurking in small spaces, they could trap themselves with the strings holding your plants. They could be injured when trying to free themselves or, worst, die if trapped for too long.

Keep in mind that to stay put, a plant needs something firm holding it down and be in a place where there are relatively low tides. If flows continually hit the plant, it will most likely be dislodged with time or won’t grow properly. That’s why you also need to know the final size of the plant when it’s fully grown so you can place it optimally.

Anchoring rooted plants

substrate for planted tank

A common technique for plants with roots is to keep them in the same position long enough so that the roots start to develop so the plant can maintain itself on its own. The easiest way to achieve that is to put heavy rocks around the base of the plant. You can also attach it with a string to something heavy (wood or stones) that will stay at the bottom of the tank.

As plants with roots will come in pots, you can put them like this in the tank, and they will stay put. This cannot be used extensively because having pots in your tank will most likely ruin your design. It can, however, be done in small amounts when hidden adequately by things like large rocks or pieces of driftwood. Make sure to use clay pots and to stay away from plastic ones as they will release harmful chemicals in your tank.



Anchoring rootless plants

Fortunately, if your plants have no roots it’s going to be easier to hold them down, one of the easiest ways to do it is to wrap them around the wood so that it stays in place while a small part of it floats freely in the water. Another easy method is to stuff your plants into crevices. There should be plenty of them in your tank between all the driftwood and rocks you should have to rest around.

Mosses and other carpeting plants can be sewed to various things like nylon meshes or sewing boards that you can then place in the tank. Luckily, if sewing is not appealing to you, you can also glue your plants to anything you like by using Cyanoacrylate gel. This adhesive will make your life a lot easier. It’s safe for both your fishes and plants’ lives and cures within the water.

Conclusion

You should now be able to anchor aquarium plants without substrate or gravel. As you learned; anchoring plants should be taken seriously. You should do thorough research before putting something that might change water chemical composition in your tank.