When most of us think of an aquarium, we picture a tank with a few goldfish swimming around decorative plastic plants.
With the rising popularity of aquascaping, however, this kind of aquarium is becoming more and more rare, and is being replaced by tanks that feature live aquatic plants.
The beautiful self-contained ecosystems of planted tanks make a beautiful addition to the home, especially when they feature a wide variety of plant species and well-chosen LED lighting.
That said, the entire miniature landscape of a planted tank can be ruined if plants are introduced to it without being properly disinfected or quarantined to prevent parasites or other unwanted organisms from being introduced into the tank.
How to clean aquarium plants before planting
Trim the roots of your plant and sterilize them. Place them in a basin of water for a minimum of five days and change the water every day. Use a dechlorinating water conditioner to detoxify ammonia and nitrates. After removing it from the water, rinse your plant with water thoroughly several times.
How to sterilize new plants
Sterilizing newly purchased plants before introducing them into your planted tank is an essential task for anyone looking to keep their aquarium healthy and pest-free.
While you should ideally sterilize your plants as a part of the quarantine process, many aquarium owners prefer to skip over the five-day plant quarantine and just to disinfect their plants instead.
While this is fine to do in most cases, you will never be able to guarantee that you are not introducing toxins, parasites, pathogens, or snails into your tank unless you quarantine new plants.
Whether you are choosing to sterilize your newly purchased plants as part of the quarantine process or are choosing to forego the five-day quarantine and only disinfect your plants before introducing them to your tank, there are several methods you can use to clean your plants.
One way to disinfect your plants is to use bleach. We are all familiar with how strong the active ingredient in bleach, sodium hypochlorite, is.
It kills everything from viruses to algae. You can use a regular household bleach to sterilize your plants.
Before introducing your plants to a bleach solution, rinse them in room temperature water and trim their roots down to about half an inch long. While you can use tap water to do this, the best water to use for houseplants is filtered or distilled water.
If you are cleaning larger plants with more extensive root systems, such as amazon swords, you can trim them slightly less. Aim for roots that are about an inch long for these lush green plants.
Next, dilute your bleach at a ratio of 19:1. You can then place your plants in the solution for between one and two minutes. You will need to submerge the entire plant, not just the roots, in the bleach solution.
Have a container of room temperature water ready beside your bleach bucket and transfer your aquatic plants into this immediately after you remove them from the bleach solution.
Mix a teaspoon of a dechlorinating water conditioner into the water at this stage and allow the plants to sit in it for two to three minutes.
Finally, remove your plants from the bucket and place them on a gently moist tea towel. Proceed to rinse them twice.
After this, they will be ready for introduction to your tank, either by being planted in the substrate, introduced as a floating plant, or anchored into your aquarium substrate.
How to quarantine new plants
The best way to keep your aquarium environment safe is to put your new plants through a full quarantine process. While the quarantine process involves sterilization, it also allows five days to pass before introducing new plants to your planted tank.
The first step when quarantining your plant is to remove any wrappings or materials that may be keeping your roots together and safe while your plant was being shipped around.
Get down to just the roots and trim them down to about half an inch long. Follow the sterilization process detailed above. Alternatively, you can use an alum-based solution instead of a bleach-based one to disinfect your plants.
Alum is a far milder sterilant than bleach, but because you are quarantining your plant as well, it is usually sufficient to achieve the desired goal of eliminating snails, parasites, and bacteria.
If using alum, mix a solution of three to four tablespoons of alum into a gallon of room temperature water.
Place the entire plants in the water for three hours. Remove the plants and place them in a basin of a water containing a teaspoon of a dechlorinating water conditioner for two to three minutes.
Once you have sterilized your plants using either bleach or alum, place your plants in a bucket of water and keep them there for between five and seven days.
You will need to change the water every day. After the first day, begin to add a teaspoon of water conditioner to the bucket.
This will help rid the water of any heavy metals, chlorine and chloramine.
Once you have completed your minimum five-day quarantine, rinse your plants several times. They are now ready to be planted into your aquascape or introduced as floating aquarium plants!
Reasons to quarantine and/or sterilize new plants
If you have been reading these sterilization guidelines and are wondering what all the fuss is about, it might be helpful to gain a better understanding of why it is so important that you do not just introduce new plants into your aquarium before taking the proper precautionary measures.
One major thing you want to avoid is introducing snails to your tank. Bladder Snails, Pond Snails and Malaysian Trumpet Snails are all adept at find their way into the lower foliage of your aquatic plants and sneaking their way into aquariums.
Two other pests that like to get into planted tanks are dragonflies and damselfly nymphs.
Damselflies catch and eat shrimp and fish and are extremely difficult to get rid of.
Prevention is always better than mitigation when it comes to aquarium pests. In addition to these larger pests there are a whole host of pesticides and contaminants that can wipe out entire fish and shrimp populations.
Last but not least, there is the dreaded twosome of algae and fungus, both of which can wreak havoc on the plant life in your carefully tended aquarium.
In order to avoid a situation in which you are left searching for remedies to save your browning java moss, or wondering why your java fern is turning brown, take the time in advance of planting aquatic plants to ensure you are not introducing any harmful things to your tank.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.