What Aquarium Plants Grow In Sand

Many people who love aquariums try to make their fish tanks look like the places where fish and plants live in the wild. Usually, people use small rocks called gravel at the bottom of their tanks. 

But now, more and more people are interested in using sand instead of gravel to help plants grow underwater. In this guide, I’ll talk about how you can make plants grow in sand in your aquarium. 

We’ll learn about different kinds of sand, what aquarium plants grow in sand, and the good and bad things about using sand. But first, let’s find out if plants can grow in sand in the wild.

Are Plants Able To Grow In A Sand Substrate In Their Natural Environment?

In their natural habitats, many aquatic plants do indeed grow in sandy substrates. These plants have adapted to the unique challenges posed by sand, such as its relatively low nutrient content and the difficulty of anchoring roots. 

This natural adaptation suggests that with the right care, aquarium plants can indeed flourish in a sand substrate.

Here are some simple reasons why

  • Type of Plant: Just like some people have favourite foods, some plants are better at living in sandy soil. They’re kind of like plant experts in handling this type of soil.
  • Water: Most plants really need water. Sandy soil doesn’t keep water well because it has big grains like tiny pebbles. So, if the place where the plant lives gets plenty of rain, it might do fine in sandy soil because rain can quickly soak in and reach the plant’s roots. But if it doesn’t rain much, the plant might struggle because it can’t get enough water from sandy soil.
  • Food: Plants need food from the soil. Sandy soil doesn’t have a lot of the plant food that plants like. So, if a plant grows in sandy soil, it has to find its food somewhere else, which can be a bit tricky.
  • Adaptations: Some plants in sandy areas have special tricks to survive. For example, they might have long roots that can reach water deep underground or clever ways to capture and keep the nutrients they need.

So, the short answer is, yes, plants can grow in sandy places, but they need to be the right kind, get enough water, and sometimes have special ways to get their food.

Which Type Of Sand Is Recommended For A Planted Aquarium?

The substrate in your aquarium plays a crucial role in the well-being of your aquatic plants. It’s not just there for looks – it also impacts the growth and stability of your plants. When it comes to sand, here’s what you need to know.

1. Sand Type: Fine-grain sands, like play sand or pool filter sand, are usually recommended. They have smaller particles, which means they can create a solid and stable base in your aquarium. This stability is important because it allows plant roots to anchor securely.

2. Plant Health: Fine sand provides a good environment for plant roots. It allows them to spread and grip the substrate easily. This is crucial for the health and growth of your aquatic plants.

3. Water Circulation: Fine-grain sand allows water to circulate effectively. Proper water circulation is important for oxygenating the roots and preventing the build-up of harmful gases in the substrate. It also ensures that nutrients can reach the plant roots.

4. Rinsing: Before adding sand to your aquarium, it’s essential to rinse it thoroughly. This removes any impurities, dust, or debris that could cloud the water or harm your plants and fish.

5. Inert Sand: It’s crucial to use sand that is inert, meaning it won’t alter the water chemistry. This ensures a stable environment for your fish and plants. Avoid using sand that may contain chemicals or minerals that could affect your aquarium’s pH or water quality.

6. Depth: The depth of the sand bed depends on the types of plants you plan to grow. Some plants prefer shallow substrates, while others benefit from deeper ones. Research the specific requirements of your plants to determine the appropriate depth.

7. Maintenance: Keep in mind that sand can trap debris more easily than gravel, so regular maintenance, such as vacuuming the substrate during water changes, is important to keep your aquarium clean and healthy.

Selecting the right sand for your planted aquarium involves choosing fine-grain, inert sand, rinsing it thoroughly, and considering the depth based on your plant species. This will create a stable and healthy environment for both your aquatic plants and fish.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Using Sand As A Substrate

Image Credit: aquariumgenius.com

Advantages Of Using Sand In Your Aquarium:

1. Looks Great: Sand makes your aquarium look more like a natural underwater world. It’s pleasing to the eye and can create a beautiful setting for your fish and plants.

2. Nutrient Storage: Even though sand doesn’t have as many nutrients as some other substrates, it’s good at holding onto the nutrients it does have. This means your plants can still get the food they need over time.

3. Fish-Friendly: Sand is soft and gentle. It’s especially nice for fish that like to hang out at the bottom of the tank, such as catfish. Their sensitive parts, like their whisker-like barbels, won’t get hurt on the smooth sand. 

4. Natural Behavior: Sand can mimic the natural environment of certain fish species, encouraging them to display more natural behaviours. For example, some bottom-dwelling fish like to sift through sand to find food or create hiding spots.

5. Easy Planting: Sand makes it easier to plant aquarium plants with delicate or small roots. You can plant them more precisely and securely in the fine sand.

6. Uniform Appearance: Sand provides a uniform and consistent look in your aquarium, creating a neat and tidy appearance that some aquarists prefer.

Now, let’s talk about the disadvantages:

Disadvantages Of Using Sand In Your Aquarium:

1. Not Great For Rooted Plants: If you have plants that need to anchor themselves well, sand might not be the best choice. It’s not as stable as some other substrates, so the plants might not stay put as easily.

2. Debris Visibility: Because sand is so fine, it can show dirt and waste more clearly than coarser substrates. This means you’ll need to clean your tank regularly to keep it looking nice.

3. Water Circulation: Sand can sometimes slow down water circulation in your aquarium. This could affect how oxygen and nutrients reach your plants and fish. So, you might need to pay extra attention to water flow.

4. Depth Challenges: Sand can sometimes create challenges while maintaining an even depth. It might form uneven spots over time, making it harder to keep your aquarium looking neat.

5. Cleaning Difficulties: Cleaning sand can be a bit more challenging than cleaning coarser substrates like gravel. Waste and debris can settle in the sand, and it might take extra care during cleaning to avoid stirring it up.

6. Limited Plant Variety: While some plants thrive in sand, others may not do as well. If you want a wide variety of aquatic plants in your aquarium, you might need to consider a different substrate for those that prefer something other than sand.

Using sand in your aquarium can make it look great, is gentle for fish, and retains nutrients for your plants. 

However, it might not be ideal for all types of plants, can show debris easily, and could affect water circulation. It’s important to consider these pros and cons when deciding on your aquarium’s substrate.

Different Species Of Plants Thrive In Sandy Environments

Some different plant species that thrive in sandy environments for your aquarium.

1. Vallisneria (Vallis)

Vallisneria plants have long, slender leaves that look like underwater meadows, creating a graceful and elegant look in your aquarium. They do well in sandy substrates, with their roots securely anchoring in the sand.

2. Cryptocoryne (Crypts)

Cryptocoryne plants come in various species and colors, offering a versatile choice to add visual variety to your aquarium. These plants adapt nicely to sandy substrates, and their different species can complement the aesthetics of your tank.

3. Sagittaria

Sagittaria species have a unique grass-like appearance, adding a touch of natural beauty to your aquarium. They thrive in sandy substrates, and their grass-like look creates a pleasing visual effect.

4. Anubias

Anubias plants are hardy and have attractive, broad leaves. They can be an eye-catching addition to your aquarium. Anubias plants are adaptable and can attach their roots to driftwood or rocks, which works well with sandy substrates.

5. Java Fern

Java Ferns have distinctive, finely cut leaves that give a unique look to your aquarium. These plants are versatile and can attach themselves to various surfaces, including rocks and driftwood, making them a flexible choice for planting in sandy substrates.

These plant species have characteristics that make them well-suited for sandy environments in aquariums. They not only thrive in the sand but also contribute to the overall aesthetics of your aquatic ecosystem, enhancing the beauty of your underwater world.

How To Grow Them?

1. Lighting

Getting the lighting just right for your plants is a bit like making sure they have the perfect amount of sunlight. Different types of plants have different preferences when it comes to light. 

So, it’s crucial to do a little research and find out what your specific plants need. In general, aquarium plants rely on light to do something called photosynthesis, which is like making their own food. They use light to turn water and carbon dioxide into nutrients. 

To make sure they have enough light, you’ll want to provide the right amount and type of light bulbs for your aquarium. By giving them the proper lighting, you’re helping them thrive and stay healthy in your underwater garden.

2. Fertilizing Your Aquarium Plants

Fertilizing your aquarium plants is crucial, just like how we need a balanced diet to stay healthy. While sand can hold some nutrients, it’s a smart idea to provide your plants with extra nutrients. 

Fertilizers act as vitamins for your plants, supplying essential nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus required for growth. You have the option to select between liquid fertilizers, added to the water, or root tabs, buried near the plant’s roots.

However, it’s essential to follow the instructions on the fertilizer package carefully to avoid overfeeding or underfeeding your plants.

3. Water Parameters

Making sure your aquarium’s water closely matches the natural environment your plants come from is like giving them a comfy home. It involves keeping an eye on things like the water’s temperature, acidity or alkalinity (pH), and how hard or soft it is. 

You see, different plants originally grew in different types of water, like rivers or lakes, and they got used to those conditions. To keep them happy and healthy, it’s essential to recreate those familiar conditions as much as possible in your aquarium. 

It’s similar to us feeling our best when we’re in a place that feels just right – not too hot, not too cold. So, by adjusting the water conditions to match their original habitat, you’re giving your plants their ideal living space to thrive.

4. Anchoring The Plants

To keep your aquarium plants firmly in place, you’ll want to anchor them securely, just like building a stable house. 

You can do this by using tools or your fingers to make small holes in the sand and gently tuck the plant’s roots into these holes. Make sure the roots are well-covered with sand to keep them from moving around. 

This anchoring process is really important because it ensures your plants stay put and can establish themselves firmly in the sand, much like we need a solid foundation for a secure and happy home. So, take your time with this step to help your underwater garden flourish beautifully.

5. Avoid Burying The Crown

When you’re planting your aquarium, it’s really important to be cautious and not cover up the crown of the plants. The crown is the part where the leaves meet the roots, and it’s a bit like the plant’s neck. 

If you bury this part too deeply in the sand, it can cause problems. It’s similar to how we need to breathe air, and if something blocks our airway, we can’t breathe properly. 

Likewise, if you bury the crown, it can restrict the plant’s ability to “breathe” through its leaves and can also lead to moisture getting trapped, which can cause rot and harm the plant. 

So, when you’re planting, make sure to keep the crown above the sand level, allowing it to stay healthy and thrive in your aquarium.

6. Pruning And Maintenance

Just like we need haircuts to stay healthy and look our best, aquarium plants also benefit from regular trimming and maintenance. 

This involves carefully cutting off dead or decaying leaves and any parts of the plant that are not doing well. Think of it as removing the old to make room for the new. 

This practice keeps your plants in good health by preventing the spread of disease and ensuring they have the energy to grow fresh, vibrant leaves. 

It’s a bit like giving your plants a spa day, where you pamper them by keeping them clean and refreshed. 

7. Water Circulation 

Water circulation is like the bloodstream of your underwater world, and it plays a crucial role in keeping your plants healthy. Just like we need a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients, aquarium plants rely on water to deliver these essentials to their roots. 

To make this happen, it’s important to ensure that the water flows gently around the plants. Think of it as creating a gentle breeze that carries nutrients and oxygen to every part of the plant. 

Good water circulation also helps prevent the water from becoming stale and encourages the removal of waste and excess carbon dioxide. It’s like ensuring the air in your home is fresh and clean. 

8. Monitor Growth

Watching the growth of your plants is a bit like looking after a garden. It’s important to keep a close eye on them. If you see any signs of trouble, like leaves turning yellow or the plants not growing as they should, it’s essential to take action. 

These signs can be like a plant’s way of telling you it needs a little extra care. To fix the problem, you might need to adjust a few things. 

For example, if your plants aren’t growing well, it could be due to not enough light, so you might need to provide more light. 

Or, if they’re not getting enough nutrients, you may need to adjust your fertilization routine. And sometimes, it’s all about making sure the water conditions are just right. 

Keep in mind that being patient is really important when you’re growing aquarium plants. Sometimes, it can take a while for your plants to get settled and start growing well. 

But if you give them the care and attention they need, like the right amount of light, nutrients, and proper water conditions, you can create a healthy and vibrant underwater world in your aquarium using these lovely plants that are well-suited for sand substrates.

What Aquarium Plants Grow In Sand?

If you’re new to planted aquariums, consider starting with easy-to-maintain plants that thrive in sandy substrates.

1. Java Moss: Java Moss is one of the simplest aquatic plants to care for, making it ideal for beginners. It can thrive in various water conditions and doesn’t need much special attention.

You can attach Java Moss to rocks, and driftwood, or even let it float in your aquarium. It will grow and create a lush, green look in your tank with minimal care.

2. Amazon Sword: Despite its majestic appearance, the Amazon Sword is beginner-friendly. It’s hardy and can adapt well to sandy substrates.

Plant Amazon Swords directly into the sand, ensuring their roots are well-covered. They can grow quite large and add a dramatic touch to your aquarium.

3. Anubias Nana: Anubias Nana is a compact and slow-growing plant, which means it won’t outgrow your aquarium quickly. It’s known for being very resilient and easy to care for.

You can attach Anubias Nana to rocks, driftwood, or other aquarium decorations. It thrives when its rhizome (a horizontal stem) is above the substrate.

These plants are excellent choices for beginners because they are hardy, adaptable, and don’t require complicated care routines. 

They can bring natural beauty to your aquarium while allowing you to gain confidence in your plant-keeping skills. 

Just remember to provide them with basic needs like light, occasional fertilization, and clean water, and they will reward you with a flourishing aquatic environment.

What Are The Methods For Fertilizing Sandy Aquariums?

1. Root Tabs: Root tabs are like little nutrient-packed tablets that you bury in the sand near the roots of your plants. Think of them as plant vitamins. As they dissolve, they release essential nutrients directly to the root zone. 

This method ensures that your plants get the nutrients they need right at their base. It’s like delivering food right to your plants’ doorstep.

2. Liquid Fertilizers: Liquid fertilizers are nutrients in a liquid form that you add directly to your aquarium water. They provide a more general supply of nutrients that your plants can absorb through their leaves and roots. 

Regularly dosing your aquarium with liquid fertilizers is like giving your plants a well-rounded diet to help them grow strong and healthy.

3. DIY Substrate Fertilization: Another method is to create your own nutrient-rich substrate by mixing specialized aquatic plant substrate with the sand. These substrates are designed to provide essential nutrients to plant roots. 

By layering this mixture beneath the sand in areas where your plants are rooted, you create a nutrient-rich zone for their growth.

4. Comprehensive Fertilizer Plans: Some aquarists prefer comprehensive fertilization plans that combine both root tabs and liquid fertilizers. 

This approach ensures that plants receive a balanced diet of nutrients, catering to their different absorption methods. It’s like giving your plants a buffet of nutrients, allowing them to choose what they need.

5. Plant Nutrient Monitoring: Regularly monitor the health of your plants by observing their growth and the colour of their leaves. If you notice any signs of nutrient deficiency, like yellowing leaves or stunted growth, you can adjust your fertilization routine accordingly. 

It’s similar to adjusting your diet or taking supplements when you notice your body needs more of a particular nutrient.

6. Scheduled Fertilization: Establish a consistent schedule for fertilization. This can help maintain stable nutrient levels in your aquarium, ensuring that your plants have a continuous supply of the nutrients they need for healthy growth.

7. Avoid Overfertilization: While providing nutrients is essential, it’s equally important not to overdo it. Overfertilization can lead to nutrient imbalances, algae growth, and harm to your aquatic ecosystem. 

Always follow the recommended dosages for the fertilizers you use and adjust as needed based on your plants’ response.

By employing these methods and closely monitoring your plants’ health, you can establish a successful fertilization routine that promotes robust plant growth in your sandy aquarium while maintaining the overall well-being of your aquatic environment.

Which Type Of Substrate, Sand Or Gravel, Is More Favorable For The Growth Of Aquarium Plants?

The decision between sand and gravel as a substrate for your aquarium plants is influenced by several factors:

1. Aesthetic Preferences: Your choice largely depends on the look you want to create in your aquarium. Sand offers a natural appearance that many aquarists find visually appealing, as it mimics the look of natural underwater environments. 

Gravel, while not as fine as sand, can still provide an attractive substrate and comes in various colours and sizes to match your desired aesthetic.

2. Plant Selection: The specific plants you intend to grow also play a role in your substrate choice. Some plants have delicate roots, while others have robust ones. 

For plants with delicate roots, gravel may be preferred because it allows for better aeration and prevents roots from rotting due to lack of oxygen. 

In contrast, sand can work well for plants with hardier or shallow roots, and it offers stability for their growth.

3. Maintenance And Care: Consider the level of care and maintenance you’re willing to provide. Sand substrates can be more challenging to clean because debris tends to settle on top, requiring careful maintenance to prevent issues. Gravel can be easier to clean as debris tends to fall between the gaps.

4. Fish Compatibility: Think about the fish species you plan to keep in your aquarium. Some fish like to dig or sift through the substrate, and sand may be more suitable in such cases as it doesn’t have sharp edges that can harm fish.

In essence, both sand and gravel can support healthy aquatic gardens when managed correctly. Your choice should align with your aesthetic preferences, the types of plants you want to cultivate, and the needs of your fish. 

Many aquarists even opt for a combination of both substrates in their tanks to cater to various plants and create visually appealing landscapes. 

Ultimately, the key is to provide the right care, lighting, and nutrient support for your plants, regardless of the substrate you choose, to ensure their successful growth in your aquarium.


Can I use normal sand in the aquarium?

Yes, you can use normal sand in your aquarium, but it’s essential to choose the right type. You’ll want to opt for clean, fine-grain sands like play sand or pool filter sand.

These sands work well in aquariums because they provide a stable base for plants and don’t contain harmful substances. However, avoid using beach sand or construction sand, as they may have impurities that could harm your fish and plants.

Can Anubias live without soil?

Yes, Anubias plants can live without soil. They are known as epiphytic plants, which means they can attach their roots to surfaces like driftwood or rocks instead of being planted in the substrate.

Anubias can thrive when attached to these surfaces, and their roots will absorb nutrients from the water.

Can stem plants grow in sand?

Yes, some stem plants can grow in sand. While many stem plants do well in substrates rich in nutrients, they can adapt to sandy substrates if you provide them with essential nutrients through fertilization.

You may need to use root tabs or liquid fertilizers to ensure they get the nutrients they need since sand typically has fewer nutrients than other substrates.

Do you need to rinse the sand before putting it in the aquarium?

Yes, it’s a good idea to rinse the sand thoroughly before adding it to your aquarium. Rinsing helps remove any dust, dirt, or impurities that could make your aquarium water cloudy.

To do this, place the sand in a bucket or container and rinse it several times until the water runs clear. Once it’s clean, you can add it to your aquarium. This step ensures a clean and clear environment for your aquatic plants and fish.

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