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Putting an incompatible plant in sand substrate could lead to its death and decay.
It gets worse.

The decay could seriously harm other tank inhabitants.

No doubt, some aquarium plants will do just fine in sand substrates and are just as beautiful and vibrant as other plants.

We’ve gathered a list of some of the best aquarium plants you can put in sand substrate. This in-depth review has all the important features, pros, cons, and public opinion of these products.

We have added a few descriptions to help you narrow down which one would be an excellent fit for your aquarium.

7 Best Aquarium Plants in Sand Reviews

Flowering Plants

Suitable for Beginners

/ Care Level

Propagation mode

Java Fern

Yes/Easy

Rhizome division/Adventitious Plantlet

Amazon Sword

Yes/Easy

Adventitious plantlets/Splitting at the crown

Cryptocoryne

Yes/Easy

Lateral shoots or runners

Vallisneria

Yes/Easy

Runners

Anubias

Yes/Easy

Rhizome cuttings

Anacharis

Yes/Easy

Cutting

Hornwort

Yes/Easy

Cutting and side shoots

Java Fern (Best Low light)

Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus) is one of the most popular plants in the aquarium hobby. It can fit in most aquariums because of its compatibility with most fishes and its easy cultivation process.

Key Features

It is a great plant for areas from the mid-ground to the background in planted tanks and has a slow growth rate, which some aquarists might prefer.

 It’ll also have no problem in sand substrates as long as you don’t bury the rhizomes. Hold them down with the ornaments like rocks or driftwood in the tank before putting them on the sand substrate.

This plant propagates easily with its rhizomes. You can split the rhizomes into shapes and attach them to a surface to make them grow. It requires a pH of 6.0 – 8.0, a temperature range of 68 – 82oF, and a light requirement ranging from low to moderate.

Our Thoughts: Java Fern is seemingly perfect as it is easy to maintain and relatively cheap to buy. What’s more, is you can keep this plant in your tank for up to 2 years without encountering any major issues.

What Customers Say: “The color is very natural and contrasts well with the Guppies in my tank. They enjoy swimming around the plant.”

Pros

  • Forms a dense shade to protect your shrimp and shy fish
  • Requires minimal maintenance and care
  • Will survive in a large range of temperatures
  • Great as a decorative piece because of its beauty
  • An excellent option for aquascaping

Cons

  • Could block waterways in the tank and restrict movement of the inhabitants
  • Grows extremely slow

Amazon Sword (Best with no fertilizer)

Amazon Sword (Echinodorus grisebachii) is a great plant for beginners and has a distinct tall shape that could measure up to 16 - 23 inches.

Key Features

Amazon Sword is a strong, hardy plant, making it great for beginners as a mistake will not be deadly for the plant. It will do well in cold aquariums as it can tolerate temperatures up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit without dying.

The plant earns its name from the large, sword-shaped leaves that stand out from other aquarium plants. It is best to plant them in the middle of your tank as the roots expand and would need space.

This plant propagates through splitting at the crown or adventitious plantlets. It requires a pH of 6.5 – 7.5, a temperature range of 60 – 82oF, and a moderate light requirement.

Our Thoughts: We would recommend using this plant as your centerpiece or the background because of the root system. An excellent decorative piece that will add a little flair to your tank.

What Other Keeper Say: “I’ve had them for a little over 7 months now and hasn’t given me any issues whatsoever.”

Pros

  • Does not need fertilizers to grow and blossom
  • Great source of biofilm for new fry
  • Gives cover for tiny fishes when they want to hide
  • Cleans up the tank by removing excess nitrates and nutrients from the tank
  • Extensive root system helps break down the anaerobic pockets

Cons

  • Might die off while putting into the tank
  • Leaves might foster algae growth which might harm the fishes over time

Cryptocoryne

Cryptocoryne Wendtii is a plant known for its various sizes and colors, making it a popular choice for aquariums, especially for decoration.

Key Features

You can get the Cryptocoryne in three main colors of brown, green, and red to match other colors in your aquarium. The leaves can grow to reach heights of anywhere from 5 to 18 inches. 

In large aquariums, you would better use it in the foreground, while for medium-sized aquariums, it will serve great as a mid-ground plant.

This plant propagates by sending runners in the tank and forming lateral roots on its rhizomes. Sometimes, they might propagate up to 20cm away from the main plant because of their long roots. It requires a pH of 6.0 – 8.0, a temperature range of 72 – 82oF, and a low light requirement.

Our Thoughts: This is a great plant for you if trimming has always been a challenge in the past. It is very versatile, and its adaptability means it can survive in various tanks and with different inhabitants.

What Other Keeper Say: “Excellent all round, the only problem I have is that one of them was broken on opening and I had to use a glue gun for it.”

Pros

  • They are very hardy plants
  • Requires minimal maintenance to survive
  • Gives shrimp and shy fishes a place to hide
  • The root system prevents gas pockets
  • Variety and beauty make it one of the best plants for aquascaping

Cons

  • It might melt when you put it in your aquarium
  • The growth rate is extremely slow

Vallisneria

Vallisneria sp. is a well-known aquarium plant usually valued because of its attractive tall rosulate structure and prolific nature. It is an excellent option for making your aquarium background look beautiful because of its ribbon-shaped green leaves.

Key Features

This is one of the unique plants that will grow blissfully in any substrate, including plain gravel, soft pebbles, and sand. Its versatility makes it an ideal choice for beginners as it can get the required nutrition from the water column and substrate.

CO2 injections and root tabs will help the plants, but the plants should be fine from the waste your snails and fish generate even if you don’t add.

This plant propagates through its several runners and daughter plants that take shape when the plant settles. It requires a pH of 6.5 – 8.0, a temperature range of 68 – 82o F, and a light requirement ranging from moderate to high.

Our Thoughts: Vallisneria has proven itself to be one of the best plants in the aquarium hobby. It is a natural choice for creating beautiful contrasts in your tank.

What Customers Say: “The package came exactly as ordered; however, the roots were trimmed off. Overall great experience though, and I will recommend.”

Pros

  • Excellent plant for absorbing ammonia and nitrates
  • Will survive in a wide variety of water conditions
  • Gives fishes and shrimp a lot of areas to feed
  • Propagation is easy
  • Very hardy plant

Cons

  • It might prevent light and nutrients from reaching the lower plants in the tank
  • Too big for small tanks

Anubias (Overall Best)

Anubias (Araceae Sp.) is an easy go-to for a sand aquarium. It is naturally found in tropical West Africa in streams, rivers, and shady areas of marshes.

Key Features

Anubias, just like a lot of the other plants on this list, is slow-growing and undemanding, usually known for their beautiful and durable green foliage.

Its root structure is strong owing to its natural environment and versatility. In fact, this plant is so versatile that it has several uses in areas other than aquariums.

You can grow Anubias fully submerged in water, partially submerged, or emerged, making it a good plant for paludariums. Anubias is easily spotted from its characteristic broad, coarse, and leathery leaves, and white flowers and heights are known to reach up to 40 inches.

This plant propagates through the rhizome in a nutrient-rich substrate. It requires a pH of 6 – 8, a temperature range of 72 – 82oF, and a light requirement ranging from low to moderate.

Our Thoughts: If you’re an aquarium hobbyist, then this plant should be in your tank. It is a great plant for beginners to start with as it requires minimal care as long as they are heavy potted species.

What Other Keeper Say: “Decided to make a change from the African cichlids I normally keep and its been revealing. I’m definitely getting more for my tank.”

Pros

  • Quick growth rate
  • Propagation mode is easy
  • Excellent at absorbing ammonia and nitrates from the water
  • Hardy plant that is very difficult to kill
  • Can survive in a wide range of water conditions

Cons

  • Will not fit in small tanks
  • Could block light and nutrients from reaching the lower dwelling plants

Anacharis (Best Freshwater)

Anacharis (Egeria Densa) is a plant in high demand by aquarium hobbyists. Its vividness, resilience, and versatility make it a great plant for everyone to have in their aquarium.

Key Features

This plant can grow and propagate in almost any soil substrate because it gets nutrients through the water column and substrate. Unlike others on this list, Anacharis grows fast and could even double in size in under one month, according to the user experience from popular forums.

Anacharis is a big plant, so this might not be an option for you if you have a nano tank. The plant will grow to reach the water surface and develop branches that will spread horizontally to create a thick canopy or mat.

This plant propagates easily through cuttings. It requires a pH of 6.0 – 8.0, a temperature range of 68 – 75oF, and a light requirement ranging from moderate to high.

Our Thoughts: If you have a freshwater display plant, you can get one of the best aquarium plants. It is a definite recommendation from us, and after a couple of weeks with it, you’ll understand why it’s highly sought after.

What Customers Say: “This is the best live plant I have ever purchased, the only issue I have is with the packaging, which could’ve been done better.”

Pros

  • Has a wide surface area for fish and shrimp to feed on
  • Very effective deterrent against algae
  • Cultivation is easy
  • Great decorative piece for jungle aquascape
  • Easy to care for and maintain

Cons

  • Sensitive to Seachem Excel
  • It cannot grow properly in small tanks

Hornwort

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) is a fast-growing plant with prominent horn-like needles on long, slender stems. It has a resilient nature and is a great decorating piece for adorning the background of planted tanks.

Key Features

Hornwort would better fit in tanks that measure at least 15 gallons because of its fast growth. Its versatility allows you to plant it in a sand substrate or float on the water surface in the tank. 

However, we should point out that this plant does not have roots, so it might be challenging to plant. Instead, it has modified leaves which it uses to anchor itself to the sediment. Lead weights and suction cups may be necessary to help keep the plants in place.

Other than this, the plant is hardy and will easily adapt to changes in water conditions, and it is capable of getting most of its needed nutrients from tank water.

This plant propagates through vegetative fragmentation. It requires a pH of 6 – 8, a temperature range of 64 – 86oF, and medium light requirements.

Our Thoughts:

There are many benefits to keeping this plant in your aquarium, including the cover it gives, filtration, and metal absorption.

What Other Keeper Say:

“I put this plant in the same tank with my crab terrarium and they loved it. Never seen them this happy before.”

Pros

  • Impressive metal absorption attributes
  • Can clear cloudy water in the tank
  • Wonderful looking plant
  • Works great at reducing nitrates
  • Gives cover to the shrimps and small fishes

Cons

  • Some are very hardy, while others die quickly
  • The brittle leaves might mean the needles would break off

FAQs and Additional Tips 

Can Aquarium Plants Live without Substrate?

Yes, you can grow aquarium plants without substrate as it is not necessary for all live plants. While some aquatic plants need a substrate form, which could be gravel, soil, or sand to anchor the roots to the surface, others do not.

You can keep these aquarium plants alive by attaching them to ornaments in your tanks, such as rock or driftwood, before putting them in your aquarium. Examples of these are Riccia fluitans and Java moss.

Another category of aquarium plants that don’t need substrate is floating plants. You don’t need to anchor them to anything. You may place them in your aquarium, so they float. They will do just fine and get all the necessary nutrients from the water through their leaves and roots. However, you might need to supplement these plants with some liquid fertilizers. Examples of these plants are Duckweed and Rotala Indica.

How Can You Plant Aquarium Plants in Sand?

The key to making sure your aquarium plants stay in the sand is to have enough space to grow. You should make sure that the sand substrate should be 2 – 3 inches deep at the minimum.

This should be enough to give the plants support and space to fix their roots. If you have fishes or crayfish species in your tank that can uproot the plant’s root from the sand substrate, you might have to make the sand substrate deeper.

Thicker substrates have more anaerobic areas, and heterotrophic bacteria will naturally form in these places, usually in the lower level of the substrate. This bacterium creates Hydrogen Sulphide pockets which could kill the shrimp and fishes in your tank. Oxygen is the best way to neutralize the hydrogen sulfide and return it to its non-toxic sulfate form. 

Sometimes plants may float in the tank as sand may not give the perfect hold. Use lead weights to keep the plant roots in the substrate for good anchorage. Also, make sure the plant’s crown isn’t buried so the plant will not rot and remove debris on top of the sand during regular maintenance. Anytime you change the water, do so carefully so as not to dislodge the sand bed.

Is Sand Safe for Aquariums?

Sand is safe for aquariums and is one of the popular choices for aquarium substrate. They come in various forms, colors, and shades, with some being fine and others being almost as coarse as gravel.

Gravel or Sand Substrate: Which is Better?

Choosing between the above substrates will depend on the fishes and plants in your tank and personal preference. Here are the details to consider before choosing gravel or sand

Gravel

Sand

Tidy looking appearance

Sandy appearance

Underground filter

Canister or Hanging filter

Prefer an easily maintained environment

Willing to take on the challenges of maintaining a sandy environment

Not decided which aquatic species to put in the tank

Intend to keep freshwater fish or invertebrates that borrow in the substrate

Want a wide variety of substrate colors and sizes

Not bothered about limitations of growing aquatic plants

Final Verdict

All of the above plants will perform great in a sand substrate, and we could easily recommend anyone to you based on your needs and conditions.

However, if we recommend only one from this list, it would be Anubias as it ticks all the boxes. It is a hardy plant that can easily adapt to water conditions and requires only minimal care.

Another great option is Anacharis if you have a freshwater tank.

As long as you keep an eye on your plants and keep to the general conditions they need for survival, you shouldn’t encounter any issues with these plants.


About the author 

erictoth595

My name is Eric. I'm the owner of snugaquarium.net and a writer with a passion for aquariums and fish-keeping. I love to watch the three different species of freshwater fish floating around in my homemade aquarium in my spare time.

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