Aquarium Plants Grow in Gravel

Can Aquarium Plants Grow in Gravel?

If you are about to start growing aquarium plants, this question might come up to your mind.

A lot of hobbyists are curious about this topic as well.

They want to know how to plant them, the best gravel substrate to use, what kind of plants to grow in gravel, or whether they could survive on those pebbles.

If you have all these questions, you have come to the right place.

Here we will share all necessary information about using gravel substrate in your planted tank.

Do You Vacuum Gravel in a Planted Tank?

The maintenance of the aquarium is an essential task to do.

Doing it can be varied depending on your equipment, setup, or even your time.

Gravel siphon is one of the systems you can do.

A siphon is a large tube that is connected to a narrower and flexible tubing.

This tool is commonly used to vacuum planted tanks with gravel substrate.

Nowadays, a siphon is already equipped with an air pump to start the vacuuming automatically.

But, if yours is a regular one, then you may do it manually.

However, we do not recommend sucking the other end of the tube with your mouth.

Surely we do not want to get any disease from your aquarium.

So, the best way is to put the large tube into the tank, fill it with water, and start the pumping just like that.

You may want to pinch the narrow tube occasionally to avoid over-pumping. Also, do not forget to prepare a large bucket for the water waste.

To correctly vacuum your tank, you only need to put the tip of the large tube on the surface of the gravel.

There is no need to push it deeply, especially when you have a mixture of gravel and other substrates.

Lightly push it, vacuum the tiny particles like fish or plant waste and excess fish food. Doing this once a week or month will provide a healthier environment for your plants and fish.

Does Vacuuming Gravel Remove Beneficial Bacteria?

Now you might question whether vacuuming can remove beneficial bacteria from the gravel. One thing you should know about a siphon is the particulates it sucking up.

It only vacuums small particles, not microscopic ones.

Bacteria live deep within the crevices of the gravel.

Even if it does remove the bacteria, it is only a very tiny amount of it.

For your information, relying only on gravel substrate to house the bacteria is not a sustainable system.

You can choose other methods as their media, such as sponges, rocks, or bio-balls.

With any of these methods, your aquarium plants will stay healthy as they are. And, no need to worry any longer about removing those bacteria.

You can still include the vacuuming system as part of your regular maintenance.

Can I Mix Gravel and Plant Substrate?

For some people, using gravel only is not enough for their aquarium.

That’s why mixing rock with other substrates will be an option.

I’m not saying it wrong since you can do this method to provide more nutrients for your plants.

This can also help you to create an aesthetic look for aquascaping.

But, it is not a wise decision to mix it with whatever substrate you want.

Inert substrates like gravel or sand are the most commonly used type for aquariums. They can give you a natural feel and also are available in different sizes and colors.

This kind of substrate usually looks best when combined with other substrates.

In growing aquarium plants, it is highly recommended to use plant substrates with high CEC.

Aqua Soil is an excellent choice since it has a very good CEC.

Not to mention, it is best paired with gravel substrate.

Now I would like to share how to mix the substrates properly.

  1. Pour a layer of substrate with good CEC into your tank. You can use clay, soil, or peat for that.
  2. Use a large grain substrate with a size between 3 to 7 mm. This layer will work as a sealing substrate. It will not let nutrients from the first layer escape in the water.
  3. You can top it off with gravel, 1 to 2 mm in size.
  4. Add the water, but do not pour it in a large amount at once. It will ruin the mixture.

Besides being inexpensive, this method can give you a long-term balance of chemistry in the water. As a result, your plants will have tremendous growth in the tank.

When using substrate like ADA Aquasoil, keep in mind that wait for about two weeks before adding your fish to the tank.

During that period, the ammonia and nitrite levels will increase, which is unsuitable for fish to inhabit.

Even after a couple of weeks has passed, check those levels before you add the fish.

What Aquarium Plants That Grow in Gravel?

What if you only want to use gravel substrate?

Are there any aquatic plants that could survive in this condition?

Here are some options you may put into consideration.


Anubias has been a pretty popular choice in decades for planted tanks. Other than its beautiful look, it comes in a variety of sizes.

Anubias is easy to plant to care for.

Also, it does not require fertilized substrate as it can attach to rocks or driftwoods.

The growth rate is relatively slow.

And, it is not the best option when it comes to absorbing ammonia and nitrates.


Although it is relatively new for the aquarium hobby, Bucephalandra is quite well-known for aquascaping.

Grown in Borneo Island, Indonesia.

This species has a lot of varieties.

It has different sizes, leaf shapes, or even colors.

The color varies from green, blue to dark violet.

Some might even come in multi-colored.

The growth rate for this one is low.

Java Fern

Also known as Microsorum Pteropus, this is another native species from Indonesia.

As seen from its name, it commonly grows on the Island of Java.

If you are a beginner at growing aquarium plants, this is the best choice for you.

Similar to Bucephalandra, it is also famous for aquascaping.

You can use it as a background or feature plant.

However, this plant can block waterways. So, it might restrict the movement of some fish or shrimp.


Vallisneria is a root feeder plant.

But, it can still survive by absorbing the nutrients from fish waste.

So, there is no need to add fertilizer.

Furthermore, its vertical accent makes it an ideal choice to add to the background of your aquarium.

It blends well with other green plants too.

Due to its size, we do not recommend it for a small tank.

Can Live Plants Survive in Gravel?

Based on what I have discussed so far, the answer to this question is yes.

Besides the four species mentioned above, there are still many others to choose from.

You can combine it with many types of driftwood.

The most important thing you must note is the combination of both plants and the substrate you intend to use.

If it is only gravel substrate, then you may go with the options we gave.

But, if you want more varieties in your tank, you can mix the gravel with fertilized substrates.

That allows providing nutrients for other aquarium plants you want to add.