In a successful planted aquarium, one of the biggest maintenance jobs is to keep the plants in check. In order to correctly trim or prune plants without damaging them, it is important to know what type of plant it is and how it grows:
Rosette plants (Cryptocoryne / Echinodorus)
These plants grow with their leaves in a circular arrangement. New leaves develop from the centre of the rosette and so the older leaves are on the outermost edge. When pruning rosette plants, cut the older leaves as close to the base as possible. This prevents rot from tracing back to the stem (rhizome). Slower growing than many other types of plants, older leaves are prone to browning / algae growth and so should then be removed.
Stem plants (Hygrophila / Alternanthera / Ludwigia)
These plants are often fast growers that typically aim to reach the surface, where there is more light and CO2 available. Once they have achieved this, they will shed their underwater leaves, leaving the aquarium view as a bunch of stems. Unlike human hair, new growth on a stem plant is at the tip. When trimming a stem plant, you are in fact removing the new growth. It is sometimes advantageous to trim the new growth and replant, thus keeping the newest growth in the aquarium. The pruned plant will then begin to grow new roots and continue to grow.
Carpeting plants (Hemianthus / Glossostigma)
These popular aquascaping plants will quickly grow a dense carpet on the substrate, given the right care and attention. Trimming these plants can be a messy job, as once cut the leaves will float to the surface and then need netting off. To keep carpeting plants healthy, it is important to trim often. These plants will form a dense carpet along the surface, and once conquered, will start to grow on top of itself. This then shades the older plants underneath, killing them off and causing the whole mat to loose its hold and float to the surface. A quality pair of aquascaping scissors that are angled (foreground shears) will be the best tool for trimming carpeting plants.
Runner plants (Vallisneria / Eleocharis / Lilaeopsis)
These plants grow by developing a new shoot to the side (a stolon). The effect creates a wall of plants in a short amount of time. To prune runner plants, the baby shoots can be trimmed and removed altogether, or older leaves removed to the base to prevent rot. Some smaller foreground species (Eleocharis - the hair grass for example) can be trimmed similarly to a carpeting plant species. Although the individual leaves trimmed will not grow back, new leaves will quickly grow in the place of the old ones.
Rhizomic plants (Anubias / Microsorum / Bucephalandra)
These plans are epiphytic - they prefer to grow on a solid surface as opposed to a substrate. They have a thick fleshy rhizome that tends to grow horizontally along the surface, and new shoots and roots stem from it. They are often quite slow growing, and so should be pruned with care. To prune, cut a section of rhizome that already has roots and leaves if you wish to replant.
It is advised to always use a good quality pair of aquascaping scissors when trimming or pruning plants. Blunt scissors will crush plant material rather than cut, which can cause damage to the remaining plant. Stainless steel tools are usually available at aquatic retailers and have the benefit of not rusting. Scissors are good for trimming / pruning and tweezers are used for replanting.
When trimming plants for removal - always make sure the material is thrown away in a responsible manner. Some aquarium plants can become invasive when left to establish in our native waterways and carry the risk of introducing diseases and pests too.
Are you looking to provide your plants with the nutrients they require? Take a look at our Plant Boost by clicking here.
Tagged in: Tips