Maybe you are in the middle of setting up a new aquarium, or simply just starting over. If you’re into live plants and carpeting plants, this is your chance to try something new. You may want to consider a dry start method with some of these types of aquarium plants. The idea of the dry start method is to give smaller, or carpeting, plants a chance to establish a strong root system before flooding the aquarium with water. If you have experience with small aquarium plants and an established tank, you understand the frustration of trying to get them planted, as well as remain anchored down. Of course, that being said, not all aquatic plants are good candidates for this method.
A few good candidates to considering growing with a dry start method may include:
Dwarf baby tears
(dwarf) Hair grass
First things first, consider what kind of set up you want to have and what type of inhabitants you will house in the future. This aspect will affect what kind of plants you may be able to maintain successfully, further on down the road.You are likely to run into an algae problem at some point with a new set up, due to strong lights. We suggest adding shrimp, or snails, to these setups as a clean up crew. Shrimp are best for keeping fine things clean, like mosses or carpeting plants simply because they can easily pick through small things, and clean up leftover food and algae.
Secondly, consider what manner of substrate you would like to use and if it’s compatible with your plant selection and inhabitants. We personally recommend sand/fine gravel for tropical plants because in the wild that would be their natural environment, and they grow the best in it. That’s not to say plants can’t survive in larger gravel but, in most cases, plants have a hard time taking hold in substrate, and are easily uprooted.
Now that you’ve thought through your new set up let’s get started! Decide upon your aquascape style (if you’re into that kind of thing). It’s best to have your chosen substrate and hardscape set before you begin planting anything. It’ll be easier to rearrange driftwood and decor how you like them best at this stage, instead of later on when you have to worry about moving seeds or other plants. Before planting anything, though, be sure to mist the substrate (taking care not to flood it – avoid creating puddles.) so it’s moist and doesn’t dry out your newly introduced plants.
Now if you’re using carpeting plant seeds (in most cases you can find them online for just a few dollars), just sprinkle those on top of the substrate in the desired areas. Remember, you are dry starting so don’t think you have to cover every single inch in seeds! The point of this method is to grow it out. As the roots develop the carpet will begin to spread and thicken, so they need some space to grow.
If you are just going to use store bought carpet plants (or gel cultures), you can visit most any local pet stores (or online) and pick up a selection for a couple bucks. Before planting, be sure to rinse the gel from the roots in warm, chlorine-free water. After they are relatively clean you can begin to separate the plants into clumps, utilizing either a pair of scissors, or simply by pulling them apart with your fingers. Once you have clumps you can begin to plant them around the tank (we suggest by use of long tweezers). The same principle above applies. Don’t plant them too close together, plant around an inch apart or more to provide room for new growth.
If you’ve chosen to attach any type of aquatic moss to anything, be sure to choose an object with a porous surface, as moss generally demands surfaces it can easily attach its rhizomes to. For best results, you need to cut up your moss into sections less than half inch long – you can use a sharp knife to mince it up. Next, you will need to use either a pair of long tweezers or a wet paint brush to get it on the surface you have chosen to grow on.
Once you’ve got your plants situated, it’s time to create a moist and humid environment to promote growth. If you are using a normal aquarium and do not have a glass canopy you will need to use plastic seal to trap moisture. If you have a nano tank, or something similar, that features a fitted glass lid you won’t need any plastic seal. To promote healthy plant growth over the next few weeks you will need a strong plant light. If you do not already something like this on hand, head on over to your local Home Depot and pick up some construction lights for under $10, as well as daylight bulbs with at least 5000k (kelvin) or even plant bulbs.
Every day for the next few weeks you will need to open the plastic (or glass) seal. We recommend you leave the seal or lid open for 10 minutes a day to circulate fresh air, along with Co2, to discourage mold growth. Do not leave it open for more than 30 minutes as the substrate and plants will begin to dry out. You will have to pay attention to how much water is remaining inside the aquarium, as you need to avoid puddles. However you need to maintain a moist environment, so plan to mist accordingly and adapt when you have over or under dried.
Within a few weeks you should begin to have a luscious carpet and plant growth, and once the plants will have grown in to your liking you may then begin to fill your aquarium with water. In a few days, once the dust has settled (literally!), begin adding your tank’s new inhabitants. Don’t be scared or shocked if your plants go through a little bit of a transition once they become fully submerged plants, such as noticeable melting. Though you are using the same lights the plants will absorb less light, due to the addition of water. Remember, they have been growing in a humid environment over the last few weeks, so give them some time to adjust.