16 Aquarium Plants That Don’t Need Substrate | Easy To Care

Aquarium plants are a great way to make your fish tank more interesting and beautiful.

There are many different types of aquarium plants that you can choose from, but one thing they all have in common is that they require substrate (or soil) for the roots to grow.

Aquarium plants without substrate provide an easy solution for people who want to start growing aquatic plants in their fish tanks but don’t want to mess with any messy substrates or soils.

In this blog post, we will discuss 16 aquarium plants that do not require any type of substrate at all!

16 Aquarium Plants That Don’t Need Substrate

Aquarium Plants That Dont Require Substrate
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The 16 aquarium plants that we have chosen for this blog post are all non-substrate aquatic plant species. This means that these plants can grow and thrive without soil or substrate of any kind! Non-substrate aquarium plants typically require some type of support, such as gravel, driftwood, or a pot to hold them in place.

Here is the list of aquatic plants that don’t require substrate:

  1. Hornwort
  2. Java Moss
  3. Java Fern
  4. Anubias
  5. Water Wisteria
  6. Water Lettuce
  7. Green Cabomba
  8. Anacharis
  9. Duckweed
  10. Amazon Frogbit
  11. Riccia Fluitans
  12. Brazilian Pennywort
  13. Rotala Indica
  14. Ludwigia Repens
  15. Water Weeds
  16. Marimo Moss Balls

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Hornworts
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Hornwort is a popular aquarium plant that thrives in both fresh and saltwater. Its flat, light green leaves grow upwards from the bottom of its stem which can be planted into substrates or allowed to float freely.

Putting hornworts on top of rocks will allow them to grow upwards while putting them in a more horizontal position will allow them to grow outwards.

Hornworts can be grown attached to driftwood with fishing line or sewing thread and have been known as the “carpet plant.”

This type of aquarium plant is sold commercially by many aquatic retailers because they’re so easy to take care of.

Hornwort does best in high light, medium water conditions and thrives when planted close together.

This plant is a great example of an aquarium plant that doesn’t require substrate as it only grows on the surface of other objects such as rocks or wood pieces.

Also read: These 9 beautiful plants grow quickly in aquariums

Java Moss (Vesicularia dubyana)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Javamoss
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Java Moss is a popular aquarium plant that doesn’t need substrate. It’s very tiny, but it grows well in water and has spread throughout the world from Asia to Africa, Europe, North America, and South America.

Java Moss is an aquatic moss native to India and Indonesia which thrives both submerged or floating on the surface of still freshwater habitats as well as brackish water.

If you can’t find Java Moss in your local pet store, try rooting it from live stones or fallen leaves of other plants.

It is a very popular aquarium plant and should not be difficult to obtain if offered for sale by the retailer.

Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Java Fern
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Java Fern is a species of aquatic plant which has grown in popularity because it doesn’t need substrate.

It’s very easy to care for and can be considered an essential component of your aquarium garden, especially if you are using driftwood or large rocks as decoration.

Ferns like Java Fennel thrive best when they are constantly sprayed with water.

They are very sensitive to the levels of light in your aquarium and will thrive under fluorescent lights as well as natural sunlight.

Be careful not to over-water because they can rot easily, but you also want to keep them moist at all times so that their roots don’t dry out which would kill them.

Ferns need a lot of oxygen and will do better in filtered aquariums than fish-only ones. You also want to make sure they get enough room, so don’t overcrowd them with other plants or decorations

Java Fern is a great plant for beginners because it’s hardy, easy to care for, and looks beautiful floating on the surface of your tank without any substrate.

Also read: 30+ Aquarium plants that don’t need co2


Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Anubias
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Anubias plant is another great option for your aquarium, especially if you have trouble keeping the water clean. The plant is also easy to care for and will last a long time even without substrate.

Anubias plants can grow up to six feet tall in their natural habitat (slow-moving or still waters), so they are perfect for larger tanks where more height is needed or desired.

The Anubias plant will need at least three hours of direct sunlight per day, and you should also be sure to provide it with weekly doses of fertilizer to help it grow more quickly.

Anubias plants will also provide your aquarium with a sense of natural beauty, as they are often used in Japanese and Chinese landscaping due to their clean look.

The Anubias is one plant that will add a lot to any aquarium without the need for an additional substrate or soil.

Also read: How to care for Anubias plant: Types, benefits & more

Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Water Wisteria
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Water Wisteria is a type of aquarium plant that does not require substrate. Water wisteria has long, thin green leaves and white flowers.

The water wisteria grows to about 18 inches tall in the wild and can be trimmed as needed for your tank size.

It cannot survive without direct sunlight so you will need artificial light to supplement this.

Water wisteria needs to be planted in the tank so they can grow as high as desired with appropriate trimming and pruning.

It is a surface plant that does not require substrate but cannot tolerate any salt or chlorine content.

To keep water wisteria healthy, feed them with liquid fertilizer about once every four to six weeks.

You can also use a fish emulsion and an aquarium plant food with three parts water to one part of the product for proper nutrition.

Water wisteria prefers temperatures between 72 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and 65 at night so be sure your tank is properly heated if you live in a colder region.

Water wisteria likes to be in tanks with lots of light as well so check your tank’s lighting before purchasing this type of plant for the aquarium.

They can grow up to 18 inches tall and need enough surface area on which to spread their roots, thus they prefer an open substrate like sand.

Also read: 9 Aquarium plants that grow in gravel #5 Is my personal favorite!

Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Water Lettuce
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Water lettuce is a plant that floats on top of water plants and doesn’t require substrate.

Though some people mistake it for similar-looking duckweed, watercress, or even algae.

You’ll notice right away when you start to care for your aquarium with this aquatic plant because its leaves are so big!

For those who want to enjoy the beauty of this plant, it doesn’t require substrate and will thrive in a tank with water that is at least three inches deep.

This aquatic plant floats on the surface of water plants or hangs from a substrate with long roots that form a tangled mat at the bottom of your tank.

You don’t need any other type of décor in addition to these leaves because they provide plenty of cover for your fish and other tank inhabitants.

Feed this plant with an aquatic fertilizer every two weeks, prune out any dead leaves and avoid over-feeding.

You may also want to consider using an aquarium vacuum cleaner to remove any algae or detritus that builds upon the leaves and stems of this plant.

Also read: The 10 most beautiful flowering aquarium plants

Green Cabomba (Cabomba)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Green Cabomba
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Green Cabomba is one of the plants that does not need substrate. It has a wide leaf and will grow in shallow water.

Add this plant to your aquarium with rocks or sand on the bottom for it to start growing from below ground level. This is perfect for tanks without any type of substrate at all!

Green Cabomba has a wide leaf and will grow in just about any tank set up, but because of its wide leaf, it grows best in tanks with a lot of surface area for the plant to grow on.

The Green Cabomba will only need misting and light fertilizing when necessary because this is an easy-care plant that does not require substrate!

Also read: 15 Best aquarium plants that don’t need fertilizer

Anacharis (Elodea)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Anacharis
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Anacharis is the best option for those looking for plants that don’t require substrate. It’s a popular aquarium plant because it is easy to maintain and has an attractive appearance.

Anacharis can grow up to 30 cm in height, which makes it the perfect choice if you want your aquatic garden near the surface of the water or as part of a foreground decoration.

To get the best results, it is recommended to attach roots with string or thread.

Anacharis prefers a low-light environment and has broad leaves that create shade for other plants around them.

They don’t require substrate and can grow in just water with nutrients added from time to time.

Duckweed (Lemnoideae)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Duckweed
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Duckweed is a common aquarium plant that doesn’t require soil to grow. Instead, duckweed uses other particles in the water as its base for sustenance.

This makes it an ideal selection if you want to create your living wall or live edge (or any style) without needing to provide a substrate.

Plant duckweed in the tank, and it will attach itself to any surface you place it on.

Duckweed is most effective when placed at the water’s edge for maximum exposure to light – otherwise, it may rot underwater or starve if not properly fed by CO² rich water bubbles from an airstone.

Duckweed will grow quickly and can be cut off to provide food for other aquarium plants.

Duckweed is a great plant for your tank that doesn’t need soil!

Amazon Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Amazon Frogbit
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Amazon Frogbit is a popular aquarium plant that can grow up to 12 inches high.

This easygoing species of aquatic plants do not require substrate and will do well in bright, indirect lighting conditions with lots of oxygenation.

Amazon frogbits should be planted at the forefront or background areas of an aquarium setup.

The Amazon Frogbit is a relatively easy plant to care for due to its ability to grow in low light.

This species does not require a substrate, but they do need some room on the surface of the water for their roots and stems to grow.

They only need about half an inch of space between the top leaves and aquarium glass.

Some people choose to place rocks, driftwood, or live aquarium plants around the frogbit to create a natural setting.

Amazon Frogbits should be trimmed every few months for new growth to appear near the cut ends of stems and leaves.

This will promote healthy plant vigor as well as look more attractive by adding some variety among its already naturally diverse shape.

Riccia Fluitans

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Riccia Fluitans
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Riccia Fluitans is a popular aquarium plant that doesn’t need substrate.

Riccia Fluitans is often sold as an aquatic moss because it has no roots, and the strands of this plant anchor themselves to rocks or wood to grow.

When choosing your plants for your aquarium without substrate make sure they’re small enough so you can place them where ever you want.

Brazilian Pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Brazilian Pennywort
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Brazilian Pennywort is a popular aquarium plant that doesn’t require substrate.

It’s also one of the easiest plants to care for, as it does not need special lighting or fertilizer.

When grown in soil, this aquatic plant can grow up to 12 inches tall and will produce small white flowers with purple highlights during its blooming season (April-July).

The best way to care for Brazilian Pennywort is by trimming the leaves every week or two and letting them float around in your aquarium.

This allows their roots to continue growing while providing new space for growth at the top of the plant.

The best way to propagate Brazilian Pennywort is by trimming healthy leaves and sticking them in the gravel. They will quickly root themselves.

Rotala Indica

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Rotala Indica
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Rotala Indica is a popular aquarium plant that does not require any form of substrate. The leaves are green and the flowers have red, yellow, or orange-tipped petals.

It will grow quickly in your tank if you provide it with ample lighting and clean water conditions.

Bright light: Rotala needs plenty of bright light. If it doesn’t get enough, the leaves will become pale and thin.

Temperature: Rotala is a tropical plant so you should keep your tank at between 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 82 degrees Fahrenheit as well as in an acidic pH environment of below seven for optimal growth.

Substrate: You don’t need to provide a substrate for Rotala.

Lighting: It does best with bright light, but can tolerate medium to low lighting as well.

Temperature and pH: As mentioned in the previous section, it will need an acidic pH environment of below seven without any specific temperature requirements other than what is listed above. In addition, it will need a warmer water temperature than most other plant species.

Waterflow: Some aquarium enthusiasts avoid plants that require high light because they don’t want to provide an area for algae growth. Rotala, on the other hand, prefers areas with strong currents.

Ludwigia Repens

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Ludwigia repens
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Ludwigia Repens is one of the most popular aquarium plants.

The leaves are usually a dark green or red-brown color and can grow up to 30cm in width, which makes them perfect for hiding large pieces of decoration like rocks.

It does need some light when young but will adapt easily if given low levels as long as there is plenty of room for growth.

A great way to care for this plant is by planting it in a decorative container with some rocks and providing an even water level.

Water Weeds (Elodea)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Water Weeds
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Water weeds are another popular aquarium plant that doesn’t need substrate.

This type of plant grows submerged in the water, letting its leaves float on top of the surface with only their tips touching the air when fully grown.

Water weeds are also popular for aquariums because it provides a natural habitat to many fish species such as goldfish and betta who often hide among plants for protection.

Water weeds can be easily propagated by simply cutting the plant in two and placing it into the aquarium water.

Water weeds can also survive a wide variety of pH levels so you don’t have to worry about adding chemicals to keep them alive.

There are many different types of water plants, but these grow submerged with only their tips touching the air.

Marimo Moss Balls (Aegagropila linnaei)

Aquarium Plants That Don't Need Substrate - Marimo Moss Balls
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Marimo moss balls, or Cladophora aegagropila to be specific, are one of the most cherished aquarium plants because they don’t need substrate.

They grow naturally in water without soil and act as sponges that absorb nitrates from your tank while providing refuge for a small fish fry.

You can buy marimo moss balls from most pet stores, but they are also easy to make at home if you don’t want to spend the extra money.

Marimo ball care and maintenance is a breeze: all that needs doing is to regularly change your filter cartridge every month or so and keep your water clean with regular partial water changes once per week.

Marimo Moss Balls are a type of aquatic plant and algae that grow naturally in water without soil.

Marimo Moss Balls are loved because they provide refuge for small fish fry and absorb nitrates from your tank.

You can buy marimo moss balls, but it is easy to make them at home if you don’t want to spend the extra money.

Do All Aquarium Plants Need Substrate?

All aquarium plants, as well as other freshwater plants that grow in either soil or water, need substrate to survive.

The term “substrate” refers to any component of the bottom layer of your tank, which is usually made up of gravel and sand. This section serves a few purposes:

Helps maintain good bacteria colonies (nitrates and other nutrients) and,

Provides a place for the plants to anchor their roots, which helps them grow and thrive.

Many people choose not to use substrate in their tanks because they don’t want it visible or dirtied up with aquarium water which can lead to algae growth.

However, most plants will need an alternative surface on which they can root themselves, which can usually be done with the use of rocks or other decorations.

Can You Have an Aquarium Without Substrate?

An aquarium is a watertight glass container that contains one or more animals and plants. It can have gravel on the bottom, but not all tanks need substrate for plant life to thrive.

Aquatic plants such as anacharis (Egeria densa) are generally good at attaching themselves to other objects in your tank rather than relying on the substrate for support.

An aquarium without any plants is still an aquarium, but it might not be as attractive to look at and it will need a lot more maintenance due to algae buildup in the tank.

The most common type of aquatic plant that can grow well with no soil or gravel are mosses like java fern, Java moss, and chain sword.

There are some other types of plants that can grow without substrate like duckweed (Lemna minor) or water hyacinth which have roots submerged in the tank’s water column.

You may also need to invest in a plant aquarium light if you’re interested in keeping aquatic plants alive without substrate.

The light can be a fluorescent fixture, LED, or grow box with the appropriate spectrum for plants to thrive without root support in the tank.

Can You Plant Aquatic Plants Without Soil?

Can You Plant Aquatic Plants Without Soil
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Many aquarium plants can be grown without substrate or soil, but these are typically high humidity and low light setups.

In general, lower light conditions will require a more intense nutrient regime to grow aquatic plants than higher lighting conditions.

Aquariums with live rock provide the needed nutrients for many of the most common substrata-less aquarium plant species.

For planted aquariums without live rock, a substrate is needed. Some substrates that are commonly used for planted aquariums include soil (peat moss or aquatic plant potting mixes), gravel/sand with added nutrients, and fertilizers to promote the growth of plants submerged in the tank water, bonsai tree bark (Japanese style planting).

Substrate-less planted aquariums should be used only with low light conditions and high humidity, or in cases where plants provide a desired look to the aquascape.

Do Aquarium Plants Grow Better In Sand or Gravel?

Sand VS Gravel - Best Substrate
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For some aquarium owners, the decision of whether or not to use substrate when planting plants is a difficult one.

Some people may have an aversion to using sand because they see it as messy and time-consuming, while others might prefer gravel for its supposed “cleanliness.”

But what matters in terms of plant growth? Which type will make for a better aquarium?

Let’s take some time to explore the benefits and disadvantages of each type.

The Advantages of Sand: What you may see as a disadvantage in terms of messiness, and is an excellent choice when it comes to planting growth!

One reason for this is that it provides more surface area for roots to spread out and grab onto, which is especially important when a plant doesn’t have any nutrients to rely on.

This type of soil also can retain more water, meaning that it’ll need less frequent watering than other types!

Furthermore: While this may not seem like an advantage at first glance, one thing you might appreciate about sand is its ability to absorb and break down toxins in the water.

This means that it’ll help maintain your aquarium’s stability, no matter what type of fish you have!

The Disadvantages of Sand:

One major downside to using sand is that when a plant eventually dies, it can be hard for other plants to grow there – unless they already have a healthy root system.

Another is that sand can be harder to keep clean than gravel, which makes it the less preferable of the two types in terms of aesthetics!

The Advantages of Gravel:

One thing you might not take into consideration about using this type of substrate would be how easy and cost-effective it will eventually become – it’ll last you a lot longer than sand!

Gravel also can retain more air, which means that this type of substrate is better for plants with an above-ground root system.

Finally: when it comes to aesthetics, gravel may be a cleaner choice – but only if you have access to enough time and money to maintain its appearance!

The Disadvantages of Gravel:

One negative aspect about using gravel is that it can be difficult for roots to grab onto the substrate, which means you’ll need to plant your plants further apart than if they were in the sand.

Another disadvantage would be its inability to break down toxins – this will make maintaining stability more difficult!

So, which type of substrate is the better choice in terms of plant growth? Comment your answer below in the comment section.

How To Care For Aquarium Plants That Don’t Require a Substrate?

How To Care For Aquarium Plants That Dont Need Substrate
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Aquarium plants that don’t need substrate are not new, they’ve been around for years.

Aquascape enthusiasts have long understood the benefits of planting aquariums without soil substrates and their popularity has grown since then.

These plants can thrive in water conditions with less nutrient buildup than land-planted plant roots may suffer from overtime.

The factors you need to take care of when maintaining aquarium plants without substrate are:

  • Substrate depth
  • Plant lighting intensity and duration
  • Nutrient buildup in water

Substrate Depth

You can measure the depth of your substrate by measuring from the bottom to the top. Be sure not to have a substrate that’s too deep or too shallow because it could affect plant growth and root development.

Plant Lighting Intensity & Duration

When plants don’t need soil, they require an adequate light supply for photosynthesis anywhere between 12 to 16 hours per day. You can improve the lighting in your aquarium by adding a light source, such as a T-12 fluorescent bulb or an LED fixture that has been customized for aquarium applications.

Nutrient Buildup In Water

Aquarium plants without substrate require more frequent water changes to remove excess nutrients from plant leaves and roots which could lead to algae growth.

Maintaining a healthy aquarium is important for both plants and fish!

If you have an aquarium without substrate, it’s best to plant low light plants such as Java Moss or Hornwort which can grow on driftwood or rocks.

High lighting plants like Cabomba will not do well with no soil because they need a lot of nutrients in the water.

The best way to care for aquarium plants that don’t require substrate is to make sure they get enough light and are not getting too much buildup of nutrients, but this can be tough to do if you have no soil!

Also read: Top 13 aquarium plants that can grow on rocks!

Read This Next

So, now that you have read about the 16 best aquarium plants that don’t need substrate. What about reading some more related articles that will help you in your aquascaping journey.

We also did our research on different related articles that will grow your knowledge and will help you a lot.

Reference articles:

13 Best Aquarium Plants That Can Grow Without SubstrateAqua Goodness

5 Aquarium Plants That Don’t Require SubstrateComplete Aquatic Systems

8 Aquarium Plants That Do Not Require SubstrateAquarium Genius

End Of The Article / Conclusion

The plants that we have highlighted can be grown in an aquarium without substrate. They are all aquatic and will thrive with very little care. If you do not want to worry about the upkeep of your live aquarium, then these plants should be for you!

  • Algae
  • Anubias Barteri
  • Cryptocoryne Wendtii
  • Amazon Sword
  • Vallisneria Gigantea
  • Elodea Canadensis (Canadian Weed)

These plants will need to be trimmed regularly. They can grow all on their own with very little input from owners and are perfect for those looking for a low-maintenance option.

If you’re looking for more information on aquatic plants, our website has a lot of great articles and tips.

Let us know which plants you are using in your aquarium. Do you have a substrate for them? Comment below.

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