When you think about a home aquarium, it’s likely that you envision a cool, green place that will provide your home with additional natural humidity. And while this is true, there are many other benefits to having an aquarium in your house. One of the most popular benefits is that aquariums often come with live plants for a more natural look and feel. However, many people don’t know how to take care of these live plants and they die off quickly or become dirty due to algae buildup.

What is Tissue Culture?

Tissue culture is the process that starts from a small bit of plant (as little as a few cells) and produces enough plants to cover an entire tank in a matter of weeks. Aquarium plants are grown with two basic methods:

-Hydroponics system
-Tissue culture system

Both systems have pros and cons, but the tissue culture system will produce a higher quality plant faster than the hydroponic. The tissue culture method is less likely to be contaminated, produces a new plant faster than the hydroponic, and can produce plants that would not grow well in an aquaponics or soil based environment.

What are the benefits of tissue culture?

Besides being able to produce enough plants for your aquarium in one month instead of six, tissue culture is also more cost effective than traditional plant propagation. Tissue cultured plants will typically sell for $2-$3 while traditionally propagated plants can cost anywhere from $5-$100+. You don’t have to wait for plants to grow to maturity before planting them, you can plant them directly into your aquarium after receiving them. Since they’re quickly grown in a laboratory, tissue cultured plants are free of bacteria, disease and pests.

What are the steps involved in tissue culture plants?

The process begins with a small piece of plant called a ” Starting Piece “.  A starting piece is transplanted into a nutrient medium (also known as a growth medium).  In the growth medium, the starting piece starts to grow roots which will eventually branch out to produce more roots and leaves. It can take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to see root development.  After the roots have formed, the plant is then ready to be sold and distributed.

How do I get started?

1 – Purchase your tissue culture kit. Kits can be purchased online at Aquatic Arts or TMC Greenhouses .  The kit includes everything you need to start tissue culture except for the vivarium. (A vivarium is a glass tank which you can purchase at an aquarium dealer).  
2 – Purchase your substrate. The substrate is the growing surface for the starting piece.  I recommend purchasing either Hydroton or Roots 4 in 1 from Aqua Forest Pet Supply.  Both are inert and have no nutrients which would be harmful for the plant roots to absorb.
3 – You will need a pH meter to monitor your nutrient solution and adjust it accordingly.  I normally recommend purchasing a pH meter from Aquatic Arts or TMC Greenhouses.
4 – I also recommend using 1/2 teaspoons of liquid fertilizer (such as Hikari Tropical Bloom) with each gallon of substrate you use.  This will help ensure that you have enough nutrients for proper root growth and it will also help boost the plants’ energy levels.  When the roots are developed, you can stop adding fertilizer to the vivarium and only add whatever is recommended by your local fish store or aquarium store.  
Once the roots have formed, your starting piece can be placed in a vivarium with dimensions being 3.5″ x 2.5″ and a height of 1″ to 1.5″.  

How do I start the culture?

Your first step will be to add the appropriate amount of nutrients into your vivarium.  The pH should also be measured at this time and adjusted accordingly (typically it should be around 5.4-6.0).

Advantages of Tissue Culture Plants

Tissue cultured aquarium plants are more disease resistant and have a higher survival rate. They are typically hardier than traditionally grown plants.

In addition to the above, tissue cultured plants are generally cleaner with fewer algae on them. Also, if you get tissue culture plants from PetSmart, they will be labeled with a code for the lot number so that if you have any problems with them, you can bring them back. If you have traditional plant problems (algae, etc.

Why Use Aquatic Plant Nurseries?

All plants need something to grow in. Aquatic plant nurseries provide everything needed to start tissue culture.

Tissue Culture Supplies

Aquatic plant nurseries typically carry everything you need including:

  • Miracle-Gro aquarium plants (we have a brand that we recommend but there are other brands available)
  • Aquarium medium (either perlite or peat moss)
  • Scales and test tubes for weighing your medium and mixing your nutrients into it.

The Success Rate of Tissue Culture Plants

There are many factors that affect the success of tissue culture plants, including the species of plant and method used. We have spent many years working with is most popular brands to produce results that will provide for healthy, robust plants.
Our 150-gallon aquarium has taken an average of 11-20 weeks to fill with tissue cultured aquarium plants. All of our Tissue Cultured Plants are shipped in a 2-week kit with everything needed to get you started.

The Cultivation of Potted Aquarium Plants

First you will need your tissue cultured plants. They will look like this.
The first step is to prepare your medium (perlite or peat moss). You would then take the dry medium and add water to it. Get the water temperature right first, then let the medium soak for 10-15 minutes until it is evenly soaked throughout. Now you can weigh out your dry plant material into each test tube.

Production of Potted Plants

Now you are ready to fill your peat moss.
Some people prefer perlite, while others prefer peat moss. More about this later.
Once filled and drained, mix your medium in the pot to evenly distribute your liquid around the roots of your plant material. This is what it should look like when you first fill a pot with no plant in it. Then you will plant the plants in small increments until they have completely filled their pots with soil and rooted themselves down.

The Cultivation of Submerged Plants

If your plants have completely rooted themselves, and you have enough room for a second pot, now is the time to consider going to submerged planting.You start with the same steps as above (prepping your medium, weighing out your dry plant material and planting it into each test tube).
Now you will add a thin layer of water over the roots to cover them.  Then cover the trays with plastic film to prevent evaporation of water from the pot.

The Cultivation of Floating Plants

Floating plants start with the same steps as above, except you will plant them into pots of medium that are sitting on top of several inches of water.
Then you will cover the pots with plastic film to prevent evaporation from the pot.  The following photo shows how these plants look after they have been floating for 30 days (the time it takes for them to fully mature).

Growing on Rock Wool and Growing in Hydroton

Rock wool involves the production of ”rock wool” (a type of hydrated volcanic rock) with plants that are planted into each square inch.  This type of tissue cultured aquarium plant technique produces very fast results (plants can be ready to put in your tank within weeks). The entire system is completely automated.

Hydroton is another type of growing medium used to produce these types of plants. It consists of a 5% hydroton base mixed with aquarium or soil based plant food and an optional fertilizer solution.

The tissue culture aquarium plant technique is one of the best techniques you can use to produce the highest quality and most robust plants possible for your home aquaria.
Now you can have a thriving aquarium of plants that can rival nature itself!

Your comments, questions and success stories are welcomed below.  Thank you for reading, and good luck on growing your own aquatic plants!

You will soon see why they are regarded as the ultimate in aquarium plant health and liveliness.