How to Plant Aquarium Plants in Pots (Step-by-Step)

The internet is full of photos of beautiful aquarium plants growing directly out of the substrate.

Having plants rooted this way is great, but sometimes, it’s not the best option for a particular tank.

Today, I’ll go over some of the benefits of using pots and some best practices for how to plant aquarium plants in pots. 

How to Pot Aquarium Plants Step-by-Step

aquarium plant in front of white background

Potting aquarium plants is really simple. 

You can use a variety of different substrates in pots:

  • Gravel – will need to be supplemented with fertilizers.
  • Sand – will need to be supplemented with fertilizers.
  • Clay-based substrate – will need to be supplemented with fertilizers.
  • Aquasoil – will provide nutrients for a year or two, but will then need to be replaced after that. 

Please, be aware, many kinds of aquasoils can change your water parameters.

I find it’s best to pot your aquarium plants outside of the tank. 


  1. I recommend draining your tank halfway so it’s easier to work without getting completely soaked.
  2. Rinse the substrate per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Place a small rock(s) over the drain holes in the bottom of the pot to help keep substrate from escaping. You can also use pieces of coarse filter sponge to block holes.
  4. Fill your pot halfway with substrate.
  5. Place your plant in the pot and cover the roots with substrate.
  6. (You can skip this step if you’re using gravel.) Wet the substrate with tank water or dechlorinated water. This makes it less likely that the substrate will try to wash out of the pot during placement.
  7. Slowly lower the pot into the water. Stop lowering once the top of the pot is below the surface. This lets the water fill the pot and helps keep substrate from escaping and making a big mess.
  8. Put your hand over the top of the pot and cover up as much of the surface as possible. Slowly lower the pot and put it in place.

If your plants pop out of the substrate and float at first, place some rocks on the top of the substrate to add some extra weight. As the plants become established, their roots should start to grip the substrate, keeping them in place.

What Kind of Pots Can be Used?

I recommend using plain terracotta pots.

Plastic pots can break down over time, leaching harmful substances into the water.

Similarly, the glaze on some finished pottery pots can leach things like heavy metals into the water.

You might be able to use glazed pots if you knew that the glaze was made from food safe grade materials, but usually, there’s no way to know what was used on a flower pot.

So, terracotta is probably safest.

Benefits of Having Aquarium Plants in Pots

Sometimes, rooting plants directly into the substrate isn’t the best solution.

Putting plants in pots is great for things like fry grow out tanks. If you plan on netting all the fish out later, it’s so much easier if you can temporarily pull the plants out of the tank so you can catch everyone.

Potted plants are also great if you have fish like cichlids that like to dig in the substrate and uproot plants. The pots can protect the plant’s roots from fish that love to play bulldozer.

*Disclaimer: pots won’t protect plants from fish that go after the tops of the plants, unfortunately. I had a particularly psychotic female green severum that would annihilate any plant in the tank and every part of the plant: roots, stems and leaves. So, putting plants in pots will protect them from digging fish, but not those hellbent on eating the tops of them.  

Another good reason to pot plants is that it makes tank maintenance much easier. When you vacuum your gravel, it’s very simple to just move the plants around so you can reach all of the substrate with your gravel vac.

Final Thoughts

There are some distinct advantages to potting your aquarium plants rather than planting them directly in the soil.

I like the ability to move plants around. It makes cleaning my tank easier and sometimes it’s nice just to be able to rearrange things for a new look, from time to time.

Pots also create spaces that fish can hide behind, giving them more options if they feel like they need to retreat.

Luckily, putting aquarium plants in pots is really very simple.

I hope you find this article helpful.

I wish you and your fish the very best!

Katherine Morgan
Katherine Morgan

Hey, there! I'm Katherine from Northwest Florida. An aquarium specialist, I've kept tanks for over two decades, enjoy experimenting with low-tech planted setups and an avid South American cichlid enthusiast.

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