December 7, 2016

Whether adding a few plants to a freshwater aquarium, trying out aquaponics or going for full-out aquascaping, the public is discovering that it’s never been easier to have a tank containing healthy, thriving plants. The simplicity of keeping plants is due, in part, to advancements in the category, including improved lighting, supplements and water treatments designed to enhance plant development.

The growth of the planted-tank category is also benefitted by a new trend in tissue-cultured specimens, creating a wider variety of plant species on the market.
“The benefits of these plants is they are grown in sterile conditions so there isn’t unwanted algae, snails or duckweed,” said Daniel Griffin, a sales support and education specialist for Seachem. “And they have a long shelf life in the store.”

Creating the Environment
Offering a variety of plants is essential in attracting customers, but it’s just as important to provide the necessary materials to create a successful habitat for the plants to survive and thrive. Similar to plants in an outdoor environment, aquarium plants require proper lighting and substrate to grow.

“Advances in technology have allowed users the ability to fine-tune and quantify the amount of light a fixture is producing, further encouraging photosynthesis and maximizing growth,” said Bryan Lowe, an account executive at Finnex. The company’s Planted+ line incorporates the TRUE 660nm intensive photosynthesis RED LED light to promote plant growth.

Another key to a premium set up is the medium in which plants are placed. The well-known substrates on the market include Seachem’s Flourite and Caribsea’s Eco-Complete and Floramax. Another option is Elive’s AquaDuo Hydrocorn Bio Media, which is comprised of kiln-fired clay pellets that promote healthy root systems. Used in an aquaponics filter, it aids the removal of toxins from the water and keeps the environment clean for plants as well as other tank inhabitants.

The use of soil-type substrates has also become popular with people who grow plants in their aquariums.

“In addition to the minerals found in traditional substrates, the ‘aquatic soils’ contain nutrients like nitrate and phosphate that can feed the plants and boost growth,” said Griffin, adding that Seachem’s new Aquasolum, a lightweight, porous substrate derived from humate, is the company’s version of pelletized aquatic soil in its AquaVitro line.

Substrates are crucial in growing healthy root systems, but pellets of any size are still susceptible to movement within the aquarium, leading to the dreaded “floaters.” To combat this problem, CaribSea has launched a new product called Rhyzomat, an all-natural fiber mat that sits under the substrate and helps anchor plants. It also increases the area for biological filtration.

A Healthy Habitat
As with all living things in an aquarium, plants need nutrients and proper water balance in order to thrive.

“When nutrients are imbalanced, it can limit plant growth and encourage nuisance algae,” Griffin said. Seachem’s Flourish products have been serving this need since the 1990s, with new products constantly being added to the line. The newest is Flourish Advance, a blend of phytohormones, minerals and nutrients that stimulate the growth of both roots and shoots.

Having seen a growing trend in planted tanks, CaribSea has launched a new line of products designed specifically for planted aquariums.

“The focus of our new products was to bring together some of the latest trends in horticulture, including hydroponics, while also taking into consideration the hobbyist’s desire to go more ‘natural,’” said Betsey Moore, vice president of CaribSea.

The lineup includes Flora-Spore Mycorrhizal Symbionts, a fungi that acts as an intermediary between roots and minerals, forming a symbiotic relationship with the vascular plants. The fungi help “dissolve” minerals out of the aquarium gravel to help plants grow.

Two additional new products are Jungle Leaves and Betta Leaves, two sizes of Indian almond leaves. The leaves not only create an attractive, natural cover for fish, but they also slowly release tannins that condition the water.

These products join the company’s Aquabiotic Botanical, which has recently been tweaked to improve its benefits of maintaining a healthy balance and clarity in the water. Aquabiotic Botanical is a unique combination of liquid barley extract and beneficial waste-reducing bacteria and enzymes for aquarium maintenance.

Making it Easy
While keeping planted aquariums attracts traditional hobbyists who enjoy the challenge of creating their own ecosystem, it’s also enticing to people who generally love all kinds of plants.

“With our aquaponics kits, we’ve seen some overlap outside the pet-specialty area,” said Phil Bartoszek, research and development and product manager at Elive Pet. “It’s appealing to people who find plants beautiful and are looking for something new to try.”

Whether it’s a garden lover looking to experiment with hydroponics or a fish hobbyist interested in introducing live plants to his/her tank, ready-made kits are a great way to get new people on-board with planted aquariums. Elive’s aquaponics kits come in three sizes, and include the aquarium and the filter. The company runs a promotion on these kits in the fall, through November, to help boost holiday sales.

Seachem’s Plant Packs are another great product for people new to the hobby. The Fundamentals pack includes Flourish, Flourish Excel and Flourish Iron, for people new to dosing these products, while the Enhancer pack include Flourish Nitrogen, Flourish Phosphorus and Flourish Potassium, taking things up to the next level to remedy deficiencies and boost plant growth.

Ready-made kits and advances in lighting and supplements are a way to increase sales in the planted aquarium category. As with almost everything else in a store, a great display and a dedication to customer education are the most important sales tools.

“A personal and targeted pitch will not only lead to better sales but to a better off and more well-informed hobbyist as well,” Lowe concluded.

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