How to Reproduce Aquarium Plants

We'll grown baby tears (Micranthemum umbrosum)
We'll grown baby tears (Micranthemum umbrosum) (Image: Wikimedia Commons, AquaGarden)

Reproducing aquarium plants at home can be done using one of three techniques. The first is tissue culture, which requires an expensive, sterile environment and is likely not practical for the home aquarist. The second is sexual propagation---cultivation from seed---which may also be a bit more challenge than you are looking for. The third is vegetative or asexual propagation, which is the simplest way to propagate aquarium plants. Vegetative or asexual propagation just means that you take a piece of a plant and use it to start a new one. In this example, we will use an easy-to-grow plant called Micranthemum umbrosum, also called baby tears by home aquarists.

Things You'll Need

  • 10 gallon aquarium with hood and light
  • Side-mounted aquarium filter
  • Aquarium heater
  • 1 mature Micranthemum umbrosum plant, also called baby tears, to take cuttings from
  • 2 cubic feet vermiculite (available at garden supply stores)
  • 1 cubic foot fine sand (such as No. 3 sandblasting grit, available at building supply stores)
  • 1/4 tsp. standard baking yeast (not rapid-rise)
  • 2 cups white table sugar
  • 2-liter soda bottle, empty, with cap
  • 2 liters clean lukewarm water
  • Funnel
  • 3-5 feet plastic air tubing
  • Newspaper
  • Paring knife
  • Scissors
  • Spoon
  • Bucket
  • Plastic dishpan
  • Measuring cup
  • Electric drill
  • 3/8 inch drill bit
  • Clean, cool water
  • Lilytabs pond fertilizer
  • Small shallow dish, such as a salad plate or clay flower pot tray

Prepare the soil, also called substrate, by scooping about 16 cups of the vermiculite into the plastic dishpan.

Expanded vermiculite
Expanded vermiculite

Knead the vermiculite with your hands to break apart the layers, adding cool water as you go. The vermiculite is ready to go into the aquarium when it forms a smooth paste the consistency of toothpaste. Remove the light and hood from the aquarium.

Spread the vermiculite paste in the bottom the aquarium, making it smooth and level. There should be about 2 inches of vermiculite paste in the bottom of the aquarium.

Spoon a smooth, flat layer of sand on top of the paste to a depth of about 1/2 inch. You should have about 2 1/2 inches of planting medium in the tank.

Place the small shallow dish in the aquarium and gently pour cool clean water into it, allowing it to overflow slowly into the tank. Pour about 3 inches of water into the aquarium. Allow it to soak into the sand layer while you prepare the plants. Leave the shallow dish in place---you'll use it again to fill the aquarium.

A planted aquarium.
A planted aquarium.

Lay the donor baby tears plant on a sheet of newspaper and use a sharp knife to trim as many as seven tips off its branches, depending on how large it is. A small, immature plant might only provide four or five. You don't want to kill the donor plant, so use your best judgment on how many cuttings you can take. Each cutting should be about 5 inches long and have a growing tip at one end.

Strip the leaves off the cut end using your fingers so the bottom 2 inches of stem are bare.

Push the tip of the knife through the sand into the vermiculite paste to make holes for each cutting, and a larger hole for the donor baby tears. The holes should be spaced 2 to 3 inches apart.

Push a baby tears cutting into each hole and push the sand snugly around the base of each. Place the donor plant in the largest hole.

Aquarium plants
Aquarium plants

Fill the aquarium the rest of the way by pouring more water gently over the shallow dish. After the aquarium is half full of water, you won't need the dish and it can be removed. Pour the water in carefully so as not to dislodge your new cuttings.

Break a Lilytab fertilizer tablet into chunks and drop it into the aquarium.

Set up the filter according to the manufacturer's instructions. Plug it in and turn it on.

Aquarium setup
Aquarium setup

Set up the heater according to the manufacturer's instructions. Set it to 72 degrees. Plug it in and turn it on.

Replace the hood on top of the aquarium, plug it in and turn on the lights. Lights should stay on for about 10 hours a day.

Aquarium plants
Aquarium plants

Wash the 2-liter soda bottle and cap in hot, soapy water to remove any residue.

Pour the 2 liters of warm water, sugar and yeast into the bucket. Stir the mixture until is dissolves.

Aquarium plants
Aquarium plants

Pour the water, sugar and yeast mixture into the 2-liter bottle using the funnel. Leave a couple of inches empty at the top to collect CO2. Drill a hole in the bottle cap.

Feed 1 inch of plastic air tube through the top of the bottle cap, with the longest side being above the cap.The tube should fit snugly. If not, you can secure it with duct tape or silicon caulking. Screw the cap onto the bottle.

Place the CO2 generator next to the aquarium and feed the open end of the plastic air tube into the water so it is near the filter intake. Within an hour, you should see bubbles coming out of the tube and being pulled into the filter. Depending on how warm it is, your homemade CO2 generator will produce gas for up to 2 weeks. When it stops bubbling, pour out the liquid that's left (it will smell like alcohol---it is alcohol, but it's not drinkable), wash the bottle, cap and air tube, and repeat these steps to recharge your CO2 generator.

Harvest your baby tears plants when they have put out new branches and leaves and have doubled in size. Scoop them gently out of the soil and move them immediately to your fish-populated aquarium. Depending on how much light and CO2 they get, this could take a month or more.

Tips & Warnings

  • Plants need carbon dioxide (CO2) to perform photosynthesis. Because you don't have fish in this tank to produce it for them, the CO2 generator will give your plants a healthy boost. Use these general instructions to propagate most aquarium plants. Other asexual methods include dividing rhizomes and rooting stems in your fish-populated aquarium without cutting them off the donor plant. Just push stems into the gravel and they will sometimes take root on their own.

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