How to grow plants on bogwood

by Owen James

The Java moss growing on bogwood softens the decoration in this tank

The Java moss growing on bogwood softens the decoration in this tank

(Photo by: nttrbx)

Ever since the Japanese aquarist Takashi Amano came to prominence, growing plants on bogwood has become part of getting that essential natural look in a planted tropical aquarium. Such plants soften the lines of the wood, and add a wonderful sense of layered drama to the tank.

Plants that grow on bogwood are often among the easiest plants to grow in aquariums, too, with Java fern in particular requiring less light than many other species. The hard part is getting the plants to attach to the wood, but it is not too troublesome if you’ve nimble fingers and a bit of patience.

Here’s how to grow plants on bogwood in five easy steps.

1. Select your bogwood in the aquarium store.

Buy proper aquarium bogwood, so it won’t leach impurities or rot in your tank. Look for interesting shapes, and don’t get carried away with huge pieces if your tank is a small one. That said, larger wood certainly has more presence, so don’t buy pieces that are so small they’re lost in the tank.

2. Wash the wood

Using a hose, blast away as much dust and dirt as you can. Then soak the wood for a few days to get rid of any immediate water-staining properties.

3. Buy the plants you intend to grow on bogwood

Only a few kinds of plants are suitable for growing on bogwood. To start with look for the following:

  • Java fern
  • Java moss
  • Bolbitis (another fern like species)
  • Anubias

4. Get some string and scissors ready

I find dark cotton works best. Ensure the string is wholly natural, so it rots away in time in the aquarium after your plants have attached themselves.

5. Prepare the plants

Trim away excessive root growth from the Anubias to encourage new growth, and pluck off dead or brown Java fern leaves. It’s worth giving Java moss a quick rinse in tank water as it can collect a lot of detritus. (Discard the water and top up the tank afterwards.)

6. Put the bogwood in position in the aquarium

Think natural and dramatic to create some interesting lines in your tank, and be sure to consider what plants you’ll be adding later. Some people tie the plants to their bogwood outside of the tank, but I prefer to do it in situ, with the tank substrate in place but before filling with water. If you attempt to submerge wood with plants tied on into a filled tank they will often come loose, though there’s no harm in trying if it’s only a small piece.

7. Tie plants to the wood with the cotton

Plant up the rest of your tank first, as you’ll only knock off plants you’ve tied to the wood while you aquascape. Then tie on your plants carefully yet tightly. Don’t crush the plants, but do make sure they’re secure as it’s much harder to tie them once the tank is filled. Obviously make sure the plants are facing upwards, and try and keep them out of the way of fast currents from the filters you’ll add later, as they’ll easily get blown off.

Here’s a lovely Amano-style tank that makes good use of growing plants on bogwood to inspire you:

Check out Katy's Tropical Fish Guide for more aquarium info.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

stonyreef 01.23.09 at 5:02 pm

Now if I could only keep a couple of my fish from ripping it up before it takes root… :) … I’m going to try a couple of the tips here, namely using the cotton string instead of my usual rubberband that never seems to work.

Owen James 01.23.09 at 5:21 pm

Nice to see you again stonyreef! So you’re a freshwater aquarist as well as reefer, eh? Same as me! If it’s wet, I’m on it. :)

I’ve used rubber bands with plants with thick rhizomes like Java fern, but the other advantage of cotton is it dissolves fairly quickly. Rubber goes.. eventually!

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