How to Propagate Aquarium Plants

Posted by Augusta Hosmer on

Read Time: 5 mins

Have a cool aquarium plant and want another one without having to buy it? You have a way to make it happen. Most aquatic plant species are easy to propagate, and we'll give you the know-how. 

What is Propagation / How Does it Even Work? 

There are a few types of propagation (sexual and asexual), but when most folks think of plant propagation, they're thinking of asexual plant propagation. So when we say propagation in this post, that's what we'll be referring to. Plant propagation is just growing new plants / increasing the number of a particular plant. Sexual propagation uses something like seeds, etc. to produce an entirely new plant. Asexual plant propagation involves growing another plant that is an exact genetic copy of the parent plant. If you've ever seen someone cut off a stem and stick it in some dirt and get a whole plant from it, they're using asexual plant propagation. 

How is that possible? Plant cells have a ridiculously cool feature called totipotency. Essentially, any plant cell, no matter where it is in the plant, has the potential to grow a whole adult plant. The only totipotent cells humans have are zygotes and stem cells - and thank god, honestly. Imagine if you accidentally dropped a hair outside one day and came back to find a mini clone of you popping out of the lawn. Barber shops would be a sci-fi dystopian nightmare. 

Advantages / Disadvantages

The most obvious advantage to propagation is you can get more plants at little to no cost. You can also share plants with friends or allow a favorite plant at the end of its life to "live on" in a way. If there's a plant that's difficult to grow from other propagation means, then this method might work. Asexual propagation also tends to be faster. 

However, there are a few disadvantages. One is the fact that if you only grow new plants from the same host plant, you are more vulnerable to disease and other problems since all the plants have the same strengths and weaknesses because of an identical genetic makeup. Though the cost is lower, this comes at the price of time. If you just buy a new plant, you can get it at the growth stage you want without having to wait. Just buying a new plant could also give you a higher chance of success at keeping the plant alive, depending on what you've got. 

Types of Propagation / Aquarium Plant Propagation

How you propagate depends on the species. Most species can be propagated multiple ways, and some are more difficult than others. 

The most common types are: 

  • Tissue Culture (AKA micropropagation)
  • Cuttings
  • Grafting
  • Bulbs/Stolons/Rhizomes/Tubers/Other Specialized Structures

Tissue Culture

Most people will want to just buy aquarium plant tissue cultures to avoid all the hassle, but there are a few DIY's to do it at home, if you're up to it. You can often find tissue cultures at pet stores and online vendors. 

Tissue culture propagation involves growing plant cells on a nutrient medium. It's fantastic for keeping propagations free of disease or growing rarer/endangered plant species, but it is a lot of work. 


Cuttings are pretty much exactly what they sound like. You cut off a piece of a leaf, stem, etc., stick it in your substrate, and try to grow an adult plant from it. Stem cuttings are the most common. 

Though this is easy to do, a many people miss a step that makes it more likely for them to succeed. You want to try to take your cutting just below a node (where a leaf attaches to a stem) if possible, because roots grow most easily from it. You also need to remove the lower leaves on the cutting and only leave a few at the top, so that the plant can focus its energy on growing roots instead of more leaves than it has to during propagation. The exception to the leaf removal rule is if the plant species grows leaves extremely slowly and would suffer without them. 

With some species, you can also cut off a leaf and let it float around your tank and watch it grow roots (banana plants are a great example of this). 

Also, be sure to use a sharp knife to avoid damaging the plant more than you have to - a razor blade works well. 


This one isn't as common with aquarium plants right now, but it might be in the future. Grafting turns you into a sort of plant Dr. Frankenstein. Basically, it involves taking part of one plant and carefully joining it with another so they both heal together and grow with the same nutrients/roots. 

Bulbs, etc. 

Some aquarium plant species have specialized root/stem structures, like bulbs, rhizomes, and stolons (Want to know more about what those are? Check out our blog post on aquarium plant botany!). So if you have a species like that, then great! Your life is pretty easy when it comes to propagation. You can split bulbs and plant them like you ordinarily would (if you're not sure which side is up, plant it sideways and it'll be fine), and you can split rhizomes and secure them where you want (don't bury rhizomes on aquarium plants or you're asking for rot). 

  • Aquarium plants w/ rhizomes: Anubias; Bolbitis; Java Ferns (Microsorum)
  • Aquarium plants w/ bulbs: Aponogeton; Red Tiger Lotus
A labeled diagram of an Anubias nana aquarium plant
Basic Structures Labeled on an Anubias nana. The rhizome is the thicker, horizontal stem where all the leaves are growing from

If you want a demonstration video on how to split a rhizome and how to propagate sword plants, check out Dustin's Youtube video on it!
Good luck propagating, and tank on!

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