How to Grow Houseplants Under Water

by | Aug 20, 2020 | 2 comments

Houseplants underwater? Well, technically they are aquatic plants, but I AM growing them in the house in glass containers so they are “houseplants”, right? Here are some plants that I’m growing underwater in decorative glass containers and they very cool, in my opinion.

Aquatic plants

My collection of aquatic plants

Nothing fancy

As you can see, these aren’t growing in anything high tech or fancy, just a few glass containers. I am considering getting an aquarium and putting them all together, but right now, I’m enjoying them the way they are. The interest in these plants started when I wrote my last book, Houseplant Party¬† (order a signed copy here), where we made a marimo ball garden and I mentioned adding a beta fish and more aquatic plants if so desired. So off I went to the aquarium store to look into more plants that would work with the marimo balls. I fell down a rabbit hole! Here I am thinking about asking for an aquarium set-up for my birthday! Crazy, right? But I love these underwater plants, so here is more about the ones I am currently growing.

My beta fish

My first plant was added to my betta fish tank. It is in a nice size tank and I feed it daily with beta fish food. Remember, if you add a fish to your tank, it needs to be cared for like any other pet. Betta fish do not survive by eating the plants and they do better in a heated tank. There is a cryptocoryne plant in there but not sure of the species. I have to go back to the store and ask. It is doing great, though because it gets fish fertilizer (poop) and it is under grow lights it on my counter.

Red Tiger lotus

Red tiger lotus

Love the color of this lotus

My favorite which I just found is the Red Tiger lotus or Nymphaea zenkeri . Look at those leaves! The picture below from the aquarium store is why I couldn’t resist it! I can’t wait for mine to get that big and it has already grown two new leaves since I purchased it on August 1st.

Red Tiger lotus

Red Tiger lotus new growth rising to the top of the tank

This one is in a glass container in the south window. It grows from a bulb and can become quite a large plant. It sends up leaves to the surface which will change the look of the plant as well as shade the rest of the plant below. They cut those leaves off at the store to make a denser plant, but I’m letting my send more energy down to the plant before I start cutting them off. If the water temperature drops too low the plant will go dormant so this winter I might have a problem. I may have it in a heated aquarium by then.

Marimo balls

marimo balls

Teeny, tiny marimo balls

Marimo ball

Marimo ball

I love marimo balls Aegagropila linnaei. I won’t go into great detail about their care as I wrote about them here. They don’t need a lot of light so I don’t have them in the south window with the lotus plant, but are a few feet back on a plant stand. I swirl them around often to make sure they stay round and get light on all sides of the plant. These are so easy to grow and so cute!

Dwarf Aquarium Lily

dwarf aquarium lily

Dwarf Aquarium lily Nymphaea stellata

This is a new acquisition, so it doesn’t look like much yet. I lost a couple of leaves between bringing it home from the store and planting. It grows from a bulb so that large dark thing you see under the leaf will stay above the gravel a bit as they don’t want to be completely buried. I loved the peach color of the arrow-shaped leaves. This small plant from India needs medium to high light so I will put it in the west or south window. This also goes dormant if it gets too cold, so it may end up in a heated aquarium as well.

Whorly rotala and ‘Red Flame’ Echinodorus

I loved the pink cast of the feathery foliage of this whorly rotala or Rotala wallichii. It needs a medium to bright light and is a fast grower. In the same jar is the ‘Red Flame’ Echinodorus. I love the mottled, reddish leaves. They both need bright light to keep their colors so I have them in the south window.

Cryptocoryne spiralis and Crinum calamistratum

Cryptocoryne spiralis and Crinum calamistratum

Cryptocoryne spiralis and Crinum calamistratum

I put these taller plants in a tall glass cylinder. The one I really like is the Crinum calasmistratum because I love the wavy edges of the leaves. Unfortunately, I let the water level get low and the ends died. I’ve trimmed them off and it seems to be recovering. It grows naturally in Central Africa and is a bulb and I have read It will flower with enough light so hopefully it will someday. The Cryptocoryne spiralis hails from India where it even grows in rice fields. It has tall slender ruffled leaves, like the crinum. I hope they do well together and I have marimo balls in with them, as well.


These plants were all planted in aquarium gravel. There are many colors to choose from but I liked the natural look of the pebbles. If they were in plastic cups (some were and some weren’t) I removed them before placing the roots down in the gravel. Most of them would like to be left alone once they get established. Sometimes you will find these plants for sale growing in a jello-like medium. These are moisture-retentive gels that should be completely removed before planting. These are usually found around the roots of plants that you buy at big box pet stores and they are in sealed plastic cylinders. The gel makes it easier to ship as they don’t have to worry about water leaking out, yet the plant stays hydrated. I would make sure all of the gel is rinsed off before planting. If you are adding a fish, use something to dechlorinate the water as the fish do not like it. Ask the pet/aquarium store personnel about the fish and plants you want to put together and make sure you create the best environment possible for your fish and plants to thrive in.


Flourish tabs

Fertilizer tabs for the plants

Above are the fertilizer tabs they recommended and I pushed one into the gravel next to each plant when I “planted” them. If you don’t have a store nearby, you can purchase them here.

Purchasing Supplies

I bought these plants, pebbles, and fertilizer at a local aquarium shop and the employees were so helpful. They told me which plants were easy and how to take care of them. I have bought plants before at large pet stores on a whim and there is nothing wrong with that, though I find shopping at small businesses, though might be a bit more expensive, are worth it because of the knowledge and experience they have. Of course, you may not have a small store like that near you, so you can find these plants online and at large chain pet stores. I am loving these aquatic “houseplants” and am thinking they will be nice in an aquarium together…. I’m not sure yet. What do you think? Do you have aquatic houseplants?

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  1. Betty Maupin

    Lisa, You outdo yourself every posting. Always very interesting. The merimo balls are just fascinating, I certainly want to try one.

    • Lisa Steinkopf

      Hi Betty,
      Thanks so much! I appreciate your support and lovely comments!


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