How To Cut / Trim Aquatic Plants without Damaging them?

Aquatic plants have adapted to grow in tank environment. They grow when they are submerged in water, or they are at the surface of water. They need tank lights & not every plant is able to adapt to the conditions of aquarium. Such plant can just grow in water or in substrate that is regularly saturated with water. One of the largest plant that can grow in aquatic conditions is Amazon water lily, & one of the smallest aquatic plant is minute duckweed. Fish can use minute duckweed as a home, or they can hide inside to save themselves from aggressive mates.

Aquarium plants tend to grow really fast in the right conditions. Growth rate depends on the type of plants being used in the aquarium such as stem plants are the fastest to grow, followed by foreground plants. Potted plants, ferns and any type of moss are the slowest to grow. To maintain the health of the plants and help them grow faster and also to keep the visual beauty of the entire aquarium, trimming is necessary and must be done on a regular basis.

In this article, I will cover basic trimming technique using normal scissors that will results in robust and lush growth of stems and leaves of planted aquarium. Top of the stems of any aquatic plant is the most colourful and healthiest part. Learn how to trim the stems of aquatic plants and then replant them back in the aquarium substrate.

1. Trimming Stem Plants:

As discussed earlier, stem plants grows faster than any other aquatic plants so they must be trimmed more often. The general rule of thumb is to cut couple of inches off the plant, it will help the plant to grow more thicker but trimming length can always be adjusted based on the size and height of the tank.  However, it is not a best practice to cut more than half of the length of the stem plant should be trimmed. Propagation of stem plants can be achieved by placing the cut stem 1 inch in the substrate, root formation is a lot quicker and a plant will begin to grow.

Trimming Stem Plants in Aquarium
Trimming Stem Plants In Aquarium

2. Trimming Potted Plants:

Aquarium plants such as Amazon swords, crypt, hair grass etc., are classified as potted plants and requires far less maintenance than stem plants. Large plants taking too much space, dead or yellow leaves can be trimmed at the base of the roots. Sometimes shortening the length of the plant by cutting directly across the leaf could put extra stress on the plant and might not look beautiful to the eyes.

3. Trimming Moss:

If water conditions are good then moss will grow at a slower pace. However, in an aquarium that is rich in nitrates, growth of moss is relatively faster as in my nano planted aquarium with Amazonia soil used as substrate. Extra growth of moss can be be easily cut back by trimming with scissors. The new cuts can be easily attached to structure in the tank such as driftwood or a rock by either using aquarium safe glue, thread or even by placing some weight on the moss. With time, moss will attach itself to the structure and start to grow again. You can also read my tutorials on attaching java moss to a rock and driftwood by clicking on the links below:

4. Cutting Java Fern & Anubias:

Both these plants are extremely hardy and will grow in most of the aquarium condition. Trimming by cutting through leaves is not recommended. However, propagation can be achieved by splitting the plant at the base, also called as Rhizome. Both plants grow well when they are attached to a structure as submersing rhizome in a substrate can potentially kill the plant. To propagate java fern or anubias plant, cut the rhizome with a sharp blade or knife and attach it to a new structure. Damaging the roots won't affect the health of the plant and they will eventually grow into a new healthy plant.

Pros. of Trimming Aquatic Plants:

  • Trimming plants can improve their health by removing dead branches. Such branches can lead to more decay & hence the health of your plant is affected if dead branches are not removed on time.
  • It helps in improving the look & structure of aquatic plant.
  • Enhance exposure of light which helps in better growth.
  • Enhance the size & quality of the crop in fruit plants.

How to Propagate Aquatic Plants after Cutting them?

Trimmed aquatic plants can be propagated to grow new plants. In below video, you can watch how to propagate trimmed plants:

How to propagate plants after cutting them?


In short, trimming is not a natural process of adjusting the height of stems and plants but it is a requirement to enhance the density of plants. Proper scissors to trim aquatic plants is a bonus but this task can be achieved by any sharp scissors. If you want more information, have any questions in mind or would like to share your own technique and experience with others then please use the comment section below.

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