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How to Use Your New Tissue Culture Plants

Introducing our unique plants for aquariums and terrariums!

tissue culture aquatic plants

At ABC Plants, we grow and deliver our live aquarium and terrarium plants in 4 to 5.5-oz plastic containers that are designed to facilitate easy planting, withstand shipping better and allow for quick acclimation to your aquarium or terrarium.

All of our plants are 100% guaranteed to be free of snails, algae, bacteria, hydra, planaria, pesticides, and other little nasties so they can be added to your aquarium without needing any treatments or quarantine.

They have comparably enormous portions of plantlets compared with conventional plants and are grown in a gel-like media.

Because many people have not dealt with Tissue Culture plants, please refer to this guide to plant and work with your new plants. We've also included some basic tips to keep your planted aquarium in great shape for years to come. Terrarium users may find some information helpful as well but much of this guide is dedicated to aquarium plants.


Some of the information is applicable to Tissue Culture plants from other producers while some are specific to our plants.

You are always free to contact us but we encourage you to read this first. 


NOTE: If you are just adding a new plant to a pre-existing aquarium or terrarium, just skip to the planting instructions. You may also want to read the shelf-life section as well for your information. 

What to do with your new tissue culture aquarium or terrarium plants 

Congratulations! You've just received a ton of new plants for your aquarium or terrarium in beautiful cups! Now What? Read on and hopefully, you'll be planting your planted tank in no time at all! 

Shelf Life

Plant Shelf Life

Unlike traditional plants, our tissue culture plants are grown right here in North America and freshly shipped from our facilities in Montreal and Maine. They have also been specifically engineered for maximum shelf-life and can be left unopened for a long time just under a desk lamp or some source of light for many weeks to months until you have the time to plant them. While they are waiting, many will just keep growing in their cups and you'll end up with a denser cup with even more plants when you do finally get around to planting them! It's also tremendously fun to watch them grow before your eyes! 

To keep your plants happy while you are waiting to plant them, just follow these simple guidelines.

  • Keep them at room temperature - officially defined by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP) as 20-25C or 68-77F. In general, your plants can withstand temperatures between 18-30C or 64-86F in their tissue culture containers so basically any temperature that is comfortable for you works for your plants. While some plants from cold climates can be refrigerated, many should not be so keep them at ambient temperature.

  • Provide 12-16 hours of light a day using anything from just a small desk lamp, or if you haven't set up your aquarium yet, the light from that. You can put it on a timer or just turn it on when you get up and off when you go to sleep. The light is not for photosynthesis so it does not need to be strong as it serves more of a signaling function. Because tissue culture plants (AKA In-vitro) plants have everything they need in their media including carbohydrates, they do not need to photosynthesize. Indirect sunlight can work as well but is better avoided because accidental exposure to direct sunlight can cook the plants!

  • When you are ready to use your plants, just prepare your aquarium, open the cups and plant them as usual. 

  • Some plants will survive longer than others but all will last at least 3-12 weeks with some able to go past a whole year!

  • If a plant cup is looking overgrown and is pressing into the sides or top of the cup, it would be a good idea to plant them. It's not yet an emergency as few plant tissue cultures will actually die in this way so you'll probably just have a few brown leaves in an otherwise robust and healthy bunch of plants. Those few leaves will grow back before you know it but you should probably stop procrastinating...

  • This prolonged shelf life is specific to our plants. Other tissue culture plants may also be kept like this depending on their condition but many will need to be used as quickly as possible as they have traveled around the world and already spent months on a retailer's shelf, run out of time, and can melt within a few days. 

Make a plan for your planted aquarium or terrarium

Once your aquarium (or terrarium) is set up and you are ready to add your plants, you can open the lids and take a look at what you have. Chances are, there will be more plants than you realize and you will probably want a strategy to plant them. There is no "best time" to plant: some people like to plant their plants before adding water, some plant after filling a few inches of water, and others start their planted aquariums completely full of water. That is entirely up to you - though we tend to like to plant after filling the aquarium so plants stay in place and do not get uprooted when adding water. For terrariums, this isn't an issue - though the general layout guidelines below still apply. 

  • Make a plan: many people sketch the layout of their aquascapes beforehand. Some even use toothpicks or other markers to delineate the boundary between different species. While you don't need to do all that, it's helpful to know what your final goal is and have a general idea of which plants go where.

  • In most cases, shorter plants should be in the front while taller plants are placed in the back. It's more or less an age-old aquascaping convention that allows all your different species to be visible without covering your hardscape. This also provides for an open area in the front so you can watch your fish and shrimp. Our plants are categorized by height and placement as carpet, foreground, midground, and background so if you're uncertain, check the plant description page for more information. Some taller plants can be pruned and "trained" to grow shorter and bushier so some species are useful in many areas of your planted aquarium. 

  • Looking at your plants in their tissue culture cups will give you an idea of how much there is and can help you plan out your layout. Keep in mind that under the covers, you'll likely have more than it might appear.

  • Once you have at least a general idea and everything is set up it's time to get planting!

Physically planting your tissue culture plants

Tissue Culture Planting Instructions

If you've never worked with Tissue Culture aquarium plants before, you may have noticed that your tissue cultured (in vitro) aquarium or terrarium plants are quite different from the "bunched" or "potted" plants you might have seen at your local retailer. The individual plantlets tend to be smaller and there tend to be a lot more of them. While they definitely look really cool but some people might be confused about how to get them into your tank and growing. Don't worry: follow the instructions below and you should be good to go and done as quickly as possible.
Virtually all our plants come in very generous portions, many with countless plantlets compared to conventionally grown "bunch" and "potted" plants. Each cup often has many more plants than you might think at first glance so it can take a little while to plant a single container. For plants that are waiting to be planted, keep their lids closed  sterile until you are ready to plant each one. Otherwise, they could become contaminated.

  • A pair of tweezers will help a lot but other than that, you do not need much in terms of tools. There are some things that can make the process a bit easier such as a pair of scissors, superglue (that's right!), and some small flat rocks.

  • Rinse off the gel under some room-temperature tap water. Doing so not only gets rid of the gel but gives you a clear view of what you are working with. Don't worry about getting every last bit off, the gel is completely non-toxic and will do no harm. In a terrarium setting, you can even purposely leave some on as fertilizer to help the plants acclimate to their new homes.

  • Plant very dense cups in clumps  roughly the size of a fingertip because there can be hundreds, or even more than a thousand plants in a single cup. Most of these are carpeting plants though some midground and even background plants come with hundreds of plantlets (eg. HC Cuba, Monte Carlo, Rotala 'Orange Juice', Glosso, etc..). The clumps also help your plants stay down in your aquarium substrate. For carpet plants, they will spread outward from the initial clump while you might consider separating larger plants such as Rotalas after they have grown in depending on how they're doing and your own aesthetic preferences. Some plants may even be neatly removed from the gel in clumps without rinsing.  

  • Start planting cups with fewer plantlets first so you don't end up disturbing the potentially hundreds to thousands of plantlets from denser species will need to be replanted.

  • Superglue is your friend - plain cyanoacrylate (or CA) glue can be used safely in an aquarium and in some cases is a great way to keep plants down that just will not stay down. You can get small, flat rocks at your local home center that you can glue a clump of plants on. Push that rock into the substrate and they'll grow from there.

  • Push some aquarium plant species deep into the substrate especially if they are prone to floating away. Some can be virtually buried. The young, Tissue Culture aquarium plants will quickly grow up and out while expanding their root networks so that they are better anchored. These young plantlets are much hardier than in their conventional forms. 

Tips and good-to-knows about our tissue culture plants

  • Your plants may grow very fast, especially if you have CO2 and good lighting, so take a photo right after planting them and perhaps a photo each day thereafter so you have a sort of time-lapse record of your aquarium plants growing in. Some aquariums will have fully grown in after only two weeks so time can really fly!

  • Our unique tissue culture plants are surprisingly robust. If your plant was badly damaged during shipping for some reason and is smushed into the gel or in a Jelly ball, rinse the whole thing under room temperature tap water while holding it in your hands. Any dead parts will wash away leaving live, healthy tissue in your hands. You can plant this as you would normally or just float them in your tank for a few days. Our plants are resilient and will almost certainly recover unless they have been cooked or frozen. Otherwise, the remaining bits should bounce back very fast so you might be surprised!   

  • Plants are in a transitional, amphibious, stage in the cup so they will adapt to being submerged as aquarium plants or emersed (not submerged) as terrarium plants rapidly. There should be no melting or other transitional "growing pains". Virtually all our species should start growing immediately - some will grow visibly in the first 24 hours. In many cases, melting, losing leaves, or other forms of degradation are not natural and may indicate that there is a problem with your aquarium environment. We encourage you to contact us. We might not be able to help everyone but we can definitely solve some commonly occurring problems.

Growing your plants and keeping them healthy: basic long-term care tips.

There is nothing like a beautifully planted aquarium to help reduce stress, help us calm down, and reconnect with nature. A beautiful planted aquarium or terrarium might make you wish you could shrink yourself and visit that healthy lush paradise. It is an extremely good environment for livestock like fish and shrimp that normally hail from densely planted habitats. Shy species will venture out more, drab fish may develop colors that you've never seen before and couples might form and spontaneously start breeding. It's indeed one of the most rewarding, relaxing, and beautiful hobbies but you have to keep up with some basic maintenance to keep it that way in the long term so you can enjoy your planted aquarium (or terrarium) for years to come!

  • Keep up with fertilization. Even though elements other than Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen only make up a small fraction of your plant's biomass, they are incredibly important and play crucial roles in everything from photosynthesis to growth. Nutrient deficiencies will show up in tanks that have run out of a particular mineral element and will need to be supplemented both in the water column as well as the substrate. For rapidly growing plants in aquariums with CO2 injection and good lighting, deficiencies can develop literally overnight since plants are growing so rapidly so it is important to keep these tanks well fertilized - they can use all the nutrients you can provide. For low-tech tanks with slower-growing plants, you have to strike a balance between keeping your plants happy and keeping the environment lean enough to prevent algal outbreaks. This can be tricky but regular water changes and a healthy bioload of fish and shrimp can usually keep the plants in these types of aquariums in good condition with the occasional exception of some elements such as Potassium.

  • Do not let algae take over. In our extensive experience with planted aquariums, algae can be kept at bay naturally by healthy growing plants. We've noticed that aquariums will be dominated by plants or algae depending on the conditions and it is important to keep your aquarium balanced toward plants. Do what is necessary to keep your plants happy and algae will naturally be no more than an occasional nuisance. Keep your lighting balanced and do not over-light or over-fertilize a tank, particularly one without CO2 since high lighting without CO2 can be a recipe for disaster.

    • In many cases, CO2 can be extremely helpful in preventing algae from taking over by enabling plants to grow 5x to 50x faster so they quickly eat up all the resources and make the environment hostile to algae in other ways. 

    • Starting with fast-growing plants such as Ambulia, Water Wisteria, Bacopa, and Myriophyllum species (among others), will help keep your tank plant dominant. Even if you do not intend on keeping these species, they will be useful at the beginning to get you off to a good start - particularly without CO2.

    • Starting an aquarium with only Tissue Culture plants can be a great idea to ensure your aquarium will be plant-dominant. Tissue Culture plants do not contain any algae and the only algae will be introduced by the small amount present on your livestock as well as the spores naturally present in the air. Algae will take a long time to even start growing - at which point your plants should have already eaten their lunch. Avoid conventional plants from dealer tanks until your planted aquarium is well established and your plants a thriving. Your patience will pay dividends! Make sure to always treat conventional plants appropriately and do what you can to minimize their algal load. Quarantine them first to be extra careful. All it takes is for one plant to introduce something that finds your aquarium environment welcoming and you can lose it all!

    • Do not rely on algae-eating fish and shrimp because they are more likely to let you down than actually make a difference. Many of these are particular and eat certain types of algae while ignoring others. That is not to say you should avoid these wonderful additions to a planted tank - by all means, a small shoal or Ottocinclus, Amano Shrimp, Neocaridinas, and others traditionally considered to be "algae eaters" are fantastic residents for a planted aquarium. They are a joy in and of themselves but don't rely on them to save your butt when algae strikes!   

  • Give your plants a haircut when they need one. When you trip your plants, you not only keep them at an appropriate height but you also ensure that they are not blocking the light for themselves and other plants and encourage bushier growth. Often two or more branches will come out of where you cut one off and doing so regularly can really make a big difference. You can also replant the tips or trade them to a local fish store for store credit. Without trimming, plants will become leggy and the bottom leaves will often fall off, resulting in a mess that can quickly cause a nutrient excess and algae fodder. Keeping your plants trimmed is one of the most important ways to maintain a beautiful planted aquarium.​

    • For CO2-injected,  high-tech aquariums with fast-growing plants, this is especially important and you may find yourself pruning frequently. Eventually, you will get a sense of how pruning and trimming affect the shape and development of a particular plant which will allow you even more customization and leeway for shaping your aquarium exactly how you want. Don't think of trimming as a chore, think of it as a learning experience, and be sure to pay attention to the results. It might make you feel like a Bonsai Master!

  • Stay away from "Marimo Moss Balls" - these are (luckily) recently banned as they have been found to be harboring the larvae of invasive zebra mussels but if you see one, DO NOT put it in your aquarium. These are shaped, mass-produced balls of Cladophora algae - in other words, potentially an algae bomb. As cute as they might seem, they can become a nightmare. You can grow your own. similar, and much cooler-looking balls of green with Java Moss, HC Cuba, Monte Carlo, Riccia, and many other plants using widely available commercial scaffolding that you can find right on our site. You'll end up with much more interesting results anyways.  ​

Share your experiences with tissue culture aquarium and terrarium plants!

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Here are ABC Plants, we value everyone's experiences and would love to hear from you. We'll periodically be updating this guide to using your Tissue Culture aquarium and terrarium plants as well as other tips and hints to maximize your success at these amazing hobbies. If you have any comments, advice, an interesting experience, or just something noteworthy to say, we would LOVE to hear from you!

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