Does Hornwort Need Substrates? (With Pros And Cons)

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Hornwort is inexpensive, easy to set up, and lends lots of aesthetic value to your aquarium. Read on till the end to learn about whether or not the plant needs substrate, the pros and cons of growing it with and without substrate, and more.

Does Hornwort Need Substrates?


Hornwort plants do best with substrates because, in their natural habitat, they are used to growing in sand, mud, and rocky materials.

This is why people who choose hornwort to put in their aquariums usually choose items such as muddy gravel, sandy mud, or just standard mud for the planting of the plant.

In nature, all of these things have a medium to high concentration of nutrients, so this should help take good care of your hornwort plants.

Does Hornwort Need To Be Rooted?

Hornwort does not have to be rooted, so you can choose to root it in your aquarium or allow it to “float.”

When you put hornwort in your aquarium, you have numerous options to keep it in place.

  • Some people bury part of it in the substrate or simply let it float around in the aquarium.
  • Others weigh down the plant with some type of decor, so as you can see, you can essentially do what you want when you’re interested in placing hornwort plants in your aquarium.

If you’re interested in propagating your hornwort plant, just make a few cuttings, and you have an entirely new plant.

In practical terms, what all of this means is that not even soil is necessary for hornwort to thrive in your aquarium.

Not only that, but this is a low-maintenance plant that can grow well in nearly any lighting condition and in either hard or soft water, as it can handle a pH level of between 6.0 and 7.5.

Can Hornwort Grow Without Substrates?

Hornwort can indeed grow without substrates, and many aquarium owners prefer this technique.

Keep in mind two things: hornwort never grows roots, and it grows very fast. In fact, hornwort plants can grow up to 10 feet in many instances, so you’ll have to consider for yourself whether it’s easier to prune your hornwort while it’s floating in the water or while it’s stuck in a substrate.

But you will have to prune the plant occasionally because it grows both very tall and very fast.

Since hornwort doesn’t grow roots, it’s easy to assume it doesn’t need substrate, but, in fact, it does quite well with this method of growing.

Since it’s such a lightweight plant, you may have to weigh it down in the substrate with some type of decorative item or even pebbles and rocks, but one of the many things that makes the hornwort plant so versatile is its ability to grow and be planted in various ways in your aquarium.

Growing Hornwort With Substrate Vs. Without Substrate

As you can imagine, the decision to use substrate or not to use substrate depends on a lot of different things, and in the end, it’s up to you to make the decision that works for you. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of growing hornwort with versus without substrate.

Growing Hornwort With Substrate


  • A substrate can help anchor down the hornwort.
  • A substrate can help anchor down other plants that complement hornwort.
  • It might make it easier to prune the hornwort because it remains still.


  • The substrate might make the plant a little more high-maintenance because you have to keep up with it.
  • Continuously adding more substrate can be pricey.

Growing Hornwort Without Substrate


  • The hornwort can be lower in maintenance because there’s no substrate to tend to.
  • The care of the aquarium is a little less expensive.
  • The hornwort looks attractive floating around in the aquarium.


  • The hornwort can be more difficult to prune for many people.
  • Some people don’t like the look when the plant is floating around in the aquarium.

The truth is, most of these pros and cons are minor when you look at them closely, so it’s really up to you to decide which of them are important to you and which ones aren’t. Once you decide this, it should be much easier to decide if you want your hornwort in an aquarium with a substrate or without it.

What Is the Best Way to Grow The Hornwort Plant In An Aquarium?

There are numerous advantages of growing hornwort in an aquarium, and as we’ve already determined, it can be grown with or without substrate.

Hornwort is actually good for your aquarium and can make it healthier because it increases the oxygen levels and can even deter certain types of algae.

If you let the plant float around in your aquarium, it resembles the way that hornwort is found in nature, and it also lends some aesthetic value to the aquarium.

Here are some things to consider when preparing your aquarium for your hornwort plants:

1. Get the Water Just Right

Ideally, your aquarium water will be between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and will have a pH level of between 6.0 and 7.5. Hornwort plants can handle most water environments in both soft water and hard water, up to a KH level of 15.

2. Get the Lighting Right

Hornwort needs clear water to photosynthesize and a little more light than many other plants. Aim for medium or mid-light ranges of light.

3. Get the Right Tank Size

Aquariums for hornwort plants should hold a minimum of 15 gallons of water. This is crucial because the plant grows fast and quite large. A tank that holds more than 15 gallons is even better.

4. Decide on Fertilizer and CO2

Many people choose weekly fertilizer and occasional CO2 additions to the hornwort plant, mainly because it’s such a fast grower and needs the nutrients.

Learn more about whether Hornworts need fertilizers and the best fertilizer recommendations for them in this guide.

Final Thoughts

Hornwort plants are beautiful additions to any aquarium and are easy to grow. You can grow them with or without substrate, and it’s really up to you to decide which of these methods is right for you.