Betta Bulbs: Testing Your Green Thumb Against Aquatic Plants

betta bulbs
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Last Updated: July 12, 2022 by Flora Gibbins

Once I realized fake plants were the worst things for my fish tanks, I tried everything from aquatic banana plants to java ferns with no success.

Time and again, I walked past the shabby-looking packages of Aponogeton bulbs until a bunch wound up on clearance.

I was amazed. Soon after unceremoniously dumping those betta bulbs into the tank, they sprouted and produced prolific leaves.

Ever since then, I have used betta bulbs in my tanks.


Although it is very easy to grow betta bulbs, there are some things you should know about long-term care.

This includes understanding how different plant species will grow in their presence.

Healthy betta bulbs grow rapidly into large plants that will spread their roots under the surface of the gravel well beyond the height and width of the plant.

Starting Betta Bulbs

betta bulbs in fish tank

As an answer to the question, “How to plant betta bulbs?”, there are no special tools or skills involved.

Unlike terrestrial bulbs, you do not need to cover these bulbs with gravel or aquarium substrate.

To start betta bulbs, all you have to do is put them in the tank. Even if the tank hasn’t gone through its first nitrogen cycle, you can still plant these bulbs.

If you are wondering “How long do betta bulbs take to grow?”, everything depends on the lighting and surrounding conditions.

As long as betta bulbs get plenty of light, you should see leaves appear within 1 to 2 weeks.

When starting betta bulbs, there are some fish that you shouldn’t have in the tank. This includes Buenos Aires tetras and others that are fanatics about eating every leaf in sight.

Once the aquarium plant reaches a stage where it needs trimming, you can add it to a tank with plant-eaters.

 Basic Requirements for Most Betta Bulbs

aquarium with betta and decorations

  • Water pH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water Hardness: wide range – soft to hard
  • Temperature: 68 degrees F to 75 degrees F.
  • Light: Bright for sprouting. Once the aquarium plant is established, it will tolerate medium light. In low light, they will grow either very slowly or poorly.
    I always recommend using an aquarium light, however, you don’t need to specialize in terms of the spectrum color.
  • Additional Fertilizer?: Not needed.
  • CO2 Supplementation: Not needed.
  • Tank Size: depending on how you trim the leaves, betta bulb plants can fit in any tank size.

Trimming and Maintenance

golden fighting fish with plants on top aquarium

At a minimum, you should always remove leaves that are older as they start to turn yellow or die off.

You should also remove leaves that have algae on them. This will usually affect outer, and older leaves as opposed to ones in the center of the plant.

Beyond that,

The best way to trim aponogetons that grow from betta bulbs depends on the tank size and species of fish living in the tank.

As hearty as betta bulb plants are, you must always consider the rate of growth and how trimming will affect the replacement speed.

Trimming for Betta Fish Tanks

I often consider “betta bulbs” a misnomer for aponogetons because the plant has the potential to get very tall and unruly if you don’t trim it.

No matter whether you have other aquarium ornaments in the tank or not, the excess growth can be a problem.

Even though betta bulb plants will produce oxygen during the day, this process will reverse at night. It is better to keep the leaves trimmed enough to prevent fish suffocation.

On the other side of the equation, veiltail and other large finned betta fish need very shallow tanks to live in.

You can use aponogetons in 1-gallon betta tanks as long as you trim carefully. I usually keep just one large leaf, and then about half the emerging sprouts intact.

The main leaf will grow up to the surface of the water and then spread across the top. This works out fine for male betta fish interested in building bubble nests.

When you have to trim leaves spreading across the surface, make sure the betta fish hasn’t built a nest under it. Male bettas can become very depressed and downright neurotic if you damage their nests.

Medium to Large Sized Tanks

Even if you put a betta bulb in larger tanks, they will always need to be trimmed.

If you have fish in the tank that enjoy snacking on plants, leave at least one or two large leaves per fish, and the center area intact.

For tanks where the fish only consume flesh, cut the leaves back to just one or two sprouts in the center.

The more you cut aponogetons that sprout from a betta bulb, the faster they will grow.

Managing Root Structures with Barriers

Trimming makes it easy to control leaf growth, however, the root system will continue to spread out under the aquarium substrate.

In one sense, this is a good thing because the plant will continue to absorb nitrates through its roots.

The problem comes in when you want to add aquatic plants from another species that also colonize the substrate with their roots.

As a rule of thumb for these and other plants, the roots will spread as wide as the height of the plant.

When you trim aponogetons, the root structure will still be there. It will also spread out even more because, in nature, this aquatic plant itself gets quite large.

If you plan to keep other rooted aquatic plants in the tank, it is best to keep a barrier around the aponogetons.

This is very similar to what you would do for bamboo or other terrestrial plants that tend to propagate quickly or have root systems that interfere too much with surrounding plants.

You can use just about anything as long as it doesn’t have holes for the roots to grow through. For example, I often use aquarium-safe clear acrylic sheets and build them into terraces.

If you are going to focus on upward landscaping, never simply pile gravel into a terrace, even if you will be putting aponogetons in that area.

For the sake of the integrity of the tank bottom, always try to keep the weight load even across the bottom of the tank. Too much gravel in one area can put too much weight on those parts of the bottom seams and cause a leak.

You can use lighter-weight materials as a filler and then cover that up with plants or other decorations.

Propagation for Aponogetons

Depending on your tank setup and the actual variety, propagating aponogetons can be a bit tricky.

You will need a tank that holds at least 10 gallons of water so that the flower stalks have enough room to develop and produce flowers.

If you have only one aponogeton in the tank, it is not likely the flowers will pollinate.

Even if you have two plants, it still may not work.

You can hand pollinate the flowers with a cotton swab or anything else that will pick up pollen from one flower and transfer it to the pistil of another flower.

As with most plants, the flowers will turn brown and shrivel up once they are pollinated, or past the point where they are no longer viable.

At this stage, all you need to do is wait for the seeds to develop and fall into the tank. They will do this on their own.

This video shows you how the seed pods look, as well as the seedlings that emerge.

Do not cut the flower stalks until you are sure the seeds have fallen into the tank.

Pollinated seed should begin to sprout in about 2 – 3 weeks. Over time, a bulb will develop in species that produce rhizomes.

Fun Fact: If you want to challenge yourself into growing an organic plant with medicinal properties, then check out our article about Betta Leaves: Benefits Of Using Indian Almond Leaf for better guidance!

Frequently Asked Questions

What will happen if the leaves on my plants reach the top of the water?

Unless you have a very tall tank, there is a good chance Aponogeton leaves will grow up to the height of the water surface.

This is nothing to be concerned about. Aponogeton leaves are very soft, and will simply bend and continue growing.

If you want a root-based plant that will also provide some surface cover at the top of the tank, this plant will serve you well.

Will the plant die after it flowers?

This depends on the specific species of aponogeton. I’ve had many plants flower and continue to thrive after I cut the flower stems off.

What will happen if the bulb doesn’t produce leaves?

Even though most bulbs will produce leaves quickly, there are bound to be ones that won’t do anything at all.

This is why you should always keep in mind the 1 to 2 weeks timeframe as an answer to the question “How long does it take for betta bulbs to grow?”.

It is very important to monitor the bulbs and follow any betta bulb instructions that come with the package. If they don’t sprout, they will rot very fast in the water.

This can pose an ammonia surge hazard in smaller tanks. Rotting bulbs can also produce a foul odor that will permeate the air around the tank.

The only other time betta bulbs won’t produce leaves is if there are fish in the tank that snack on the shoots as they emerge.

Unfortunately, fish that like to snack on plants tend to favor the newest leaves they can get to. As soon as they see shoots beginning to emerge, they will eat them. Usually, this kills the bulb off.


Betta bulbs are one of the easiest live plants to care for. While they don’t always propagate as easily as semi-aquatic plants or other aquarium plants, they often survive where others won’t.

No matter whether you are starting a betta tank or something that holds hundreds of gallons of water, these live plants will look good and help make sure the tank water is healthy for all inhabitants of the tank.

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