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Emersed Culture, [The Beginner Basics].


6 Aug 2018
Hartwell, GA (U.S.)
So I decided to do a how-to on Emersed Culture(s) for newbies to the whole "Emersed World!" of aquatic plants.

I have been planting and "Harvesting" Emersed aquarium (or aquatic) plants, for around 3 years now. In that time I have learned a lot in such little time, that is due to my addiction to this hobby, and the rewards that come with it.

I hope some of the noobs will learn as much from this journal as I have learned in my time.


Emersed culture is a completely different world when it compares to comparing it with submersed grown plants. With Emersed grown plants comes different problems you will encounter, and different achievements, different mixtures of different additives, everything is new and shiny to you.

When starting to look into Emersed grown plants, you Must understand that you have total control over what happens to your plants, what happens around them, etc. You are the trainer. With submersed grown plants, you cannot control the amount of variables you can with Emersed systems.
What can you control in an Emersed system? you can control with ease, what substrate or soil mix you will have and what ratio's of each soil to put into your tank or container, you can control where the plants grow, how much fertilizer to put on them if any, I can go on and on about this...


Emersed grown plants, have Unlimited access to Co2! Its a Goldmine for plants! With this you Must, understand how plants absorb Co2. So to understand, how to understand Co2 intake, you must understand (confusing...!) Photosynthesis and its complete cycle.
Photosynthesis is the process in which plants use energy from light, to convert Water (H2O) and Carbon Dioxide (Co2) into Sugars and Oxygen. Chlorophyll (the usually, green color on plants) absorbs the light and its energy to convert six molecules of carbon dioxide and six molecules of water into one molecule of sugar and six molecules of oxygen. Plants use the sugar from this chemical reaction, to grow and thrive. The oxygen produced by photosynthesis is released back into the atmosphere. Plants account for the majority of carbon dioxide absorbed during this process.

Ok now that you know what photosynthesis is, and how it works, we can get into the dirty work.

Emersed Setups, What Do to, And How To Do It

When actually creating your Emersed setup, or fixture, you must consider a few things...

Natural light or artificial lighting?

Soil or Aquasoil?

Container or Tank?

These things are really important and will go a Long way into your Emersed setups future.
I suggest for the newcomer to Emersed Culture, to use a simple and cheap way, as I did.
This way being; using a plastic container you can find at your local Lowes or Hardware store, and inserting a mix of Peat Moss, Miracle grow organic potting soil, and Vigro garden soil into the bin.
But before you do that, flip the plastic bin or container over and drill some holes into the bottom of it to allow it to drain. If you are doing this inside, just avoid this step.
Make sure you drill the holes not to big that the dirt just falls out from under it. Drill them at around 1/2" to 1" in diameter.
You usually do NOT need the container lid, I have only used the lid when I was just getting into this because I thought it kept more humidity inside it, which it did but ill get into that later on here.
Once you have the soil in the container and you have the drain holes (optional) gently mist the surface with either a water hose or a spray bottle. Itll take around 5 minutes or so to get all the soil nice and moist.
Once you have done this, just put your light over it, or set it outside and your done making a copy of my emersed setup, not specifically.

I would like to go back and discus the list I made above, concerning specifically the point where I listed Natural light or Artificial light. With natural lighting you will Always, no matter what, get better results. How You (remember, you are In Control Of Everything!) control the light amount, is up to you and what plants you grow. If you are doing this outside with natural light, then you must NOT have direct sunlight, no matter what plants you grow or how much you water it. Direct sunlight can lead to these issues:
Sulfur Dioxide Buildup
Burning of plants
Leaf tips burning
To much light for the plants

When using direct light, you want to control it. Well how do you control the sun its like 1 million miles away?

Well then you cant you just have to quit.
Just kidding, you can do multiple things. You can put some shade cloth, over your setup (percentage is up to you) to lower the amount of light actually being let into your setup. Or you can spray paint your container (or whatever) lid black, and set about 1ft above your setup. Some sun will get in there, but its not totally direct as the sun will rise and set not giving your plants light 12 hours a day.

When using artificial light, like an LED or lamp, you must learn how to adjust to things.
If you use an LED or lamp, you will have little issues concerning lighting, and most likely a happy little setup. LEDs and Lamps, T5's can easily be adjusted your wanting or desired amount of light. So basically this entire step is up to you and your needs!

Soil or Aquasoil

When I say soil, I mean dirt. When I say Aquasoil, I mean any substrate that contains a mixture of nutrients, that you use in your aquarium.
I never understood, and never will understand, why some people use Aquasoil, as an emersed substrate... its a God awful idea.
But I cant judge that much since I haven't done it! But I will list the cons and pros of AquaSoil for you:
Pros: high nutrients, its in a ball shape which is cool, not as messy, and can be wet and not get all mushy.
Cons: Expensive, nutrients is only temporarily, gets mushy after about 2 years in an emersed setup, doesn't last as long, doesn't get as good results compared to soil.

So basically I'm saying, don't do aquasoil or any aquarium substrate, or else your results will either fail, or not be as good.
And ill list the pros and cons for soil (ex. Miracle grow, vigro, etc)
Pros: Not expensive, a BUNCH of nutrients that basically wont or will not wear out, easy to plant in, holds moisture.
Cons: messy, some may even say unsightly, and its Dirty *pun*
I'm sure there are more cons and pros, but I sure cant think of any right now lol.
Soil is NOT expensive, in usually *any* emersed setup since one bag can take you a long way... There are many different types of soils to choose from, and mixtures to do. Personally, I think that if you just use one type of soil for your entire setup... You wont have the best results, Mixtures Matter!
I use as stated, peat moss, MGOPS, Miracle grow moisture control, and vigro garden soil.

Container Or Tank:
Both containers and tanks, will give you the exact same results... one is NOT better than the other when it comes to growing plants. They both hold dirt, and they both are capable of holding water. So this doesn't really matter.

Basic Maintenance!

Whoever told you that you can just throw a few plants in your Emersed setup, and they will thrive, flat out lied to you.
I'm not saying its hard all the time, and I'm not saying that it isn't easy, which for the most part it is, but many things can go wrong (how many times have I said this now?).

This is a SUPER IMPORTANT thing to watch out for. Everyone waters usually or mists once a day, why I have no clue, but if it works keep doing it.
Watering is more dependent on your setup and what's in it, some plants like more soaked soil than the other. Some plants like only damp soil. You will have to learn by doing this yourself...
So basically go head first into watering lol.
But I can tell you some things at least of the outcomes you may face, If you over water or mist, you will cause to much runoff of the nutrients in your setup. Well what does this mean? it means all the nutrients in your soil, will follow or be carried by your water down to the bottom of the container or tank, causing a buildup of nutrients.
Well whats so bad about that?
1 word. Sulfur. The high amount and toxic levels of nutrients you now have from overwatering, at the bottom of your setup, will make sulfur dioxide, and it smells like s***. But if you want to get specific it smells like rotten eggs.
This means you NEED MORE DRAINAGE!!! People normally miss this, they thing you must SOAK your Emersed setup, bet you didn't know this, most emersed plants THRIVE in well drained soils!!! So do NOT soak your soil, matter o' fact just from my .02 keep it relatively moist at most. Maybe mist it gently (like for 20 seconds) once every day.
If your doing this outside, water is once every day LIGHTLY for 1 week, then after this just water it once a week lightly.


Unless your growing moss, or very sensitive plants (doesn't count crypts.) You do not need to worry about humidity.
The reason why so many people say "oh I need high humidity" is because the higher the humidity, the easier the plants will transition to submersed form. The lower the humidity, the harder it will hit them. Either way in correct and good tank conditions it doesn't matter, they will acclimate usually. I grow all my Emersed plants in about... 30% humidity at the lowest sometimes, and they acclimate to submersed form usually in around 2 weeks.

Re-Fertilizing, and Adding Nutrients to your Emersed Setup.

Re-Fertilizing your Emersed setup is super easy, in fact its one of those things you don't really have to worry about. And you'll only need to do it about 3 times a year in my experience.

How you do it:

1: Buy a bag of Miracle Grow Moisture Control Potting Soil, then dump it on your emersed plants until about 2" thick. Covering most of the actual plant(s), but make sure you have some sprigs and leaves of the plant poking out/up. Then water it down a bit until its nice and wet.

Pretty simple, and its beneficial.

When you do this, your plants from there on will take about 2-3 weeks to grow out from that layer you just added to it. And they will look as healthy as ever! But when you put that soil down, 2 majorly important things happen.
1: The soil after you water it, leaches nutrients into the pre-existing soil. Giving nutrients to the already established roots of the plant.

2: The plant over the period of time it takes it to overcome the soil, expands its root system into the new fresh soil. While it still extracts leached nutrients from the already pre-established roots.

If your bin or setup after multiple times of doing this fertilization method, gets full to the rim with soil, take everything out, and start over.

Another thing ill add, is if your going to be Very specific on what type of nutrients your adding. You can google search for example:
Soil Phosphate for sale
Soil Nitrogen for sale
etc things like that you can look up, usually lows carries nutrient specific fertilizers.

That's All Folks!

Those are the "Basics" To creating your own Emersed Culture Setup!
I hope you enjoyed this article and had a good time reading it. If you have any suggestions please comment and ill be glad to add it if it applies

And if you have questions I'm more than happy to answer those as well.


This article is just from my own experience, in no way shape or form does it mean you Must follow this method and tactics, or advice. It is just what i recommend personally and have done myself over the years.


Thread starter
6 Aug 2018
Hartwell, GA (U.S.)
So you agree with serpadesigns method in this video ?

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
I know nothing about terrariums, so i cannot comment. He seems to know his stuff, and obviously gets good results.
all of the plants i grow emersed get access to open air for more Co2, this is also just because of the certain setup i have going on. If i had... lets say... all my plants in 100% glass boxes, i can guarantee you they'd all die. As i dont know that much about completely closed off setups and to me it is a much harder ballgame due to many variables.

Hope this made sense haha


6 Apr 2012
Warrington, Cheshire
Sorry I didn’t make it clear
What I meant was do you put it together the same way ?
Drainage layer first then the soil and only have the soil damp not wet etc

Ok he puts a lid on his and you don’t but is everything else the same ?

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


16 Apr 2015
Sorry I didn’t make it clear
What I meant was do you put it together the same way ?
Drainage layer first then the soil and only have the soil damp not wet etc

Ok he puts a lid on his and you don’t but is everything else the same ?

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

A drainage layer can never hurt, actualy it is essential if the plants are ever green but still have to go through a rather dynamic climate change through the year.
For example growing tropical plants on a window sil in the nothern hemisphere without artificial light source. During this winter time light period becomes very short and temperatures are rather low. Plant will survive stay green but still go semi dormant in this periode it stops metabolising, than a soaking wett cold soil is deadly for it's roots, it becomes a cool anaerobic and stagnant puddle and the roots will die and rot away, this will finaly kill the plant.

Take for example a number of ordinary tropical house plants, originating from deep within a hot tropical rain forest groowing as riparian plant, mainly at 99% air humidity, standing at the river bank with wet feet the intire year with a steady light cycle of 12 hours a day. But keeping this plant indoors away from the river in our climate with fluctuating temps and light periodes it requires a different approach. During the warm bright summer, you can't give it enough water, but during the cool and relative dark winter the soil should not be kept wet. because of the above reason. Root rot. This is the general rule of thumb for any house plant.

Thus, it depends..

If you keep plants in a riparium or paludarium condition with constant soaking wet feet you must artificialy imitate a tropical invironment with steady temps and a steady light periode with enough intensity.

If you don't control the invironment and leave it to it's own devices in our climate on a window sill.. Than it absolutely requires a false bottom to drain and hold the excess water. This to keep the soil aerated and prevent root rot from kickin in. If you keep the plants open top or in a somewhat closed but still ventilated greenhouse, you can control watering more or less. I a sealed off jar without ventilation you can not, that easy. Than a false bottom is you water buffer zone without drowning the plant roots.
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