Betta Bulbs From A To Z: A Complete Guide

There are many benefits to having live aquatic plants rather than fake plants in your betta tank. The closer your betta’s environment is to natural, the happier it will be!

One healthy plant doing particularly well for bettas is the Aponogeton family, known as betta bulbs.

Aponogeton is found in tropical areas in Africa, Asia, and Australasia. When dormant, it is a bulb and very resistant to drying out.

Planting the bulb in an aquarium substrate and warmer water encourages it to grow and bloom again.

Because they are relatively easy to grow and grow quickly to fill up space, Aponogeton bulbs are popular with betta owners.

betta bulbs atf

Benefits of Keeping Betta Bulb Plants

According to this article by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, keeping aquatic plants in your aquarium improves water quality – improving the quality of life for your fish.

Aquarium plants, including betta bulbs:

  • Increase the production of helpful bacteria in a newly established aquarium, which helps with the nitrogen cycle
  • Use nitrates from the nitrogen cycle, which helps detoxify the aquarium water
  • Add oxygen to the water, which the fish need: the plant converts carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen using photosynthesis and a light source.
  • Improve water quality by absorbing betta waste; the more plants, the better for this
  • Help curb algae growth by competing for the same nutrients
  • Provide shelter from other fish
  • Provide a resting place on leaves, bettas are known to just sit and chill on a leaf
  • Give your fish enrichment; betta’s love to swim among the leaves
  • Are an additional source of food for your betta’s tank mates
  • Make the aquarium beautiful and interesting, preventing boredom in your betta and yourself!

What Types of Betta Bulbs Are There?

About 60 different species of betta bulb plants are found in their native tropical habitats in Africa, Asia, and Australasia. 

The most common type of betta bulb is Aponogeton ulvaceus, which has multiple varieties. This includes Aponogeton madagascariensis or Madagascar Lace.

As you would expect, Madagascar Lace has lace-like leaves and is very pretty.

When you buy them, betta bulbs are mostly a mix of species or even a hybrid species, so it is difficult to predict which ones you will get. These beautiful green plants are annual or perennial.

An annual plant must be replaced every year, a perennial comes back.

If your Aponogeton has one blooming stalk, it might be from Asia. If there are multiple stems, they might be from Africa.

In the wild, they live in slow-moving or still water and are underwater for the entire year.

When temperatures fluctuate too much or in times of drought, the plant reduces to a bulb and goes dormant until conditions improve.

The bulb is a specialized stem on the plant storing food during dormant periods, enabling it to grow quickly when conditions are right.

When its needs are met, the bulb will grow long leaves – to about 12″ inches! – and might bloom. They are a beautiful background plant.

Each betta bulb might grow 40 or more leaves and get up to 20″ inches wide.

How to Care for Betta Bulb Plants

betta bulb requirements

Aponogeton does not require extreme maintenance or a complicated setup in your betta tank. It is a good choice of plant for a beginner plant owner.

The recommended water conditions for betta plants are the same as for your betta fish, so they are a great tank addition.

As with all plants, they require adequate lighting to thrive. A brighter overhead light is useful in the sprouting stage.

Low-intensity light will mean a slower rate of growth and less pruning. Pruning is one of the less attractive aspects of fish keeping and plants.

Planting Betta Bulbs for Best Results!

Aquarium soil is the best substrate to use because it has more nutrients. Gravel or sand is the next best choice, in order.

If you use gravel or sand, you need nutrient supplements such as fertilizer capsules or tablets near the plant’s roots. Do not use extra phosphate, as it will encourage algae to grow.

The thicker end of the bulb is the root end and is what you plant in the aquarium substrate.

If the bulb’s base is already developing roots, just put the roots into the substrate. It will be enough to keep it in place.

When you plant betta bulbs, do not bury them in the substrate. They will rot if you bury them more than 1/4 of the way up.

Since these plants grow rather large, plant them at the back of your aquarium. Start with one to three bulbs depending on the size of your aquarium.

They grow quickly, so leave a few inches between each bulb. They can fill a small tank in a few weeks.

I recommend a high-intensity light for sprouting. You will see them grow leaves within a few weeks, as long as they get enough from the aquarium light.

If they take longer and you see no signs of growth, they may have rotted.

If you plant in gravel rather than aquarium soil, you must use fertilizer occasionally. Betta bulbs absorb nutrients through the roots rather than the water.

Root tabs, fertilizer capsules, and other aquarium-safe plant fertilizers are all beneficial.

Caring for Your Betta Bulbs

Use Appropriate Lighting

Betta bulbs do not need a complicated aquarium lighting setup. They prefer low-medium light, except in the sprouting stage.

Controlling the amount of light the plant gets will prevent overgrowth. Lower light means less trimming.

Being undemanding about lighting is another reason betta bulbs are easier for novice aquarists.

Trim Those Unruly Leaves!

betta bulb trimming

Once the leaves turn yellow or die off, you need to trim them. Dead plant material disrupts the chemical stability of your tank unless you have animals in the tank eating it.

Leaves with algae also need to be removed from time to time. This will leave you with a more attractive plant.

The more you trim your plant, the faster it will grow. Even if you trim down the leaves severely, the roots will continue to grow highly.

A rule of thumb is the width of the roots will grow the height of the plant. This is a concern if you have other rooting plants you want to grow in your tank or if your tank size is small.

Larger tanks require less water maintenance and can fit more plants and fish. When in doubt, always go larger on your tank.

They Need Dormancy and Rest

The plants will go through dormant and regrowth periods, shedding old leaves and growing new ones. The bulbs will propagate via shoots and these are cut and replanted.

Many people think the bulb is dead when it is just dormant. Check the bulb for a foul odor or signs of decay, like mushy spots or mold, before you throw it out.

Some people give their bulbs a resting period as they would experience in nature. This involves removing the bulb from the tank, removing all roots and leaves, and putting it in a bag with damp sand.

Keep your bulb in a cool, dry, unlit space while resting. After a couple of months, it is ready to replant.

Handy Chart Of General Aquatic Plant Symptoms And Causes 

Sometimes, no matter what you do, your aquarium plant has problems. Whether it is slow growth, yellowing leaves, or the leaves turning black, there is a probable cause and treatment for the issue.

Ensure your betta bulb is in proper water condition and provide additional nutrients to keep it at its healthiest. Test your water frequently and perform regular water changes for the general health of your tank.

Aponogeton more commonly faces difficulties with the bulb rotting.

SymptomsProbable Cause
Leaves turning red or yellowNitrogen deficiency
Leaves turning brown/black, slimyAlgae growth due to excess phosphate
Old leaves developing yellow spots, new leaves yellow on edgesPotassium deficiency
Old leaves developing yellow spots, veins staying greenMagnesium deficiency
Yellow spots on veins, margins, and tips of leavesZinc deficiency
Plants don’t grow properly, there are white deposits on new growthCarbon dioxide deficiency
Leaves yellowing from the tip then becoming transparent and rottingIron deficiency

Propagating Aponogeton

Growing Aponogeton is a fun experiment. They handily take up any extra space in your aquarium and will propagate themselves.

Depending on what type of betta bulb you have, it may self-pollinate and form seeds or self-propagate with daughter plants.

A. crispus. flowers and forms seeds to propagate themselves.

Other Aponogetons need to be cross-pollinated. A common cross-pollinator is A. ulvaceus.

A. undulatus does not flower often. Daughter plants form on what would ordinarily be the stalk and remain there until clipped off or tubers form and the parent plant releases them.

There are also variations among individual plants’ propagation based on flower color.

A. ulvaceous can either be self-fertile or self-pollinated, depending on whether the flower is violet or white/yellow.

Betta Bulb Plant and Betta Fish Compatibility

betta love betta bulbs

As the name hints, betta bulbs are an excellent plant for your betta fish tank. Betta bulbs have similar water parameters to bettas.

Aponogetons grow natively in the tropics in soft or moderately hard warm water.

Any size tank, even a tall tank, will suit this plant species, just trim them down to size. Bettas are accustomed to dense plant growth in the wild.

The long, broad leaves are good resting places for your betta and provide hiding spots. Males also use the underside of leaves on the top of the water to make bubble nests.

As long as you have a balance between betta bio-load and how many plants you have, they will keep algae growth down.

With betta bulbs on the job, there aren’t enough excess nutrients to feed algae.

Some other betta-compatible species of plants are the following:

  • Amazon sword plant
  • Aquatic banana plants
  • Moss balls
  • Lucky bamboo plants
  • Water hyacinths
  • Water lilies
  • Java moss

Just make sure your choices consider betta water parameters and light conditions.

Live freshwater aquarium plants are preferable to artificial plants, but I use a mix.

Common Problems with Betta Bulb Plants

Although these plants are a great choice for beginning aquarium plant growers, sometimes the bulbs are duds or moldy. Most companies selling them offer a 30-day warranty, so check the back of the package.

If you see a white fuzz growing on your betta bulb, remove it from the tank immediately. This is mold, and it will spread.

If not properly trimmed, these plants can take over a tank.

A novice aquarist often thinks their bulb is a dud when it is only dormant. Always check for signs of rot before tossing!

If you have a mushy or moldy bulb, throw it out.

Betta Bulbs are a terrific addition to any betta tank!

Betta bulbs are a hardy, low-maintenance bulb plant and a lovely addition to any aquarium.

Fish keepers delight in their rapid growth and how attractive these plants are in a betta fish aquarium.

Aponogetons are great beginner-friendly plants and thrive in low-tech planted tanks. They keep oxygen levels up and help with nutrient export.

Another plant to consider for use with bettas is Indian almond leaves. Check out our article for more information.

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Written by

Contributing Writer

Wesley Oaks has a background in web publishing and decided to combine his skillset with his enjoyment of betta fish. When he isn’t working behind the scenes for Betta Fish Bay, he’s homeschooling his kids and soaking up quality family time.

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