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Aquarium Setup

THE DRY START METHOD - A Convenient Way to Grow Aquarium Plants Before The Flooding

THE DRY START METHOD - A Convenient Way to Grow Aquarium Plants Before The Flooding

The dry start method is a convenient way to acclimate and grow aquatic mosses and various other aquarium plants during the starting stage of an aquarium. However, it is less dry than the name suggests. It provides plants with growing conditions similar to those found in aquarium nurseries. More than 90% of all aquarium plants are grown emersed in greenhouses but under very high humidity conditions of up to 100%. In the further course, we will show when a dry start can be beneficial and how it works.

What Is A Dry Start

Unlike a usual aquarium start, we don't fill the aquarium to the top with water, and the filter remains inactive. With a dry start, we want to turn the emersed growth of aquarium plants to our aquarium's advantage. Typically, the aquarium is set up with a hardscape, planted, and already lit. A dry start is usually carried out for 4-6 weeks before the flooding.

When Should A Dry Start Primarily Be Considered?

  • If we plan to use a lot of moss for the aquarium layout and want it to grow firmly in certain places.
  • If we plan to use plenty of carpeting plants, as is the case with an Iwagumi aquarium layout.
  • When an aquarium layout involves a heavy rise of the soil.
  • If we have only a small amount of plant mass

Utricularia Graminifolia Dry start method

So Why A Dry Start - Let's Get Detailed

With a dry start, we want to take advantage of the emersed growth status of the aquarium plants. This is because tissue culture plants have similar conditions in their small retail pots to those presented during a dry start. Dry start conditions are also suitable for potted plants that have just arrived at the retailer and are, therefore, not yet in growth transition. With a dry start, emersed plants can use their energy for the establishment of their root system as well as for general growth. Thus, the energy is used only for growth and not for the transformation of the growth form.

Especially for two plant categories, this can be advantageous.

Mosses – Anyone who has worked with aquarium moss knows this can be tricky. Because if you don't attach moss properly and you introduce the water, it won't stay in place. It can spread undesirably all over the aquarium. Products such as superglue and thread are suitable for fixing moss but often leave visible marks, and in case of superglue can also cause damage to plants if not used properly.

If you want to anchor your moss as naturally as possible, there is hardly a better option than a dry start. For this, we recommend preparing the moss in a few simple steps:


  • Scissors, hand-blender
  • Measuring cup
  • Small bowl
  • a strainer or an empty tea- or coffee filter
  • Small brush


  • Reverse osmosis or distilled water
  • Aquatic moss
  • Aqua soil


  1. Cut the moss into smaller pieces. Put it into the measuring cup and add enough water so that it can be easily blended.
  2. Chop the moss parts with the hand blender.
  3. Take the strainer and separate the moss-water mixture. Make sure your strainer is fine enough to catch the moss particles.
  4. Next, crush some soil and add it to the bowl along with the moss. The consistency of the mixture should be somewhat thick. Therefore, add water step by step. Start with less water and soil, you can add at any time, but it would be difficult to remove.
  5. Apply the moss mixture to the desired hardscape areas with the brush or finger.

If you also use other plants, apply moss last at best, as it is easier to handle. For daily spraying, we recommend using a spray bottle with a very fine mist, as too much watering could wash the moss particles off the hardscape in the first couple of weeks. Depending on the type of moss, it will have anchored securely to the hardscape after 3-6 weeks.

aquarium dry start moss

Carpeting Plants – Many of these plants have delicate root and leaf structures. Therefore, it is advisable to be careful when handling such tender carpeting plants. Otherwise, there is a risk that we or the tweezers will permanently damage the plant, which is sometimes easier said than done. After all, these plants should be planted deep into the substrate to prevent floating. The advantage of a dry start for delicate carpeting plants like Hemianthus callitrichoides cuba or Glossostigma elatinoides is that they can loosely be placed in the substrate because floating up is impossible. In the progress of the dry start, the plant roots anchor themselves in the substrate. The advanced root growth should make floating up impossible when "the flood" sets in after the dry start.

Heavy Rise Of The Soil - If there is a hefty and steady soil slope in an aquarium layout, the created slope tends to slide down in a water-filled aquarium. The plant root system established during a dry start helps stabilize the substrate and slope. Slippage cannot be ruled out because of this, but the risk will be reduced by far. Further, it isn't uncommon for this scenario to be associated with carpeting plants and Iwagumi layouts.

Small Amount Of Plant Mass – If, for whatever reason, we have very little plant mass for planting an aquarium, we absolutely recommend a dry start. It allows multiplying the original plant mass and immensely reduces the risk of algae growth.

aquarium dry start method planting

Step-By-Step Guide

STEP 1 – Introduce the soil and do the layout by placing the hardscape.

STEP 2 – Get the soil wet for planting. Start planting and spray the plants sometimes to keep them moist. After the planting is complete, add 1-2 cm of water to the aquarium, but no more than to the lowest point of the Soil surface, which is most likely to be found at the front glass. The filled water will also help to keep the humidity high.

STEP 3 Cover the top of the planted aquarium completely with foil – If you have intense lighting, you don't need to run it at 100% for a dry start; depending on the intensity of the lighting, 50-80% is sufficient. Less power because the light beams don't have to penetrate the "light-sucking" water column as they must in a water-filled aquarium. Also, you should run the lighting period longer than recommended for aquarium use in general. For the duration of the dry start, we recommend running the lamp for 10-12 hours per day.

STEP 4 – Follow a daily routine: Airing for about 10-15 minutes and spraying the plants at least once, better twice.

STEP 5 – After 4-6 weeks, the waiting comes to an end. Finally, you can fill the aquarium with water and start the filter and all other installed devices.

Things To Avoid & Potential Challenges

  • Some aquarium plants aren't marsh plants because they're exclusively aquatic plants. They don't grow in an emersed environment and can't survive above water. For this reason, you shouldn't consider aquatic plants such as Vallisneria or Blyxa japonica for the Dry Start method.
  • Occasionally, mold appears, but in small amounts, it isn't a problem for the plants. If this occurs and the mold starts to spread slowly, remove it mechanically as best you can. We report on what can be done proactively to prevent mold growth in the last section of this article.
  • Even with a dry start, plant parts can melt away. In this case, remove the parts manually at best and replace them if necessary.

aquarium dry start method


  • We recommend using only plants in an emersed growth state when initiating a dry start. It makes little sense to buy a plant that has already spent three weeks in the sales aquarium and has just completed its transition to submerged growth. It's probably better to ask your retailer when they get plant deliveries from the greenhouses. Order your plants in advance and set an appointment to pick up the still emersed plants.
  • Further, we also advise using springtails for dry starts and other emersed arrangements exposed to high humidity, such as Wabi-Kusa. These tiny helpers feed on mold. Ain't that great! Most terrestrial retailers have these microorganisms listed.
  • An excellent product to counteract mold growth is the DOOA Wabi-Kusa Mist. Besides plant nutrients, the preparation contains a mint extract, which has an antibacterial effect. You can follow the manufacturer's recommendations or adjust the dosage according to your needs. If necessary, use the product only every other day.
  • The final tip comes from grandma's kitchen. All you need is a clean, chemical-free water spray bottle, ordinary cinnamon powder, and reverse osmosis water. Cinnamon has an antibacterial effect that we can take advantage of to combat mold. As a dosage, for example, take 0.2 liters of water with a small pinch of cinnamon; that's enough. Simply spray on as needed while enjoying the scent.

Do you have further questions about the aquarium hobby?

Don't hesitate to contact our lovely customer service we will answer your questions.

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