Aquarium Plant Quality in the US Sucks

Art PennomAquarium Plant Guide, Blog3 Comments

My soapbox rant


The state of aquarium plants in most local fish stores (LFS) is shameful! It makes me sick and I want someone, anyone, to put a stop to it! Our hobby will not grow if the quality of plants available to your average Joe hobbyist doesn’t improve hugely.

Any recent business graduate will tell you that it’s all about the product and how you get it into the hands of the consumer. Look at Apple. They first focused on making incredibly magical devices and then built their own stores to be able to distribute it to consumers in a way that did them justice. When you walk into an Apple store everyone gets the urge to walk out with something new and shiny. Apple gets it and wants to sell more and more product.

The LFS (and the huge chains) don’t get it. Or, maybe it’s that they don’t care. Although the aquarium industry is estimated to be a billion dollar industry, it seems to me that most LFS are happy to cater to the higher margin saltwater side.  That’s not very business savvy. If they would only focus more on the beauty that can be done with freshwater planted aquariums and maintained good, not great (that may be asking TOO much), plants for sale, their profits could grow beyond what they are today. But, it takes an upfront investment of money and time on their part and they simply don’t want to do it. OK. I get it. But don’t you think then that aquarium plant distributors and growers would have a vested interest in helping LFS sell more plants?

This makes sense and is often seen in other industries. How often do you see manufacturer rebates and discounts at the retail point? Happens with cars all the time. So, why don’t the plant distributors and growers take it on their shoulders to ensure LFS have good, not great (that may be asking TOO much), displays that can maintain plants in good shape until they are sold. Perhaps a display that isn’t an poorly lit, algae filled cesspool of melting plants? Have then looking good an attractive so that the customer will actually want to buy them? Maybe train up employees to actually be able to recognize what plants they have and how to grow them? Off sell some other products to help customers keep them alive? Is this making too much sense? Is it just me?

The reality is that, no, the distributors and growers haven’t taken it on their shoulders. I don’t know but it really looks like they don’t care. They sell what they have and that’s where their interest stops. Leave it to the retailers to do their job, if they want to. Shameful. Sad. Depressing.

So what do we need to change this?

I think we need competition from some organization. It’s the American way. We need disruption in the freshwater aquarium trade. I want an Apple-like company that will blast onto the scene and shake it to its core. The current crowd will have to change and adapt or go out of business.


I want a grower that thinks about the consumer in how they grow plants. I don’t want rock wool pots. You are making me have to spend TOO much time picking it out of the roots in order to put it in my tank. I want healthy specimens. If it looks sickly, don’t ship it. Fix it.

Ship plants in those new, breathable bags. I have a Madagascar lace plant sitting next to me as I type this. It’s in one of those bags that I got at the 2010 Aquatic Gardeners Association Convention. Guess what, it still looks great! Two years! Come on guys, you are still shipping in those plastic bags with water in them?

Invest in new technology. Improve your game. Have some pride. Love what you do. You get to grow beautiful aquarium plants for a living. Many people envy you. Realize that.

Distributors and LFS

This is what you do. Step up! Put some thought on how you can keep the plants you get in as good a shape as possible and focus on selling them. The more turnover you have the easier it is on you.

Plants also are a great way to off sell products. Sure there’s a lot of hobbyists that love to DIY. No problem. Sell them plants. Sell everyone else (the quiet majority) products to keep their plants healthy. This isn’t hard and it’s pretty obvious.

Lastly, train your people. A restaurant spends time training its staff on what’s on the menu and how to sell wine. Why aren’t you spending a little time training your people about the largest side of the aquarium hobby? Every freshwater aquarium can have some plants in it. There’s no excuse for this.

What’s more, this gives you another touch point with your customers. Hold seminars on how to grow plants. Have them come to your store. Build a relationship with them. This is pure gold for you. Oh, and by the way, that is how you keep them from going to the big box stores. Do it better than they can, not the same.


The planted aquarium hobby depends on its current hobbyists, the LFS, distributors and growers to continue to grow and expand. One cannot do it without the other. Unfortunately, to date, it seems only the current hobbyists are doing the heavy lifting. It’s about time for the others to do their fair share.

Join me in pushing for change!


Join the ScapeFu Tribe!
Please join over 1,000 people who receive exclusive weekly planted aquarium and aquascaping tips, tutorials and the Aquascaping School Weekly newsletter! Click on the orange button!

3 Comments on “Aquarium Plant Quality in the US Sucks”

  1. Pingback: Ditto + same problem with fish | Something Fishy

  2. JJ

    Art well said! I wish I had the funds to do this! I would really love to do this and get the word out about all the amazing things that can be done with planted tanks. They can be, in my opinion, more beautiful than reef tanks!

    Thanks for your dedication to the hobby. It’s people like you that will make it last!

  3. Simon Yee

    Most of my LFS here uses a piece of rock tie it to a rubber band with the white colour sponge and that works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *