Dry Start Method (DSM) is the process of growing plants out of the water until the aquarium is ready for the plant. This method lessens or even completely eliminates some issues that are present when setting up an aquarium. Some of the most common problems when first setting an aquarium setting are:

  • Algae growth
  • Tendency of plants to float on water
  • Lack of aquarium equipment
  • CO2 deficiencies
  • Water quality issues

Most aquarium plants can be grown using the Dry Start Method – some plants are better suited for it while others are not. It is mostly recommended for small foreground plants such as Hemianthus callitrichoides (dwarf baby tears), Glossostigma elatinoides and hairgrass. One benefit of using DSM is that is easier to grow a carpet plant using this method since it ensures successful root growth. Plants will have developed strong root system by the time the aquarium is flooded with water.

Benefits of Dry Start Method

  • No algae
  • The plants won’t float when submerged
  • No replanting
  • No water cycling
  • No dosing
  • No fiddling with CO2
  • More time to prepare the aquarium setting
  • Easy transition from emergent to submersed states
  • Cheaper method
  • Easily doable even for beginners

What you need for DSM:

  1. Aquarium tank
  2. Aquasoil
  3. Tweezers
  4. Plant of your choosing (I am going to use Hemianthus callitrochoides here)
  5. Cling wrap

Adding Substrate (Aquasoil)

ADA aquasoil Dry Start Method DSM pouring - AquaticMag

Fill the aquarium with aquasoil. The amount depends on the layout you are going for. Make certain that there is enough soil in the aquarium so the plants will root properly. Put at least 2 inches thick of aquasoil in the aquarium to ensure proper root formation.

Shape Substrate and add hardscapes

ADA aquasoil Seiryu Stones hardscape Dry Start Method DSM - AquaticMag

Smooth out the soil using a sand scraper (or your hands). At this stage you can add hardscape materials such as driftwood and rocks.

Spray it down

Dry Start Method DSM spray bottle - AquaticMag

Get a spray bottle and fill it with water. Spray the solid generously until it dampens. Make sure to control the amount so as to not flood the soil.

Preparing Plants

Dry Start Method DSM HC Baby Tears preparing plants - AquaticMag

Separate your chosen plant into little clumps. Remove all traces of rockwool and other debris. Here is a video a simple video on how to get plants ready for planting.

Planting with Space

Dry Start Method DSM planting HC Baby Tears in aquasoil - AquaticMag

Once the plants are ready, plant them by placing them on top of the substrate and pushing it down a tiny bit. The soil will naturally grab onto the soil. You can use tweezers for this if you think your hands are too big. Make sure to give proper spacing between each clump – it depends on the type of plants you have. Leave at least 1 inch of separation between each clumps to give them proper space for growth.

Spray’n’Pray (not really)

Dry Start Method DSM HC Baby Tears aquasoil humidity - AquaticMag

After planting, spray some more water to the plants to saturate the soil. Keeping the leaves above water to expose them properly. Cover the top with a lid or plastic wrap once everything is wetted down and ready to grow.

Lights, Water, MAINTENANCE!

Dry Start Method DSM HC Baby Tears growing - AquaticMag

Have lights on for about 12 hours a day. Every day, take the wrap off the aquarium for about 20 minutes. This gives the plants time to access CO2 and fresh air. Exposing them to air consistently will reduce the likelihood of mold and fungus formation. Assess the level of moist and spray accordingly.

In a few weeks, you will begin to see noticeable growth. Most DSM plants take around 2 months to fully cover the surface of the aquarium. This method is ideal for carpet plants and plants with complex root systems.

A Recap

A Dry Start Method (DSM) isn’t difficult as it seems and a great way to learn how to cultivate your own plants from emersed growth to submerse. All you need is an aquarium, light, soil, and the plant you’re looking to grow out. You can even get into container or bin growing with different types making you have an arsenal of plants at your whim or maybe just to sell them on the green-market to make a few bucks (some people make a business out of it!).

All and all, The Dry Start Method (DSM) a technique that every planted tank hobbyist should learn. Algae blooms, PH crashes, tear-downs, aquarium glass breaking, and others are all variables that could possibly happen and cost you hundreds of dollars to restore in aquatic plants alone!

Possible Setbacks

Dry Start Method DSM mold algae web spider roots failed attempts - AquaticMag

Trust me, we have all been there and I want to tell you – never get discouraged! There are possible setbacks in learning how to do Dry Start Method and your first attempt might not go so beautifully. But just like anything else in the world, the more you practice at it – the better you become and then you are in the small percentile of the rest of us on showing off awesome tanks filled with healthy, beautiful aquatic plants.

Dry Start Method with Sand Substrate? No Problem!

Dave over at ADU aquascaping has a great tutorial for anyone looking to dry start method with plants in a sand substrate. Remember to mix in aquarium plant fertilizer while spraying to give the plants the appropriate nourishment they need to grow big and strong!