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How To Grow Coral In Aquariums: Reproduction & Tips

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By Lindsey Stanton

colorful wall of coral with blue and yellow fish

Reef aquariums are becoming more and more popular as time goes on, and as they get more popular, more and more people have coral in their home reef aquariums. Not only do more people have coral, but more people are growing coral and propagating it.

This is known as the husbandry of coral. While coral that grows in the sea and your aquarium usually does not engage in sexual reproduction, they do reproduce asexually and through human intervention. It is possible for coral to multiply on its own and you can help it along too.

Growing coral may seem like quite the challenge if you have never done it before, or simply if you are not too familiar with it, but it is actually not all that hard. How to grow coral in aquariums is the question we are here to answer today.

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How Does Coral Reproduction Work?

Ok, so we are going to talk about things like the ideal habitat, lighting, and water conditions for coral growth, but there are some other things that we do need to cover first. For instance, coral does not reproduce sexually, as in there is usually no male and female that has to interact to create new offspring.

Coral are asexual, which means that they only have one sex, they are both male and female, and they can reproduce all on their own. If the water conditions and other habitat parameters are right, coral can and does reproduce on its own.

New coral buds will slowly begin to form and grow along the outer edges of the parent coral, slowly growing and forming into its own mature coral bud. Old and large corals are formed of thousands and thousands of these buds that grow on their own when the conditions are right.

When it comes to the ocean, these buds or other pieces of coral, often known as coral shards, can break off due to water conditions and physical damage. They can then move through the water current and often they will settle down on other rocks and start a whole new coral growth in a new place. However, this form of asexual reproduction is not seen in home aquariums all too often.

Also, if asexual reproduction does happen, but you want to move the new bud to a new location, you will have to do some extra work anyway. This is where human intervention through the form of propagation and husbandry comes into play. You can take both old pieces and new pieces of coral and make them grow. This is what we are really here to talk about today.

coral reef colony
Image Credit: videotrinkets, Shutterstock

Growing Coral & Propagation Through Intervention

While coral does grow and create new buds in a home aquarium, the process can be lengthy, time-consuming, and it does not always happen. However, you can propagate coral and get it to multiple faster if you play your cards right.

First off, if you simply take a fragmented piece of hard coral, you can move it to a different location for growth. This hard coral shard usually comes from the growing tips of the parents. It may have broken off due to a natural cause or maybe you got a little rough with it.

If you want to break off the growing head of a hard coral to use for propagation, make sure to look up the specific type of coral you have to know exactly where to cut. You can then take this shard of coral and use some monofilament fishing line to tie, gently but firmly, to the new rock at the new location where you want it to grow.

You can also propagate soft coral in much the same manner. For soft corals, you need to wait until the parent coral forms new buds that start to grow. You can then use a sharp knife to cut the new coral bud away from the parent. Be sure to use a single slicing motion to minimize the damage to both the parent and the new bud.

Once again, if you don’t know where the bud and the parent meet, you can always do some research on the specific type of coral you have for more info. At the same time, it might be smart to just wait until the buds mature a little more so you can tell where they connect to the parents. At any rate, simply cut off the bud and tie it to its new home.

coral reef
Image Credit: Joanna Jankowski from Pixabay

Other Tips For Successful Coral Growth

There are a few other tips and little pieces of knowledge that are worth knowing if you want to be successful at growing coral in your home, so let’s go over those right now.

Lots of Sun

Coral needs sunlight to grow effectively. This is actually for two reasons. Coral does engage in photosynthesis to supply itself with food, nourishment, and energy. Yes, the light and rays provided by the sun allow photosynthesis to occur.

However, coral is also a filter-feeding creature, which means that it picks up microscopic organisms with special feeding filters, so they can still eat without sun. The reason why sunlight is so important to corals is because of a special type of algae that grows inside and on them.

This type of algae helps to provide the coral with oxygen, nutrients, and other benefits too. In fact, this type of algae known as zooxanthellae is essential to the survival of coral. Since this type of algae needs sunlight to live, and the coral needs the algae, it means that coral does not grow well in low light conditions and not at all when there is no sunlight.

The moral of the story here is that you need to have great lights that mimic the sun and put out UV rays just like it does.

Saltwater coral reef aquarium at home is most beautiful live decoration
Image credit: Vojce, Shutterstock

Clean & Clear Water

Another important thing to remember when it comes to growing coral is that the water needs to be clean and clear. First off, cloudy water that is full of sediments blocks light from getting to the coral and algae. In fact, sediment and pollutants can cover corals, the algae, and thus completely stop them from getting light.

Of course, things like ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, plus other manmade chemicals simply are not good for the growth of coral and other plants too. The main point here is that you need to have a good filter.

A great filtration unit with all 3 major kinds of filtration, these being mechanical, biological, and chemical, is a much have item for a reef aquarium with coral. You also want to get yourself a protein skimmer to remove excessive nitrate from the water (we have reviewed our favorite skimmers here).

Your filter will not be able to remove enough nitrate from the water for orals to live, but a protein skimmer can make up the difference. Performing regular water changes to remove chemical and substance buildups is also important for healthy coral.


This might be a no-brainer to some, but coral only grows in saltwater, not in freshwater. There needs to be a good balance of salt to water in the coral habitat for optimal growth. Different kinds of coral require different salt to water ratios, so you will want to look this up.


The other thing to know is that you do need to feed the coral. You also need to make sure that the algae thrive. For the coral, a good filter feeder food will do fine.

If you need help with some GFO suggestions, then check out this article.

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When it comes to how to grow coral in an aquarium, as you can see, it is definitely possible. However, there is some work, effort, and knowledge that goes into it, so just be aware of this before you get started.

Featured image: Unsplash

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