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Keeping a healthy balance with your aquarium’s water parameters is a tricky challenge for all of us. Even when you’re keeping your tank at no ammonia or nitrites, you’re almost always going to have nitrates. Nitrates aren’t necessarily a bad thing in some quantities, but you need a way to keep them under control. One of the simplest and most natural ways to keep your nitrate levels under control is by adding plants to your aquarium. Plants that pull nutrients from the water column will pull nitrates from the water for nutrition, which boosts the growth of your plants and reduces your nitrate levels.

Some products are better than others, and that’s where we come in. If you’re struggling to keep your nitrate levels under control, here are reviews of the 10 best plants to help reduce those nitrates in your aquarium.

A Quick Comparison of Our Favorites

Image Product Details
Winner
Hornwort Bunch-Ceratophyllum Demersum Hornwort Bunch-Ceratophyllum Demersum
  • Rapid growth rate
  • Grows up to 10 feet in height
  • Can be planted or floated
  • Second place
    Water Wisteria-Hygrophila Difformis Water Wisteria-Hygrophila Difformis
  • Rapid growth rate
  • Grows up to 20 inches in height
  • Can be planted or floated
  • Third place
    Amazon Frogbit-Limnobium Laevigatum Amazon Frogbit-Limnobium Laevigatum
  • Trailing roots up to 12 inches
  • Great for fry and invertebrates
  • Can survive in low lighting
  • Dwarf Water Lettuce-Pistia Stratioes Dwarf Water Lettuce-Pistia Stratioes
  • Trailing roots may exceed 12 inches
  • Produces small flowers
  • Great for fry and invertebrates
  • Java Fern-Microsorum Pteropus Java Fern-Microsorum Pteropus
  • Doesn’t require substrate
  • Can survive in low lighting
  • Reaches over 12 inches in height
  • The 10 Best Aquarium Plants to Reduce Nitrates – Reviews 2021

    1. Hornwort Bunch-Ceratophyllum DemersumHornwort Bunch

    Growth rate: Rapid
    Max height: 10 feet
    Light demands: Moderate to high
    CO2: Environmental
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Ceratophyllum Demersum, commonly known as Hornwort, is an excellent aquatic plant that can help to quickly reduce your nitrate levels. Hornwort grows rapidly and can reach heights up to 10 feet, although it will rarely reach this height in the home aquarium because it does not grow very high above the waterline. The best thing about Hornwort is that it can be planted in the substrate, attached to surfaces, or allowed to float, and it can thrive in any of these settings. This plant has rough spine-like leaves, so most fish find it unappetizing and won’t attempt to eat it, and it makes a great hiding place for fry and shy fish. Hornwort can be propagated by cuttings.

    Hornwort does need moderate to high lighting for maximum growth. In low-light environments, Hornwort will begin to shed its spines, which can get messy quickly. Its rapid growth rate means it requires routine pruning, and if you use CO2 in your tank, it will cause this plant to grow even more rapidly.

    Pros
    • Reduces nitrate levels quickly
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Grows up to 10 feet in height
    • Can be planted or floated
    • Most fish will not eat it
    • Great hiding place for fry
    Cons
    • Will shed its spines in low lighting
    • Requires routine pruning

    2. Water Wisteria-Hygrophila DifformisGreenpro

    Growth rate: Rapid
    Max height: 20 inches
    Light demands: Moderate to high
    CO2: Environmental, supplemental
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Hygrophila Difformis, common name Water Wisteria, is a rapid-growth plant that may start off slow for the first week or two but will quickly adjust to its new environment and begin absorbing nitrates from the water. This plant can be grown floated or planted in the substrate. Water Wisteria has an interesting feature of changing leaf shape based on the environment the plant is kept in. Water Wisteria that’s receiving high lighting or that is close to the lighting will often develop fine, branching, pinnate leaves, while low-light plants will often develop large leaves that may grow in irregular patterns and have slightly serrated edges, almost like cilantro or mint. Warmer water will also develop pinnate leaves and cooler water will develop larger leaves. In either setting, Water Wisteria can thrive and help improve your aquarium’s water quality.

    Water Wisteria can produce roots from a single loose leaf, which is great for propagation, but it also means that every shed piece of plant may become a new plant. This plant requires routine pruning and may require routine removal of shed pieces. Water Wisteria has a habit of leaf melt when introduced to a new tank, but this usually remedies itself after a couple of weeks.

    Pros
    • Reduces nitrate levels quickly
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Grows up to 20 inches in height
    • Can be planted or floated
    • Varying leaf shapes
    • Extremely easy to propagate
    Cons
    • Loose pieces should be removed routinely to prevent overgrowth of new plants
    • Has a habit of leaf melt
    • Grows best with CO2

    3. Amazon Frogbit-Limnobium LaevigatumFrogbit

    Growth rate: Moderate to rapid
    Max height: 12 inches (root length)
    Light demands: Low to high
    CO2: Environmental
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Limnobium Laevigatum, also called Amazon Frogbit, is the top choice for a floating plant to reduce your nitrate levels. This plant has a lily pad-like appearance and grows almost flat against the water’s surface. However, below the surface, Amazon Frogbit has trailing roots that can reach up to 12 inches in length, making this a great option for fry tanks. Invertebrates, like snails and shrimp, enjoy eating the biofilm from the trailing roots of this plant. It grows rapidly and reproduces via runners, so you can quickly end up with a large number of plants. These plants can grow well even in low lighting but will thrive in moderate to high lighting. In high lighting, be careful not to scorch the leaves since they may be close to the light source.

    This plant reproduces easily and is hardier than many floating plants, allowing it to thrive in tanks with surface water flow. It requires routine pruning, and you may have to remove pups to prevent overgrowth of the plants. Floating plants will block some of the lighting into your tank, which can be a problem for the plants below.

    Pros
    • Reduces nitrate levels quickly
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Trailing roots up to 12 inches
    • Great for fry and invertebrates
    • Can survive in low lighting
    • Hardier than most floating plants
    Cons
    • Reproduces quickly and requires routine pruning
    • Blocks light into tank

    4. Dwarf Water Lettuce-Pistia StratioesDwarf Water Lettuce

    Growth rate: Rapid
    Max height: 2-10 inches, 12+ inches (root length)
    Light demands: Moderate
    CO2: Environmental
    Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate

    Pistia Stratioes, Dwarf Water Lettuce, is a beautiful floating plant that produces small, white flowers. It grows rapidly and reproduces via runners, which it can begin producing even when still very small. This plant reaches 2-10 inches in height, but usually will stay under 6 inches. It has long, trailing roots that can exceed 12 inches and make a great habitat for fry and invertebrates. Dwarf Water Lettuce can grow in low lighting but will do best in moderate lighting. In high lighting, it should not be kept in direct light because this can scorch the leaves. It does not require CO2 injection and will thrive without it.

    These plants require routine pruning due to their fast growth and reproduction rates. The long roots can become entangled in plants and décor, so they also may require pruning on a regular basis. Dwarf Water Lettuce prefers little to no surface movement, and it does not like for the tops of its leaves to get wet, so this plant will often die or grow poorly in tanks with moderate to high surface movement.

    Pros
    • Reduces nitrate levels quickly
    • Rapid growth rate
    • Trailing roots may exceed 12 inches
    • Produces small flowers
    • Great for fry and invertebrates
    • Can survive in low lighting
    Cons
    • Reproduces quickly and requires routine pruning
    • Roots require pruning to prevent tangling with other tank plants and décor
    • Requires little to no surface movement

    5. Java Fern-Microsorum PteropusJava Fern Microsorum pteropus

    Growth rate: Slow to moderate
    Max height: 12 inches+
    Light demands: Low to moderate
    CO2: Environmental, supplemental
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Microsorum Pteropus, Java Fern, is a great plant for beginners that won’t overwhelm your tank with rapid growth. It does not require substrate and prefers to grow attached to hard surfaces like rocks and driftwood. Its growth rate is dependent on lighting, nutrients, and CO2. It will grow most quickly with CO2 and moderate lighting, but it will still thrive in low lighting without CO2 injection. It can propagate via rhizome division or pup production, so if your plant is happy and healthy, it will eventually create plantlets for you. Java Fern can exceed 12 inches in height, making it a nice pick for large tanks, but it can be a good background plant for smaller tanks as well.

    Java Fern does grow relatively slowly, so it may take time for it to lower your nitrate levels, but it will help to keep them low over time. If planted into substrate, Java Fern usually dies because it does not like its rhizomes covered and cannot absorb nutrients this way. You will likely need to either glue or tie Java Fern to a hard surface in your tank until it attaches.

    Pros
    • Won’t take over the tank quickly
    • Doesn’t require substrate
    • Can survive in low lighting
    • Propagates via rhizome division or plantlet production
    • Reaches over 12 inches in height
    Cons
    • Slow to moderate growth
    • Grows best in moderate lighting with CO2 injection
    • Will die if planted in substrate

    6. Anubias BarteriGreenpro Anubias

    Growth rate: Slow
    Max height: 4-12 inches+
    Light demands: Low to moderate
    CO2: Environmental, supplemental
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Anubias barteri is a favorite among the aquatic community because this plant is available in multiple varieties of different sizes and leaf shapes. Regardless of your tank size, there’s an Anubias for your tank. This plant is slow growing, so it will take time to reduce nitrates, but will help to keep them down. It propagates easily via rhizome division, so after a few years you may end up with many plants. Anubias plants can survive in low light environments without CO2 injection, but moderate lighting and CO2 will increase the growth rate. This plant doesn’t require substrate and is happiest attached to surfaces like rocks and driftwood. It can be planted in the substrate, but if the rhizomes are covered, it will die.

    Some varieties of Anubias can get quite large, so make sure you are getting a variety that is appropriate for the size of tank you have. Even with the slow growth rate, these plants produce creeping roots and rhizomes that can take up a lot of space.

    Pros
    • Multiple varieties available
    • Won’t take over the tank quickly
    • Can survive in low lighting
    • Some varieties can exceed 12 inches in height
    • Doesn’t require substrate
    Cons
    • Slow growth
    • Grows best in moderate lighting with CO2 injection
    • Will die if rhizome is covered in substrate
    • Roots and rhizomes may take up a lot of space

    7. Water Sprite-Ceratopteris Thalictroides3 Water Sprite

    Growth rate: Moderate
    Max height: 12 inches+
    Light demands: Low to high
    CO2: Environmental, supplemental
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Ceratopteris Thalictroides, Water Sprite, is often confused with Water Wisteria, but these plants have different leaf shapes and growth patterns. Water Sprite’s leaves are more fine than those of Water Wisteria and are not influenced by the environment the plant is kept in. Water Sprite can be planted or floated, so it does not require substrate. Even when floated, it will produce long roots that will creep to attach the plant to something, and although it may not succeed, it will still continue to thrive. Its moderate growth rate means you will have some time between pruning without the plant taking over your tank. It can thrive in almost any lighting and does not require CO2 injection, although it grows best with it.

    Water Sprite can propagate from a single leaf, so you will need to remove loose plant pieces from the water on a regular basis, so you don’t end up with too many plants. The roots can sprout quickly, although the plants will only grow at a moderate pace. It may tangle into other plants or root systems and can be somewhat messy to try to remove or move around.

    Pros
    • Doesn’t require substrate
    • Can be planted or floated
    • Moderate growth rate provides time between pruning
    • Can thrive in almost any lighting
    • Reproduces readily
    Cons
    • Loose pieces should be removed routinely to prevent overgrowth of new plants
    • May tangle into other plants
    • Creeping roots will search for an attachment point
    • Messy when untangled or moved around

    8. Java Moss-Taxiphyllum BarbieriJava Moss Portion

    Growth rate: Slow to moderate
    Max height: 5 inches
    Light demands: Low
    CO2: Environmental
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Taxiphyllum Barbieri, or Java Moss, is easily the most popular and easiest to acquire aquatic mosses on the market. This moss has a slow to moderate growth rate, but over time, it will form beautiful carpets across your substrate or décor. It can be planted by tucking it into the substrate or by attaching it to surfaces with glue or string. It’s easy to care for, has low light requirements, and does not grow quickly enough to take over your tank. It can be used for substrate carpeting, creating scenes with driftwood and rocks, and moss walls.

    Java Moss is often grown for carpeting, which can take quite a while due to its low growth rate. Moderate lighting and CO2 may help it grow faster, but it will still be a relatively slow-growing plant. Once you have Java Moss, it is difficult to fully remove it from your tank since the plant can regenerate from small pieces. It does not rapidly remove nitrates from your tank.

    Pros
    • Easy to care for
    • Can survive in low lighting
    • Popular and easy to find
    • Can be used on substrate or surfaces
    Cons
    • Slow growth rate under most circumstances
    • Grows fastest with moderate lighting and CO2 injection
    • Difficult to fully eliminate from your tank

    9. Duckweed-Lemna Minorduckweed live

    Growth rate: Very rapid
    Max height: <1 inch
    Light demands: Low to high
    CO2: Environmental
    Difficulty: Intermediate

    Lemna Minor, commonly called Duckweed, is often viewed as a weed or pest plant, but it makes a great nitrate-reducing tank addition. It’s incredibly easy to grow and basically requires no care at all. It can survive in low to high lighting, acidic or alkaline water, poor quality water, and water with little to moderate surface movement. Duckweed can also be blended and used to create food for fish and invertebrates. It’s extremely high in protein and has even been studied as a potential source of food for humans.

    For something so easy to grow, you’re probably wondering why it’s considered intermediate difficulty. Here’s the thing about Duckweed; it reproduces quickly. As in, Duckweed can double its mass in 16 hours. In a tank with fish like goldfish, Duckweed likely won’t be an issue because some fish love to eat it and will keep the plant under control without fully decimating it. However, you will actively have to work to keep your duckweed population under control in most tanks by removing large numbers of plants every few days. Otherwise, your tank will be overrun with Duckweed. And once you have Duckweed, you always have Duckweed. It’s difficult to fully eliminate from your tank. Also, Duckweed is invasive in some areas and may be illegal to own, so it’s extremely important you check your local laws before purchasing Duckweed and never allow it to get into the natural water supply.

    Pros
    • Reduces nitrate levels quickly
    • Extremely easy to care for
    • Can be used as fish or invertebrate food
    • May be a source of food for humans
    Cons
    • Reproduces incredibly quickly
    • Difficult to keep under control
    • Difficult to fully eliminate from your tank
    • Invasive and may not be legal to own in all areas

    10. Pothos-Epipremnum AureumDevils Ivy Golden Pothos

    Growth rate: Rapid
    Max height: 20 feet+
    Light demands: Low to moderate
    CO2: NA
    Difficulty: Beginner

    Epipremnum Aureum, or Pothos, is not an aquatic plant, so don’t expect to be able to plant it inside your tank, but it can be planted with its roots in an aquarium, and it is excellent at removing nitrates. This plant grows quickly, propagates easily via cuttings, and can be allowed to hang or trained to climb. It produces lovely, variegated green and gold leaves, and is available in multiple color morphs. It can survive low lighting, even surviving in rooms without windows, but moderate lighting will bring out the best variegation in the leaves.

    Depending on your intention with this plant, you will either need to take cuttings to create a full plant or train the vines to climb. Otherwise, the vines can get leggy and unattractive and, if allowed to hang, will eventually pool on the floor. Grows best with moderate lighting and will benefit from routine fertilization. This is a tropical plant, so it prefers to be kept in humid areas and does not like cool air or drafts.

    Pros
    • Reduces nitrate levels quickly
    • Can be allowed to hang or trained to climb
    • Attractive leaves with multiple color morphs
    • Can survive in low lighting
    Cons
    • Cannot be submerged in water
    • Requires routine pruning to prevent leggy vines
    • Vines can exceed 20 feet in length
    • Needs humidity and to be kept out of cool drafts
    • Grows best in moderate lighting

    Buyer’s Guide

    Choosing the Right Plants to Reduce Nitrates in Your Aquarium
    • Tank Size: Some plants that reduce nitrates may quickly overtake a small tank, while other plants may not make a dent in the nitrate levels of a large tank. Your tank size should be a major driving factor between either the type or number of plants you get.
    • Aquatic Residents: What kind of fish do you have in your tank? If you have goldfish or cichlids, you may find it difficult to find plants that don’t get uprooted or eaten, so you may have a harder time finding the right balance of plants for your tank. If you keep invertebrates, like dwarf shrimp, then purchasing plants that allow for biofilm production, like plants with trailing roots and rhizomes, are great picks.
    • Lighting: Whether you have tank lighting or natural lighting, you need to understand the lighting levels in your aquarium to help you choose the right plants. Plants kept under the wrong light level will die or be stunted.
    Understanding your Options
    • Floating: Floating plants are usually great at removing nitrates from aquariums since they pull all nutrients from the water column. However, these plants usually propagate quickly via runners or sexual reproduction and may overtake your water’s surface.
    • Submerged: These plants are full under the waterline. They are a great option for fish that like plants to swim through and for invertebrates that like to scavenge for biofilm and other food.
    • Emersed: These are aquatic or partially aquatic plants that are grown partially underwater and partially above the waterline. Some plants can be grown submerged or emersed. Submerged plants usually will successfully pull more nitrates from the water column than emersed plants can.
    • Terrestrial: These are land plants that can survive with their roots in the tank. These plants cannot be submerged and will rot quickly underwater, throwing your water parameters off.

    Conclusion

    Whether you prefer a bushy plant, like Hornwort, a variable plant, like Water Wisteria, or a plant that floats on the water’s surface, like Amazon Frogbit, these reviews show that there are tons of plant options for your tank that can help keep your nitrate levels in check. High nitrates can lead to nitrate poisoning in your fish and invertebrates, leading to illness and death. Keeping them under control with the addition of plants doesn’t just improve your water quality, but it creates a healthier and more enriching environment for your pets.


    Featured image credit: Suyuthiahmad, Shutterstock