Nothing looks more serene than a tank full of colorful tropical fish and the gentle waving of aquarium plants. The fish probably prefer it, too. The chances are that you started your setup with artificial or plastic plants. After all, they’re easy to clean and don’t require anything special. However, there is an allure about live plants that even the best-designed plastic one can’t match.
The key to adding live plants to your tank is balance. They have specific requirements to stay healthy that you’ll need to add to your regular maintenance routine. Trust us when we say that it’s not a difficult transition to add them to your tank. Ideally, you’re still in the planning stages. That’ll make putting them in the aquarium easier. Ready to get started? Jump in, and the water’s warm, too!
Pros and Cons of Adding Aquarium Plants to Your Tank
The looks alone are enough to consider live plants. However, there are also other benefits that make them worth considering.
Kinds of Aquarium Plants
You can group live plants in several ways. You can consider their placement in the tank as to whether you’ll place them in the back, middle, or front of your aquarium. Scientists categorize aquatic plants as floating, submerged, or emergent. Floating species include ones like duckweed, which you might see in a pond. It has that name for a good reason, too.
Submerged are probably the ones you’re more likely to find at your pet store. They are species that you can put into the substrate or gravel. You’ll find plants that can act as a ground cover and help to anchor the gravel. Some have a root ball like plants you’d add to your garden. Others are bulbs, not unlike tulips or daffodils.
Finally, some aquatic plants will take root in the gravel but emerge out of the water and drape down the sides of your tank. The tropical rainforest effect is stunning. That’s the same way cattails grow. Their roots are firmly planted in the ground, but the main part is above the water.
Things to Consider When Adding Plants
The essential factor to think about with aquatic plants is space. There are only so many that you should add to your tank to prevent crowding your fish. Then, there are the types of plants you must also consider. Just like with terrestrial plants, aquatic species vary in their care and survival. Some have narrow windows of temperature and water chemistry that can make them hard to raise.
We also have to address the elephant in the room—planning. It’s essential to figure out the lay of the tank bottom before you start mucking around in the water. That’s especially true if you have fish in your tank. The more you move things around, the clouds the water will become. Don’t forget to take into account the full size of the plant, either. You may find that trimming is part of your routine maintenance.
Bear in mind that while snacking on the plants is okay, some fish are harder on them than others. Cichlids are a classic example of species that makes plastic plants sound like a smart idea. Some other advice we can offer is to test your water source, whether it’s the tap or bottled. If you find that you still have an algae problem, the phosphate levels may be too high. You can adjust them accordingly.
Keeping Your Aquarium Plants Healthy
The needs of aquatic plants are few, but they are all vital. First, UV light supplied by your hood or other fixture is imperative. Many species are tropical. Therefore, you’re looking at 10 or preferably 12 hours each day. The other factor is temperature. Most plants thrive best when the water temp is at least 70–80℉, which is probably the range you have your heater set already for the fish.
You should keep up with your regular water changes. However, try to minimize the turbulence when you siphon out the aquarium and fill it as best as you can. Your live plants will need some food, too. You can get a plant fertilizer to add to your aquarium, following the recommended amount on the bottle. Stability is the key to keeping your plants—and fish—healthy.
12 Excellent Beginner Aquarium Plants
Now that you know the basics, it’s time to add some plants to your tank. We selected species that are hardy and not overly sensitive to the water conditions. You’ll find that some are easier to come by than others. Bear in mind that pet stores typically order plants in quantities, with some being seasonal. If you’re looking for something different, ask if you can get a special order on your preferred variety.
You’ll notice that some plants go by their Latin names instead of an easier-to-pronounce common name. Don’t let that intimidate you.
1. Java Fern
Our roundup starts off in the Indian Ocean with the lovely Java Fern. It is a low-light plant if that is an issue for you. It’s an excellent choice for a beginner because it’s so easy to grow. It might have a slow start, but you’ll find it’s worth the wait. They have long, pointed leaves and can get up to 12 inches tall. You should plant it into the gravel, where it will soon take hold.
2. Dwarf Sagittaria
The Dwarf Sagittaria has long, slender leaves that give it almost a grass-like appearance. It can get up to 12” H, making it a suitable background plant. You’ll find this world traveler in the southern United States or the Columbia in South America. This plant grows quicker than the previous one and will likely need regular trimming.
3. Aponogeton crispus
The Aponogeton crispus hails from Sri Lanka. It is another low-light species. This plant has narrow, crinkly edged leaves. This one will grow fast but seems to take care of itself when it comes to trimming its foliage. It’s an attractive plant that will need a regular dose of fertilizer to thrive. This one looks absolutely gorgeous, waving in the water.
Hornwort looks like such a delicate plant, but its looks belie how easy it is to grow. Unlike the previous plants, you don’t have to put it into the gravel. It can float around the surface, although it may glam onto something in your aquarium. This plant is an excellent choice if you have live-bearing fish like guppies or swordtails. Its busy appearance will give them plenty of places to hide.
Duckweed is the kind of plant that you either love or hate. It’s an ideal beginner aquarium plant because it thrives so well, maybe even too well. It can take off if there is only one in your tank. Like the previous plant, it provides welcome cover for fries. It can cast a lovely green glow in your aquarium that is also attractive. Unfortunately, goldfish and other herbivores will devour it.
Moneywort differs from the other plants we’ve discussed so far because it’s more fleshy than the others. It’s an excellent choice for adding interest to your tank. Interestingly, it is native to the Americas. It is found in hardiness zones 8–11 if you want to add it to a pond. It gets up to 8” H, making it suitable for the middle part of your aquarium or the background.
7. Christmas Moss
Christmas moss is a delightful plant that will transform your aquarium into a forest floor. It’s a slow-growing species that stays neat in a compact form, reaching heights up to 3”. While you may think it’s a native variety, it’s actually an Asian plant. As its name suggests, this species prefers medium light. However, it will grow faster if you keep your tank brighter.
8. Green Hygro
The green hygro is something of a misnomer. Its color varies, depending on how much light you provide. It prefers low light. Otherwise, the leaves might turn brown. It is native to Florida, Texas, and South Carolina. It’s a rapidly growing plant so much so that it is a noxious weed in the United States because it’s so invasive. Bear that in mind for your aquarium, too.
9. Rotala Indica
Rotala Indica is another easy-to-grow plant that thrives in low-light conditions. It also grows fast, making trimming an essential task. The species is an adaptable one, even if your aquarium care could use some work. It has a curious feature of turning red if you keep it well-fed in a brighter tank. The plant forms dense clumps that provide excellent cover for fish.
10. Amazon Sword
The Amazon Sword is a striking plant that lives up to its name. It is a larger species that can reach heights of 12” or more. The same thing applies to its roots. That’s a good thing because fish like cichlids can put the hurt on this one. Despite its name, this plant often takes time to adjust to new digs. Once established, it’ll take off with a vengeance. Of course, trimming is a necessary part of its care.
11. Marimo Ball
The Marimo Ball is probably one of the most interesting plants on our roundup with an equally curious care component. It is the only algae on our list. Instead of trimming this one, you actually roll it up again regularly so that it keeps its shape. Otherwise, it’s an easy-peasy species to add to your tank. It’s probably the easiest aquatic plant you can find.
12. Monosolenium in a Cup
Monosolenium In a Cup is another unique beginner plant that differs from the others on our list in an odd but attractive way. It’s a floating variety that doesn’t stay at the surface. Instead, it sinks to the bottom of your tank instead. The foliage is gorgeous and delicate. However, it’s not one that you should put with destructive fish because it is as fragile as it looks.
Final Thoughts About Beginner Aquarium Plants
Live plants are a welcome addition to any tank that will bring health benefits to both you and your fish. You’ll enjoy the relaxing scene while your fish will have the security of a hiding place. Luckily, their care is probably just what you’re doing already, with the addition of trimming and adding fertilizer. It’s a small price to pay for the beauty that will bring to the aquatic environment.
- Java Moss: Complete Care Guide (Planting & Growing)
- Echinodorus: Complete Care Guide (Planting & Growing)
- Pygmy Chain Sword: Complete Care Guide (Planting & Growing)
Featured image credit: Joan Carles Juarez, Shutterstock