15 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners: The Complete Species Guide

Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants

Using plants to decorate and aquascape your aquarium can not only enhance its beauty to make it more attractive and visually interesting but can also provide essential functions such as filtration, shade, shelter for your fish, balance, and a more natural, healthy, pleasant environment. Plants can increase the overall well-being of your fish.

With so many choices of aquarium plants, how to choose the right plants as a beginner? I have created a comprehensive list and explained the 15 best freshwater aquarium plants for different aquariums.

Benefits of Aquarium Plants

Adding live plants to your freshwater aquarium can offer a wide variety of benefits. First of all, plants will, through photosynthesis, take the carbon dioxide in the water and transform it into the oxygen that your fish require to breathe. The oxygen generated by the plants will reduce the tank’s need for aeration. Also plants often require nitrates and other waste chemicals to grow, thus removing them from the water and keeping them from harming your fish.

Next, aquatic plants allow you to achieve a more natural, pleasant look for your aquarium. They will also frequently provide shelter for fish as well as security, since they can break up the sightlines of fish which are territorial and help the overall health and security of all the fish in your tank.

Furthermore, certain species of aquatic plants are able to be used to cover and thus conceal the fixtures in your aquarium to improve the overall aesthetic of a tank and make it look more like a natural habitat.

Many types of aquarium plants can be used as carpeting plants to cover the substrate at the bottom of the tank and provide a lush, natural feel. Other plants can add interest and dimensionality to your tank, since you can choose plants of different heights and place them in the areas of your design throughout the tank.

Still others can be used as floating plants, which will provide shade and protection for your fish and discourage the growth of algae. Live aquarium plants will thus serve to maintain and improve the quality of the water in your tank and the overall beauty and aesthetics of your aquarium.

Different Types Of Freshwater Aquarium Plants

After learning about the overwhelming benefits that live aquarium plants can provide to your aquarium, it’s time to delve into the different types of live plants available in regards to where they are positioned in the tank. Aquarium plants may be split into three categories based on that position: background plants, mid-ground plants, and foreground plants.

Background plants are placed toward the back of the aquarium. These plants are usually on the larger side so they are able to be seen even when one is looking through the front of the tank. Such large background plants create a natural, lush, green backdrop for the aquarium and provide the added benefit of offering your fish places for them to hide.

Mid-ground plants are shorter than background plants but taller than foreground plants and ought to be used in the middle of your aquarium as well as along its sides. These plants provide visual interest and texture to your tank, enhancing its aesthetics and beauty without taking up too much swimming space for your fish.

Foreground plants are placed in the foreground or the front of the tank. These are usually the shortest types of aquatic plants, and they have varying rates of growth. Certain species of foreground plants are known as carpet plants, due to their propensity to spread laterally and cover the bottom of the tank like a carpet. If you want your substrate to be hidden, a carpet plant will provide you with lush green cover.

How To Choose Your Freshwater Aquarium Plants

Designing a planted aquarium

When planning the design of your aquarium, divide your tank into three parts: the background, mid-ground, and foreground areas. Select plants according to the design and look you wish to achieve. You might also consider adding driftwood or porous rocks such as lava rock to add visual interest to your tank.

Be sure to consider the needs of your fish when designing and aquascaping your tank, and select plants and tank elements that are compatible with one another and with your fish. But the design of the aquarium is ultimately up to you, since you will most likely be its most frequent viewer, so be sure to plan a tank design which is pleasing to your eye.

Plants characteristics

When deciding which freshwater aquarium plants to place in your tank, consider for each plant the maximum growth height, its ideal water conditions, and the amount of light required by each plant. Try to purchase plants that have similar water and light requirements. You don’t want to place a plant which needs a lot of light in the same tank as a plant which can be damaged by high amounts of light. 

Also, try to buy plants that grow at similar rates, so that the plants which grow more quickly do not take up all the nutrients from those which grow more slowly.

Compatibility

In addition to determining that all of your plants are compatible with one another and require similar conditions, it is important to ensure that the fish in the tank are compatible as well. You should select plants which require water parameters similar to those of your fish. This will make maintaining ideal conditions in your tank for both the fish and the plants much less of a headache.

Tank

Be sure to select a tank size which meets the needs of your fish and which also suits the space in which it is located. Choosing a tank that is much too large for your needs is unnecessary and will cost you in terms of money, water, and maintenance effort. Also, be sure that the plants you choose for your tank are appropriately sized for that tank.

Visual effects

In order to create a more attractively design for your aquarium, you can try selecting plants with different textures, heights, structures, and colors, like plants with red leaves in addition to those with green leaves. The visual interest and aesthetic of your aquarium will be enhanced by using different types of plants in the right locations.

The 5 Best Carpet (Foreground) Plants For Beginners​

Java Moss

Of all the freshwater aquarium plants available to choose from, Java Moss is among the easiest to care for. It grows easily and is quite hardy. In fact, it is nearly impossible to kill Java moss. It is a moss with small bright green oval leaves that attaches itself to surfaces using rhizoids.

Java moss originates from Southeast Asia. It is amenable to a fairly wide range of different water types and conditions. It can tolerate water temperatures from 59 to 86°F and a pH of 5.0 to 8.0, although ideal conditions are temperatures between 74 and 82°F and pH between 6.5 and 7.5. It requires moderate light.

It’s versatile; use to carpet the aquarium wall, floor, or filter. You can even leave it as a floating plant. To attach it to a surface, secure it with thread or fishing line. It will attach itself after about a month (after which you can remove the thread). It requires almost no maintenance (other than trimming it to keep your desired shape).

To propagate it, simple cut off a piece and place it elsewhere in the tank or in another tank.

Micro Sword

Brazilian Micro Swords, also known as Lilaeopsis, can serve as a good carpet plant for your aquarium. It has short stems, long, narrow green leaves (approximately 2 inches long), and fine, white roots which are rather delicate.

When buying Micro Sword, be sure to pick a plant with vibrant, green, healthy-looking leaves. Try not to buy anything with torn, cracked, yellow leaves, dead tips, visible algae, or other visible damage. If the leaves look healthy and green, that is an indicator that the roots are in good condition.

Micro Sword can grow partially or fully submerged. It requires a moderate to high amount of light. Its ideal water conditions include water that is soft to somewhat hard, a temperature between 70 and 83°F, and a pH between 6.8 and 7.5. 

It is moderately difficult to grow and grows at a moderate pace. It will grow faster in a tank that is high-tech with strong lighting and plenty of CO2. A successfully grown micro sword carpet will look like a carpet of grass underwater.

Anubias Nana

Anubias Nana is easy to grow and maintain, making it a good plant for a beginner. It is a hardy, short plant with broad, dark green, waxy leaves and thick stems. It is a root feeder native to the streams, marshes, and rivers of Western and Central Africa.

This plant survives a wide variety of conditions; it grows well in low light, and its ideal water parameters are a temperature of 72-82°F and a pH of 6.0-7.5. It is ideally planted at the bottom of the aquarium tank with its green stems planted in gravel or another substrate like it. It can also be secured to driftwood.

It propagates through rhizome division and does so quite easily. The stem can break off, and when it lands on the substrate, it will begin to produce its own set of roots and shoots. You can also take a cutting of the stem, but it must have enough leaves still attached to be able to photosynthesize

Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf Baby Tears, which is also known as Hemianthus Callitrichoides or DBT, is a plant which develops clusters of bright green leaves which are tiny in size and which will form a dense, lush, bright green carpet on the floor of your tank. Dwarf Baby Tears is native to Cuba.

One of the most recognizable freshwater aquarium plants, requires a high amount of light as well as water that is somewhat on the acidic side, with ideal water parameters being a temperature of 68 to 82°F, a pH of 5.0 to 7.5, and a KH of 0 to 10. It grows at a moderate pace and is moderately easy to take care of, especially once it has been established.

Plant Dwarf Baby Tears in substrate to make it a foreground plant or attach it to driftwood, a porous rock, or other tank elements with cotton thread until it takes root. Propagate it by cutting off small sections of a large plant and replanting it elsewhere in the substrate

Dwarf Hairgrass

Dwarf hairgrass, also known as Eleocharis Parvula, is a plant with light green blades or strands instead of leaves and thin white roots. It has the appearance of densely grown grass. Each strand or blade is quite thin, almost like hair, can grow to be 4 to 6 inches long, and is the plant’s means of photosynthesis.

This plant is easy to grow and maintain, making it a good plant for beginners, and grows at a fast pace. Ideal water parameters for it include a temperature between 50 and 85°F, a pH between 6.5 and 7.5, and a KH between 2 and 10. It requires moderate lighting.

These are used mainly as a carpet plant. Plant your dwarf hairgrass at the bottom of your tank in a soft substrate so that its roots will not be damaged by the substrate grains. Maintain it merely by trimming it to your desired length.

The 5 Best Plants For The Middle Of Your Tank

The Middle Of Your Tank plants

Java Fern

Java Fern, also known as Microsorum pteropus, is native to Southeast Asia and is quite hardy. It is composed of hardy green leaves with a fern-like appearance and rhizomes which are brown, stringy, and hair-like and which serve to anchor the plant to a number of different surfaces. The plant can grow to be up to 13.5 inches tall.

This plant is easy to care for and exhibits growth at a moderate pace. It requires low to moderate lighting, and its ideal water parameters are a temperature of 68 to 82°F, a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, and a KH of 3 to 8.

Plant java fern by tying it to rough surfaces such as larger rocks like lava rocks or driftwood with black fishing wire. You can remove the wire after a few weeks. Try not to bury the rhizomes. Plant it alone or in groups. You can also choose to float java fern.

African Water Fern

Also known as Bolbitis Heudelotii, is a plant native to Africa and which naturally occurs at a high rate in the Congo River Basin. It grows long, delicate leaves of a dark green color and can grow to a height of 22 inches in ideal conditions. Since it is a large plant, it is best used in medium to large tanks.

African water fern grows quite slowly, with one leaf taking 2 months to grow. It is easy to care for and maintain once it is established. It requires a high amount of light. Ideal water conditions include a temperature of 74 to 84°F, a pH of 6.0 to 8.5, and a KH of 5 to 15.

Just know that it should be attached with cotton thread to soft driftwood or porous rock such as lava rock instead of being planted in substrate such as gravel or sand.

Water Sprite

Water Sprite is a plant with bright green, fern-like leaves and darker green stems. A healthy water sprite plant should not have leaves that have brown tips or tips that are curling at the ends. It has long and plentiful roots; plants with short, decomposing, or brown roots should be avoided. Water Sprite can reach a height of 13.5 inches.

A beautiful freshwater aquarium plant that is fairly easy to care for and grows at a low to moderate rate. It prefers a water temperature of 68 to 82°F, a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, and a KH of 3 to 8. Furthermore, it requires a low to moderate level of lighting.

You can plant water sprite in 2 to 3 inches of either gravel or sand substrate. Do not plant in an area with direct water flow, which can cause damage to the leaves. You may also choose to float this plant, which will create shade for your aquarium.

Staurogyne Repens

Staurogyne Repens is a plant which originates in the Cristalino River, which is found in South America. It has a bushy, bright green appearance with densely packed oval shaped leaves, stiff stems, and thin white roots; it works well as a carpet plant.

They will grow to be between 2 and 4 inches tall. The roots will generally be buried in substrate to serve as an anchor for the plant, but roots may begin to grow upward in order to gather nutrients from water.

An attractive plant that is easy to care for and maintain but grows at a slow pace. It requires a moderate to high amount of lighting and thrives in water conditions with a temperature between 68 and 86°F, a pH between 6 and 8, and a KH between 3 and 10. The water should be as clear as possible for maximum photosynthesis.

Plant Staurogyne Repens in a substrate of sand or smaller gravel, which allows its roots to push downwards more easily.

Cryptocoryne

Cryptocoryne Beckettii is also known as Water Trumpet. It is a plant which originates from Sri Lanka, India, and New Guinea, but it now be found as an invasive species in some areas of North America such as Florida. It has larger reddish leaves and is a very hardy plant, generally growing to a height of between 4 and 6 inches.

This freshwater aquarium plant requires a low to moderate level of lighting (light that is too strong may damage its leaves or promote the growth of algae. It is easy to care for and maintain once the plant has been established, but it grows slowly. Ideal water conditions include a temperature between 72 and 82°F, a pH of 5.5 to 8.0, and a KH of 1 to 20.

Grow it as a midground plant in your tank by planting it in substrate or by wrapping the roots around porous rock or driftwood and attaching it with cotton thread.

5 Best Background Plants For Freshwater Aquariums

Freshwater Fish

Water Wisteria

Water Wisteria is a plant which originates in the Indian subcontinent and is found in Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. It is a hardy plant with bright green leaves, long, firm, slightly darker stems, and thin white roots. It can grow to a height of up to 20 inches, which means it may cover a large portion of your tank and could block out a lot of light if left unmaintained.

Its leaves can change shape in response to different environments. It can serve as a nursery or a shelter for fish.

These live freshwater aquarium plants are easy to care for and grows at a fast pace. Ideal water conditions for it are a temperature of 70 to 82°F, a pH of 6.5 to 7.5, and a KH of 2 to 8. Furthermore, it requires a moderate to high amount of light.

Plant water wisteria in a sandy substrate or a fine gravel. Keep plants spaced farther apart to keep them from competing with one another.

Amazon Sword

A very common freshwater aquarium plant, originates from South America’s Amazon Basin. It possesses long green leaves resembling spear heads or swords which extend directly from the roots. Because of its bushy appearance, it serves as a good background plant.

This aquarium plant is quite easy to care for and grows at a moderate rate. It requires moderate lighting and water at a temperature of 72 – 82°F and a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. The water should be between soft and moderately hard.

The roots of your Amazon sword should be planted in a loose type of substrate such as gravel, which will allow enough space for its roots to grow. 

Furthermore, aquarium soil should be added beneath the substrate to provide critical nutrients, although this can also be achieved through the addition of liquid fertilizer to your tank water.

Hornwort

Hornwort, also known as Ceratophyllum, is a highly common aquarium plant which currently resides on every single continent other than Antarctica; it is so common as to be considered an invasive species.

It is a plant with numerous stems which creates the appearance of several plants. It produces short, dark green leaves in whorls numbering six to twelve. Lacking real roots, hornwort has certain leaves which anchor it to the substrate and may also produce rhizoids to anchor it. It can grow to a height of up to 10 feet, especially if left to its own devices in a natural habitat.

The plant is very easy to raise and grows at a rather fast pace. It requires moderate lighting, a water temperature of 59 to 86°F, a pH of 6.0 to 7.5, and a water hardness between 5 and 15 dGH.

Hornwort can be added as a floating plant to provide your fish shelter and combat excessive algae growth, or it can be anchored in substrate. It can grow too fast and dominate your tank, so be sure to trim the stem to the desired length relatively often.

Vallisneria

Vallisneria, also known as eelgrass, is a hardy, fairly common plant frequently found in Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe in the subtropical and tropical regions. Its leaves are long, green, and ribbon-like.

These plants are widely known to grow at a fast rate and is quite easy to care for, making it an excellent aquatic plant for beginners. It is a brilliant background plant that is able to grow with either a low amount or a moderate amount of lighting, and it needs a water temperature of 68 to 82°F and a pH between 6.5 and 8.5.

Plant Vallisneria in a substrate rich with nutrients that allows for plenty of aeration, such as gravel. This will allow the plant’s roots to spread easily. In order to replant or propagate Vallisneria, simply uproot the plant from the gravel and reposition it elsewhere.

Anacharis

Anacharis is a popular aquatic plant which originates from Uraguay, Southeastern Brazil, and Argentina. It is now found commonly throughout North America and South America as well as other parts of the world. 

The plant has small green leaves which cover the entire length of a long stem which is also green in color. The shade of green can range from moderate to dark green. It can grow to a height of 3 feet, especially in a natural habitat.

It provides a lot of advantages to your aquarium, easy to care for due to its adaptability to a broad variety of water conditions and its extremely fast rate of growth. It requires moderate amounts of light and thrives in water with a temperature of 60 to 82°F, a KH of 3 to 8, and a pH of 6.5 to 7.5.

Anacharis will probably come wrapped in an elastic band; remove this with care, because it can damage the stem. Cut off damaged portions with scissors. Remove leaves from the bottom part of the stem and bury that portion 1 to 2 inches deep in the substrate. Do not plant the stems too close together. You can also float this plant. Maintain the plant by trimming it to make sure it doesn’t take over your whole tank.

Keep and Maintain Healthy Aquarium Plants

Keep and Maintain Healthy Aquarium Plants

The following section provides general rules for keeping your freshwater aquarium plants healthy.

Lighting

Proper lighting in your aquarium is essential in order for you to grow and maintain its plant life. You will need to use artificial lighting to keep it consistent, which the plants will use to photosynthesize, so it should be supplied for 10 to 14 hours a day. This can be controlled by placing your artificial lights on timer switches.

Aquarium plants need different amounts of light. Some need only a low amount of light, while most other require a moderate to high amount of lighting. Carefully consider which plant you want in your aquarium; putting plants that require a high level of light in the same tank as a plant that is damaged by high amounts of light will cause you a lot of headaches and make caring for your plants more difficult. Generally speaking, plants with dark green leaves may need less light than those with red or light green leaves.

A few different types of lighting are available for your aquarium. Fluorescent lights are the cheapest kinds of lights and are usually better for aquariums of a smaller size. They will cast a reddish purple or reddish yellow glow and are quite efficient. Supply approximately 2 watts of light per 4 liters of water.

Be sure to change your fluorescent tubes every six months or year because each tube will lose its effectiveness over time. Halogen lamps and mercury vapor lamps are alternatives to fluorescent lighting; they each offer high intensity light and can be used for deeper, larger tanks (24 inches or deeper).

For maximum effectiveness, you should place the mercury vapor lamp or the halogen lamp approximately 1 foot above your aquarium. Halogen lamps are the most expensive type of lamp, but they will generally offer the best lighting for most aquarium plants.

Heating

Different plants thrive in different temperatures. When selecting aquatic plants for your aquarium, try to choose freshwater aquarium plants that thrive in similar temperatures. Most plants will generally thrive between 73 and 81°F. but make sure to check the specific temperature information for the plants you have in mind. It is important to keep your aquarium at a fairly constant temperature, since plant generally are unable to tolerate a sudden change in temperature.

The use of a thermostat will enable you to ensure that the temperature remains fairly constant. Use about 0.5 watts per liter of water to heat your tank in a normally heated room and 1 watt per liter in a room that is unheated.

The various types of water heaters for water tanks include thermofilters, automatic heaters which are attached to the internal surface of the aquarium, bottom heaters, and heating pads which are simply placed under your aquarium.

In a natural habitat, the substrate in which the plant is anchored will generally be warmer than the surrounding water. You can simulate this in the tank with heating cables. If you choose to use a heating cable, be sure that the cable is covered by at least 1 to 1.5 inches of substrate.

Filtration

In order for you to keep the plants in your aquarium healthy and clean, proper filtration is an absolute necessity. Plants can aid greatly in the filtering process in your tank, converting ammonium and removing certain metals. But this is usually not enough, so other forms of filtration will also be needed to keep your aquarium healthy.

Filters fall into three general categories: biological, mechanical, and chemical.

Biological filtration is an important kind of filtration which is on the subtle side; it involves microorganisms present within a filter which are responsible for changing any harmful substances into substances which are less toxic.

This is quite important when it comes to fish because this biological filtration will reduce toxic ammonium and ammonia into nitrates, nitrites, and even elemental nitrogen, all of which are less toxic. Plants will also serve as a biological filter of sorts, especially when it comes to reducing ammonium.

Mechanical filtration may mean something as simple as a regular change of the tank water with the purpose of keeping the aquarium presentable and removing large debris. However, it is recommended to install an actual filtration system of some kind.

Chemical filtration is a form of filtration which utilizes the process of adsorption for the removal of certain chemicals, like heavy metals, from the tank water.

Adsorption is a process in which the chemical forms a bond with the surface of the medium which is being used to remove that chemical from the water. However, chemical filtering is generally not as practical or as useful as biological or mechanical filtration mainly because it is not as selective when removing chemicals.

Chemical filtration will not only remove harmful substances but also remove beneficial substances as well, which is less than ideal for maintaining an aquarium. Thus, chemical filtration should not be used as a long-term filtering solution.

Filters

Filtration at its most basic level involves pumping water through a canister filter or hang-on-the-back filter which will contain the filter media—biological, mechanical, chemical, or some combination of those three. Filters come in both internal and external forms.

Biological filters require a faster rate of flow so that the microorganisms receive enough oxygen. But in a planted aquarium, a slower flow rate is a better idea to reduce movement and keep oxygen levels to a lower level. In this case, anaerobic bacteria in addition to aerobic bacteria are needed to survive and perform the filtering functions.

Generally, if a filter is maintained properly and kept clean, it will reach an equilibrium and provide an environment in which both anaerobic and aerobic bacteria will be able to survive at a particular flow rate.

Substrate

In order for aquarium plants to be properly anchored, they will usually need a proper kind of substrate. Different plants require different kinds of substrate; be sure to find a substrate which is compatible with all the plants you are choosing to put in your tank. Or select plants which require similar kinds of substrate.

Make sure that the overall look of the aquarium you are trying to achieve matches with the substrate your plants require. How fine or how soft the substrate is can greatly affect how well your plants will grow and be anchored.

Planting

Each type of plant you select for your aquarium will have different requirements for how they ought to be planted in the substrate. Some plants will not do well in substrate and will instead need to be tied to driftwood or cotton thread until they develop rhizomes to attach themselves.

Other plants require no substrate and can be floated within your tank. But many aquatic plants can be planted within the substrate and will anchor themselves within it by growing roots. Be sure that the substrate you select does not hinder the growth and spread of those roots. Refer to the specific instructions for each species when planting in your aquarium.

Richard Rowlands
Richard Rowlands

Hello fellow aquatics enthusiasts! My name is Richard Rowlands. I’m an aquarium keeper and enthusiast and have been for about 25 years or so. While I won’t claim to be the end-all expert on aquatic life, I will say that I know my way around a tank.

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