The 10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners | Aquascape Addiction

The 10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners

The #1 mistake that Aquascapers make is choosing the wrong plant for their tank. It can make an otherwise beautiful aquarium look sloppy and unplanned. Do it right, though, and you're on your way to the top! Let's find out how you can choose the best plants that fit your aquarium.

The 10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners

Natural plants are the perfect choice for any aquariums, and they're almost a required for Aquascapes. To do it right, you'll need to choose plants that won't immediately die. (It happens to all of us at some point.) Here are the best freshwater plant choices for beginners.

Adding live plants to your aquarium is the best thing you can do for the health of your aquarium. A side effect of live plants is they also look super amazing. Seriously, some of the most appealing aquariums online are made using live plants & hardscapes. This is our personal favorite plant.

If you're a beginner, aquariums like the one pictured above may seem like they're out of reach, but—given some patience and the right knowledge—you'll be quickly on your way to creating beautiful scenes like that in your aquarium. We have put together a list of our favorite aquarium plants for beginners to help you.

Java Moss Medium-High 9.7/10
Staurogyne Repens Medium-High 9.5/10
Anubias Nana Medium-High 9.3/10
Amazon Sword Low-Medium 9.1/10
Java Fern Low-Medium 9.3/10
Pogostemon Helferi Medium 8.9/10
Crypt Wendtii Low 8.5/10
Micro Sword Medium-High 8.2/10

Before you Buy

While most plants aren't as sensitive as fish when it comes to water parameters, you'll still need to provide some basic needs for plants to flourish. Mainly: light (Here is our: LED Aquarium Lighting Guide which you might find helpful), nutrients, and CO2. This is true of all plants, but when you're growing live plants in an aquarium, it's even more important.

Getting these three aspects right will guarantee great plant growth in your aquarium, and you'll find yourself doing regular trimming and maintenance on thriving plants within a few weeks! If you need some help trimming and maintaining plants correctly then check out our trimming guide here.

Beginner Aquarium Plants

These plants are proven to be hard to kill, and tolerable to a variety of water conditions. If this is your first planted tank, you can't go wrong with these plants for freshwater aquariums:

Java Moss, a beginner plant.

Java Moss

This is the most common plant you'll see in aquariums. It literally grows like a weed. While it thrives when given pressurized CO2, it also grows relatively quickly in medium light conditions. It's usually trimmed early & often to maintain a sort of 'carpet' across the bottom of the aquarium. It's also great for shrimpkeeping, as it provides good cover for baby shrimp. Note that this plant needs to be anchored to something heavy to prevent it from floating to the top of your tank.

Here are the ideal conditions for Java Moss:

  • Water Conditions: 72-90 Degrees Farenheight. (Fastest at 73 degrees.) High water movement helps increase growth rate.
  • Lighting Conditions: Highly tolerable. Best growth in Medium to High light.
  • Appearance: low growth pattern; tends to create 'carpets' if trimmed correctly.

You'll see later that there are some popular plants in this list. Well, this is the most popular freshwater aquarium plant you'll find in the hobby. It's almost impossible to completely kill with even the most basic of maintenance, and—when done correctly—still makes for incredibly beautiful aquariums. This winning combination is what makes this plant so popular.

It's also perfectly suitable for breeding fish and shrimp—its microscopic bacterial life provides a great supplementary food source for fry. There have also been some creative uses of Java Moss, including attaching it to 'balls' that are placed in the aquarium when needed. (It's much easier to use for breeding purposes.)

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Marsilea Minuta

If you keep it trimmed tightly, this plant carpets quite easily. It's also very easy to determine whether it's getting enough nutrients, as well: it'll start losing its vibrant green color, yellowing over time. That's when you know to modify your dosing!

Marsilea Minuta grows best in these conditions:

  • Water Conditions: 73-78 degrees Farenheight; tolerable of most conditions.
  • Lighting Conditions: Grows best in medium light; will tolerate other situations.
  • Appearance: Has a 'clover' appearance. Creates a unique 'carpet' of sorts.

Marsilea Minuta also creates a unique carpet, since it's more of a cloved, leafy plant. It tends to hold waste under its leaves, so you'll need to be vigilant in keeping it clean!

It's also worth pointing out that this plant does best in a nutrient-rich substrate like CarbiSea Eco-Complete or Fluval Stratum. While it does use nutrients in the water column, for the fastest & healthiest growth, you'll want to use a planted aquarium substrate like those.

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Pygmy Chain Sword

This plant is a particularly familiar feature to most of us: it's the aquatic version of what's in your lawn. When it's taken care of, Chain Sword can give your aquarium that extra 'finished' look. (It's also quite tolerable of many water conditions.)

Chain Sword's best conditions:

  • Water Conditions: 72-78 degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Grows best in high lighting situations.
  • Appearance: Looks astonishingly like the grass in your lawn.

It's best featured by placing it around the aquarium hardscape, providing a gentler edge to an otherwise hard feature in the tank. Take care when planting Chain Sword (especially the Pygmy variety) to use a powder-type substrate for optimal carpeting. The smaller granules helps the plant take hold faster, and helps to prevent the plant from floating upwards when it's pearling.

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Staurogyne repens

This is a good option if you are looking for hardy aquarium plants, easily-grown plant that's perfect for the foreground of your aquarium. Originally found in the Amazonas, it's quite bushy, and grows small green leaves. It's perfect for placement around the hardscape of your aquarium, and looks great when it forms bushes around your stone!

  • Water Conditions: 76 Degrees farenheight. Highly tolerable temperature range.
  • Lighting Conditions: Carpets in high light situations; tolerable of medium light.
  • Appearance: Bushy growth with horizontally spreading patterns.

This plant spread via side shoots just above/below the substrate, which makes for a great carpet when planting and trimming consistently. When you first plant this, don't be afraid to liberally cut back the stems—this is a heavy root plant, meaning it'll grow a bunch of roots before spreading visually. This helps speed up that process.

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Anubias Nana

Anubias Nana grows quite well from trimmings, so it's quite easily propagated in an aquarium. It's hard for beginners to kill, and its size makes it perfect as a midground plant. Also, this is the plant you see on many aquarium videos producing the stream of bubbles from its leaves. (It's an interesting addition to your tank, and one that's sure to attract attention! but definitely a contender as one of the best foreground aquarium plants)

  • Water Conditions: 72-78 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Conditions: Optimal growth in medium-high lighting.
  • Appearance: Curved stems with rounded leaves.

There are dwarf varieties of this plant that are also fit for beginner aquariums, and are perfect for foreground features, or smoothing out the transition between your hardscape and substrate.

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Amazon Swords

These are another extremely popular plant for most aquariums. They're hardy, tolerable of many common water conditions, and easily maintained. I'll warn you, however: these get large. A full-size Amazon Sword when fanned out can be as large as 24"—around the size of a beachball. However, regular trimming tends to help keep it to a manageable size.

  • Water Conditions: 74-82 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Conditions: Growth is best in low-medium lighting
  • Appearance: Very large, broad leaves. Grows to large size.

They're perfect as a background plant, since their tall, broad leaves help block out the background behind the tank, and they're great for many different types of fish & other aquatic life.

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Java Ferns

This is a very low maintenance plant. You'll likely have no trouble keeping these alive, and with a very unique look, it's no surprise that they're another highly popular beginner aquarium plant. It also has the unique ability to work well in nearly any location of your aquarium's aquascape—the bunching growth of Java Ferns keeps it tidy no matter where you put it.

  • Water Conditions: 74-82 degrees Farenheight.
  • Lighting Conditions: Growth is best in low-medium lighting
  • Appearance: Very large, broad leaves. Grows to large size.

Full-grown, these aquarium plants will reach around 8 inches tall, and spread via rhizomes. You'll also likely see 'adventitious' plants coming from leaves and roots, which simply means that it'll put out leaves as it spread on your aquarium's substrate.

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Pogostemon Helferi

Other than an awesome name, these plant is one of the most unique you'll find for freshwater aquariums. You might also see this plant referred to as 'Downoi', but they're the same plant species.

  • Water Conditions: 74-78 Degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Growth is optimal in medium lighting.
  • Appearance: Detailed 'zigzag' pattern; unique to freshwater aquariums.

The biggest feature of this plant is its 'zigzag' pattern—one of the more unique leaf types available to freshwater aquascapers. Downoi grows in a circular pattern that fits perfectly in foreground aquascapes. Place this in front of your hardscape (specifically seiryu stone), and you'll have a winning combination for your aquarium.

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Crypt Wendtii

If you read a bit about Crypts, you'll probably find a few horror stories of purchasing this plant, only to have it completely 'melt', or decay, away.

  • Water Conditions: 72-78 Degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Grows best in low lighting due to slow growth
  • Appearance: Varied, thin to medium-thickness leaves that grow quite long

This is extremely common for this species, but—if you give it some time, it'll come back as a tough, vigorous plant. These are fast growth plants—it'll take a while for it to get to its full size, but it does quite well in low-light conditions, and is very tolerable of many types of water conditions. I personally have crypts in my tanks in my home.

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Micro Sword

This is a beautifully-carpeting plant that's at home in any beginner's aquarium, as well as veteran aquascapers alike. It's primarily meant as a foreground plant, never growing above ~2 inches in height. It grows exceptionally fast, so give it even the most basic care, and it'll give you a beautiful carpet in return.

  • Water Conditions: 70-83 Degrees Farenheight
  • Lighting Conditions: Carpets in medium to high light
  • Appearance: Short, plentiful leaves that appear to 'carpet' the substrate

It's perfectly used as a spawning medium, providing safety to fry after birth, as well as general protection in community aquariums.

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