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.
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 the best freshwater aquarium plants for beginners.
While most aquarium 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, 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 planted 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 aquarium plants correctly then check out our trimming guide here).
10 Best Aquarium Plants For Beginners
These live aquarium 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 aquatic plants for freshwater aquariums:
1. Java Moss
Java Moss is the most common live aquarium 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. Java Moss is 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 live aquarium 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 aquatic plants in this list. Well, Java Moss the most popular freshwater live 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. This is also one of the better aquatic plants for beginners
There have also been some creative uses of Java Moss, including attaching it to 'moss balls' that are placed in the planted aquarium when needed. (It's much easier to use for breeding purposes.)
2. Marsilea Minuta
If you keep it trimmed tightly, this live aquarium 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!
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.
3. Pygmy Chain Sword
This live aquarium 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.
4. 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 bright green bushes around your stone!
- Water Conditions: 76 Degrees farenheight. Highly tolerable temperature range.
- Lighting Conditions: Carpets in high light situations; tolerable of moderate lighting.
- 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.
5. 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 live aquarium plant you see on many aquarium videos producing the stream of bubbles from its green 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.
6. Amazon Swords
Amazon Sword is another extremely popular live aquarium plant for most aquariums. Amazon sword is hardy, tolerable of many common water conditions, and easily maintained. I'll warn you, however: the Amazon sword plant does 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.
Amazon sword is 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.
7. Java Ferns
Java Fern is a very low maintenance live aquarium plant. You'll likely have no trouble keeping these alive, and with a very unique look, it's no surprise that Java Fern is another highly popular beginner aquarium plant.
Java Fern 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-moderate lighting
- Appearance: Very large, broad leaves. Grows to large size.
Full-grown, these live aquarium plants will reach around 8 inches tall, and spread via rhizomes. You'll also likely see 'adventitious' plants coming from leaves and roots from the java fern, which simply means that the Java Fern has put out leaves as it spread on your aquarium's substrate.
8. Pogostemon Helferi
Other than an awesome name, this 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.
9. Crypt Wendtii
If you read a bit about Crypts, you'll probably find a few horror stories of purchasing this live aquarium plant, only to have it completely 'melt', or decay, away.
- Water Conditions: 72-78 Degrees Farenheight
- Lighting Conditions: Grows best in low light 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.
10. 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.
Caring For Freshwater Aquarium Plants
Let’s quickly talk about choosing and taking care of your live aquarium plants. There is quite a bit that goes into choosing what plants are right for you, plus you need to consider the different aspects that go into taking care of those freshwater aquarium plants too. First off, let’s talk about how you can choose the right plants for your aquarium.
Trust us when we say that you definitely do not want to buy the first plant that looks nice, because you might end up not being able to take care of it, or it might not suit the aquarium. There are plenty of easy to care for plants that you can go with, that are equally beautiful.
What Are You Trying To Achieve
First, what are you looking to achieve with the plants? If you are looking to make a nice aquascape, you need to choose the plants that fit the type of scenery you are looking to create. Aquascaping plants are the way to go for aquascaping purposes.
If you want to create a nice home for your fish that like to play in the plants, sleep on them, and hide in them, you probably want to go for some bigger and bushier plants, or ones with long stems and lots of leaves. Creating a heavily vegetated aquarium will require some large and fast growing plants.
On the other hand, if you just want to make a nice carpet, you will need to get plants that grow wide, but don’t grow too large. You will also want them to be pretty thick so they form a nice carpet.
If you are looking to create a canopy to provide your fish with some shelter, you will want to go for floating plants as opposed to plants that are anchored down.
Your Tank Size
Before you go out and start buying live aquarium plants, you need to make sure that it will fit in your fish tank. Now, having plants that are too small is not a big deal. You can always let them grow and grow until they get larger, or you can just get multiple plants.
However, a plant that is too large is more problematic. A plant that gets to wide or tall way too quickly will eat up valuable real estate. The best aquarium plants are ones that fit in your tank and do not require much work in terms of trimming.
Right off the bat, if you don’t have much time to trim plants and get them the way they need to be, you will want to go for some low maintenance live aquarium plants. Some of these plants grow really fast and require trimming fairly often.
The less time you have to dedicate to maintenance, the slower growing the plants you get should be. There is no point in getting a big and fast growing plant if it is just going to take over the aquarium because you don’t have the time for maintenance.
What are some good aquascaping plants for beginners?
There are some really good plants for aquascaping out there, and the best plants for aquascaping are the ones which are easy to grow and add something beautiful to your aquarium.
Some aquascape plants you might want to consider if you don’t have too much experience with this kind of thing are ones such as;
- Dwarf baby tears.
- Rotala green.
- Christmas moss.
- Needle leaf java fern.
These plants are all relatively easy to care for and they don’t require much maintenance, plus they can really add something special to any aquarium.
What are the easiest aquarium plants to grow?
If you are looking for some easy to care for freshwater plants, you usually want to look for ones that don’t require much maintenance or pruning, ones that are resilient to various water conditions, and don’t require much additives like fertilizer, CO2, or specialized lighting.
Some of the easy to grow, maintain and most resilient live aquarium plants include;
- water wisteria.
- Amazon sword.
- African water fern.
- java fern.
- dwarf aquarium lily.
- Java moss.
- dwarf baby tears.
- Cryptocoryne Beckettii.
- Aponogeton Ulvaceus bulb.
Do you need soil to grow aquarium plants?
This is not really a straightforward question with a simple answer, as the answer can be yes and no. The reason for this is because some aquarium plants do require soil to grow right.
However, for the most part, you should not be needing full blown soil to grow aquarium plants. For the most part, most live aquarium plants will require either sand or gravel to grow.
Other live aquarium plants may need to be tied down to objects such as driftwood or rocks. There are then some plants which are floating and simply float on the surface of the water, and don’t need any substrate at all.
Why won't my aquarium plants grow?
Why your live aquarium plants won’t grow could be due to a large number of reasons. For one, some aquarium plants require very specific water temperatures, so if the temperature in your aquarium is off, it might explain why they won’t grow.
Next, most live aquarium plants also require a pretty specific water hardness (dH) and acidity level (pH), so if those are not correct for your plants, it could explain this as well.
Next, many live aquarium plants require specific amounts of lighting, whether high, medium, or low, so if you don’t have the proper lighting for the plants in question, it could explain the lack of growth. Finally, some live aquarium plants will require additional fertilizer or CO2 to grow properly.
Do aquarium plants need co2?
Generally speaking, if you have just a couple or a few plants in a relatively small fish tank, then no, you won’t really need to add any CO2 to the tank to make the plants grow properly.
CO2 is in the water even when you don’t add it yourself. The most important components to aquarium plant growth are the nutrients and lighting.
However, if you have a whole lot of live aquarium plants in a tight space, they might be using up the CO2, in which case you might need to add some to the mix in order to achieve healthy plant growth.
Is liquid co2 good for plants?
Yes, liquid CO2 is fine for live aquarium plants, and in fact, it is somewhat necessary if you have a lot of aquarium plants combined with high lighting.
If you do not have enough carbon dioxide in the fish tank, and there is a lot of light, it will cause algae to bloom and proliferate. Adding liquid CO2 to the mix can help to stop these algae blooms from happening, or at least to control them.
We hope we have given you some good ideas and suggestions on finding the right plants for aquascaping and most importantly how to place and maintain them correctly.
When it comes down to the best freshwater aquarium plants, It's all about making the right choices for what you are trying to achieve and having fun! Personally we are big fans of Java Moss, Java Fern, Anubias Nana and Amazon Sword Plants but all the live aquarium plants we have covered here today are great, it's all down to preference.