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 (Java Moss is our top pick) to help you.
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 (this is a good aquascaping toolkit) 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:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How To Take Care Of Freshwater Aquarium Plants
Let’s quickly talk about choosing and taking care of your 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.
Choose The Right Plant
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.
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.
Is The Plant Right For Your Tank Size
Before you go out and start buying aquarium plants, you need to make sure that it will fit in your 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.
How Much Time Can You Dedicate To Maintenance
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 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.
Have The Right Equipment
Before you put your freshwater plants in the aquarium, you need to be sure that you have the right equipment and substances to make sure that the plants thrive and survive. There are 4 main things you will need to get if you want your plants to be healthy.
All plants need light. Without the proper lighting, not only will your plants not grow, but they might die too. Plants need sunlight in order to engage in photosynthesis, which is how they stay alive.
If they can’t perform photosynthesis, they will die. You need to make sure that you have the right lights for the job. Some plants need more than others. If your plants are really deep down in the tank, you will need stronger lights.
Plants need fertilizer to stay alive as well. Now, if you use good aquarium dirt and the plants are rooted, you won’t need any fertilizer, or at least not much of it. Plants do need nutrients to grow, so you need to know what kind of substrate you are using.
If you have gravel or sand, both of which don’t have nutrients in them for plants to use, you will need to add liquid fertilizer to the aquarium. This is also true for floating plants that are not rooted in any kind of substrate.
Plants need carbon dioxide to survive. The process of photosynthesis requires both light and CO2. They turn the light and CO2 into oxygen and sugars which the plants use to survive.
If you have only a couple of plants, you might not need extra CO2 injection. However, if you have lots of plants in the tank, CO2 injection is going to be necessary in order to sustain them all.
As we mentioned before, you will need the right kind of substrate to keep your plants alive. Yes, you can use sand or aquarium gravel, but they don’t have many nutrients, so fertilizer will be necessary. Also, sand may be too compact and can suffocate rooted plants, while gravel may be too loose to support a root system.
The best way to go is with aquarium plant dirt or fluorite. These both contain lots of nutrients and have the right consistency to support a root system. If you have floating plants, the type of substrate you have is totally irrelevant. The floating variety are pretty easy aquarium plants to care for.
What Are Some Good Aquarium Floor Plants?
In case you would like to make a nice carpet of plants in the bottom of your aquarium, here we have a few really nice aquarium floor plants that you can look at.
This is one of the most commonly used floor plants for aquariums. This stuff has fairly long green leaves. They kind of look like green elongated oak leaves. This stuff does grow pretty fast, but it usually grows more outwards as opposed to growing up.
This plant can grow several inches tall, making it a good carpet plant for larger aquariums. Water Wisteria does not require much maintenance, it grows fast, and is quite hardy too. It is a good floor plant, but if you are looking to make a really thick and solid carpet, there are better options out there.
This is a good option to go with if you want a really thick carpet plant for your aquarium floor. This stuff grows best on rocks and driftwood, so you cannot really grow it on the substrate alone. It does need to be anchored down, but other than that, it does not require much maintenance.
It’s a really nice fuzzy green carpet plant that grows outwards relatively fast. You can place some chunks here and there, and they will quickly grow towards one another, forming a nice carpet. Java moss does fine in many light conditions and temperatures, so there is not much of an issue there.
Now, this is a good floor plant for aquariums because it looks almost like grass, consisting of fairly long green leaves. However, this plant will only reach 2 or 3 inches in height at the most, making it ideal for small aquariums.
It will not form a really thick carpet like the Java moss, but it is still a nice option none the less. It’s a good option for beginners because Lilaeopsis is fairly low maintenance.