12 Best Aquarium Plants For Beginners

Did you know that as well as bringing natural beauty to any setup, living plants are extremely beneficial to all freshwater fish tanks?

Aquatic plants take up nitrates and CO2 from the water, helping to keep the environment safe and healthy for your fish and lightening the load on your biological filter. Also, many shy fish species appreciate the shelter that plants offer, and lush vegetation also provides hiding places for vulnerable fry.

The good news for newbies to the fishkeeping hobby is that there are many species of aquarium plants that are easy to keep and care for.

In this comprehensive guide, we explain the basics of how to choose, care for, and propagate 12 species of beginner-friendly aquarium plants.

How Much Light Do Aquatic Plants Need?

There are many different species of aquatic plants, which can be broadly divided into those that need bright, medium, and low light levels to thrive.

Most starter fish tanks come with standard medium lighting, which is sufficient for most beginner-friendly plant species to photosynthesize. However, whatever plant species you keep in your aquarium, you’ll need to provide them with between eight and 12 hours of light every day.

That said, you should never put your fish tank where it will receive direct sunlight. Sunlight can cause hotspots in the tank or even overheat it, which can be fatal to your fish. Also, sunlight encourages algae growth. Algae will grow over your plants, eventually stifling them by depriving the plants of the nutrients they need.

How Do Aquatic Plants Feed?

When it comes to obtaining nutrition, aquatic plants fall into two groups:

Column Feeders

Some column feeders float freely in the water, whereas others can be attached to rocks or pieces of wood or planted in the substrate.

Column feeders take the nutrients they need from the water column via rhizomes. Rhizomes are also called “creeping root stalks.” In aquatic plants, rhizomes can appear above the substrate.

Root Feeders

Root feeders use their root systems to absorb the nutrients they need from the substrate. So, if you have root feeding plants, you must provide a gravel substrate that enables the plants to be anchored firmly, while allowing nutrient-carrying water to pass through the pieces of gravel to the plant’s roots.

Some root feeders can do well when kept as floating plants, sending out fine, thread-like roots to absorb nutrients from the water column.

Do I Need To Feed My Plants?

Although the easy-to-grow plants featured in this guide generally take what they need from the water column and from light, you can boost plant growth by adding root tabs, liquid fertilizer, or CO2 to your tank.

What Substrate Do I Need To Grow Aquatic Plants?

Aquatic plants that need to be anchored in the substrate will grow in pretty much any kind of aquarium soil substrate, sand, or gravel.

However, the best substrate to use is laterite. Laterite is a combination of aquarium rock and soil that’s rich in the minerals that plants need. Ideally, you need a few inches of laterite or something similar underneath about an inch of regular aquarium gravel.

How To Plant Aquarium Plants

Aquarium plants usually come in bunches, in small plastic pots, or in sealed packets.

Start by snipping off any dead leaves or damaged stems, and rinse the plants to remove snails and bacteria.

Certain plant species must have their rhizomes above the substrate or they will rot and die off. Check the planting instructions on the plant’s packaging before planting.

Potted Plants

Carefully remove the plant from the pot. In fact, what you’ll get in the pot are several small plants wrapped in Rockwool to protect their roots.

Gently separate the plantlets, taking care not to damage the roots, and remove as much of the wool as you can. It’s a good idea to use ceramic plant weights to anchor the plants in the substrate so that they don’t float away while the root systems become established.

Leave enough space between the plants so that the roots can spread out.

Bunched Plants

Bunches of plants usually contain quite a few stems, often with a few fine white roots already growing from the cut end of the stem. Divide the stems into smaller bunches, and plant them directly into the substrate, using plant weights to anchor them.

Again, leave plenty of space for the plants to grow and spread.

Floating Plants

Floating plants are simple to deal with! Simply allow the plants to float freely on the water surface.

Plant Maintenance

You’ll need to carry out a few basic maintenance tasks periodically to keep your plants looking tidy.

  • Trim off dead stems and leaves so that they don’t decompose and pollute your tank water.

  • Thin out floating plants so that they don’t completely cover the water surface.

  • Prune away excess growth.

Most aquatic plants grow quite slowly, so you’ll probably only need to tend to them once a month or so.

12 Best Aquarium Plants For Beginners

Here are our 12 favorite, easy-care freshwater aquarium plants for beginners.

1.      Amazon Sword

Amazon Sword is a hugely popular broad-leaved plant that’s ideal for a medium to a large aquarium.

Once established, the plants put out a long, deep root system that keeps them firmly anchored in the substrate. The plant’s broad, vivid green leaves are perfect for betta fish to rest on and make a beautiful display, waving gently in the current.

You can propagate Amazon Sword by nipping new plants from the submerged flowering stems and replanting them in the substrate.

2.      Cryptocoryne wendtii

Crypt is a low-maintenance, root-feeding plant that’s ideal for beginners.

The plant doesn’t need liquid fertilizer or CO2 to thrive, and its slow-growing habit means that maintenance is minimal. Also, Crypt tolerates pretty much any light level and will grow in any substrate, so even if you use an inert substrate that’s devoid of nutrients, the plant will do fine as long as you provide it with root tabs every few months.

Cryptocoryne wendtii comes in many different varieties, including red, brown, green, and tropica.

3.      Bacopa Caroliniana

Bacopa is a stem plant that comes from the southern U.S. The plant has a straight, vertical stem covered with small, round leaves.

The plant will grow in medium to low lighting conditions and doesn’t need any additional CO2, although the addition of liquid fertilizer is helpful at boosting growth and enhancing color.

To propagate the plant, simply snip off the stem tops and replant them. That also helps to encourage the plant to bush out and prevents it from becoming too tall and stringy.

4.      Christmas Moss

Christmas Moss is a very attractive, low-growing plant with fluffy fronds that look just like mini Christmas trees.

The plant provides excellent hiding places for shrimp and fish fry, and it can be trained to grow as a wall or over driftwood and rocks to create an otherworldly forested look to the tank.

Christmas Moss is not fussy when it comes to lighting and pH, but it does prefer to be kept in soft water for optimum growth.

5.      Vallisneria Nana

Vallisneria Nana is a wonderful plant that you can use to create an underwater jungle effect in your tank.

This plant is a tall, grass-like plant species that will grow right up to the water surface when provided with root tabs and liquid fertilizers to promote its growth. Vallisneria Nana spreads readily by putting out side shoots into the substrate and, once established, will resist even the most determined fish, including African cichlids and goldfish.

There are several varieties of Vallisneria, including Spiralis, which has beautiful spiral-shaped leaves.

6.      Java Fern

Java fern comes in several varieties and sizes, but the most popular has sharply pointed leaves with deeply ridged, slightly raised veins.

All the plant’s roots and leaves sprout from the thick horizontal stalk or rhizome. So, when planting Java fern, be careful not to plant the rhizome under the substrate or it will die. Instead, wedge the plant into a rocky crevice or fix it to a piece of wood or rock using thread, fishing line, or aquascaping adhesive.

7.      Cryptocoryne lutea

Cryptocoryne lutea is another beginner-friendly plant that makes a lovely addition to your tank.

Like other Crypto species, Cryptocoryne lutea has slender, bright green foliage that can really add a beautiful pop of color to the habitat. This plant will grow in almost any substrate and light conditions and doesn’t need fertilizer or CO2 to keep it happy.

Also, Cryptocoryne lutea is slow-growing, so maintenance is minimal.

8.      Dwarf Sagittaria

Dwarf Sagittaria is a very hardy, grass-like plant that grows short and small under medium light, making it ideal as a foreground plant. Under higher light levels, the plant grows taller as it tries to reach the light.

The plant likes the addition of liquid fertilizers and root tabs to boost growth, and it will propagate readily by sending out runners through the substrate. To encourage the plant to create a carpet effect, simply pull out the new shoots and replant them elsewhere.

9.      Lilaeopsis Brasiliensis

If you have high lighting levels in your tank, Lilaeopsis Brasiliensis might be a good choice of low-growing carpet plant for you.

The plant is also commonly known as Brazilian Micro Swords and will grow fully or partially submerged. If you give the plant high lighting, CO2, and liquid fertilizer, it will form a dense carpet across the bottom of the tank, making an ideal hiding place for shrimp and fish fry.

This South American aquatic plant can be grown in garden ponds and brackish tanks.

10.    Water Wisteria

Water Wisteria belongs to the Acanthaceae family of tropical aquatic plants from the Indian subcontinent.

This easy-to-grow plant is very hardy and can handle many of the common mistakes made by beginners. Water Wisteria doesn’t require any special lighting or fertilizer to thrive, and it’s super-easy to propagate too. The bright green leaves are beautiful, and you can grow the plant in the substrate as a carpet plant or free-floating.

11.    African Water Fern

The African Water Fern is a hardy plant that’s found in boggy regions and streams throughout Africa.

The slow-growing aquatic fern has dark green, delicate leaves and does best when provided with extra nutrients and grown in soft, slightly acidic water.

The African Water Fern typically grows on rocks, and you must replicate that in the tank for the plant to thrive. Secure the plant in position with thread or fishing line until its roots become established.

12.    Anubias

There are several varieties of Anubias. Anubias lanceolata has slender, sharp leaves and grows either emersed or submerged, depending on your aquarium setup.

This flowering plant grows best when attached to a piece of wood or rock, making it extremely popular with aquascapers. Anubias tolerates low to medium light and appreciates additional nutrients and CO2, which will encourage the plant to grow more vigorously and quickly.

To propagate the plant, simply pull off pieces of the rhizome and attach them to a piece of stone, wood, or some other hard surface.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to be an expert to grow aquatic plants successfully in your home fish tank!

All the plants we’ve featured for you in this guide are easy to care for and will do well in any aquarium if given a little TLC and extra nutrients.

If you have any questions about the beginner-friendly plants we’ve included in this article, contact us today. We’ll be pleased to help you choose and order the right plants for your tank!

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published