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Live plants are one of the most beautiful things you can add to your aquarium. They will grow, propagate and provide shelter for your fish. They will even help you clean the aquarium by consuming nitrates and therefore positively contribute to the nitrogen cycle. But what plants should you start with? What plants can you add to your aquarium that will get you started in the beautiful part of our hobby: live plants.
Taking care of live plants in your tank
I’ve curated a list of 6 plants that do not require CO2 and will not let you down (hopefully). However, CO2 is not the only thing plants need. Just like all plants, these plants need nutrients to grow and do well. In your tank, your fish will not provide enough nutrients for all plants. That’s a problem because you want your plants to do well and buying new plants is expensive and not necessary.
Instead, I recommend regularly adding liquid plant fertilizer. An all-in-one fertilizer will be more than enough, and it will allow your plants to do well. The best fertilizer that has helped many people keep their plants alive is called Leaf Zone by API. If you do not have plant fertilizer yet, check out this one on Amazon. It’s SO worth it because your plants can not do well on fish poop alone.
Now let’s jump straight into the first easy plant on this list.
1. Java Fern
- Low light
- 20 – 29 °С / 68 – 84 F
- No CO2 required
- pH 6.0 – 7.5
Important: do not plant roots in substrate. Rather tie them to piece of rock or wood.
The first aquarium plant for beginners that comes to mind to a lot of people is the Java Fern. In the wild, java fern grows in shady areas, so it does not require high lighting in your aquarium too. If the light is too bright this might even cause brown patches in the leaves of the fern, so keep the light low to medium.
One of the mistakes that a lot of people make when they first get their java ferns is planting them with their roots in the substrate. They however do not take nutrients from the substrate, and they do not do well with their roots buried. Instead, try tying them to a piece of rock or wood. The java ferns will thrive when they are tied to something instead of buried in the ground with their roots. This also allows for some cool aqua scape possibilities.
They are slow growers and therefore do not require high nutrient levels in your water. If you’re struggling with algae problems, it’s a great idea to start adding liquid plant fertilizer to your aquarium.
A quality plant fertilizer will make sure that your plants have access to everything they need to grow. Algae thrives when there is an imbalance in your tank and liquid fertilizer is a great and easy way to reduce algae growth.
Java fern will propagate by growing tiny plants on the tips of the leaves, which eventually will fall off. You should let the new plants grow from a while and when they are a reasonably size you can remove them from the leave to plant it somewhere in your tank where you would like them to grow.
- Low to medium lighting
- 22 – 26 °С / 72 – 78 F
- No CO2 required
- pH 6.5 – 7.8
Important: do not plant roots in the substrate. Attach to rock or wood instead.
The second plant on this list is the Anubias genus. These plants are native to central and west Africa and are found in rivers and streams. They are named after Egyptian god Anubis, which is the god of the afterlife, because they are found at shady places. This means that they do not require high lighting in our aquariums! That alone is perfect for beginners.
You can recognize an anubias plant by its dark, sturdy leaves that come in a variety of shape and sizes. The base of the plant is called the stolon, and it is important to not bury this in the substrate. It is even better to not plant the roots of the anubias in the ground but rather attach it to a piece of wood or a rock. They will thrive this way.
Anubias can definitely be propagated, where you can start with one plant and create many more smaller ones. If your plant grows it will gather more leaves over time. You can cut the stolon into different parts, make sure each part has a couple of healthy leaves and some roots.
To do this, take the plant out of the water and use a sharp knife such as a scalpel to cut the plant into pieces by dividing the stolon.
Different Types of Anubias
There are several different subspecies within the anubias family that are widely available and all just as suitable for our aquarium. There is a list of subspecies below, but keep in mind that there are way more!
- Anubias Afzeli
- Anubias Barteri
- Anubias Nana
- Anubias Gracilis
- Anubias Hastifolia
- Anubias Heterophylla
- Anubias Gigantea
If you were to choose one of the species but you do not know which one, go to your local fish store and see which ones they have in stock. If they have several, take the one you fancy. They will differ in size (the anubias Nana is small and the anubias Gigantea is large) and shape.
Another reason why anubias plants are this popular is because they are one of the few plants that do not get eaten by plant-eating fish like African cichlids and goldfish.
The one downside to Anubias is that they tend to gather algae on the leaves due to their slow growth. I would still highly recommend it, the plant has even made it to my list of 8 plants that do not require substrate. You can check out that article right here on my website!
- Medium to high lighting
- 17 – 28 °С / 63 – 82 F
- No CO2 required
- pH 6.5 – 8.5
The third one on the list is Vallisneria! Most definitely not as easy as java ferns and anubias, but with the right care it is an awesome plant that will propagate quickly.
The plants root in the substrate so make sure to add some fertilizers. This can be done by a soil/substrate that contains all sorts of fertilizers but that can be rather expensive for a beginner. Something that I personally like to use are root tabs or clay balls, which can be wedged into the substrate where the roots of the plants can reach it. This is an easy way to keep your root feeders fertilized and is especially helpful when you have a bigger aquarium as you can feed your plants on a very local scale.
Vallisneria can also absorb fertilizers through their roots, which makes them root feeding plants. Unlike both Anubias and Java Fern, this plant greatly benefits from either a fertile soil or additional root tabs. A fertile soil, often also called an aquasoil, is expensive and not necessary for low-tech tanks. There is a way better and cheaper solution: adding root tabs.
Root tabs are used to locally fertilize plants that need it. You simply grab a root tab and push it down in the substrate near the root of the plants. They are very affordable and I personally only need to replace a root tab every 3 months. Check out these root tabs that are available on Amazon. Notice how many you get for the price they are offering.
Vallisneria is an excellent plant to serve as a background plant. It propagates by shoots that move along the gravel called runners and daughter plants will rise every couple of inches/centimeter. When the plant is growing somewhere you would rather not have it, you can cut it loose from the others and plant it where desired. These properties are perfect for creating a jungle for all your fish and are ideal to create ways to break the line of sight for the fish which lowers their stress levels. This is because fish that can see each other all the time in a tank, no matter their position, some species feel threatened. A wall can block their vision and make them feel safer.
Different types of Vallisneria
Vallisneria also has multiple subspecies each with slightly different properties. The most common type is the Vallisneria Spiralis, which grows to a size of 30 to 60 cm (12 – 24 inch), but there are smaller ones such as the Vallisneria Nana and enormous ones that are only suitable for large aquariums like the Vallisneria Americana. The table below provides a short overview of the properties of the different species.
|Vallisneria Spiralis||30 – 60 cm|
12 – 24 inch
|1 – 2 cm|
0.4 – 0.8 inch
|Vallisneria Nana||20 – 30 cm|
8 – 12 inch
|< 1 cm|
< 0.4 inch
|Vallisneria Americana||50 – 150 cm|
20 – 60 inch
- Low to high lighting
- 15 – 30 °С / 59 – 86 F
- No CO2 required
- pH 5.0 – 8.0
Moss is perfect for beginners and just as beautiful for the experienced aquarium hobbyist. It does not matter how much experience you have under your belt, there is always room for moss in our aquariums. There are different types, but the most popular by far is Java moss.
Java moss can grow in our tanks under a wide variety of circumstances. They can tolerate temperatures from 10 to 30 degrees Celsius (59 – 86F) but do best in water temperatures from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius (68 – 77F).
They will survive in low and high light intensities. A higher light intensity will make the moss grow more dense, and a lower light intensity will make the color of the moss a tad darker.
“Planting” Java Moss
Unlike plants, Java Moss does not have roots that it can use to establish itself in soil. However, the moss is perfectly capable of attaching itself to any kind of surfaces.
You can attach your moss to rocks, wood, walls, substrate and even the filter to cover it up. That is why it is so popular for us hobbyists that like to aquascape (read: gardening under water). All it takes is some fish line or some other dark thread. There are also different kind of glues that can be used, but you have to make sure it does not harm your aquatic life. I always prefer to use fish line. After about a month you can even remove the wires that once held it in place, because it has attached itself to whatever you tied it to.
Care for Java Moss
Taking care of your java moss is extremely easy, all it requires is a pair of scissors (and you can even pull it apart so the scissors are not even a requirement). When there is too much light in your aquarium (or there are other reasons why you might experience algae issues) the moss can be filled with unwanted algae.
My solution to algae in moss is pulling the moss apart and re-attach it as a thin layer to the desired surface. When you made sure to tackle the cause of the algae bloom, the moss will continue to grow.
Moss is one of the few plants you can order online and get delivered straight to your doorstep. Once you get it you’ll probably be shocked for a second or two because you’re only receiving a small amount. However, if planted and fixed to a part of the hardscape in your tank it will soon grow to be more.
- Low lighting
- 23 – 26 °С / 72 – 78 F
- No CO2 required
- pH dependent on type
Important: make sure water conditions are stable.
Cryptocoryne, or “Crypt” for short, is a genus of plants that are and have been extremely popular in the aquarium hobby for a long time. This is because they are low maintenance and do not require high lighting.
Different kind of Cryptocoryne
The beautiful thing is that there is a lot of different kinds of crypts, and they vary in shapes, colors, and size. There are way too many to name here, but that is the beauty. There are plants for every region of your aquarium, and there are many different color varieties.
The only thing with crypts that you must know in advance is that they are rather sensitive to changes in the water parameters. This means that can not handle changes, so when this happens their leaves will fall off. It looks like your crypts are “melting”. This is normal. because crypts bought in the store are often grown outside of the water.
Once they enter your tank they will need some time to shed their old leaves and grow new ones that are suitable to underwater life.
It can happen that you buy your crypts from the store, and within a couple of days of living in your aquarium their leaves fall off and the crypt melts. The number one mistake that beginners (but also experienced hobbyist) make is thinking the plant died and they remove it from their fish tank. The plant however will restore overtime to become even more lush than before. Just make sure the water parameters remain stable.
Cryptocoryne is a root feeding plant that benefits from the root tabs we discussed earlier. I have also had success without root tabs, crypts are very hardy plants. It’s awesome how many different varieties there are. You can basically create an entire tank with just crypts.
My Favorite Fishtank Products to Make Life Easier
Over the years I’ve found a variety of products that make the fish keeping life so much easier. Whenever someone asks me what products I recommend buying, these are the first 5 items that come to mind. I’ll briefly list them below and state why I love them so much. I’m 100% sure you’ll love them!
1. A good gravel vacuum; Without a gravel vacuum, cleaning the substrate of your tanks is near impossible. Whenever I want to remove some of the sunken detritus from the bottom of my tank I’m happy I’ve got one of these. They’re available here on Amazon and I highly recommend them!
2. Liquid plant fertilizer; It’s no secret that I do not like nutritious aqua-soil. It makes a mess and only works a given amount of time. Instead, I always use a liquid aquarium plant fertilizer. Everyone who keeps live plants needs it, it’s not that expensive and makes your plants grow better. This is the one I use and recommend.
3. A set of aquascape tools; I love keeping plants, but planting and reorganizing my aquarium was difficult until I got a set of these tools. It’s much easier to plant any kind of plant compared to using my thick fingers. They’re also available here on Amazon.
4. A liquid-based water test kit; ever since I’m able to accurately test my water parameters, keeping fish became less stressful. Before I was always stressed that my water parameters were wrong, but using a kit such as the API Master kit, which is available here, I can measure this. It really is essential to successful fishkeeping.
6. Amazon Swords
- Medium to High lighting
- 23 – 28 °С / 72 – 82 F
- No CO2 required
- pH 6.5 – 7.5
Amazon Swords are beautiful lush aquarium plants that can serve as the perfect background plant. The grow rather tall, reaching heights of around 30 cm (12 inch). This is perfect for covering filters, filter intakes and heaters in your tank. I myself have used them in the very first fish tank I got to hide the filter intake from my canister filter.
This plant needs a lot of light, so this might not be for your tank. It needs medium to high light and does best when the lights are on for around 10 hours. Note that the advised duration of lighting is 8 hours per day.
The most common mistake people make is not allowing the plant to die back. This happens a lot of the times when you buy the amazon sword from the store, it looses its leaves over time. It can use all of its leaves, but once it is settled the plant will grow slow and steady.
The roots of this plant can become long and range far into the substrate of your aquarium. Make sure there is enough depth and your substrate layer is thick enough. Also, this plant is a root feeder so root tabs or a substrate with a lot of nutrients will serve the plant well.
When planting the plant, make sure not to bury the crown (where the leaves start) of the plant. This needs to be above the surface of the soil.
These are another 3 names that might be options for you if you are looking for other plants that are relatively easy to take care of. I’ve also written a full on guide called “15 Easy Aquarium Plants For Absolute Beginners” where I go over more plants that are suitable for everyone.
This plant is a stem plant, which propagates rather fast. It is a plant with nice colors, and definitely worth giving a try in your aquarium.
Water wisteria is an extremely hardy plant that is perfect for beginners. It can be rooted in the ground or floating near the surface.
Water Lettuce (Pistia)
This is a beautiful floating plant called water lettuce. This is perfect for aquariums with fish that swim at the surface.
There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to beginner aquarium plants and with all the options you can let your imagination run wild! Let me know what you thought of the article, comment below. You can subscribe to my newsletter where I will update you every once in a while with new articles on super relevant information for our hobby.
Chapter 2 anubias photo 1 owned by Tocekas licensed under CC3.0
Chapter 4 moss photo owned by Ranjith-chemmad licensed under CC 4.0
Ludwigia Repens – Owned by Carnat Joel licensed under CC2.0
Water Lettuce – Owned by unknown licensed under CC3.0
 – Photo owned by Tommy Kronkvist licensed under CC 3.0