I distinctly remember doing the research before buying my first aquarium, and not knowing what plants I could put in it. I wanted plants that would survive in my aquarium, that did not need all kinds of fancy equipment and that looked pretty.
Since then, many years have passed and I’ve bought many plants. I’ve also had to buy new plants because many did not make it. I’ve compiled all my knowledge into one list of excellent beginner plants for you to choose from. If you’ve never heard of any of them, you are in the right place: I will explain all you need to know.
Before you jump in, I want you to know I’ve randomized the list and the items are in no particular order.
1. Dwarf sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata)
If you’ve been looking at aquariums with loads of plants, you might have seen that some of them have a “carpet” of plants in the foreground. A plant carpet is extremely pretty and completely changes the look of your aquarium. It’s something that a lot of people try to achieve.
Plants that can form a carpet often need advanced and expensive technology like CO2 and bright aquarium lights. However, using dwarf sagittaria, this is also accessible to us beginners. Dwarf sagittaria requires medium lighting and a fertile soil to thrive.
Instead of buying expensive nutrient rich soil, you can also buy root tabs which you can push in your substrate with the roots of the plants. This is a great way to locally fertilize your aquarium substrate.
If you provide light and nutrients, this plant will propagate itself by shooting out tiny runners from which new plants grow.
Instead of recommending a specific Echninodus variety, I want to recommend the entire genus. There are many different types of Echinodorus plants that all form great beginner plants that you can grow with little effort. These plants require medium lighting and can grow well without additional CO2. Overall superb beginner plants.
One of the most popular types of Echinodurus is called the “Echinodorus Grisebachii” which goes by the name of “Amazon Sword”. It’s a commonly available aquarium plant that grows quite tall and therefore is an excellent background plant. The tall leaves catch a lot of light, and the plant is a heavy root-feeder and needs regular root tabs as fertilizer.
Check out your local aquarium store and see what varieties of Echinodorus plants they have in stock. They come in many different shapes and sizes, providing an option for all situations.
3. Red tiger lotus (Nypmhaea Zenkeri)
With the right tips, you are able to grow one of the most interesting aquarium plants in the hobby: the red tiger lotus. When you buy this plant, you’re only buying a small bulb. It’s similar to flower bulbs you plant in your garden! Place the bulb on top of your substrate, only burying the roots.
The leaves of the red tiger lotus are red (wow) and arrow-shaped. When the plant is doing well, it will shoot runners towards the water surface and produce beautiful flowers. Other names this plant goes by are “dwarf lilly” and “dwarf tiger lotus”.
Now I want to warn you, because these plants can do “too” well and take over your aquarium by conquering the substrate with its roots as well as dropping seeds all over the place. To prevent this, plant the bulb in a plastic container that holds about 4 cups of substrate and one root tab. To prevent seeds from dropping in the rest of your aquarium, make sure to cut the flowers of the lily before they wilt.
Honestly one of my favorite aquarium plants is called “Bucephalandra” and it comes in many different varieties. The plant has sturdy thick leaves and strong roots. It’s a rather slow growing plant which makes it perfect for beginners. Why is that? If a plant grows quickly it requires a lot of nutrients and light. If the plant grows slowly, its needs are a little more modest.
Overall an extremely pretty and diverse plant that’s tough to kill as long as you do not forget to add liquid fertilizer every once in a while. Check out your local fish store to see what varieties they have and make sure to check beforehand how tall they grow so you can choose wisely.
5. Marimo moss balls
Without a doubt the easiest “plant” in the entirety of our hobby are marimo moss balls. They are round balls of naturally formed algae that are affordable and have the same water cleaning properties other plants have. I get it, usually you don’t want algae in your aquarium, but these balls look amazing.
They have little requirements other than turning them every time you do a water change to make sure they maintain their round shape and all of the algae is equally exposed to the light.
These moss balls can do well in low-light circumstances and need no additional CO2.
6. Moneywort (Bacopa caroliniana)
Moneywort is the first “stemplant” on this list. A stemplant is a plant that grows on stems, and they are easy to propagate. You can just stick the stems straight into your substrate and it will grow. Moneywort is one of the plants that thrives when you give it moderate lighting and nutrient-rich water.
It’s one of the most popular and beginner friendly stemplants available because it’s super rewarding to grow. It does well under many circumstances.
Here is a short video from Cory over at Aquarium Co-op about moneywort.
I’ve learned that most stemplants get their nutrients from the water and not from the substrate. Therefore, it’s best to add liquid fertilizer in order for the plant to be able to suck up its nutrients.
This plant is quite special, because it’s also able to grow emersed. When the plants reach the water level in your aquarium, they will continue to grow out of the aquarium and potentially even produce flowers.
7. Hornwort (Ceratophyllum Demersum)
While the name “Hornwort” sounds similar to “Moneywort” I have yet to find a substantial similarity. They are both stemplants, and both grow extremely well with little care. For now let’s focus on Hornwort.
In the wild, hornwort has spread to all continents but Antarctica. If that doesn’t show that this plant is used to a variety of water parameters I don’t know what will. Under moderate lighting with sufficient added nutrients, I guarantee this plant will grow like crazy. The fine leaf structure looks super pretty and I was surprised to learn that this plant does not need complex aquarium technology in order to survive.
This plant gets the nutrients from the water and can also do well as a floating plant. This means that it’s not necessary to anchor this plant in the aquarium substrate.
I bought this plant the very first time I headed out for plants for my first tropical freshwater aquarium. I was an absolute beginner, and nevertheless the plant rewarded me by shooting out runners and growing all over my aquarium. Vallisneria is a background plant that grows long green wavy halms.
While most plants are able to suck nutrients straight from the water, Vallisneria also relies on its roots to suck up food. Therefore, it is important to add some root tabs in the substrate where the val is growing. If you’re wondering how often you should add new tabs, it depends on how fast the plants grow and what tabs you’re using. As a rule of thumb, I would recommend adding a new tab every 3 months.
There are a couple of Vallisneria varieties, but the regular Vallisneria Spiralis is the most common. There is also a really big one that’s often called “Jungle Val” which grows super tall. Don’t buy Jungle Val when you’ve got an aquarium that’s smaller than 55 gallon (200 L).
Among the most popular types of plants in our hobby are Anubias plants. There are many varieties that grow to be different sizes, but the concept is the same. Anubias plants are slow growing plants that grow thick leathery dark green leaves.
While these plants can be a bit more expensive, they are extremely pretty and also super versatile. Generally I would recommend against burying the roots of an Anubias plants in the substrate because you risk them starting to rot and killing your plant. Instead, attach your Anubias to a piece of rock of driftwood.
You can propagate an Anubias plant by cutting a big plant into two small plants at the rhizome. The rhizome of an Anubias is the part where both the leaves and the roots are attached to. If you carefully cut a piece off which has both leaves and roots, you will be fine!
There is no need to add CO2 in order for an Anubias plant to do well. Added fertilizer is also not really necessary because the plant does not grow fast and your fish often produce enough for it to do well. However, if there are no nutrients at all in your water, it will start to die off.
10. Anacharis (Egeria densa)
Often called Brazilian Waterweeds, this stem plant called Anacharis is 10th on the list. It goes by many names such as Elodea Dense, Waterweeds, Egeria densa and any combination of those. This is just relevant to you when you are trying to find some stems in your local fish store.
Yes, you read that correct: stems. It’s another stemplant that is often sold as “oxygen plants” to goldfish owners. Under the right conditions the plant grows super fast, taking up a lot of excess nutrients in the water. That’s great because the plant offers a lot of cleaning and stabilising capabilities. However, it also needs liquid plant fertilizer when all the nutrients that already were in the water are used.
Due to the quick growth, you’ll be trimming this plant regularly. To propagate the plant, simply replant the trimmings by sticking the stems into the substrate. Anacharis needs high to moderate lighting and I’ve personally grown the plant without additional CO2 injections.
11. Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
If there were an order to this list, Java Ferns would have dominated it and hands down would have been number one. It’s the most popular beginner plant and arguably the most popular plant in our hobby. Its dark green leaves make the plant pretty and its capacity to endure many different water parameters make the plant hardy.
There is no need to add additional CO2, but fertilizers will be appreciated. Although this plant has roots that look like they are made to be buried: don’t. Burying the roots of the Java Fern will make the plant struggle and you risk the roots rotting. Instead, stick the Java Fern to a piece of wood.
The plant will produce tiny baby plants on the tip of its leaves when it’s doing well. The baby plants will eventually detach from the mother plant and start to float around in your aquarium. You can then choose to let the baby plants choose a spot to settle or collect them and also stick them to a piece of wood. That would look something like this:
Whenever you are looking to buy some beginner friendly plants, look for any plant in the Cryptocoryne genus. There are many different varieties and different stores stock different plants. Some common varieties are called the Wendtii (on the picture) or the Parva which is the smallest Crypt available.
As a beginner, I’ve made a mistake that many other beginners make. It’s a mistake that I don’t want you to make. So mysterious right? Well, most cryptocoryne plants that you buy in the shop will look like they are dying some time after you bought them. This is called “melting” and a common problem with cryptocoryne plants.
What happens is that the leaves of the cryptocoryne plant that are on the plant when you buy it are not suitable for underwater. Weird, for an aquarium plant, but those plants are often grown emersed in a giant plant growing facility. Therefore, the plant needs to shed those leaves and replace them with proper underwater leaves. Don’t throw the plant out just yet, give it a little bit of time to adapt!
13. Java moss (Taxiphyllum Barieri)
Java moss is worshipped by Aquascapers (people who love to design beautiful underwater sceneries) because of its versatility. Java moss is a moss that does well under many circumstances and does not need bright lights nor additional CO2 to grow. It’s perfect for both novice and advanced fishkeepers.
You often buy a small plastic cup of moss. It may not look like much, but it’s really more than you think. The trick is to pull out the moss and spread it out over either driftwood, rocks, ornaments or even the substrate. A thin layer is enough. You can use anything from fishing line, cable ties or even superglue. You’ll soon see more moss growing.
If you’re patient enough you can even create a moss carpet that covers your substrate. All in all, moss really invites us all to get creative with the way we decorate our aquarium.
14. Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
I’ve listed Water Lettuce on this list, but there are multiple floating plants that are perfect for beginners. Floating plants obviously are plants that float in your water, and they are great because they get their CO2 from the air. No need to add it to the water!
If your water is rich in nutrients and you’ve got a nice aquarium light, you can just chuck in floating plants and they will do well. Make sure you do not buy duckweed because that stuff gets unstoppable in no time.
Water lettuce is a great choice because they grow quite big and propagate easily through runners. If you want to find out what other floating plant options are available, check out this small list I composed recently.
15. Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
Last on the list but most definitely not least is Water Wisteria. Water Wisteria is undemanding and hardy, making it great for beginners. It’s a stem plant that can grow pretty fast and quite tall. It can reach up to 20 inches (50 cm), and due to the fast growth you biggest concern could be sizing it down.
It’s a plant that is easy to propagate by planting the trimmed stems. It needs lots of liquid fertilizer, especially when you want to promote growth. I’ve seen people grow this plant without additional CO2, but the plant will be much easier to grow with additional CO2.
Try and spot the water wisteria in the aquarium on this photo:
How to fertilize your aquarium plants
Throughout the article I’ve stressed the importance of adding fertilizers, and when your plants are not doing well a lack of nutrients often is (part of) the reason why. Do not forget that all plants need nutrients, and your fish can only produce so much. Therefore a quality fertilizer like Seachem Flourish is a must. If you’re looking for root tabs, I highly recommend these that are available here on Amazon.