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The plants in one of my newer tanks have been growing for about 2 months and is ready for fish. I’ve put much effort in making the plants look as good as possible, and the last thing I want is to add the wrong fish that might ruin them.
Good aquarium fish that to add to a planted aquarium are small and timid. They need to compliment the beauty of the plants and should not dig or destroy anything. Good choices are schooling fish like small tetras, rasboras or gouramis. Stay away from larger fish like goldfish, cichlids or catfish.
While the choice may seem simple, you need to look out for all the good and bad options. I’ll make sure that you’ve got some ideas of fish that do well in a planted tank. I will also warn you against some of the more common bad options that might ruin your aquascape.
What makes an aquarium fish suitable for a planted tank?
Before we dive into the list of suitable fish, it’s important to know what makes a fish suitable for a planted aquarium.
Aquarium fish in a planted tank should not eat or destroy your live plants. That’s honestly the main thing to look out for. I can stretch this information as long as I want, but the truth is to stay away from larger fish like goldfish, cichlids, silver dollars, larger catfish and loaches. Later in the article I’ll talk a bit more about the reasons to stay away from these fish, but in general the reason is because they will rip apart your aquarium.
A suitable aquarium fish for a planted tank is small and will do no harm to any of your plants. Sure, the fish are allowed to eat algae from the surface of the plants, but all the healthy leaves should remain untouched.
If you’re going all out and create an aquarium with a primary focus on the plants, you want to add timid fish that do not distract too much from the greenery. I’ll attach a picture of my Dutch style aquascape for which I’m trying to find suitable fish below. In my case, I want to add small fish to make the aquarium seem larger.
Many planted tank enthusiasts agree that every planted aquarium needs a group of schooling fish. I’d agree, because a school of fish will add to the beauty of the tank without distracting the viewer or damaging the plants.
When it comes to a Dutch Style Aquascape, like the one pictured above, there are rules about what fish should be in the tank. The rule says that every layer of the aquarium should have inhabitants. There should be top-dwellers like gourami’s or killifish, mid-dwellers like tetras or rasboras and finally there should be some bottom-dwelling fish like corydoras.
1. Neon Tetras
The most widely recognized schooling fish is the neon tetra, and they are extremely suitable for planted tanks. I understand if you find they a bit boring or cliché, so I promise I’ll add some more uncommon fish further down the list.
Neon tetra’s are colorful and rather shy, but in a group find courage to swim around among the plants. Their color adds so much to the look of your aquarium that I guarantee you’ll like it. The blue looks like bright LED lights. If you add a group of 10 or more neon tetras to your planted tank you’ll not be disappointed.
I’m starting to sound like a salesperson here, so I’ll turn it down a notch. The reason why I decided to put these fish on top of this list is because I’m thinking of adding a school of these fish (or cardinal tetras if I’m feeling bold) to my Dutch style aquascape.
2. Harlequin Rasboras
The second fish on this list is another schooling fish, so I’ll make sure that the next one isn’t. On number two I put another classic: the harlequin rasboras. They’re often also called porkchop rasboras due to the black porkchop shape. If you do want to keep these beautiful fish, make sure to give them a little more space than on the picture I found online.
These schooling fish are extremely peaceful and will make a great addition to any planted tank. In my opinion their colors add a balanced and natural look to the tank that does not immediately grab your attention. In case of real planted tanks I would say this can be a good thing if you want to keep focusing on the plants. I’ve said this a couple of times already so I’m sure that the rest of the explanations will be a bit more brief.
If you end up buying a school or shoal of these fish, make sure to keep at least 5 of them at the same time. If the school is larger, they’ll feel more at ease and will behave in a more natural way.
3. Otocinclus Catfish
I feel like I could have put these fish all the way at number one, because they’re a great addition to a planted tank. The reason for this is because otocinclus are great algae eaters and therefore help keep your planted tank clean. In fact, these fish were the first fish I added to my Dutch Style Aquascape that I showed before.
These fish show awesome behavior and in my opinion have great personality. They’re cute and always busy. They do in fact eat a lot of algae, but from experience I can tell you that they do not eat all kinds of algae. Green hair algae is a type which they don’t eat (at least mine did not).
Otocinclus prefer to live in a group of at least 5 fish. Make sure to get several of them to make them feel at ease. You can feed them sinking algae wafers, but they’ll also gladly eat cucumber, zucchini or blanched lettuce.
4. Gourami fish
Moving to the first real centerpiece or display fish on this list: gouramis. These beautiful fish will grab your attention because they look amazing. There are many different kind of gouramis, of which many are available in your local fish store.
Common gouramies that are popular in the hobby include the Pearl gourami, Honey gourami, Dwarf gourami, Opaline gourami, Blue gourami and even the Kissing gourami. That last one, the kissing gourami, might become too large and could cause problem in a planted tank.
If you’d like to keep a gourami fish in your planted tank, make sure to add a lid to your aquarium. These fish are phenomenal jumpers and you do not want them to fall all the way to the floor. Also, it’s best to keep either two females or one male and one female. Two male gouramies can become aggressive.
Another great addition to your planted tank could be shrimp! I know that they can not really be considered fish, but you should welcome them with open arms. I’d recommend neocaridina shrimp, they come in many colors and breed in your tank.
I am keeping orange neocaridina shrimp called “sakura shrimp” and they breed really quick. They also help keeping your planted tank clean, which comes in handy if you’re trying to battle algae.
Freshwater aquarium shrimp can be a little expensive, so it is important to check whether the rest of the fish that you are keeping are suitable for shrimp. Larger fish, even schooling fish, like to hunt and eat shrimp. This is not something you’d want if you’ve just paid over 2 bucks per shrimp, so only add shrimp to your aquarium if the situation allows it.
If you’re in doubt, send me a message of ask someone else with experience to advice you.
6. Livebearers such as guppies or mollies
All livebearers deserve a spot on this list, because keeping livebearers in a planted tank is convenient and rewarding. They’re peaceful and have no interest in your healthy plants. Next to being suitable in combination with plants, they’re always breeding! This means that you’ll always have fry growing up in your aquarium, which is just lovely to see.
There’s not much more to say about livebeares because they’re that easy. The only thing you should know before buying any is to always buy 3 females for every mail that you get. The 1:3 male to female ratio makes sure that no female fish experiences stress cause by too much male attention.
If you’re keeping other larger fish in your aquarium, for example one or two gouramies, it becomes difficult for the fry to survive. If you provide enough hiding places by adding moss or floating plants, the chance that your baby fish survive increases.
7. Corydora catfish
If you remember from earlier, I explained that in official Dutch Style Aquascape competition rules there should be fish in all layers of your planted tank. These layers are also relevant if you’re not welcoming a judge into your home to sit in front of your tank for 45 minutes.
Finding fish for the bottom layer of your planted tank can be daunting. Chances are that you’ve got a carpet of plants going on, so any digging is out of the question. While corydoras do enjoy scavenging the substrate for food, they’ll never cause enough “damage” to uproot plants. They’re the perfect planted tank bottom dwellers.
Something that many people tend to forget is that corydoras are in fact a schooling fish. Always keep them in a group of 5 fish or more to make them feel comfortable. They’ll really start showing signs of stress if you keep any less. Furthermore, their behavior is much more energetic and truly fascinating to look at in a group.
There are many different varieties of corydoras. I would stick with some of the smaller variants such as the panda cory, the habrosus cory or the bronze corydoras. These smaller fish will make the rest of your aquarium, or rather the aquarium as a whole, look larger.
You either love snails or you hate them, but you can not deny the benefits of keeping snails in your planted tank. Snails are great at eating algae and finding uneaten food. This is relevant for a normal aquarium, but even more relevant for a planted tank. Snails will be able to reach places that you and your gravel vacuum just can not reach.
I do understand that many people do not want to deal with an ever growing snail population, so there are some tips I want to give you to prevent this. First of all, the best algae eaters out there are Nerite snails (like the one on the picture above). Nerite snails can not reproduce in a freshwater aquarium, so you’ll never have to worry about an infestation.
Other snails, like pond snails, Malaysian trumpet snails or ramshorn snails are great to have in your tank. They can also serve as an indicator for overfeeding. If their population starts to grow too fast, it means that you’re feeding to much. Just reduce the amount of food you’re adding to the tank and your problem will be solved.
And if you really want to reduce the size of the population, add some assassin snails or catch them overnight with a piece of cucumber. It really is not that difficult.
Up until now all the fish on the list have been rather small. If you want to keep some large and stunning fish that do well in a planted tank, angels might be for you. These fish can become very large (especially when it comes to height) so they need a larger aquarium. For specific measurements you’ll have to do some research, because just the info underneath this image will not be enough.
These fish are great and are known to be beautiful centerpiece fish in large planted tank. If you keep them in a tank with plants like vallisneria, amazon swords and java fern they’ll be over the moon. In fact, I’ve written an entire article on my website dedicated to plants that are suitable for angelfish. It’s called “11 Best Aquarium Plants for Angelfish” and I highly recommend reading it before buying your first angelfish.
10. Bleeding Heart Tetras
The final fish on this list represent a group or larger tetras, also containing the bleeding heart tetra. If larger planted tank you’re most likely going to want a school or larger fish. After some research I would definitely settle on a tetra, but which one.
There’s bleeding heart tetras, which you can see on the picture above. They are super pretty and will work great in a planted aquarium. Some alternatives that have rougly the same “requirements” are congo tetras, rummynose tetras, ember tetras and redeye tetras. Personally my favorites are redeye tetras. They’re super calm and relaxed, and their natural colors are perfect in a beautiful planted tank.
What fish to avoid in a planted aquarium
I would briefly like to explain a little bit more about the fish that you should avoid when you’re looking for fish that are suitable for a planted tank. The first group of fish that you should not add to any planted tank are cichlids. Cichlids are large fish that will decide by themselves how they want to arrange their tank. A planted tank will be destroyed within days. Especially if you’re adding an Oscar.
Also, stay away from goldfish. While these fish are super popular, they do tend to try and dig a hole so deep it can reach the other side of the planet. They won’t leave any rooted plants where they were, so they’re not very suitable for a planted tank.
Third on this list are discus fish. While discus fish don’t destroy planted setups, their requirements might be a little too extreme for most common plants to grow. Discus fish need to be kept at a high temperature at which most plants don’t feel comfortable anymore. I’ve written a super popular article on my site where I cover a list of plants that you can use in combination with discus fish. You can read that here on my website.
Finally, don’t add any large or aggressive fish to your planted tank if you want to keep your aquascape the way you designed it. Be smart, and if in doubt ask someone with experience. If you don’t know anyone personally, hop online and join a community where you can ask your question.
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