Choosing the Best Aquarium Plants for Your Fish Tank

When setting up your aquarium, something that is important for fish keepers to consider is what plants will help to enhance their tank environment. Not only do they serve an aesthetic function, adding aquatic plants to your fish tank will also provide a more natural habitat for your fish, in addition to creating a healthier tank ecosystem.

With such a wide variety of aquarium plants available, it can be difficult to know where to begin. For customers looking to buy aquarium plants, your selection should be based on the desired location within the tank, how easy they are to keep and meeting the needs of your fish.

 Live vs. Artificial Aquarium Plants

Artificial plants do offer certain advantages. Maintaining live aquarium plants and encouraging them to propagate requires a lot of time and dedication, and for someone new to the hobby this can seem quite a daunting prospect, so artificial plants can make a great alternative.  There are also other considerations, such as what nutrients or fertilisers they may require, how much pruning and deadheading they will need, and positioning the tank within enough natural light to enable the plants to photosynthesise and grow.

However, introducing live aquarium plants to your fish tank will also offer a number of benefits:

  • Live plants provide a more natural environment and create hiding places for fish, helping to reduce stress levels and provide a sense of security for your tank inhabitants.

  • Plants will help balance the ecosystem within your aquarium by oxygenating the water, in addition to expending the nitrogenous wastes produced by your fish, reducing the risk of illness and disease.

  • As poor water quality will usually affect plants first, the health of your plants is a good way to gauge the well-being of your fish, helping you to prevent the spread of disease or infection.

  • Live aquatic plants will help to inhibit the growth of algae within your tank, by releasing certain chemicals and competing for the nutrients that help algae flourish.

  • Many fish species will feed on aquarium plants

  • The root systems of aquarium plants will help to hold your substrate in place, particularly sand.

Fish In Tropical Plants


With both real and artificial aquarium plants offering a number of advantages, introducing a combination of the two can be a great option to consider - providing many of the biological benefits whilst reducing the level of maintenance required.

 Choosing Your Planting Areas

When deciding on the layout of plants within your aquarium, first you will need to visually divide your tank into three vertical sections; the background area, the mid ground area, and the foreground area. In addition to these three sections, there is also the surface area where you can add floating plants. Ensure that you choose plants for each of these sections to help create a balanced aquascape.

Foreground Plants: Plants in the foreground are generally low-growing so they do not obscure the view inside your fish tank. Carpeting plants such as Glossostigma elatinoides, Bacopa compact and Hemianthus micranthemoides provide great low level coverage, whilst plants like Cryptocoryne parva and Echinodorus tenellus are great individual plants for the foreground to help create focal points.

Mid ground Plants: Whilst the mid ground section of your tank will be the primary area of focus in your aquarium, you will also need to maintain enough open swimming space for your fish in this area.  Medium height plants and those that are fuller with wide, flat leaves such as Anubias barteri var. caladiifolia and Echinodorus reni work particularly well in this area, as they create a strong focal point and have sufficient room to grow.

Background Plants: Developing this area will help make a backdrop for your aquarium. Plants such as Vallisneria americana and Aponogeton crispus will help create height, whilst bushier background plants such as Cardamine lyerata and Hygrophila polysperma rosanervig can be planted in concentrated clusters to create a more densely vegetated environment.

Surface Plants: Whilst these tend to be plants that float on the surface of the water, some tall rooted plants such as Vallisneria spiralis and Nymphaea lotus will grow above the water’s surface level. Whilst these can provide excellent shelter and security for fish fry, you will need to ensure that surface vegetation does not obscure too much light from the rest of your aquatic plants. 

Selecting Your Live Aquatic Plants

When you are choosing aquarium plants for your fish tank, there are three main aspects to consider:

Are they well-suited to your fish? It is essential that the plants you select are compatible with your fish. For example, will your fish benefit from a more densely planted tank, or do they require more open swimming space? Are they timid fish that will need more sheltered hiding spots, or do they need more surface plants to provide more filtered lighting and shade?

Are they appropriate for your tank? After considering the overall design that you are looking for, it is important to select plants that will have similar water requirements (temperature, water hardness, pH, etc) to ensure that they will all flourish in your water conditions. You may also want to consider the number of plants – you will want to make sure that your aquarium does not look sparse, and equally that it is not too densely populated so that plants are not getting sufficient nutrients. 

Do you have enough variation? When creating an aquascape, it is important to add visual interest by using different plant colours, heights and leaf varieties. This will not only create a more exciting tank environment for you, but also for your fish! Devising a mix of focal points and backdrops, and considering suitable plants for the background, mid-ground, and foreground, will create a balanced and harmonious aquarium setting.

Fish In Tropical Plants

Adding Your Live Aquarium Plants into Your Aquarium

When setting up a new fish tank, as your aquarium’s biological system is not yet fully established, it is advisable to choose more robust, resilient plants that will root quickly. Plants that are hardier will also be more resistant to algae growth, which is typically more prevalent in an aquarium that has recently been set up. More delicate aquatic plants can be added after an initial four to six week settling in period when the tank’s ecosystem is more established.

 Growing Plants on Wood and Rock Features

Whilst the majority of aquarium plants should have their roots planted in your tank substrate, there are a variety of aquatic plants, such as Microsorum pteropus 'Trident' and  Anubias barteri var. caladiifolia, that should actually be fixed to rock or driftwood within your tank.

Growing live aquarium plants on rock or wood features can be used to create the appearance of a more established fish tank, in addition to creating an attractive centrepiece to your aquarium. Certain plants, such as Java Fern and Anubias, actually grow more successfully on wood, as they favour taking their nutrients straight from the water column and often will not thrive when planted into your tank substrate.