Low-Light Aquarium Plants for Beginners

I spend my free time (and spare cash) working on my freshwater aquariums.

Live Aquarium Plants for Beginners: Plants That Can Survive Low-Light Conditions

So, you've set up a new fish tank and stocked it with a few fish to get it started. Standing back, you admire your work before frowning and moving that one decoration just an inch to the right. But something seems like it's missing: Earlier in the day, when you picked up your new fish, there was a tank of plants in the store. Adding plants to your aquarium is a great move as they have many different benefits beyond just improving the look of your aquarium.

Why Plants Are Important for Fish Tanks

Plants offer these benefits:

  • They enhance an aquarium's look.
  • They give fish a place to hide and rest.
  • Plants provide food.
  • They shelter fry and eggs.
  • Plants ncrease oxygen content.
  • They reduce harmful chemicals such as ammonia.
  • Plants compete with algae.

Low-Maintenance Aquatic Plants

The real plants at the store did look pretty neat, better than some of the plastic ones, but you're still not sure you want to invest in something that complicated. Aren't plants hard to keep? Needy? Don't they rot and cloud up your tank? Couldn't they hurt the fish?

The answers to those questions are yes and no. Just like there are beginner fish that are hardy and undemanding, there are also beginner plants. Or, perhaps, a better term for them would be aquatic weeds, since beginner plants tend to grow quickly and are very hard to kill once they are settled into a tank.

Beginner plants are low-maintenance and grow well under less-than-ideal circumstances. These plants do well with low light and low Co2 levels and use your fish's waste as fertilizer. Because plants use Co2 to photosynthesize, they release oxygen into the water as a by-product. Oxygen is what fish breathe. Plants also use the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate from fish waste, purifying the water and making it safe for fish.

Plants also have the added benefit of making your tank look more natural, giving shelter to your fish, and even providing a little snack for some fish, such as mollies and silver dollars. Plants also compete with algae for nutrients and light, making it harder for algae to grow in your tank. Plus, they are fairly cheap, and a little goes a long way.

Floating Plants

Floater plants do not leave the surface of the water. These plants have roots that dangle down into the water but do not bury in the substrate. They are extremely easy to grow and sometimes flower on top of the water.

Frogbit and duckweed are from the same family and look similar to aquatic clovers (little, clustered leaves). Duckweed plants are very small and multiple quickly. Most people do not want duckweed in their tank and acquire it as a hitchhiker. Duckweed is almost impossible to remove once introduced, but it does an excellent job of providing cover for fry, providing food, and sucking up nutrients. Frogbit is very similar, but it is much larger and easier to remove.

Non-Rooted Plants

Non-rooted plants have roots, but the roots should not be buried in the substrate. For most of these plants, if you bury them, the plant will die because it cannot access the water column for nutrients and oxygen. These plants do best either wedged in place, weighted down, or tied to a decoration.

  • Java ferns (Microsorum pteropus) have dark-green, thin, vertical leaves that grow out of dark, tangled roots. This plant actually roots itself to rocks or wood. It can grow quite tall, and given time will fill a fifty-five-gallon tank top-to-bottom. This plant propagates with little fernlets that grow along the mother plant's leaves. When the fernlets are fully developed they are released and float around until they find a spot to grow.
  • Anubia is a family of plants that also prefer to anchor on decorations. Anubia nana is a small plant with several large, round leaves. There are many types of anubia, but all do well in low-light conditions and have broad leaves.
  • Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) is a native plant that does well in both cold water and tropical tanks. It is a bunch plant that can either be floated at the top of the tank or wedged behind or under decor. It has rough, thin leaves. Hornwort grows very quickly and provides good cover for baby fish and eggs. It tends to grow upwards, and pieces of the original plant break off to create a new plant.
  • Anacharis (Egeria densa) has long, thin roots that dangle off the stem. The stems have dark green leaves that trail up like a little vine. Like hornwort, it can be floated or sunk to the bottom. Anacharis grows upwards and propagates by cutting. It is a great treat for goldfish, silver dollars, mollies, and other fish that require vegetation in their diet.
  • Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana) is a dark green moss that spreads along the bottom of the tank. There are even reports of java moss "climbing" the bubbles coming off airstones and up the back of tank walls. To direct it, use black cotton thread or a rubber band to secure the plants to a decoration that you want to have covered. Java moss is especially good for danios and barbs which like to lay their eggs in the moss.

Rooting Plants

Rooting plants do best buried in the substrate. These plants have a variety of appearances, but most look similar to non-aquatic plants. Some even flower above water. These plants do best with 2–3 inches of substrate and lots of room to spread their roots.

  • Crypts (Cryptocoryne spp.) are a family of slow-growing plants from Asia. They come in red, bronze, and green, which can mix up your color scheme a little. Crypts will not take over a tank overnight, nor will they shade out your other plants. The only drawback to crypts is what is called "crypt rot" where the entire plant may die back when transplanted. Given a few weeks to adjust, the plant will come back and grow better than ever.
  • Aponogetons will be familiar to most beginners. These are the plants that come out of those magic little "betta bulbs." The bulbs are actually rhizomes that grow when introduced to water. Aponogentons flower above the surface of the water and have long, narrow leaves.
  • Vallisneria or "vals" are a grass-like plant that grows using runners. Vals are very hardy and will cover the back wall of an aquarium like a jungle if given free-reign. Jungle vals work well in large tanks, as they reach over two feet in length. Corkscrew vals are interesting because the leaves grow in a spiral.
  • Dwarf sagittaria or "sags" (Sagittaria subulata) is a chain plant that looks like tufts of grass. It has bright green leaves and makes a good foreground plant because it does not get very big. Like the vals, sagittaria spreads via runners and can quickly fill a tank.

Special Care

The plants in this list do not really need a lot of special care. I have grown all of these plants in either low light or indirect sunlight without adding fertilizer or Co2. That being said, if you would like to get faster results, there are a few things you can do to give your plants a helping hand.

  • Flourite: this is an iron substrate you add into your gravel. It has iron and other essential nutrients for rooted plants like crypts and vals.
  • Root tabs: an alternative to flourite, these tabs are placed at the base of rooted plants for an extra boost. Root tabs usually last 2-3 months before needing to be replaced.
  • Liquid fertilizer: Seachem has an excellent line of fertilizers you can dose once or twice a week to give your non-rooted plants a boost. A small bottle in a small tank lasts forever if you cannot find or do not want to pay for Seachem's line.
  • Seachem's Excel: Excel is an alternative to DIY or pressurized CO2 systems. I have had great success with this product, and it is easy to dose. It also tends to kill back algae. It will not alter pH or harm fish.

Plants for Beginners to Avoid

  • Any red or purple plants. Red and purple plants require high light and high amounts of Co2 and iron to thrive.
  • Non-aquatic plants. This seems like a "no-duh," but stores sell several plants that are not aquatic and are actually terrestrial bog plants. "Mondo grass," "Borneo swords," and "dragon flame" are just a few that will rot and die underwater.
  • Plants in tubes. This may seem convenient, but most of these plants are not only non-aquatic but also are in poor shape after being kept without light, fertilizer, or Co2. Save your money and don't bother.

Take a Chance on Plants!

Hopefully, this article is a step towards some experimentation. There are many plants that do well in a beginner tank, and after a few successes with these, you may want to try your hand at a low-tech planted tank. Or maybe a more challenging high-tech tank.

Please look below for some videos with nice examples of what you can do with beginner plants!

Low-Light Set-Ups

Helpful Links About Low-Light Planted Tanks

  • Excellent List Of Plants For Low Light Tanks - General Aquarium Plants Discussions - Aquatic Plant C
    I am posting this for the benefit of members who may be wondering about best plants for a low light tank. This is an excellent list!
  • How to Setup a Low-tech Planted Tank: A Guide for Planted Aquariums
    Everything you need to know to set up a low-tech planted tank. Low-light, fertilizers and no Co2. Beat algae while setting up your planted aquarium!

© 2010 eveliens

the fish on February 18, 2017:

do aqatic plants need c02 and fertiliser

naveen on April 08, 2013:

nice...it seem to be goood

Power Ball Pythons from Mobile, AL on September 07, 2012:

Really great hub. I was looking for some easy plants to add to a 10 gallon tank to highlight a beta fish. I voted up. I love all the photos and videos.

Golden Fins from California on November 29, 2010:

I really like the planted tank in the second video. That tank looks so natural, and the blue betta looks healthy too. Lots of great info on plants here. Thanks

eveliens on October 28, 2010:

Aquatic plants are tricky, but once you get the hang of them you'll have a wonderful underwater garden ;)You might try frill, which is a light green, or there is a red version of cabomba (sp?) that may do okay in low light. Unfortunately, color directly corrolates to how much of the light spectrum a plant can absorb, so dark green does better in low light than light green or red. You might also try the dwarf sags; I've had good luck with those and they look like grass, so it gives you a little bit of texture difference and fills your foreground!

If you want a cheap way to add more light and don't mind DIY, I might recommending looking up 'rain gutter lights aquariums diy' and doing that. Then you can use compact florescents instead of the tubes. I used (3 x16w) CFLs over my 40 and the plants grow very well.

Amanda on October 26, 2010:


Thanks for the info!

I found this site after being sold White Ribbon plants as an aquatic plant at the pet store.

After realizing it's not truly aquatic, I am looking for another kind to replace it.

You see, the two-tone Ribbon plant breaks up all the green in my tank and looks really really nice. However, beginner plants requiring little light like Java Fern and Amazon Swords are just green. Any suggestions on how to break this up?

Thanks!! :)

eveliens (author) from SK on September 12, 2010:

I'm glad this hub was helpful. I have a black thumb, so I didn't have a lot of luck in the beginning. I still have "easy" plants die on me occasionally, but most of the plants on this list are very hard to kill and easy to grow, so hopefully your luck will change!

chardee42 from Orlando, FL on September 12, 2010:

I've had rotten luck with some of my aquarium plants even though I normally pick ones that are supposed to be "easy". After reading your hub, I think I have a better understanding of what I've been doing wrong. Thanks!

eveliens (author) from SK on August 24, 2010:

bayoulady, thank you for the compliment. There seems to be this hobby myth that aquatic plants are advanced and impossible to grow, but plants add a lot to your aquarium and are worth a try.

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on August 23, 2010:

I am amazed at all of the information and quality of this hub. Definitely rating this up and useful!

Aquatic Plants for Beginners

Watching sea life in an aquarium is a peaceful pastime for fish owners everywhere. Aquatic plants can enhance the beauty and health of that environment we love to watch so much.

  • There are benefits to adding aquatic plants to your tank:
  • They provide natural filtration by lowering nitrate levels.
  • They use nutrients that normally feed algae growth, helping to reduce algae.
  • Plants provide hiding spaces for shy species (bettas, loaches, cory cats, etc.).
  • They add to the beauty and health of your aquarium.

Consider adding live plants to your aquarium. We’ll get you started with a beginner’s list below.

The best plant species for beginners

These plants require low light, and are very hardy in that they thrive in different water conditions (acidic, alkaline, soft, hard, etc.).

  • Cryptocorne Wendtii – Also called Bronze Wendtii, this low and bushy plant has variegated leaves. Colors range from green to bronze. It prefers deep substrate.
  • Echinodorus Bleheri – Commonly known as an Amazon Sword. This species can get very large and should be planted in a 20 gallon high aquarium. It also does well in terrarium situations.
  • Echinodorus Ocelatus – The Ozelot Sword has leaves that get multi-tonal brown spots as the plant matures. Some leaves will have a rich red tone. It doesn’t get as tall as others, making it a perfect mid-ground plant.
  • Echinodorus Barthii – The Red Melon Sword has pretty reddish oval leaves and can be used as a mid-ground or background plant.
  • Echinodorus Cordifolius – The Radican Sword features spade-shaped leaves and does best in a planted tank that has a rich substrate. This can be achieved with a tablet fertilizer.
  • Anubias Nana – This plant is slow growing and should be anchored to an ornament or piece of driftwood for best results, as its roots are very shallow. Can be used as a foreground or mid-ground plant.
  • Microsorum Pteropus – The Java Fern will creep across the aquarium as it grows, attaching itself to driftwood or ornaments. It does best in tanks with low light levels.
  • Chladophora Aegagropila – These Moss Balls are actually slow growing filamentous algae, which can improve filtration in your tank. They may even inhibit growth of other types of algae.

For help with choosing the best plants for your aquarium, visit Pet Supermarket and speak with a store associate.

Benefits of Live Plants in Fish Tank

Beside enhance an aquarium’s look, plants in fish tank offer some benefits for your freshwater fish. Some plant gives fish a place to hide and rest. Also, can be used for shelter fry and eggs of fish. The plant is also very useful as a place to provide food and increase the oxygen content of water in an aquarium. Live aquatic plants are very healthier for fauna an aquarium, they can reduce harmful chemicals such as ammonia and Compete with algae.

Aquarium plants are divided into three categories easy, medium and advanced plants. Each of those categories has different and unique characteristics that need different treatment as well. Here are some plants you can add to your aquarium.

The Easy Plants

Anubias barteri var nana

Low light aquarium plants can grow and thrive very well in low-light tanks and aquariums. If you add this plant to your tank, you will need CO2 supply. It will ensure the plants will grow well as the low does. The other things you should add to this kind of low light tank plants is weekly liquid fertilizer and the right substrate. However, the easy plants for a low light aquarium like Anubias Barteri, Bacopa Caroliniana, Cabomba Caroliniana and more grow very slowly. The time expenditure per week of this plant is less than ½ hour.

One of the easy plants as low light aquarium plants is Anubias Barteri. Anubias has many varieties and o ne of the varieties is Coffefolia. This low cultivar variety of Anubias Barteri is totally beautiful. It can grow 15 to 25 cm for the height. The leaves are arching considerably between the new red-brown leaves and the leaf ribs. It has such an attractive look with the amazing leaf shape and the color combination. Even though the seeds are not produced under water, the flowers are blooming. Herbivorous fish do not eat this one of plants for the low light tank.

The Medium Plants

Alternanthera Reineckii

The next low light aquarium plants category is the medium plants. You will need to work harder when you are about planting this plant. To keep this plant thriving, you should prepare ½ watt per liter. The medium plant has good density and color. To keep them good, make sure that you have a good CO2 supply. Consider also the plant development and growth. Those things are important are determining weekly maintenance. It is about ½ to an hour. To keep this one of low light aquatic plants growing well, add some liquid fertilizers and the bottom substrate. For some individual cases, you will need special fertilizer.

One of the medium plants for the low tech aquarium is Alternanthera Reineckii “Pink”. It is originally from South America. The pink color brings a new perspective and a beautiful contrast to the green plant in a tank or aquarium scape, especially if they are in groups. It can grow 25-50 cm tall. You can change its pink leaves into red ones by providing a good lamp. You can easily propagate Alternanthera Reineckii “pink” by nipping the terminal bud off. Then, you can plant the bud in the substrate. The terminal bud propagating makes the mother plant becomes bushier as there will be more shoots are formed.

The Advanced Plants

The advanced plants are the most demanding low light aquarium plants. This plant needs more power of lighting can thrive fully with 1 watt per liter or more. Make sure that the supply of CO2 has a constant amount 15-25 mg per liter. Keeping it on its rate is important. You will need 1 to 2 hours to maintain this one of low light tank plants per a week. Don’t forget to add liquid fertilizer and support substrate. The advanced plant requires special fertilizer to make it grow very well. Didiplis Diandra, Glossostigma Elatinoides, Hemianthus Callitrichoides “Cuba” are some varieties of the advanced plants for simple tech aquarium.

Didiplis Diandra is one of the advanced plants which is originally from North America. It is the best plant that grows in a small group. The stems are 2-5 cm wide and 10-15 cm tall. Some red shoot tips can be developed with good light. It will be a great contrast with a plant with green color. Soft water and a lot of light are required by this plant. Didiplis Diandra can grow better by adding CO2.

Java Moss is Perfect for Beginner

Java moss is very famous for freshwater aquariums plants. Java Moss is also perfect for your aquarium. This plant is best as low light aquarium plants for a beginner with simple maintenance that will make you easy to grow. Besides, Java Moss is growing quickly and hard to kill. It can crawl over the rock and reach your tank surface. As this plant likes to float, it would be better to add something to attach this plant.

Java Moss

Therefore, it can prevent float-away. Java Moss is a carpet-like and slow growth pattern. It can grow fast around 73 degrees. Any lighting works for Java Moss. However, the medium-high lighting condition supports its growth. You can use this one as low light plants as substrate stabilization and cover, carpeting, decoration, protection, and breeding of individual fish types.

Things to Keep in Mind

In this point, you have learned some categories and varieties of low light aquarium plants. There is an important thing that we should keep in our mind. It is the water parameter. By considering the water parameter, we can avoid the problems that may happen. Moreover, the ideal water condition can be maintained in an easier way. Relating to the water parameter, we have three aspects that we should really consider pH, water hardness and water temperature. The ideal pH for the living plant is ranged between 6.5 to 7.5. On the other hand, some sensitive plants cannot live in that range the pH should be narrower. Therefore, we should be very considerate in understanding the plant.

Water hardness is commonly stated in a degree of hardness or dG. The most plant can adapt and live in harder water condition or general hardness. However, some tropical plants for low tech tanks prefer softer water. Thus, it is important to conduct simple research to determine the proper water hardness for our simple light tank plant. Here are some of the research results Cryptocoryne, Chain Swords, and Dwarf Sagittaria require the soft water has 3 DH. The moderately soft water has 3-6 DH. It is good for Anubias Barteri, Cabomba, and Rotala Indica. Micro Swords, Ludwigia, and Java Fern are living in the slightly soft water with 6-12 DH. Meanwhile, Anubias Nana, Anacharis, and Melon Swords are planted that can live in moderately hard water with 12-18 DH.

Besides water hardness, water temperature should also be kept in mind. 70-80 degrees are the ideal temperature for the most aquatic plants. However, the Japanese Dwarf Rush and Anacharis prefer water temperatures which are cooler. You should be really considerate in determining those three aspects of water parameter. Therefore, low light aquarium plants can live and beautify your aquarium and tank.

Best Low Light Aquarium Plants: A Guide and Review of Freshwater Plants for Beginners

Regardless of the aquarium size, low light aquarium plants are essential for good water chemistry and healthy fish.

If you only visit local pet stores, you may think that you will be very limited in terms of color, size, and shape of the plants.

In fact, when I first started keeping tropical fish, the dismal displays of live plants led me to choose plastic ones instead. Later on, I found out that freshwater plants are every bit as interesting as their more mobile tank mates.

This freshwater aquarium plants guide will reveal everything you need to know about choosing and growing the best plants for your aquarium.

Later on, I will also reveal the top 15 aquarium plants for beginners and advanced aquarium keepers.

Watch the video: Top 5 Easy Aquarium Plants

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