How to Choose Aquarium Plants for Beginners

How to Choose Aquarium Plants for Beginners. Examples

It’s commonplace to see some bit of greenery stationed in an aquarium resulting from the cultivation of live aquarium plants. These live plants are typically beautiful and delicate, and they offer a lot of benefits to the aquarium and the critters therein.

Aquarium plants recommended for the experienced; intermediate and advanced aquarists tend to differ from those that are meant for first-time and beginner aquarists.

This article focuses on how to choose live aquarium plants for beginners, and also, it outlines few species that are ideal for this set.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Aquarium Plant

As a beginner aquarium hobbyist, you should consider the following factors when choosing live plants for your fish tank:

1. Nature of the plant:

Aquarium plants possess varying characteristics; there’s a considerable distinction in size, growth habit amongst other qualities.

In terms of growth rate, some live plants grow rapidly or moderately while others put out shoots slowly. Also, some are quite hardy, tolerant, and react mildly to changing water conditions while others are super sensitive and will wither when the water is not ideal to support their growth.

  • Maintenance. The rapid growth habit will cause overgrowth and, as a result, regular pruning. If you are not ready for that, it will be better to choose slow to moderate growing plants.
  • Sensitivity. Finicky plants will require a lot of attention. It is highly recommended to avoid sensitive plants until you get some experience.
  • Specific conditions. For example, fast-growing plants usually require a lot of nutrients and light to keep up with their fast growth habits. Be very careful with that if you are a beginner, otherwise, your tank will be covered with algae in no time.

Therefore, an ideal plant for beginners is a hardy plant with a slow to moderate growth rate and minimum requirements.

2. Lighting:

The type of lighting in your tank will affect the kind of plants you can grow.

For instance, most species of Anubias and Java fern will grow and thrive in low lighting, but the same cannot be said of aquarium plants like Cabomba which require a great deal of lighting to grow optimally and maintain their natural coloration.

That said if you do not have high-output lights that can provide the right intensity to grow demanding or light-hungry plants; opt for those that can thrive in relatively low to moderate lighting conditions.

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3. Size of aquarium:

The size/dimensions of an aquarium can also influence the choice of plants because some plants have large statures — thus, they can attain massive growths and fill up the aquarium quicker.

As I have already mentioned, always consider slow-growing and small-sized plants first if you have a small aquarium or do not want to engage in frequent pruning of overgrowth.

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4. Type of fish and other animals you want to keep:

The point is that, for example, some fish species have the habit of nibbling on live aquarium plants and tearing up the foliage e.g. Koi fish, Scats, Texas cichlids, and Goldfish.

As a beginner hobbyist, it’s in your best interest to opt for super tough and durable plants that can withstand grazing if you are to keep them in the same tank with herbivorous fish species.

Almost the same can be said about most types of crayfish or freshwater crabs. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank. Therefore, as a suggestion, you can:

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5. Type of aesthetical effect you wish to create:

The aesthetical effect you intend to create in your aquarium is another factor that can influence the choice of aquarium plants.

To create a beautiful lawn on the bottom of your carpet, you will need dwarf or small-sized ground-cover plants that can easily form a low, compact carpet. Whereas if you desire to accentuate your aquarium décor, you will need an undemanding moss or fern species.

Do you fancy a bit of diversity?  Well, you can introduce a mix of colorful plants to achieve different contrasts in the aquarium.

Growth Requirements for Aquarium Plants

1) Ideal Water Conditions

The pH of the water should be between 6.5 and 7.5 (subject to change). Many plants will thrive in the aquarium water with hardness levels between 3° and 8° dKH, whereas some will prefer hardier water.

The ideal water temperature should be between 68 and 82 °F to encourage optimal growth of your aquarium plants.

2) Nutrients

There are specific nutrients required for aquatic plants to grow and thrive. Some of these include nitrogen, phosphorous as well as potassium, iron, magnesium, and manganese.

Minerals like nitrogen and phosphorus can be gotten from waste products of metabolism and fish food. Nutrients can also be added to the tank water, and they are available as plant fertilizers (usually in the form of liquid or tablet fertilizers).

Additionally, the water should be partially replaced from time to time as this eliminates nitrates, prevents the growth of harmful algae, and engenders a steady supply of essential minerals.

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3) Lighting Schedule

The choice of aquarium lighting is dependent on which plant species you want to grow and also the size or dimensions of your tank.

Aquatic plants grow healthily and thrive best with a standard photoperiod of 8 to 12 hours per day.

It is important to note that if the plants do not receive enough light, their growth and health will be negatively affected.

4) With and Without Substrate

Generally, all plants can be divided into 3 categories:

  • Root feeders (get the nutrients mostly from the substrate).
  • Floaters (get the nutrients mostly from the water column).
  • Versatile (they can be either rooted or left floating).

However, these definitions are not absolutely correct because in some cases substrate can function only as anchorage. For example, Java moss is not a floater, but this plant also does not require the substrate. It can be attached to stones, rocks, gravel, driftwood, bogwood, or any type of decorations.

Therefore, it is recommended to do your research beforehand. It will help you to create the optimal environment for the plants or choose the plants according to your tank.

In my opinion, the easiest category is versatile plants. So, if you are a beginner aquarist, choose them and you will not make a mistake.

Note: Fine/medium-grade gravel or coarse sand is best for anchoring live plants and they also give room for healthy root development. These substrate types are ideal for growing a lot of beginner aquarium plants.

It is also possible and appropriate to mix different grades for improved texture and aesthetics. Keep in mind that sand with ultra-fine texture should be avoided; this usually clumps together and compacts the roots of live plants. In addition, very coarse gravel is equally non-ideal as it prevents firm root anchoring.

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5) CO2

It is not a secret that CO2 is very important for healthy and optimal plant growth.

In the daytime, aquatic plants use up CO2 and release Oxygen; however, in the night, the opposite happens. CO2 supplementation helps enhance the appearance and overall condition of aquarium plants as their size, color, and growth rate improve markedly.

Nonetheless, it is imperative to consider live plants that can thrive without supplemental CO2 since most beginners deal with low-tech tanks.  

Note: CO2 and high lighting go hand in hand. When plants do not have enough light, they cannot process (absorb) food (CO2). However, when plants have too much light without CO2, it will result in poor plant growth and cause algae outbreaks. That is why high-tech tanks are not for beginners.

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Examples of Good Beginner Aquarium Plants

1. Java fern

Java fern care guide

  • Recommended tank size: 10 gallons (40 liters)
  • Tolerance: Hardy
  • Growth Rate: Slow to Moderate
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate

Java fern is a very hardy, versatile, and easy-to-grow aquarium plant. This aquatic fern is suitable for aquarists of all experience levels due to its low demands and ease of care.

It can thrive in dim lighting and grows slowly unlike a lot of aquatic ferns.

Furthermore, the Java fern is an epiphytic plant, meaning that it grows attached to rocks, wood, and any other hardscape.

It has different varieties characterized by varying leaf shapes, and they can be cultivated in several ways to achieve impressive outlooks and aesthetical effects.

For more information, read the article “Java Fern Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

2. Anubias

Anubias nano

  • Recommended tank size: 10 gallons (40 liters)
  • Tolerance: Hardy
  • Growth Rate: Slow to Moderate
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate

Anubias is a genus of tough, durable thick-leaved plants from the Tropics of West Africa.  This aquarium plant has many varieties, however, the common ones include:

  • Anubias barteri, which has large foliage and stature. For decorating the background/ midground of aquariums.
  • Anubias nana. This is a dwarf variety of Anubias with a few sub-varieties. It is a much better choice if you have a nano aquarium.

This slow-growing plant is capable of surviving harsh water conditions, and it can thrive in low lighting.

Propagating this plant species is not a big deal. A sharp-bladed knife can be used to cut the rhizome and split it into individual plants. Care should be taken to ensure that a few leaves are available per plant piece. Also, the plant’s roots should not be cut intentionally or by accident.

For more information, read the article “Anubias Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

3. Dwarf sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata)

Dwarf Sagittaria Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

  • Recommended tank size: 5 gallons (20 liters)
  • Tolerance: Hardy
  • Growth Rate: Moderate to fast
  • Lighting: Moderate

Dwarf Sagittaria, otherwise known as Dwarf Amazon sword has a grass-like appearance and a small size.

It is a great choice for a ground-cover plant and can be used to create a lawn-like effect in your freshwater aquarium. To get the desired carpet effect, small portions of the plant should be planted two to three centimeters from each other. And the lush carpet appearance will be achieved in about a few weeks.

Small plantlets are produced from the runners and these form more plants that can be transferred to another aquarium, sold, or gifted to fellow hobbyists.

For more information, read the article “Dwarf Sagittaria Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

4. Bacopa Caroliniana

Bacopa caroliniana - emersed form (blooming flower)

  • Recommended tank size: 10 gallons (40 liters)
  • Tolerance: Hardy
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Lighting: Moderate

Bacopa caroliniana is great for beginners as it can withstand a wide range of water conditions. It is ideal for background placement in the aquarium, but it can also fit in as a midground aquarium plant.

The species can be cultivated in virtually all kinds of the substrate and it produces bright blue flowers which contrast beautifully with the light green color of the plant.

For more information, read the article “Bacopa Caroliniana Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

5. Dwarf water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

Dwarf Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)

  • Recommended tank size: 10 gallons (40 liters)
  • Tolerance: Hardy
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Lighting: Moderate

Dwarf Water Lettuce is an attractive and hardy species. As a floater plant, it is ideal for adorning the top of aquariums.

It tolerates a wide range of water parameters and it can thrive in almost all conditions; making it great for beginner use.

Although its growth is quite fast, it is also very easy to trim and control.

Read more about it in the article “Dwarf Water Lettuce Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

6. Java Moss (Taxiphyllum sp.)

Java moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)

  • Recommended tank size: 5 gallons (20 liters)
  • Tolerance: Hardy
  • Growth Rate: Slow to Moderate
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate

This is a popular plant for aquascaping freshwater aquaria. It is often used to create moss walls in the aquarium, and it can equally be used to adorn the fore-ground and mid-ground of planted tanks.

Java moss does not require high lighting, and it is a hardy plant that can survive a wide range of water temperatures provided that the extremes are not reached. This plant does not require CO2, substrate, and regular feeding as well.

For more information, read the article “Java Moss Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

7. Marimo Moss Balls (Aegagropila Linnaei)

Marimo moss ball (Aegagropila Linnaei)

  • Recommended tank size: 5 gallons (20 liters)
  • Tolerance: Hardy
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate

Marimo Moss Ball is not another popular variety of Java moss. Technically, this is not a plant at all but a rare form of spherical algae. Nonetheless, it resembles plants so well that … everybody wants to have it in their tanks.

In Japan, Marimo Moss Balls are regarded as good luck charms.

They are exceptionally undemanding species that are suitable for any kind of tank setup, including tanks with gravel or sand substrate.

For more information, read the article “Marimo Moss Ball Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation”.

In Conclusion

With the undemanding options above and lots more, a beginner aquarist exploring aquarium plants will not find it difficult to create a beautiful underwater landscape within the enclosure.

Always remember to weigh up the stated factors before opting for — and introducing live plants to your fish or shrimp tank.

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