Beginner Freshwater Plants for a Fish Tank
By Jecinta Muturi @aquariawise
Aquatic plants have many uses in aquariums, from oxygenating the water, providing fish with shelter, keeping your tank clean to providing breeding spots for your fish.
However, not all aquatic plants will grow in freshwater fish tanks, and among the few that do, there are even fewer species that are easy to start and care for, and basic enough even for new hobbyists.
Therefore, in this article, I will help you choose 10 hardy, low light plants you can start in your freshwater aquarium without to much hustle. You’ll also learn how to start the plants in your fish tank.
But first, here is a quick list of the 10 plants we will look at.
- Anubias Nana
- Water sprite
- Water wisteria
- Amazon sword
- Java moss
- Java fern
What are Easy (Best) Aquarium Plants
Before we look at each plant concisely, it’s important to determine what is considered an easy or best plant for a planted aquarium—read this tips on how to start a planted fish tank.
Well, best (easy) aquarium plants are mostly versatile species that can withstand a range of water and light conditions and are compatible with a host of tankmates.
The species should fit both in large and small tanks and also a community and species aquaria.
If you want to use the plants to aquascape, you’ll want species that not only spruce a particular space in the fish tank but can be used as fore, mid and background plants depending on the size of your tank.
Some aquarist look for easy to grow aquarium plant that’ll best provide hiding spaces for their fish, whereas breeders want plants that make good breeding beds and homes for new fry.
Other still consider good aquarium plants to be floating aquarium species, that you can simply tose in the water and they’ll grow. It’s also possible to get those who need flowering or red aquatic plants that jazz their aquariums.
Simply put, the easiest, low-tech, un-fussy and versatile aquatic plants make the best option in any fish tank.
10 Easiest Beginner Freshwater Aquarium Plants— Hardy, Low-light, Low-Tech
Let’s look at all plants in the list briefly
Hornwort is an easy, fast-growing aquarium plant that grows anywhere from a small 15-gallon tank to big aquariums.
The plant grows to a maximum height of 10 feet which makes it an ideal background species.
Hornwort needs moderate lighting and do best in soft water with the temperature anywhere between 59°F to 86°F and a ph of 6.0 to 7.5.
Its hardy nature makes it ideal for beginners or those looking to introduce non-fussy plants to their tanks. Hornworts hardiness is evident from the extensive spread to every continent except Antarctica after originating from North America.
Hornwort is also easy to propagate via vegetative fragmentation where one part of the plant is separated from the rest and grow to form a new plant.
#2 — Anubias Nana
Dwarf anubias or anubias nana is a small plant that grows only 4.7 inches in height and will virtually thrive in any aquarium setup.
Anubias nana can grow both in a substrate or attached to aquarium rock or driftwood.
Although considered a slow-growing plant, dwarf anubias will grow in low-light tanks with a wide range of water conditions.
Ideally, start new plants in a tropical-freshwater tank with the water temperature anywhere from 72°F to 82°F. Soft to moderately hard water is best with an almost neutral ph of 6 to 7.5.
Grow anubias nana as a mid-ground plant if you have a small tank, but when using a large size aquarium, start your plant in the foreground.
When planted in the foreground, trim and groom your plant to keep it lush and short enough not to obscure mid and background plants. While in the middle, attach anubias nana on rocks or driftwood for a better look.
Dwarf anubias is easy to propagate by dividing rhizomes which develop into thick short stems with dark green leaves.
#3 — Water Sprite
Water sprite is a beautiful aquatic plant with bright green leaves that make it perfect both as a mid-ground and background plant.
Intrestingly, water sprite, also called water or Indian fern, can grow in a substrate or floating on the water surface.
Start your water fern in soft to moderately hard water with a temperature anywhere from 68°F and 82°F and a ph of 6.0 to 7.5 under low to medium aquarium lighting.
Like hornwort, water sprite is widely distributed around the globe, and consequently, will withstand a wide range of environments.
The plant is generally a rosette fern instead of a stem plant hence provide good spots for fish to hide and play. plus a place to breed and a house for fry.
Water sprite is also widely used to form a shade over an aquarium when you have fish that prefer dark spaces or to keep algae from forming at the bottom of a fish tank.
The plant is easy to propagate, the mother plant will produce plantlets that are released into the water and develop into new plants. However, water sprite is a fast-growing species that will take over your aquarium if not checked.
#4 — Water Wisteria
Water wisteria is a popular aquarium plant that is native to the Indian subcontinent and eerily similar to water sprite.
The plant is quite hardy growing in a range of water conditions to a maximum height of 20 inches under moderate to high light.
Caring for water wisteria is fairly easy even for beginners and when planted in small 10-gallon fish tanks. It’s best used as a background plant due to its fair height but is also quite versatile.
Grow water wisteria in a freshwater aquarium with a temperature between 70°F and 82°F and soft water with a ph of 6.5 to 7.5.
Water wisteria can be grown rooted in the substrate or spread across the tank as a carpet. When planted in gravel or sand, the plant will add color to mid and background tank areas, whereas carpets form a thick green layer that brightens the bottom of your tank.
Propagation is also quite easy with wisteria plants growing to a point where parts begin to fall off and develop into new members. The process should happen naturally in your aquarium, but you can still manipulate it by starting plants through cuttings.
#5 — Amazon Sword
Amazon sword is a rosette, broad-leafed plant that makes a good centerpiece in aquariums, best suited for bigger fish tanks.
The plant is easy to care for and will in at least a 20-gallon freshwater aquarium with a water temperature between 72°F and 82°F and keep your water ph stable at between 6.5 and 7.5. Preferably, use soft to moderately hard water in an aquarium planted with Amazon sword.
Grow your plant in a loose substrate with a layer of gravel or a specially prepared substrate. The plants will also benefit from occasional doses of fertilizer and C02 through the carbon dioxide dissolved in water will be sufficient with a few plants in your fish tank.
Lighting in an aquarium planted with amazon sword should be medium to high, ideally 2 to 3 watts per gallon of water.
One con of growing plants under this kind of light help algae grow, so you’ll need to add algae eaters in the tank. Consider shrimp or fish like the siamese algae eating shark.
The propagation of amazon sword is quite easy occurring through division or adventitious plantlets.
While propagating, simply divide the plantlets from the mother plant once it starts to develop roots and plant it in your substrate.
#6 — Java Moss
Java moss is probably the most popular aquarium plant among fish keepers and breeders. The plant doesn’t require any special attention and accepts a wide range of water conditions and all kind of light quality.
The plant is mostly famous for its awesome carpets, walls, trees, and balls that you can easily use to spruce your fish tank. Java moss usually attach to surfaces to create this impression.
Java moss is indisputably a foreground species, though it can also be used at the bottom of the fish tank or even on surfaces like glass to form moss carpets and walls.
Breeders use this plant in breeding tanks to make breeding beds and safe homes for new fry.
Planting java moss is very easy hence a perfect beginner aquatic species. Start it in a tank with a temperature between 59°F and 80°F and a ph of 5.0 to 8.0.
One con of Java moss is it has lacy parts that get sucked into aquarium filter intakes and trap solid dirt particles. Therefore, don’t prune your moss very regularly rest you’ll thin it out too much.
Java moss propagation is easy, just cut off a piece from a mother plant and attach it on aquarium rock or driftwood with a thread or fishing line. Given the right conditions, you should have another plant java moss plant within no time.
#7 — Java Fern
Java fern is popular in aquarium hobby due to its aesthetic appeal and ease of care. It’s a leafy plant native to South East Asia hence named after the Indonesia Island of Java.
The plant is highly variable with different geographical variants that range from narrow leaf, needle leaf to windelov, trident and lance leaf.
Like Java moss, cultivation in aquariums is usually done by tying the plant rhizome on aquarium rocks or driftwood instead of planting it directly in the substrate.
Java fern will grow under dim to bright light with or without gravel, plus its soil resistant and grows better with higher fish.
Start java fern in a freshwater aquarium filled with soft water with a temperature between 68°F and 82°F and a ph of 6.0 to 7.5. The plant will thrive in any tank bigger than 10-gallons.
Java fern doesn’t need a lot of fertilizing or CO2 dosing though this would help especially in heavily planted aquariums.
There are a couple of ways you can propagate java fern, first you could cut the rhizomes in half and replant the cut sections. Alternatively, you can wait for your plant to develop tiny java ferns on the leaves which you then cut off and start in your fish tank.
A thing to note is java fern has rhizomes that don’t like to be buried which is a mistake most new hobbyists do and end up with plants growing too slow or even not grow at all.
#8 — Cryptocoryne
Cryptocoryn, commonly called crypts are slow growing aquarium plants that require little to no pruning and have a low light tolerance.
Crypts have many varieties available ideal for the foreground, midground and background interest with pleasing colors, forms and textures.
However, not all crypts are easy to grow even by beginners, and some are quite complicated and are challenging even for professionals.
When growing this plant in your tank, you’ll need to simulate water flow and preferably use soft to moderately-hard water with a temperature between 72°F and 80°F and a ph of 6.8 to 7.8.
You should also plant your cryptocoryne in a substrate and its recommended you add compounds fertilizer. However, unlike other tank plants, crypts react adversely to phosphates, carbonates, and nitrates in water. So you should have rapid growing plants together with the cryptocoryne to consume these elements. Also, renew your aquarium water regularly.
To propagate crypts, you need a portion of the roots with a living node that’ll grow into a new plant. Instead, some aquarists pull up large plants and split them into clumps of smaller plantlets which they then place in the substrate.
It is important to keep in mind that cryptocoryne, while easy to maintain and grow, is fussy about water conditions and any sudden change in the parameters can tripper crypts melt.
#9 — Anacharis
Anacharis is a hardy aquarium plant that readily adapts to a diverse range of water conditions which makes it a perfect choice for beginners.
The plants have dark leaves with a long stem that is also green. However, the intensity of anacharis plants color varies with from plant to plant depending on water and light conditions.
Anacharis plants grow to a maximum of 2 feet and hence a good background species especially in bigger tanks.
Grow your plant in a freshwater aquarium in soft water with a temperature anywhere between 59°F and 82°F and a ph of 6.5 to 7.5. Moreover, anacharis will survive in both tropical (heated) fish tanks as well as cold water aquariums.
That being said, the plant when grown in tropical aquariums require regular addition of fertilizer and a moderate amount of light preferably 2 watts per gallon of light.
Anacharis propagation is easy, simply cut the stem and either plant it in the substrate or float the portion in the water. Best cuts are at least 5 inches in length with healthy green leaves on the stem.
#9 — Aponogeton
Aponogeton is an aquatic plant native to Africa, Madagascar to be exact, and looks good in any aquarium. It’s light green with transparent leaves and grows about 10 inches wide and around a foot in length.
This plant is relatively hardy and can thrive in a wide range of water conditions. So if you are looking for a simple plant to put in a large aquarium, this is it.
Generally, aponogeton will thrive in a tank with a temperature between 72°F and 82°F and a water ph of 6.5 to 7.5. However, some species can tolerate cooler temperatures.
This plant will grow even in low to moderate light inside a low tech aquarium with minimal CO2 addition and fertilizer dosing. Beware aponogeton does grow quite rapidly, so keep an eye out, rest the plant will take over your tank.
Nonetheless, there are many species of aponogeton which come from different places including Aponogeton Crispus from Srilanka, hence the details of each variant may differ slightly from the one described.
Aponogeton is also called laceleaf, lattice leaf or lace plant when sold for use in aquariums in pet stores.
Enjoy the hobby.