When I decided to write an article about the best aquarium plants for beginners, first of all I’ve studied the ones that Google search provided me with. You can’t imagine, how I was surprised – it’s been quite a while since I’ve read so many ridiculous ideas and tips.
Large part of the plants which are recommended for beginners in those articles, are challenging to keep even for experienced aquarists. I know it, since I’ve tried doing this many times and not always it was a success.
What do I mean when talking about the best aquarium plants for beginner aquarists? These plants should be able to quickly adapt to new tank conditions, show stable growth rate, be able to stand abrupt changes of the water parameters and withstand algae fouling.
Below I will give a list of 10 plants, which are quite hard to kill and which grow fast provided almost with any tank water parameters, without additional CO2 supply and mineral fertilizers.
These are the best aquarium plants for beginners in my opinion. Actually, the list could be much longer, because there are far more unpretentious tank plant species.
However, not all of them can be found on sale.
All aquarium mosses are rather undemanding, though they have low growth rate. Here you can find the information about the most popular ones.
Nevertheless, the most undemanding aquarium plant for a newly started tank is Java moss. This plant resembles some tangled dark-green filaments, its distinctive feature is its high shade-endurance and simplicity of its cultivation.
The plant doesn’t require to be planted into a substrate, since it doesn’t have roots. Therefore, it can grow on stones, snags and other tank decorations. It sticks to them itself in the wet medium above the water level or under it, which makes the tank look amazingly natural.
To make sure that fishes or water flow won’t move your newly planted moss from its place, you can tie the moss with a thin thread or pin it to the tank bottom substrate.
However, very dirty water may ruin the moss, when suspended organics will settle on its leaves and create a thick layer on them.
Thus, the moss will be unable to breathe and due to this the photosynthesis process worsens.
Vallisneria is extremely undemanding and grows rapidly. There are lots of Vallisneria species. However, there are only three of them that are used for aquariums decoration.
These are: Vallisneria spiralis, Vallisneria sp. Gigantea and Vallisneria nana. You can read about each of them in more details here.
This moss looks good in tank corners or at the background; it very quickly fills the tank. Vallisneria can grow up to 50 cm tall, while Vallisneria sp. Gigantea – up to 2 m tall. If the plant has reached the tank top, it starts to trail along its surface.
However, you mustn’t trim Vallisneria, since tips of its leaves will start to rot! If the plant vegetation becomes too thick, it is recommended to weed it. At that you should remove its new shoots.
While Java moss should be fixed to the tank decorations, Vallisneria has to be planted into the bottom substrate, hornwort doesn’t need any of these. This plant can be both planted or just left to float in the water. In time you will have so many of its shoots in the tank.
Hornwort acts as a filter in a tank. This plant enriches the tank water with oxygen and absorbs nitrates from it. Also this plant works on principle of mechanical filter – it captures suspended matter. If you see that the plant has become muddy, you should wash it under the running water.
Hornwort grows at water temperature range from 20 to 30 degrees. If the temperature is close to 30 degrees, then hornwort may start growing faster and grow up to 20 cm in a week. The plant doesn’t require mineral fertilizers provided with weekly renew of ¼ of tank water.
The plant propagates by means of cutting its stem. Even if you have a tiny piece of the plant stem, you can grow the whole plant from it.
This is not very tall and rather undemanding plant which has rather low growth rate (just like all other fern species). The Java fern doesn’t have roots and it doesn’t require planting into the bottom substrate; however, by means of its root-like formations – rhizoids – it easily sticks to stones, snags, etc. The plant can be used as a basis for very good looking aquascape compositions.
This fern is easy to keep. It can adapt to various conditions. The plant is not demanding in terms of lighting level, hydrochemical composition of the tank water and it can stand low temperatures up to 4°С.
It is recommended to fix the plant with a sea-line, special collars or glue on stones, snags and other decorations with rough surface.
If the plant roots get into the substrate, they will rot. All you can do in this respect, is slightly press the plant with a small stone to the tank bottom, so it won’t float.
Anubias species are not the cheap ones to buy, since they grow slowly; however, they are rather enduring and they will do with low light level. Besides, the plant is too tough for many herbivorous fish species.
Anubias should be planted so, that its roots are in the substrate and the stem is above it. You can fix the plant roots to a snag or a stone and leave some of them out of the substrate. Even in this case the plant will grow successfully.
The most popular Anubias species is anubias nana. It grows good at moderate lighting, doesn’t react to changes of water pH and hardness. Anubias has coarse leaves, that’s why fishes and snails can’t do them any harm.
As for the plants demerits, we should mention its low growth rate and the fact that it can’t stand algae fouling.
If you wish to have not just chaotic tangles of small leaves in a tank, but some large plants with rather wide leaves, then Amazon sword is a perfect plant for you. In general, there are many nice and undemanding kinds among Echinodorus species, but Amazon sword is the most popular one.
It is easy to take care of, grows very fast and becomes a rather good-looking plant. It may appear rather spectacular, if you plant it in a proper place. Amazon sword may grow up to 40 cm tall, that’s why it is better to plant it in the middle of the tank or in the back.
Due to its rather significant size, the plant is a good decoration for large sized tanks.
All fluctuant plants are rather undemanding and they require only bright light. It is hard to choose just one, since all of them have rather significant decorative properties. I prefer Amazon frogbit for a couple of reasons – it has long and nice roots, which decorate the middle water layer in a tank and the plant grows new shoots extremely quickly.
Like most of fluctuant plants Amazon frogbit requires bright light, though for some period of time it is able to dwell in shadowed areas. It doesn’t need mineral fertilization.
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The plant propagates by growing the new shoots at the end of its branch-shoots. Once these new shoots grow at least three leaves and a root, you can separate them from the parent plant.
Cryptocoryne is a very widespread aquarium plant, but various kinds of the plant require different tank conditions. It is quite challenging to recommend some specific Cryptocoryne species to keep in an aquarium, therefore try to read about the most renowned species of the plant and choose the one you like yourself.
Cryptocoryne species don’t like replanting, since in a new place the plant will grow new leaves only in a several months, even provided with proper care.
Cryptocorynes propagate by means of trailing and some of their new shoots may be in the substrate. A small leaf that forms at the end of the shoot grows into a small bush in time. Once the bush has 5-6 leaves in it and it is several weeks old – you can replant it.
This is one of the most popular aquarium plants for beginners. Really, we can name only its advantages – the plant cleans water, has unusual shape, stable growth rate and serves as a shelter for shrimps.
However, there is one sufficient drawback, which made me doubt if I should include Marimo Moss into my list.
The plant likes cold water and in warm water it starts to fall into pieces and divides into parts. This way the plant propagates in the wild. Yet, I decided to include it into the list, since according to my experience of keeping Marimo moss balls in my tank, the plant adapts quite well and maintains its attractive shape.
Waterweed (Egeria densa)
In the wild you can encounter Egeria densa in waters of North and South America. However, when the plant grows widely it becomes rather aggressive and pushes out the rest of the flora representatives. Due to such behavior the plant got its name ‘Waterweed’.
In a tank Egeria densa feels rather comfortable as well, it cleans water and upgrades the space in the tank. The plant is rather unpretentious, therefore it’s not difficult to take care of it. Both beginner aquarists and professionals like it.
Egeria densa grows quickly and its shoots my be up to 2 meters long. You can trim the shoots up to the length proper for your tank. The plant roots are thin, fragile and long.
How to select aquarium plants for beginner aquarists?
Let’s distinguish some criteria, which the aquarium plant should correspond to. Unpretentious tank plant species can dwell in a wide range of water parameters. They will do both with 4 and 20 degrees of water hardness. Inexperienced aquarists don’t measure this parameter and they don’t know water hardness level in their tanks. The same is about the tank water temperature.
The plant attitude to the tank lighting. Actually, to the lack of lighting. Commercial aquariums are initially equipped with low power lamps, which just can’t supply the tank with proper level of lighting. But this fact allows to decrease their price.
Endurance to abrupt changes of tank conditions. Very often beginners can forget about their tank for a month or two. During this time the tank water will change its parameters essentially and its pH value will decrease.
Then they recall that they have a tank and start to wash and clean it, renew a large amount of water. Only undemanding aquarium plants will stand such an abrupt change of pH level.
Absence of regular care. In two months of such independent life plants for beginner aquarists won’t die due to thier uncontrolled growth, shadowing, plant thickness, lack of fertilizers and other factors depending on presence of regular care.
Endurance to algae fouling, etc. Beginner aquarists may not be able to see the problem timely. So, the plant species simple in care should be able to wait till the owner sees the problem and does something about it.
Aquarium plants for beginners fade slowly and if you try do at least something, you will be able to save them.
Why do we need aquarium plants?
Despite the fact that these are live plants and they are fascinating, their presence in a tank gives you a lot of bonuses:
- They act as «lungs» in a tank, since they naturally enrich the tank water with oxygen;
- The plants don’t let excessive amount of carbon dioxide accumulate;
- Serve as an indicator of tank water state: the plants appearance shows if there are any problems in the tank;
- Absorb substances which are toxic for the fish: such as nitrites, nitrates and phosphates;
- They are a plant supplements to the fish diet, which helps to avoid diseases of the fish digestive system as well as to diversify their diet;
- Compliment into the tank biological balance and help to maintain it. Sometimes experienced aquarists achieve such success, when their tanks don’t require artificial aeration and water filter, due to the presence of aquarium plants in them;
- Serve as shelters and create shadow for those tank inhabitants who need them;
- Some tank dwellers use them while spawning and to grow their juveniles.
Attributes of successful keeping of aquarium plants in a tank
The most crucial feature of plants as well as all living creatures is their metabolism. All living creatures need nutrition they get from the existing organic substances.
The plants can synthesize organic substance from non-organic substances. To do this they need water, carbon dioxide, K+, Ca++, Mg++, and Fe++ cations, NO3, SO4, PO4 anions and small amounts of borium, vanadium, iodine, cobalt, manganese, copper, molybdenum and zinc, which are called micro-elements.
At that successful growth of the plant is defined by the minimal amount of one of these substances. For example, at lack of ferrous iron the leaves become yellowish and the plant itself starts growing slower; in this case neither perfect lighting, nor the most favorable tank water and substrate composition will help.
Tap water, in which aquarists keep the tank plants, almost always contains all necessary nutrients (in solubilized form) the plant requires. Aquarium plants unlike terrestrial ones can absorb water not only with their roots, but also with their whole surface.
According to the type of their absorption process the plants are divided into:
- Plants absorbing water mainly with by means of their root system. Such plants require a bottom substrate rich in nutrients.
- Plants absorbing water both with their roots and leaves. Such plants require the substrate with low content of nutrients.
- Aquatic plants and fluctuant ones absorbing water mainly and solely by means of their leaves.
In case of rather intensive photosynthesis process in a thickly planted tank, CO2 content in the tank water significantly decreases and, correspondingly, pH level rises. At that its daily pH change may be 1-2 units a day, which should be taken into account when selecting aquarium plants for such a tank.
Photosynthesis occurs in a plant leaf, in its chloroplasts containing green pigment called chlorophyll. Photosynthesis process consists of light-dependent and light-independent phase.
During the light-dependent phase the primary products appear; they are transformed into the end products with the help of ferments during the light-independent phase of photosynthesis. Intensity of the process is effected by many factors such as: lighting intensity, spectral structure of the light, tank water temperature and amount of carbon dioxide.
All these factors act together and lack of one of them can not be compensated by the excessive amount of the other.
Different kinds of plants require different level of illumination to grow and perform photosynthesis process successfully. There are light demanding, shade-requiring and shade-requiring plants. The plant requires energy to grow.
In case of lack of oxygen the plant can breathe and produce energy for some period of time and use for this the oxygen from carbohydrates and water molecules. However, at that ethyl hydroxide appears in the water and it is poisonous for aquarium plants.
The process of a plant growth involves reproduction of its cells and increasing of their amount. On the top of the plant stem there is a vegetation cone, where the process of cell fission occurs. Tropical and subtropical plants grow mainly at night.
Paul Townsend is a founder and author of Meethepet.com. He’s been fond of aquarium husbandry since his early childhood.
His favorite aquariums are biotopes (Amazon River), Echinodorus and Angelfish. However, through the years he’s had experience of keeping almost all types of freshwater fish and shrimps.