10 Best Background Plants for Beginner Aquariums
One of the easiest ways to make your fish tank look less like a glass box and more like a slice of nature is to cover the back wall with a lush forest of tall aquarium plants. Check out these 10 beginner-friendly background plants that grow to 12 inches (30 cm) or more.
Before we begin, remember that most of these plants are grown emersed (or above water) at the plant farms, so when you bring them into your aquarium, their original leaves may melt away since the plants must grow new leaves that are used to being submersed (or underwater). Do not worry if your background plant appears to be wilting. It will start producing new foliage within 2 to 4 weeks.
Vallisneria spiralis is sometimes called “one-plant wonder” as it can transform your fish tank to a field full of tall grasses while gently waving in the current. Even in low to moderate light, it can send out new shoots or runners in substrate quickly. As one of the tallest plants on our list, we’ve successfully used it to break up line of sight when keeping more aggressive fish like African cichlids. Vallisneria or jungle val is a taller, thicker option to use in your large aquarium. You can find more information in our complete care guide for val.
2. Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
Because each node of its stem produces four bright green leaves, this unique plant is called “octopus”. They look like wilting tendrils that are flowing in the water. Pogostemon plants in general are great for filling out large areas of your tank, as well as providing cover for shy fish and babies. Once the plant is tall enough that it can reach the water surface you can propagate it by cutting off the top and planting it deeper into the substrate. You will see roots grow from the trimming, while the plant that you have left will continue to grow from the point at which it was cut.
3. Brazilian pennywort
Hydrocotyle leucocephala is another unusual-looking species, known for its flat, circular leaves that look like little umbrellas growing on a vine. It appreciates medium to high light, so try planting it directly under your aquarium light or even floating it at the surface. Trim the ends of the Brazilian pennywort that are too long and tangled to make it bushier. These clippings can be propagated by inserting them in the ground or floating them in the water.
4. Water sprite
Water sprite, Ceratopteris Thalictroides or water sprite are two of our favorite plants to grow to increase your fish baby’s survival rate. Its lacy, yellow green leaves make it easy to conceal for your fry while keeping hungry adults away. Water sprite is fast growing and can be used to purify water. It absorbs the nitrogen compounds from fish waste. Like many stem plants you can either grow it on the substrate or floating at water’s surface.
5. Amazon sword
One of the most well-known plants in the aquarium hobby is the Amazon sword or Echinodorus amazonicus. Vallisneria, for example, is a background plant that is tall and narrow. However, sword plants, on the other hand, have large, broad leaves and can grow into huge bushes. They prefer to feed from their roots rather than the water column, so provide them with nutrient-rich substrate or plenty of root tab fertilizers in the ground. They may produce side shoots, which will eventually become new plantlets once they grow sufficiently large. The red flame sword, which comes with red, green, and bronze-mottled leaves, can be used to add more color to your tank.
6. Bacopa caroliniana
Bacopa caroliniana is a stem plant that is well-known for its long stems and clusters with oval-shaped leaves. The closer the leaves are to the light, the more their colors change from green to yellow to reddish-bronze. Bacopa monnieri, also known as Moneywort, is a related stem plant that has small, round leaves and strong, straight stems that are bright green. Both plants can be propagated by pruning the stems to the desired height and replanting the trimmings.
7. Pearl weed
Hemianthus micranthemoides, a versatile species, can be used to create a background or foreground depending on its height. It looks like a miniature version of bacopa with a thin stem and tiny, oblong leaves. When you get a bunch of them growing in medium to high light conditions, they form a dense mass that is perfect for nano fish, shrimp, and fry to use as shelter. As with most stem plants, you can proliferate them by snipping off the long ends and replanting them in the substrate.
8. Alternanthera reineckii var. ‘roseafolia’
Scarlet temple is one of the shorter background plants on this list, but it’s worth mentioning because of its vibrant pink and red-colored leaves that really pop in the midst of other green aquarium plants. This is a species that appreciates medium to high light because the brighter the lighting, the more likely you will see those deep reds and even purples in its foliage. It needs to be fed with Easy Green and Easy Iron nutrients for maximum growth.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri is a gorgeous plant with red and green leaves that can easily become the statement piece of your aquarium. It not only produces beautiful, variegated green leaves, but also sends up lily pad to the surface. When planting your tiger lotsus, ensure that the bulb is placed on top of or less than halfway into the substrate. Burying the whole bulb can result in the plant dying. Once the bulb sprouts it will send roots to the ground to anchor and then start growing leaves that absorb light.
10. Crinum calamistratum
You need a background plant that is resistant to African cichlids and goldfish. The African onion plant is a bulb plant that produces very long and tough, ruffled leaves with a dark green coloration. The African onion plant is slow growing. Once you have planted the bulb, be sure to not move it or damage the substrate. To make sure that no fish will uproot the bulb, you can place it in an Easy Planter ornament. It will become the focal point of your planted tank if you give it medium to high lighting.
Need more ideas for live aquarium plants? Our collection includes easy-to-grow plants for beginners that we have found to be the most successful in our fish tanks. Enjoy picking your favorite background plants, and taking in the beauty of nature every day.