7 Best Foreground Plants for Your Next Planted Aquarium
Beginners often buy whatever plant they see and place it wherever there is room. However, if you want to take your planted tank to the next level, consider incorporating some tried-and-true design techniques. An excellent rule of thumb is to plan your aquarium in layers. This means that the tallest and shortest plants will be in front, while the longest plants will be in back. This arrangement is bleacher-style, so all your lovely plants can be seen from the front. To help you get started, let’s talk about our top 7 categories of foreground plants that stay roughly 3 inches (7.6 cm) or less in height.
1. Cryptocoryne Plants
Cryptocoryne perva (frontleft) versus Cryptocoryne lata (frontright)
We love the Cryptocoryne genus’ shorter plants. They are also known as “crypts”, and they don’t require constant pruning. C. parva and C. lucens are two species that don’t get very tall and do well in low light conditions. As a rosette plant, all of the leaves grow out of the crown or base of the plant. Bring a new crypt home and cover it with the substrate. You can feed it with enriched substrate or root tab fertilizer. Then resist the urge to move them. After they are established, the crypt might start to develop baby plants on one side. These can be attached to the mother plants or separated to be replanted in another tank area. Although smaller crypts are less likely to melt leaves than larger ones, it is possible to learn more about crypt melting.
2. Grass-Like Plants
Harlequin rasboras swimming over a lawn of dwarf hairgrass
To create a lush, green aquarium with stoloniferous plants, you can use narrow, grass-like, grass-like leaves. You will usually find several plants in one pot. To give them the space they need to grow, separate them and place them in their own containers. They do well if the roots are buried and the leaves kept aboveground, similar to crypt plants. If you provide nutrient-rich substrate or root tabs, they can spread rapidly by producing horizontal stolons or runners with a little plantlet at the end, eventually forming a long chain of “grass.”
Like normal lawns, some stoloniferous species can grow rather tall, so you may need to trim them with scissors or use a medium to high light to keep the lawn denser and shorter. One of the smaller, grass-like plants includes dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis acicularis), which looks almost like little tufts of green pine needles. Because of their very thin leaves, plant them around the tank in small clumps rather than as individual blades. Micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) has slightly wider leaves than dwarf hairgrass but should also be planted in a grid of small clumps. Sometimes it can grow slower than other stoloniferous plant species. To stop this, use amano shrimps or other algae eaters. Finally, dwarf chain sword or pygmy chain sword (Helanthium tenellum) has even wider blades and therefore can fill in the substrate pretty quickly. It can grow taller than other grass-like species, so it may be a good choice for large aquariums.
3. Plants for Epiphyte
Ornamental dwarf shrimp with anubias nana petite
Epiphyte plants or rhizome plants are often recommended to beginners because they do well under low light and do not require substrate to grow. This category also includes the smaller, more popular anubias “nana petite” and the rarer bucephalandras “green wavy”. They have a thick horizontal stem called a Rhizome. The leaves grow upwards toward sunlight and the roots extend downwards toward ground. It is important that the rhizome not be covered, or the plant might die. Some people mount them to rocks or driftwood using superglue gel. You can use it as a front-ground plant by pushing the rhizome, roots into the ground. Next, gently pull the plant upwards until the entire rhizome sits on top, the roots still buried beneath the substrate. If your fish keep uprooting it, try gluing the roots to a small rock and then push the rock into the substrate to keep it anchored.
4. Staurogyne is repens
S. repens is a beautiful foreground plant that has a thick stem with long, bright green leaves. It does tend to get a bit thin and leggy in low light, so give it medium to high light to keep it shorter and more compact. You can remove individual stems from rock wool if you buy the plant in a container. Then, plant them in separate containers. To prevent stems from floating away, use tweezers (or your fingers) to insert the stems into the ground. Dose an all-in-one liquid fertilizer to feed the plant from the water column, and provide enriched substrate or root tabs to feed nutrients from the ground. Whenever the S. repens gets too tall, just clip off the top half and replant it into the substrate for easy propagation.
5. Carpeting Plants
Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’)
Most foreground plants can be used as ground cover, but to get a very thick “carpet” where the substrate can’t be seen, we recommend using carpeting plants with lots of tiny leaves that can form a dense, low-growing mat. Dwarf baby tear (Hemianthus tweediei ‘Cuba) is a common choice for aquascapers. It has the smallest leaves of any fish in the aquarium hobby. But it needs high light and CO2 to shine. Monte carlo (Micranthemum tweediei ‘Monte Carlo’) has a similar appearance, but its leaves are a bit bigger and most people find it slightly easier to grow. Because these carpeting plants have very short and weak roots, we recommend planting them in the substrate with the rock wool still attached. You have two options: either place the entire plug in a single spot, or cut the rockwool into 1-inch squares and then insert the clumps in grid-like patterns. The plants will eventually grow into a lush mound of little, green leaves spreading across the substrate.
6. Tripartite hydrocotyle “Japan”
Hydrocotyle tripartite ‘Japan’
This unusual aquarium plant can be grown as a creeping vine with shamrock shaped leaves. This makes it ideal for creating a field of clovers within your aquarium. You can let the plant grow in the background as ground cover or train them to grow on hardscape. When you first get this stem plant, plunge the base of the stem as deeply into the substrate as possible to keep it from floating away. For propagation, feed it both fertilizers in water and in substrate. When it gets too tall you can trim its tops and replant them back in the ground. Hydrocotyle tripartita does best in medium to high lighting and provides excellent shelter for small fish and shrimp.
Mosses are similar to epiphyte plants because they too have rhizomes that do not need to be planted in the substrate. You can attach them to hardscape for the appearance of a overgrown forest. Or you can glue them onto small rocks to form little bushes at the front of the aquarium. To create a mossy carpet, tie them to rectangles of stainless steel or plastic craft mesh using fishing line and place them on the ground. If the moss starts growing unruly in appearance, just give it a small haircut and use a fish net or aquarium siphon to remove the trimmings.
Once you’ve chosen your favourite foreground plant, be sure to add some background plants and a mix of midgrounds. To get inspired, check out our article about the best background plants to start an aquarium.