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. These are 10 easy-to-use background plants for beginners that can grow up to 12 inches (30cm) or more.
Be aware that these plants were grown above or emersed at plant farms. Therefore, when they are brought into an aquarium, their original leaves could melt. The plants need to grow new leaves because they are used to being submerged (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 often called the “one-plant wonder”, as it can turn your fish tank into a lush field of tall grasses that gently wave in the current. Even in low to medium light, it readily sends out new shoots or runners in the substrate that can quickly fill your tank. We have used it successfully to break up lines of sight in keeping aggressive fish, such as African cichlids, because it is the tallest of our plants. 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’
This unusual plant is known as an “octopus”, because each node in its stem produces four bright-green leaves. They look like tendrils floating in the water. Pogostemon plants are excellent for covering small areas in your tank and providing cover for babies and shy fish. 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. If the Brazilian pennywort gets too long and tangled, just trim off a few sections and the plant will grow new stems, creating a bushier appearance overall. These can be used to propagate the plant by putting them in the ground, or floating them in water.
4. Water sprite
If you’re looking for a really dense plant to increase the survival rate of your fish babies, water sprite or Ceratopteris thalictroides is one of our favorites to use. 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. While some background plants like vallisneria are tall and narrow in profile, sword plants have big, board leaves and can grow into giant bushes. They prefer to eat from their roots, so give them nutrient-rich substrate and plenty of root tab fertilizers. Once they are large enough, they may start producing side shoots that become new plantlets. To add more variety in color to your planted tank, try the red flame sword that comes with green, red, and bronze mottled leaves.
6. Bacopa caroliniana
Bacopa caroliniana, a stem plant, is known for its clusters of oval-shaped stems and long stems that won’t stop growing up to the water surface. The more close the leaves are to the sun, the more colors they will change from green to yellow or reddish-bronze. Moneywort or Bacopa monnieri is a similar stem plant with smaller, rounded leaves and sturdy, straight stems that stay bright green. Both can be propagated by trimming the stems to the desired height, and then 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. Like most stem plants, they can be proliferated by removing the long ends and replanting in the substrate.
8. Alternanthera reineckii var. ‘roseafolia’
Although scarlet temple is a shorter background plant, it is worth noting because of its bright pink and red-colored leaves. These vibrant colors really stand out among 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. For optimal growth, feed it Easy Green and Easy Iron.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri, a beautiful plant with green and red leaves, can be a focal point of any aquarium. It not only produces beautiful, variegated green leaves, but also sends up lily pad to the surface. To plant your tiger lotus, make sure to place the bulb on top of or only partially buried halfway into the substrate. The entire bulb could be buried and cause it to die. Once the bulb sprouts, it will send roots down into the ground to anchor itself and grow leaves to start absorbing light.
10. Crinum calamistratum
Do you need a background that can withstand goldfish and African Cichlids? African onion plants are bulb plants that produce long, sturdy, ruffled leaves in a dark green shade. 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. Keep it happy with medium to high light, and watch it become the centerpiece of your planted tank.
Looking for more ideas on 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.