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. It is a good idea to arrange the aquarium in layers, from front to rear. The shortest plants should be in the foreground while the tallest plants should be in the background. This arrangement, which is a bleacher style, ensures that all your plants are visible from front. Let’s start by describing the top 7 foreground plant categories that are approximately 3 inches (7.6cm) tall or less.
1. Cryptocoryne Plants
Cryptocoryne parva (front left) versus Cryptocoryne lutea (front right)
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. All of the rosette plants’ leaves are borne from the crown or base. When you bring a new crypt home, bury the roots in the substrate but do not cover the crown. Feed it plenty of nutrients by using enriched substrate or root tab fertilizer, and then resist the urge to move them at all. After they are established, the crypt might start to develop baby plants on one side. You can leave them attached to the mother plant or gently separate them to replant in another area of the tank. Although smaller crypts are less likely to melt leaves than larger ones, it is possible to learn more about crypt melting.
2. Grass-Like Flowers
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. As with crypt plants, they thrive if roots are buried and leaves the foliage aboveground. They can quickly spread if you give them nutrient-rich substrate, root tabs, or runners with a small plantlet at their ends. Eventually, the “grass” will grow in a long chain.
Some stoloniferous grasses can grow quite tall like normal lawns. You may need to trim them or use a high-intensity light to keep it shorter. Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis arcucularis) is a smaller grass-like plant. It looks almost like tiny tufts green pine needles. Due to their thin leaves, it is best to plant them in small clumps around the tank rather than individual blades. Micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) has slightly wider leaves than dwarf hairgrass but should also be planted in a grid of small clumps. It sometimes has the reputation of growing more slowly than other stoloniferous plants, so use amano shrimp or other algae eaters to help curb any algae growth. A dwarf chain sword (or pygmy or pygmy sword) is also available. It has even wider blades, so it can quickly fill in the substrate. It is more suitable as a foreground plant in medium-sized to large aquariums because it can get taller that other grass-like plants.
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. The smaller species include the popular anubias petite and the rare bucephalandra green wavy. They have a thick, horizontal stem called a rhizome with leaves that grow upwards toward the light and roots that extend downwards toward the ground. The rhizome should not be covered as the plant could die. Many people mount them to rocks and driftwood with super glue gel. To use it as a foreground plant, push the rhizome and roots completely into the ground, and then slightly pull the plant upwards so the entire rhizome is sitting on top of the substrate with the roots still buried. 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 repens
S.repens is a wonderful foreground plant, with a thick stem. It also has bright green, oblong-shaped 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. The individual stems can be removed from the rock wool and placed in their own pot. You can use tweezers, or your fingers to place the stems in the ground. This will prevent them from floating away. 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. To encourage easy propagation, cut off the top of the S.repens if it grows too tall.
5. Carpeting Plants
Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’)
Ground cover can be done by most foreground plants. However, if you want to create a thick carpet where the substrate is hidden, we recommend carpeting plants that have many tiny leaves. These plants can grow dense mats and can hold a lot of soil. 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 the leaves are larger. Most people find it easier to grow. These carpeting plants are very weak and have short roots. We recommend that you plant them in the substrate with the rockwool still attached. You can either plant the entire plug in one spot or cut the rock wool into 0.5-inch (1 cm) squares and insert the clumps in a grid-like pattern. 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 unique aquarium plant grows like a creeping vine with shamrock-shaped leaves, which is perfect for recreating a picturesque field of clovers in your aquarium. You can let the plant grow in the background as ground cover or train them to grow on hardscape. To prevent it from fluttering away, you should insert the stem’s base into the substrate as deep as possible when you first receive it. You can feed it fertilizers in both the water and the substrate. Once it is too tall, trim the tops off and replant them in ground for future growth. 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.
After you’ve settled on the best foreground plants, ensure that you add the right amount of background and midground plants to your aquarium. For inspiration, read our article on the best backgrounds plants for beginner aquariums.