Basic Overview of Freshwater Plants

When most people start an aquarium, they usually go for the fake plants since they are the easier option. I would like to encourage you to look into real plants.

Benefits of Plants on Aquarium

Real plants are part of the Nitrogen Cycle. They utilize the nitrates in the water to create oxygen. They also use the carbon dioxide from the fish during the day. If you put healthy plants, they will absorb all types of waste given off by fish, which can work well with a canister or hang on back filter, to give excellent water quality and happy fish.

Planting an aquarium can help decrease algae. Algae thrive on the excess nutrients in the aquarium, plants can be used to outcompete the algae for nutrients and minimize its ability to grow.

Many species of fish use plants for protection and breeding. If you want to have community tanks with many different species of fish, it is a good idea to add live plants. Fake plants could be used for protection, but they aren’t as useful as real plants.

Beginner Plants

There are a few plants that are ideal for beginners. They require little care and don’t need anything extra that some of the more needy plants do.

  1. Amazon Sword.
  2. Anubias Nana.
  3. Java Moss.
  4. Java Fern.

The Java Moss and Java Fern should be attached to something (like driftwood) with fishing line or thread.

Plant Care

Plant care can require as much or as little work as you’d like. For aquariums that only have a few real plants, they tend to take care of themselves. There are a few options as far as fertilizer to help them along. My favorite is Seachem Flourish Tabs, These are comprehensive nutrient tablets that you push under your substrate and they slowly dissolve. My plants respond well to the substrate tablets and they are low maintenance since they take quite a while to dissolve. I personally do not recommend them for use with invertebrates (such as shrimp)

You will need to keep an eye on your plants. Dead and dying plant matter will release ammonia into the water just like fish, so it is important to prune your plants and remove anything that looks questionable.

If you want to get a little more into the plant aspect there are other products that you can use to supplement nutrients that plants utilize. Seachem makes a broad range of different products for this. Here are some that I recommend:

*It’s important to note that nitrogen should only be added if you don’t have enough in your tank for your plants. This product should be used sparingly and with caution since it does contain nitrate.

Follow the directions on each product exactly for best results. I do not recommend Fourish Iron if you have shrimp.

Carbon Dioxide is, as most people know, essential to plants for photosynthesis. While small amounts of plants get the CO2 from your fish, sometimes it isn’t enough. There are two options:

  1. Gas CO2 Supplement – This is by far the superior option and the one I recommend personally. It is expensive to setup and can be difficult to find a place to refill your CO2 tank. The structure is simple, CO2 tank connects to a diffuser through a regulator and bubble counter. It is also wise to use a CO2 Indicator. It takes some time to gauge how much CO2 you should have in your tank. This calculator gives you a good idea of where to start. CO2 should be turned off at night.
  2. Seachem Flourish Excel – This is a liquid that gives free carbon for plants to utilize. Follow the directions on the bottle for best results. From my experience, this product should NOT be used with shrimp (despite the fact the bottle states that it is safe).


When getting aquarium plants, it is important to consider lighting levels. Most aquarium plants are okay with medium light levels, but there are some that require higher levels.

If you are using fluorescent lights, you’ll need to make sure your fluorescent tubes are emitting the correct spectrum for the plants you select. The use of LEDs eliminates this problem.

Fish Compatibility With Plants

Before you do get plants, you need to consider if your fish are “compatible” with plants. While there are plants in most freshwater biotypes, they do get eaten or uprooted. If you have herbivore fish, you may want to reconsider getting plants since they will be eaten pretty quickly. Also if you are keeping cichlids (Malawi, Tanganyika, etc.), you may want to hold off on the plants. While it is possible to put plants with them, they have a tendency to nibble on them.

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