Beginner Fish Tank Plants: From Selection to Maintenance

Introducing live plants into your aquarium can be an exciting yet daunting task, especially for beginners. But having a planted tank has many benefits – plants help create a balanced ecosystem, provide hiding spots for shy fish, absorb waste materials, and add natural beauty to your underwater world.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know as a beginner – from choosing the right plants to proper care and maintenance. By the end, you’ll know how to create a lush, thriving planted tank. So, let’s dive right in!

Why Go for Planted Tanks?

Before jumping into plant selection, let’s understand why live aquarium plants are a great addition to any tank set-up. Here are some of the top reasons to go for a planted tank:

  • Natural aesthetics – Plants enhance the beauty of your aquascape and make your tank look like a slice of nature. The vibrant greens and lovely textures create a natural habitat for your fish.
  • Hiding spots – Shy species like tetras, rasboras, and bettas appreciate and thrive in heavily planted tanks. Plants make these fish feel secure and comfortable.
  • Improved water quality – Aquatic plants absorb ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and other waste materials, helping keep levels in check. They oxygenate the water too.
  • Shelter for fry – Plants protect fish fry and juveniles from being eaten by adult tank mates. Fry also graze on algae and biofilm on plant leaves.
  • Foraging opportunities – Many fish relish grazing on the microorganisms, algae and plant matter in a planted tank. This helps replicate their natural diet.

Live plants offer aesthetic and functional benefits, especially for beginners looking to establish a thriving ecosystem.

Are Planted Tanks Good for Beginners?

While heavily planted aquarium scapes are commonly associated with expert-level tank-keeping, planted tanks can also be perfectly suitable for beginners. Here’s why:

  • Several beginner-friendly plants are undemanding and hardy, tolerating various conditions. This makes keeping them quite forgiving.
  • Plants aid water quality and help compensate for beginner mistakes like overfeeding and irregular water changes. They make the tank more self-sustaining.
  • Plenty of easy, low-tech planted tank set-ups do not require complex equipment like pressurized CO2.
  • Plants grow slowly over time, allowing beginners to get used to maintenance bit by bit as the tank fills in. No sudden drastic growth spurts.
  • Aquascaping with plants is flexible and allows for trial and error. You can always uproot, move or replace plants as you learn.

So, while heavily aquascaped tanks are challenging, a simple beginner-friendly planted tank is an ideal way to delve into the planted tank hobby. The key is to start slow with hardy species.

Types of Beginner Fish Tank Plants

When stocking your first planted tank, focus on these basic varieties that tend to be easy, undemanding, and hardy:

Rhizome Plants

These popular plants attach to surfaces like driftwood and rocks via a horizontal rhizome, rather than planting in the substrate. Examples are Anubias and Java Fern. Rhizomes provide nutrients, so only the roots go into the substrate.

Rosette Plants

These species form a round cluster of leaves radiating from a central stem or crown. Many rosette plants propagate via runners and are great foreground cover. Popular examples are Cryptocorynes and Dwarf Sagittaria.

Stem Plants

Grown for their vibrant stems and bushy appearance, these plants are anchored into the substrate but can float. They are fast-growing but regular trimming keeps them compact. Common picks are Cabomba, Ludwigia, Hygrophila.


Moss varieties like Java Moss make beautiful carpets and textures. They are epiphytes that gain nutrients from the water and thus don’t require rooting. Instead, they attach to surfaces like driftwood or rocks.

Floating Plants

As their name suggests, these plants float on the water surface. They draw nutrients from the water column and help shade light. Some popular floating plants are Duckweed, Frogbit and Salvinia.

This covers the major types of plants suitable for beginners. Next, let’s look at some specific easy species to get you started.

Best Beginner Fish Tank Plants

Here are some beginner-friendly aquarium plants to consider for your first planted tank.

Java Fern

One of the easiest aquarium plants, Java Fern thrives in low to moderate-light set-ups. It reproduces via small plantlets that form on the leaves, which can be detached and planted.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Substrate: Attach to decor instead of planting
  • Propagation: Plantlets on leaves
  • Growth: Slow
  • Tips: Avoid burying rhizome in substrate

The hardy nature and slow growth of Java Fern makes it ideal for beginners. It also provides shade and hides for fish.

Java Moss and Christmas Moss

Java and Christmas Moss work well for beginners, as they are similarly undemanding. They have a bright green delicate appearance.

These plants don’t root into the substrate. Instead they attach to surfaces like rocks, driftwood and decor to create a fuzzy carpet. They thrive in low tech set-ups.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Substrate: Attach to decor, not planted
  • Propagation: Fragmentation
  • Growth: Moderate
  • Tips: Trim regularly to maintain shape

Java and Christmas Moss add lovely texture and help absorb nutrients and waste. Shrimp also graze on these mosses.

Amazon Sword

A classic aquarium plant, Amazon Swords make a striking centerpiece or background plant with their long broad leaves. These stems root in the substrate and require fertilization.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Substrate: Nutrient-rich
  • Propagation: Side shoots
  • Growth: Fast
  • Tips: Prune old leaves

While fast-growing, frequent trimming helps maintain Amazon Swords. They are versatile plants suitable for beginner to advanced tanks.


Anubias has leathery dark green leaves that emerge from a hardy rhizome. Slow but steady growth combined with low demands make Anubias ideal for beginners.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Low
  • Substrate: Attach to wood or rock
  • Propagation: Side shoots
  • Growth: Slow
  • Tips: Keep rhizome above substrate

The hardy nature and graceful foliage of Anubias varieties like Anubias Nana and Anubias Barteri are perfect for first-time planted tanks.


With its vivid red stems and green foliage, Ludwigia adds color to tanks. This fast grower propagates via side shoots, so pruning stimulates bushy growth.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Moderate to high
  • Substrate: Nutrient-rich
  • Propagation: Side shoots
  • Growth: Fast
  • Tips: Fertilize regularly

Though fast-growing, regular trimming helps keep Ludwigia compact. Pruning also intensifies the red colors in its stems and leaves.


An easy stem plant, Bacopa grows rampantly if given sufficient light. You can let it creep across the middle or background. Frequent trimming maintains its bushy shape.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Substrate: Nutrient-rich
  • Propagation: Side shoots
  • Growth: Fast
  • Tips: Prune to limit spread

With its small green leaves and spreading growth habit, Bacopa makes an attractive filler plant for beginner aquascapes.

Bucephalandra (Buce)

A unique choice, Buce comes in various leaf shapes and colors, from green to red or brown. These short plants grow via runners attached to rhizomes, propagating steadily.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Substrate: Attach to wood or rock
  • Propagation: Runners and plantlets
  • Growth: Slow
  • Tips: Keep rhizomes above substrate

The exotic look of Buce combined with undemanding nature makes this plant ideal for starters wanting something different.

Cryptocorynes (Crypts)

Crypts are excellent foreground plants for beginners thanks to their adaptability to various conditions, moderate growth and lovely leaves. They propagate via runners and side shoots.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Substrate: Nutrient-rich
  • Propagation: Runners and side shoots
  • Growth: Moderate
  • Tips: Don’t disturb roots

Though crypts may melt initially when planted, they bounce back stronger. Their wide range of leaf shapes and patterns makes them a versatile choice.


With tall and curling ribbon-like leaves, Vallisneria is prized for giving tanks a lush jungle look. One of the easier background plants, they thrive in low-tech set-ups.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Low to moderate
  • Substrate: Nutrient-rich
  • Propagation: Runners
  • Growth: Fast
  • Tips: Limit height with trimming

The fast growth of Vallisneria helps soak up nutrients in the tank. Let it spread to create dense stands. Just trim height as needed.

Dwarf Hairgrass

A classic carpeting plant, Dwarf Hairgrass forms an attractive lawn with its fine leaf blades. It adapts to various conditions. A moderate growth rate makes it ideal for beginners.

Care Guide:

  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Substrate: Nutrient-rich
  • Propagation: Runners
  • Growth: Moderate
  • Tips: Trim to encourage spread

With bright lighting, Dwarf Hairgrass will propagate across the tank bed via runners. It provides great foreground cover and helps utilize excess nutrients.

Best Plants for Small Aquariums

Look for miniature varieties of common plants for small tanks from 5-20 gallons. Slow growing plants are also recommended to keep maintenance manageable. Here are some top options:

  • Anubias Nana
  • Java Fern
  • Cryptocoryne Parva
  • Moss varieties like Java Moss
  • Bucephalandra
  • Dwarf Sagittaria
  • Floating plants like Salvinia and Frogbit

Many of these plants can be attached to decor instead of planted, giving you more room. For 10 gallon tanks and up, stem plants like Rotala, Ludwigia, and Bacopa work well. Focus on those that stay short and bushy.

Freshwater Aquarium Plants for Beginners

Most of the plants so far are suitable for freshwater community tanks. Here are some additional easy choices:

  • Hornwort – Fast-growing stem plant that helps absorb excess nutrients
  • Water Wisteria – Hardy, fast-growing background stem plant
  • Water Sprite – Lacy leaves on this floating plant provide ample shade
  • Dwarf Lily – Lily pads add texture, and their bulb roots feed from the substrate
  • Marimo Moss Ball – A fun algae ball that requires zero planting or fertilization

Beginners should stick to these freshwater species and avoid more advanced plants like carpet, carnivorous, or brackish water plants.

Planting Techniques for Beginners

Once you select suitable beginner-friendly plants, next comes planting them properly. Follow this step-by-step guide:

1. Prepare the Aquarium

Install all equipment like filters and heaters before planting. Substrate choice is also key – opt for nutrient-rich plant-specific substrates that contain crucial minerals. Gravel alone will not provide enough nutrients.

2. Wash the Plants

Gently rinse off plants in dechlorinated water to remove pests or debris. Avoid using tap water. Be careful when handling delicate stems and leaves.

3. Tweeze Out Rock Wool

Many aquarium plants are sold with rock wool around the roots. Pull off any remaining fibers to prevent the material from disintegrating in your tank.

4. Plant Stems

Use aquascaping tweezers and tongs for easy, precise planting. For stem plants, bury the bottom 2 inches, exposing the crown. Spread out stems evenly.

5. Plant Rosettes and Rhizomes

For rosette plants, plant the crown or base in the substrate. Rhizome plants like Anubias have only their roots buried – keep rhizomes exposed.

6. Attach Epiphytes

Mosses, Buce and some Anubias species attach to surfaces instead of planting. Use gel or cotton thread to fix on decor.

7. Add Floating Plants

Gently place any floating plants in open areas of the tank. They will spread on their own across the surface.

Take it slow and steady when first planting. Observe growth and adjust plant positions as needed in the first few weeks. Doing too much at once can shock the ecosystem.

Beginner Fish Tank Plants DIY

You can get creative with materials on hand to craft mini planters and attach plants in your tank:

  • Use plastic mesh to make circular pots to encapsulate small plants or propagation trimmings.
  • Cut sections of PVC pipe for another DIY plant pot option – cap the ends with plastic covers.
  • Sand down and clean aquarium-safe rocks or driftwood to attach mosses and rhizome plants with gel or cotton thread.
  • Instead of planting stem plants, bunch them together and attach them to decor using dark thread or fishing line.

These simple DIY techniques allow you to reposition plants later on easily. Take it step by step to discover what works best.

Plant Care for Beginners

Caring for aquarium plants may seem daunting as a novice, but focus on the basics:


Ensure suitable light for each plant type, whether low, moderate or high intensity. Standard tank lights often suffice for beginner plants, but you can supplement with plant-specific bulbs.

Use timers to ensure consistent daily photo periods. Avoid leaving lights on for over 12 hours per day. Position lights to evenly illuminate plants, not just the center.

Nutrients & Substrate

Pick nutrient-rich substrates with essential minerals, as gravel alone won’t suffice. Use plant fertilizers like root tabs and liquid supplements to provide macros and micros when needed.


Gently remove dead leaves and trim overgrown stems regularly. Replant tops to propagate most stem plants. Wipe algae off leaves for optimal growth. Replenish root tabs every 3-4 months per instructions.


While not essential, adding CO2 can benefit plant growth and health. Consider a mini pressurized system with a diffuser for tanks over 10 gallons. Liquid supplements also help.

Stick to this routine and your plants will thrive! Adjust as needed based on each species’ requirements.

Beginner Fish Tank Plants Low Light

For novice planted tanks, focus on selecting low-light plant varieties that can grow well without intense illumination:

  • Anubias
  • Java Fern
  • Cryptocorynes
  • Moss types like Java Moss
  • Bucephalandra
  • Marimo Moss Balls
  • Floating plants like Hornwort and Duckweed

Avoid light-hungry plants like red-leaf Ludwigia, Dwarf Baby Tears, and Glossostigma. Supplement with 6500-7000K plant bulbs if needed.

Easy Aquarium Plants for Gravel

Gravel substrates lack the nutrients that plant-specific soils provide. Still, these plants can grow well just rooted in plain gravel:

  • Java Fern
  • Anubias
  • Bucephalandra
  • Moss varieties
  • Cryptocorynes
  • Amazon Sword
  • Vallisneria

Use nutrient tabs for root feeders like Swords and Crypts. Also mix in some plant substrate when first setting up a gravel tank.

Easy Aquarium Plants No CO2

While CO2 speeds up growth, these plants thrive without any carbon dioxide supplementation:

  • Java Fern
  • Anubias
  • Bucephalandra
  • Floating plants
  • Moss types
  • Marimo Moss Balls
  • Amazon Sword
  • Cryptocorynes

Focus on species adapted to low tech set-ups. Provide ample lighting and fertilization instead to foster healthy growth.

Do Aquarium Plants Need CO2 or No CO2?

Here’s a quick overview:

  • CO2 not essential: Plants like Anubias, Ferns, Buce, Floaters. Thrive without CO2.
  • CO2 beneficial: Stems, carpets, rosette plants. Grow faster with CO2.
  • CO2 demanding: Red plants, Dwarf Hairgrass, Baby Tears. Require CO2.

So while many beginner plants grow well without any CO2 supplementation, adding carbon dioxide can boost growth and plant health for species that need it.

Best Aquarium Plants for Oxygen

These plants are top oxygenators due to their rapid, lush growth:

  • Hornwort: Fast growing stem plant that propagates easily.
  • Bacopa: Quickly creates dense bushes.
  • Water Sprite: Floating plant with extensive surface coverage.
  • Anacharis: Oxygenating stem plant that thrives across tank levels.
  • Cabomba: Bushy fan-shaped leaves maximize surface area.
  • Floating Plants: Direct access to atmospheric CO2 supercharges growth.

Prioritize these plants for heavily stocked tanks that need ample oxygenation. Position near filter outflows for maximum water circulation.

What is the Easiest Plant to Grow in an Aquarium?

Java Fern is hands-down the easiest aquarium plant. It adapts to various conditions, requires only low to moderate light, and propagates via plantlets on its leaves. Anubias and mosses like Java Moss are close runners up!

Live Plants for Tropical Fish Tank

Great beginner-friendly options for tropical community tanks include:

  • Amazon Sword
  • Cryptocorynes
  • Java Fern
  • Anubias
  • Moss
  • Dwarf Lily
  • Java Moss
  • Vallisneria

Aim for soft-leaved plants that prefer warmer temperatures between 72°F – 82°F.

Live Plants for Fish Tanks

Live aquarium plants beat artificial plants in many ways:

  • Improve water quality by utilizing waste
  • Oxygenate the water
  • Provide security via dense growth
  • Help complete the nitrogen cycle
  • Offer natural foraging opportunities
  • Replicate fish’s natural biotopes
  • Allow nitrifying bacteria to colonize leaves

So, strongly consider adding live plants to support fish health and happiness!


I hope this guide has pumped you to add lush live plants to your freshwater aquarium! Start slow with hardy varieties that suit beginners, like Java Fern, Anubias, Amazon Sword, and Cryptocorynes. Use quality lighting and plant-specific substrate. Master basic care like fertilization and pruning.

Soon, you’ll have a thriving underwater garden, gain live plants, and many benefits. Stick to undemanding plants initially and progress to advanced varieties once you have experience. Have fun making your tank a beautiful aquatic paradise!