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.
Before we begin, remember that most of these plants are grown emersed (or above water) at the plant farms, so when you bring them into your aquarium, their original leaves may melt away since the plants must grow new leaves that are used to being submersed (or underwater). Do not worry if your background plant appears to be wilting. It will start producing new foliage within 2 to 4 weeks.
We often call Vallisneria spiralis the “one-plant wonder” because it can transform your fish tank into a field of tall grasses, gently waving in the current. Even in low to moderate light, it can send out new shoots or runners in substrate quickly. It is one of our tallest plants and we have successfully used it to break up the line of sight for aggressive fish such as African cichlids. Vallisneria Americana or jungle val are taller and thicker options to add to your large aquarium or pond. For more information, read our full care guide on 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. Pogostemons are good for filling large areas of your tank as well as providing cover and food for small fish and babies. 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. Trimming will create roots that will become new plants, and the old one will keep growing from the spot where it was cut.
3. Brazilian pennywort
Hydrocotyle Leucocephala, another uncommon-looking species, is known for its flat and circular leaves, which look almost like umbrellas on a vine. It can be planted directly under an aquarium light or floating at the surface. You can trim the Brazilian pennywort if it becomes too long or tangled. This will allow the plant to grow new stems and give it a bushier appearance. These can be used to propagate the plant by putting them in the ground, or floating them in water.
4. Water sprite
Water sprite, Ceratopteris Thalictroides or water sprite are two of our favorite plants to grow to increase your fish baby’s survival rate. Its lacy, yellow green leaves make it easy to conceal for your fry while keeping hungry adults away. Because water sprite grows so quickly, it is also useful for purifying the water by absorbing the toxic nitrogen compounds produced by your fish’s 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 feed on their roots and not the water column. So provide them with plenty of fertilizer or nutrient-rich substrate. 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
Stem plants like Bacopa caroliniana are known for their clusters of oval-shaped leaves and long stems won’t stop growing until they reach 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. Bacopa monnieri, also known as Moneywort, is a related stem plant that has small, round leaves and strong, straight stems that are bright green. Both plants can easily be propagated by cutting the stems to a desired height and replanting any trimmings.
7. Pearl weed
Hemianthus microranthemoides can be used in many ways. It can be used as a background, foreground or midground plant depending on how high you cut it. 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. As with most stem plants, you can proliferate them by snipping off the long ends and replanting them in the substrate.
8. Alternanthera reineckii var. ‘roseafolia’
Scarlet temple is one of the shorter background plants on this list, but it’s worth mentioning because of its vibrant pink and red-colored leaves that really pop in the midst of other green aquarium plants. This species is best suited for medium to high lighting. The brighter the lighting, it will produce deep reds and purples in its leaves. It needs to be fed with Easy Green and Easy Iron nutrients for maximum growth.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri is a gorgeous plant with red and green leaves that can easily become the statement piece of your aquarium. Not only does it produce large, variegated leaves in the water, but it also sends up lily pads to the surface. Place your tiger lotus bulb on top of the substrate or at least half-buried into it. Burying the whole bulb can result in the plant dying. 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
Need a background plant that can stand up to goldfish and African cichlids? African onion plants are a bulb plant that produces long, tough, ruffled and dark green leaves. It’s a very slow grower, so once you plant the bulb on top of or partially in the ground, make sure not to move it or disturb the surrounding substrate. To make sure that no fish will uproot the bulb, you can place it in an Easy Planter ornament. It will become the focal point of your planted tank if you give it medium to high lighting.
You may also be interested in other ideas for aquarium plants. Check out our collection of easy, beginner-friendly plants that we’ve had the most success growing in our fish tanks. Enjoy picking your favorite background plants, and taking in the beauty of nature every day.