7 Best Foreground Plants for Your Next Planted Aquarium
Beginners often buy whatever plant they see and place it wherever there is room. If you are looking to improve the quality of your plant tank, there are some proven design methods that can be used. An excellent rule of thumb is to plan your aquarium in layers. This means that the tallest and shortest plants will be in front, while the longest plants will be in back. This bleacher-style arrangement ensures that all your beautiful plants are visible from the front. To help you get started, let’s talk about our top 7 categories of foreground plants that stay roughly 3 inches (7.6 cm) or less in height.
1. Cryptocoryne Plants
Cryptocoryne parva (front left) versus Cryptocoryne lutea (front right)
The shorter plants in the Cryptocoryne genus (or “crypts” for short) are some of our favorite foreground plants because they grow slowly and do not require constant pruning. C. parva (or C. lucens) are two species that can grow very low and don’t need much light. Rosette plants have all the leaves growing out of the crown, or base. When you bring a new crypt home, bury the roots in the substrate but do not cover the crown. You can feed it with enriched substrate or root tab fertilizer. Then resist the urge to move them. The crypt will eventually develop little roots and baby plantlets once they have established themselves. These can be attached to the mother plants or separated to be replanted in another tank area. If you have a problem with crypt melting, smaller crypts will not experience as much melting of leaves as larger crypts.
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. Usually, one pot comes with several, individual plants, so carefully separate them and plant them separately in the substrate to give them space to grow. As with crypt plants, they thrive if roots are buried and leaves the foliage aboveground. If you provide nutrient-rich substrate or root tabs, they can spread rapidly by producing horizontal stolons or runners with a little plantlet at the end, eventually forming a long chain of “grass.”
Like normal lawns, some stoloniferous species can grow rather tall, so you may need to trim them with scissors or use a medium to high light to keep the lawn denser and shorter. Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis arcucularis) is a smaller grass-like plant. It looks almost like tiny tufts green pine needles. Because they have very thin leaves it is better to plant them in small groups than individual blades around the tank. Although micro sword (Lilaeopsis bristaniliensis) has larger leaves than dwarf hairgrass, it should still be planted in a grid with 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. Finally, dwarf chain sword or pygmy chain sword (Helanthium tenellum) has even wider blades and therefore can fill in the substrate pretty quickly. It has the potential to get taller than the other grass-like species and may be more appropriate as a foreground plant for medium to large aquariums.
3. Epiphyte Plants
Ornamental dwarf shrimp with anubias nana petite
Because they grow well in low light conditions and don’t require substrate, epiphyte or rhizome plants can be recommended for beginners. Smaller species in this category include the very popular anubias nana petite and the rarer bucephalandra “green wavy”. They have a thick horizontal stem called a Rhizome. The leaves grow upwards toward sunlight and the roots extend downwards toward ground. The rhizome should not be covered as the plant could die. Many people mount them to rocks and driftwood with super glue gel. It can be used as a background plant by pushing the roots and rhizome into the ground. Then, pull the plant up so that the whole rhizome rests on top of the substrate, with the roots still in place. 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 is repens
S. repens is a lovely foreground plant with a thick stem and bright green, oblong leaves. Low light can cause it to become a bit leggy and thin, so make sure to give it moderate to high light. If you purchase the plant in a pot, remove the individual stems from the rock wool and then plant them separately in the substrate. To prevent stems from floating away, use tweezers (or your fingers) to insert the stems into the ground. 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’)
Although most foreground plant species can be used as groundcover, it is possible to use carpeting plants with many small leaves. This can create a dense, low-growing, and dense mat. 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 trifidaei ‘Monte Carlo) is a similar looking plant, however its leaves are larger and easier to grow. These carpeting plants have weak roots and are best planted in the substrate with rock wool attached. You have two options: either place the entire plug in a single spot, or cut the rockwool into 1-inch squares and then insert the clumps in grid-like patterns. The plants will eventually spread out to form a lush mound with small, green leaves.
6. Hydrocotyle tripartite ‘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. When you first get this stem plant, plunge the base of the stem as deeply into the substrate as possible to keep it from floating away. Feed it both fertilizers in the water and in the substrate, and once it becomes too tall, you can trim the tops and replant them in the ground for propagation. Hydrocotyle tripartita does best in medium to high lighting and provides excellent shelter for small fish and shrimp.
Because they also have rhizomes, mosses can be compared to epiphyte plant epiphytes. 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.
Once you’ve chosen your favourite foreground plant, be sure to add some background plants and a mix of midgrounds. For inspiration, read our article on the best backgrounds plants for beginner aquariums.