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.
Be aware that these plants were grown above or emersed at plant farms. Therefore, when they are brought into an aquarium, their original leaves could melt. The plants need to grow new leaves because they are used to being submerged (or underwater). Don’t be alarmed if you notice that your new background plant is wilting. Just leave it in the aquarium and it will begin producing new leaves in 2 to 4 week.
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. It can easily produce new shoots and runners in the substrate, even in low-to-medium light. This can quickly fill up your tank. 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. Our full care guide for val can be found here.
2. Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
This unique plant has the nickname “octopus” because each node on its stem produces four, bright green leaves that look like wispy tendrils flowing 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 unusual species, is well-known for its flat, round leaves that look almost like umbrellas. It appreciates medium to high light, so try planting it directly under your aquarium light or even floating it 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 clippings can be propagated by inserting them in the ground or floating them in the water.
4. Water sprite
If you’re looking for a really dense plant to increase the survival rate of your fish babies, water sprite or Ceratopteris thalictroides is one of our favorites to use. Its yellow-green, lacy leaves make it easy for fry to hide between them while also preventing hungry adults from getting to them. Water sprite can also be useful in purifying water. This is because it absorbs toxic nitrogen compounds made by fish waste. It can be grown in the substrate, or floating on the water surface like many stem plants.
5. Amazon sword
One of the most well-known plants in the aquarium hobby is the Amazon sword or Echinodorus amazonicus. Vallisneria, for example, is a background plant that is tall and narrow. However, sword plants, on the other hand, have large, broad leaves and can grow into huge bushes. They prefer to eat from their roots, so give them nutrient-rich substrate and plenty of root tab fertilizers. They may produce side shoots, which will eventually become new plantlets once they grow sufficiently large. 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 closer the leaves are to the light, the more their colors change from green to yellow to reddish-bronze. Moneywort or Bacopa monnieri is a similar stem plant with smaller, rounded leaves and sturdy, straight stems that stay 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 is a miniature form of bacopa, with a short stem and small, oblong-shaped leaves. They form a dense mass when they are grown in moderate to high light conditions. This makes them ideal for nano fish, shrimp, or fry to shelter from the elements. 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. For optimal growth, feed it Easy Green and Easy Iron.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri, a beautiful plant with green and red leaves, can be a focal point of any aquarium. It produces large, variegated, and beautiful leaves. Additionally, it sends up lily pads that reach the surface. When planting your tiger lotsus, ensure that the bulb is placed on top of or less than halfway into the substrate. The entire bulb could be buried and cause it to die. After the bulb has sprouted, it will send roots into the ground to anchor itself. The bulbs will then grow leaves and begin to absorb light.
10. Crinum calamistratum
Do you need a background that can withstand goldfish and African Cichlids? The African onion plant is a bulb plant that produces very long and tough, ruffled leaves with a dark green coloration. The African onion plant is slow growing. Once you have planted the bulb, be sure to not move it or damage the substrate. To make sure that no fish will uproot the bulb, you can place it in an Easy Planter ornament. Keep it happy with medium to high light, and watch it become the centerpiece of your planted tank.
Need more ideas for live aquarium plants? You can find our list of beginner-friendly, easy plants that have had the best success in our fish tank. Enjoy picking your favorite background plants, and taking in the beauty of nature every day.