7 Best Foreground Plants for Your Next Planted Aquarium
Beginners often buy whatever plant they see and place it wherever there is room. However, if you want to take your planted tank to the next level, consider incorporating some tried-and-true design techniques. 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 arrangement is bleacher-style, so all your lovely plants can be seen from the front. Let’s start by describing the top 7 foreground plant categories that are approximately 3 inches (7.6cm) tall or less.
1. Cryptocoryne Plants
Cryptocoryne perva (frontleft) versus Cryptocoryne lata (frontright)
Because they grow slowly and don’t need constant pruning, the Cryptocoryne genera’s shorter plants (or “crypts”) are our favorite foreground plants. C. parva and C. lucens are two species that don’t get very tall and do well in low light conditions. All of the rosette plants’ leaves are borne from the crown or base. Bring a new crypt home and cover it with the substrate. 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. You can leave them attached to the mother plant or gently separate them to replant in another area of the tank. If you have a problem with crypt melting, smaller crypts will not experience as much melting of leaves as larger crypts.
2. Grass-Like Trees
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. You will usually find several plants in one pot. To give them the space they need to grow, separate them and place them in their own containers. As with crypt plants, they thrive if roots are buried and leaves the foliage aboveground. They can quickly spread if you give them nutrient-rich substrate, root tabs, or runners with a small plantlet at their ends. Eventually, the “grass” will grow in a long chain.
Some stoloniferous grasses can grow quite tall like normal lawns. You may need to trim them or use a high-intensity light to keep it shorter. One of the smaller, grass-like plants includes dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis acicularis), which looks almost like little tufts of green pine needles. Due to their thin leaves, it is best to plant them in small clumps around the tank rather than individual blades. Although micro sword (Lilaeopsis bristaniliensis) has larger leaves than dwarf hairgrass, it should still be planted in a grid with small clumps. It can sometimes grow more slowly than other stoloniferous species, so it is best to use amano shrimp and other algae eaters to stop any further growth. The dwarf chain sword, or pygmy-chain sword (Helanthium Tenellum), has wider blades that can fill in substrates quickly. It can grow taller than other grass-like species, so it may be a good choice for large aquariums.
3. Plants for Epiphyte
Ornamental dwarf shrimp with anubias nana petite
Rhizome or epiphyte plants are popular choices for beginners. They thrive in low light and don’t need substrate to grow. This category also includes the smaller, more popular anubias “nana petite” and the rarer bucephalandras “green wavy”. They have a thick, horizontal stem called a rhizome with leaves that grow upwards toward the light and roots that extend downwards toward the ground. This rhizome must not be covered or else the plant may die, so many people like to mount them to rocks or driftwood using super glue gel. You can use it as a front-ground plant by pushing the rhizome, roots into the ground. Next, gently pull the plant upwards until the entire rhizome sits on top, the roots still buried beneath the substrate. 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 repens
S.repens is a wonderful foreground plant, with a thick stem. It also has bright green, oblong-shaped leaves. Low light can cause it to become a bit leggy and thin, so make sure to give it moderate to high light. The individual stems can be removed from the rock wool and placed in their own pot. 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. Whenever the S. repens gets too tall, just clip off the top half and replant it into the substrate for easy propagation.
5. Carpeting plants
Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’)
Most foreground plants can be used as ground cover, but to get a very thick “carpet” where the substrate can’t be seen, we recommend using carpeting plants with lots of tiny leaves that can form a dense, low-growing 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. tweediei. ‘Monte Carlo”) has a similar appearance but the leaves are larger. Most people find it easier to grow. These carpeting plants have weak roots and are best planted in the substrate with rock wool attached. You can either plant the entire plug in one spot or cut the rock wool into 0.5-inch (1 cm) squares and insert the clumps in a grid-like pattern. You will see the plants eventually become a dense mound of green leaves that spread across the substrate.
6. Tripartite Hydrocotyle ‘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. You can feed it fertilizers in both the water and the substrate. Once it is too tall, trim the tops off and replant them in ground for future growth. 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. Many people attach them to hardscape to create the look of an overgrown forest, but you can easily glue them to small rocks to form little bushes in the foreground 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.
After you’ve settled on the best foreground plants, ensure that you add the right amount of background and midground plants to your aquarium. Read our article on the best background plants for beginner aquariums to get inspired.