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 10 background plants are easy to grow and can reach 12 inches (30 cm) in height.
Remember that many of these plants were grown emersed (or over water) at the farm. This means that when you add them to your aquarium, the original leaves might melt. They must then grow new leaves, which are more accustomed to being submerged (or underwater). If your new background plant seems wilting, don’t panic. The plant will soon start growing new leaves if it is left in the tank for 2 to four weeks.
Vallisneria spiralis is often called the “one-plant wonder”, as it can turn your fish tank into a lush field of tall grasses that gently wave in the current. It is able to quickly fill your tank with new shoots, runners or leaves even in low to medium lighting. We have used it successfully to break up lines of sight in keeping aggressive fish, such as African cichlids, because it is the tallest of our plants. If you’re looking for a thicker, taller version to put in your pond or large aquarium, consider using jungle val or Vallisneria americana. You can find more information in our complete care guide for val.
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. When the plant is tall enough to reach the water surface, you can easily propagate it by pruning the top half and replanting it deeply into the substrate. The new plant will grow roots from the trimming. Meanwhile, the old plant will continue to grow from the spot it was cut.
3. Brazilian pennywort
Hydrocotyle leucocephala, another unusual species, is well-known for its flat, round leaves that look like umbrellas. 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 by floating them in water.
4. Water Sprite
We love water sprite (or Ceratopteris trichotroides) because it is dense and will increase the survival rate for your fish babies. Its yellow-green and lacy leaves make it ideal for fish to hide amongst, while also keeping hungry adults away. Water sprite is fast growing and can be used to purify water. It absorbs the nitrogen compounds from fish waste. You can either grow it in the substrate as well as floating at the surface of the water, just like other stem plants.
5. Amazon sword
The Amazon sword, or Echinodorus Amazonicus, is one of the most popular plants in aquarium hobby. 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 eat from their roots, so give them nutrient-rich substrate and plenty of root tab fertilizers. When they reach a certain size, they might start to produce side shoots which can become new plantlets. Red flame sword is a great way to increase the variety of colors in your planted tank. It comes with bronze, red and green mottled leaf options.
6. Bacopa caroliniana
Bacopa caroliniana, a stem plant, is known for its clusters of oval-shaped stems and long stems that won’t stop growing up to the water surface. The closer the leaves get to the sunlight, the more vibrant their colors will be. Moneywort or Bacopa monnieri is a similar stem plant with smaller, rounded leaves and sturdy, straight stems that stay bright green. You can propagate both plants by trimming the stems and replanting them.
7. Pearl weed
Hemianthus micathemoides is a versatile plant that can be used for background, foreground and midground plants depending on its height. It is like a miniature bacopa with a long stem and small, oval-shaped leaves. A bunch of them can form a dense mass in low to medium light conditions. It is ideal for micro fish, shrimp, or fry to shelter in. You can encourage them to grow by cutting off their long ends and placing 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. It produces large, variegated, and beautiful leaves. Additionally, it sends up lily pads that reach the surface. To plant your tiger lotus, make sure to place the bulb on top of or only partially buried halfway into the substrate. The whole bulb can be buried, which could cause it to go dormant. After the bulb sprouts, the roots will grow roots and start to absorb light.
10. Crinum calamistratum
Need a background plant that can stand up to goldfish and African cichlids? African onion plants are a bulb that produces long and sturdy leaves with dark green coloration. This bulb is slow to grow so make sure you don’t move or disturb the soil. You can even place it in an Easy Planter decoration to make sure no fish will uproot it. It will become the focal point of your planted tank if you give it medium to high lighting.
Looking for more ideas on live aquarium plants? Check out our collection of easy, beginner-friendly plants that we’ve had the most success growing in our fish tanks. Have fun picking out your favorite background plants and enjoy nature daily.