7 Best Foreground Plants for Your Next Planted Aquarium
The first time a beginner builds a planted aquarium, they often purchase any plant that interests them and put it where there is space. 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 arrange 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. 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 parava (frontleft), versus Cryptocoryne.lutea (frontright).
Because they grow slowly, and don’t require constant care, the Cryptocoryne species are some of our favorite foregrounds. C. parva or C. lucens can be found in two species that aren’t very tall, and they thrive in low-light conditions. Rosette plants are all about the crown and base. When you bring a new crypt home, bury the roots in the substrate but do not cover the crown. Use enriched substrate, root tab fertilizer or a combination thereof to give your crypt nutrients. Don’t let them move. Once they become well-established, the crypt may start developing baby plantlets on the side that have their own little roots. These can be attached to the mother plants or separated to be replanted in another tank area. You can learn more about crypt melt if you are concerned.
2. Grass-Like Trees
Harlequin rasboras swimming over a lawn of dwarf hairgrass
If you’re looking to recreate a nice, green “lawn” in your aquarium, consider stoloniferous plants with narrow, 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 spread quickly if you provide nutrients-rich substrate or root tabs.
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. Eleocharis (Eleocharis alicicularis) is one of the smaller grass-like plants. This dwarf hairgrass looks almost exactly like little tufts made 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. While micro sword (Lilaeopsis bristaniliensis), has smaller leaves than dwarf hairgrass should be planted in a grid of small clusters. It can sometimes grow more slowly than other stoloniferous species, so it is best to use amano shrimps and other algae eaters to stop any further growth. A dwarf chain sword, also known as a pygmy or pygmy sword (Helanthium tentum), has a wider blade and can fill in the substrate 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. Plants for Epiphyte
Ornamental dwarf shrimp with anubias nana petite
Beginners are often advised to epiphyte and rhizome plant because they can grow in low light and don’t need substrate. Smaller species in this category include the very popular anubias nana petite and the rarer bucephalandra “green wavy”. The rhizome is a long horizontal stem with leaves that grow upwards towards the sun and roots that reach 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. 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 repens
S. repens makes a great foreground plants with its thick stem and long, bright-green leaves. It can become thin and leggy under low light so it is best to give it medium to high lighting to keep it compact and shorter. The individual stems can be removed from the rock wool, and placed in their own pots. You can use tweezer, or your fingers, to place the stems in the ground. This will prevent them from floating around. You can feed your plant with an all-in-1 liquid fertilizer. Also, provide root tabs or enriched substrate to help absorb 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. Aquascapers often use dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus Callitrichoides “Cuba”) because they have the smallest leaves in the aquarium hobby. However, it requires high light and pressured CO2 to look its best. Monte carlo (Micranthemum. tweediei. ‘Monte Carlo”) has a similar appearance but the leaves are slightly 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. The plug can be planted in one place or you can cut the rock wool into squares measuring 0.5 inches (1 cm). The plants will eventually form a mound of small, green leaves that covers the substrate.
6. Tripartite hydrocotyle “Japan”
Hydrocotyle tripartite ‘Japan’
This unique aquarium plant looks like a creeping, vine-like plant with shamrock leaves. It’s perfect for creating a charming field of clovers inside your aquarium. You can either let it grow in the foreground as ground cover or train the delicate vines to grow over hardscape. To keep the stem from floating away when you first acquire it, make sure to sink the stem base as deep into the substrate. For propagation, feed it both fertilizers in water and in substrate. When it gets too tall you can trim its tops and replant them back in the ground. Hydrocotyle tripartita does best in medium to high lighting and provides excellent shelter for small fish and shrimp.
Because they have rhizomes which can be placed in any substrate, mosses are very similar to epiphyte and epiphyte species. 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 selecting your favorite foreground flowers, be sure to add the appropriate amount of midground and background plants to balance out the aquarium. Get inspired by our article on the top background plants for beginner aquariums.