Bettas are often beloved centerpieces in a tank, but you should always make sure that their tank is planted. They will give them shelter, aerate the water, and help your fish stay vibrant. The question for many is which plants are the best to keep with their Betta. So, let’s hop in with some great greenery to add to your Betta’s habitat!
1. Red Flame Sword
Let’s get this out of the way: most Betta tanks aren’t well-lit enough to keep the red coloration that comes with this hybrid Sword plant. It’s just my personal favorite for keeping with Betta due to the texture of the leaves and the middle size.
This plant grows well in moderate-to-high lighting situations, growing with about equal speed in both. Lightning primarily changes the color of the Red Flame Sword, rather than the growth rate. The red pigment is an inefficient absorber of light, and the plant will usually begin to sprout green leaves quickly and easily.
Plant the crown just above the substrate and let it grow. In tanks of 5 gallons or smaller, a single plant will provide enough cover for a single Betta. Pair it with a few twigs of driftwood or a small rock formation, and you’ll have an excellent little aquascape that requires minimal work.
If you’re willing to opt for higher lighting, try to hit 3 to 4 watts per gallon, and you’ll see the Red Flame Sword in its true glory. It’s still an impressive plant in either case.
2. Java Moss
Java Moss is an excellent addition to any planted tank, and it’s a remarkably versatile plant. It’s also one of the best nutrient sinks you can find, especially since it grows quickly regardless of the light level in the tank.
There is one problem: it’s an extremely quick growing plant. That means you’ll need to frequently thin it out in smaller tanks or those which have higher lighting. It’s also virtually impossible to remove once you’ve placed it in a tank. You generally need to remove the full substrate and any decorations and let them dry out 100%.
That said, it’s incredibly versatile and forgiving of water conditions. You can tie it to driftwood or rocks, let big clumps of it floating around, or “root” it in the substrate to create a gigantic tangle in one portion of the tank.
For the beginner, there’s hardly any plant that is easier to grow, and watching your Betta play in it is a joy. Give it a shot if you’re convinced you don’t have a green thumb.
Vallisneria, or Eel Grass, are bunch plants that work great in a Betta tank. Or any planted tank really, they add a grassy feel that simply can’t be matched by any other plant, and they’re extremely forgiving.
You can keep them trimmed as in a Dutch-style tank or, my personal favorite, allow them to grow along the surface of the water. If you’re working with high lighting, this shaded area makes it possible to grow more light-sensitive plants like Anubias nana in its shadow.
Vals spread by shooting out runners that turn into new plants. These will sometimes move under the substrate and other times break off directly from the plant. You can keep them nice and ordered by planting them roughly 1-2″ from the outside edge of the previous bunch. Once there are leaves over 2″, you’re free to cut the root that connects them and move them as you please.
They’re one of the best background plants available and easily found. They’re also great alone, so give them a shot.
Technically adding Marimo balls to this list is cheating. They’re actually macroalgae that form in a spherical shape. That said, they’re unique and among the easiest plants to care for. They’re sometimes sold as “Betta Balls” because of their unique properties.
Marimo balls don’t actually root on anything. They remain as a ball and grow very slowly over time. They’re actually very rare in the wild, where the rooted form of them primarily exists. The majority of them are European in origin as they’re forbidden for collection in Lake Akan in Japan.
Bettas are intelligent fish, and they’ll often push around smaller specimens of Marimo. The balls are lightweight, and it provides a bit of amusement.
While unique, these balls are easy to take care of in any Betta tank which has a filter and low bioload. Give them a shot, even if you don’t make them the centerpiece of the tank.
Cryptocornes are a personal favorite for any planted tank with a centerpiece fish. Betta are the perfect companion to these jungly plants. With some extra lighting, you can make a truly beautiful tank with little effort.
The main species of interest here is Cryptocoryne wendtii which is native to Sri Lanka. They’re actually a plant native to the same area as Betta.
The important thing for the would-be aquascaper is that they come in a variety of color morphs. Like most colored plants, all of them will turn green in lower lighting, however. For those who want to up things to 2-3 watts per gallon, they can make for a splash of color. Red, bronze, yellow, and bright green are all readily available.
They spread quickly, creating runners with small bunches growing on the end. Pack them in densely, and they create a jungle of their own. With a bit of driftwood and a few rocks, they’re possibly the easiest plant to create a fantastic mono-species tank with. Add some other plants, and you’ll have something special with little effort.
Anacharis is a common weed. That alone should let you know how easy it is to grow, but the texture of the plant actually makes it another personal favorite.
Many people make the mistake of planting stems of Anacharis in the substrate. While this will hold them in place for a couple of weeks, the plant underneath the substrate will eventually die. It’s actually a floating plant despite the look.
Anacharis is a good nutrient soak, but it can be overwhelming in tanks with CO2 generators and high lighting. I recommend it as the best low light plant for Betta, but keep it out of tanks that are set up for more advanced plants. It’s known to grow up to two inches a day in the ideal conditions created there.
As a floating plant, it’s rather graceful. With sufficient lighting, it produces densely packed leaves and can provide shade and cover for your fish. It’s relatively hands-off: just cut off pieces of the stems when it gets too long. Propagation is the same but throw the plant back in the tank instead of into the trash.
Easy to grow and oddly charming, Anacharis is a staple plant in the aquarium trade for a good reason.
Hornwort is another floating plant, but this time it has a more delicate effect than Anacharis. The stems are quite fragile, unfortunately. That means that rooting in the substrate will only result in them breaking off in a couple of days.
Hornwort is more suitable for higher lighting tanks than Anacharis. Indeed, without lighting of at least 1 watt per gallon, you’re going to be looking at a mess: it readily sheds the delicate needles over the bottom of the tank. Make sure you have a good siphon to get them out.
Hornwort’s needles are a beautiful sight when the plant is growing well. While many specimens come from the fish store in need of care, they’ll quickly blossom. It’s fast-growing, and one of the best plants for a Betta tank provided you have good lighting.
As an additional bonus, it’s also easy to find. Like Anacharis, any store which sells fish is likely to be selling bundles of Hornwort, so you don’t need to muck around with online sales or hunting it down.
8. Anubias Nana
For a low-light Betta tank, Anubias nana is a godsend. This dense plant grows from a rhizome placed above the surface of the substrate. It can also be tied to rocks, driftwood, or other decorations where it will eventually form a great cover.
This variation of the Anubias family is most likely the only one really suited for a Betta tank. Its small size lends it well to smaller tanks, and a few rhizomes placed along decorations in the tank will quickly add some greenery.
If you’re using it in a tank with high lighting, however, you’ll need to be aware of some of its limitations. The leaves last for months, rather than the weeks that you’ll find in most aquatic plants, which means they have plenty of time to gather algae. Keep them in a shaded area of the tank, and they’ll do fine.
The long-lasting leaves also make an excellent source of food for fish like Otoinculous sp. who feed primarily on biofilm and algae. That’s an added bonus for community tanks that feature Betta as a centerpiece.
9. Java Fern
Perhaps the most common plant in the aquarium trade, Java Fern, is an attractive rhizome-growing plant that is easily found. They can be tied to almost anything. They also have a tendency to grow more quickly than Anubias sp.
Java Ferns have been heavily cultivated for the aquarium trade. There are many different morphs readily found in high-end fish stores. You can also find them online if you find that one of them is to your particular fancy. These include much more “ferny” variations, larger morphs, and even a few which show hints of red in the right lighting.
Java Ferns are extremely hardy and tolerate pretty much any water conditions. They can even be found in brackish tanks at times, which makes them the most suitable beginner plant for a Betta tank. They’ll flourish without specialized care and become impressive in short order with it.
Due to their ready availability, I strongly recommend them for anyone starting with planted tanks. The conditions of a Betta tank just happen to make them an ideal location for this plant.
Do I Need Live Plants for My Betta?
It’s not required that you keep live plants with a Betta. They’re hardy little fish and don’t need oxygenated water. In the wild, they inhabit slow-moving streams, floodplains, and even structures like rice paddies and canals.
They require a bit of work, and if you’re not comfortable with growing plants in your aquaria, then you’ll still need some sort of cover. In my experience, nothing beats the beauty of real plants, but the truth is that silk varieties can be used to create the same effect for your Betta.
Live plants are more than just beauty. However, they have some serious benefits.
- Aeration: While Bettas use their labyrinth organ for breathing air from the surface, oxygenated water is still healthier. It’s doubly important if you have other fish in the tank and want to avoid using an air pump.
- Ecosystem Support: It’s a strong opinion of mine that all aquaria should be treated as ecosystems. Plants provide the basis for any freshwater ecosystem and help out any fish or invertebrates sharing the tank.
- Cover: Bettas don’t necessarily inhabit small ponds of water, but their natural habitat always includes a ton of plants. Plant cover helps them feel safe and encourages them to explore their surroundings.
- Nutrient Sink: Plants absorb some of your Betta’s waste, primarily ammonia and nitrates. They also take in carbon dioxide to help them grow, removing it from the water column as an added bonus.
- Less Algae: By reducing the amount of nitrate in the water column, you’re also inhibiting the growth of most algae. Unsightly brown algae, in particular, is nitrate hungry. A well-planted tank should see very little of it.
There’s really no drawback to using live plants except for the little bit of extra work involved. For most Betta tanks, you’re just looking at occasional pruning and removing dead leaves. The latter is essential: decaying plants can add waste to the water column, and not every Betta tank has adequate filtration to overcome it.
If you’re comparing live plants versus silk plants for your final aquarium plan, then you may want to try live plants first. They’re remarkably easy to care for in most cases and will generally cost less than proper silk plants when you’re setting things up. You can switch later if you find that you lack a green thumb.
Planted Vases for Betta
Occasionally, someone tries to keep a Betta in a vase with standard terrestrial plants.
I really advise against this.
First, the shape of most vases isn’t great for allowing fresh air in over the waterline. Since Bettas breathe air, they can have trouble breathing. The plants growing out, or stuck in, the vase makes it even harder for enough air to be present for your fish’s health.
The second is something most people aren’t even aware of.
Some common ornamental plants are toxic to Betta. While Betta splendens are primarily carnivorous, they also tend to chew on the plants in their vicinity. Some flowers, for instance, contain phytotoxins that can harm your pet.
If you absolutely must go down this route, then give careful thought to a wide-mouthed vase or jar and use something known to be benign. Lily-of-the-Valley or Lucky Bamboo are known to be fine alongside Betta. Just remember that these aren’t true aquatic plants, so you can’t place them in an actual aquarium.
Lastly… it’s just hard to maintain the right temperature, pH, nutrient levels, and everything else in a vase. The water volume is tiny, they’re prone to wide swings, and while it can be done, I’m not entirely sure I’d call it an ethical home for your Betta.
What About Other Decorations?
Bettas are quite intelligent, curious little fish, and they’ll thoroughly explore anything that you place within the tank. Hollow decorations with caves are often a favorite.
Bettas are territorial, and in larger tanks, they may fin nip and chase off smaller fish from whatever they’ve deemed as their own. I’ve seen one feisty Crimson Crowntail Betta take over a plastic sunken pirate ship, for instance.
Still, I prefer to stick with rocks and driftwood due to their long fins. Betta can catch and rip their fins on sharp corners while swimming, and those with extra-long fins like Half Moon Betta are even more at risk. It won’t kill them, but when they consistently have holes in their fins, it will cause stress… which can kill the Betta.
The important thing here is to make sure that your decorations have rounded edges and nowhere for the fish to be caught. Most plastic decorations sold in fish stores work well, just look them over carefully before adding them.
Finding Your Plants
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a local aquaria store, which will allow them to find their plants easily. While big-box stores like Petsmart are pretty much everywhere, I’ve found that their selection is often small at best.
Even worse, some of the plants they sell aren’t even aquatic. Peacock Fern, for instance, is commonly sold as an aquatic plant but will die within a few weeks if entirely submerged.
I recommend buying your plants in person when possible, but in some cases, you may need to look to the internet.
Fortunately, there are reputable sources for plants online. Sometimes you may receive dead plants in the mail, and it can be hard to make a claim on them, but most vendors will do their best. Your best bet may be to build personal relationships on aquarium related forums.
It’s a pain to find the right contacts, but you’re not out of luck if you’re the antisocial type. Even Amazon has a decent showing if you’re willing to pay for one-day shipping.
Don’t Leave Your Betta Tank Bare!
Bettas need some sort of plants in their tank, and you’re in good hands if you choose to go the live route. Try to find the right balance for your tank size and your own taste. Not every aquatic plant requires a green thumb or expensive equipment, many just need a bit of care and attention.
The most important thing is to remember that it’s always possible to find the right plants as long as you’re willing to put in the work.