9 Easy Aquarium Plants for Beginners & How to Make Them Thrive!

easy aquarium plants for beginners

When you’re a newbie with planted aquaria, there are a few big choices to make. The most important factor in your success is always care and knowledge, but some plants are more forgiving than others. If you’re trying to find easy aquarium plants for beginners, read on. I’ll show you my personal favorites, and some tips on how to make them thrive.

1. Anubias Nana

Anubias nana plant
  • Type: Rhizome
  • Best Location: Foreground(var. nana), Mid-ground(var. barteri)
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Very Low

There are two varieties of Anubias that a beginner can use. Anubias barteri var. nana has smaller leaves and grows low, making it a good plant for the front of a tank. Anubias barteri var. Barteri is large-leaved and looms over the smaller variation.

They’re both the same species. The Barteri cultivar is the one I recommend for beginners. As the plants begin to grow out, you’ll need to remove older leaves and those which are showing signs of too much algae. Monitoring leaves for algae and keeping them in water is all that’s needed to make them thrive.

I recommend Barteri since the leaves are considerably larger. That makes them easier to trim, especially if you don’t yet have a good pair of aquarium shears. Both are perfect beginner specimens, however.

The only real care issue that you’ll see when utilizing these plants is light requirements. Too much light will cause algae growth on the leaves. I recommend using floating plants or securing them underneath hardscape pieces. That will keep them shaded if your lighting is above 1.5 watts per gallon.

A bonus? Most fish consider the leaves inedible, including goldfish. They’re also tough enough to be kept with African cichlids, although they do tend to get dragged around the tank if not tied down.

2. Java Fern

java fern
  • Type: Rhizome
  • Best Location: Mid-ground
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Very Low

Java Fern has similar requirements as Anubias barteri. Specialized care isn’t required, and the plant is hardy enough to withstand most water conditions. They tend to grow faster as well, making them great for beginners who want to see their plants thrive early on.

Java Fern does best when secured to hardscape pieces like rock or driftwood. This allows the roots from the rhizome to dig in and hold it in place over time. You’ll need to weigh them down if you want to place them directly on the substrate.

Java Fern is readily available in most fish stores. Even the “tubed” variety works just fine. It’s as close to a fire-and-forget aquatic plant as you’ll be able to find. If you like the look, I strongly encourage anyone setting up a tank for their first time to make heavy use of it.

The only real problem is that it doesn’t grow very quickly. If you’re patient or buy a few of them to start with, then they make an excellent mid-ground plant with a distinctive look.

3. Java Moss

java moss
  • Type: Moss
  • Best Location: Any
  • Lighting Requirements: Very Low
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Very Low

Java Moss is about as beginner as it gets. It’s a long, green, filamentous plant that grows in almost any water conditions. It can even be used in brackish tanks, making it among the hardiest of common aquatic plants.

Use it sparingly, especially in the beginning. I’ve found it serves best when attached to driftwood, but others use it as a floating plant or rudimentary ground cover. It’s also a low-maintenance nutrient sink for breeding tanks.

Java moss grows. Seriously, trying to kill it off is harder than keeping it thriving in an aquatic tank. As long as the water stays within reasonable bounds, it will continue thriving. You can drop it in a chlorinated bucket and leave it on the back patio, and it will last until the next freeze.

It also provides excellent cover for small fish, shrimp, and even snails. The only real drawback to using it is that it will “infect” any tank it’s in. Removing it 100% takes extreme measures, as even a small filament trapped in the substrate will bring it right back.

If you’ve got a brown thumb, however, it’s a golden opportunity.

4. Cryptocoryne Wendtii

Cryptocoryne Wendtii
  • Type: Rosette
  • Best Location: Mid-ground
  • Lighting Requirements: Low to Medium
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Low to Medium

My favorite of the various beginner plants is Cryptocoryne Wendtii. It’s also the best test of skill on this list, so keep that in mind before you decide it’s the right plant for you.

All of the colored variations grow roughly the same. The only difference is that they’ll show different color patterns when lighting is over 2 watts per gallon. It’s an easily attainable wattage with regular fixtures, but a bit higher than most beginners run.

Cryptocorynes are notorious for melting, especially when first placed in a tank. It’s not that they have trouble growing. Instead, the plant needs to acclimate to new conditions. Any quick swings in nutrients, temperature, pH, or other factors will result in the plant shedding leaves rapidly.

If you can keep your tank cycled and stable, the plant will thrive. Consider them the first test on your way to becoming a real aquascaper. Just remember that you’ll need to remove the initial leaves as they melt.

Other than that, the jungle-like effect created by them is attractive. In smaller tanks, the effect is even more pronounced. Once acclimated, they grow very quickly. Take the challenge, and you’ll be ready to move on to more challenging plants in no time.

5. Ludwigia Repens

ludwigia repens

Image Source: https://fr.freeimages.com/photo/ludwigia-repens-1352606

  • Type: Stem
  • Best Location: Background
  • Lighting Requirements: Moderate to High
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Low

Ludwigia repens is the easiest of the family to grow. Still, it requires higher lighting than the majority of beginner plants. The name refers to the leaves when it grows emersed; inside an aquarium, they won’t have a round structure.

This plant responds well to lighting and may require CO2 depending on how red and full you want the plants. It can be found in the aquariums of everyone, from beginners to experts, but the plant will look quite different depending on conditions.

The plant itself is hardy and won’t die in most conditions. You will need to maintain a tropical temperature to have real success with it. As long as your heater functions, you’ll have very few issues with it.

Attaining the vibrant red color which the plant is famous for requires much more work. High lighting, nutrients, and keeping nitrates under 5ppm is your best bet.

Give it a shot. It’s a great introduction to stem plants as long as you have enough light. It’s also a good break from Anacharis for those who are looking for a little bit of a challenge.

6. Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala Rotundifolia
  • Type: Stem
  • Best Location: Background
  • Lighting Requirements: Low to Medium
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Low

Rotala is another great stem plant for a beginner. In particular, Rotala rotundifolia is a suitable beginner plant. I’d place it somewhere between Ludwigia and Cryptocornes in difficulty. With a bit of knowledge, even a beginner can make it thrive.

As a stem plant, it makes excellent cover in the background of the tank. Once acclimated, you’ll find Rotala rotundifolia grows rapidly. Rapid growth and easy conditions make it suitable for those just learning to aquascape.

This plant will get red in higher lighting, but it’s not required. You can achieve dense growth with a bit of CO2 and fertilizers even at lower light levels. The long, thin leaves also help with creating a varied texture in a beginner’s tank.

My favorite part? Rotala rotundifolia is known for changing it’s growth patterns widely. This is based on the water conditions, lighting, and nutrients available. Experimenting with variables is a huge part of advanced aquascaping, and Rotala is an excellent place to start.

7. Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma
  • Type: Rosette
  • Best Location: Mid-to-foreground
  • Lighting Requirements: Low to Medium
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Low

A plant that grows so well, it’s illegal in many states. For those in the US, that can make it hard to source legally, but few states have banned intrastate sales. Still, many common aquatic plants are on the Noxious Weed list, but Hygrophila offers much more than being hardy.

The long leaves of this stemmed plant are ideal for invertebrates. The “sunset” cultivar can also be found, and with medium lighting allows for an explosion of color without much work. Like Rotala rotundifolia, it can be experimented with. That said, it’s not quite as reactive.

With a little bit of liquid fertilizer added, it will maintain dense growth as well. Hygrophila polysperma is an excellent addition to tanks where you’re going for a jungle feel. As a backdrop to midground Cryptocorne wendtii, it’s possible to create a dense, textured tank with very little work.

It does require more maintenance than many beginner stem plants. This is mainly due to its fast growth. The leaves can also melt and need to be removed as soon as possible to prevent increasing the bioload in the tank. With a bit of attention, however, it’s a great combination of easy-growth and great aesthetics for the newbie.

8. Vallisneria

Vallisneria
  • Type: Rosette
  • Best Location: Background
  • Lighting Requirements: Low
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Very Low

Vallisneria all grow about the same. The main difference is in the American and Asian species. The former grow with long, straight tendrils while Vallisneria Asiatica has corkscrewed leaves. It’s a fast-growing, non-demanding genus of rosette plants suitable for any experience level.

Vallisnerias are easy to propagate as well. They’re perhaps the simplest of the rosette plants to manage and can be spread for a less dense effect or tightly bunched to create a true bush effect. Simply pull the runners once they’ve reached a few inners and replant them as you wish.

Vallisneria can also be allowed to grow along the surface of the water to create shaded areas. If you place them near the filter, they can also create some movement, with water rolling the blades downwards before they return to the surface.

One word of caution: Vallisneria gigantica is too big for tanks under 20 gallons. Try to stick with other species if you’re working with a smaller tank.

9. Dwarf Sagittaria

Dwarf Sagittaria
  • Type: Rosette
  • Best Location: Fore-to-midground
  • Lighting Requirements: Low to Medium
  • Water Condition Difficulty: Low

Dwarf Sagittaria is the only ground cover I’d recommend for beginners. It’s a beautiful plant, however, and the light green leaves stand out against the darker greens prevalent in low-light tanks. 

In a tank with high lighting, it becomes something else entirely. The dense, grassy growth is favored among many aquascapers, and even as a stand-alone plant, it’s easy to create a great overall impression with thought put into the aquascape.

Fertilizer is the primary concern as long as you have the correct amount of lighting. It will also need help growing into a thick lawn as the natural spread of the runners makes it a bit patchy in most circumstances.

As long as you put in the maintenance work, however, Dwarf Saggitaria is an excellent cover plant and suitable for beginners. Keep it trimmed and pull the runners closer together, and you’ll have a dense lawn in no time.

Minimum Requirements

When you’re setting up a planted tank, the most common mistake has nothing to do with plant choice.

Instead, it’s about the initial equipment and elements of the hardscape. You need all of the following for a tank to thrive from the outset:

  • Lighting: The most common cause of woes for beginners. Start with at least 1.5 watts per gallon for the best result. If you’re running LEDs, then use an equivalency chart, but as a general rule, you can cut the wattage by half. You can’t make up for low wattage with more run-time, which will just promote algae growth.
  • Substrate: Trying to grow plants in clown puke isn’t going to happen. Instead, invest in something like Flourite for your tank’s bottom. You can layer decorative sand over the nutrient-rich substrate.
  • Filtration: Filtration keeps the nasties out of the water column. Unless you’re running an ultra-low tech tank aim, just use a HOB equivalent for your tank size.
  • Test Kit: At the minimum, you need to be able to test for nitrates, nitrites, and ammonia. A cycled tank runs 0 of the last two, and you should strive to keep nitrates under 10ppm at all times. As you advance kits for magnesium, phosphorous, and other micronutrients are a good investment as well.

If the above is in good order, you’re on the right path. You’ll also want to at least think about the following if you’re going to grow some of the harder plants on our list:

  • Fertilizer: Root tabs or liquid. Go with root tabs when you have a lot of rosette plants, liquid for stem plants. Root tabs aren’t necessary for the first three to six months if you have a suitable substrate.
  • CO2: Cheap CO2 generators are available. None of our listed plants require them, but carbon dioxide promotes thicker and faster growth. It’s necessary if you want to switch to high lighting.
  • Invertebrates: The ideal planted aquarium is a complete ecosystem. Shrimp and snails help with algae growth and have minimal bioload.

Everything else is just a matter of experience. Don’t be afraid to try, just be smart about it and know why you’re doing things.

Propagating Your Aquatic Plants

You don’t need to go through the beginner’s mistake of buying enough plants to fill your tank immediately. Most aquatic plants are easy to clone and don’t require full sexual reproduction to fill a tank.

How you create new plants depends on the plant type.

  • Stem Plants: Trim them back and plant the cuttings. Trim strategically, most of these plants will grow two stems to replace one, and over time a single stem can create a serious bush.
  • Rhizome Plants: Cut off a portion of the rhizome with leaves and replace it elsewhere. Try to get at least 1-2″ for the best results and only take cuttings from well-rooted plants to avoid stressing them.
  • Rosette Plants: These will send out runners. These miniature plants are attached by a small stem and may appear from the substrate or out in the water. Remove the connecting stem when the baby plant is at least 1″ tall and replace it. Keep the crown above the substrate for the best results.
  • Moss: Rip off a chunk and put it elsewhere. Moss will propagate and grow rapidly with little input, trimming them to a manageable size is more often a problem.

Easy enough for most people. New plants will take more time to acclimate to water conditions than those which you’ve pulled from in the tank. Have some patience and start with fewer plants, you’ll fill the tank out without breaking the bank.

Buyer Beware: False Aquatic Plants

Unfortunately, not all plant vendors are reputable. Whether through ignorance or apathy, there are a lot of plants sold that aren’t suitable for aquaria.

Some of them are quite beautiful as well, making it all the worse.

I remember the first time I found a Peacock Fern. It’s beautiful! It’s sold by Top Fin! It has to be an aquatic plant!

I promptly ignored the advice given to me online, placed it in a 10-gallon tank, which was zooming right along, and watched it. It grew a bit, then stopped. Within a couple of months, it began to melt, at which point I removed it to save my tank from a nitrate spike.

You live and learn.

The following plants are often sold as “aquarium plants” and won’t survive. You can give it a shot if you’re as stubborn as I was, and as long as you remove them when they begin to die, it won’t cause any problems. It’s just a waste of money.

  • Peacock Fern
  • Siam Lily
  • Arrowhead Plant
  • Fountain Plant
  • Striped Dragonplant
  • Bamboo

Avoid them. Anytime you’re looking at a plant that you’re not 100% sure is aquatic and looks different from anything you’ve seen before… Google it.

Great Aquarium Plants for Beginners!

Looking for the best aquarium plants for beginners doesn’t have to be hard. Instead, stick with the above list until you’re comfortable. You’ll quickly gain the experience and confidence needed to branch out. It’s a journey, and you’re just getting started! So pick your plants and have a great time.

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