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.
Before we begin, remember that most of these plants are grown emersed (or above water) at the plant farms, so when you bring them into your aquarium, their original leaves may melt away since the plants must grow new leaves that are used to being submersed (or underwater). Don’t be alarmed if you notice that your new background plant is wilting. Just leave it in the aquarium and it will begin producing new leaves in 2 to 4 week.
Vallisneria spiralis is sometimes called “one-plant wonder” as it can transform your fish tank to a field full of tall grasses while gently waving in the current. Even in low to moderate light, it can send out new shoots or runners in substrate quickly. 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. Our full care guide for val can be found here.
2. Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
Because each node of its stem produces four bright green leaves, this unique plant is called “octopus”. They look like wilting tendrils that are flowing in the water. Pogostemon plants in general are great for filling out large areas of your tank, as well as providing cover for shy 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. You will see roots grow from the trimming, while the plant that you have left will continue to grow from the point at which it was cut.
3. Brazilian pennywort
Hydrocotyle Leucocephala, another uncommon-looking species, is known for its flat and circular leaves, which look almost like umbrellas on a vine. It appreciates medium to high light, so try planting it directly under your aquarium light or even floating it at the surface. If the Brazilian pennywort gets too long and tangled, just trim off a few sections and the plant will grow new stems, creating a bushier appearance overall. These clippings can also be propagated by placing them in the ground or floating in the water.
4. Water sprite
Water sprite, Ceratopteris Thalictroides or water sprite are two of our favorite plants to grow to increase your fish baby’s survival rate. Its yellow-green, lacy leaves make it easy for fry to hide between them while also preventing hungry adults from getting to them. Water sprite is fast growing and can be used to purify water. It absorbs the nitrogen compounds from fish waste. Like many stem plants you can either grow it on the substrate or floating at water’s surface.
5. Amazon sword
One of the most well-known plants in the aquarium hobby is the Amazon sword or Echinodorus amazonicus. Vallisneria, for example, is a background plant that is tall and narrow. However, sword plants, on the other hand, have large, broad leaves and can grow into huge bushes. They prefer to feed from their roots rather than the water column, so provide them with nutrient-rich substrate or plenty of root tab fertilizers in the ground. When they reach a certain size, they might start to produce side shoots which can become new plantlets. To add more variety in color to your planted tank, try the red flame sword that comes with green, red, and bronze mottled leaves.
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 are to the light, the more their colors change from green to yellow to reddish-bronze. Bacopa monnieri, also known as Moneywort, is a related stem plant that has small, round leaves and strong, straight stems that are bright green. Both can be propagated by trimming the stems to the desired height, and then replanting the trimmings.
7. Pearl weed
Hemianthus microranthemoides can be used in many ways. It can be used as a background, foreground or midground plant depending on how high you cut it. It looks like a miniature version of bacopa with a thin stem and tiny, oblong leaves. When you get a bunch of them growing in medium to high light conditions, they form a dense mass that is perfect for nano fish, shrimp, and fry to use as shelter. Like most stem plants, they can be proliferated by removing the long ends and replanting in the substrate.
8. Alternanthera reineckii var. ‘roseafolia’
Although scarlet temple is a shorter background plant, it is worth noting because of its bright pink and red-colored leaves. These vibrant colors really stand out among other green aquarium plants. This species prefers high-light conditions. It will grow best in medium to bright light. It needs to be fed with Easy Green and Easy Iron nutrients for maximum growth.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri, a beautiful plant with green and red leaves, can be a focal point of any aquarium. It not only produces beautiful, variegated green leaves, but also sends up lily pad to the surface. Place your tiger lotus bulb on top of the substrate or at least half-buried into it. Burying the whole bulb can result in the plant dying. Once the bulb sprouts, it will send roots down into the ground to anchor itself and grow leaves to start absorbing light.
10. Crinum calamistratum
Need a background plant that can stand up to goldfish and African cichlids? African onion plants are bulb plants that produce long, sturdy, ruffled leaves in a dark green shade. It’s a very slow grower, so once you plant the bulb on top of or partially in the ground, make sure not to move it or disturb the surrounding substrate. It can be placed in an Easy Planter decoration so that it is not uprooted by fish. You will see it flourish in a medium-high light environment.
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. Enjoy picking your favorite background plants, and taking in the beauty of nature every day.