7 Best Foreground Plants for your Next Planted Aquarium

7 Best Foreground Plants for Your Next Planted Aquarium

Beginners often buy whatever plant they see and place it wherever there is room. However, if you want to take your planted tank to the next level, consider incorporating some tried-and-true design techniques. An excellent rule of thumb is to plan 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 bleacher-style arrangement ensures that all your beautiful plants are visible from the front. Let’s take a look at our top 7 categories for foreground plants, which are roughly 3 inches (7.6cm), or less.


1. Cryptocoryne Plants

Cryptocoryne perva (frontleft) versus Cryptocoryne lata (frontright)

We love the Cryptocoryne genus’ shorter plants. They are also known as “crypts”, and they don’t require constant pruning. C. parva and C. lucens are two species that don’t get very tall and do well in low light conditions. As a rosette plant, all of the leaves grow out of the crown or base of the plant. Bring a new crypt home and cover it with the substrate. Feed it plenty of nutrients by using enriched substrate or root tab fertilizer, and then resist the urge to move them at all. After they are established, the crypt might start to develop baby plants on one side. They can be left attached to the mother plant, or you can gently separate them to replant them in another part of the tank. Although smaller crypts are less likely to melt leaves than larger ones, it is possible to learn more about crypt melting.

2. Grass-Like Plants

Harlequin rasboras swimming over a lawn of dwarf hairgrass

To create a lush, green aquarium with stoloniferous plants, you can use narrow, grass-like, grass-like leaves. Usually, one pot comes with several, individual plants, so carefully separate them and plant them separately in the substrate to give them space to grow. Like crypt plants, they do best if you bury the roots and leave the foliage aboveground. They can quickly spread if you give them nutrient-rich substrate, root tabs, or runners with a small plantlet at their ends. Eventually, the “grass” will grow in a long chain.

Some stoloniferous plants can grow taller than normal lawns. To keep your lawn shorter and denser, you will need to use a medium-high light or scissors. One of the smaller, grass-like plants includes dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis acicularis), which looks almost like little tufts of green pine needles. Because they have very thin leaves it is better to plant them in small groups than individual blades around the tank. The micro sword (Lilaeopsis bristaniliensis) is slightly larger than the dwarf hairgrass, but should be planted in small clumps. Sometimes it can grow slower than other stoloniferous plant species. To stop this, use amano shrimps or other algae eaters. Finally, dwarf chain sword or pygmy chain sword (Helanthium tenellum) has even wider blades and therefore can fill in the substrate pretty 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

Epiphyte plants or rhizome plants are often recommended to beginners because they do well under low light and do not require substrate to grow. The smaller species include the popular anubias petite and the rare bucephalandra green wavy. The rhizome is a long horizontal stem with leaves that grow upwards towards the sun and roots that reach the ground. It is important that the rhizome not be covered, or the plant might die. Some people mount them to rocks or driftwood using superglue gel. You can use it as a front-ground plant by pushing the rhizome, roots into the ground. Next, gently pull the plant upwards until the entire rhizome sits on top, the roots still buried beneath the substrate. 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 is repens

Staurogyne repens

S. repens is a lovely foreground plant with a thick stem and bright green, oblong 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. If you purchase the plant in a pot, remove the individual stems from the rock wool and then plant them separately in the substrate. To prevent stems from floating away, use tweezers (or your fingers) to insert the stems into the ground. Dose an all-in-one liquid fertilizer to feed the plant from the water column, and provide enriched substrate or root tabs to feed nutrients from the ground. Whenever the S. repens gets too tall, just clip off the top half and replant it into the substrate for easy propagation.

5. Carpeting Plants

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’)

Ground cover can be done by most foreground plants. However, if you want to create a thick carpet where the substrate is hidden, we recommend carpeting plants that have many tiny leaves. These plants can grow dense mats and can hold a lot of soil. Dwarf baby tear (Hemianthus tweediei ‘Cuba) is a common choice for aquascapers. It has the smallest leaves of any fish in the aquarium hobby. But it needs high light and CO2 to shine. Monte carlo (Micranthemum trifidaei ‘Monte Carlo) is a similar looking plant, however its leaves are larger and easier to grow. Because these carpeting plants have very short and weak roots, we recommend planting them in the substrate with the rock wool still attached. You have two options: either place the entire plug in a single spot, or cut the rockwool into 1-inch squares and then insert the clumps in grid-like patterns. The plants will eventually grow into a lush mound of little, green leaves spreading across the substrate.

6. Tripartite Hydrocotyle ‘Japan’

Hydrocotyle tripartite ‘Japan’

This aquarium plant is a creeping vine that grows in a shamrock-shaped shape. It can be used to create a beautiful field of clovers in your aquarium. You can let the plant grow in the background as ground cover or train them to grow on hardscape. To prevent it from fluttering away, you should insert the stem’s base into the substrate as deep as possible when you first receive it. Feed it both fertilizers in the water and in the substrate, and once it becomes too tall, you can trim the tops and replant them in the ground for propagation. Hydrocotyle tripartita does best in medium to high lighting and provides excellent shelter for small fish and shrimp.

7. Mosses

Java moss

The rhizomes of mosses, like epiphyte plants, can be used to grow them in their own substrate. You can attach them to hardscape for the appearance of a overgrown forest. Or you can glue them onto small rocks to form little bushes at the front 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.

Once you’ve chosen your favourite foreground plant, be sure to add some background plants and a mix of midgrounds. For inspiration, read our article on the best backgrounds plants for beginner aquariums.