Top 5 Midground Plants to Balance Your Planted Aquarium

Top 5 Midground Plants to Balance Your Planted Aquarium

When creating a planted tank, the type of plants you choose and where they are placed can make a big difference in the overall appearance of the aquarium, especially once the plants have grown in. For the most balanced tanks, taller plants are placed in the back while shorter plants are located at the front. However, the stark height differences between them is not always visually appealing. This is why aquascapers use midground plants or medium-sized plants to create a visual transition from the shortest plants in the foreground of the aquarium to the tallest plants in back. This creates a more natural-looking and visually balanced aquascape as the plants appear layered or stacked.

The difference can be observed in the images below. The photo to the left shows a small carpeting species in front and a tall stem in the back. Both plants are visually appealing in themselves; however, the dramatic height difference casts a shadow in the middle of the tank and the eye is drawn there. The photo on the right uses similar plants: a short carpeting species in front and tall stem plants in the background. In addition, this tank includes plants of medium height in the middle. This gives the tank a more balanced look as the eye is drawn gently from the front to center and then up to the highest plants at the back. The result also looks more natural because plants are mixed in nature.

Planted aquariums with no midground plants (left) versus with midground plants (right)

To help you get started, let us introduce you to our top 5 categories of midground plants that will enhance the beauty of your planted aquarium:


1. Anubias Plants

Anubias plants

Anubias nana (or Anubias barteri var. Anubias nana is a medium-sized Anubias species, which makes it a great choice for the aquarium’s midground. The plant prefers to be attached with wood or rock. These plants are typically placed in the middle area of any aquarium. Anubias can be grown via a horizontal stem known as a rhizome, which sends its leaves up. Even under low light, a full and bushy growth pattern can be expected. Medium-sized leaves provide the perfect transition from small plants in front to tall plants in back and add a cozy place for shrimp and small fish to take cover. Anubias golden and Anubias silver coin are all similar-sized Anubias species.

2. Java Fern

Narrow leaf java fern (left) and Windelov java fern (right)

Java fern (Microsorum pteropus) is always an excellent addition to any planted tank. Because of its medium-sized foliage and love to be attached to rocks and wood like Anubias, javafern is a great choice for tank placement. Although it will make a strong visual impact, its bright green leaves won’t completely shade the aquarium plants.

Java fern ‘Windelov,’ which has lace-like tips on its leaves, offers more variety. It tends to remain even more compact than standard java fern, so it can be used as a midground plant in smaller aquascapes as well.

3. Cryptocoryne Plants

Cryptocoryne plants as midground plants

Because of their compact growth pattern and small leaves, Cryptocoryne, wendtii’s different colors – such as green, reddish brown, and even pink– make great midground plants. Because they are medium-high, but quite leafy once established, they make a good transition from the aquarium’s foreground to the back. Their wavy, crinkled leaf texture and different color variety options add the perfect visual spice to any aquarium.

Crypt lucens

Cryptocoryne Luciens is a lovely, narrow-leafed cryptocoryne that grows to a height of just a few inches once fully grown. Overall, this plant seems underused, but it makes an ideal midground plant in aquascaping. It’s not as big as many other crypts species. The delicate transition between the tank’s front and back is made by its thin leaves. The plant appears to be thick grass or reeds once it’s grown in.

4. Baby Tears

Micranthemum umbrosum

The larger baby tear plant makes a great middleground plant. It will need to be trimmed often to keep it neat. This plant has delicate stems and round, green leaves. Cutting off the tips and replanting the stems will help give this plant a short and bushy appearance. Baby tears can continue to grow if left alone. It is technically a stem-plant. If kept trimmed, the delicate, round leaves can provide a lovely midground texture.

5. Dwarf Chain Sword

Helanthium tenellum

The pygmy or dwarf chain sword is a great choice as it is one the easiest grassy plants to grow and creates a lawn-like appearance. It will easily fill in bare spots in the aquarium and grow to a few inches tall without trimming – making it a great option for the middle section in most medium-sized aquariums. It is more visually appealing than other foreground grass species like micro sword and dwarf hairgrass because it has longer leaves.

Aquarium Co-Op’s goal is to offer a well-curated selection of aquatic plants that can grow well for hobbyists. Take a look at our complete selection of midground plants and get some ideas for your next tank.