Aquarium Plants for Beginners - Planted Tank Mates
Aquarium Plants for Beginners

Aquarium Plants for Beginners


There are plenty of options when it comes to aquarium plants for beginners.  The hardiest ones don’t require CO2 injection and can thrive on low to medium light.  Knowing how it receives nutrients will dictate how you feed it.  Some plants are root feeders, meaning they absorb their nutrients from the soil.  Having good quality soil allows them to grow dense and spread.  The nutrients in the soil will deplete over time, so adding root tabs will help give it a boost.  Other plants are column feeders, meaning they absorb their nutrients from the water.  Those plants grow better with a little liquid fertilizer.  For beginners, an all-in-one fertilizer will generally be sufficient.  Regardless of the plant feeding type, dosing with liquid carbon will always help in absence of CO2.  

When dosing any type of fertilizer, proceed with a bit of caution.  Excessive nutrients can raise the nitrate levels in your tank and harm livestock.  Test the nitrate levels regularly and scale back on the liquid fertilizers if necessary.  For beginner aquarium plants, nitrate levels of 50 – 80 ppm is sufficient.  Do a water change and back off once it starts getting into the 100’s.  If you’re 20 ppm or lower, you may notice leaves turning yellow.  Also, excessive nutrients and high lighting often lead to algae growth, so monitor progress and keep a log.  It’ll take a little bit of trial and error, but that’s the best way to create a dose and feed rhythm. 

Column Feeding Plants

Foreground Plants
Mosses in general are great aquarium plants for beginners.  They feed from the water column and can be attached to any type of substrate.  You’ll notice that mosses do not have a root structure and their leaves can grow in various directions.  Many will tie Christmas or Java Moss to wood branches or glue them to rocks in the foreground.  They’re also great for dwarf shrimp as food gets stuck on them and becomes a nice place to graze.
christmas moss shrimp tank
Christmas Moss – available on Amazon

Marimo Moss Balls are unique in that they’re technically algae.  Before anyone cringes, algae is natural and can be incorporated into any planted tank.  It’s a great food source for snails, shrimp and even some fish like corydoras.  Marimo balls are no exception.  You can roll it in your palms to maintain shape or open it up and tie it to substrates.  Propagating is as easy as tearing it apart and balling it up again with a little thread.  They take time to grow, so maintenance is easy.

marimo moss ball planted tank
Ball up your Marimo Moss in your hands when it gets a bit loose – available on Amazon
Midground Plants

Anubias plants such as Barteri and the smaller Nana are also great aquarium plants for beginners.  They’re slow to grow and do not require strong lighting.  Although they have a visible root structure (rhizome), they’re actually column feeders.  A small dose of liquid fertilizer and carbon is all they need.  They love to be glued to rocks or tied to driftwood, but can be buried lightly in soil as well.  Don’t bury it too deep as the rhizome can rot.  

Anubias Nana
Anubias Nana – available on Amazon

Bucephalandra is another column feeder and has a similar structure to Anubias plants.  They have a rhizome that can’t be buried too deep and can be glued or tied to rocks and wood.  Their leaves are slightly more wavy and can vary in color from red to purple and blue.  When doing really well, they can sprout little flowers. 

Bucephalandra – available on Amazon
Background Plants

Anacharis (Brazilian Water Weed) is a tall column feeder.  They make a great backdrop for any aquarium and can grow relatively quick.  It can easily become a maintenance issue for an aquarium rich in nutrients, constantly being required to trim.  Anacharis can be lightly planted in the soil or even left floating in the tank.  All the trimmings from this stem plant can propagate making reproduction relatively easy.  A relatively comparable plant is Bacopa Caroliniana, which grows really slow.  If you have less time for maintenance and can be patient with growth, consider this alternative.

Brazilian Water Weed
Brazilian Water Weed – Anarcharis – available on Amazon


Bacopa Caroliniana
Bacopa Caroliniana  – available on Amazon

Java Ferns are popular aquarium plants for a reason.  They’re super low maintenance, easy to maintain, and their wide leaves tell you how well they’re doing.  Super bright leaves means they’re doing well, yellow – brown leaves tell you they need more nutrients.  Don’t bury this too deep in any soil as their rhizomes can rot.  Tie them to rocks or wood and let it form a nice backdrop.

Java Fern
Java Fern  – available on Amazon
Floating Plants

Duckweed and Frogbits are by far one of the easiest floating plants for any beginner.  Toss them in the tank and watch their roots grow. Their roots extend down into the water column, feeding on nutrients and nitrates.  Shrimps love to graze on the roots and the plant cover makes good hiding spaces for baby fry.  Got a problem with algae?  Feel free to float these around as an algae-controlling strategy.  They’ll suck up the excess nitrates and reduce the overall lighting intensity down below.

duckweed floating aquarium plant
Duckweed Floating Plant – available on Amazon
frogbit planted tank
Frogbit Roots – Floating Plant – available on Amazon

Hornwort can be planted in the soil to make a gorgeous backdrop, but they’re not root feeders.  You’ll notice that when they grow, they shoot stems from the side and not from the bottom.  In fact, the more you try to shove it into the soil, the more likely the stems and needle leaves will rot.  That’s because they’re column feeders that do best if lightly anchored or if allowed to simply float. 

Hornwort stems grow from the side – available on Amazon

Root Feeding Plants

Foreground Plants

Cryptocoryne of most types are very easy aquarium plants for beginners.  They’re root feeders and do not require liquid fertilizers or CO2 injection.   Providing nutrient rich soil or supplementing inert substrates with root tabs will do just fine.  Cryptocoryne Parva make a great foreground plant that’s slow growing and super easy to keep.  They may melt when first immersed into water, but don’t worry too much as it’ll eventually make its way back.

Cryptocoryne Parva
Cryptocoryne Parva – available on Amazon

Dwarf Sagittaria is another popular one for beginners and advanced aquascapers.  They have wide grasslike blades and are super easy to carpet in a planted tank.  This is one plant that benefits from both root tabs and liquid fertilizers.  If they begin to grow tall, they’re reaching for the light and you need to bump up the intensity.  If they are growing low and spreading wide, the lighting is sufficient and you’re doing good.  

Dwarf Sagittaria
Dwarf Sagittaria – available on Amazon

Monte Carlo can create a bright green carpet in any aquarium foreground.  They grow runners that spread over the surface and root down into the soil.  Be sure to provide good lighting and feed that substrate.  Propagating them is as simple as cutting a piece and sticking it right back into the soil.

Monte Carlo
Monte Carlo – aquarium carpet plant – available on Amazon
Midground Plants

Similar to Cryptocoryne Parva, Cryptocoryne Wendtii and Becketii are super hardy, easy going root feeders.  They grow slow and can handle a wide range of water parameters making them great beginner plants.  Both Crypto Wendtii and Becketii grow a bit taller and make good midground plants.  Tie them to your hardscape or wedge them between rocks and you’re all set.

Crypocoryne Wendtii
Crypocoryne Wendtii – available on Amazon


Cryptocoryne Becketii
Cryptocoryne Becketii – available on Amazon
Background Plants

Amazon Swords are so resilient and adaptable, they’re one of the most popular plants in the planted tank community.  They can thrive in a wide range of water conditions and are not needy with lighting or CO2.  Their most important criteria is a nutrient rich substrate, so feed those root tabs.  Add an occasional fertilizer and the leaves will grow super green and tall.  Yellow leaves are an indication of depleted nutrients, so it’s easy to observe and maintain their health. 

Amazon sword

Last but not least, Vallisneria is an extremely easy backdrop for any planted tank.  Provide them with nutrient rich soil and the occasional fertilizer to create a thick lush of green blades.  You can intentionally overgrow them and allow the top to drift near the surface.  This creates all the benefits of floating plants with pockets of shade and cover for livestock.  Tall aquariums can feature this plant with a variety of middle and top dwelling fish.

Vallisneria – available on Amazon

All Things Considered

As you can see, there are many options to get you started on your first successful planted tank.  Understanding how your plants absorb nutrients is the first step to giving it the proper care it needs.  You can keep it simple by having all column feeding plants and occasionally dosing the water column.  Another option is to use quality soil for root feeders and supplement with root tabs when nutrients deplete.   And of course, you can mix combinations of water feeding and root feeding plants to create a dynamic landscape.  When selecting plants, remember to give some height variances too which gives hiding spaces for your bottom, middle and top dwelling fish.  Most importantly, routinely track your liquid dosing and test your water parameters.

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