Low Light Aquarium Plants - Planted Tank Mates

Low Light Aquarium Plants

Overview

There are many options when it comes to selecting low light aquarium plants for your tank.  Some of their benefits include their slow growth rate and less demanding requirements.  Low light plants could be used as a strategy to control and reduce algae.  The combination of reducing the light intensity and providing a lot of plants can help with the success of any planted tank.

Low Light Foreground Plants 

In general, most Cryptocoryne can handle low to moderate light levels.  Micro Crypt is an easy and low maintenance foreground to midground plant.  It’s a smaller version of Cryptocoryne Beckettii and receives its nutrients from the soil.  They don’t require intense lighting and will do well in the lower parts of your tank.  Like all Cryptocorynes, they’re susceptible to melting when first introduced to a new aquarium.  Simply trim any decaying or rotting stems and give it time to regrow.  

Cryptocoryne Petchii – photo credit – Tropica

Staurogyne Repens is a small rooting feeding plant that can do well with low lighting or moderate indirect lighting conditions.  It has a bushy appearance that will creep and spread when provided with CO2 and can carpet the foreground of your aquarium.  Take caution as algae can grow on its leaves when exposed to too much direct lighting.  You can supplement with root fertilizers for optimal growth.

staurogyne repens planted tank
Staurogyne Repens – available on Amazon

Subwassertang can be described as a flat and tangled, ribbon-like moss. Often confused with Pelia Moss which is almost identical in appearance, except with broader leaves.  Similar to Java, Christmas and other mosses, Subwassertang does not have a root structure, so you can weigh them down with rocks or tie them to branches.  Due to its tangled nature, they grow in clumps that can slowly spread wide over time.

subwassertang – photo credit – Flip Aquatics

Low Light Midground Plants

Pearl Weed is a stem plant that’s often placed in the midground.  It should be planted in the soil and can grow slowly and sparse with low lighting.  This is one of the most popular slow light aquarium plants for setups like shrimp and guppy tanks.  Although it does not require it to thrive, medium to high lighting can make it grow taller and more dense.   Pearl weed is often confused for Baby tears which grow more dense and has rounded leaves.

Pearl Weed – available on Amazon

Water Wisteria is a root feeding plant known for its feather-like leaves.  It’s sometimes confused for Water Sprite which looks similar but has finer needle-like leaves.  Water Wisteria is relatively undemanding when it comes to light and can tolerate a wide range of water conditions.  Provide a nutrient rich substrate and adequate water circulation to prevent algae growth on its large leaves.  This plant can get bushy, so trim regularly to maintain its shape and from over-growing.

Water Wisteria – photo credit – Aquarium Co-op

Low Light Background Plants

African Water Fern is an easy, column feeding plant that can get up to 22” in height.  Similar to most ferns, it’s susceptible to root rot so tie them to wood or weigh it down above the substrates.  They have long and narrow leaves that can grow algae if exposed to too much lighting.  Low light conditions will keep a slow and steady growth.  Supplementing with CO2 injection will provide a more lush and dense growth.

African Water Fern – available on Amazon

Cryptocoryne Spiralis, also known as Spiral Crypt, grows well with low light conditions and a nutrient rich substrate.  They have narrow leaves with wavy edges, growing up to 20” in height.  Although it’s a hardy plant, it can be sensitive to drastic water changes and disturbance, so try not to move them once planted.  There are red variations of Spiral Crypt that require stronger lighting and iron dosing.

Cryptocoryne Spiralis – available on Amazon

Sunrise Java Fern has the same care and requirements similar to other Java Fern species.  High lighting can actually burn or melt it, so keep it in low to moderate lighting conditions.  It’s one of the easiest background plants to place in an aquarium.  You can bury it, tie or glue it to wood and hardscapes, or simple weigh it down on the substrate.  Remember not to bury it too deep into the substrate as it has rhizomes that can rot.  This is a column feeding plant that absorbs nutrients from the water, not the soil.

sunrise java fern planted tank
Sunrise Java Fern – available on Amazon

Water Sprite is a delicate looking fern with thick stems and fine looking leaves.  It’s a column feeding plant that’s extremely versatile and can be anchored in the soil or left floating.  Low aquarium lighting will keep a slow and steady growth rate while moderate to high will send its vibrant colors to the top of the tank.  Its bushy spread can provide cover for fry or timid fish, but light demanding plants can suffer beneath its shade.

All Things Considered

Low light aquarium plants allow you to tune down the light intensity and give a more subtle look to your tank.  The reduced lighting can also help mitigate algae growth or keep it under control.  Understand the difference between root feeding and column feeding plants and use root tabs or liquid fertilizers to provide nutrients and aid in growth.  Growth for some plants may be slower, but that can add to the benefit of less trimming and maintenance.  Always observe your tank and inhabitant’s conditions and make slow adjustments along the way.  Keep a journal log to help track changes.

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