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 are 10 easy-to-use background plants for beginners that can grow up to 12 inches (30cm) or more.
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). Therefore, do not be alarmed if your newly purchased background plant looks like it’s wilting; leave it in the tank and it should start producing new leaves within 2 to 4 weeks.
We often call Vallisneria spiralis the “one-plant wonder” because it can transform your fish tank into a field of tall grasses, 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. Vallisneria or jungle val is a taller, thicker option to use in your large aquarium. For more information, read our full care guide on val.
2. Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
This unique plant has the nickname “octopus” because each node on its stem produces four, bright green leaves that look like wispy tendrils flowing in the water. Pogostemon plants are excellent for covering small areas in your tank and providing cover for babies and shy fish. 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. Trimming will create roots that will become new plants, and the old one will keep growing from the spot where 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 be propagated by inserting them in the ground or floating them in the water.
4. Water Sprite
If you’re looking for a really dense plant to increase the survival rate of your fish babies, water sprite or Ceratopteris thalictroides is one of our favorites to use. Its yellow-green, lacy leaves make it easy for fry to hide between them while also preventing hungry adults from getting to them. Because water sprite grows so quickly, it is also useful for purifying the water by absorbing the toxic nitrogen compounds produced by your fish’s waste. Like many stem plants you can either grow it on the substrate or floating at water’s surface.
5. Amazon sword
The Amazon sword, or Echinodorus Amazonicus, is one of the most popular plants in aquarium hobby. Vallisneria and other background plants are short and tall, but sword plants are large and have board-shaped leaves. They can also grow to be 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. The red flame sword, which comes with red, green, and bronze-mottled leaves, can be used to add more color to your tank.
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 more the leaves are near the light, the more they change in color from green to yellow to reddish brown. Bacopa monnieri or Moneywort is a similar stem plant. It has smaller, more rounded leaves, and straighter stems that remain bright green. Both plants can easily be propagated by cutting the stems to a desired height and replanting any trimmings.
7. Pearl weed
Hemianthus micranthemoides is such a versatile species because it can be used as a foreground, midground, or background plant, depending on what height you trim it. It is a miniature form of bacopa, with a short stem and small, oblong-shaped leaves. If you have a lot of them, you can create a dense mass which is ideal for fry, shrimp, and nano fish to shelter in. Like most stem plants, they can be proliferated by removing the long ends and replanting in the substrate.
8. Alternanthera reineckii var. ‘roseafolia’
Scarlet temple is one the smaller background plants, but it is well worth mentioning due to its vibrant red and pink-colored leaves. They really stand out in the middle of other green aquarium plants. This is a species that appreciates medium to high light because the brighter the lighting, the more likely you will see those deep reds and even purples in its foliage. Feed it good nutrients like Easy Green and Easy Iron for optimal growth.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri can make a statement in your aquarium with its stunning red and green leaves. Not only does it produce large, variegated leaves in the water, but it also sends up lily pads to the surface. To plant your tiger lotus, make sure to place the bulb on top of or only partially buried halfway into the substrate. The entire bulb could be buried and cause it to die. 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
You need a background plant that is resistant to African cichlids and goldfish. The African onion plant is a bulb plant that produces very long and tough, ruffled leaves with a dark green coloration. 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. To make sure that no fish will uproot the bulb, you can place it in an Easy Planter ornament. It will become the focal point of your planted tank if you give it medium to high lighting.
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. Have fun choosing your favourite background plants and enjoying nature everyday.