7 Best Foreground Plants for Your Next Planted Aquarium
When beginners build their first planted aquarium, they usually buy any plant catches their eye and plunk it down wherever there’s an empty space in the tank. However, if you want to take your planted tank to the next level, consider incorporating some tried-and-true design techniques. A good rule of thumb is to plan out the aquarium in layers from front to back, such that the shortest plants are in the foreground and the tallest plants are in the background. This arrangement is bleacher-style, so all your lovely plants can be seen from the front. Let’s start by describing the top 7 foreground plant categories that are approximately 3 inches (7.6cm) tall or less.
1. Cryptocoryne Plants
Cryptocoryne parva (front left) versus Cryptocoryne lutea (front right)
We love the Cryptocoryne genus’ shorter plants. They are also known as “crypts”, and they don’t require constant pruning. C. parva (or C. lucens) are two species that can grow very low and don’t need much light. All of the rosette plants’ leaves are borne from the crown or base. When you bring a new crypt home, bury the roots in the substrate but do not cover the crown. You can feed it with enriched substrate or root tab fertilizer. Then resist the urge to move them. The crypt will eventually develop little roots and baby plantlets once they have established themselves. 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 Trees
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. One pot usually contains several individual plants. Separate them carefully and place them in separate containers. They do well if the roots are buried and the leaves kept aboveground, similar to crypt plants. You can encourage them to spread quickly by providing nutrient rich substrate or root tabs. They will eventually form a long chain of “grass” if they have a few plantlets at the ends.
Like normal lawns, some stoloniferous species can grow rather tall, so you may need to trim them with scissors or use a medium to high light to keep the lawn denser and shorter. 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. Micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) has slightly wider leaves than dwarf hairgrass but should also be planted in a grid of small clumps. It can sometimes grow more slowly than other stoloniferous species, so it is best to use amano shrimp and other algae eaters to stop any further growth. The dwarf chain sword, or pygmy-chain sword (Helanthium Tenellum), has wider blades that can fill in substrates quickly. It is more suitable as a foreground plant in medium-sized to large aquariums because it can get taller that other grass-like plants.
3. Plants that are epiphyte
Ornamental dwarf shrimp with anubias nana petite
Rhizome or epiphyte plants are popular choices for beginners. They thrive in low light and don’t need substrate to grow. Smaller species in this category include the very popular anubias nana petite and the rarer bucephalandra “green wavy”. They have a thick, horizontal stem called a rhizome with leaves that grow upwards toward the light and roots that extend downwards toward the ground. The rhizome should not be covered as the plant could die. Many people mount them to rocks and driftwood with super glue 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 repens
S. repens is a beautiful foreground plant that has a thick stem with long, bright green leaves. Low light can cause it to become a bit leggy and thin, so make sure to give it moderate to high light. If you purchase the plant in a pot, remove the individual stems from the rock wool and then plant them separately in the substrate. Like most stem plants, you want to use tweezers or your fingers to plunge the stems firmly into the ground so they won’t float away. You can feed your plant with an all-in-1 liquid fertilizer. Also, provide root tabs or enriched substrate to help absorb nutrients from the ground. For easy propagation, clip the top half of the S. repens and replant it in the substrate.
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. tweediei. ‘Monte Carlo”) has a similar appearance but the leaves are larger. Most people find it 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. You will see the plants eventually become a dense mound of green leaves that spread 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. It can be left in the ground as ground cover, or you can train it to grow over hardscape. When you first get this stem plant, plunge the base of the stem as deeply into the substrate as possible to keep it from floating away. 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.
Because they also have rhizomes, mosses can be compared to epiphyte plant epiphytes. 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 have settled on your favorite foreground plants, make sure to even out the aquarium with an appropriate mix of midground and background plants. Read our article on the best background plants for beginner aquariums to get inspired.