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 10 background plants are easy to grow and can reach 12 inches (30 cm) in height.
Remember that many of these plants were grown emersed (or over water) at plant farms. This means that when you add them to your aquarium, the original leaves might melt. New leaves must be developed that are used for being submerged (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 medium light, it readily sends out new shoots or runners in the substrate that can quickly fill your tank. It is one of our tallest plants and we have successfully used it to break up the line of sight for aggressive fish such as African cichlids. Vallisneria Americana or jungle val are taller and thicker options to add to your large aquarium or pond. For more information, read our full care guide on val.
2. Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
Because each node of its stem produces four bright green leaves, this unique plant is called “octopus”. They look like wilting tendrils that are flowing in the water. Pogostemon plants are excellent for covering small areas in your tank and providing cover for babies and shy fish. Once the plant is tall enough that it can reach the water surface you can propagate it by cutting off the top and planting it deeper into the substrate. The trimming will produce roots and become a new plant, while the old plant will continue growing from where you cut it.
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. You can trim the Brazilian pennywort if it becomes too long or tangled. This will allow the plant to grow new stems and give it a bushier appearance. These clippings can also be propagated by placing them in the ground or floating in the water.
4. Water Sprite
Water sprite, Ceratopteris Thalictroides or water sprite are two of our favorite plants to grow to increase your fish baby’s survival rate. 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
Echinodorus amazonicus (or the Amazon sword) is one of the most famous plants in the aquarium hobby. Vallisneria, for example, is a background plant that is tall and narrow. However, sword plants, on the other hand, have large, broad leaves and can grow into 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. They may produce side shoots, which will eventually become new plantlets once they grow sufficiently large. To add more variety in color to your planted tank, try the red flame sword that comes with green, red, and bronze mottled leaves.
6. Bacopa caroliniana
Stem plants like Bacopa caroliniana are known for their clusters of oval-shaped leaves and long stems won’t stop growing until they reach 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, also known as Moneywort, is a related stem plant that has small, round leaves and strong, straight stems that are bright green. Both plants can be propagated by pruning the stems to the desired height and replanting the 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 looks like a tiny version of bacopa. The stem is thin and the leaves are small and oblong. When you get a bunch of them growing in medium to high light conditions, they form a dense mass that is perfect for nano fish, shrimp, and fry to use as shelter. You can encourage them to grow by cutting off their long ends and placing them in the substrate.
8. Alternanthera reineckii var. ‘roseafolia’
Scarlet temple is one of the shorter background plants on this list, but it’s worth mentioning because of its vibrant pink and red-colored leaves that really pop in the midst of other green aquarium plants. This species prefers high-light conditions. It will grow best in medium to bright light. For optimal growth, feed it Easy Green and Easy Iron.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri is a gorgeous plant with red and green leaves that can easily become the statement piece of your aquarium. It not only produces beautiful, variegated green leaves, but also sends up lily pad to the surface. Place your tiger lotus bulb on top of the substrate or at least half-buried into it. Burying the whole bulb can result in the plant dying. After the bulb has sprouted, it will send roots into the ground to anchor itself. The bulbs will then grow leaves and begin to absorb light.
10. Crinum calamistratum
You need a background plant that is resistant to African cichlids and goldfish. African onion plants are bulb plants that produce long, sturdy, ruffled leaves in a dark green shade. The African onion plant is slow growing. Once you have planted the bulb, be sure to not move it or damage the 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.
You may also be interested in other ideas for aquarium plants. Our collection includes easy-to-grow plants for beginners that we have found to be the most successful in our fish tanks. Have fun picking out your favorite background plants and enjoy nature daily.