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.
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. It can easily produce new shoots and runners in the substrate, even in low-to-medium light. This can quickly fill up your tank. 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. Our full care guide for val can be found here.
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. Pogostemons are good for filling large areas of your tank as well as providing cover and food for small fish and babies. 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 unusual species, is well-known for its flat, round leaves that look almost like umbrellas. It appreciates medium to high light, so try planting it directly under your aquarium light or even floating it at the surface. Trim the ends of the Brazilian pennywort that are too long and tangled to make it bushier. 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. Water sprite is fast growing and can be used to purify water. It absorbs the nitrogen compounds from fish waste. As with many stem plants, you can grow it in the substrate or floating at the water surface.
5. Amazon sword
One of the most well-known plants in the aquarium hobby is the Amazon sword or Echinodorus amazonicus. 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. Once they are large enough, they may start producing side shoots that 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, 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 microranthemoides can be used in many ways. It can be used as a background, foreground or midground plant depending on how high you cut 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. As with most stem plants, you can proliferate them by snipping off the long ends and replanting them in the substrate.
8. Alternanthera reineckii var. ‘roseafolia’
Although scarlet temple is a shorter background plant, it is worth noting because of its bright pink and red-colored leaves. These vibrant colors really stand out among other green aquarium plants. This species prefers high-light conditions. It will grow best in medium to bright light. Feed it good nutrients like Easy Green and Easy Iron for optimal growth.
9. Tiger lotus
Nymphaea zenkeri is a gorgeous plant with red and green leaves that can easily become the statement piece of your aquarium. Not only does it produce large, variegated leaves in the water, but it also sends up lily pads to the surface. When planting your tiger lotsus, ensure that the bulb is placed on top of or less than halfway into the substrate. Burying the entire bulb can cause the plant to die. Once the bulb sprouts it will send roots to the ground to anchor and then start growing leaves that 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. This bulb is slow to grow so make sure you don’t move or disturb the soil. It can be placed in an Easy Planter decoration so that it is not uprooted by fish. 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.