7 Best Foreground Plants for Your Next Planted Aquarium
Beginners often buy whatever plant they see and place it wherever there is room. You can improve your tank’s design by using tried-and-true techniques. An excellent rule of thumb is to plan your aquarium in layers. This means that the tallest and shortest plants will be in front, while the longest plants will be in back. This arrangement, which is a bleacher style, ensures that all your plants are visible from front. To help you get started, let’s talk about our top 7 categories of foreground plants that stay roughly 3 inches (7.6 cm) or less in height.
1. Cryptocoryne Plants
Cryptocoryne Parva (front left), versus Cryptocoryne Luta (front right).
We love the Cryptocoryne genus’ shorter plants. They are also known as “crypts”, and they don’t require constant pruning. C. parva and C. lucens are two species that don’t get very tall and do well in low light conditions. All of the rosette plants’ leaves are borne from the crown or base. Bring a new crypt home and cover it with the substrate. Use enriched substrate, root tab fertilizer or a combination thereof to give your crypt nutrients. Don’t let them move. Once they become well-established, the crypt may start developing baby plantlets on the side that have their own little roots. These can be attached to the mother plants or separated to be replanted in another tank area. 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
You can create a beautiful, green “lawn”, in your aquarium by using stoloniferous plant with narrow, grasslike leaves. You will usually find several plants in one pot. To give them the space they need to grow, separate them and place them in their own 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. Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis arcucularis) is a smaller grass-like plant. It looks almost like tiny tufts green pine needles. Due to their thin leaves, it is best to plant them in small clumps around the tank rather than individual blades. Although micro sword (Lilaeopsis bristaniliensis) has larger leaves than dwarf hairgrass, it should still be planted in a grid with 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. A dwarf chain sword (or pygmy or pygmy sword) is also available. It has even wider blades, so it can quickly fill in the substrate. It can grow taller than other grass-like species, so it may be a good choice for large aquariums.
3. Plants that are epiphyte
Ornamental dwarf shrimp with anubias nana petite
Epiphyte plants or rhizome plants are often recommended to beginners because they do well under low light and do not require substrate to grow. This category also includes the smaller, more popular anubias “nana petite” and the rarer bucephalandras “green wavy”. They have a thick horizontal stem called a Rhizome. The leaves grow upwards toward sunlight and the roots extend downwards toward ground. It is important that the rhizome not be covered, or the plant might die. Some people mount them to rocks or driftwood using superglue gel. To use it as a foreground plant, push the rhizome and roots completely into the ground, and then slightly pull the plant upwards so the entire rhizome is sitting on top of the substrate with the roots still buried. 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 lovely foreground plant with a thick stem and bright green, oblong leaves. It does tend to get a bit thin and leggy in low light, so give it medium to high light to keep it shorter and more compact. 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. Use an all-in one liquid fertilizer to provide nutrients from the soil. Whenever the S. repens gets too tall, just clip off the top half and replant it into the substrate for easy propagation.
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 trifidaei ‘Monte Carlo) is a similar looking plant, however its leaves are larger and 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. The plug can be planted in one place or you can cut the rock wool into squares measuring 0.5 inches (1 cm). The plants will eventually spread out to form a lush mound with small, green leaves.
6. Hydrocotyle tripartite ‘Japan’
Hydrocotyle tripartite ‘Japan’
This unusual aquarium plant can be grown as a creeping vine with shamrock shaped leaves. This makes it ideal for creating a field of clovers within your aquarium. You can let the plant grow in the background as ground cover or train them to grow on hardscape. To prevent it from fluttering away, you should insert the stem’s base into the substrate as deep as possible when you first receive it. You can feed it fertilizers in both the water and the substrate. Once it is too tall, trim the tops off and replant them in ground for future growth. Hydrocotyle tripartita does best in medium to high lighting and provides excellent shelter for small fish and shrimp.
The rhizomes of mosses, like epiphyte plants, can be used to grow them in their own substrate. 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’ve chosen your favourite foreground plant, be sure to add some background plants and a mix of midgrounds. For inspiration, read our article on the best backgrounds plants for beginner aquariums.