Owning an aquarium teeming with pristine plant life seems a lot more difficult to maintain than it really is. By purchasing the right beginner-friendly plants, any aquarium can look vibrant without the upkeep becoming a chore.
Besides the basics, many aquatic plants require specified care. Fortunately, these beginner plants are easy to keep alive without much added care:
1 Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus)
Java Ferns have leathery leaves that can be wide or narrow, and the shade of green darkens with higher lighting. Java Ferns like higher temperatures (20-28°C) and a pH of 6-7.
Otherwise, they can tolerate any amount of light and rarely need pruning.
When planting a Java Fern, be sure not to bury the roots; if the rhizomes of this plant are buried, it will die, so instead attach it to driftwood or a rocky surface.
2 Java Moss (Taxiphyllum barbieri)
This popular carpet plant has tiny, bright green leaves that grow on short, thin stems. They can grow in any temperature, but if the water is warmer (22-24°C), they will grow faster. They can also grow with any amount of lighting, but prefer less.
The only major maintenance Java Moss will need is trimming.
If the lighting and water temperatures are just right Java Moss can grow rapidly, sometimes too fast!
When this happens, the overgrowth can take over the tank if it is not managed. To prevent this, plan to prune it at least every six to eight weeks, if not sooner.
3 Vallisneria (Vallisneria spiralis)
Vallisneria is sometimes called “eelgrass” or “tapegrass” because of its long, thin leaves. Fish love to swim among its leaves, and you will love caring for it because it is so hardy.
Vallisneria can grow in a wide range of temperatures (17-28°C), and prefer a lot of light. Ideally, the pH of the water should be between 6.5 and 8.5 for Vallisneria to stay healthy.
Be careful not to plant Vallisneria too deep; to be safe, leave the top of the roots exposed. It may also need a root tab (dissolvable tablet or capsule that contains plant fertiliser) occasionally to maintain sufficient iron levels.
If the iron levels are low, the leaves will be pale or white, so you will know right away.
4 Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata)
Dwarf Sagittaria is a grass-like plant that grows in little clusters. It only grows about 6 inches (15cm) tall, but despite its small size, it is extremely durable. It can grow in a wide range of water temperatures, and in both hard and soft water. (Hard water contains an appreciable quantity of dissolved minerals, like calcium and magnesium. Soft water is treated water in which the only ion is sodium.)
It does best in water with a pH of 6-8, but it can live in pHs outside that range. Moderate to low light suits it well, but avoid intense light.
One thing to look out for with Dwarf Sagittaria is nutrient deficiency. Like Vallisneria, it can become iron deficient, which causes the leaves to become discoloured. To prevent a deficiency, use a nutrient-rich substrate or a root tab.
5 Christmas Moss (Vesicularia montagnei)
Christmas Moss has overlapping branches that look like mini Christmas trees. These small plants thrive in temperatures between 18-25°C, pH levels between 5-7.5, any amount of light (though they prefer brighter light), and grow on just about any substrate.
To keep Christmas Moss healthy, just maintain a steady water flow to prevent dirt or algae build-up, and trim it down periodically.
6 Dwarf Baby Tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides)
These tiny plants are bright green and grow in clusters. Originally found in Cuba, they prefer warmer, tropical temperatures (20-28°C), a pH of 5-7.5, and strong lighting.
They make a great carpet plant and do best on sandy substrates. They grow slowly, but that means you will not need to trim them much.
One thing they will need to thrive is CO2 supplementation. Some methods of CO2 supplementation are: yeast reactors, lime tablets, and compressed CO2.
As long as your fish and other plants will not react negatively to the added CO2, CO2 supplementation will be rewarding.
7 Amazon Sword (Echinodorus amazonicus)
Amazon Sword plants have long, thin green leaves that resemble the blade of a sword. They can grow up to 16 inches (40cm) tall and most of that height comes from the leaves.
Amazon Swords do best in warmer water (20-24°C) with a neutral pH. While many aquatic plants need regular trimming, the Amazon Sword does not.
Only trim it if you notice sick leaves or signs of disease; when this happens, cut them off as soon as possible so that the rest of the plant is unaffected.
Amazon Swords do not require additives in the substrate for proper nutrition, but the substrate must be at least 2 inches (5cm) deep for their large roots to grow.
Before you purchase any plants for your aquarium, you should learn how to keep them healthy. No matter the difficulty level, all plants will require the following:
> Light. On average, aquatic plants need eight to 10 hours of light per day in order to grow. If there is not enough light, the plants will wither and die; and if there is too much, algae may overtake your tank.
> Substrate. Substrates vary, depending on the plant species. In general, they will be sand or clay and may need to be mixed with gravel.
Beginner plants typically have minimal substrate requirements, while more advanced plants will require you to maintain specific nutrient levels.
> Regular tank cleaning. Cleaning the tank prevents excessive algae growth and promotes good water quality overall.
This will include installing a filter, removing dead plant leaves, and changing out the water.
With the right lighting, pH, temperatures, and cleanliness, any beginner can enjoy growing these seven aquatic plants. Though some have specified needs, these are minimal and novice aquarists can adapt to their plants’ needs easily.
David Thomas is the editor-in-chief at Everything Fishkeeping, a fishkeeping and aquascaping magazine.