Freshwater Planted Aquarium

Best freshwater aquarium plants

Here we cover how a freshwater planted aquarium uses these different types of plants, how to plan your layout and ways of planting them in your freshwater aquarium.

Generally speaking, a freshwater planted aquarium will use three types of plants; proper aquatic plants, marginals and terrestrial.

And similar to your fishes they also have preferences for different water conditions so you need to discover this information before you start putting them into your aquarium.

Proper Aquatic Plants

These type of plants are commonly sold as cuttings and are true aquatic plants as they spend all their time underwater and must remain so. Example: Cabomba caroliniana from the Cabomba genus commonly known as the Green Cabomba.

Marginal Plants

As the name suggests, in their natural surroundings, they are only submerged for part of the year.

And during the dry season grow out of the water with most of then flowering and seeding at that time.


Cryptocoryne and Echinodorus genus. There are 50-60 species within the Cryptocoryne genus and amongst the Echinodorus genus is the very popular Amazon Sword species. (Echinodorus amazonicus).

Terrestrial Plants

These plants are not totally suitable for freshwater aquariums and total submersion for prolonged periods as they will then rot and lead to poor water quality. Avoid these as they can sometimes be offered as ‘aquatic plants’.

Planning Your Plants

Before buying any plants you need to decide how your aquarium is going to look and need to sketch out what is going to go where. And whether you are looking for cold water or warm water (tropical) plants.

Look at the colors available, types of leaves and the sizes they will grow to. On your sketch position the smaller varieties at the front with taller/larger plants further back. You may not be able to buy all your plants at once but as you have your sketch you can fill in the gaps over a period of time.

You need to develop your plant set up as carefully as you would for your fish. Dead leaves are just as bad for the water quality as fish waste is.

Buying Your Plants

Don’t forget that some plants, just like the fish, may prefer warmer conditions so tropical plants won’t be happy in cold water. Obvious but worth mentioning. And when you are buying these particular plants from the store check that the tanks they are kept in are warm (feel the glass) or put your fingers in the water if they are kept in trays. If it’s cold, don’t buy these tropical plants.

Plants may be sold as cuttings (no roots but a length of stem, leaves and a growing tip) or as individual rooted plants. You can transport them home safely as long as they are damp and warm, so they don’t need to be submerged.


Once you’ve got your plants home lay them out in water trays (warm if necessary).

And if you need to trim any cuttings then use a sharp pair of scissors as bruising can lead to plant disease.

We are assuming here that you have your substrate in place.

Coarse sand or fine gravel are ideal as you’ll need water movement and the ability for roots to establish themselves in the substrate.

Locate the plants with a separation distance of the leaves width. This allows sufficient light to reach the substrate. And don’t plant in bunches.

Follow your sketch plan and aim for the strategy of increasing plant height as you go further back in the aquarium.

Other plants don’t need to be planted but float. For example, Azolla caroliniana (Family … Asteraceae) is a smaller floating fern that has leaves with blue-green algae in them. If you have enough light and nutrition there is a floating fern called Salvinia natans that will grow rapidly. A lack of micronutrients shows up as light-colored leaves.

Varieties of this fern are resistant to water due to the fine hairs on them. And algae is reduced by the shading it makes and the mopping up of nutrients from the water.

Other plants will need to be fixed to rocks or wood till they establish themselves, e.g. Microsorium Pteropus, also known as Java Fern. And Vesicularia dubayana (Java Moss) can be left free to find its own attachment. But beware, once established it grows rapidly and will need frequent cutting back.

So plan your aquarium plant layout carefully, take time choosing the best freshwater aquarium plants and the time spent will reap rewards for years to come.