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Starting out with plants in a tropical aquarium

There are a wide variety of plants available for the aquarium; both live and plastic. Adding plants not only adds colour and interest to the aquascape but give the fish places to explore, hide and breed.

For beginners, select plant varieties that are aesthetically pleasing, easy to keep and that suit your aquarium set-up.

Choose plants that will not grow too large for your aquarium, or grow so quickly that they become unmanageable.

Growing aquarium plants can be a bit like learning to garden; a bit of trial and error is required to find what you can grow well.

See the list below of a few popular aquatic plants to start with in your aquarium, but get advice from your local aquatic store who can advise you on the plants they have available that will suit your set-up.

Echinodorus bleheri – Amazon Sword

Anubias barteri – Anubias

Microsorum pteropus – Java Fern

Hygrophila polysperma – Indian Waterweed

Choosing plastic plants can make caring for the aquarium a little easier, although you do not get the biological benefits to the aquatic environment that live plants offer.

These come in a range of shapes and sizes, from realistic interpretations of live plants to brightly coloured, fun shapes.

As with fish, for plants to thrive in your aquarium they need good water quality, food and the right conditions.

Carrying out all the recommended maintenance on your aquarium and caring for the water correctly will ensure good water quality for your fish and plants. 


Take care to plan your aquarium planting (which is similar to creating a landscaped border in a garden), ensure that there is a variety of different height plants with the tallest at the back and shortest in the foreground.

Create clumps of plants with a variety of leaf colours, shapes and textures for best effect. It is always better to start off with too many plants and thin them out later, this helps ensure algae does not have any excess food or light to establish a foot hold in the aquarium.

Substrate & food

Plants need food to live, grow and potentially flower. Some of this is available from the aquarium water, but they also take up other nutrients through their roots from the gravel they are planted in.

You can purchase gravel substrates specifically designed for aquarium plants to get their roots down and grow in.

You should also feed aquarium plants weekly with a proprietary aquarium plant food such as liquid aquarium plant food to provide them with the micronutrients missing from the water.


All plants need light to photosynthesize – the process that allows a plant to create its own energy.

Ensure your aquarium has good lighting specifically designed for encouraging plant growth such as Tri-Spec LED lighting which can be retro-fitted to an existing aquarium.
Use alongside a lighting timer for the plants to get a perfect day and night lighting balance.


Trim back any dead leaves as you see them and any excess growth as required.

Remove dead plants and any spreading plant growth that has out-grown your requirements.  

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