Background plants for your aquarium

aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

Which background plants for your aquarium?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

How to recognise good background aquarium plants

What is meant by ‘background plant’? This refers to plants that will be placed along the back and sides of your aquarium. These type of plants usually grow tall and cover most of the rear of the aquarium. And finally they usually provide a good background contrast to foreground plants. This is achieved by having bushy growth or fine leaves. Listed below are the best background plants in terms of beauty and ease of care.

Magenta Water Hedge (Alternanthera Reineckii)

red water hedge plant nice alternative to green
red water hedge plant nice alternative to green

This is a plant that will contrast well against other green plants because of its red/purple coloured leaves.

Because it is a little short it has to be planted in groups to form an effective background or as a space filler between taller plants. There is a taller variety that does make an ideal background plant.

Allow space between each stem so that each plant will obtain enough nutrients from the substrate and also they don’t block each other’s access to light. It does need good lighting or it will not thrive. Push fertiliser tablets near its roots because they do like a lot of nutrients. The water hedge prefers neutral to slightly acidic and soft water with a temperature range of 72F-80F. Hardiness is average.

Green Cabomba

fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds
fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds

This is a plant that needs strong lighting and fertilisers tablets near its roots or it tends to disintegrate. It is better to keep the aquarium water well filtered because the fine frond like leaves collect debris. Plant cabomba in groups. Easy to propogate by taking cuttings from the top. Prune when it grows too long. Temperature range is 60F-80F. It prefers water that is around neutral in ph with a moderate hardness. It is medium in difficulty to care for.

Onion Plant

This plant sometimes known as the aquatic onion plant resembles an onion plant but is unrelated. It grows long slender but thick leaves that don’t branch. It has a bulb above its root system. The leaves tend to spiral slightly as it grows. It is a tough low maintenance plant. It is good with cichlids and goldfish. It needs moderate lighting. Temperature range of 64F-80F and can handle a wide range of water conditions around neutral ph and moderate hardness.

Cryptocoryne Balansae

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves
cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

This plant has long slender crinkly leaves with pointed tips. It can grow well in hard water and can be grown under different brightness. However it will grow faster in bright light. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets that grow on the runners. It is a hardy plant and easy to care for. Plant in groups for a nice effect. One of the best background plants. Temperature range 73F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph between 6-8ph and a moderate hardness level.

Broadleaf Amazon sword plant

This is a good beginners plant and makes a good background plant but does need to be kept pruned because it grows large. It needs a reasonably bright light. It can cope with a temperature range between 68F and 82F. Does benefit from the occasional fertiliser tablet. It does not care much about its water chemistry as long as extreme conditions are avoided.

Ruffled Amazon sword plant

This is another easy to keep amazon sword variety. It is more bushy than the broad leafed amazon and its broad leaves have an attractive crinkle to them. It needs the occasional fertiliser tablet and some good lighting to thrive. Temperature range of 72F-82F and likes a wide range of ph and hardness with slightly acid being preferred.

Spadeleaf plant

The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant
The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant

This is a very broad leafed plant. It is easy to look after and grows quickly when supplied with bright light and tablet fertilisers. It can become quite bushy because of its fast growth. It likes a temperature range of 50F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph and water hardness.

Water wisteria

Water wisteria is an easy to keep plant with finely branched leaves. Use a table fertiliser near its roots and a bright light to ensure good growth. Water wisteria likes a temperature range of 73F-82F. Likes average water conditions around 7 ph but is not too fussy.

Dwarf Hygrophila

This is a popular aquarium plant and for good reason. It is low maintenance and very hardy. It will grow under nearly all aquarium conditions. Plant in groups of five in the background to create a bushy background. It does grow rather quickly. It does prefer bright light but can get by in moderate lighting. The preferred temperature range is 64F-86F. Ph range 5.0ph – 8.0ph.

Green myriophyllum

The green myrio is a great beginners background plant
The green myrio is a great beginners background plant

A great looking background plant that creates a fine leaved layer of green bushes all along the back of the aquarium. Keep the aquarium well filtered because debris in the water will collect in the plants fine leaves. Temperature range between 59F-77F.

Dwarf Rotala

Dwarf rotala is a stem plant with leaves that grow all along single stems. In bright light the leaves take on a reddish colour over the green. This plant grows quickly when kept in brightly lit aquariums. It is an easy to care for plant. Temperature range is 68F-84F. Ph 5.5-7.5.

Straight vallisneria

The vallisneria is a tough, easy to care for plant. It reproduces by sending out runners on which plantlets sprout out. Each plantlet can be cut off when the plantlet has grown roots. It will grow quickly in the right conditions. Because of this it needs to be thinned out by separating out the leaves of the plant. vallisneria grows best in bright light but it will tolerate low lighting conditions. It is best planted in thickets surrounding the back and sides of the aquarium. Temperature range of 59F-86F. ph range is ph6-ph8.5.

The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough
The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough

Corkscrew vallisneria

The corkscrew vallisneria is similar in appearance to the straight version but with spiral leaves. It is not as hardy as the straight leaved version and needs moderate to hard water to thrive. And will not do well unless bright lighting is provided. Temperature range of 75F-82F. Ph range is ph6-ph8.

 

Succeed with aquarium plants

planted aquarium

How to succeed with aquarium plants: a guide to aquarium plant care

While the beginning aquarist spends a great deal of time learning how to tend to fish and give them an environment in which they can thrive, aquarium plant care is, by comparison, a subject that is rarely given the full attention it deserves. Keeping your plants happy is just as important as keeping your fish happy, though, since the two will live in coexistence in the closed ecosystem that your fish tank provides.

You can’t just place plants in your aquarium and expect them to thrive or even stay alive. You must pay attention to the lighting, water conditions and the fertilisation needs of the plants.

Choosing the right plants for your aquarium

See also best beginners plants

and Aquascaping for beginners

and keeping plants healthy

The most important aspect of aquarium plant care is: choosing the right plants for your aquarium. The right choice here can make the rest of your live plant experience a pleasure by providing a beautiful environment for your tank while controlling algae and absorbing unwanted ammonia and nitrates.

There are scores of plant species that, though undoubtedly beautiful, are very sensitive to water conditions, require specialized CO2 systems, or need extra lights in order to flourish. At the same time however, there are plenty of hardy, attractive plants that provide all the benefits that you expect from aquarium plants without the extra hassle.

A list of some of the best options for your first aquarium plants for the beginner are as follows:

• Java Moss. This unassuming plant is one of the most popular aquarium plants worldwide for a number of reasons. It thrives in a variety of environments, offers lots of convenient hiding places for fish and their fry, and offers simple, beautiful decoration for aquarium owners.

It can be tied to rocks or driftwood with fishing line, or left to float naturally through the tank. Java moss requires very little maintenance; only some occasional trimming when it gets too thick.

• Amazon Sword. This plant can reach a great size, even under low lighting. Evidently, this plant is ideal for large tanks, and may require fertilizer tablets because of the fact that it is a root-feeding plant.

• Java Fern. This plant can survive in nearly any aquarium, and is very forgiving when it comes to water quality and light. Even goldfish that regularly eat aquarium plants will generally leave Java fern alone.

• Valisneria. This plant will feel right at home in a variety of aquariums, although some hungry fish might decide to snack on it. Vallisneria spiralis is usually singled out as being one of the best varieties for aquarium plant care beginners.

• Anubias. This is one of the only underwater plants that actually prefers low lighting, and to make it even more attractive to aquarium owners, herbivore fish tend to leave it alone.

While many other specialty plants can provide a fun and challenging experience for live plant enthusiasts, any of the plants listed above make an excellent introduction to the world of aquarium plant care.

Lighting for your aquarium plants

Once you have chosen which species of plants you would like to keep in your tank, you must consider your lighting setup in order to give the plants the correct environment in which they can thrive. In general, your aquarium plants will do best with day and night cycles of 12 hours each.

The duration of the lighting period is important, but you must also examine the type of light that you use in your aquarium. Lights designed for aquarium plant care are notably different than average fluorescent lights, and you will need to make sure that yours carry a suitable Kelvin rating, among other characteristics.

• The Kelvin rating refers to the spectrum of light that the bulb emits, commonly referred to as the, “temperature” of the light.

• Most plants reject green and yellow light while absorbing red and blue light, as well as light on the ultraviolet scale. In terms of the Kelvin rating, this means that you should provide full-spectrum lighting between 5500 K and 7500 K for most tropical plants, including as the ones listed above.

• LED lights often offer the best combination of low power consumption with light intensity, ease of installation, and price. Make sure to purchase quality LED lights, however, as the market is full of low-quality options not suitable for aquarium plant care.

Following these guidelines will help ensure that your plants grow large and healthy, although providing them with ample light will make your plants hungry for the nutrients they need to thrive.

Feeding your plants: fertilizing your substrate

Once you have developed your lighting setup properly, it is time to consider the fertilizer and nutrients that your plants will need. Many waterborne fertilizers will provide the boost that you need to get your plants strong and healthy quickly— especially in the beginning stages of aquarium plant care.

You should be aware that many of these store bought fertilizers, while very good for plants, contain nitrates and other ingredients that are poisonous for your fish. Most fish can tolerate small amounts, but over exposure to fertilizer will kill them, so use these fertilizers with care.

But better still use a substrate fertilizer for rooted plants like the Amazon Sword. They come in tablet form. These tablets need to be pushed into the substrate directly to the root base of the plant. In this way they directly feed the plant rather than into the water in general.

Choosing between gravel or soil

While soil is a much more natural substrate for aquarium plant care, it is notably more complex to keep in optimal condition. Soils are generally reserved for experienced aquatic gardeners who wish to grow particularly difficult underwater plants.

If you introduce soil into your tank it can affect the water quality for your fish.
Therefore, gravel is generally recommended as the safest option. You can always add soil in separate pots if you wish to experiment later on.

The benefits of potting your plants

One of the key benefits to be realised by potting your plants, apart from being able to use soil without disturbing your tank’s existing substrate, is that your pots will also protect the plants. Potted plants have a secure location from which they can grow, and this can help keep them alive when nosey fish want to dig around their roots.

While gravel may be an acceptable substrate for beginning aquarium plant care, you may find that some of your more active fish seem intent on overturning the rocks and digging into the roots of your plants, harming or possibly killing them in the process. Potted plants combat this behaviour by offering your fish very little space in which they can satisfy their curiosity or hunger.

Reproducing aquarium plants for fun and profit

If you give enough space, nutrients, and lights to your plants, you may find that they begin to propagate and reproduce. A vast majority of these plants reproduce asexually, meaning that, if the conditions are healthy, they will simply begin sprouting new individual plants without your intervention at all.

Some species of plant, however, may need your help reproducing, and often it is worthwhile to expend the effort— aquarium pants, just like fish, can be bred and sold for profit. Seeded plants like lilies are notably more complicated to breed, and tend to command higher prices than their asexual cousins:

• A plant cutting is exactly what it sounds like: a segment of the parent plants’ stem, cut and replanted into the substrate of the aquarium or pot. In most cases, these cuttings will grow their own roots and turn into full-fledged individual plants over time.

• Plants that have seeds will need to be sexed and paired in order to propagate successfully. The two parent plants will need to be flowering above the surface and then have their pollen transferred from one to the other. If pollination is successful, seeds will be produced and those need to planted in damp soil as quickly as possible.

Over time, you should be able to grow a healthy collection of extra plants using these aquarium plant care methods, and you can then begin to sell to or swap with other local aquarists either through the help of your local fish store or directly using an Internet classifieds website to find customers.