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.

 

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

About Aquascaping

balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish
balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish

Aquascaping is the art of setting-up, decorating and arranging aquatic plants along with stones, rocks, driftwood or cavework in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Also termed as underwater gardening, aquascaping was first introduced to the world way back in 1990’s by Takashi Amano from Japan, who made the natural underwater gardens look like dreamscapes. Although it is possible to create an aquascape with plants only, it can also be set up with fish as well as plants; or with rockwork, hardscape and no plants by following some specific methods.

If you find it difficult to create an aquascape then scan through the many examples of good aquascape scenes on the internet and pick a scene that you really like and that you can replicate.

Basic Principles for Aquascaping

aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish
aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish

To reach the perfection in the design of your aquascape you must follow a few important principles that are listed below:

Simplicity is the key – While aquascaping is all about imagination, it is recommended that you follow a particular style and maintain simplicity which would make the aquascape look more appealing to the human eye.
 
Choosing the aquascaping style – There are several major styles that you can choose from, which you can create a visually-enticing aquascape. These include the Japanese-inspired nature style, the garden-like Dutch style, the jungle style and many others. While the nature aquarium style is the re-creation of terrestrial landscapes – mountains, hills, valleys, etc., the Dutch style is characterized by terraces or raised layers containing distinct types of plants with different leaf types.

Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.
Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.

Maintaining Proportion- To maintain harmony in the aquarium, it is crucial to strike the perfect balance between plants, decorative items and fish as well as between filled and empty spaces in the aquarium. Also, arrange plants, rocks and wood in a manner that there is a balancing contrast of light and dark spaces.

Use your imagination- There are no defined rules for aquascaping. Use your imagination to make a beautiful aquascape that has clean water and an appropriate amount of light, CO2, and other essential elements.

To ensure proper care, maintenance and success of an aquascape, aquascapers must keep in mind several factors to strike balance in the closed system of the water tank. These factors include:

  • aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood
    aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

    Filtration System

  • Liquid fertilizers
  • Medium to high level of lighting
  • Maintaining the correct amount of carbon dioxide to support photosynthesis
  • Frequent water changes
  • Substrate and fertilization
  • Algae control

Plants and Plant Types

Besides the layout, style and design of an aquascape, aquascaping require specific ways to ensure proper care and maintenance of plants underwater. One of the most crucial things that aquascapers must keep in mind is choosing healthy and vibrant plants. Also, they must be trimmed to get the desired shape and positioned properly using a thread. Before beginning, you must know the plants and plant types that we shall discuss now!

Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant
Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant

Carpet Plants: Just as the name suggests, carpet plants are used by aquascapers to create a mat of plants or a lush of green lawn, making the underwater garden more beautiful and attractive. You can choose foreground pl ants such as Hairgrass, Dwarf Baby Tears, Java Moss, Water Wisteria or Willow Moss as they stay low to the ground and spread horizontally across the floor of the water tank.

Fast Growing Plants: When you begin with aquascaping, you can choose fast growing plants like hornwort, Vallisneria, Cabomba and Hygrophilia that would grow quickly, with no effort and would not even put a hole in your pocket. Other stem plants including sword plants, Java fern are also suitable but a little expensive.
Floating plants: While a number of floating plants can block light, many aquascapers prefer using them for visually-enticing aquascape. These plants include Hornwoot, Java Moss and Najas.

Artificial Plants: While using artificial plants is not considered aquascaping, it is one of the easiest ways for beginners. So, if you find it difficult to care for and maintain natural plants, you can go for artificial plants that do not require light or water parameters.

green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background plant
green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background

Location for Short, Large and Bushy Plants

To create a beautiful landscape underwater, it is essential for aquascapers to place the plants in an aesthetic manner. The major aspect to keep in mind is the focal point. It can be anything like a rock, a piece of driftwood or a bunch of plants or even one dominant plant. It is recommended to begin with carpet plants at the foreground and place the bushy and large plants at the background.

You can begin with the focal of the water tank and continue with the low-growing and mid-growing plants. At the end, place the higher plants. You can choose an appropriate composition such as the concave set up, the convex set up, the rectangular set-up, the triangular set up, or the Iwagumi set-up.

Different Coloured plants

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

To create in-depth perspective and make the aquarium look more natural, aquascapers use plants of different colours and sizes. Plants can be grown in groups and with rich colour contrast. Commonly used plants for colour contrast and highlights include lutea, lucens, wendtii, walkeri, and becketii of the Cryptocoryne species, Ammania, Alternanthera reineckii and Rotala.
Notably, 3 plant species per foot would be preferred to ensure good colour contrast.

Open Spaces for Fish

Before you kick-start aquascaping, you must understand that plants as well as fish are EQUALLY important in your water tank. When you provide the best conditions for your plants to stay healthy, you are providing a healthy environment for the fish as well. At the same time, it is a must to wisely use spaces between plants by creating imaginary streets as well as pathways. Also, make sure that you have as must open space as must filled space to provide space for your fish to lively comfortably and happily.

Hardscape: Use of Bogwood/Driftwood

discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots
discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots

Hardscape is one of the most commonly used techniques used by aquascapers across the globe. It involves using driftwood, rocks and resin sculptures. Driftwood adds a decorative touch to the aquarium, while making it look natural. The wood can be the main focal point, around which the plants can be placed. Many aquascapers prefer using the Malaysian driftwood or manzanita branches, depending on their preference.

Use of Rocks and Stones

In addition to wood, aquascapers use rocks and stones at the heart of their aquarium to create a natural-looking aquascape underwater. You can place boulders, large cobbles and smaller pebbles aesthetically in the water tank to further enhance its beauty. The classic way to use rocks is to place 2-4 flat rocks on the bottom of the aquarium and then arrange other rocks in the order of their size. Alongside, you can also add airstones and submersible lights to create visual effects and make the water tank more attractive.

Balanced aquascape with driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet
Balanced aquascape: driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet

Get Started!

Aquascaping is not all about creating a plan and sticking rigidly to it. Sometimes it is better to do a quick sketch up and then proceed to plant according to your rough draft. Then when it’s all laid out, you can see that it might not be right so you will need to rearrange things until you get it right. And don’t forget plants do grow and some grow more than others. So your aquascape will actually develop over time.

Aquascaping is all about imagination and creating enchanting visuals that appeal to the human eye. So, make sure that you use your imagination to create an amazingly-looking aquascape. Happy aquascaping!