When first buying an aquarium and looking to set up a diverse and attractive ecosystem, there are several questions most people ask themselves. Many of these have to do with what in the world they should actually put in their aquarium.
To help clear up some of that confusion, I’ve compiled a little list of seven plants that are both easy to maintain and easy on the eyes for first time floating aquarium owners.
Before we get to the list, though, let’s have a little chat about aquarium care and the benefits of having floating plants.
We recently published a complete, step-by-step guide on setting up and maintaining a planted aquarium. Check it out if you are interested in keeping plants in your new tank!
Best Floating Aquarium Plants
Lets take a look at some of our top choices!
Hornwort is one of the toughest aquarium plants of them all. It will grow well in conditions that could kill weaker plants like algae, and it’s still a pretty attractive option for most aquariums. Hornwort can be grown planted in the substrate, but it can also be floated in the water column.
The only slight downside to this plant is that it sometimes sheds needles, which can make a bit of a mess in the aquarium. It also becomes a little less attractive under high lighting conditions, since it grows long and stringy in appearance.
Duckweed is a little bitty floating plant that will grow in almost any aquarium. In fact, it is nearly impossible to remove duckweed after it’s become established in its environment and it can actually become something of a nuisance if you provide too much light and nourishment for it.
As long as you are willing to routinely remove excess duckweed from the aquarium, it is an excellent little plant that can help to grant surface cover for fish that prefer aquariums with dimmer lighting, and can also offer shelter for newborn fry.
Dwarf Water Lettuce
In my personal opinion, water lettuce is the most appealing to look at, as they have bigger leaves than most other species but they bunch up slightly. They look just like a small gem lettuce. If you know that plant, you will see the resemblance.
It’s a rapid grower so care needs to be taken that they don’t overrun your aquarium. If they do, it’s relatively easy to just scoop out and throw away – never release it into local water systems.
Due to the size and quantity of their leaves, they tend to block out a good amount of light from reaching the water below, but again, that should only be a problem if the aquarium becomes overrun, and it would really take a serious lack of care for that to happen.
Their long branching roots make ideal homes and hiding places for many species of small fish. These roots also aid in the aesthetic and natural look of an aquarium, adding something to that top third of the space that’s often very difficult to make appealing.
Due to the size of the water lettuce, it is best suited to slightly larger aquariums, to give it enough space- maybe 100 liters, roughly depending on length and/or height. But it’s a beautiful plant that, once established in its aquarium, nicely finishes the look and gives a stunning view.
I’ve found that this plant is used in many Amazonian style setups or biotopes. It has rather broad leaves, large rosettes, and lengthy, branching roots.
It’s a forever in-style classic that has been on the market for a long time and it’s very popular amongst hobbyists, since it’s so reliable and easy to grow.
It will, however, block out a good deal of light. If you are creating a biotope, this should not be an issue, especially since most fish and other flora from this area prefer slightly darker, murkier waters anyway – imagine an isolated pocket on the bed of a tributary of the Amazon river. That’s a typical example of such a ‘murky’ set up.
Many people do have just a touch of trouble keeping this up. I know I said it was easy to grow, but just hear me out- the roots can get into your filters.
It sounds tedious, but there are methods to use that will stop this: one option being to section off an area of your tank with some form of wire attached to suction cups. This should help to keep planted areas isolated.
Java Moss is one of the most common plants in tanks. It’s pretty low-maintenance, not easy to kill, and grows fairly fast.
If you attach it to a rock on the floor, it’ll expand over the surface of your tank. It has also been known to float, so I would advise you to attach it to something that will at least partially anchor it, so that it won’t roam too freely around the aquarium. It has a low, carpet-like growth pattern and appears almost ‘fuzzy’. This plant tolerates anything between 72-90 degrees Farenheight, but has been found to grow fastest around 73 degrees. It also grows well in any lighting, making it easy to accommodate. However, growth has been measured as fastest in medium-high lighting conditions. It can be used as decoration, or substrate covering and stabilization, even carpeting, protection, and breeding of particular types of fish.
Water wisteria is another very easy to keep aquatic plant that will develop even in poor lighting conditions. Having said that, though, more than any other plant on this list, it would appreciate at least a medium lighting arrangement with florescent or LED bulbs.
A plant like this can be put in the substrate, or left floating up in the water column, though you will experience significantly less growth if it is left floating.
Here is another plant I’ve seen used before and always to good effect.
It’s technically a weed in its native country of America, so that alone suggests it can grow quickly in several environments. Its pale green leaves make it a slightly different color from those I’ve listed previously.
Again, it can be planted or left free floating above. I first came across its use as a suspended plant after it kept getting uprooted from the substrate. I then noticed that it also thrived easily just drifting through the current.
I’ve heard that fry and shrimp loved this plant more than others, likely due mostly to the fact that it had grown quite densely packed yet had openings into the center for a good hiding space in those specific cases. This is effective style, but an acquired look in a home aquarium that might take some maneuvering.
Planted Aquarium Care
Here are a few tips based on my experiences with planted tanks:
Setting Up A Planted Tank
It can seem like a tempting idea to set up everything in your aquarium on the same day as soon as you get home from buying all your exciting new stuff, but in most cases it’s not a good idea and won’t work very well. Your aquarium needs to go through what’s called a cycling process, where the water quality and parameters and vary widely. During this time, there are very few fish that can survive as the environment acclimatizes itself. This is why most experienced fish keepers will tell you to wait for a period of time before you put live fish in. If you wait for the tank to stabilize before adding fish to it, both you and the little fish will be much happier for it.
Luckily, however, plants don’t require this precaution. You’re able to start adding plants as soon you get the water into the aquarium! Just be certain you have the correct plant tools to avoid harming them while you’re planting and organizing everything. The Internet is a great reference tool to use for any further questions you might have about setting up an aquarium and the different steps to making your tank the best it can be.
Additional Reading: 5 Best LED Light Fixtures For Planted Aquariums
Benefits of Adding Floating Plants To Your Tank
Now, for the plant specifics. It’s easy to look over a tank with all kinds of plants growing together and think about how cool everything looks sprouting up or dangling down, but aquarium plants, and floating plants in particular, are not just pretty faces. They can also be very beneficial to the other life in you tank and the health of the aquarium environment as a whole. Check out how beneficial these plants can be.
Many common fish species such as betas, dwarf puffers, gourami and clown killifish are naturally born into darker waters and prefer a densely planted and shaded aquarium with plenty of places to hide. Floating plants will provide shade and cover and the long roots can help make these fish feel safer, which can help prevent stress among them.
It’s not only the adult fish that will make grateful use of floating plants, either; these plants are also a great place for tiny fry and dwarf shrimp to hide and forage. One of the most popular floating plants with long roots such as these is Limnobium Laevigatum, also known as Amazon Frogbit. You can read more about how easy it is to grow and how low maintenance it is to keep up below.
Caring For Floating Plants
Many of the fish-keepers out there are plant enthusiasts, but at the same time unfortunately lack the green thumb, the time, or the money that is so often needed to set up a high-tech, more high-maintenance aquascape with plant species that require more rigorous care and upkeep. Therefore, easy plants that require no extra lighting, nutrients or Co2 are life savers for us, and luckily, there are plenty of easy floating plants that will thrive and survive marvelously in a lower-tech aquarium as well! They usually grow very quickly and don’t need too much extra care, aside from the occasional removal of a few plants if things should get a bit too overgrown.
If you’re interested in low-care (floating) aquarium plants, you can find all the information you could possibly want online or in any shops that carry plants and aquarium equipment near you.
Floating Plant Growth
As mentioned earlier, many floating plants grow really rapidly. This makes them a wonderful snack for herbivorous fish besides their typical diet of pellets and vegetables. You can always grow the plants separately if you’re trying to deal with very destructive fish like vegetarian African rift lake cichlid species or some (fancier) types of goldfish. One approach would be to go for only the fastest growing floating plants so you never run out and just regularly toss a handful in the fish tank for some variety in their diet. Duckweed is a great option for this kind of routine.
It shouldn’t be too hard to locate a floating plant that will grow quickly and plentifully. Most floating plant species are very fast growers, which makes them great at reducing harmful wastes such as nitrate in your aquarium all as a part of their natural functions: these nitrates might hurt other life forms in the tank, but are used by the plants as nutrients. The only other way to reduce nitrate levels would be by doing a water change, and, although this step will still definitely be necessary at some point, it’s great to have a few little “helping hands” that reduce nitrate levels in between water changes naturally all by themselves.
Aquarium plants are used by the fish they share their space with for any number of things, including safety, comfort, nourishment, and reproduction, so they’re essential to any healthy and balanced aquarium environment. It’s best to keep all the helpful roles they can play in mind when searching for the perfect floating plants for your aquarium.
Creating a piece of art that lives in an aquarium and looks perfectly put together can take many years of practice and can cause several headaches, especially with all the holes it can put in your wallet. Even a single aquarium can take several hours of planning on paper just to find the right substrate, rocks, plants, fish, and other equipment you might need to construct your dream tank. So if your aquarium doesn’t turn out quite right the first time, just keep trying. Give it a little more work, a little more time, and soon you’ll have a tank you’re proud of. Hopefully, with a few of these tips and suggestions, you’ll find yourself well on your way.