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How to Decorate an Aquarium With Plants

Updated on November 12, 2018

Decorated Home Aquarium with Plants | Source

Choosing between real and artificial plants

Most aquariums will look pretty and attractive when plants are included. Artificial (plastic) plants are without a question easier to keep, and are available in a wide selection of different colors ranging from very natural and lifelike choices to luminous neon colors. Artificial plants will never die, and apart from that, the careful arrangements of plastic plants will always remain the same, which is a good advantage for fish owners. The leaves will not fall off, they will not grow, does not need to be pruned, and new tiny plants will not suddenly appear in places you don't expect. However, to many aquarium owners this growth and change is one of the most attractive features about their fish tank. In other words, proud pet fish owners like their aquarium to be a natural living and changing environment, and sounds exciting and challenging.

Besides natural plants looking attractive, they also perform a useful function too. Plants need to eat, just like all other living things on Earth, and they do this by extracting food from the water and substrate. This food is the end product of the biological filtration and wastes of the fishes. If fish owners own lots of fish and no plants in the tank, the water will become full of nutrients unless they change it regularly. Nature, as they say, dislikes a vacuum, and the empty role in an aquarium will be quickly filled by algae, a plant known to grow very easily. Although the fish do no despise the algae, few pet fish owners find an aquarium attractive with green water and the glass décor smothered in green slime. A properly planted fish tank will be much less prone to outbreaks of the terrible algae plague.

In many aquarium stores there will be several plants in a wide variety of shades of green and red, of different lengths of height, and the matching wide range of prices. For breeders who are beginners, it is not always apparent to them that many of these plants are not actually suitable for the normal community tank. This is because:

  • Many real plants require high levels of light, usually the red ones, and need a lot more than the single fluorescent tube to the average sized tank.
  • Other plants, which are very common and bought due to its attractiveness, are actually not water plants at all. Such plants like Little Palm Trees and the Dragon Tree (Dracaena) fall into this category as well as other types of plants. These are guaranteed to bring disappointment eventually as they begin to die out. Despite that, these kind of plants can be used to decorate the house if it's planted in a pot professionally.
  • Feathery plants, like for example the Myriophyllum, will be teared to pieces by all aquarium fishes.
  • Many plants which are rooted, will disapprove greatly to the water movement around their roots caused by an under-gravel filter. But fortunately, the problem of the under-gravel can be easily overcome, and there are sufficiently suitable plants to create an attractive natural aquarium well within the reach of the professional breeder.

Plants are often added as 'oxygenators' to raise the level of oxygen in the water. However, while plants do not breathe in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen during the day, at nighttime the plants reverse the process and will actually consume oxygen from the water. Basically and generally, there must be sufficient oxygen in an aquarium for both the plants and fish.

Other suitable plants to decorate aquariums

Java fern (Microsorium pteropus) is an astoundingly tough and hardy plant. The dark green elongated leaves are tough and bitter to the taste, so the plant will be shunned by the most rapacious of herbivorous fish. Java fern is suitable for both temperate and tropical aquariums, and will flourish in the light provided by a single fluorescent tube light. Not only is the plant easy to grow, but it can also be grown attached to bog wood or other décor with a suitably rough surface for the roots to find an attachment. New plants can be held in place by rubber elastic bands or wedged into position until the growing roots find a hold. Sometimes black cotton is recommended to hold plants in place, but it is best to avoid it because certain spiky fish, such as the bristlenoses, can become entangled and can die.

Java Fern Plant

Author -
Author - | Source

Once the Java fern plant has established itself, it will reproduce very rapidly. The original plant will spread out, and new plants can be broken away intentionally from the main mass or it will detach spontaneously themselves. The plants also form new tiny plants (plantlets) from the edges of older leaves, and often those that appear as though they are dying back, so excessive pruning will have the undesirable result of preventing the new tiny plants forming.

Another particular plant is the Anubias. These plants come in a variety of species, which range from tall background plants to the low growing Anubias nana. All of them have dark green, shiny leaves which looks pretty in the aquarium, but leaf shapes may vary between species, from the elongated leaves of Anubias lanceolata to the oval leaves of Anubias barteri.

Anubias Barteri Plant on Bogwood | Source

Like Java fern, Anubias are not in the least perturbed by water movement around their roots, and they will thrive happily in undergravel filters or attached to bogwood or other pieces of décor in the tank. Anubias plants can often be bought pre-attached, and complete with bogwood, but this tends to be an expensive option (depending on where you live) and it is cheaper to just buy the plants and hold them in place until they attach themselves gradually. Although Anubias are relatively slow growing, they are hardy and easy to keep and will often surprise the owner with a flower spike, which can be pleasant indeed.

These flowers are actually not very decorative, being greenish white and of a similar shape to those of the Arum liliy, but it depends. Although they blossom in the aquarium, plants from seed are difficult to achieve, and it is easier to obtain new plants by dividing the old ones when they grow large enough. Long horizontal roots can be sliced with a razor blade or a sharp knife to split the plant. Anubias plants are elated in relatively low light but are only suitable and adaptable for the tropical aquariums.

More suitable plants

Cryptocorynes also thrive joyfully in less light than most fish but do not require to be planted correctly. For users of an undergravel filter, it is best to plant them in small pots with a suitable growing medium. The top of the soil should be covered with gravels to prevent it from escaping into the aquarium. Planting in this manner has the extra benefit of allowing you to rearrange your plants if required by just moving the pots, instead of having to disturb the roots.

Cryptocorynes are particularly unhappy about being moved, and new plants often die back quickly when placed in the aquarium. However, if dead leaves are removed, new growth will soon begin to appear. The removal of dead leaves prevents them from rotting in the tank and placing an extra load on the filtration system.

Many plants for the aquarium business are actually bog plants, and are grown by the dealers out of water. When placed in the water they will soon adjust, but this normally involves all the old leaves dying out and new underwater leaves growing. Cryptocorynes are suitable only for the tropical aquarium and grows better and efficiently in soft water climates.

The final plant I will suggest is the Java moss. The dark green fronds of Java moss are attractive, easy to grow and versatile in the aquarium. The moss does not need to be rooted and can be left floating freely in the tank. However, if the desire for the moss to stay and keep it in one place, then it can be fastened wherever you want it with a rubber elastic band, or you can weight it down with some lead plant weight. The moss will quickly detach itself and thereafter stay where it was put. Java moss is useful as well as attractive. The good thing about it is, if you want to try breeding your fish, or if the fish decides to do so themselves, then the fry will be able to shelter in the moss and avoid the predations of the parents and other fish in the tank.

The last thing you should know is planting the tank. It's best to plan beforehand on how you want your aquarium to look before actually buying the plants from the store. You should consider the eventual height your plants will reach. Although sometimes a single large plant in the foreground can be effective, normally the tallest plants are best kept at the back and sides, with smaller low-growing plants at the front o the aquarium. In nature, most plants grow in groups, rather than as single specimens of each species, so your aquarium will look more natural if you have groups of plants of a few types, rather than an abundance of different plants.

The plants must be treated with the same consideration as you give your new fish. Avoid getting the plants chilled or squashed on the way back from the aquarium store, and place them into their final positions as quickly as possible. Most plants are sold in plastic pots, which does look quite unsightly and can restrict root growth, but if you remove the pots, take care not to damage the roots. Damaged plants, no matter how severe, will be much slower to settle in than those that are treated with great care.

Cryptocoryne Wendtii | Source
Shrimp in Java Moss Aquarium
Shrimp in Java Moss Aquarium | Source


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    • CMCastro profile image

      Christina M. Castro 

      5 years ago from Baltimore,MD USA

      It is nice to know someone else enjoys caring for a fish aquarium like I have, it is quite tedious and a big responsibility, but a very rewarding hobby. You are always very informative and knowledgeable about your topics. Thanks for your teaching about various plants I did not know about. Perhaps you could be a teacher. Many could learn a lot from you.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Useful information, well-written and interesting. A decorated home aquarium would enhance a home. Nice to meet you. Love Doc.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      A very interesting and useful hub.

      I now look forward to many more by you.


    • ananceleste profile image

      Anan Celeste 

      6 years ago from California

      I am a huge fan of aquariums. Is the ultimate attempt to bring into your home a complete different ecosystem. I wish I could have one. Is like coexisting with creatures that in normal circumstances couldn't be.

    • aziza786 profile imageAUTHOR

      Zia Uddin 

      6 years ago from UK

      I forgot to reply to this, so sorry. It really depends on the size and quantity of live plants. I think the minimum and suitable tank size for using plants would be a 20 gallon tank. 24L x 12W x 16H would be compact and suitable enough.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      7 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      that is a beautiful... Aquarium .. we have had a lot of Aquariums.. when the kids were young... great hub.. great information


    • editsvcs profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting hub. Is there a minimum tank size for using live plants?


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