Plant Your Way to a More Beautiful Freshwater Aquarium

By Leah_Pet on Oct. 23, 2017


Creating the perfect underwater oasis is obviously more than putting fish, water and gravel into a tank. A well-designed aquascape takes time and forethought, but the payoff is more than worth it in the end. Not only will your fish reap the benefits of a comfortable, natural feeling environment, it’s a peaceful way to beautify your own home as well. After all, nothing is better than letting your worries drift away while watching as your aquatic life drift, dart and bustle about their day amongst their fluttering underwater garden.

Let’s get started on creating the aquatic home of your dreams.

First choice: real or artificial?

Many pet parents opt for plastic or silk plants because they’re convenient, don’t need a lot of maintenance and come in a wide variety of colors and options. This can allow for more fantastical designs that you wouldn’t necessarily find in a natural freshwater setting. When artificial plants become dirty, they’re easy to remove and clean as they don’t have real roots. Just scrub, rinse and dry and you can put them right back into your tank. And, you don’t have to wait long for your water and fish to acclimate to them.

However, there’s a big benefit to using live plants that artificial ones simply don’t have. That’s the fact that living plants produce and absorb oxygen and carbon dioxide. They also grow by absorbing fish waste and can help reduce algae in the tank. In general, live plants produce an overall healthier, cleaner and more stable environment. One that also provides plenty of natural spots for your fish to hang out and hide. Some fish even like to eat certain plant species. Something to keep in mind depending on how long you’d like your plants to last!

If you’d like to get an overview of options in artificial plants, you can check out Petco’s full online selection, here.


 If you’re thinking natural plants, or a mix of the two, may be the way to go, let’s dig a little deeper.

Types of Aquatic Plants:

Bulbs and Tubers – these can provide visual interest and grow best when planted in pots or directly into the substrate with about half the bulb still visible

Ferns and Mosses – lush, non-flowering plants that will slowly grow along your tank’s rocks and stones to create a soft, natural feel

Floating Plants – With roots that hang down freely, floating plants provide natural shelter for fish that they also enjoy nibbling on

Rosette Plants – considered the ornaments of an aquarium, these are beautiful flowering plants that sometimes need more specialized care

Stem Plants – ideal as starter plants as they’re faster growing and can help remove large amounts of ammonia quickly

When should you add plants to your aquarium?

If possible, it’s best to put plants in while setting up your tank. This way you can add in a high-quality, mineral-rich substrate that will set your plants up for success without disturbing any resident fish. And, you can let the plants get settled for a good two to three weeks before adding fish. Because the biological system of your tank will not be fully established yet, it’s best to start with hardy plants that root quickly. Once your aquarium is sufficiently “broken in” (at about 4–6 weeks after setup), you can begin to add in more sensitive ones if you wish.

If your tank is already established and has been up and running for some time, you’re free to add a plant or two in as you wish. But it’s recommended you go slow and not put too many plants in at one time. Each one will add its own filtering system of sorts to your tank, so you’ll want to give your fish and aquatic life time to acclimate to the changes in their water.

What type of special equipment do planted aquariums need?

The standard fluorescent light bulbs included with most aquarium hoods or strip lights are usually not ideal for plant growth. Replace yours with a plant lamp that mimics daylight to achieve a healthier ecosystem. As a basic rule of thumb, plan for around 1–2 watts of lighting per gallon of your tank size. This means a 20-gallon tank would need approximately a 20 to 40-watt light. You’ll also need to occasionally “feed” your plants with supplementary nutrients such as carbon to help them grow strong and healthy. Adding carbon dioxide or CO2 through specially designed CO2 kits or cartridges can also help your plants’ growth tremendously.


Ready to start planting? Get a game plan!

Think of your aquarium as a stage and plan your plant design accordingly. Plants that will remain shorter should go in the front while taller ones can be planted towards the back. Similarly, when planting stem plants, put the taller ones towards the outside edges of the aquarium, with shorter ones in the center. This will create a pleasant mountainous look that hides heater and filter lines quite well. Mosses grow and look best when placed on hard surfaces with a dark contrasting background such as rocks or wood. You may have specific plant needs and restrictions depending on the type of fish you want to keep in your aquarium. In this case, it’s best to do targeted research and consult with an Aquatic Specialist at Petco to find exactly the right types of plants for your particular ecosystem.


Shop freshwater plants online at LiveAquaria.

0 Kudos
About the Author
  • As a child Leah used to write in her journal about how she’d like to be an animal when she grew up. As luck would have it, she grew up to be a writer who writes about animals instead. She has worked in veterinarian clinics, had pets of all types and has fostered many cats and dogs. Currently she lives with two cats named Irma and Yuyu and feeds a bevvy of semi-feral neighborhood cats.
Latest Blog Posts

Plant Your Way to a More Beautiful Freshwater Aquarium

By Leah_Pet on Oct. 23, 2017
Learn how to design a planted aquarium ecosystem you and your fish can both enjoy.

Checking in with Obie - a Dog with an Extraordinary Weight Loss Story

By Leah_Pet on Oct. 11, 2017
Five years ago, a Dachshund that weighed nearly 80 pounds began an intense weight management program. We checked in on Obie to see if how he's doing t...

The Importance of Play for You and Your Cat

By KristenSeymour on Oct. 10, 2017
There’s little that will put a smile on a cat parent’s face like the sight of their kitty batting a toy around with abandon. Watching a frisky feline...