Best Aquarium Plants

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

17 Models Considered
68 Hours Researched
112 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best aquarium plants

Last Updated September 2020

Aquarium plants are an attractive and functional addition to fish tanks of any size. Of course, not all aquarium plants are alike. You’ll find a stunning variety of aquarium plants to choose from, varying in size, durability, material or type, style, and whether or not the plants provide functional hiding nooks for your fish.

As you search for the perfect plants, you’ll want to give special consideration to whether you prefer artificial or living plants and how safe the plants will be for your fish. Whether you’re trying to mimic a natural coral aquascape or create a neon underwater jungle for your fishy friends, the best aquarium plants help you achieve the vibe you’re after for your fish tank while keeping your pets safe and happy.

Our buying guide has everything you need to know, from the factors that set different aquarium plants apart to tips for successfully incorporating aquarium plants and answers to commonly asked questions. When you’re ready to shop, check out our picks for the best aquarium plants on the market.

Live aquarium plants need 10 to 12 hours of full-spectrum light every day.

Key considerations

As you narrow your search for the ideal aquarium plants, your main considerations should be artificial versus living plants and safety.

Artificial vs. living aquarium plants

Both artificial and living plants can be beautiful and functional. Artificial plants have the key advantages of being affordable, requiring little care and maintenance, and offering hiding places for your fish. In addition, artificial plants cannot outgrow your aquarium, die, get parasites, or clog up your filter. However, artificial plants won’t add nutrients to the water and don’t help to fight algae.

Living plants add beneficial nutrients to the water, are eye-catching and natural, and may even be a supplemental food source for your fish if the plants are well-suited to your tank. Living plants can also help filter the water and reduce algae. Living plants require more maintenance, need light to grow (which can increase algae in the tank), and are more expensive than artificial options. Dying plants can also foul up the water with ammonia and nitrites.

Ingestion risk

Not all aquarium plants are suitable for all types of fish or tanks. Whether you choose artificial or living plants, it’s likely that curious fish may take a nibble at times. If you have large fish or fish with teeth, it’s especially important to verify that artificial plants are durable enough that they can’t be eaten. If you choose living plants, verify that the plants are nontoxic for your fish species.

Sharp edges

Some aquarium plants have sharp, rough, or rigid areas that can scrape scales or tear fins as a fish hurries by. This is a particular risk for very delicate fish (like bettas, with their long flowing fins) or small tanks where a plant takes up a lot of room, making it difficult for fish to swim by without brushing against the plant. Before placing any plant in your tank, inspect it for potential problem spots and sand down any rough edges.

Tight spaces

Some intricate or rigid aquarium plants create narrow spaces that can inadvertently trap fish or cause them to panic and injure themselves as they thrash against the plant while trying to swim through a narrow opening. Tight spaces are a particular risk for small, delicate fish like fancy guppies. Avoid placing your plants against the side of the aquarium, which can create trapped spaces.

Water suitability

Whether you have a saltwater or freshwater aquarium is a significant factor in whether or not different aquarium plants are safe or suitable for your tank. If you have a saltwater tank, use plants made especially for salty water. Freshwater plants can corrode and break down in saltwater tanks. Likewise, if you try to introduce living saltwater aquarium plants to your freshwater tank, these plants will die and pollute your water.

Harmful substances

Living plants can carry the risks of disease, parasites, and introducing harmful substances if you’re not careful. It’s a smart idea to quarantine new living plants for a period of time with a small amount of salt added to their water before introducing them to your tank to eliminate any parasites. Rotting or dying plants can release ammonia and nitrites into the water, which can hurt or even kill fish. Always clean out any decaying plant matter promptly.

EXPERT TIP

To keep algae under control in your aquascape, try adding herbivorous snails to your tank.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Style

Aesthetics are important with aquarium plants since aquariums are commonly an eye-catching part of your home decor. You’ll find both synthetic and natural plants that complement a variety of decor styles, including modern (mossy balls), minimalist (sleek grasses), eclectic (bold neon plants), and boho (flowy ferns).

As you choose your aquarium plants, create a cohesive style by considering how the plants will match your gravel type, tank shape, fish breeds, and any other tank elements, like caves and rocks.

Durability and materials

Real aquarium plants can become tatty-looking over time if your fish nibble on them. If you opt for artificial plants, be aware that cheap plastic options will sometimes fade over time and appear stiff instead of natural in the water. Always opt for nontoxic materials when choosing plastic plants. For higher-end artificial plants that sway naturally in the water and stay colorfast, nontoxic silk plants are a great choice.

Hiding nooks

The majority of fish are prey animals that feel safe and secure with places to hide. Some aquarium plants provide better hiding nooks than others. Plants that droop down or have big leaves will offer the best hiding places for your fish.

Base weights

Some aquarium plants have base weights that keep them anchored to the bottom of the tank without floating to the top, while other plants need to be buried in the gravel. Less expensive synthetic plants are notorious for making their way to the top of the tank or tipping over, so be prepared to anchor these plants with plenty of reinforcements.

Maintenance

Some real plants act as water filters, which can keep your tank water cleaner longer. However, since real plants require plenty of sunlight, you may notice more algae. Synthetic plants typically require just a bit of scrubbing to remove any algae buildup. Synthetic plants with intricate designs will take a little longer to clean.

Number and size of plants

Too many large synthetic plants can limit the tank’s swimming area and open water, putting your fish at risk for injury from scraping against the plants. Too many real plants can consume too much oxygen in the tank, leaving your fish in distress. Regardless of your tank size, be sure you balance your plants and hiding places with open water for swimming.

DID YOU KNOW?

Driftwood can act as a great natural anchor for plants and a focal centerpiece in your aquascape.

Aquarium plant prices

Inexpensive: You can find inexpensive aquarium plants for $1 to $4. These value plants are almost exclusively synthetic plastic options without weighted bases. While the majority of these plants don’t appear particularly realistic or move naturally in the water, some of them can look fantastic as part of a neon or modern aquascape. Be careful to verify nontoxic materials and carefully examine cheap plants for sharp edges and trapped spaces that can harm delicate fish. 

Mid-range: For $5 to $10, you’ll find more realistic plastic plants, some smaller and simpler silk aquarium plants, and a few basic living aquarium plants (like mosses and grasses). In this price tier, plastic plants are larger and more complex and a number have weighted bases. You can also find multipacks of cheaper plastic plants. Verify that all materials are non-toxic, and if you choose living plants make sure they won’t hurt your fish if consumed.

Expensive: For $13 and up, you can find single living plants, highly realistic silk plants, very large and ornate plastic plants with weighted bases, and multipacks of mid-range plants. You’ll also find bundles of unique, desirable living plants. These high-end plants typically move realistically in the water, provide lots of hiding places for fish, and create an elegant aquascape. Living plants in this price range are typically edible for fish and add valuable nutrients to the water.

CAUTION

Clean your aquarium plants with hot water and vinegar. Don’t use detergent, which can leave a residue that’s toxic to fish.

Tips

  • For an eye-catching aquascape, include several different heights, styles, colors, and groupings of plants, instead of lots of similar plants. Pair short, green grasses with plants that have large or draping silhouettes. Contrasting colors – like red and green or blue and orange – are particularly striking.

  • For an easy way to check whether a new plastic or silk plant has sharp or rough edges that could hurt delicate fish, put the plant in the toe of a pair of pantyhose and pull up. If the plant doesn’t run the pantyhose leg, it should be safe for your fish.

  • If you’re new to living aquarium plants, start with a hardy species that requires little care. Great choices include Echinodorus, Ludwigia, and Bolbitis.

  • Even if plastic or silk aquarium plants have weighted bases, many owners choose to bury them in gravel for a more lifelike, natural appearance.

  • Place taller plants in the background of your aquascape so that you don’t block your view of the fish.

  • If you have lots of plants in a very diverse aquascape, be sure you regularly check among the foliage for fish that are injured or sick. Ailing fish often hide out in plants away from view.

Before adding plastic or silk plants to your aquarium, clean them with hot water to remove any dust or residue from packaging.

FAQ

Q. Are living aquarium plants better than artificial plants?
A. Even experienced aquarium owners will tell you that there’s plenty of debate over whether to use living or artificial plants. While the majority of fish lovers agree that silk plants are superior to plastic plants (fewer sharp edges, a more realistic appearance, and better lifelike movement in the water), your decision of whether to use silk or living plants mostly comes down to preference. Silk plants don’t require extra light, can’t be eaten, and won’t die or pollute the water. However, they don’t add nutrients to the water or offer food to fish like living plants do.

 

Q. What temperature should I keep the water for living aquarium plants?
A. While different types of living aquarium plants require different temperatures, water that’s 70°F to 80°F is usually ideal. Be sure to consider the ideal water temperature for your fish first, then search for suitable plants that will thrive in that water temperature.

 

Q. What are the best aquarium plants for betta fish?
A. Bettas love flowing grasses and floating plants that provide aerial cover and safety, similar to their natural environment in a rice paddy. Bettas are also particularly fond of “hammock” plants that attach to the side of the aquarium with a suction cup and provide a “bed” for the betta to rest from swimming.

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