Are you looking for an easy and practical way to jazz up your aquarium? Maybe you saw a fish tank that had a planted tank style that mixed fish and stunning greenery and you want to replicate it. Either way, certain fish bowl plants add a vibrancy to the tank while providing natural filtration. They can give smaller fish an area to breed, and the fish bowl plants can help keep your animals healthy.
Fish use aquarium plants for food, comfort, proliferation, and safety, so they’re extremely important to a healthy and thriving tank. If you’re planning on adding these plants to your aquarium, there are a few basic things you have to know. Additionally, some plants work better than others, and this is what we’re going to outline below.
The first thing you want to do is decide why you want to add live plants to your aquarium. They can provide you several excellent benefits, including:
- Helps remove chemical waste products and nitrates from the water
- Converts carbon dioxide to oxygen for your fish to breathe
- Gives the aquarium a natural look
- Aerates the tank by saturating the water with oxygen
- Improves aesthetics by concealing your aquarium features
- Gives territorial fish areas to hide and feel safe and secure
- Improves your aquarium’s overall water quality
When your water quality improves, it reduces the chances that your fish will get stressed out. A stressed fish is one that is more prone to illnesses. The wrong illness can spread through your tank and infect all of your fish, leading to death if you don’t catch it quickly.
Ideally, you’ll know which fish are in your aquarium so you can buy plants that they’ll leave alone and you can set the optimal tank conditions for.
The Main Three Different Types of Fish Bowl Plants
Did you know that fish bowl plants come in different types? For your fish bowl plants, you’ll want to have some of each type to give your aquarium a very balanced and natural feel. If you only plant one type, it can lead to awkward growth and patchy areas. You can easily divide your fish bowl plants into background plants, midground plants, and foreground plants. Each type has different characteristics, and this is why it’s important you know them all.
- Background Fish Bowl Plants – The background plants are the bigger ones that you situate in the back of your aquarium. They’ll overshadow anything behind them, but you can use them to conceal equipment and create a luscious backdrop.
- Midground Fish Bowl Plants – Slightly shorter than background plants, midground plants help to provide some height and hiding places in the middle of the tank. You can create a layered look that transitions smoothly from the background to the foreground with these plants.
- Foreground Fish Bowl Plants – These plants grow very slowly, and they’re usually very short. Many people use foreground plants to spread outward and cover the gravel at the front of the aquarium rather than spread upward. This is why they have the nickname of the carpet plants.
How to Care for Fish Bowl Plants
The good news is, most fish bowl plants need around the same amount of care to keep them healthy and thriving. The first thing you have to do is make sure you’re picking out the correct plants for your aquarium. You need to pick out underwater plants that can survive and do very well completely submerged in the water. Plants also like your pH range to start a 5 and go to 7.2, so check any plant you pick’s optimal pH range.
Some fish do like to eat the live plants you put in the water, so make sure that the fish bowl plants you pick out won’t harm your fish. Finally, all of the plants you pick out should like the same types of water conditions. If they don’t, it won’t be possible for them to thrive because your aquarium will have the same type of water throughout.
The substrate is another important factor when it comes to putting live fish bowl plants in. The substrate is what your plants are going to dig their roots into to fix them in place. They can usually grow well in several different types of substrate. However, a great mix is an inch of gravel mixed with two to three inches of laterite. If your plants came in pots, you could leave them in the pots and bury them in your aquarium. However, using substrate gives your whole aquarium a more natural look.
The right substrate and water conditions can set the stage for your fish bowl plants to grow and thrive for years to come.
Your fish bowl plants will need great lighting or they won’t survive. The light will allow the plants to perform photosynthesis, and this is where your plants create energy they use to develop and grow. Photosynthesis will also increase the oxygen levels present in your aquarium’s water for your fish. Your plants should get between 10 and 12 hours of light a day, and you’ll need to install full-range fluorescent lighting. You should replace the bulbs once a year to help your plants flourish.
Finally, you can add an iron-based fertilizer to the water to help your plants develop. Ideally, you’ll get a moderate-release fertilizer that is safe for your fish. Don’t use a phosphate fertilizer because this encourages rapid algae growth. Be very carefully about the dosage as well because you can kill both the plants and the fish if you add too much. The aquarium-safe fertilizer that works best comes in fluid or pellet forms.
Foreground Fish Bowl Plants
First up is the foreground fish bowl plants. These are the ones that will help to create a green carpet over the front of your aquarium. They can add welcome splashes of colors to your aquarium that helps highlight your fish.
Better known as Brazilian Micro Swords, this plant is very short-stemmed. This makes it great as a foreground plant. You can grow it either partially submerged or fully submerged in high lighting conditions. It has a moderate growth rate that will spread out into a dense carpet with the right conditions. You’ll need your pH to range between 6.8 and 7.5, and the water temperature should stay right between 70°F and 85°F for this plant to thrive. It grows thin, long leaves in small clumps.
Called Bunch Plants, you’ll find this popular fish tank plant in aquariums that house shrimp. They root very deeply into the substrate, and this gives the shrimp a nice place to hide and explore. It has stunning leaves, and it’ll do very well in a huge range of conditions. You do want to make sure it has enough oxygen, and you’ll need a few inches of gravel. If you want to propagate more, clip off a stem and bury it three to four inches in the gravel. They need direct light, but they do well in temperatures ranging between 70°F and 80°F.
Shrimp needs places to hide from the larger fish in the aquarium, especially if you have more aggressive species like cichlids or angelfish.
This bright, fast-growing moss thrives in very well-circulated and clean water. If you have bright lighting, this will encourage the moss to grow at an even quicker pace. It’s easy to trim and maintain, and this makes it an excellent carpet plant. This is a very beginner-friendly plant that likes a pH range that falls between 6.5 and 7.5. For the temperature, try to keep it between 75°F and 83°F. LED lighting works very well with these plants because it doesn’t introduce a lot of heat to the water to encourage algae growth.
Pygmy Chain Sword
If you’re after a forgiving fish bowl plant, this is it. It grows very well along the front edge of your aquarium because it’s very short. If you have low light, you’ll get sparse growth. Full light will give you a thick foliage tangle. It doesn’t need fertilizer, and it does very well in all lighting conditions. There is almost no upkeep associated with this plant, and it’ll eventually grow over anything you lay on the ground of the aquarium. It’ll sprout bright red foliage under bright light, and it grows well in a range of pH and temperature levels. This makes it a preferred fish bowl plant for beginners.
Dwarf Baby Tears
Anyone who has a breeding tank can benefit from having this fish bowl plant in it. When it grows, it forms small clusters of tiny leaves. These leaves are clustered tight enough together that fish can easily hide in. It’ll also form a very dense carpet over the ground directly around it, and it requires little maintenance once it establishes itself. This plant needs bright lighting conditions with a pH that is on the lower end with a range of 5.0 to 7.5. It is moderately difficult to establish, but it does best in temperatures ranging from 68°F to 82°F.
You have to strike a balance between bright lighting and heat because warmer water is the perfect environment for algae to grow.
Having a very bright and bold green coloring, this is the type of fish bowl plant you see in large aquascapes. Usually, you’ll wrap this moss around rocks or driftwood to create stunning hardscapes throughout your aquarium. This moss can also free-float. It adds a nice aged look, and it’s a great cover for fry in breeding tanks. It’s an excellent beginner plant because it’s so easy to grow and maintain. It does very well with the pH levels ranging between 6 and 8, and it’ll thrive in a broad temperature and lighting range.
Anubias Nana Petite
This fish bowl plant is very slow growing, but it can do well in dozens of different environments. You’ll get great growth if you remove the plant from the container, give in a few inches of quality soil, and do a CO2 injection around it. You do want to avoid drastic changes in your aquarium to prevent rot and melt. This plant can spread out to five inches away from the base, and it does better in low lighting. The pH should range between 6 and 7.5 at all times, and you can propagate it by separating rhizomes and planting them.
Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’
This moderate to fast growing fish bowl plant comes from New Zealand. It can grow into a very thick and bright green carpet in a short amount of time, and you get very small and rounded leaves that look sharp against darker substrate. You’ll need to perform CO2 injections and keep the plant under low lighting conditions for it to thrive, and it can grow submerged or immersed in a dry start aquarium. The tiny roots are difficult to keep in the substrate with water in the tank, so you may want to allow them to anchor in before you add the water. The pH range should fall between 6 and 7.5, and the plant can grow between one and two inches tall.
Allowed to spread out, this plant will slowly carpet the bottom of your aquarium, including your substrate and hardscapes.
Midground Fish Bowl Plants
Now that you know several different foreground fish bowl plants, we’ll list out several that you can use to create a transition between the taller background plants and the front of your tank. They’ll fill in the central focal point to give your tank a nice full look.
This is another slow-growing fish bowl plant that you can find naturally growing in streams and lakes in the United States. It has very thin leaves that can form bright red tips when you add fertilizer and CO2 to the water. It’s best to grow this plant in bunches, and it can grow up to 12 inches high. It does best in full light conditions, and your pH should range between 6 and 7.5. You want to grow it in bunches or bushes because it has a longer stem and the branches aren’t very full. To slow the growth, periodically trim it back.
This leafy, bright green fish bowl plant has larger and thinner leaves on a slender stalk that makes it appear fuller than it actually is. It can grow from two to six inches high, and it originates from India. It doesn need slightly more care than other plants like CO2 injections and high light, but it has a nice, moderate growth rate. The pH levels should range between 6 to 7.5, and you can propagate this plant by cutting the new growth along the roots and planting it in the substrate. It works well with darker backdrops due to the vibrant coloration on the leaves.
This gorgeous and slightly rare fish bowl plant comes from Indonesia. It has large and angular leaves that are a bright green color with silver accents. These leaves may have a slightly fuzzy texture when the plant is young, but this smooths out to a waxy look as the plant grows. The plant can grow from 4 to 10 inches tall, and it needs a pH of 6 to 7.5. It’s very easy to care for, and it needs low to medium lighting conditions to thrive. CO2 isn’t necessary, and cutting it by the rhizome will propagate it.
The slivery-hued leaves on this plant create an eye-catching contrast against the green background to add pops of color to your tank.
Better known as the Water Trumpet, this easy-to-grow fish bowl plant does excellent in low to moderate lighting. It does have a slower growth rate, so you may want to buy a slightly larger plant to start with. Once the plant establishes itself, it can do very well in different water conditions without failing. The ideal water temperature for this plant ranges between 72°F and 82°F, and your pH levels can fluctuate between 5.5 and 8 without a problem. It also has strong roots to help anchor it into place and ensure it doesn’t move when you change things in your tank.
Aponogeton Ulvaceus Bulb
This beautiful fish bowl plant produces rippled or spiraling leaves. It’s a very full plant, and a single bulb can easily produce at least 40 different leaves that spread out horizontally. It has a lime green coloring, and it’s a very tolerant species to changing conditions in the aquarium. You’ll need moderate lighting conditions for this plant, and it has a very rapid growth rate. The ideal pH levels start at 6.5 and go up to 7.5, and the water temperature should range between 68°F and 72°F. This is considered to be a very easy beginner plant to grow and maintain, and you don’t need a lot to fill in the midground of your aquarium.
African Water Fern
If you have aquarium driftwood in your tank, this fish bowl plant does very well attached to it. It’s easier to anchor to a piece of driftwood than it is to try and put in substrate because it has small roots. You will need very bright and high light requirements for this plant to thrive, but it has a very slow growth rate associated with it. The pH should stay between 6 and 8.5, and the ideal water temperatures are 74°F and 84°F. It has deep green leaves with rippled edges that give this plant a very full and lush appearance.
Water ferns mimic traditional ferns where they grow best attached to a hardscape like a piece of wood, bark, or branch.
This is another easy fish bowl plant that is perfect for beginners, and you can grow it immersed in water or fully submerged with excellent results. This is a very slow growing plant that has leaves that get between one and three inches long. It has a darker green coloring, and it does well attached to hardscapes like driftwood. The pH levels should range between six to eight, and it likes low or medium lighting conditions. Cutting this plant by the rhizome is a quick way to propagate it, and CO2 is recommended but optional.
If you’re after a beautiful midground fish bowl plant, this is it. They grow leaves that are green on the top and red underneath in vivid shades. They have oval leaves on thin stems, and you can get orange, red, gold, or green leaf coloring. You’ll need high nutrient levels and lighting for this fragile plant to do well in your aquarium. Supplementing iron will help turn the leaves a darker shade of red, and the pH should range between 6.5 and 7.5. If you make large changes to your aquarium, this plant can rot or melt due to stress. It grows between six and eight inches high.
Background Fish Bowl Plants
Finally, we have the background fish bowl plants. As a general rule, these are your tallest and fullest plants, and you can use them to hide common equipment like filters to give your aquarium a much more natural and serene look.
This fish bowl plant’s sheer lack of care requirements makes it very easy to grow and maintain for beginner and veteran aquarium owners alike. It can grow up to 12 inches tall very quickly, and you can achor it or leave it free floating. This plant prefers to have slightly cooler water, but it can do well in water up to 75°F. It comes from South America, and you’ll need to keep your pH range between 6.5 and 7.5. As for lighting, this plant does best with low to medium lighting conditions, and you don’t need CO2 for it to thrive.
Letting your plants free float will give your aquarium a lot of movement while helping to shield some plants from the full brightness of the lights.
This is a perennial fish bowl plant that comes in a large range of colors from pink and red to traditional green hues. It adds dimension and movement to the tank, and it has pointy and thin leaves that grow all along the stem to give it a full look. If you want it to branch out, routinely prune it. Adding iron will bring out the rich red shades, and CO2 can help it grow faster. The plant can grow to 20 inches high if you keep the pH values between 6.5 and 7.5, and it needs high lighting. You can propagate it by cuttings.
Cabomba Piauhyensis Red
The narrow red leaves on this fish bowl plant are very attractive, and it makes the plant look like a pine tree. You’ll need higher amounts of phosphate and nitrate to grow this plant, and it needs very high lighting conditions. The rapid growth rate means you’ll find yourself routinely pruning this plant, and this makes it slightly higher maintenance. It can grow to 10 inches high when you keep your pH levels between 5 and 8. Adding CO2 injections will encourage faster and fuller growth. If you make large changes to your aquarium, the plant can rot and melt due to stress.
This is a nice stem plant that you can grow very successfully under a broad range of conditions, and it has low maintenance requirements. This plant does best in clean water that is very nutrient rich, and your pH levels should range between 6 and 7.5. It needs moderate light, and the stem will turn yellow and die if the light is too low. You get full, bushy leaves that will spread out, and the plant can grow up to 12 inches high. CO2 is recommended, but the plant will grow fine without it. You can propagate it by cuttings.
Clean water is essential for a lot of these plants to grow, but they’ll help clean the chemicals out once you get them in the water to create a safer environment for your fish.
This is a slow-growing stem plant that can get between 10 and 20 inches high. It has delicate and beautiful red and green leaves, and you can grow it completely submerged or partially immersed in water. The leaves feature a rounded shape, and they’ll turn orange under the correct conditions. Your pH should range between 6.5 and 7.5, and the plant needs medium to high light. Taking cuttings from the plant’s main stem will help you propagate it, but it can be a very fragile species. You want to handle it with care and not make any large changes.
As a slightly more sensitive background fish bowl plant, Alternanthera Reineckii can turn a vibrant red color with the introduction of iron and CO2 injections. It can quickly grow to 12 inches high, and it’s native to Central and South America. The pH levels where this plant does best start at 6.5 and go up to 7.5, and the lighting should be high. If you want to propagate this plant, all you have to do is cut the stem and bury it in the substrate. It’ll root and start to grow very fast.
This plant produces very long and thin leaves that have a deep green coloring associated with them. It needs very high lighting and strong fertilizer to encourage good growth. Once you plant it, it’ll naturally spread across the back of your aquarium. The pH range starts at 6.5 and goes up to 8.5, and the plant does best in slightly warmer temperatures up to 82°F. It can grow anywhere from a few inches tall all of the way to the top of your aquarium.
The final plant on our list for the best fish bowl plants comes from South America. This plant can be a vibrant green color, or it can turn a bright orange if you have a higher iron content in your water. It has fine leaves with a very bushy appearance, and it grows very fast when your pH values range between 5 and 7. It’ll need medium light and slightly warmer temperatures up to 82°F.
Once you establish your plants, they can help balance out your aquarium and create natural hiding places for your fish.
These 24 fish bowl plants can help you fill in your aquarium to create an eye-catching and natural look. The different colors can add points of interest to draw the eye naturally from the background to the foreground, and they give your fish plenty of area to hide and thrive.
Ashley is a seasoned horticulturist with a passion for all things green. She has a Master Gardener Certificate and cultivated her expertise through over 10 years of hands-on experience in a thriving greenhouse environment. Her green thumb extends beyond work hours, as she relishes the joy of nurturing her own vibrant garden oasis. Inspired by the bountiful harvest, Ashley delights in canning the fruits of her labor and using homegrown herbs to elevate her culinary creations. Alongside her botanical endeavors, she eagerly tackles various DIY projects around the house, combining her creativity and practical skills to transform spaces into havens of beauty and functionality.