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Plant Selection


As a beginning aquascaper, you will first learn about the importance of efficient filtration, CO2 injection, strong illumination and clay-based substrate. After getting to know the four main elements of a Nature Aquarium, you will decide what kind of fertilizers you are going to use and then, here we are - at the topic of plant selection. At this point you can actually choose from hundreds of plants.

The first and most important aspect of plant choice is Carbon-Dioxide. You can choose from more than 300 different plants if you already have a CO2 system, but good news is that if you do not have CO2, you can still build a beautiful planted tank - a few compromises are needed though.

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Three things to do if you have a Low-Tech aquarium (without CO2 injection)

Reduce Light Intensity

Carbon need of photosynthesizing plants can be reduced with low-light conditions. Do not shorten the lighting period, it should stay at 8 hours. Raise your light above the aquarium, or take a tube out of it to decrease light intensity before planning to buy a CO2 system.


Choose hardy plants

There are only a few dozen plants that can accommodate to non-CO2 conditions, and we will still have to make some compromises. The growth for example will not be as quick as with CO2 injection, and plants will not thrive as well as with CO2 - they can do OK though.


Use Liquid Carbon Additives

You need to compensate for the lack of CO2 by adding liquid carbon supplements to the water. As liquid carbon decomposes in the water (Seachem Excel is longest lasting product), you will need to dose daily - in the morning. Even hardiest plants will need liquid CO2.


Plants can also be categorized by their place in the aquarium. The different categories are not meant to be exclusive, your plants can be placed anywhere and you do not even have to use all of these categories in your aquarium. In classical Iwagumi aquariums (ones with rocks only) many aquascapers use only foreground (and scattered mid-ground) plants. Owners of Nano tanks try to avoid background plants because of their bigger size and frequent trimming requirements - they usually have mid-ground plants as background. There are some other special aquariums that contain exclusively plants tied on wood and stone. Please remember that clay-based substrate is always needed to help the biological equilibrium (filtration) - even when using plants that do not have their roots in the substrate.


Planted Tank
Plant categories - based on their place in the aquarium

Foreground Plants

They are planted starting from the front-glass of the aquarium towards the middle, but sometimes they cover the whole aquarium. They will not grow higher than 2-4 centimeters, even with strong lighting. Interestingly they will tend to "reach the light" and grow bigger when under low-light conditions. Plants on the picture (in order): Eleocharis parvula, Micranthemum Monte Carlo, Hemianthus callitrichoides Cuba, Marsilea, Hydrocotyle tripartita and Glossostigma elatinoides.

Foreground plants


Mid-Ground Plants

They are situated between the foreground and the background plants, making a subtle transition. The lack of a mid-ground usually suggests that something is missing from your aquascape, the abrupt change between the foreground to the background causes tension in the viewer. Using mid-ground plants at the bottom of rocks and wood serves the same purpose - to help with transition. These plants grow to a maximum of 15-20 centimeters. Plants on the picture (in order): Staurogyne repens, Cryptocoryne wendtii green, Rotala indica, Ammania praetermissa, Alternanthera reineckii, Eleocharis acicularis.

Midground plants


Background Plants

The biggest group of background plants is called "Stem Plants". They have one or two structural axis and leaves will grow from there. The stem is normally divided in nodes and internodes. Most of these plants are fast-growers, so they will need regular trimming - this is certainly something to consider when planning with maintenance times. Plants on the picture (in order): Rotala rotundifolia, Rotala sp. green, Pogostemon stellatus, Egeria densa, Ludwigia repens, Myriophyllum Matogrossense.

Background Plants


Plants for Wood and Stone

Most of these plants are usually foreground or mid-ground plants due to their size but there are some (ferns for example) that are meant to be used in the background. You can tie them with Riccia line (for Riccia or mosses) or Wood tight (for ferns) to the hardscape, or small pebbles that you just lay on the substrate. This category consist mostly of mosses, Anubias species, a Bucephalandra and ferns. They will not tolerate planting (their roots tend to rot when in the substrate). Plants on the picture (in order): Anubias Nana, Taxiphyllum barbieri, Riccardia, Microsorum, Bolbitis heudelotii, Hygrophila pinnatifida.

Plants for Wood and Stone


Floating Plants

This is a smaller group of plants that will float on the surface of the water, with roots hanging in the water. Make sure that these plants will not overpopulate your water surface as they will take the light from your aquatic plants below. Long roots should be trimmed regularly. Plants on the picture (in order): Limnobium laevigatum, Salvinia natans, Riccia fluitans and Phyllanthus Fluitans.

Floating Plants

Calculating with the number of plants used in the aquarium

As a rule of thumb use one pot (or one box) for a palm-size area. This means that for a 60 cm wide tank you will need about 3-6 pots for only the foreground. One box of moss will be enough for covering some 5 to 8 centimeters of a thinner branch, or to make 4-8 riccia stones. The total number of plants that you will use depends on the quantity of hardscape in your tank and of course on your financial engagement. Green Aqua can use up to 40-50 pots only on a 60 cm wid tank, but a minimum of 10 pots is recommended. The fewer plants you have the more fragile is your ecosystem. Make sure you have a larger plant mass from the start to stay algae-free.

A quick planting sample for beginners

We assembled a quick sample for those who will still need some guidance or help with the decision of what kind of plants to choose for their low-tech tanks without CO2 injection. All of the below listed plants can be found at Green Aqua. None of them require CO2 injection (but it would certainly be nice to have).

If you have any questions about planting or you need expert help in choosing the right plants for your aquarium, please contact our Customer Support on phone, we are here to help.