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How to Decorate Your Fish Tank with Live Plants

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Guest contributor: Katie Michaels

Having a fish tank full of live plants not only looks beautiful and is more vibrant than plastic plants, but it actually creates a healthy environment for your fish as well. If you are planning to decorate your fish tank with live plants then you need to prepare the ground first, to make sure your tank is set-up properly.


Setting up your fish tank for live plants

The most important point is that you need to set up the fish tank for the plants – before you put any fish in it!

When you are setting up the tank for plants, then you need to layer a bed of some kind of fertilizer substrate across the bottom of your tank initially, so that the plants have something to attach their roots into.

Once this is in place, you need to cover the substrate with a layer of either very fine gravel or sand. It needs to be fine so that the roots can get through it.

Cover the gravel with a lid or plate before filling the tank about a quarter full with water. Make sure the water is not too cold or too hot.

Take the plants out of their containers and then plant them carefully. Plant tall ones at the back and shorter plants towards the front, and take care not to place them too near the filter or the heater. Make sure their roots are completely immersed in the substrate.

Fill the tank completely and then, according to this fishkeeping guide from Aquacadabra, you need to let the tank run with the filter and heater for at least a month before you put fish in it to all owe for any bacteria levels to stabilise.


What are the best types of plants to use for your fish tank?

Now that you know how to set up the tank, how do you go about actually choosing live plants to include in your fish tank for the best decoration and the minimum amount of fuss and bother? Here are the details of some of the easiest plants to try out when you are first setting up your aquarium.

There are three categories of plants you can choose from – they are known as fore-ground, back-ground and mid-ground. Each type has different lighting needs which you will have to take into account when setting up the tank.


Foreground plants needs to be ones which stay low and carpet the bottom of the tank, rather than grow up tall and high. These help to filter the water and keep it healthy and include plants such as Willow Moss, Java Moss, and Water Wisteria.

Java Moss grows very quickly and is almost impossible to kill. It is good to attach it to something, for example, a rock; otherwise it can float to the top. It grows very fast and thrives in most conditions. It’s a really good decorative plant as it covers the floor of the tank, hiding the substrate.

Mid-ground plants should be ones that grow up off the bottom of the tank but not too high, so ones which have a grass-like appearance for example, to create a middle tier of planting and give extra texture and interest, including  Amazon Sword and Java Fern.  

Amazon Swords are perfect in the mid-ground area of the tank as they grow tall with sword-like leaves. They are great to use in the background and to hide things like plumbing pipes and other hardware that you don’t want on show.

Java Fern is also a perfect plant to place at the mid-ground to hide hardware or protect areas of the tank. It grows stripy thick leaves in bunches.

Plants varies

Background plants should be ones that grow taller and more bushy with leaves, as they will grow up and cover the back of the tank up to the top of the water line. This is where you plant the tallest plants.

Some of the other plants which create a really nice look in fish tanks include Anubias Nana, which has attractive curved stems and rounded leaves; Pygmy Chain Sword which looks like grass; Pogostemon helferi which has a beautiful zig zag shape within its foliage; Dwarf Sagittaria which likes to root in wood or stone and grow out from there.

Using live plants to decorate your fish tank, as long as you carry it out according to a fish keeping guide, can actually enhance the environment for your fish. The plants can filter out the water, in some cases provide the fish with food, and also create encouraging areas for them to breed as well.

If you place the plants in the right parts of the tank they will create a wonderful decorative living landscape and hide some of the less attractive elements such as piping or filters, from view, improving the visual appearance.

About the writer: Katie Michaels is a digital content enthusiast and marine animal lover from Brighton. She enjoys rock concerts and fitness in her free time. You can reach her at