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Many of us who want a planted tank want to have an easy to maintain tank that that doesn’t really take a ton of effort to keep up. Today’s post is all about that. The list I will make today will help you find plants that are easy to maintain and grow fast to provide a great aquascape for your planted tank. These plants are the best low light aquarium plants, which means they will not require sizable investments in powerful lights to keep. Many of them will thrive without CO2 supplementation, which will also save you money in the long-run.
All these plants are readily available as well. They are relevantly cheap and easy to find available. With that, let’s go ahead and get started!
Type of Aquarium Plants
Let’s start first with the type of aquarium plants and how they are different we have the following:
- Ferns and Mosses
- Stem Plants
- Floating Plants
Ferns and Mosses
These plants reproduce in the aquarium by producing spores. These plants include plants such as Java Fern, Java Moss, and Water Sprite. These plants tend to be popular among breeders because they provide good cover for fry in an aquarium. Most ferns and mosses are aquarium plants that will do well in low light.
These are flowering plants that you will see in both aquariums and outdoor ponds. These include plants like Amazon Swords and Anubias. Rosettes are known for their shortened stems and are very leafy. This makes them a very popular plant for aquariums.
These are plants that are not rooted in the substrate and do best floating at the surface of the water line. Some species would include Hornwort and duckweed. They are great plants for new fry to hide it, but several species grow extremely fast and can take over a tank.
Type of Feeders – Plants
Plants are also separated in the way they feed in your aquarium. We separate plants in the aquarium hobby as column feeders and root feeders. Column feeders take nutrients from the water column, which means you can place them above your substrate and do not have to worry about having a nutrient rich substrate. Root feeders take nutrients from the substrate. These plants will anchor to your substrate and require substrate that can sustain them.
Not only do we need to know about how plants feed, but also where they are best placed. There are foregound, midwater, floating, and background plants. Knowing what plants are best for each section in your planted aquarium setup will help you design an aquascape that looks beautiful and professional!
Low Tech Aquarium Plants – A Quick Comparison
This list is hand picked for you! I’m going to try to stick with common names to keep confusion to the minimum. Every one of these plants can run off low light.
In a hurry – I recommend Java Fern!
The 13 Best Low Light Aquarium Plants – 2021 Updated
Let’s get started with our best low light aquarium plants list!
1. Java Fern
Java Fern is one of the most readily available freshwater plants available in the industry. Java Fern is a slower grower, but it very tolerate of most lighting conditions and very hardy. It also has a unique leaf structure and can be glued to rocks for some unique aquascaping accents. Like the other plants above, many fish ignore this plant. It is a foreground plant that is a literally set it and forgot it plant. Perfect for beginners or those looking for a stress free planted tank. The Java fern is a staple in most low light aquarium setups.
2. Anubias Barteri
Anubias Barteri is one of the most popular and hardy freshwater aquarium plants available in the hobby. Also known as Coffeefolia, it has heavy thick leaves that are rippled in appearance. When the plant is young it will have reddish brown leaves which will change to green as it matures. This plant is actually ideal for fish that like to eat plants because many fish will tend to leave it alone as they do not like the taste. It is a midwater plant that is a root feeder so you will need a substrate that has room for it grow. It is a moderate grower and grows well even in low light.
3. Marimo Moss Balls
Marimo Moss Balls are foreground plants that are very easy to care and grow. They will thrive in just about any light condition and just ask to be rotated every water change or so. They can be kept in just about any tank. From a large planted display to a fish bowl it will thrive in any condition. Some people will even place the in sumps as a form of refugium. They are also very long lived with the species living over 200 years in the wild.
Moss balls are ideal for small plants and for small inhabits like shrimp. They are also a good fit for smaller activity fish like Bettas. They actually aren’t considered a plant, more so a form of green algae that grows into a ball formation. Because of their size they are ideal for smaller tanks. They do very well in a low light aquarium.
4. Amazon Sword
The Amazon Sword is a staple in many freshwater planted tanks. It is found in aquariums all over the world as it is well known for its hardiness and ability to thrive in a vary of conditions. It is also a fairly inexpensive plant and readily available in most stores. It can grow to an impressive length usually growing to over a foot in height. Having an aquarium at least 16 inches in height would be ideal for it. These plants are also easy to propagate and do just fine in low light.
It’s main drawback are its roots. They are fairly large and powerful and will grow deep into the substrate. It does require a deeper (at least 2.5 inches deep) and solid substrate due to this.It grows to a dark green color. If you see the leaves start to brown out, this means that your nutrients are low. It must be planted in the substrate as it is a root feeder.
This plant does not require a ton of light and will thrive in a low light aquarium. It does not require much pruning as well. It is a common plant in a planted tank for a reason.
5. Cyptocoryne Lucens
Cyptocoryne Lucens is a low growing cypt plant that generally grows within the 3 to 5 inches range. It sometimes is used as a foreground plant in larger tanks and due to its size it can work as a background plant in smaller tanks.
It’s an undemanding plant that thrive in most aquarium conditions. It is a slow grower and prefers not to move around. Once you plant it, plan on not moving it. It is often recommended to beginners because of it’s ease of care, slow growth, and low light demand.
6. Vallisneria Americana (Eel Grass)
Vallisneria Americana or Eel Grass is a native aquatic plant from Florida. It has nice twisted and ribbon like leaves and is usually one of the first plants beginners will try and most often are very successful with it because it is easy to take care of. It is a fast grower as well and is a great background plant due to its taller spread. It is one of the easiest aquarium plants to propagate via its runners and this also gives it the ability to take over a tank so proper pruning and maintenance will be necessary to keep it in check. It is considered a staple in planted aquariums due to its well earned reputation of being easy to care for and being able to thrive in low light.
7. Dwarf Sagittaria
Dwarf Sagittaria is a great first time plant for a beginner. It is a very undemanding plant that stays small in size and will spread to form a grass like carpet. It is ideally placed in the foreground of your aquarium where it can provide a great looking grass covering to accent your taller and larger plants.
There aren’t any high light or fertilizer requirements with this plant. It will readily grow in just about any condition. It is an ideal low light carpeting plant.
8. Java Moss
Java moss is a plant that can attach to rocks, driftwood, and roots. It is a very hardy plant that does not need a lot of attention and will grow in just about any condition. It is commonly used to help baby fry hide from adults. Like Anubias Barteri, Java moss is compatible with most fish as many will not pick at it. Java moss is a foreground plant that can grow like a lawn if you want it to and can grow fast. It does well in a low light aquarium.
9. Pearl Weed
Pearl Weed is a carpet growing plant that bright green and low growing. It is the ideal carpet plant for beginners. This is a really accommodating plant in that it can be used in the foreground, mid ground, and background as it doesn’t require much to be planted. It will also grow plenty fast under lower light aquarium conditions.
Because of its fast growing and carpet nature, it will require constant pruning to keep it from growing vertically. It also will not mind a hard prune and being shaped to the way you desire. This is also a very easy plant to propagate as all you need to do is cut the end of the stems, group them together and simply bury them together in your substrate.
This is an ideal carpet covering plant for those struggling with others.
10. Anacharis (Elodea Densa)
Anacharis is a plant you may have seen in science class in school. Because it’s leaves are only one or two cells thick they are often used to teach children about cellular and plant cell structure as they can be easily view through a microscope.
It is a highly valued aquarium plant that can soak up nutrients in the water. It is so good at its job that it is used in wastewater treatment models as it has been found to remove harmful chemicals in water such as arsenic!
It is very easy to grow grow very fast even in low light. It does have an issue of being considered a pest to wildlife though, which means it has been deemed illegal in several states in the US due to its invasive nature. It is very popular in Ponds and cold water aquariums because it is tolerate of a variety of temperatures. It is also used as a plant for goldfish as they will happily eat the plant and they are cheap to purchase.
It is a very fast grower and it’s chemical and nutrient soaking ability make this a very utilitarian plant to have in a planted tank.
11. Rose Sword Plant
The Rose Sword Plant is a variant of the Amazon Sword plant that has a range of colors from green, brown, pink, to red. New leaves will start out as pink or bronze and will eventually turn to bright or dark green as they mature. They are just as easy to take care of Amazon Swords, but will require a bit stronger lighting in order to bring out the best colors. They will thrive and grow with low-light however. Most red plants tend to require higher lighting which is why they don’t make this list. This is one type of plant you can get that gets you the red, but won’t require higher light or CO2 injections.
12. Water Sprite
The Water Sprite is another commonly available plant that has the ability to thrive either planted or floating in a low light aquarium. It is an ideal plant for cover for fry and for timid fish due to the cover it can provide with its grow spread. These plants are also valuable to scientist because they germinate so fast. They are often used in genetic research.
They are fast growers and will suck up nutrients in a tank. Both a good and bad thing, but the plant is relatively low maintenance and can still do well without supplementation. They make good background and middle placement plants and actually do a good job of keeping algae at bay as they create a lot of shade under them.It is a commonly available and cheap plant.
Hornwort is like many plants on this list, are one of the easiest freshwater plants to grow in an aquarium. In the wild, you can find it across all continents except for Antarctica. It is a fast growing plant, so it will require pruning to keep in check. What I love about this plant is that is it very flexible. You can either plant it in the substrate or use it as a floating plant as it will thrive in either situation. It is a dark green plant with dense foliage with a unique leave structure that provided excellent aesthetics to your aquarium.
It can get tall, but can be controlled with regular pruning. It is a truly non-demanding plant and will do great in the background or attached to rocks. It is also one of the plants on this list that can grow in cold water tanks. It is a great low light aquarium plant.
Low Light Planted Tank Lighting Options
We do have a post about the Best Planted Tank LED Lights but we can pull from that list to provide a few options if you don’t have time to read that article. For a low light aquarium on a budget, the NiCrew Sky LED would be the easiest choice.If you want an overall comprehensive light with the ability to expand to more light demanding plants, the Fluval Plant 3.0 is one of the best lights out there with WiFi program ability and ironclad warranty. The Fluval 3.0 is ideal if you are planning to graduate beyond low light aquarium plants.
Conclusion on Best Low Light Aquarium Plants
So that was the list. I tend to surprise people when I can name off a lot of plant that will work well in a low light aquarium and many of these plants will not require CO2 supplementation. You can transition to a planted tank with these plant species relatively easily and have great success today! Many of these plants listed are staples in the industry and well regarded for their toughness in handling just about anything you can throw at them. I wish you success on your low light planted tank journey! If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Thanks for reading.