THE TOP 6 SPECIES FOR THE PLANTED TANK

The Top 6 Species for the Planted Tank
Updated October 10, 2016
Some freshwater fish will eat their way through a planted tank in a matter of hours. If you want to cultivate a planted tank that also houses fish, consider some of these top six species.
Many aquarium hobbyists underestimate the amount of time and effort it takes to set up and maintain a thriving planted tank. Not only do you need to think carefully about which plants you want to grow, but you have to consider the right substrate, the filtration system, the water temperature, water chemistry, and even the arrangement of your plants. By the time you get all of those details figured out, you have probably forgotten all about your fish!

While it is true that there are some species of freshwater aquarium fish which are voracious plant-eaters and not recommended for planted tanks, there are just as many (or more) species which can do very well in a planted tank. Keep reading to learn more about the challenges associated with a planted tank and to receive recommendations for plant-friendly species and tips for their care.

What are the Challenges of Keeping a Planted Tank?

When you visit the pet store or see pictures of beautiful planted aquariums online, you may be amazed at the lush green color of the plants and the density in which they have grown. Tanks like these make it look easy, but keeping a planted tank healthy and thriving is not as simple as you might think. Aquarium plants are living things so they require certain nutrients in order to grow and thrive. The main nutrients that aquatic plants need are water (of course), light, and food. Plants are photosynthetic organisms which means that they use light as a source of energy to convert substances found in tank water into usable nutrients.


The first challenge you need to address when cultivating a planted tank is your substrate – aquatic plants need certain nutrients to thrive and the best way to provide for that need is to line your tank with a nutrient-rich substrate. After choosing and laying down your substrate, you then need to gather up your plants and think about how you are going to arrange them. If you do not plan to keep any fish in your tank, you have total freedom about where to place your plants. If you do plan to add fish, however, you need to keep in mind that they will need plenty of open swimming space. The best thing to do is to be strategic about plant placement – place shorter plants in the foreground and taller plants in the background so the middle of your tank remains open.

Once you have chosen and planted your plants all that is left is to maintain the proper conditions in your tank to support plant growth. This may mean putting your lighting system on an automatic timer to ensure that your plants get enough but not too much light each day. You may also need to fertilize your tank occasionally with root-feeding tablets or liquid fertilizer. It is also very important that you maintain consistent water parameters in your tank – this includes pH, water hardness, and water temperature. Most plants can tolerate a pH between 6.5 and 7.5 with warmer temperature ranges and slightly soft to soft water hardness.

What are the Top 6 Species for Planted Tanks?

There are many different freshwater fish species that can do well in planted tanks but some of them are easier to keep than others. If you are thinking about adding some fish to your planted tank, consider one of the top six species discussed below:

Rainbowfish – These are a type of fish that generally grow no more than 5 inches in length and they exhibit some beautiful colorations. Rainbowfish do well in tropical community tanks and they tend to breed readily in the home aquarium. Just be sure to keep no more than one male of a species in the tank and feed your rainbowfish rich foods to maximize their coloration.

Swordtails – These fish are livebearers and they are generally very adaptable to a variety of environments. Swordtails come in all colors ranging from solid black to bright orange, red, or green. This species makes an excellent addition to the community tank and they will not disturb your live plants in any way.

Tetras – There are many different species of tetra but most of them are small to medium-sized community fish that do well in large schools. The Cardinal Tetra (and the similar-looking Neon Tetra) make particularly great additions to the planted tank because their bright blue and red colors play off well against a green backdrop.


Rams – Ram Cichlids, also known simply as Rams, are a brightly colored freshwater fish native to South America. These fish are better suited to community tanks than most cichlids ad the exhibit a multicolored appearance that includes bright reds, blues, and yellows contrasted with dark black bars and spots.

Killifish – There are more than 1,200 species of killifish in the world, though most of them are not suitable for captivity. Some of the best killifish species for planted tanks include the Lyretail Killifish, the Striped Panchax, and the Flagfish. These fish come in a wide range of colors including many multicolored varieties.

Gouramis – There are many different species of gourami that range in size from the small Dwarf Gourami to the Giant Gourami. Gouramis also come in a wide variety of colors including blue, yellow, red, gold, and silver. If you are looking for an attractive community fish that will do well in a planted tank, you might want to think about gouramis. To make sure that your gouramis achieve their maximum color potential, feed them a rich diet of fresh, frozen, freeze-dried and commercial foods.

In addition to the fish already mentioned, most livebearers are planted-tank compatible, as are many cichlids – particularly the discus fish. When choosing fish for your planted tank, there are many things to think about. You need to consider the size and parameters of your tank first and foremost to ensure that the fish you choose are adaptable to that kind of environment. Once you make sure that your new fish will be able to thrive in your existing tank you can think about some of the fun details like color. If you want to create a planted tank that wows your guests, choose brightly colored fish that will complement the lush green of your aquatic plants.

Tips for Keeping Fish in a Planted Tank

Keeping fish in a planted tank requires you to strike a delicate balance. Not only do you need to make sure that your aquarium plants get the light and nutrients they need, but you must do so without neglecting the needs of your fish. In many ways, aquarium fish and aquarium plants have a symbiotic relationship. As your fish consume food, leftover food and organic waste accumulates in the substrate of your tank where the roots of your plants can extract the available nutrients. The plants use those nutrients along with light and carbon dioxide in the water (which comes from the respiration of your fish) to produce oxygen. Your fish are then able to breathe that oxygen through their gills and the cycle continues in that way. It can take some time to learn how to achieve that perfect balance but, once you do, you will find that it is all worth it.

Keeping a densely planted tank thriving is hard work but it can also be very rewarding – especially if you are able to cultivate a beautiful underwater oasis for your aquarium fish. If you are thinking about starting a new planted tank, or if you want to add fish to an existing planted tank, take the information provided in this article to heart as you start planning!

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