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When designing a tank, it is important to be very conscious about plant selection (prior to building your setup). Different plants have different needs and you want to select plants that will work well with the equipment you can afford. The big things to take into consideration is: type of plant, light demand, Co2 needs, and positioning.

Types of Plants

  • Rhizomatous – Rhizome plant has a large stock where leaves grow out of the top, and roots out the bottom. The rhizome stores the plant’s nutrient for growth and can be split for propagation. Most rhizome plants are easy, heartier, slower growing, low light plants. It is important to note that you do not want to bury the rhizome as it will suffocate the plant. These plants can pull nutrients from the water column and don’t need an active substrate. These plants generally don’t need Co2 but do really well with it. Examples of rhizomatous plants are Bucephalandra, Bolbitis heudelotii and Anubias.

  • Stem – Stem plants are plants that grow vertically and will keep growing till they hit the surface of your tank. They make better background plants as they can get tall and block the view of the rest of your tank (and the light from reaching other plants). They can be propagated by cutting the stem and replanting it… and sometimes the original stem that was cut will branch into two more stems.  Examples of stemmed plants are Rotala macrandra, Ludwigia glandulosa, Nesaea crassicaulis, and Bacopa caroliniana

  • Moss – Mosses can make for beautiful rock and driftwood cover. You can attached them to surfaces with fishing line, thread or even special aquascaping glue. They take nutrients from the water column and require moderate amounts of light and CO2.  Examples of mosses are Riccia fluitans, Vesicularia ferriei and Cladophora aegagropila

  • Bulb/onion – They generally obtain their nutrients from the soil but can also take nutrients from the water column. On some species, when the plant is mature enough, the bulb will separate from the plant and start to grow another. A good example of this plant is the Nymphaea lotus.

  • Rosulate – are plants that grow leaves in a radial fashion. Cryptocoryne beckettii is a perfect example of this type of plant. They tend to stay lower which make them great foreground or middle ground plants. The do best in a good aquasoil as they get most of their nutrients from their roots.

  • Stolon – Stolons plants have stems which grow at the soil surface or just below ground that form adventitious roots at the nodes, and new plants from the buds. Stolons are often called runners. Rhizomes, in contrast, are root-like stems that may either grow horizontally at the soil surface or in other orientations underground. Thus, not all horizontal stems are called stolons. Examples of stolon type plants are Lilaeopsis brasiliensis and Littorella uniflora

  • Carpeting – these plant generally grow like stem plants but also shoot out runners which come up in other areas forming a carpet over time. These plants are generally huge root feeders that require a decent amount of lighting. Carpeting plants are generally more difficult plant to grow because they are the furthest away from the light above our tanks, so the light intensity has diminished by the time it reaches them, so higher lighting is recommended. Good carpeting plants are staurogyne repens, bacopa compact, elatine hydropiper, micranthemum “monte carlo” and Hydriotyle tripartita.

Here is a simple way to digest all that information and select appropriate plants:

Light Demand

You are least likely to experience light-related tank issues if you select plants that all have the same lighting demand. From there you can select a light that would complement the plant selection. What I see a lot is aquascapers put low light plants in a high light tank with other high light plants. This results in the high light plants growing really well, and the slower growing low light plants getting algae on them. I personally don’t mind a little bit of algae in my tanks as I see it as natural, but if you are a stickler for having no algae in your tank, you are not going to want to have low light plants in with high light plants. If you do find yourself in a situation where a low light plant just happens to magically appear in your tank overnight, move it into a corner of your tank or a shadier spot as a low light plant will do ok in shade and it will reduce the chances of it growing algae on it. Lastly, plants that grow faster in higher lighting setup generally require more nutrients either from fertilizers dosed in the water column or from nutrients in the tank’s aquasoil.


Some plants require more Co2 than others. Regardless of your plant selection, injecting Co2 into the tank is always a good thing. When plants start to grow and they absorb nutrients in the water, a lack of Co2 can cause Black Beard Algae (BBA). If you have a lot of slower growing plants, injecting Co2 will just make sure the plants are happy and help fend off algae. If you have higher demand plants you will need to make sure Co2 is being injected in at high enough concentrations to help sustain healthy growth. The thinking is, plants that have a lower demand of Co2 can easily grow in a high Co2 environment, but plants with a high Co2 demand will not be able to grow in a lower Co2 environment. The same thinking also applies to lighting: high light plants don’t do well in low light environments, but low light plants can do just fine in high light environments (if positioned strategically).

Growth Rates

  • High Energy – Mosty stem, stolon and carpeting plants

  • Medium – Some stem, rhizomatous, mosses, bulbs, stolon and rosulate

  • Low Energy– Rhizomatous, mosses and bulbs

One thing I would avoid is having too many slow-growing plants in a high light environment. Slow growing plants are prone to algae because their leaves are not growing as quickly as a stem plant. If you do have something like an Anubias in a tank like this, it is wise to keep them in more shaded areas and/or in the corners of your tank as the light is no so intense. You can strategically place slower growing plants in areas that you know are going to be shaded. A perfect example of this is if you have a large piece of driftwood in your tank with lots of moss on it, you are going to have shaded areas at the base where it touches the substrate and this would be a great place for slower growing plants.


It is important to have an idea of how a plant grows and what it looks like when it’s mature. Depending on your aquascape it is wise to choose short plants for the foreground, medium size for the middle ground, and taller plants for the back. Low carpeting plants like Staurogyne repens, hair grass, and Pearl Weed are great foreground plants. However, lower forground plants tend to be medium to high light plants. Middle ground plants like Alternanthera Reineckii “Mini”, Cryptocoryne beckettii, Nymphaea lotus, Microsorum pteropus “Trident” are all great middle ground plants. You see a lot of Rosulate and Stolon type plants that that work well in the middle ground range. And then stemmed plants like Rotala macrandra, Ludwigia glandulosa, Nesaea crassicaulis, Bacopa caroliniana, Java Fern and Amazon Sword really get big and fill in areas in the background. Again, the thinking is you would not want to plant a baby Amazon Sword in the foreground of the your tank because a couple months in aquasoil with Co2, the plant will become massive and block the view of your tank.

Help for beginners

If you are new to aquascaping and would like some help, we wrote and article on the 10 best plants for beginners. We included 2 design ideas that you can follow. One design is just sand and rocks, another incorporates an aquasoil if you can afford one at the time of yoru setup. You can check out the article by clicking the image below!

Best Beginner Plants.jpg


To summarize, if budget is an issue, pick plants that complement the light you can afford. If budget is not an issue, pick plants that you’d like to see in your tank but try to select plants with similar light intensity need to avoid algae. If you have lower light plants in your tank with a high output light, try to keep them in shadier, less lit areas of your tank to avoid algae growing on them. Lastly, I always recommend Co2, however less can be injected when keeping slower growing plants, where more is needed for fast growing plants.

I recommend a website called This site allows you to view a massive variety of plants and their specific needs. It also categorizes plants buy their difficulty and needs, so you can search a group of plants that would fit the design of your tank’s needs.

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