The 10 Small Plants For Any Aquarium (Low Maintenance)

by | Blog, Freshwater Fish, Plants

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10 Small Plants for Aquariums: Introduction

Aquarium plants provide a beautiful, natural aquatic environment and contribute to the health of your fish. They also help balance water pH by absorbing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

A well-planned tank with live plants can help reduce fish aggression and balance behavior by recreating their natural aquatic environment, and giving them places to hide. Plants also have the capacity of helping to remove nitrogenous waste produced by your fish.

The best small plants for any aquarium are ones that don’t require much room, and are easy to care for. For this reason, they can also be excellent aquarium plants for beginners.

When getting started in the aquarium hobby, there’s a lot to figure out. One good rule of thumb is to view the aquarium for the ecosystem it is, with every component playing its part.

Aquarium plants play many roles, one of which is that they can help contribute to your fish’s well-being- And a happy, healthy fish is one that gets sick less often and lives longer. Who doesn’t want that?!

Types of Plants

In the aquarium hobby, you’ll hear people refer to live aquarium plants based on where they’re located in the tank. There are three main categories: Foreground plants (aka, “carpet plants”) which grow horizontally and cover the “ground”; Midground plants which are placed in the middle as a central visual focus; And background plants, which as you might guess, are placed at the back since they’re larger:)

When it comes to plants in small aquariums, a foreground plant might be used in a wider range of places in the tank.

We’ve organized this post according to these categories to make it easy for you to find what you need!

You’ll also hear people talk about a “planted aquarium” or a “planted tank;” This is a different type of aquarium that is designed to closely replicate an aquatic environment you’d find in nature. You can think of it as the difference between a tank with substrate and a plastic castle, and one with lots of carefully planned plants modeled after a biotope found in nature.

A planted tank requires more planning, but it’s stunning and when well cared for, can be very healthy for its inhabitants.

Foreground Plants

Foreground plants are also sometimes called carpet plants because they cover the ground of a tank like a carpet. They don’t grow upward, but rather, they spread side to side along the substrate.

Not all foreground plants grow this way, but as a group, they all are short and can therefore be placed in front areas without blocking the lovely view of everything else in your carefully planned tank!

1 Round Pellia (Subwassertan)

Round pellia is a very popular, easy to grow foreground plant that comes in several varieties, giving a creative, natural look to your aquarium. It belongs to the Lomariopsidaceae family and grows to be 8 inches or more, and doesn’t require any special fertilizers.


Placement and Maintenance

Round pellia grows similar to moss, and if placed on the surface of the water, will sink. It can be left floating, or tied to driftwood or rock.

This plant is very easy and doesn’t require extra fertilizers or supplements, so it’s beloved among aquarists. Like most plants, maintaining good water quality and performing necessary water changes is necessary.

Once grown, round pellia can be clipped regularly to maintain its shape and size. If they don’t get enough light, they’ll start losing their leaves’ color and eventually die.

Because they’re very hardy, you don’t need to worry about them in transport; They bounce back quickly once given healthy conditions.

When purchasing from shops or markets, it’s good to seal the round pellia in proper bags as they sometimes carry snails in them.


Tank Selection and Requirements

Selecting a tank for placing subwassertan is easy: They do just fine in both small and large tanks.

The minimum tank size required for round pellia is 10 liters (2.5 gallons). Because of their growth characteristics, they’re suitable for placing in freshwater tropical tanks.

Round pellia is known for its tolerance for water conditions and other parameters. It does need a water temperature of 20-24°C (68-75°F) with 6-8 pH, and a low to medium light level.



Once grown, round pellia provides shrimps, fish, and fry an ideal place to hide. It also works as a shelter for breeders. Along with shrimps and snails calm fish like neon tetras, catfish, otocinclus, guppy, green swordtails and rasboras are their best mates because they won’t try to damage this plant.

Amazon sword, java fern, and cryptocoryne species can pair well with round pellia.

We’ve included the video below to show how to tie down round pellia for aquariums. This method can work on other plants, too:)


1.2 Mini Round Pellia

The miniature version of round pellia! The mini round pellia are slow-growing and as easy to care for as their larger counterparts.

They need a good flow of water with a temperature between 74-76°F. One thing to note is that a high light level is essential for mini round pellias. CO2 is not needed but if given, is beneficial. It’s best to affixed mini round pellia to rocks or driftwood and create cover for fry and shrimp. They can be perfectly placed in nano tanks because of their small size.

2 Anubias “Nana” (Anubias barteri)

Anubias nana

Anubias Nana Photo by © Aleksandr Proshkin

Also referred to by its scientific name, anubias barteri, the “nana” can grow submerged and is an excellent choice for aquariums and terraniums alike. It’s a dark green, short, slow-growing plant that belongs to the Araceae family. Its broad leaves give your tank an appealing look.

Due to their small size, they’re planted into the substrates. Anubias nanas’ hardy nature proves that it can survive beginners and sustain small mistakes. It provides beautiful cover for the base of the aquarium, as well as habitats for bottom-dwellers like loaches and catfish.


Placement and Maintenance

Anubias nana is a foreground plant that reaches a maximum size of around 7-8 inches, and does well when placed with rocks. You can affix them to rocks or driftwood using cotton threads at the roots.

No special care is required for anubias nana, but I suggest trimming them in clean water when their stems grow longer. Adding a small amount of CO2 and nutrients enhances the growth rate and quality of this plant. An excessive amount of supplements can damage them.

Give anubias nana at least low light, and it’ll be fine.


Tank Selection and Requirements

Anubias Nana doesn’t require any specifications in the tank. If a stable environment is provided, they’ll keep flourishing. They can grow submerged as well as emersed.

A tropical freshwater aquarium is appropriate for anubias nana, since it prefers warmer water. A 10-gallon tank is good to accommodate them. They’re root-feeders, because they take in rich nutrients through their roots. To grow anubias nana, a moderate light level is essential along with water temperature between 72-82°F with KH 3-8 and pH 6.0-7.5.

NOTE:   An immediate removal of Nana leaves is important because they decompose quickly, resulting in dirty water.



Anubias nana have strong compatibility with freshwater fish. Since they’re not a huge plant, they make a wonderful pair with loaches, yoyo, tetras, dwarf gourami, mollies, danios, guppies, cherry barbs, cichlids, and catfish, and give them shelter and hiding spots.

Putting plant eating fish (like goldfish) with anubias nana is not a good idea because they’ll be mistaken for a tasty snack. They can handle small damage because they’re hardy, but prevention is a better solution.

Rotala rotundifolia, hornwort and water sprite, are good tank mates.

3 Java Moss

Java moss

Java Moss Photo by © Ivana Stevanoski

Java moss is a lovely green carpet aquarium plant with several delicate stems. It’s affordable, easy to manage, and small, growing to be about 2-4 inches. Another perk is that they’re great for fry (baby fish) because they provide both cover and a tasty bite! (Yes, it’s okay for the fry to eat them- Some argue that it’s good for them, even.)

Plus, java moss is one of the best aquarium plants for beginners.


Placement and Maintenance

A popular method for placing java moss is to attach it to driftwood, allowing it to turn into a natural “tree” inside. One of the most versatile options on this list, it can be used as a carpet plant or attached to aquarium walls.

Liquid fertilizer can be a useful additive, but they can grow well without them.

The healthiest moss is a result of proper trimming and cleaning.

Sometime moss can develop algae; You can treat moss algae with seachem flourish excel or hydrogen peroxide. Also, cherry or amano shrimp will actually comb through java moss and eat algae, along with whatever leftovers they find there, helping to clean the moss.

Tank Selection and Requirements

Due to their small size, java moss doesn’t require a large tank.. A 5-gallon tank or bigger is plenty good enough to place in.

Freshwater tanks and brackish tanks are suitable choices for placement, with a low to medium light level for growing in an aquarium.

The water temperature should be between 21-24°C with 5.0-8.0 pH. This plant’s fixation on substrate, driftwood, walls and rocks helps them in getting their nutrients from water column. For this, reason they’re known as “column feeders.”



This moss is great for providing shelter to fry and accommodating infusoria (a tiny organism). It’s also known as an excellent food for fry and shrimp. Amano shrimp, nerite snails, angelfish, cichlids, betta fish, and cherry shrimp are compatible with java moss. They don’t disturb other aquarium plants, so it’s safe to place them together.

4 Marimo Moss Balls (Aegagropila Linnaei)

Marimo Moss Balls

Marimo Moss Balls Photo by © Alfio Scisetti

These are long-lived, slow-growing aquarium plants that reach 2-5 inches in length. Their texture makes marimo moss balls work as filters, removing carbon dioxide and nitrates from water. They make their food through the process of photosynthesis.

This is a low light option that is extremely adaptable- I’ve even seen them living in tiny light bulb aquascapes!


Placement and Maintenance

Marimo moss balls are super easy to keep in fish tanks due to their incredible hardiness; They are resistant to low light and temperature changes. You can put them in tiny nano tanks or even bowls or vases, and they’ll be alright.

Healthy marimo moss balls are round, soft, and fluffy. They’re attractive, low maintenance, and easy to handle. These ball-shaped plants do not need extra fertilizers. Avoid placing them in sealed containers or tanks, as they’ll quickly turn brown: They need constant air/oxygen to survive.


Tank Selection and Requirements

A freshwater aquarium is the most suitable tanks for marimo moss balls because they only demand fresh water to grow well. Marimo moss stays at the bottom of the tank in a moderate light with a temperature between 72-78 °F and 6.8-8.0 pH. They’re a great choice for low light areas, and should be kept out of direct or excessive light.

They take in nitrates and are so hardy that they will literally live almost anywhere. I think this is one of the best beginner options you can find.

Soft freshwater is recommended. But really, they’ll live anywhere!



Betta fish, guppies, dianos, archerfish, gobies, nerite snails, mystery snails, and freshwater shrimp are fantastic mates here. If you put aggressive fish like goldfish with marimo moss balls they’ll spoil or them.

Anubias and water wisteria are good for marimo moss balls because they can block excess light, which helps them stay healthy.

5 Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis Parvula/Eleocharis acicularis)

A green foreground plant, dwarf hairgrass is easy to maintain and grows to be around 6 inches high. They help in removing pollutants from the water and provide bottom-dwellers with a place to hide. Because of their small size, they are used for carpeting tanks. 


Placement and Maintenance

As a foreground plant, they require a layer of substrates and ideally sand for strong development. Trimming this plant will enhance its look. Keep an eye on their light because low light can affect their growth rate.


Tank Selection and Requirements

Dwarf hairgrass can be housed in both small and large tanks, but I recommend placing them in a 10-gallon tank to help them grow. Dwarf hairgrass is a freshwater aquatic plant that survives in water with a temperature between 50-85°F and pH between 6.5-7.5.

It’s generally recommended to provide comparatively high light and the addition of CO2 for their better growth.



Hairgrass is compatible with other plants and fish. Most fish don’t eat them, which is good news! Fish like danios, guppies, mollies, catfish, clown loaches, and tetras are some of good tank mates here. Don’t stick large fish or snails with hairgrass because they can damage them easily.

6 Downoi (Pogostemon Helferi)

With a distinctive zig-zag-shape, this curious plant develops small roots and works as carpet plant for aquariums. Its curly leaves give aesthetic appeal, and the nature of their adaptability has increased their demand.


Placement and Maintenance

An excellent foreground plant, it does demands] extra care if there’s not enough fish (and therefore fertilizer) in the tank. Without enough iron, for example, their leaves start turning yellow. Catching this early and giving supplements can give them a quick recovery.

Clean them with running tap water, and cover their roots with gravel substrate to protect them from fish


Tank Selection and Requirements

These buggers will grow in small, nano, and large tanks with all substrates. Temperature between 68-86°F takes this plant to a maximum size of 6 inches. It requires water with pH 6-7.5 and low-medium light level for its growth.



Downois are known for being one of the tastiest plants to fish. Some will even consume it overnight. For this reason, avoid keeping them with herbivorous and omnivorous fish. In other words, they’re safer with meat eaters!

Dwarf baby tears, anachairs, cryptocoryne wendttii can pair well with pogostemon helfri because of similar characteristics.

Midground Plants

Midground aquarium plants are medium sized, so they’re neither placed in front of the tank nor at the very back.

These plants help in highlighting the central part of the tank, and because they’re usually unique and colorful, they’re placed in the middle of the aquarium. They don’t grow too fast so it’s easy to handle them.

7 Java Fern (Microsorum Pteropus)

Java fern tied to bogwood

Java Fern Tied in Bogwood | Photo by © Mohammed Anwarul Kabir Choudhury

The java fern’s leathery, textured green leaves are eye-catching, and has helped make it a popular choice. The java fern is a green, slow-growing plant (around 1inch per month) which reaches a maximum size of 7-8 inches.

It comes in different shapes and sizes, and helps clean the aquarium water by absorbing carbon dioxide and removing nitrates.

Another perk is that java ferns don’t taste good, so fish are much less likely to destroy them!


Placement and Maintenance

This is a very hardy midground plant, typically attached to the rocks or wood to help it root and grow. Fixing this fern in sand or gravel will damage the plant.

Excessive light and algae can melt its leaves, so to reduce this risk, adjust the light level in the aquarium and address any algae issues right away.

Trimming is the best solution when the fern’s leaves start growing larger than the requirements of the tank.


Tank Selection and Requirements

Java fern is a freshwater plant suitable for a minimum 10-gallon tank. As column feeders, they take in nutrients through their green leaves.

They survive in water with 6-7.5 pH, KH 3-8, and a temperature between 68-82 °F. Low-moderate light level is essential for its growth. For this plant, a 10-gallon tank will be sufficient.

NOTE:    Because of their very hardy nature, they can be placed in brackish aquariums!



These are strong and can resist every situation so they survive with different kinds of fish. They’re highly compatible with Oscar fish, cichlids, tetras, shrimps, and snails. They also accommodate young or shy fish and shrimp. It’s easy to pair with many other freshwater plants.


8 Dwarf Rotala (Rotala Rotundifolia)

Dwarf Rotala

Dwarf Rotala Outdoors | Photo by © Gene Zhang

A colorful member of the Lythraceae family, the dwarf rotala has a pink hue, long stems, and narrow leaves. The leaves are round, arranged oppositely, and attached closely to the stem.

The addition of dwarf rotala brings great color to the aquarium. However, fish love to eat them. If your aquarium is full of plant-eating fish, the rotala won’t last long.


Placement and Maintenance

You can place these in the mid as well as at the back of the aquarium.

The dwarf rotala has hardy nature, but water changes are still necessary for them. When first introduced to the tank, provide them with liquid fertilizers and trim dead leaves to boost their growth. When grown well it looks like a busy plant:)

At that point, trimming should be done to provide the required amount of light level to the lower leaves. They’re reasonably easy to keep and are not a high maintenance plant. Just a tasty one!


Tank Selection and Requirements

Rotala rotundifolia is a stem plant. It takes in nutrients through its leaves ( = a column feeder). A minimum 10-gallon tank is advised for placing this plant. Rectangular tanks help show them off! For the best grow, they require low light and a temperature between 4-32°C. Its carbonate hardness reaches from 0-21 Dkh.



These rotalas are not at all dangerous for fish if they nibble on them. The roots of dwarf rotalas help prevent anaerobic toxicity, too.

They can be placed with jungle aquascapes for creating colorful environment.

Compatible rotala rotundifolia mates include angelfish, guppy, molly, loaches, tetras, zebra danio, otocinclus catfish, shrimp, and snails (dangerous snails should be avoided). Anubias nana, anachris, water wisteria, and java fern can survive easily with rotala rotundifolia.


Background Plants for Small Aquariums

Background aquarium plants are larger than foreground and midground plants, so they’re placed at the back of the tank. They work as a backdrop for smaller plants.

Most of them don’t have flowers, so they’re used for embossing greenery in the aquarium and providing depth. Many are also known as a “stem plant” which means they have many leaves growing off of each stem. This makes them look more like a bush than a house plant, and is perfect for creating a backdrop in a small tank!

Some of the aquarium plants already mentioned here can also be used in the background, but the following are most common for small tanks.

9 Beckett’s Water Trumpet (Cryptocoryne Beckettii)

Water trumpet is a beautiful green plant that reaches a size of 4-6 inches. It’s sensitive to changes, so environmental or lighting changes can affect the color of leaves. They add beauty to the aquarium because of their delicate reddish leaves, and form a natural part of an aquarium ecosystem.


Placement and maintenance

A mixture of sand, clay, and peat can provide these midground aquarium plants with a perfect settlement to grow. It grows slowly when replanted because it takes time to adjust.

Experienced aquarists don’t recommend placing crypts in new aquariums less than 3 months old, because continuous water changes will harm them.

Non-fatty clay and compound fertilizers will help in the speedy growth of cryptocoryne beckettii.


Tank Selection and Requirements

Water trumpets survive in water with a pH between 5.5-8 and varying temperatures. Due to their small size, they can survive in nano tanks. A 10-gallon tank will be sufficient. It sometimes requires slightly acidic water, and low-medium light level to flourish.



They’re good for creating shelter, shade, security, and food for the fish. Because of their thick leaves, they can withstand goldfish, large cichlids or koi.

Cryptocoryne Beckettii can pair well with anubias microsorium, lobelia cardinalis, and many other similar plants.

10 Wendt’s Water Trumpet (Cryptocoryne wendttii)

Another water trumpet, belonging to the Araceae family with a maximum size of 6 inches. Interestingly, it’s available in both green and brown colors with different textured leaves under varying lighting conditions. They have hardy nature so they grow quickly when moving from one place to another even under low light.

Fish that love to dig and pull aquarium plants won’t be successful in damaging this water trumpet because of its deep roots.


Placement and Maintenance

This water trumpet works as a background aquarium plant in a small aquarium, but in big tanks, they’re used in the foreground or midground.

Growing them in a new environment can result in the melting of their leaves, which is common. After the settling period, this plant will adjust to the new surroundings. Because they create large root systems, gravels are the best substrates for them.


Tank Selection and Requirements

A stable environment helps these grow well. A 10-gallon tank is plenty for this plant. Because of its deep roots, it’s referred to as a “root feeder.” Required water conditions include a temperature between 72-78°F with 6.0-8.0 pH.

Wendt’s water trumpet doesn’t like hard water, so keep an on parameters by using a test kit regularly.

NOTE:   Brackish aquariums are suitable to house them in.



Keeping Wendt’s trumpets with friendly-natured, non-vegetarian fish is best. Betta fish, tetras, small cichlids (ram cichlids) dwarf gouramis, mollies, loaches, freshwater snails, and dwarf shrimp will all work.


Aquatic plants are beneficial for fish tanks physically and chemically. They enhance the beauty of your fish tank and help recreate the fish’s natural environment. Freshwater fish feel at home when aquariums are filled with plants! This goes for small tanks, too.

Plants in the aquarium also work as filters: They remove carbon dioxide and absorb nitrates/ammonia through their leaves from water, which supports the health of both the fish and the aquarium. Plus, they help support the oxygen rate in the aquarium which helps fish breathe.

The benefits go on and on: Aquatic plants can help control algae growth, prevent fish stress by giving shelter and hiding places for shy fish, and provide fry with food.

Our top picks for small plants for aquariums include marimo moss balls, java ferns, and java moss. These are incredibly hardy and can thrive in very small spaces.

Aquarium plants not only add beauty to them but also help provide a natural, stable and healthy environment. While choosing aquarium plants, consider your tank size, placement area, and light availability.




To say that I’m obsessed with all things saltwater is a bit of an understatement. Aquarium Passion has served freshwater and saltwater aquarium hobbyists for over 10 years, and I'm committed to keeping the information accurate and free. My post-bac certification in Sustainability informs my writing about aquarium conservation efforts. When I'm not writing at AP, I'm out in the ocean or researching weird fish.


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