5 Popular Freshwater Fish for Planted Aquariums
Written by: Tammy (@aquarist_tl) and Team Buce Plant
In aquascaping, adding freshwater fish is the final touch that make your aquascape thrive with life.
Now that you have finished your masterpiece of an aquarium, it's time to add its inhabitants! If you’re on the lookout for popular aquarium fish to add to your planted tanks, here are 5 options that would make great candidates:
1. Ember Tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae)
The Ember Tetra has grown to be an extremely popular fish among aquascapers. They are friendly community fish that are great at schooling (which let's face it, looks amazing!). These nano fish reach a max of about 0.8 inches (~2 cm) and tend to stay at the top or mid level of the aquarium. Because they are smaller fish, it's almost impossible for them to mess with the aquascape they’re in because they are too small to disturb the substrate if they decide to scavenge for any food in it.
What makes the Ember Tetra such a strong candidate to add into a planted tank is its color. Once these fish are comfortable in their environment, they will fire up and become a vibrant red. This contrasts very nicely against the green of the aquatic plants. The Ember Tetra is definitely one of the go-to fish for aquascapers.
2. Betta Fish (Betta splendens)
Bettas are an excellent choice for nano tanks. They usually average out at 2.5 - 3 inches once they’re full grown and are quite vibrantly colored. These beautiful fish deserve a space that's larger and more interactive than the small containers you may buy them in. The UNS 30A or the UNS 5N would make exceptional tanks for bettas!
Since they are considered quite aggressive, most bettas (especially males) are kept alone in fear of them attacking any other inhabitants that are also in their aquariums. Be careful with adding a betta to a shrimp tank, because the betta might consider the shrimp a nice snack! As a solo fish, this makes them much more personal to their owners and are often even named. So, if you’re looking for a water pet, consider getting a betta!
Betta fish benefit from being in a planted tank. These fish are very interactive and there have actually been cases where bettas become so bored that they develop bad habits such as tail-biting. When these fish are kept in aquascaped tanks, they are surrounded with plants and hardscape to interact with. For example, they can swim through driftwood or search for food that may have dropped in-between plants. A great plant addition for a betta tank is Anubias! It’s broad leaves provide a nice resting spot for bettas to relax on.
- If you’d like to read more about why bettas and planted tanks go well together, feel free to check out Keeping Bettas: Why You Need A Planted Tank!
3. Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi)
Neon Tetras are probably one of the most popular fish in the freshwater aquarium hobby. Their bright color combination of blue and red makes them stand out from other fish, making them extremely popular for newcomers to the fishkeeping hobby. With a proper lighting setup that usually goes hand-in-hand with a planted tank, their colors should pop even more.
These tetras stay small, maxing out at about 1.5 inches. Although they are small fish, a large group of Neons will accentuate any aquarium, and grab the attention of anyone around the tank. The fish themselves will also be more comfortable in groups of at least 6. Neon Tetras are peaceful and will get along with other fish in the aquarium. They’re also considered beginner-friendly and are usually budget-friendly, so they’re highly recommended for those new to the hobby.
4. Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)
A group of Cardinal Tetras always make a great addition to a planted aquarium! They look similar to Neon Tetras, but the red and blue coloring shows throughout their bodies, and their colors appear even more vibrant. They are also a bit larger than Neons, and can grow up to 2 inches long. Cardinals are excellent schooling fish and should be kept in groups of at least 6.
Planted tanks would make ideal homes for Cardinal Tetras because most of them are wild-caught from the Amazon where the water is soft and acidic. Planted-tank substrates like Controsoil help keep the pH of alkaline water below 7, making the water parameters more similar to what they’re accustomed to. The aquarium plants and hardscape should also put these fish more at ease since they provide spots for the fish to hide in when scared.
5. Oto Cat (Otocinclus)
Otos are tiny catfish that are popular for their cleaning abilities. These algae-eaters will take care of any diatom algae you have growing on leaves of plants, rocks, or the sides of the tank. If you'd like to learn more about algae eaters, check out the Top 5 Algae Eaters for a Planted Aquarium. It’s important to remember that they also should be provided actual sustenance for a proper diet and not just rely on algae as their only food source.
These cute little sucker-fish reach a max of 1.5 - 2 inches. They are docile and will do well in community tanks. Otos can be skittish, so keep them in groups of at least 4 and make sure there are areas where they can safely rest in. They are a bit sensitive to fluctuating parameters, so it’s recommended to only add them when your tank is fully established/cycled and routinely maintained.
Did your favorite fish make the list? Let us know in the comments below! If not, leave a comment telling us what fish is your favorite and why it's great for planted tanks. We'd love to hear from you.
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