Best Plants for a Low-Tech Scape
Written by: Chris (@shrimpery)
Low tech, high tech- what is all this technology (or lack thereof) that aquarium people keep talking about? In short, it all comes down to CO2. “High tech” aquascapes inject pressurized CO2 into the water column, allowing plants to grow more quickly; the plants use the abundant CO2 to build their tissue, much like terrestrial plants do with ambient air. When forgoing CO2, most low tech enthusiasts also employ more moderate lighting and less additional fertilizer when compared to a high tech scape.
Despite its many benefits, CO2 injection is not a mandatory requirement for a beautiful aquascape. In fact, most people can achieve professional-looking results in a low tech setting. The secret to doing so is to utilize the right plant varieties, as I will explain below.
Plants to Avoid
Let’s start with the plants that will often struggle unless CO2 is present. For a low tech tank, you may want to avoid Eriocaulon, Fissidens, Hemianthus callitrichoides 'Cuba,’ Tonina, and certain Rotala varieties. These plants are finicky at baseline and growing them in a high tech tank is difficult enough for most people- no need to make it worse by depriving them of CO2! With that said, anything is possible, and I am sure that there are aquarists out there who would scoff at what I just wrote.
Best Low-Tech Plants
What plants will thrive in a tank without CO2? Many different types, but some more so than others. In my experience, Hemianthus micranthemoides (pearlweed) will grow quickly and form dense bushes in a low tech tank, especially with proper trimming and replanting. It’s extremely versatile in that it can be used as a stem plant, a mid-ground plant, and even a foreground plant (again, with proper trimming).
Another low tech staple that I routinely utilize is Vesicularia montagnei, also called ‘Christmas moss.’ While some mosses may be slightly more aggressive than this one, it looks beautiful and has a tight, compact growing habit, even in a low tech tank.
Oddly enough, Utricularia graminifolia is another low tech go-to for me, despite its fearsome reputation as a ‘difficult’ plant. In reality, it just seems to prefer stable, acidic, soft water parameters- conditions that can easily be achieved in a low tech tank. Additionally, most varieties of Ludwigia or Rotala rotundifolia also do extremely well in a low tech aquascape, although they are more frequently associated with high tech setups.
Finally, for a low tech carpet, the old go-to of Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’ performs just as well in a low tech tank as in a high tech tank; it just grows much slowly (as low tech plants are generally wont to do). Interestingly, its leaves are often much smaller and darker in a low tech tank than in a high tech tank, making it even more attractive than usual. Marsilea species are another great choice for carpeting plants.
Beyond my own idiosyncratic suggestions, there are many plants that are well known to thrive in low tech conditions. Many epiphytes, such as Java fern and Anubias, will thrive in low tech tanks. Amazon swords, Vallisneria, and Cryptocoryne species are also fantastic choices for low tech tanks. If you’d like to go even more old-school, you can go with water sprite, hornwort, and floaters such as water lettuce and red root floaters (these plants are much more aggressive).
Do not limit yourself to a narrow subset of ‘easy’ plants- feel free to experiment! For optimal results, I would suggest utilizing a core lineup of more traditional low tech plants (crypts, Java ferns, mosses) while mixing in some of your favorite “aquascaping plants,” perhaps those that I mentioned earlier in this article. With thoughtful trimming and replanting, it is very possible to achieve the same bushy, lush look you see in the high tech scapes on yourIG feed.