High-Tech Planted Aquarium: Selecting the Right Aquatic Plants
Most people (correctly) focus on hardscape selection when they set up a new tank, but when it comes time to add plants, the selection process is often more fraught. For a new aquarist or even a veteran, planting a new scape can be daunting due to the sheer number of plant varieties to choose from. I’ve previously done a blog entry about trimming high tech stem plants, but I thought it might be helpful to provide a guide on how to choose the right plants for different portions of a high tech aquascape.
Some general points to emphasize outright:
- Most high tech (in this context, ‘high tech’ usually means with added CO2, intense light and robust fertilizer) plants can survive in a low tech tank (a normal aquarium without added CO2). Indeed, some of the most vibrant plants that we think of as high tech, such as Rotala colorata or Micranthemum “Monte Carlo” will grow just fine without CO2 or bright light- they just won’t grow as quickly, or as bushy. In the case of Rotala colorata, the colors may not be as vibrant. My point is that a lack of CO2 should not dissuade you from trying new plant varieties- just be aware that the addition of CO2 could help bring out their full potential.
- PLANT HEAVY RIGHT FROM THE START. Many people add a few sparse plants to their new scape with the expectation that the plants will spread and fill out the remainder of the tank. In fact, this is a perfect recipe for an algae bloom and stringy looking plants. Without adequate plant mass, excess nutrients will build up and provide fuel for algae. It’s much better to cover nearly every square inch of unoccupied real estate in the tank with some sort of planting, and trim from there as needed.
When it comes to selecting plants, it’s helpful to group them by leaf size and total plant height. Fine leafed, low growing plants are great for foreground carpets; my personal go-to is Micranthemum “Monte Carlo,” which is a fast grower under high tech conditions but will form a carpet with or without CO2. Another favorite is dwarf hairgrass, Eleocharis parvula.
Some popular carpeting plants I don’t recommend for beginners (or those who don’t want extra fuss) are HC “Cuba,” which is essentially a much more finicky, tiny-leafed “Monte Carlo,” and the extremely slow growing Glossostigma elatinoides. The former is very sensitive to water parameter fluctuations, which can potentially lead to dead patches; the latter can make the front portion of a new tank prone to diatoms and other algae due to lack of fast growth.
Some great choices for the midground portion are Cryptocoryne species, which are somewhat slower growing root feeders, and alternanthera species, which have impressive, relatively large red leaves under bright light. Pearl weed (Hemianthus micranthemoides) is another great midground plant if trimmed properly. With proper encouragement and good light, it can form a dense bush. If driftwood and/or rocks are being used in the foreground, epiphytic plants are always a good choice. Personal favorites include Christmas moss, Hygrophila pinnatifida, and good old Java fern (Microsorum pteropus). Bucephalandra species are also another excellent and beautiful choice for hardscape areas.
The background of the tank contains my favorite plant category- high tech stem plants. My favorites include Rotala rotundifolia “colorata,” Rotala macrandra, Rotala rotundifolia "Green," and Ludwigia sp. “Super red mini.” Under bright light, Ammannia pedicellata will import interesting, rich yellow tones to an aquascape.The key thing with the background plants is to plant them densely, taking up a large portion of the tank’s real estate in order to create a dense backdrop. As I often remind people, don’t be afraid to trim the stem plants frequently to encourage branching.
I hope that this blurb has helped provide a bit more direction when it comes to plant selection. Buceplant has a massive collection of plants to choose from. Just remember to plant dense right from the start, and don’t be afraid to mix things up if you get bored with your scape!