If you have ever tried to buy live aquatic plants online, it can be a bit overwhelming when looking at all the different species, care requirements, and difficulty levels. At Aquarium Co-Op, we strive to provide a curated selection of the easiest, hardiest plants in the hobby, but sometimes it can be nice to just talk to someone at the store and get a few personal recommendations. That’s why we interviewed our CEO Cory McElroy to find out what his current favorite plants are that he thinks everyone should try.
1. Dwarf Sagittaria
One of Cory’s favorite plants has always been vallisneria, but because it can grow up to 4-6 feet (1-2 m) long, it is more suitable for larger tanks. For smaller setups, dwarf sagittaria is another grass-like aquarium plant that tends to stay between 3 inches (8 cm) in high lighting and 18 inches (45 cm) in low lighting. Even if you only buy one plant, it can quickly reproduce using a string of underground runners that will fill in the bottom of your aquarium. Dwarf sagittaria enjoys feeding from its roots, so make sure to provide it with nutrient-rich planted tank substrate or Easy Root Tabs as fertilizer.
Usually dwarf sagittaria is grown emersed (with its leaves out of water) at plant farms, so the plant you order may have round, wide leaves that don’t look like the website pictures. Not to worry – just remove the plant from the plastic pot and plant the roots in the substrate, making sure not to cover the base of the plant’s leaves. Soon enough, the long, emersed leaves will melt back and then submersed (or underwater) leaves that are skinnier and shorter will sprout in their place. Another way to plant dwarf sagittaria is to place the whole plastic basket inside of an Easy Planter decoration and stick a root tab inside the rock wool. The decoration protects the plant from being uprooted by fish so that it can start growing new leaves and carpeting the ground with little, grassy tufts.
2. Dwarf Aquarium Lily
Looking for an easy-to-grow, centerpiece plant to wow everyone who visits your home? The dwarf aquarium lily is a fast-growing bulb plant with beautiful, red leaves and lily pads that form up top. It thrives even in low light conditions and is often used as a background plant to cover the rear tank wall with lush foliage.
If you order your lily from Aquarium Co-Op, you will receive a bulb covered in peat moss. Rinse off the loose peat moss and gently place the bulb on top of the ground. The bulb may float at first, so let it soak in the water until it eventually sinks. Within one to three weeks, a cluster of shoots should sprout from the bulb, forming new leaves and roots that will anchor the bulb to the ground. (If it doesn’t, flip the bulb over in case it is upside-down.) Once the plant becomes large and firmly rooted, make sure to provide plenty of Easy Root tabs or nutrient-rich substrate to keep the lily well-fed. For detailed instructions, read our full care sheet on dwarf aquarium lilies.
3. Cryptocoryne wendtii
The Cryptocoryne genus (or “crypt” for short) is very popular because of its low light requirements, as well as its slow and steady growth that doesn’t require much pruning. Crypt wendtii is one of our best-selling species because of the crinkly leaves and many color variations, including reddish-brown, green, and even pink. It typically reaches 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) in height, so many people use it as a midground plant, depending on the size of the aquarium. Bury the roots while leaving the crown (or base of the leaves) above the ground. Feed it root tabs or enriched substrate to encourage healthy growth, and eventually your crypt may start producing new plantlets from its root base. If your crypt starts melting away, read our article on crypt melt for more help.
4. Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’
This spring green-colored plant gets its variety name from the long, wispy leaves that grow from each node on the stem, resembling an octopus with its legs waving in the water. While the plant can handle low light conditions, the uppermost leaves can produce a stunning purple color in higher lighting. As with most stem plants, it grows very tall and very quickly, making it the perfect background plant.
To plant your Pogostemon stellatus, remove the stems from the pot of rock wool and insert them as deeply as possible into the substrate to prevent them from getting uprooted. Dose the water with Easy Green all-in-one liquid fertilizer to provide all the nutrients they need to grow well. Once the tips of the stems reach the water surface, cut off the top 6 inches (15 cm) or more and propagate them by replanting the trimmings in the substrate. Once you have cultivated a dense forest of Pogostemon stellatus, they become the perfect hiding place for nano fish and baby fry.
5. Anubias nangi
Anubias plants are well-known in the aquarium hobby, but Anubias nangi is a newer addition to the family that features elongated, pointy leaves. As a cross between the smaller A. barteri ‘nana’ and larger A. gilletii, this hybrid typically grows between 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) tall and seems to be quite hardy, even compared to other Anubias species.
To plant your new anubias, either attach it to driftwood or rock using super glue gel or leave it in the plastic basket to place inside an Easy Planter decoration. Like most anubias, A. nangi is a great low light, slow-growing plant that prefers to consume liquid fertilizers such as Easy Green. A healthy anubias plant has a rhizome (or thick horizontal stem) that grows sideways, sprouting bright green leaves that eventually turn a deeper green color over time. If you have a smaller aquarium and do not want it to get overgrown too quickly, you can’t go wrong with A. nangi.
To get started with your first (or 20th) planted aquarium, browse our selection of live aquarium plants. You can check out the reviews for each species and see real-life pictures submitted by our customers. Plus, if your plants do not arrive in good condition because of shipping reasons, contact us and we’ll make sure to take care of you.