Are Live Plants Good For Aquarium Fish?

Are live plants good for aquarium fish? Spoiler: yes. Depending on how curious you are as to why they’re good for your fish, you might be able to stop reading here! Although, in this article’s defense, it’s a quick, easy, and informative read so I implore you to stick it out. Also, the more you understand about why live plants are good for your aquarium fish, the better able you’ll be to get the most out of them.

Nasty Nitrogen, Plants EAT IT!

First and foremost—the absolute most important thing to know—plants use nitrogen when they grow!

water lettuce grows fast and is good for aquarium fish
Water lettuce grows really fast and eats up lots of nitrogen in the process. Keep in mind though, it needs space at the top of the water to grow. Grab it here on Amazon (affiliate link).

This is important because your fish add nitrogen compounds to your aquarium’s water (i.e. ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate). Ammonia and nitrite are VERY bad for your fish, whereas nitrate is less dangerous but still undesirable. Water changes are necessary to remove nitrogen compounds from your aquarium; but live plant growth can mitigate and, in some extreme cases, can even eliminate ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate.

Okay, I’m Sold On Live Plants! But, Are There Other Benefits?

Helping to maintain water quality is definitely the most important reason to keep live plants in your aquarium. However, there are other benefits worth considering.

Plants Give Your Fish A Sanctuary

You’ll often hear how important it is to give fish places to hide. And while that need isn’t universally accepted; i.e. a lot of people keep their fish in bare tanks. Also, some fish like cover, whereas others prefer open water to swim in. Simply put, it’s not cut and dry.

hornwort provides shelter and is good for aquarium fish
Hornwort grows fast and eats a lot of nitrogen. It’s also a dense plant, that gives nervous fish a feeling of security. Grab it on Amazon here (affiliate link).

Regardless, a lot of fish will be more confident with places to hide. Plants can be that place to hide. Remember, just because a fish has a place to hide, doesn’t mean it will hide. Conversely, the opposite is often true! This is because when a fish feels like it has a place to flee to if threatened, it is much more likely to come out and swim freely know that it can make it to the plant cover.

So, providing a sanctuary for your fish is another positive live plants offer in your aquarium.

Are Live Plants EVER Bad For My Fish?

Hmphf! Are aquarium plants ever bad for your fish? Well, not really. Or, well, almost never! I say that because there are some rare circumstances where plants might actually do some damage.

The main problem I can think of would be floating plants, because they tend to grow fast and can quickly cover the surface of the aquarium. If the surface is entirely blocked it can mean certain labyrinth fish (e.g. gourami, betta, paradise fish) can’t get to the surface to gulp air.

duckweed grows fast and can clog your filter
Duckweed grows fast and absorbs nitrogen fast, but it can clog filters and block up the surface of your water. Grab it on Amazon here (affiliate link).

Another issue can occur with fancy goldfish. This is because they aren’t the best swimmers and can sometimes get tangled up in dense plant growth. However, this will only be a temporary problem as goldfish will quickly devour most plants in your fish tank.

The last issue isn’t necessarily the end of the world, as it is more of an aesthetic issue! Sometimes you can’t get rid of a plant. The main culprit for this is duckweed, because once it starts growing and multiplying it’ll never stop. Which can be a problem because duckweed can clog the surface of your water. But that isn’t all, it can also find its way into your filters, clogging any mechanisms.

Don’t worry though, because these problems are only minor and, honestly,

What Live Plants Should I Add?

It really depends. First of all, what fish are you keeping or planning to keep? Because, if you keep fish that like to eat plants then your options will be severely restricted. For example, goldfish will eat just about anything. But, they won’t eat anubias or java fern. So, if you have a goldfish tank, they might be your best option.

goldfish won't eat anubias
Goldfish don’t like the taste of anubias and usually won’t eat it! Grab it from Amazon here (affiliate link).

If you have fish that don’t spend a lot of time nibbling on the foliage, then your options are much broader.

But, even then, you have another question you’ll need to answer: are you growing plants mainly for aesthetics, health benefits, or a combination of both?

Aquascaping and growing aquatic plants is a huge niche within the aquarium hobby, and there are so many species to pick from. So, if you’re aiming for a beautiful planted tank, then your plant choices will be based on appearance more than anything else.

elodea grows fast so is good for aquarium fish
Elodea grows super fast! Worth a try to help reduce nitrates in your aquarium. Grab it on Amazon here (affiliate link).

However, if you’re growing plants for the health of your fish or are just growing them casually then your options are more limited. Without proper lighting, CO2, and fertilization, you might struggle to grow certain species.

Furthermore, if your main objective is to use plants to absorb nitrogen from your water, then you should go for fast growing plants as they will typically use up more nitrogen in a shorter amount of time compared to slow growing plants.

Plant Recommendations – Fast Growing (Affiliate Links)
Plant Recommendations – Herbivore Resistant (Affiliate Links)

I have a complete article covering plants for sale on Amazon. Check it out here.

Further Reading