Go Green – Add Floating Aquarium Plants to that tank

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A while back I was looking at my aquarium and realized it looked a bit bare. Sure, I had the fish and a few plants, but the tank didn’t have that natural look. I decided that adding floating plants would help. 

I did some research and found there are loads of choices out there. I thought I’d share my findings so you don’t have to work so hard.

My top five recommended floating aquarium plants are:

Why Use Floating Plants in Your Aquarium?

Cherry Shrimp Hiding in Floating Aquarium Plants

Floating plants look great as they give the surface of your tank extra interest. They also provide areas of light and shade within the tank and add to the overall look of an aquarium. They’re particularly good for natural-looking tanks that are designed to feel like ponds or lakes.

As I discussed in my previous blog, plants play an important part in the nitrogen cycle in aquariums. They use the ammonia and nitrate from fish waste and uneaten food to grow. This reduces the likelihood of problems for your fish due to excess chemicals. It also reduces the likelihood that algae will grow in your aquarium, keeping the glass sparkling clean.

Unlike plants grown on a substrate (ie those fully underwater), floating aquarium plants are able to capture carbon dioxide from the air and get the most light of all aquarium plant species. As a result, they grow faster, taking in even more nutrients than their cousins on the tank floor. 

Floating plans can also stop fish from jumping out of your aquarium, which is useful if you have fast-moving fish and no lid. There’s nothing worse than finding one of your fish on the floor because they were chased.

All plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. In a fish tank, this means plants intake the carbon dioxide produced by fish and replace it with oxygen. As you can imagine, this results in healthier fish.

The benefits don’t stop there. Floating plants offer fish an extra source of food. I’ve found that’s really important when I go away for a couple of days and my kids forget to feed them! They also provide perfect hiding places for shy fish or babies so they don’t get attacked by the bigger tank inhabitants. 

My Top Six Best Floating Aquarium Plants 

Frogbit

Frogbit has broad, smooth, and densely packed leaves. It looks a bit like watercress and is ideal when you need quick coverage as it grows really fast. The long roots that drop from the plant can add interest to the lower levels of your aquarium and they offer hiding spaces for small fish. 

Frogbit sucks up the extra nutrients from your aquarium, making sure algae doesn’t take over. It doesn’t need extra nutrients from fertilizer.

It’s easy for a beginner to grow and doesn’t need much light. However, you need to be careful as the roots can get tangled in your filter. To prevent this, try tying the plant to one side of the tank and cutting it back if it spreads too far.

The dense leaves mean that frogbit can take a lot of light from the lower parts of the aquarium, so it’s not ideal when you have fish or lower plants that need a lot of light.

If you do choose frogbit, make sure the tops of the leaves are kept dry to prevent rot. I’ve also found that aquatic snails will munch on the leaves if the plants get too close to the edge of the tank.

There’s bad news if you live in California: frogbit is illegal in this state.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.0–7.5 
  • Water temperature: 64–84 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Growth rate: Moderate to fast

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Red Root Floater

This rare plant has a unique look with red roots (perhaps unsurprising given the name) and green leaves. It also produces tiny yellow flowers, making it perfect for aquarists after a splash of color or three!

It’s a fast-growing plant and can take over quickly, so you have to watch it. However, red root is quite picky with the nutrient balance it needs. As such, I wouldn’t recommend this plant for beginners.

Red plants have less chlorophyll than other plants and need more light in order to grow. For this reason, the red root floater needs an intense light source. Attempting to grow it in dim conditions will not result in success.

This plant likes calm water and doesn’t do well if your filter pump is running really fast. They also prefer moderate temperatures between 32 to 80 Fahrenheit.

I’ve heard that some people have had red root floater plants sold to them with worms attached. It’s really important to remove these if you spot them. They’re not great for your fish.

  • Care level: Medium
  • pH: 6.8–7.2 
  • Water temperature: 70–82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Growth rate: Moderate to fast

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Water Wisteria

In contrast to the red root floater, water wisteria is good for aquariums with low light. These plants are easy to maintain and look great. 

One consideration is that water wisteria is are quite sensitive to the conditions it’s grown in. If your water is cold, the leaves won’t grow very big. 

Unlike the other plants on this list, your wisteria can be both planted and left floating, giving you choice. Those planted in the substrate will tend to grow better than plants left unattached. They’re not a great choice for tanks with goldfish, who consider the plant a tasty snack. Left to their own devices, you won’t have much left after a couple of days! 

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.8–7.2 
  • Water temperature: 70–82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Growth rate: Fast

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Dwarf Water Lettuce

Dwarf water lettuce is another great looking plant. The leaves grow in a rose shape and jut just above the water’s surface, meaning even the area above the water line is interesting. It has even longer roots than frogbit and allows even more hiding spaces for small fish. 

Be careful with children around this plant. It may be called lettuce, but it’s poisonous.

It’s very fast-growing, producing new plants using runners that come from the side of the plant. Because of this, you need to be careful not to let it grow too much, or you’ll lose all light underneath. The dead leaves can also be unsightly, so they need to be removed regularly. 

One problem with dwarf water lettuce is that it can drift around and end up in your filter system, you may need to tie it in place to prevent this from happening. It can also get quite big if the conditions are right. If your tank is small, or your lights are too close to the surface, you may end up with problems. 

Water lettuce also grows well in outdoor ponds too. If you’re looking for a plant for outdoors as well as your aquarium, it’s a good choice.

  • Care level: Moderate
  • pH: 6.5–7.1 
  • Water temperature: 70–80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Growth rate: Fast

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Duckweed

You’ve probably seen duckweed in the wild. It’s that plant that coats the top of ponds so they look like they’re covered in grass. It’s really difficult to get rid of once it takes hold as the smallest bit can reproduce really quickly. 

As the plant grows by budding, duckweed can grow so fast it actually starts to grow out of the tank. Next thing you know you can’t see your fish! Choose duckweed if you keep hungry fish.

It does have some redeeming features. It grows well in low-light conditions—if you don’t have good lighting but want a solid plant covering for your tank, duckweed works well.

It will take all the nitrates and reduce the number of times you have to change the water. It’s a great source of food, particularly for goldfish. The roots aren’t too long and won’t take over the lower parts of your aquarium.

As long as you’re careful to remove excess regularly, and dispose of it properly, don’t discount duckweed, but be wary of its downsides.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5–7.5 
  • Water temperature: 50–90 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Growth rate: Very fast

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Water Spangles (Salvinia Minima)

Some fish tanks are set up with strong lights but contain fish that don’t like too much light, such as betas. Water spangles are a good choice in this case. 

These floating plants look similar to other floaters, with small and rounded green leaves covered in tiny hairs. 

Water spangles, (Salvinia) is easy to care for. The plant needs strong light above, but it traps the light creating a nice shady area below for sheltering fish. This quality means it’s particularly useful in breeding tanks.

Salvinia comes in a couple of varieties. One, Salvinia collada, is a great plant if you’re looking for slower growth. Others, like Salvinia minima, can be very fast-growing. Unfortunately, too many pet stores and garden centers mislabel plants so if you’re buying Salvinia, make sure you get the version you want.

These flowerless plants look pretty and do well in calmer waters. They don’t have very long roots (they’re actually a type of fern) and may not be the best choice if you’re looking for a floating plant your baby fish can hide amongst.

Some Salvinia species are considered invasive. If you do remove any parts of the plant from your aquarium, dispose of it carefully.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.0–7.5 
  • Water temperature: 70–80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Growth rate: Fast

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Which is the best?

My personal favorite is frogbit, it’s forgiving of the beginner aquarist, needs no additional nutrients, and looks great in the tank. Just remember to keep its growth under control so your rooted plants and fish get some sunlight.

The Downsides of Floating Plants

There are a few things you need to be wary of, though. Floating plants can grow really fast simply because they photosynthesize faster than other aquarium plants. A knock-on effect is that they may start to steal nutrients from the plants underneath. They can also end up taking most of the light in an aquarium, which isn’t great for the fish or plants. 

If your surface is covered, then sometimes it becomes harder for oxygen to get into the water, so you may end up needing an air stone to help your fish to breathe. 

There are several very invasive floating plant species. If you need to take any out, please be careful with where you put the excess plants. If they end up in local waterways, they can grow out of control. 

What to Consider When Choosing Plants for Your Aquarium

When buying floating plants for your aquarium, you need to consider:

  • How quickly they grow and spread
  • The temperature they survive best in
  • How much light they need
  • How much light they let through
  • What nutrients are required

If your aquarium filters push water down under the surface, steer clear of any plants that can be pushed along with the water’s flow. They tend to get stuck among the lower plants and rot

Looking After Floating Plants

Some floating aquarium plants require fertilizer or other added nutrients. Others do not and will thrive with just the natural nutrients that cycle in a well-stocked fish tank. 

When you buy plants, check them carefully for attached worms, snails, bugs, or parts of other plants. 

When plants arrive, pick off any dead leaves or gunky, moldy parts. Decaying plant matter can clog up your filter and add the wrong type of nutrients to your tank. Yellowing leaves sometimes can mean that the plant is dying, but it may mean that the plant simply hasn’t had enough light or the right nutrients. 

Be Responsible With Water Plants

If you have too much of any type of water plant, please don’t put any in natural waterways. There are many cases of invasive species taking over and ruining natural ecosystems. In some places, releasing non-native species into the wild may even be illegal

Give excess plants to friends, burn them, or throw the plants in the trash. Don’t put them in ponds or into the sewer system.

Final Thoughts

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my favorite floating aquarium plants, and that you’ll enjoy planting them even more. 

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