Choosing Aquarium Plants

Real plants vs fake plants. It’s one of the biggest debates in the fishkeeping hobby. Want to know what we think on the matter? Our aquarium plant guide will break down the pros and cons of both choices as well as give you some recommendations of suitable plants for your aquarium.

Real Plants Vs Fake Plants: Maintenance

Some people would argue that artificial aquarium plants require no maintenance while retaining their bright green (or pink, blue, etc.) colour. They don’t need fertilizers, carbon dioxide supplementation, pruning, etc.

However, take note that under certain circumstances, you might actually need to get your hands wet more frequently when you go for artificial plants. This is because artificial plants do not absorb nutrients in the water. When there’s nothing to absorb nutrients in the water, unsightly brown algae starts to cover the leaves, glass, and pretty much everything that receives light.

Real plants, as mentioned before, may require a bit more effort to thrive, but there are some low maintenance plants that just require fish poop and regular tank lights to flourish. Here are some of the most common low maintenance beginner plants you may want to try:

Java Moss

Java Moss is one of the most common plants in the home aquaria. It basically survives aquariums with the worst kind of lighting and will grow like a weed in ideal conditions. If you have fry or shrimp in your tank, you’re going to want to get one of these.

Java Moss aquascaping

Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf Baby Tears are considered carpeting plants, which means that if you put them in your substrate, they’re going to grow like grass and spread like a carpet. As a bonus, they form beautiful tiny bubbles on their leaves when they produce oxygen.

Dwarf Baby Tears
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Like Java Moss, Anubias Nana is almost impossible to kill. Anubias Nana has curved stems and semi-round leaves and looks great in tanks with plenty of stone structures.

Anubias aquascaping
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Duckweed is quite common in ponds but is quickly also becoming popular in aquariums. Duckweed isn’t particularly pretty to look at, but they do multiply fast and absorb a lot of waste in the water. If you have quite a lot of fish in your aquarium and are looking for something to absorb their wastes, you can’t go wrong with duckweed.

Duckweed in aquarium

If you choose to keep any of the beginner plants listed above, you may actually end up doing less maintenance chores as compared to having artificial plants. However, if you were to stick with high maintenance plants (often the ones with purple or red leaves), you’re going to have to keep an eye on carbon dioxide levels, as well as dose fertilizers and trim them regularly.

Verdict: low maintenance wins in terms of ease and care, with artificial plants coming in second.

Real Vs Fake Aquarium Plants: Cost

Artificial plants are most likely going to be more expensive than real plants, simply because artificial plants are manufactured using complex machinery while real plants only need sunlight and dirty water.

However, should you choose to take care of plants that have violet or red leaves, then you’re going to need stronger lighting (high initial cost but low maintenance cost for LEDs, high maintenance cost but relatively low initial cost for T5 and metal halide lighting), plant supplements and fertilizers, and possibly even a carbon dioxide canister.

This puts real plants in the lead when it comes to cost. If, however, you’re just planning to add a few low maintenance plants, then you really just need fish poop and regular tank lights, which then puts artificial plants in the lead.

Verdict: Low maintenance plants win in terms of cost-effectiveness, with artificial plants coming in second.

Pros and Cons of Real Plants

  • Makes aquarium look more natural
  • Provides oxygen for fish and invertebrates
  • Acts as natural filters
  • Provides natural food for fish and shrimp
  • Grows and multiplies
  • Provides shelter for small fish and shrimps
  •  Can be unsightly when not trimmed properly
  • Produces carbon dioxide when lights are off (bad if you don’t have aerators or filters)
  • Can bring diseases and parasites when obtained from an infested tank
  • Cannot tolerate certain medications like methylene blue.
  • Pollutes the water when leaves and stems die and are left inside the tank

Pros and Cons of Artficial Plants

  • Comes in a variety of colours
  • Don’t need special equipment or substrate
  • You can be sure that no parasites and other unwanted creatures are hitch-hiking
  • No need to remove when medicating the whole tank (certain medications can stain these plants, though)
  • Can injure fish if the texture is too rough
  • More realistic plants are expensive
  • Will need other methods to pin it down since it won’t produce roots

So What Is Our Final Verdict?

As you can see, there really is no clear winner because in the end, the best type of plant for your tank is really one that has care requirements, cost, pros, and cons that work best for your maintenance schedule and aesthetic preference.

If you love the natural look, go for real plants. If you love the natural look but hate the pruning and complicated dosing, go for low maintenance real plants. If you don’t really care about being realistic and you don’t mind scraping algae off your tank once in a while, go with plastic plants.


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