Create an Aquatic Paradise: Top 5 Fish for Planted Tanks

For many fishkeepers and aquarists, plants are not only a way to enhance the beauty of their tanks, they help maintain the equilibrium of life in them. From an aesthetic perspective, they allow the colors of fish and invertebrates to “pop”. From a practical standpoint, they help control water parameters and give the more territorial swimmers a chance to establish their own zones/territories. 

Some organisms exhibit unique behaviors that one wouldn’t normally observe unless they’re comfortable amongst an underwater jungle oasis. Carefully selecting colors and sizes of both fish, invertebrates, and plants can greatly affect the appearance of one's tank. If you wish to provide a safe haven for fish who like to hide, we suggest combining organisms and plants with similar hues. For a “popping” effect, contrasting colors always do the trick (e.g. red shrimp w/ dark green plants). 

Below, we’ve provided a list of fish for plant tanks, as well as plants that pair well with them. 

Siamese Algae Eater (SAE)

Who doesn’t love a fish that can lend a hand in the maintenance of your tank? Among all the organisms that are renowned for their algae-consuming abilities, the Siamese Algae Eater is an overachiever in this regard. They have an insatiable appetite for the green stuff, swimming non-stop throughout the tank and leaving no substrate or plant leaves unturned. 

Despite its rather unassuming appearance, its proven usefulness and active behavior has given many fishkeepers a reason to keep them a staple in the hobby. They can grow to 6” in length, and as such prefer longer aquariums as opposed to shorter, cube-shaped ones. In their native habitats, Siamese Algae Eaters can often be found in slow-moving rivers and streams

Due to this, they prefer planted tanks with lower flow. Ideally, the inclusion of rocks, driftwood, and other décor items gives your fish places to explore for food and hide. While performing your cleaning, avoid disturbing algae-growing surfaces as much as possible. SAEs will eat food that sinks to the bottom of the tank as well as the algae that grows in it.

For our full care guide to the Siamese Algae Eater, click here.

Pygmy Corydoras (C. pygmaeus)

One of the most beloved fish in the hobby, corydoras love to scootch along the substrate and lower areas of their tank, looking for leftovers to eat. However, there is one species in particular suited for exploring multiple levels of planted tanks, and that is none other than the Pygmy Corydoras

While corys of all sizes are generally welcomed by all but the pickiest of fishkeepers, larger corys on a landscaping mission have the potential to accidentally uproot less-established plants or those that have been planted in lightweight aqua soils. This is where smaller corys like the Pygmy come into play, they will diligently clean the substrate and around root structures of plants without disturbing them. Like other corys, these little guys display their best behaviors and thrive in groups of 6 or more.

 Similar to the SAE above, they may not be the flashiest appearing fish but their adorable barbels and classic cory-winking “tic” will appeal to all hobbyists. You can sometimes observe them using larger, broad-leafed plants in addition to mosses as a makeshift resting hammock. Doesn’t get more adorable than that! 

Celestial Pearl Danio (CPD)

This fish has become wildly popular in recent years, particularly in nano aquariums as they stay relatively small (maxing out at 1 inch), and are quite striking to observe. As a relatively active fish, they need some open space to swim, in addition to having places to hide among live plants. 

Celestial Pearl Danio's prefers being kept in groups of 5 or more, as it provides safety in numbers and will allow them to display their natural schooling tendencies. Given that they are danios, they will chase and may occasionally fin-nip amongst themselves but once dominance is established these behaviors quickly subside. 

These fish are naturally found in ponds throughout the mountainous region of Myanmar, as such they prefer a richly planted tank. They are egg layers, providing plants such as java moss can increase spawning and development success.  It’s best to include a variety of plants in your tank setup, both rooted and floating. 

Chili Rasbora

Native to Borneo & Indonesia, the Chili Rasbora inhabits bodies of water where there is less exposure to sunlight due to the amount of surrounding fauna. Given the amount of trees, plant leaves fall into and break down, leaching brown tannins into the water. 

Planted tanks are recommended and should be stocked with both submerged and floating plants to mimic the shadiness of their natural habitat. Their bold, vibrant red bodies contrast amazingly with green plants. To mimic the native habitat of chili rasboras, include various wood and tannin-rich leaf litter in the tank. They are not particularly active and do well in smaller tanks with low flow. Like other similar-sized swimmers, these nanofish prefer to be kept in larger schools to feel safe and fully display their natural behaviors. Thanks to their small stature, they can be easily compatible with a wide variety of tankmates, including other smaller rasboras, tetras, catfish, and invertebrates. 

For our full care guide to the Chili Rasbora, click here.

Scarlet Badis

This micro predator native to densely planted tributaries in India is prized for its vivid red-orange coloration (males). Given their small size (maxing out at 1”), it is important to provide cover and hiding places in their aquarium. The easiest (and most natural way) to achieve this is by housing them with many plants. 

Consider using a dark substrate for your Scarlet Badis tank, as it will provide contrast to bring out this species’ bright colors. Additionally, driftwood/rockwork can be used to create points of interest and additional hiding places for your fish. They also enjoy hiding in caves!

For our full care guide to the Scarlet Badis, click here

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