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Low- To Medium-Light Aquarium Plants
low and medium light aquarium plants

Low- to Medium-Light Aquarium Plants

Few things can enhance the ambiance of your living space quite like an aquarium. They’re a beautiful backdrop to your home décor—the tranquil lighting and hypnotic movement of aquatic life can help lower your stress levels and may even aid in sleep.

Building your aquarium can also be a great hobby, as watching your habitat grow and flourish is very rewarding. For beginners, the key is to start with aquatic life that is easier to care for. Medium- or low-light aquarium plants can be a great choice if you’re a novice or simply want a more low-maintenance setup. Here’s your guide on how to choose and care for low- to medium-light aquarium plants for your habitat.


Aquarium plants requiring low or medium light come in various sizes and shapes. Most are green, though some plants like the dwarf rotala may develop red tones in medium to high light.

There are many different plant styles to fit the varying needs of aquascaping enthusiasts. Most moss species can be good low-light aquarium plant options for habitats containing fish and shrimp. It offers a great place for many aquatic pets to hide and feel secure, grows a biofilm that can make a great source of food for your shrimp and has a unique appearance while wafting under the currents of your aquarium water.

Some crypts can be good medium-light aquarium plants for the bottom of your habitat. Certain species come in various colors—and even though some may take a bit to adjust to a new habitat, they can make a beautiful addition once they’re settled.

There are also ferns, mosses and grasses that can give your habitat a natural look and thrive in lower lighting. When shopping for aquatic plants, make sure to research how much care they require and how compatible their needs are with those of your other aquatic pets and plants. It’s okay if you don’t have a lot of free time to dedicate to your new hobby—some of the best low-light aquarium plants don’t require a ton of maintenance.

Plant care

Your plant’s maintenance willvary depending on the species and on what part of the low-to-medium-light spectrum they fall. Low-light plants tend to grow slower than medium-light aquarium plants and typically require less trimming. However, even slow-growing species will need to be pruned from time to time.

While some plants—like Java ferns or Amazon Swords—prefer either low or medium light, there are some hardy low- to medium-light aquarium plants that can thrive anywhere along the spectrum. For example, Marimo moss balls typically require little care and will thrive in low-light environments.

Aside from the beauty they bring to your habitat, many aquarium plants absorb nitrates from the waste your fish produce and add oxygen to the enclosure. Having both fish and plants can be a great way to balance out your ecosystem—as long as your fish refrain from munching on them. Also be aware that some low-light aquarium plants may need additional aquarium plant fertilizers and supplements to flourish.

Aquarium requirements

LED lights are a great option for your aquarium—but many kinds of can work for medium- and low-light aquatic plants. You may want to start with a larger aquarium, such as a 20-gallon, if you’re a beginner. Many people assume smaller aquariums are easier to maintain. However, a smaller ecosystem leaves less room for harmful nitrates and algae to dissipate—which means you’ll have to clean it more often.

Many aquatic plants also require substrate. Soil substrates provide nutrients to help your plants grow but can also cloudy your water when disturbed. Planted aquarium substrates, sand and gravel can be good choices, but some plants may do better with different grain sizes, depending on their root structure.

Some medium- and low-light, easy aquarium plants do better with a large and loose substrate that allows their roots to spread easily, while others need a substrate that can help them stay in place. Anubias can even be wrapped around logs when propagated and do not need substrate at all. At Petco, we sell a variety of aquarium plant substrates and tools that can suit your plants’ varied needs.

How to plant them

The method used to introduce low- to medium-light aquarium plants into their new home depends on the species. Like the aforementioned Anubias, some plants don’t need to be buried in the substrate. You can use thread to tie them down to aquarium décors like rocks or wood, and eventually the roots will grow around whatever it is attached to. Many mosses and some bulb plants can just be placed at the bottom of the aquarium.

However, most aquatic plants need to be planted into the substrate. When planning the layout of your aquarium, it may be best to put the taller plants—like ferns—in the back so they don’t obstruct the view of your habitat.


If you have pet fish, low-light aquarium plants may not require additional carbon dioxide or even fertilizers to survive, as your fish may produce enough for your plants. As the plants grow, they may need more nutrients to thrive. Because maintenance and care will vary, it’s important to research your plants’ individual needs.

One maintenance task common with many of the best medium-light aquarium plants is pruning. Since medium-light plants tend to grow faster than low-light species, you may notice some plants beginning to take over your aquarium—especially if you have an aquatic green thumb. While the amount of pruning may be up to your personal preference, you’ll want to give plants that have reached the waterline a trim to prevent the light being restricted to surrounding plants.

Common problems

Many aquatic plants experience what is known as melting. When this happens, your plant may turn brown and become translucent. This often happens when you first transplant your specimen into your aquarium. If you have a new plant and it experiences melting, don’t panic—once the plant sheds its leaves, they should grow back once it has adjusted. You will want to trim the dead leaves so your plant can focus its energy on new growth.

If your low- to medium-light aquarium plant doesn’t recover, that is likely a significant indicator that you need to adjust your habitat. Some factors that cause melting can include the following:

  • Fluctuating water pH
  • Water is too cold or too hot
  • Your plant may be receiving too much light or not enough
  • Your fish are eating your plant
  • Lack of nutrients

It’s important to make sure the aquatic life and plants in your ecosystem have similar needs so that you can create a balance in your aquarium.


Low- to medium-light aquatic plants can propagate in a few different ways. Stem plants can be propagated by taking a cutting and planting it in the substrate or tying it to a piece of décor. Many species multiply with no additional assistance—plants like the Amazon Sword produce copies of themselves, and you can simply separate the cutting and plant it in the desired area.

Propagation is a great way to expand your ecosystem. It’s also very satisfying to raise a plant from its infant stage and watch it grow into a lush, vibrant member of your aquarium.

Aquarium mates and compatibility

It’s important to keep a watchful eye on your low- and medium-light plants in aquariums shared with fish and other aquatic life. Many may take an occasional nibble, while some species are more prone to gorge on plants.

You will probably see your fish frequently interacting with the plants—that in and of itself is typical and no cause for alarm. Many species like to eat the algae growing on the plants, which is beneficial to both parties. Fish and shrimp also like to play, hide and burrow in the greenery. However, you should examine your plants regularly for signs of chewing and destruction.

Some plant-friendly fish include:

When choosing low- and medium-light aquarium plants for your aquatic life, make sure they all prefer similar water temperature, pH and lighting. You should also avoid fish that are herbivores. Some fish that like to munch on plants are:

FAQs about low- to medium-light aquarium plant

There is an array of species that can grow in limited light. Having a variety of styles can make your aquarium unique and give your fish a fun playground where they can entertain themselves.

If you’re a beginner, some of the best low-light aquarium plants can include the following:

  • Anacharis
  • Java moss
  • Hornwort
  • Anubias
  • Crypts

Medium-light aquarium plants generally need two watts of light per gallon of water. It may take some experimentation to find what the ideal intensity is for your plants.

Yes. LED lights can be a great choice for aquariums—they’re energy-efficient, last a long time and don’t emit as much heat into the aquarium as some other lighting methods. They’re typically very user-friendly, and many models can be adjusted to suit your habitat’s needs.

That depends on the plant. Some low-light aquarium plants may thrive under more intense lighting. Sometimes more light will make your plant grow faster and even change colors. However, you may need to implement fertilizers and CO2 since plants will consume more to keep up with the increased growth rate.

Raise the intensity slowly and see how your plants respond. If it shows signs of distress or an increase in algae, lower the intensity to a more comfortable level.

All plants need light to achieve photosynthesis. Most aquatic plants need around 8 to 12 hours of light a day. Low-light plants generally need under two watts of light per gallon of water. They may be able to tolerate more light to suit the needs of other plants that share the habitat.

Signs your plant might not be getting enough light are:

  • Leaves yellowing and falling off
  • Stunted growth
  • Dull colors

Too much light can also cause negative side effects. Classic signs of overexposure to light sources include:

  • Increase of algae
  • Burnt leaf tips

Horticulture is all about balance—especially when it comes to aquatic plants. At Petco, we have a great selection of CO2 aquarium kits, systems and accessories that can help make it easier to find that ideal harmony.

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