Goldfish are notorious nibblers.
In the wild, they are opportunistic feeders. That is, they will eat all the tiny crustaceans, insects, and tender plant matter they can find even after their stomachs are full.
Your pet goldfish can’t help eating edible plants you place in their aquarium. It’s just something goldfish do.
But there are plants that can decorate your goldfish tank that your fish will leave alone: Anubias, Broadleaf Ludwigia, Cardinal Plant, Compacta, Creeping Jenny, Crispus, Dwarf Hairgrass, Elodes, Fanwort, Giant Ambulia, Green Milfoil, Red Milfoil, Hornwort, Pennywort, Spadeleaf Plant, Straight Vallis, Whorled Umbrella Plant, and, of course, artificial plants.
We’ll tell you more about how to find and how to grow each of these plants later in the article.
But first, we have some general comments about how to grow plants in your goldfish tank.
How to Grow Plants in Your Goldfish Tank
There are two secrets to success for growing plants in your goldfish tank. First, make sure you keep the water at the right temperature for your goldfish.
The 68° to 74° F (20° to 23° C) that is best for your goldfish is also best for these plants. (Water pH is not as critical, but a pH slightly above 7.0 is the best balance for both fish and plants.)
The other key to getting plants to grow in your goldfish tank is fertilizing them once a week.
Goldfish waste, of course, fertilizes your plants, but a good commercial aquarium fertilizer will provide plants with micronutrients that may be missing in goldfish poop.
For best viewing of your fish, place larger plants at the backs and sides of the aquarium.
This creates a framework for your underwater garden design and a background for viewing your fish.
Place smaller plants near the front of the tank. Smaller fish will take cover in them, and placing them upfront gives you a better view of all the fish you keep in your aquarium.
A stunning display of greenery is a great way to showcase a limited number of different kinds of fish in your aquarium.
Now, let’s take a look at the requirements for the easiest plants to grow in the goldfish habitat.
Anubias (Anubias nana)
Anubias is perhaps the best-known companion plant for goldfish.
The reason it is so popular is that it can be used in several ways that look good in the aquarium.
Tied to driftwood or to a water feature, Anubias looks good in the mid-ground of your aquarium. Anchored to the substrate, it looks great upfront.
The only real problem with Anubias is that it grows very, very slowly, and other plants may grow up around it so it doesn’t look as good as it could in your aquarium.
Broadleaf Ludwigia (Ludwigia repens)
Broadleaf Ludwigia is a versatile aquarium plant. It grows equally well in acidic and alkaline water.
It grows in bunches in the background of your tank quickly even in low light. And its reddish younger leaves add interesting color, contrasting colors to your fish.
Ludwigia is a plant you should never release into the wild.
Scientists report that it has the potential to become an invasive species in much of the United States.
Broadleaf Water Sprite, also known as Floating Fern (Ceratopteris cornuta)
Broadleaf Water Sprite is usually grown as a floating plant, but it can also be anchored in substrate if it is given enough light.
Broadleaf Water Sprite that is grown in low-light conditions becomes leggy and unattractive. Aside from its light requirement, it is easy to grow.
Cardinal Plant (Lobelia cardinalis)
Cardinal Plant has reddish to dark green leaves. It grows into a more shrub-like shape if it is pinched back.
Cardinal Plant looks best when it is planted in the middle of the aquarium. It is tolerant of low light, although more light is always better.
Compacta (Hygrophila corymbosa)
Compacta is a great low-light plant. It never requires fertilizer or CO2 supplements.
It sends out side shoots to form an interesting pompom shape.
The major drawback to including Compacta in your aquascape is that it can take over the low-light areas of your tank.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummilaria)
The yellow flowers of Creeping Jenny make it one of the most popular of all aquarium plants.
It prefers water cooler temperatures than are best for goldfish, but it can tolerate water temperatures of up to 74° F (23° C).
Crispus (Aponogeton crispus)
Crispus is a beautiful background plant that produces dark green leaves and a flower spike of white or pink.
The challenge of growing Crispus is that it is a heavy feeder.
It needs to be planted in a well-established tank where goldfish have already made their contributions to fertilizer.
It responds to CO2 supplements and actually needs them because they acidify the water.
Crispus also requires bright light. If you try to grow it under low-light conditions, it will become spindly and fail to reach its maximum height of about 14 inches (35 cm).
Crispus doesn’t always flower in an aquarium, so give it the best conditions you can if you want it to bloom.
Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis parvula)
Dwarf Hairgrass is a tiny aquatic plant that is best suited for creating a carpet in the foreground of the aquarium.
Before planting, cut it back, and separate each pot into six to eight pieces. Each pot will cover about 1-1/2 square inches (4 square centimeters) of the substrate.
You can make sure the Dwarf Hairgrass has a chance to root by forcing it into the substrate with tweezers.
Dwarf Hairgrass will grow quickly to cover the bottom of the tank.
Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria pasila)
Dwarf Sagittaria is one of the few grass-like plants that are easy to grow in an aquarium.
It sends out runners and will quickly cover the bottom of the aquarium. It does well in low light and is happy in hard water.
It does not need additional fertilizer or carbon dioxide. Dwarf Sagittaria will only grow about 12 inches (30 cm) tall.
Giant Ambulia (Limnophila aquatica)
Giant Ambulia is a great plant for the front of your aquarium waterscape or as a visual complement to driftwood or other water features in the middle of the tank.
It has beautiful purple and white flowers and is easy to grow.
Giant Sagittaria (Sagittaria platyphylla)
Despite its name, Giant Sagittaria is a low-growing foreground plant.
The “giant” in its name refers to the thickness of its leaves, not the height of the plant.
This plant has some specific fertilizer requirements: It needs iron in the substrate or iron its fertilizer, and it grows best in strong light.
It grows best if there is some water movement in the tank. Giant Sagittaria prefers hard water but a mildly acidic pH.
Elodea (Egena densa)
Also known as pondweed, this goldfish-compatible aquarium plant likes temperatures a little on the warm side, around 74° F (23° C).
It grows better in hard water and at a higher pH. Since adding carbon dioxide (CO2) to aquarium water lowers pH, you will get getter better results with this plant if you don’t use CO2 supplements.
Fanwort has fan-shaped leaves that are especially interesting under the light.
It is an excellent oxygen producer.
Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
Hornwort can be used as a lightly-anchored or free-floating aquarium plant.
If you press it into the substrate, it will produce leaves that look like roots that will keep it stationary.
Hornwort has stiff leaves that provide shelter for smaller fish. It gives off chemicals that prevent the growth of algae.
It is a great source of oxygen for your goldfish. However, it requires regular pruning, or it will take over the tank.
Pennywort (Flexible hydrocotyle)
Pennywort is valued for its kidney-shaped leaves.
Its stems sway in the water current.
Green Leaf Milfoil (Myriophyllum verticillatum)
Green Lea Milfoil is an attractive leafy aquarium plant that grows like a weed—in fact, it is a major pest in most reservoirs in the eastern United States.
It grows best under strong light at the back of the aquarium.
Red Leaf Milfoil (Myriophyllum tuberculatum)
Red Leaf Milfoil is the red-leafed version of the Green Leaf Milfoil plant.
It is well-suited to planting at the back or in the middle of your aquarium.
It requires strong light to grow, but it is a fast grower.
Spadeleaf Plant (Gymnocoronis spilanthoides)
If you are frustrated by how long it takes to get common aquarium plants like Anubias to grow new foliage, you may be happier with the results if you set out Spadeleaf Plant.
This long, pale-green plant with numerous white florets can quickly grow to the water line.
Spatterdock (Nuphar japonica)
Spatterdock is an easy-to-grow pond lily. You only need to place the rhizome on top of the substrate, and it will grow to full size.
Its translucent leaves will give the aquarium a feeling of coolness and freshness.
Spatterdock is not suitable for small aquariums, and it should be pinched back to keep its leaves from taking too much space even in large aquariums.
Straight Vallis (Valisneria spiralis)
Contrary to its scientific name, spiralis, this vallis actually has straight leaves. It looks a little like a bundle for fresh chives.
Planted in the background of your tank, it will grow quickly and is easy to care for.
Whorled Umbrella Plant (Hydrocotyle verticillata)
The Whorled Umbrella Plant is the only plant with umbrella-shaped leaves suitable for growing underwater.
If you give it enough light, it will produce a layer of leaves that add interest to the front of the tank.
A secret to keeping your Whorled Umbrella Plant in good shape is making sure you never forget to feed your fish.
Voracious fish can easily uproot this plant, which is only lightly rooted in the substrate at the bottom of the tank.
What About Artificial Plants for Goldfish Tank?
There is one situation in which artificial plants are a necessity.
When you are operating a quarantine tank to keep goldfish you suspect are sick away from healthy goldfish, you need artificial plants.
They can be taken out of the tank, sanitized with a mild Clorox solution, and scrubbed clean before you use the quarantine tank for another group of fish.
For day-to-day use, artificial plants are cheaper and, of course, easier to maintain.
Artificial plants don’t need light, fertilizer, or CO2 supplements. They aren’t picky about temperature, pH, or water hardness.
They are colonized by the same beneficial bacteria and algae as live plants.
The only thing artificial plants can’t do in your aquarium is to remove nitrates from fish waste from the water.
This means you will need to pay more attention to the quality of the water in your aquarium, and you may need to change the water more often.
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