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Aquascaping with Aquarium Plants: Master Background, Midground & Foreground Scaping

Explore the art of aquascaping and discover how to create captivating aquarium designs using background, midground, and foreground plants for a thriving aquatic environment.


Aquascaping with Plants

Aquascaping is the art and science of arranging aquatic plants, rocks, and other elements to create visually appealing and natural environments in aquariums. Aquarium plants play a vital role in aquascaping, contributing to water quality and providing shelter for fish and invertebrates. In addition, they add color, texture, and depth to the aquarium, enhancing its overall appearance.


Understanding the role of background, midground, and foreground plants is essential for creating balanced, visually pleasing underwater designs and ensuring appropriate plant growth and health. Here we will explore the use of these different types of plants, providing examples, care tips, and advice for successful aquarium landscape.


Definition & Purpose

Background plants are tall, fast-growing plants placed at the rear of the aquarium. They serve to provide depth and perspective to the overall design.

Examples of Background Plants

  1. Vallisneria
  2. Hygrophila
  3. Rotala

Care & Maintenance Tips

  • Ensure adequate lighting
  • Regular pruning and trimming
  • Provide necessary nutrients
Hygrophila Polysperma
Hygrophila Polysperma


Definition & Purpose

Midground plants are medium-sized plants placed in the middle section of the aquarium. They create a focal point and add visual interest to the aquatic landscape.

Examples of Midground Plants

  1. Anubias
  2. Cryptocoryne
  3. Ludwigia
Ludwigia - "Super Red"

Care & Maintenance Tips

  • Provide moderate lighting
  • Use appropriate planting techniques
  • Supply fertilization and nutrient supplementation


Definition & Purpose

Foreground plants are short, slow-growing plants placed in the front of the aquarium. They enhance the sense of depth and create a carpet-like effect.

Hemianthus Callitrichoides (HC, Cuba, Dwarf Baby Tears, Pearl Grass)

Examples of Foreground Plants

  1. Hemianthus Callitrichoides (HC, Cuba, Dwarf Baby Tears, Pearl Grass)
  2. Eleocharis Parvula (Dwarf Hairgrass)
  3. Glossostigma Elatinoides (Small Mud-Mat, Glosso)

Care & Maintenance Tips

  • Ensure high lighting levels
  • Trim and prune regularly
  • You could potentially choose to supplement with CO2

Tips for a Successful Underwater Landscape

Proper Planning & Design

  • Sketch a layout
  • Choose the right plants based on tank size, lighting, and water conditions

Proper Care & Maintenance

  • Perform regular water changes
  • Monitor and adjust nutrient levels
  • Prune and trim plants for optimal growth
Easy hardscape

Use of Hardscape Materials

  • Incorporate rocks, driftwood, and other elements
  • Enhance the natural look and provide structure

Patience & Experimentation

  • Learn from trial and error
  • Adapt and modify the aquascape over time
  • Most importantly – HAVE FUN!

Floating Plants: A Unique Addition to Your Underwater Landscape

Floating plants are a unique addition to an aquascape, as they grow on the water’s surface rather than being rooted in the substrate. They provide numerous benefits, such as creating shade, reducing algae growth, and providing shelter for fish and invertebrates. Incorporating floating plants into an aquascape can further enhance the natural appearance and functionality of the aquarium.

Water Spangles - Salvinia Natans

Popular Examples of Floating Plants

  • Duckweed (Lemna minor)
  • Amazon Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)
  • Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
  • Salvinia (Salvinia spp.)
  • Red Root Floater (Phyllanthus fluitans)
  • Salvinia Natans

Benefits of Floating Plants in Aquarium Design

Shade and light regulation:

They create natural shade and regulate light levels, helping to prevent excessive algae growth and protecting light-sensitive species.

Water quality improvement:

By absorbing excess nutrients and releasing oxygen, they contribute to improved water quality, promoting a healthier environment for aquatic life.

Shelter and breeding sites:

Many fish and invertebrates use these plants as hiding spots, breeding sites, or areas to lay their eggs, enhancing the overall well-being of the aquarium inhabitants.

Natural appearance in your setup:

They will add another layer of depth and visual interest to the aquascape, giving it a more dynamic, natural look.


Care & Maintenance Tips for Floating Plants

  • Lighting requirements: Ensure adequate lighting is provided, as most floating plants require bright light to thrive.


  • Nutrient management: Monitor nutrient levels in the aquarium, as they can deplete essential nutrients needed by other plants.


  • Crowding control: Regularly remove excess plant growth to prevent overcrowding and maintain a balanced design.


  • Surface agitation: Be cautious when using surface agitation devices, such as air stones or surface skimmers, as they can negatively impact some floating plants.

Incorporating floating plants into a design can enhance both its visual appeal and functionality, making them a valuable addition to consider when designing your underwater landscape.

Flowering Aquarium Plants:
Adding a Touch of Elegance to Your Aquascape

While many aquatic plants are primarily grown for their foliage, there are several species that can produce beautiful flowers, either partially or fully submerged. Here are a few examples of aquatic plants that can produce flowers:

  1. Aponogeton Ulvaceus (Madagascar Lace): This bulb plant is known for its wavy-edged leaves and can produce a long flower spike with small, white flowers. The flowers can appear above the water surface, adding an interesting visual element to your aquarium.

  2. Anubias spp.: Anubias plants, such as Anubias barteri and Anubias nana, are popular for their hardy nature and ability to grow on rocks or driftwood. They can produce small, pale green flowers that emerge from a short inflorescence.

  3. Nymphaea spp. (Water lilies): Water lilies, like Nymphaea stellata and Nymphaea lotus, can grow submerged or with their leaves floating on the surface. When conditions are optimal, they can produce stunning, colorful flowers that float on the water surface.

  4. Cryptocoryne spp.: Cryptocorynes, such as Cryptocoryne wendtii and Cryptocoryne beckettii, are popular midground plants with attractive foliage. They can produce a unique, hooded flower structure called a spathe, which may be green, brown, or reddish in color.

  5. Echinodorus spp.: Sword plants, like Echinodorus amazonicus and Echinodorus bleheri, can produce long flower stalks with small, white flowers when grown emersed (partially out of the water) or under optimal conditions in a submerged state.

Flowering Buce

Final Thoughts

Understanding the importance of background, midground, and foreground plants is essential for creating visually appealing and healthy aquascapes. With proper planning, the use of hardscape materials, and attentive plant care, aquarists can create stunning, natural environments for aquatic life. As a rewarding and engaging hobby, aquascaping offers limitless creativity and personal expression.

Continued learning and adaptation are key to mastering the art and science of scaping. By embracing trial and error, experimenting with various plant species and layouts, and staying patient throughout the process, aquarists can continuously improve their skills and create captivating underwater worlds. You also need to remember to have fun! This is meant to be enjoyable, possibly even relaxing, so don’t stress yourself out on getting it perfect – especially not the first time around. I guarantee you will like the outcome of your work, and if you don’t, it’s so easy to change things around.

In the end, the benefits of scaping an aquarium, bring a visually stunning environment, enhanced water quality, and shelter for fish and invertebrates, which make the effort and dedication worthwhile.


What is the best way to choose plants for my aquascape?

To choose the right plants for your aquascape, consider factors such as tank size, lighting, water parameters, and the specific needs of your fish and invertebrates. Additionally, select plants that will fulfill the roles of background, midground, and foreground, and ensure they are compatible with each other and your aquarium setup.

Can I use outdoor plants or plants from my garden in my aquarium?

It is generally not recommended to use outdoor or garden plants in your aquarium, as they may not be suitable for underwater growth, could introduce harmful pathogens, or may carry pesticides and other chemicals that can be detrimental to your aquatic life. However if you are in search of different plants to use other than your typical aquarium plants, have a look at our “Unconventional Aquarium Plants: Beyond the Water’s Surface” – there you will find some other ideas for sure!

How do I attach plants to rocks or driftwood?

You can attach plants like Anubias or Java Fern to rocks or driftwood using a cotton thread, fishing line, or super glue gel. Over time, the plant’s roots will naturally attach to the hardscape material, and the thread or fishing line can be removed if desired.

Do I need to use a CO2 system for my planted aquarium?

While not all planted aquariums require a CO2 system, injecting CO2 can promote faster, especially for demanding plant species. CO2 supplementation can be particularly beneficial for densely planted tanks, however that being said, we don’t use CO2 and our plants are thriving and look beautiful!

How often should I trim and prune my aquarium plants?

The frequency of trimming and pruning depends on the specific plants and the desired appearance of your aquascape. Fast-growing plants may need trimming every 1-2 weeks, while slower-growing species may require less frequent maintenance. Regular pruning promotes healthy growth and maintains the desired look of your aquascape.

How do I choose the right substrate for my planted aquarium?

Select a nutrient-rich substrate designed for planted tanks, such as aqua soil or clay-based substrates, to provide essential nutrients for plant root development. Choose a substrate with the appropriate grain size for proper root growth and oxygen exchange.

How do I prevent algae growth in my planted aquarium?

To prevent algae growth, maintain proper lighting duration and intensity, perform regular water changes, avoid overfeeding, and manage nutrient levels. Incorporating fast-growing plants, floating plants, or algae-eating organisms can also help control algae growth.

Can I change the layout of my aquascape after planting?

While it is possible to change the layout of your aquascape after planting, doing so may cause stress to the plants and disturb the substrate. It is best to plan your layout carefully before planting to minimize the need for adjustments. However, minor changes and repositioning can be made as needed.

Can I create an aquascape without using live plants?

Yes, you can create an aquascape without live plants by using artificial plants, rocks, driftwood, and other hardscape materials. However, live plants offer several benefits, including improving water quality, providing shelter for fish and invertebrates, and creating a more natural, dynamic environment in your aquarium.

How do I transition an aquarium plant from its emersed (grown above water) to submerged (underwater) form?

To transition a plant from emersed to submerged form, remove damaged leaves, trim long roots, and plant it in your aquarium. Gradually acclimate the plant to its new environment with appropriate lighting, temperature, and water parameters. Be patient during the adjustment period, as the plant may lose some leaves or appear stressed before adapting.

Ludwigia Repens
Can I mix low-light and high-light plants in the same aquascape?

It is possible to mix low-light and high-light plants in the same aquascape, but careful planning is needed to ensure that each plant receives the appropriate light levels. For instance, you can place high-light plants directly under the light source and low-light plants in shaded areas created by hardscape materials or taller plants.

Aquarium Site - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If you have any other further questions about anything aquatic related, please do not hesitate to contact us right away! Stay tuned – we will be starting to load incredibly helpful and useful videos on the AquaManLife.com YouTube channel and Facebook page, so keep a look for that coming!