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10 Best Aquarium Plants That Can Grow Without Substrate – Reviews & Top Picks

Filling an aquarium with plants is one of the most enjoyable aspects of building an aquarium. Plant selection can be difficult and not all potted plants require the same level of care.

Also, since certain plants need to be grown in the aquarium's media to thrive, you'll have to spend more time caring for them.

However, BestForPets (bestforpets.org) has helped you find some aquatic plants that can be added to your tank without growing media.

They can now be added to aquariums without the need for a plant-friendly substrate, making them easier to maintain. We have listed the best aquarium plants that can grow without substrate.

Choosing the Best Substrate-Free Aquarium Plants: A Buyer's Guide

You want to make sure that your fish and plants are compatible before purchasing aquarium plants. It is important to remember that both fish and plants are living creatures and must be cared for in the same environment.

Ensure compatibility by extensively researching the plants and fish you wish to maintain.

In the process of developing an aquarium, you are creating a completely self-sustaining environment. To put it another way, this means that in order for the ecosystem to work properly, all of its members must cooperate with one another.

Plants and fish both contribute to the water’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in an aquatic ecosystem. Although fish and plants have different nutritional requirements, they work together to keep the ecosystem running well.

As a result, it’s critical to make certain that the individuals that make up your ecosystem can coexist peacefully and without causing harm to one another.


For each plant, there are a variety of temperature requirements. A plant’s growth might be stunted or even killed if it is kept at the improper temperature. This is also true for fish. As a result, you’ll need to know what temperature to maintain your environment at.

Clown Killifish may be kept in a cold-water tank without a heater, while Rotala indica need at least 72°F in the tank. Rotala indica can’t be kept in a cold-water tank without a heater.

Hardness of water

A water’s “hardness” is a measure of its mineral concentration. Some plants are able to withstand strong water, while others succumb to wilting and death. This is also true for fish. Plants and fish that need soft water cannot be kept in hard water. Make sure that the water in your environment is the correct hardness or softness.

The pH Level

The acidity requirements of plants and fish are also varied. Some plants require an acidic environment, while others flourish in a more alkaline one. Check to see if the pH requirements of your plants are compatible.

There aren’t many requirements

You should also make sure that the plants you purchase have light needs that are appropriate. Light is essential for all plants, although the amount required varies. Overexposure to light can also harm some plants. If you’re going to use artificial lighting, you’ll want to be sure you don’t overdo it.

The smallest tank size

As with animals, plants must meet certain space needs in order to survive. Because they are living things, they demand a place to call their own. Because of this, make sure your plants are in a tank that is large enough for them, as well as the other plants in your aquarium.

Compatibility between fish species

It’s also crucial that your fish and plants be compatible. Some fish will devour the plants in the tank even if their owners feed them every day like the majority of fish owners do.

Even if there are hostile fish, plant-eaters, or algae-eating fish that adhere to them, many plants will be able to grow. Some plants, on the other hand, are more sensitive and will quickly go to seed. Make sure your tank has a healthy ecology by selecting fish and plants that are suitable.

Substrate Requirements

When you buy plants, you aren’t just hoping they’ll survive in your aquarium; you’re also betting on their ability to grow. Your tank’s substrate may be used to plant some of the floating plants you leave in the tank. Before you acquire any plants, check to see if your soil is suited for their needs.

Final Thoughts

Choosing plants for the aquarium is a fun and exciting part of the hobby. BestForPets (bestforpets.org) has listed the best aquarium plants that can grow without substrate.

Buy Hornwort plants to make the best full-bodied plants that don’t need any media to thrive in the ground. You can save a lot of money by buying Java moss in bulk. In the end, Anubias nana is a great choice for a premium product.


The best overall aquarium plant is the Hornwort

  • Amphibious or aquatic: It’s easy to care for amphibians.

Beginners will find Hornwort to be an ideal plant because of its low maintenance requirements. So it’s no surprise that we selected it as the finest non-substrate aquarium plant in our poll.

Even if you don’t have an aquarium, you can keep Hornwort as a floating plant in your tank.

You can plant hornwort in the substrate and grow it as a submerged plant in aquariums with plant-friendly substrates, so you may transfer some of your plants from your current tank and put them in a new one.

Hornwort is known for its rapid growth in the wild, which is typically viewed as a negative. However, in the aquarium world, this beautiful plant will rapidly add to the beauty of the tank.

Adding hornwort to your tank will also give some shade because it floats on top of the water!


  • Can be either planted or sailed
  • Maintainability is not a problem


  • Possibly overgrows due of its rapid growth rate

Java Moss — The Best Deal

  • Aquatic or Amphibious
  • Level of Concern: Moderate

Pet owners seeking for a plant that doesn’t require a substrate can consider Java moss. It is possible to grow Java moss in your tank without planting it in the substrate.

The fact that you can buy it in bulk convinced us to name it the greatest aquarium plant without substrate money can buy.

In addition to looking beautiful in your aquarium, Java moss is healthy to your fish. For example, newly developed fry can enjoy a diet of Java moss (very young fish.) Fry can be difficult to feed since they lack the strength and size of the other fish.

A good food supply may be found in Java moss. Because it doesn’t adhere to rocks or driftwood, floating java moss will give much-needed shade from the sun.


  • A plant does not required to be rooted in the ground.
  • Fryers will like the plentiful supply.


  • Cold-water tanks are not recommended.

The Best Premium Anubias Nana Aquarium Plant

  • Aquatic or Amphibious
  • Level of Concern: Low

It is the “Nana” variant of the Anubias barteri plant known as Anubias barteri. Leaves that are thick and green are attached to driftwood by this plant, which thrives in its natural habitat.

When attached to driftwood, it develops on its own and requires minimal human involvement, making it an excellent choice for both novice and expert aquarium keepers.

Even algae-eating fish that attach themselves to its leaves won’t be able to harm this hardy plant. Many plant-eating fish would not be intimidated by its taste.

The price of Anubias nana might be a bit high. Then, hold off on purchasing these until you’ve decided that keeping fish in your home is something you want to do for a long time.


  • Beautiful
  • Eaters have a hard time getting through thick foliage.


  • Expensive

Ferns of Java

  • Amphibious or Aquatic: Amphibious
  • Level of Concern: Low

The Indonesian island of Java, from whence these ferns originate, is the source of the name “Java.” Java ferns, like Anubias Nana, prefer to grow on rocks and driftwood. In the wild, it prefers freshwater streams and ponds.

Plant the Java fern’s base above the ground because it resembles a stick. Rocks and driftwood are ideal locations for this foundation, but it may be attached to any surface.

If you place it near a rock or piece of driftwood, the plant will be more likely to thrive.


  • For example, it can be attached to rocks or planted in the ground
  • It is possible to cultivate it in a pot.


  • Needs a hot bath

Fish Tank Lettuce Plant

  • Aquatic or Amphibious
  • Level of Concern: Low

Another easy-to-grow plant for beginners is water lettuce. This plant has become an invasive species in Florida and has been banned because it is so simple to grow. The floating plant grows on the surface of your aquarium and resembles a head of green lettuce with grayish undertones.

If you’re looking for an aquarium plant that will shield your fish from the sun, this one is for you. You may effectively use it in tropical fish tanks as well as those with colder water.


  • Protects your aquarium by providing cover.
  • Cold-water tanks will benefit from this product.


  • In the state of Florida, it’s illegal.

Author Image

Dr. Barry Buttler

Dr. Barry Buttler, DVM, MS, DACVIM, is an experienced veterinarian who specializes in the care of small animals, specifically dogs. Dr. Barry K. Buttler is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and holds multiple certifications in small animal emergency medicine and geriatric pet health.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Barry Buttler


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