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Growing With Your Aquarium Plants: Intermediate Species You've Got To Try

Posted by Augusta Hosmer on

So, you’ve got some experience with aquariums; you’re seeing growth on your beginner aquarium plants; and you’ve realized how awesome this whole planted tank thing is. But now, you’re squinting at other species and wondering, “Are there aquarium plants for people who want to try something new without biting off more than they can chew? Maybe I want to get better lights? I think I want to try fertilizer.”

Congrats. You’ve landed on the right page. Welcome to part two of the series on which aquarium plants are right for you based on difficulty, maintenance, and care requirements (Here’s part one on easy, hard-to-kill plants suitable for all experience levels). In this post, we'll list out some of the best advanced beginner/intermediate aquarium plants to level up in the hobby and kick your tank up a notch. These plants require more light, attention, and nutrients to thrive than the ultra beginner-friendly plants, but they won't make you want to throw your tank out a window if you don't keep them perfectly. 

Ludwigia

Ludwigia species are an awesome way to try a slightly more challenging (but not impossible) plant and add some contrast to your tank design. When you think 'red aquarium plants,' Ludwigia is likely what comes to mind. Once you get to know them, you'll also think "light-loving." These are great background plants that thrive with iron supplementation and higher light. 

A lineup of several species of Ludwigia, red aquarium plants
A few Ludwigia varieties
There are a few species you can try, and some are more difficult than others. One of the easiest, in our experience, is Ludwigia repens because it can adjust to a lot of different tank environments. It can also grow in lower light, but the rich, red leaf color usually changes to light green with a red tint in that kind of setup. "Triple Red" Ludwigia palustris is similar, but holds onto its red color more readily because it was bred specifically for that trait.
For more of a challenge, there's Ludwigia inclinata. This species needs more light, likes a little more iron, and thrives with CO2 and fertilizer supplementation. But once you get it going, it's a gorgeous addition to any tank. 
Ludwigia inclinata, a red aquarium plant
Ludwigia inclinata

Vallisneria

Vallisneria is the ultimate background plant. If you have a tall tank, this is a great option to fill some of that annoying empty space because of how large it can get. It's also the perfect advanced-beginner, "I want to try fertilizer" plant that will go crazy with the right setup. Most Vallisneria species are prone to melt if there's a change in tank conditions, so even though it's an easy plant in terms of keeping it alive, it can sometimes be harder to keep it good-looking all the time. With early dosing of fertilizer like Growth Juice, you can usually prevent or limit its melting. The good news is when Val does melt, it grows back that much tougher. 

There are several varieties, including Vallisneria americana (Giant Jungle Vallisneria) and a spiraling species called Vallisneria torta. 

A group of Giant Jungle Vallisneria (Vallisneria americana)
Vallisneria americana. We'll warn you now: these things can get HUGE. 

Rotala

This genus has species that are more beginner-friendly like Rotala rotundifolia (which also has a red variety) but includes some that require more specialized care as well. Rotala wallichii, a fluffy, red Rotala, is a slightly more demanding plant that enjoys high light and CO2 injection. If you're into fluffy aquarium plants, you can also give the similar Rotala vietnam a try. Another intermediate Rotala with tints of green, red, and purple is Rotala nanjenshan.

A group of Rotala wallichii, fluffy red aquarium plants
Rotala wallichii

Given the fine leaves on most of these species, they are less forgiving; require more attention; and generally need more nutrients, water flow, and light to survive. Once you figure them out, though, they're well worth the extra work. 

Hygrophila

Dustin's Fishtanks has a LOT of Hygrophila for good reason. Like Rotala, Hygrophila encompasses several easy and intermediate plant species. This one follows a simple rule: the more you give it, the more color it will give you, which makes it an awesome group of plants to try if you're wanting to experiment with fertilizers and lights.

The easiest and hardiest is water wisteria (Hygrophila difformis), which can thrive in a variety of conditions and grows better in higher light but can do just fine without it. Wisteria works well as a background plant, but fish also enjoy it floated. It's a gorgeous bright green and, as the name difformis suggests, sports leaves with an irregular, asymmetrical shape. For similar difficulty, we'd also recommend Hygrophlia salicifolia. 

A bunch of water wisteria, an aquatic plant, growing just beneath the water surface
Water wisteria

Slightly more difficult, but not by much, is Hygrophila stricta (Don't worry - it's not TOO strict). Stricta has a unique red stem and prefers moderate lighting.That said, like wisteria, it does well in a variety of environments and would work well for a beginner with a little experience. Plus, with that red stem and red-tinted green leaves, it gives a pop of color to your tank without too much additional work. Who wouldn't want to try that out? There's also a foreground variety of Hygrophila that falls in this difficulty category: Hygrophila corymbosa "Compacta,a low-grower that thrives in higher light, but does well in lower-light tanks, too. 

Going up the difficulty scale, there's Hygrophila lancea "araguaia." This plant is not so specialized that it requires CO2 injection to survive (it would certainly help, but isn't absolutely necessary), but it does need nutrient-rich substrate and more light than its difformis cousin. Unlike other Hygrophila, this plant grows out more than up, so it works well as a mid-ground plant. 

A more challenging (but oh so cool-looking) Hygrophila species is Hygrophila pinnatifida. It has unique leaves that make it a stunner in any tank, but are also thinner and harder to care for. 

 

A few stems of potted Hygrophila pinnatifida
Hygrophila pinnatifida

Combos!

Dustin's Fishtanks also has several aquarium plant combos of the above species and the beginner plants we talked about in part 1 that can get your planted tank looking epic without having to search for them individually. And it can save you some money, too. For the intermediate/advanced beginner level, we'd recommend the Beginner Planted Combo or the Standard Combos.

Keep experimenting, let us know what you want to see next, and tank on!


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