So are LED lights really that good for your aquarium plants?
The short answer?
Yes. LED lights are good for aquarium plants.
But you know it’s never that simple…
The fact is, different plants require different levels of light. And different LED fixtures will provide different levels of light.
Then there are the several other factors that can impact your tank lighting, like tank size, biomass, and PAR…and all of a sudden, we’re back to complicated.
But certain LED lights can be good for your aquarium plants! And just knowing that is a good place to start.
In an effort to help you earn your green thumb (or maybe your blue-green thumb?), we’ve put together some information on growing aquarium plants with LEDs.
Here’s what you’ll learn;
You’ll learn which plants are compatible with LED lights. You’ll also learn what plants thrive under certain levels of light (some do better with more light, some do better with less). Aside from varied preferences in light power, plants also require different spectrums of light–we’ll talk a little about that, too.
And finally, you’ll learn the do’s and don’t’s of LED aquarium lights. If you’ve been trying to do research on the internet, well, some of these might just surprise you.
It sounds like a lot–but you’ll have a much better idea of what it takes to grow aquarium plants with LEDs after browsing this article (plus, we make it easy to understand!).
- Can Aquarium Plants Grow Under LED Light?
- What To Consider when using LED lights in your Aquarium
- Choosing the Proper Lighting for Your Aquarium
- Do’s & Don’ts with LED Aquarium Lights
- Pros and Cons of LED Aquarium Lighting
- Tips on Growing Aquarium Plants With LED Lighting
- What’s The Best LED Grow Lights For Aquarium Plants?
Can Aquarium Plants Grow Under LED Light?
If you read the first paragraph (everyone skims these days, no hard feelings) then you already know that aquarium plants can grow under LED light.
But what you might not know is how much light certain plants require, or that not all LED lights are created equal.
Light isn’t the only factor that influences the health of your aquarium plants, but it’s a good place to start.
Let’s take a look at some good low light plant options.
What are good low light aquarium plants?
If you’re looking for some low-maintenance, low light plants, you’re in luck. Here are some commonly recommended varieties:
- Java Fern
- Java Moss
Plants like hornwort, moneywort, pennywort, and even sword plants can grow in low light, too.
Now, you’ll want to double-check on the light requirements before you pick just any old plant from the varieties above. For instance, Certain Rotala plants, like Rotala Macrandra, need high light levels to grow and thrive.
Watch Good Beginner Low Light Plants
Here’s the thing. With the right tank conditions, aquarists have been able to grow a huge list of aquarium plants under low light, allegedly with “low tech” tank setups.
How do they do it?
They counter the low light levels by Injecting CO2 into the tank. With a greater supply of CO2 readily available, the plants can synthesize food more easily under low light conditions. Without the CO2 they would grow really slowly, if at all.
That’s the other thing to note about low light plants.
Some of the varieties above are slow growers, especially under low light. This can be a good thing, because it means less maintenance, and you can enjoy the plants longer if you have a smaller tank.
Some plants, like certain Anubias varieties, will eventually grow quite tall. Make sure to check on average plant growth heights before making a decision–it’s an eventuality that’s worth keeping in mind.
One final note before moving on to medium light plants:
Just because you can grow all kinds of plants with low light and CO2, doesn’t mean you’ll want to. If you’re just starting out as a beginner, you probably want your aquarium to be a low-maintenance hobby–not a part time job!
You might want to start out with varieties that don’t need the extra help. Rotala Indica and rotundifolia, Java ferns and java mosses, and Anubias varieties are good places to start–or pick your favorites from the list above.
If you’re looking for a handy reference for low-light plants that are easy to grow and care for, check out this list from Tropica.com.
What are good moderate light aquarium plants?
Many plants that grow under low light will grow faster when you introduce them to more light.
Faster growth means less time until you have a crowded tank–especially if you want some tall-growing plants.
If big plants aren’t your thing, it’s still possible to find small plants that thrive under medium light.
You could look into:
- The Cryptocoryne Parva
- The Dwarf Sagittaria (Shown Above)
The Bacopa Monnieri is another good medium light plant choice. It’s light demands are fairly low, so it could successfully grow under the shade of a taller plant in medium light.
Our trusty friends from above, the Vallisneria and Rotala plant varieties, will grow even better in medium light.
Medium light could take a little more effort than low light, since many plants will grow quite well (and fast!).
What Are Good High Light Aquarium Plants?
High light plants typically require the most work on your part.
Everything from Injecting CO2, to making sure there’s enough plant mass to absorb all the light–it requires some extra care.
Using high light levels does have it’s benefits: The light can help your plants grow very fast, and also get the most vibrancy and leaf/stem fullness from their growth.
Rotala varieties, such as Rotala Macrandra and Rotala Wallichii are beautiful, but challenging.
Watch this great video on Rotala Wallichii
Here’s Tropica’s list of high light/high maintenance plants for a more complete look at your options.
Being beautiful is hard work, apparently!
What To Consider when using LED lights in your Aquarium
We briefly touched on these “extra factors” earlier in this piece, but it’s worth going over them again.
- When you’re making any bioload or aesthetic decision for your aquarium, you need to consider the size of your tank.
- Decide if you want some “carpet” plants (plants that grow “out” instead of “up”), or if you want a couple bigger plants scattered throughout the tank.
- Also, the size of the tank will affect the LED light’s reach. A bigger tank means fewer watts/lumens per gallon. Make sure you adjust numbers to account for the size of your tank.
- Do you want plants that grow slowly and controllably under low light? Or do you want a lush, underwater jungle ASAP? It’s up to you and the amount of work you want to put in.
- Make sure to check the compatibility of your plants with the other life you plan to include in the tank. If you browse the aquarium forums, it won’t be long until you hear stories of sea snails eating freshly-planted aquarium plants before they could grow. Make sure all the plants and wildlife get along!
- Different LED lights will have different strengths and characteristics.
- Make sure the LED lights you purchase have the right amount of power for your tank.
- Many LEDs that come as part of a starter tank kit aren’t strong enough to support aquarium plant life.
- Some LED lights come with automatic 24 hr day/night cycles, and even include features such as “storm lighting.” Check for customization options and other features before making a decision.
- PAR stands for Photosynthetically Active Radiation. It refers to the range of light that photosynthetic organisms (hint, hint: plants!) need to synthesize food from CO2 and water. PAR changes based on how much water it is passing through. It also represents different spectrums.
- Not all manufacturers list the PAR measurements for their products. If they do, make sure you’re getting the right spectrum and the right strength for your plants and tank size.
Choosing the Proper Lighting for Your Aquarium
How do you go about picking the right LED lighting for your aquarium? Our friends over at BulkReefSupply put together a handy YouTube video (below) explaining their methodology.
Their video talks about how everyone’s needs are different, so there’s no blanket recommendation that will work for everyone.
Instead, you need to consider what you’re looking to get from your light fixture. Make a list of all those elements, and then rank them in importance.
He gives his own list as an example (it includes things like longevity and build quality, internal aesthetic appeal, included software and controllability, and more).
If you’re stuck deciding between a few different LED lights for your aquarium, this video is worth a watch.
How to Select the Right LED Aquarium Lights
Do’s & Don’ts with LED Aquarium Lights
- Your research–not every LED fixture will be right for your tank, because everyone’s needs are a little bit different. Consider your options carefully, and make sure you’re going to get everything you need out of the LED fixture before making the purchase.
- Grow healthy plants–You know that aquarium plants can grow and thrive under the right LED light, just make sure your plants’ needs and your LEDs output match up.
- Experiment–Be brave and try growing a plant outside of your comfort zone. Mix up the LED color settings and see what you can come up with. Who knows what beauty you’ll stumble upon?
- Get any old LED light without doing your due diligence first–The wrong light can lead to dead plants or wildlife in your tank.
- Overlight your tank–Certain plants can only take so much light. Overlighting can lead to algae growth on your plants, or worse.
- Be afraid to make a choice–Yes, the wrong light can be bad for your tank and everything in it. But you know what to consider and what to look for when you’re choosing an LED fixture. When in doubt, take your question to a forum!
Pros and Cons of LED Aquarium Lighting
- Plenty of great, long-lasting LED fixture options available on the market
- Many plants to choose from, regardless of tank light level
- Typically easy to control, especially with 24 hr cycle settings
- Lighting metrics can be tricky (PAR, watts per gallon, light spectrum, height of light from tank, etc)
- Contradicting information on which plants can grow in which light levels
- Can potentially require extra work with CO2 injections, etc.
Tips on Growing Aquarium Plants With LED Lighting
Nothing replaces research, and sometimes research needs to be done on your own. Most plants can be found for a pretty decent price…and, well, sometimes you’ll just have to experiment with what works best in your tank.
Other aquarists have had a lot of success growing all kinds of plants in a low-medium light setup. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not pick a plant outside of your comfort zone? Lighting can be adjusted based on how your plants react to your current setup.
What’s The Best LED Grow Lights For Aquarium Plants?
1. Finnex Planted+ 24/7 SE Fully Automated Remote Aquarium LED Fixture
If you’re looking for an LED fixture with an automated daytime and nighttime cycle lasting 24 hours, it’s hard to do better than this Finnex Planted+ model.
- You only need to set it one time, and the system will transition from sunrise to sunset on a smooth 24 hour schedule
- It also includes multiple weather modes (sunset, cloudy, stormy, starry moon night)
- This fixture includes light customization features
- Easy to install
- The light is uniform
- Some users complain that the power cord isn’t quite long enough, especially for taller tanks
- The 24 mode isn’t customizable
2. Finnex Ray2 Aquarium LED Daylight
If you want an LED that’s designed to promote aquarium plant growth, give the Finnex Ray2 a look.
- Bulbs are designed to last 40,000+ hours
- The fixture comes in 6 different lengths (from 16” up to 48”) to accommodate your tank size
- Provides excellent light, great for high light plants
- Plants will grow very fast
- Some users experienced algae growth from too much light
- Only good for aquariums needing high levels of light