Live Plants in Community Aquariums, Lighting Requirements

Much is said about special substrate, attention to fertilizers and water conditions to grow healthy green plants. The fact is, with simple lighting and the right choice in easy to grow plants known for high oxygenation; every community can have great live plants without much trouble at all. If your intention is to grow exotic rare species’ of plants it’s quite another story, but with common aquarium growth oriented plants described in this article, no special expertise is required.


Need for Plants and Good Lignting in Comunity Aquariums

LED lighting for aquarium plants
Thomas R. Reich, PhD

Light is necessary for the health and growth of all aquarium plants. Proper lighting enables the plants to absorb the carbon-dioxide gases the fish breathe out. Too much light will cause the appearance of microscopic life known as algae. Too much light and a type of algae can grow that will turn the water green, too little light and plants suffer, but with the right level of light some small spots of green algae appear on the service of rocks and sides of glass aquarium. Some algae are desirable, fish nibble on it and it adds to the natural look of a healthy community aquarium.

In general, if an aquarium is near a sunny window, it may only need 5 hours of artificial light per day.  But in direct sunlight the algae growth will be out of control, even without any artificial light at all.  For best results, an aquarium should be placed in an area where sunlight never reaches it directly.  Artificial lighting should be on for a minimum of 8 hours per day, but can stay on 10 to 12 hours if this enables better viewing in the evening for the hobbyist


Incandescent Lighting is Obsolete and must be Replaced for Best Results

Lighting for planted aquariun

If you are using old fashioned lighting, Incandescent lighting should be about 25 Watts per square foot of aquarium water.  However, Incandescent lighting is obsolete for several reasons:


  1. Incandescent lighting is inefficient at penetrating the water below 12 inches in most cases and does not evenly light the aquarium.
  2. It causes excessive heat and worms the water above the temperature you have the heater set to maintain, then allows the water to cool when the lighting is turned off.
  3. Incandescent lighting is very expensive to operate as compared to florescent and LED lighting.
  4. Incandescent lighting bulbs have a very short lifespan, and can even brake if splashed with water while turned on.

    Fluorescent Lighting is good, LED may be Better

    aquarium plants and Fluorescent Lighting

    Another type of available lighting for aquariums is fluorescent and compact fluorescent lighting. If a fluorescent lighting fixture is used, replace the bulbs with bulbs specifically rated for aquarium plant growth. The spectrum needed for plant growth is entirely different than a fluorescent bulb one would find in kitchen or office lighting, do not use fluorescent light bulbs from a hardware store, they may fit within the fixture, but they are not ideal for growing aquarium plants.


    LED lighting has made amazing progress in the growth of exotic plants with some higher end fixtures, but even the most inexpensive LED fixtures specifically made for aquariums will be adequate for successful and healthy plant growth in a community aquarium.  LED lighting is best for 3 reasons:

    1. Superior light penetration to as deep as 24 inches without special attention
    2. Light spectrum of LED encourages plant growth even with the most common and inexpensive fixtures
    3. The cost to operate most common LED lighting fixtures is less than 10% of the cost to operate the average Incandescent lighting fixtures, and less than 30% of the cost to operate most fluorescent aquarium lighting fixtures.

      The Advantages of LED Lighting for Comunity Aquariums

      Aquarium Plants and LED Lights

      Specialty lighting can be fun for effect within a community aquarium.


      1. One type of LED lighting for aquariums comes in a water-proof glass tube which allows it to be placed underwater, anchored by suction cups and behind plants.  This can give a mysterious glowing effect to viewers, casting unusual rays of light coming out from behind plants and rock features.
      2. Another specialty light available to aquarium hobbyists’ is a spot light effect, some that are used above the surface and highlighting one plant or piece of décor. Other types of “spot” effect lights can be anchored under water shining up at a plant or feature creating interesting effects.
      3. With the constant innovations coming from LED lighting, comes a remote controlled version that allows an infinite variety of colors and intensities.
      4. Commonly available within standard LED lighting fixtures made for aquariums is a “moon light”. These lights are used in the “night time” cycle and allow the hobbyist to view fish behavior in the dark. The wave length that creates the blue color can be seen by humans, but does not interfere with fish sleep cycles, or nocturnal activities of the catfish cleaning crew, shrimp and other things that come out in the night!

      Use of Timers and other Timing Considerations

      LED Timers for Planted Aquariums

      It is advisable to use a timer to turn lights on at a set time and off at a set time every day. Consistency is necessary for best plant growth and for fish to develop a regular life cycle. Can you leave lights on 24 hours a day without killing your fish, yes, is it advisable or even humane, no!  Set the lighting to be on at least 8 hours a day to 12 hours a day is best, depending on the home schedule of the viewers. The community aquarium is there for your viewing enjoyment, set the light cycle to be on when observers are more apt to be in the room. 

      Is it OK to turn on the lights if a visitor comes at an odd hour and wants to see the community aquarium in all its lighted glory? Yes it is OK occasionally, but remember; it will take 20-30 minutes for the fish to fully “wake up” and become as active as they are in normal light cycle.  It is important to remember; a well run community aquarium simulates nature as closely as possible. In nature the sun comes up every day and goes down every day, and the sun does not come on in the middle of the night. Remember this when deciding to turn on the aquarium light out of cycle, it is OK sometimes, but it is not natural to your fish and their life.


      Why do Plants Die?

      Aquarium Plant Questions and Answers
      Thomas R. Reich, PhD
      1. If the roots get too hot as compared to the water temperature. This could happen if the aquarium is over a floor heating register, it is never advisable to have an aquarium near or over the rooms heating source. When the roots are too hot as compared to the plant itself, the plant can turn yellow and die.
      2. A light source that is too weak in intensity for proper aquatic plant growth (old fashioned screw in bulbs for instance). Or the tank itself is too deep for the lighting fixture you have chosen; make sure to tell your dealer what size aquarium the lighting fixture is for. Different intensities are available for different deaths of the aquarium tank.
      3. The aquarium water pH is too acid.
      4. Not enough fish to provide carbon-dioxide and “fertilizer”.
      5. True aquatic plants were allowed to dry out before planting in aquarium.
      6. Too many plants in the aquarium and the foliage at the bottom of the aquarium is being shaded from the growth generating light by the plants above it,
      7. Remember that plants with red or reddish color require special lighting and fertilizer to thrive, avoid these as a beginner. Refer to the list of suggested plants for the community aquarium listed below.
      8. The aquarium is not yet established, so there is not enough “fertilizer” from the fish built up yet. This can be remedied by commercially available aquarium plant food in liquid or tablet form.

        Recomended Easy Plants for the Comunity Aquarium

        Plant types for aquariums

         This list makes no attempt to be complete or to go into the various species of each plant suggested. Some have roots, some have bulbs and others are bunch plants. What this list does have in common; they are all easy to grow and pleasing to the eye!


        1. Anacharis
        2. Sagittaria
        3. Vallisneria
        4. Ambulia
        5. Ludwegia
        6. Cyptocoryne Willisii
        7. Aponogeton Undulatum
        8. Amazon Sword Plant
        9. Hygrophila


        Other choices may include

        1. Myriophyllum
        2. Cabomba
        3. Cryptocoryne Becketti
        4. Hair Grass
        5. Nuphar Lilies
        6. Madagascar Lace
        7. Acorus
        8. Nitella
        9. Indian Fern

Aquarium plants can become a major part of the hobbies for many hobbyists; there are societies for aquarium plant fanciers, books and websites that specialize in aquarium plants as well. You may also want to read: Live Plants in Aquariums are Essential to well Balanced Aquariums Aquarium Lighting Basics 202, the Case for LED Fixtures Understanding Freshwater Aquarium Lighting Aquarium Plants and Lighting for Best Results

Leave a Comment