5 Reasons Why Artificial Plants Are Better Than Live Plants 82

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There’s always a lot of debate among enthusiasts whether artificial aquarium plants or live plants are better for your tank. And one key point always emerges: live plants are better left to experienced hobbyists.

Live plants can improve the quality of your water; they can also destroy it. In most cases, they’re more likely to do the latter unless you really know how to take care of a fish tank.

Artificial Aquarium Plants vs. Live Plants

Of course, there is no right or wrong answer; which plants you choose are a matter of taste.

Proponents of live plants emphasize their biological function- live plants aid the survival of fish by adding nutrients and oxygen to their environment. (They can, however, also bring parasites.) Plastic plants, of course, have no biological value.

Live aquarium plants, if healthy, become not only a nutrient- dispensing ecosystem, but a natural water filter and vital refuge for smaller fish to hide from larger ones as well. Proponents of live plants in aquariums enjoy their authenticity, their natural symbiotic role in the aquatic environment, and claim that their fish are healthier for it.


But remember, the health of your fish will reflect the health of your plants, so live plants require you to take on the role of gardener as well as fish caretaker. And Goldfish in particular love to eat live aquarium plants, and since many beginners start with a goldfish tank, this combination can easily lead to frustration for the tank owner.

Live plants in aquariums also stunt the growth of algae, so the tank will have less need of cleaning. They keep nitrate and nitrite levels low- provided they aren’t constantly being eaten up by the fish in the tank.

Despite the many advantages of having live plants in your aquarium, the decision to use them often leads to many more hassles and much greater upkeep than plastic plants would have caused.

There are many aspects to consider when choosing fake or live plants for your aquarium. Here are five reasons why aquarium plastic plants are better than live ones:

Artificial Aquarium Plants…

1. Look very life-like while costing less

Silk versions of live plants are almost indistinguishable from the live plants themselves- sometimes they look better- and cost less because additional equipment is required to run a tank with live plants.

Plastic Aquarium Plant

Life-like Plastic Aquarium Plants

Most planted aquariums require fertilizers, carbon dioxide and strong flourescent lighting, (which additionally is unpleasant for residential or office lighting and can even trigger migraines in guests or clients.)

2. Require almost no upkeep; take up no oxygen, need no fertilizer, will not clog filter

Dying plants take up oxygen during the process of decomposition. Leaves detach and become jammed in the filter inlet and can clog up the entire filter system.

3. Can be planted anywhere

Live plants must be planted in specific substrate. Options for this include gravel, soil covered by gravel, or very specific plant substrates. Artificial aquarium plants do not require any substrata at all.

4. Much easier to clean than real plants, and will not decay

Decaying and dirty plants look unsightly. This invalidates the reasons for keeping an aquarium for many owners: they should be pleasing to the eye!

Easier to clean

No risk to parasites or snails

5. Pose no risk of carrying parasites or snails

If not cleaned properly first, live plants placed in aquariums may introduce parasites or aquarium snails, killing off your fish. Plastic plants are the only plants that may be used in hospitals or quarantined areas.

Live Plant Hassles To Think About

Further hassles posed by the choice to maintain live plants in your aquarium include:

  • Fewer choices on where the tank can be installed. Natural, live plants need strong lighting in a wide-spectrum range, so corners and other dark areas are not viable locations for them.

“..you have no doubt seen stunning Nature Aquarium setups and have felt inspired. But then you take a look at everything involved in such a setup—all the high-powered lighting, exotic substrate mixtures, a chemistry set full of test kits, CO2 injectors, fertilizers, substrate heaters, expensive pumps, and strange plants never seen at your local fish store—and your motivation wanes.”

  • Live Plants die off, are much more of a time commitment, and are more expensive both to buy and maintain. All this may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing to beginning aquarium hobbyists. There will be plenty of time to switch from artificial aquarium plants to a live planted aquarium once you have the care of the fish down pat.

Utimately, of course, the decision on plastic aquarium plants or live ones is a personal preference. And don’t forget- preferences often change over time.

Since planted aquariums are more costly, require so much more work and knowledge to set up and maintain, and can deteriorate rapidly especially in the hands of a novice, artificial aquarium plants are usually the preferred choice for beginners just setting up their first tank. And though aquarium purists may disagree, there’s nothing wrong with opting for the simpler option.

What’s Your Say?

What’s YOUR opinion on this debate? Share it with us in the comments section below and invite some your friends to join in the discussion too!

About Dennis Hanson

Dennis is an experienced aquarist with many years of knowledge and experience in keeping successful tanks. He also has no relations to the pop group Hanson.

82 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why Artificial Plants Are Better Than Live Plants

  1. Reply Macron Sep 6,2013 4:24 pm

    indistinguishable from the live plants??? this is a big lie, off course you will see the difference immediately, I’m pretty sure of that, now you can get live plants for lower cost and you can not pretend to be an expert with fake plants!

  2. Reply CoryCatfish Nov 4,2013 7:54 pm

    I started my first tank since childhood a few months ago… part of the reason I chose live plants for my tank is because the maintenance and watching the plants grow and change is FUN. Also, there really is no comparison as far as looks go. Live plants win every time!

    If you do your research, you can choose plants according to the time and money you want to spend. I chose low- to medium-light plants that don’t need additional CO2 or fertilizer. Some of them grow like crazy, and I find myself pruning every week. I think it’s worth it for the natural beauty and additional interest.

    • Reply Aaron Aug 13,2014 7:29 am

      Hi can you tell me what kind of plants you have been using in your aquarium? I am new to the planted aquarium hobby and could use some help!

      • Reply bob Jan 4,2015 12:57 pm

        Hi Aaron,i would look at plants native to the species of fish you keep and area from where they come from.

      • Reply Ron May 16,2015 10:25 pm

        Hi Aaron, the best plants for beginners would be java fern and anubias, they are super easy to grow and come in different varieties. You will have to tie them with black/dark green thread to driftwood or rock which also helps your aquarium look more natural, if you get plants that are planted in the substrate then you will have to fertilize them with root tabs. I started plants in my tank a year ago and through trial and error those 2 are the ones that excelled for me.

  3. Reply Steve hughes Nov 10,2013 3:03 am

    Had fake plants all my life and they turn Fugly and there is Nothing I could find that would clean them up, so I’m going for live plants.

  4. Reply Rames Nov 26,2013 11:04 am

    If you feel artificial plants requires no maintenance then, it should be the same for fish as well!!… how about having a plastic fish floating?

    True it is to spend much attention for life plants but, I want my tank with little life in it. Just I love live plants.

  5. Reply L. D. Carroll Dec 5,2013 2:23 am

    ahhh finally …For days and days I’ve been trying to decide if I want to
    go live plants or fake plants in my new 55 gallon tank. You summed it all up for me..thanks you
    I’m going with the fake plants

    • Reply Larry Aug 4,2015 2:11 am

      Good idea. fake plants are definitely at your level. You should get you a little spongebob squarepants house too while your at it to go with your little goldfish.

  6. Reply Kenneth.R Dec 27,2013 5:57 am

    I don’t agree with this “artificial plants are better” ,some plants like java moss are very hardy and can thrive in low light tanks and with no co2 they can also act as a natural filter for your aquarium and very easy to maintain plus grows like crazy other than articficial plants just lay down and do nothing and last time I tried having plastic plants it clogged up my filter….

  7. Reply Roberta Reid Apr 17,2014 7:10 am

    I agree it is quite difficult to find fake plants that look real. They generally aren’t the basic solid plastic ones. However I am so glad that when i started out with them. I have had several issues since starting including unplanned breeding and rescued fish becoming ill. This has meant that I have had to do several tank changes. By waiting for my tank to be finally settled in where i want it and what i want in it being healthy, it has given me chance to focus on my fish before I have put in the expense and time needed on live plants.
    I do intend to obtain some live plants in the near future though because they do look better and have so many good qualities when in a stable aquarium.

  8. Reply Kandis May 24,2014 1:56 am

    Live plants don’t take oxygen out of the water, they put oxygen into the water… just saying. And I’ve have fake plants and they are a pain to clean.

    • Reply Wayne Harmon Feb 28,2017 5:38 pm

      Yes, artificial plants need to be cleaned regularly as well as biological debris grows on them. With a good light and fish in the tank, live plants have that is needed to grow.

  9. Reply Bron Jun 11,2014 8:52 pm

    I have 4 tanks, all with live plants, I don’t dose co2 in any form and more often than not forget to dose the fertilizers and all tanks are thriving! I generally clean the filters once a month or when the flow decreases and have a thriving shrimp colony in one tank. Live plants are definitely better than fake, they provide you with the peace of mind that if your filter does break down the tanks won’t crash. I do have T5s in 3 of the tanks but they show off the fish beautifully as well and the smallest tank has a clip on LED light and natural light. Things like Anubia sp, Crypt sp, Java fern and Java moss are great starter plants that are hardy, will accept a lot of abuse and just keep growing. I had a tank full of crypts in a dark corner with about an hour of natural bright light a day and no problems. I’m definitely pro live plants

  10. Reply Jeremy Jun 14,2014 6:33 pm

    Fake plants are such a half-assed way to set-up a tank. Don’t we owe it to our little buddies to make as realistic an environment as possible? That being said, there are plenty of pretty low maintenance plants to pick from, java moss, and java fern to name a few.

  11. Reply Debi Jun 18,2014 11:51 pm

    My aquarium is a live 95% live plant resort for my fish, but I agree with the author about the novice fish owner. Learning how to take care of fish and be a gardener at the same time would probably be a lot for most people. (Probably not the ones that read fish blogs!!)

    I also have to disagree about needing lots of extra stuff for your live plants. We use full spectrum light bulbs from home depot in a $10 fluorescent hood. We researchered and got plants that require little light, or upkeep and they spread. My biggest nuisance is having to remove the overgrowth.

  12. Reply Caridad Jul 6,2014 2:05 pm

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  13. Reply AquaScape Artist Aug 11,2014 9:03 am

    This article sounds like it wasn’t properly researched before written. Very few artificial plants that look “realistic” are cheaper than live plants. If you buy live plants online and not at pet stores, you can find quite a variety of easy, beginner species that are actually MUCH cheaper (I bought 30 plants for $18.00, free shipping and they are all beautiful and healthy).

    Live plants save you time and money in the long run. You have to constantly clean artificial plants, which is an extreme hassle as there is nothing in the water to help compete with algae. Live plants also reproduce if you know what you’re doing, so you can actually sell the sprouts that you grow, making your money back.

    As far as time commitment goes, that’s the fun of having an aquarium. It shouldn’t be there to just sit and forget about. As with any pet, you interact with the tank and the plants and it becomes something you bond to extremely fast. Upkeep and cleaning for my fully planted tanks takes about 10-20 minutes only once a week. I also have zero algae to take care of, ever. The pH is always balanced and my fish are much happier and healthier because of this.

    Keeping a tank away from direct sunlight is actually something you -want- to do. My tanks do much better in darker/corner areas because the artificial light is more than enough for the plants and fish, as it provides between 6,000k – 6,500k.

    I’ve never had a positive experience with an artificial plant tank. The plants become completely disgusting, algae makes maintenance annoying, the pH is never correct, and the fish aren’t as happy. I feel like the plastic really lowers the water quality over time as well, but that’s just a personal feeling.

    Do the right thing for your fish. Give it a natural home to live in.

  14. Reply J. Zinnel Aug 14,2014 9:15 pm

    I like live plants for the new challenge that they bring to the aquarium. I recently made the transition to a planted aquarium and I have really enjoyed it.

    Also, I agree with some of the above comments that have argued that finding truly authentic-looking fake plants is very difficult and often more expensive.

  15. Reply Daisy Aug 31,2014 12:26 am

    Wow. The article had me convinced one way, and now the comments from the community have me convinced the other. Java fern here we come!

    We just bought our 5-gallon aquarium for a warm freshwater tank. We haven’t put anything live in it yet, and are running the filter for a while to get the water just right.

    Would you live-plant advocates suggest that we get the plant garden growing first? Or get fish and then add plants? I’d love to some suggestions.

    • Reply Gabriel Sep 7,2014 12:24 am

      Get the plants first. I suggest getting Java Fern and maybe a moss ball to start. Get a few shrimp too once you cycle a bit, they are a lot of fun to have

  16. Reply Martin Sep 9,2014 2:18 am

    I could not agree less with the assertion that artificial Plants are better than live plants. The most enjoyable part of Aquarium Management is selecting plants & fish that are compatible, designing a layout, planting it, establishing & maintaining the living picture you have created. To have a six foot Aquarium fully planted with 18 Angelfish in it when two trios & three pairs of Angelfish were spawning on one night was among the most rewarding experiences the Hobby could have given me in twenty years of Aquarium Passion. If you aren’t prepared to do the work find something else to do like write an app to design an Aquarium for your Phone or Computer. It is worth every once of effort to see a properly planted Aquarium evolve & develop its personality.

  17. Reply Alex Sep 9,2014 11:58 pm

    I heartily disagree with use of fake plants. It’s just my personal preference, of course. IMO, fake plants are just as gaudy in the aquarium as a faux fur coat.Buy the easiest to care for, hardy, low-light plants–any of which will be a boon to the habitat you are setting up for your fish.

  18. Reply Rebekah Sep 24,2014 10:26 am

    I was really puzzled as to why this article was written. I am a new fish keeper, I have cycled my tank and now I have 6 cute little neon tetras and a java moss and have ordered 3 anubias so the fish can have more natural hiding places. Later on, I will get a java fern or marimo moss balls. All of these plants do not need much care at all, they do not need special substrate as their roots do not like to be planted and look amazing and if needed, just a bit of a trim to get rid of the dead leaves to keep the ammonia levels at a minimum.

    In all my research of fish keeping and the types of plants to have, not one of the websites said to have fake plants. I suppose that is because I was looking at websites that promoted planted tanks, but I feel that this is the only way that the fish will be truly happy, as it mimics their natural environment. I feel that fake plants cheapen the look of the tank, and do nothing to aid the health and happiness of the fish.

  19. Reply L Sep 26,2014 10:17 pm

    I think a novice can handle live plants. As long as they do their research their fine. My first fish tank was a 20 gallon reef tank. If a beginner like I was can keep corals alive and keep up with their demand, the beginner can keep plants. Plants are way easier then coral. And fake plants do not look the same as live, same with corals. I love my live plants and corals. And, unlike coral in the aquarium, plants actually benefit your fish and are fairly cheap.

  20. Reply Curtis Nov 9,2014 5:50 pm

    Terrible advice in this article. Fake plants do nothing for the tank but provide additional and difficult to clean places for algae to thrive! Way to point newbies to the hobby in the wrong direction! Think trimming plants, buying decent lighting, and occasional dosing of nutrients is a hassle? Try cleaning stubborn algae off of fake plants every 2 weeks and having to constantly do water changes to keep nitrates down. Even when I was using 3 shop lights with daylight bulbs (10$ a piece w bulb) and just dosing flourish excel I had a beautiful planted 29 gallon that required no maintenance except trimming the plants about once a month and a water change every 2 weeks. Nitrates stayed at zero and algae was not an issue! Fake plants may be a quick fix for lazy people but they are more work in the long run. They will also never match the appearance of real plants. There are dozens of cheap and hardy plants out there (rotala, tiger lotus, anubias, amazon swords etc) that thrive in typical gravel with cheap cfl bulbs and root tabs. It amazes me that there are as many fake plants as there are at the local pet stores.

  21. Reply Ben Dec 14,2014 9:12 am

    I have live plants in my aquarium. They don’t all need strong light. I’ve had Java Fern, lucky bamboo, Anacharis, Hornwort, Frogbit, and some Pothos that all grew wonderfully under a simple 9 dollar led light bar. Plants never really decayed at all that great a rate and I’ve both some snails and shrimp to handle such. They don’t require much, i don’t worry about CO2 or anything, just plant them into the gravel and away they go cept the Pothos that is planted around the top rim of the tank.
    Recently built my own light stand and got two hanging light fixtures with a 40 watt daylight bulb in each and the plants have taken off in another growth spurt to fill in void areas and the fish use it all to hide and avoid aggression.
    While I agree real plants are harder than fake to care for (of course using fake just to avoid touching the tank for long periods of time is a no no since water changes are a must), some of your reasons against them seem a bit one sided or completely wrong.

  22. Reply BGN Dec 27,2014 1:02 am

    I got 3-4 medium & short fake plants with my first aquarium, a 10 gallon one. Returned the whole set up to upgrade to a 29 gallon for keeping more fish. I now use a combination of live plants & artificial ones in a ratio of 4:1
    Some points like live plants not looking their best like the artificial ones are true for only certain species and also how you got them in the first place. I got 3 broad leafed plants from the local store and the rest online. These took a week to come, and the poor things are still recovering. My warm tropical fish are definitely loving the live plants.

    What I have: Tetra 29 Gallon LED Aquarium kit which came with a Power filter
    Aquarium stand from Petco which I had to assemble
    1 Dragon scale Betta
    5 Fancy guppies
    4 Mickey Mouse Platies
    2 Sun Burst Platies
    8 Neon Tetras

  23. Reply R Porterfield Jan 7,2015 6:01 pm

    I disagree with this article. I wouldn’t say I’m an advanced hobbyist. My tank is pretty low-tech with low lighting and even I can keep live plants. I do however enjoy the underwater gardening aspect probably more than the actual fish-keeping. So I guess it is really dependent upon what your goal in keeping a tank is. There is a difference between “aquascaping” and “fish-keeping”. If your main goal is keeping the fish, then artificial plants will suffice. In aquascaping you don’t just do the bare minimum to keep the fish. The entire process revolves around plants and creating an underwater world. I feel that a lot of people keep fish, then transition to aquascaping as simply keeping fish can become really boring and limited after a while. You just have to know the requirements for your plants. As I mentioned, I have lower lighting so I only look for plants requiring lower light. Another thing to consider with live plants is the CO2. The higher the light levels, the more CO2 needed (Think of the light being the throttle and CO2 as the fuel).Therefore, I keep lower light levels and use less CO2 which only requires me to buy liquid carbon rather than have expensive CO2 equipment. Other than partial water changes, occasional fertilization and once-per-month pruning, keeping a planted tank is no more difficult or expensive than buying and cleaning artificial plants. Also, learning about the whole process of plant life under the surface is so engaging and fun. Hope this helps anyone on the fence.

  24. Reply tonix Jan 10,2015 8:41 am

    If the fake plants are such a good idea and have so many pros, why not choosing also fake fishes? Yeah! Imagine: a fish tank filled with absolutely pure water and clean artificial fishes and plants. But wait! I have a better idea! Why not only a screen playing over and over a fish tank movie? This is no much easier to maintain, you don’t even need water!
    Hmmm… But there is no life in there, isn’t? So, the main reason we like fish tanks is because there is life and we love seeing fishes living and plants growing. And this makes me feel closer to mother Nature in my little concrete flat.

  25. Reply Kev Jan 29,2015 7:16 pm

    This is by far the stupidest article I have ever read when it comes to anything aquarium…scratch that…life related. About 90% of this article is false.

    Live plants make tank keeping extremely easy. I have and know of many tanks that NEVER need water changes. This includes tiny 2 gallon tanks all the way up to 125 gallon tanks.


  26. Reply Mikey A. Feb 13,2015 4:23 pm

    I have had my planted tank now for over 4 years. I have to say that your article is very wrong. Yes it’s a pain in the rear to start a planted tank, but once established it is well worth the trouble. I’ve had the artificial 55 gal. tank for 5 to 6 years and always, no matter how many water changes I did, or how many few fish I kept or how little food I gave my fish I had nitrates through the roof. That’s when I decided to go planted. Never looked back ever since. No more issues what so ever. Every month or two I just trim my plants and my lighting is set up for low output, I don’t need CO2 very little algae issues. My filter I clean about once a month, less water changes. Even my fish look so much happier. I will never go back to artificial plants. Just my 2 cents.


  27. Reply Max Erffling Feb 21,2015 7:02 pm

    Well I got this Pleco and two goldfish, all tiny about 1 inch, had them
    in a 25inch tank, changed to a 50 gallon tank, when they all got much bigger. The Pleco got to about 13 inches and the Goldfish about 8 inches.

    I had these three for about 11 years. always changed water, filters, and kept the right temp and fed right and never had a problem

    All I had in the bottom was the same gravel from the beginning, about 1
    inch to 2 inches. Plus one large rock from the beginning.

    So I one day decided to buy a plant for the greenness because it would go well with the brown tones of the rocks and the Pleco, and the orange tones of the goldfish. And sure enough it really helped, looked great!

    Then one day not very long after adding the plastic plant, my Pleco up and died.

    The only thing that changed with the tank, setup, routine etc was the addition of the “plastic plant”,

    So I would not ever again try plastic. You see the Pleco picks on stuff, so he ate some of the plastic and the chemicals or whatever killed him, same thing happened to my dog. got killed from the flea powder. But the all say no no its not the powder, but it was.

    So I will try real plants if I do it again


  28. Reply Sharlene Mar 19,2015 6:52 pm

    I beg to differ on this article. I have had both fake and live and now I’m sold on live plants. Now get this, I have stock LED lights (Shocking!) and play sand substrate with one chunk of drift wood we found by the river. I have bought cheap anubius 1 plant and it has been turned into over 10 plants within the 2 yrs I’ve had it. Actually more then that as I’ve given off some to my mom. I have bought a couple of java ferns and amazons swords that have given off new plants. I’ve just added money wort and hair grass, which with my low lights and no co2 and simple substrate… I shouldn’t be able to keep alive. Going on 1 month now they are thriving. So it can be done low tech, won’t be a gorgeous natural tank like you see in shows but it is still nice and I rarely do waterchanges because of it. Ive had fish injured on plastic plants.

  29. Reply RosebudLacey Mar 23,2015 6:58 pm

    I just love the little moss ball that i have in my betta tank! All i have to do it take it out and rinse it off when i clean my tank. Sometimes my blue betta will lay on it. For about a year, that was the only thing i had in my betta tank, but then i added a purple leavey plastic plant that just reaches the top of the tank, and now it lays and sleeps on it near the top. He just seems so peaceful when he rests on it. Also beautiful since the light purple makes his dark blue stand out.

    Some people have previously posted that they have had issues with sudden death of a fish after the addition of a plastic plant or multiple plastic plants. Here’s my question to you: did you take it directly out of the package and place it in your tank as soon as you got home from the store? If so, that it probably why your fish died. Between factory production and packaging, it is possible and likely that it will come in contact with some dangerous (to fish) chemicals or that it will have small particles or granules on it either from the hands of a factory or warehouse worker or from the conveyor belt.

    For this reason, it is not just important, but IMPERATIVE to the health of your fish to not only thoroughly rinse, but to run your hands all across the plastic plant while you are rinsing to rid your new addition of these small, but toxic things. The same goes for any new artificial additions to your tank, wheather it’s gravel, shells, or caves made to look like the pineapple home of Spongebob Squarepants. Remember, to NEVER use soap or chemicals when cleaning anything to go into a fish tank, as it is possible for it to reside in the microscopic pores of the material.

    I would also like to add that I do not intend to insult or upset anyone with this post. I simply mean to get the information out there as it is easliy forgotten and over looked. It is for all the same reasons as above that you are supposed to wash new clothing before wearing it for the first time from the store.

  30. Reply RosebudLacey Mar 23,2015 7:07 pm

    To Max Erffling:
    Upon rereading your post, I have this question for you: you said that you have had your pleco and goldfish for 11 years. Is it possible that your pleco just died of complications due to old age?

  31. Reply mikeszx81 Apr 19,2015 6:53 pm

    Well ive been fish keeping(water keeper mainly) for just over 6 months.My first tank was 160litre clearseal with fake plants a cannon wrecked car and a pirate ship,and blue and white gravel stuff.
    That all changed when i got offered a Juwel Rio 400 for very little monies, Had to buy it and decided on 4″ deep silica sand (no build up of gases if you poke it i bit now and then) Dragon stone mopani wood ,nd live plants grasses, anubias,java fern on the wood and madagascar lace plants. They just need a root tab or two,a bit of pruning when i do a weekly water change a quick vac. No hassle at all, and look so much better than fake pink, blue, orange etc etc plants. Also real plants make a great bio filter and since going with live plants my water test results have been constant at ammonia 0 nitrite 0 nitrate 5 using nutrafin mini master test kit( liquid not strips) Live plants every time no contest

  32. Reply geekroad May 21,2015 1:42 am

    I have been keeping fish since 1988 and everyone can get off their high horses. The author said for the NEW aquarist it can be easier to start with fake plants so the newbie can first learn water chemistry and fishkeeping. A valid point. A few fake plants will provide security for fish and so serve their most vital purpose. Six months or a year down the road when the person isn’t just learning what GH, KH and pH are and how they are interdependent, on top of how to choose proper species for the water, tankmates, etc… they can then replace those fake plants with live plants. In the beginning when so much can go wrong for someone who is just learning, introducing live plants that OFTEN carry parasites and disease is just increasing risk unnecessarily. Get the tank up and running… learn fishkeeping… then get live plants down the road.

    Too many people rush into this hobby and don’t get anything right. They keep schooling fish in pairs because they get little tanks and want more than just one or two species, so they get a couple of these, a couple of those…. they have no idea what they’re doing. Then the fish get sick b/c they’re stressed. It’s a moot point to have live plants but get fishkeeping all wrong!

    The most important thing in fishkeeping is the fish. And while live plants ARE a great asset to fish when procured correctly and cared for, they are not necessary in the first aquarium – fake plants will do. Certainly for 6 months or a year.

    And to the guy who said his plastic plant killed his pleco, you have to buy plants made specifically for aquaria. Not for terrariums or other uses. IF the plant was the cause of the fish death, it was not made for aquariums. Even still, everything should always be washed before it goes in a tank. The surface of *anything* can become inadvertently contaminated.

    So I agree with the author. Learn all there is to know about water chemistry, your tap water, and fishkeeping first… then when you have that down and your tank is healthy and thriving and you feel confident you know what you’re doing, look into plants that will work in your tank, and how to properly clean them or even quarantine them (better still) before introducing them to the tank.

  33. Reply Dre Jun 19,2015 12:31 am

    This author spreads around tons of misinformation in his articles. This is just another example of him trying to write something that makes a splash, and get people to buy stuff they don’t need. I read another one of his articles recently in which he had tried pushing little one-gallon novelty tanks. His bio says he is “an experienced aquarist,” but I have yet to see anything come from him that even remotely supports this claim.
    All of his reasons why fake is better are flawed. Fake looks better? Oh, yeah, let me go pull out a fake plant and stand it up next to one of my real ones and I’ll let anyone take the Pepsi challenge. Real plants die/decay, and are harder to clean? News flash: stick a handful of shrimp or other algae eaters like oto cats in your tank (your “cleanup crew). They will clean your plants and remove the decayed parts for you. I’ve never had to clean one of my plants. Fake plants are cheaper? Again, he has no idea what he’s talking about. I can go to a pet store and blow $10 on a fake plant that looks fake that my fish hate, and then still need to buy a ton of other fake plants to fill up the rest of the tank. OR I can spend $4 on a real plant, then cultivate that one plant, FOR FREE, and make an unlimited amount of other plants from the original. Many of us who have live plants have to trim them to keep them manageable and can even go to the local fish shop and sell our excess plants. I spent $20 on my initial plants and I now have two large tanks with virtual forests growing in them. The cost to maintain real plants is only as high as you make it. There are plenty of great plants out there that look fantastic and do not require fancy substrates, CO2 injection, or heavy amounts of fertilizers. The people that use all of those are doing it because they want results instantly, so they get intense light fixtures and fancy supplement setups because they’re essentially putting their plants on steroids. Having lower light, CO2, and fertilizers just means you’re going to have to wait, like nature intended, for your tank to become a jungle. Lastly, don’t EVER dissuade a newcomer to the hobby by telling them something is beyond their skill or experience. Most plants are very hardy and difficult to kill. You would have to literally take something like a water sprite out of water and let it dry out if you wanted to kill it. There are plants out there, like the sprite, that don’t even need to be planted! You can superglue anubias to decorations! You can let a sprite float around your tank!
    As a final point…I want to go back to the part about the cheapness of going fake. You will spend more money starting with fake because 99% of us who go fake eventually end up replacing everything with live plants. That’s right; the vast majority of people who start off with fake plants (myself included) have a bin somewhere in the house that now holds all of those fake plants because once they discovered the joys of real plants never went back to fake (and spent so much on the fake plants that they can’t be in themselves to just tossing them in the trash).
    The ONLY situation in which artificial plants are “better” is if your water supply has toxic levels of things like really really high pH. If that’s the case where you live, you probably shouldn’t be putting live fish in there, either. *Mic drop*

  34. Reply Bill Jul 5,2015 8:22 pm

    I disagree with all the fake plant haters who’ve responded to this article. I kill Java Moss !! Let me repeat myself. I HAVE KILLED JAVA MOSS! I have an entirely LED light set up and the few times (more than once) I’ve tried Java moss and other supposed low-light plants, they’ve all has turned brown and died. That is how little light i get in my tank. Fake all the way. It stays green (period) and looks the same from the day you “plant” it to the day you re-scape your tank. The natural look is up to the aquarium keeper. I’ve seen live plants in a tank that look all wrong and fake. Obviously the last author never visited a dollar store or any other craft store where they’ll find tons of realistic, cheap plant like fabrications in all different sizes. Yes, all sizes. No need to wait for that fern to grow up, buy a fake fern that is already full grown or trim it to the height needed.

    I can go on ranting . . . but I got to go out and buy some FAKE plants for my tanks.

    • Reply Larry Aug 4,2015 2:16 am

      I have a better idea. Just hang a picture of an aquarium on your wall. You wont have to feed the fish, your plants wont die and like you said, it will look good every day. forever.

  35. Reply Larry Aug 4,2015 2:07 am

    Plastic plants are for children with a goldfish bowl.

    Not only do real plants look better but they add oxygen to the water and consume the nitrates. The detritus also provides a food source for many different aquarium critters.

    Without live plants you can give up all hope of ever having a balanced aquarium.

    Whoever wrote this is obviously lacking in skill with anything having to do with aquariums. Anyone who cant keep an aquatic plant alive should find something else to do.

  36. Reply A.K. Banerjee Sep 14,2015 5:30 am

    Thanks for all the valid debates. I can share my experience. I have made aquascape by fake plants and some driftwood with little pebbles.For fish I am using Algae scrubber as the only filter which is taking care of the fish health and no algae in the display tank glass or plants. No need to clean the plastic plants or any artificial substrate. Only thing I had to do is to clean the screen of the algae srubber box (DIY)every after 2 weeks by just washing in sink basin. That is all. If I like to change the view I put or reorient the plastic plants and woods. After all I am happy with view of the tank and fish ( Discus )health as well.

  37. Reply Breeze10 Oct 5,2015 10:44 pm

    You are all so freaking hilarious……

  38. Reply jasmine Oct 8,2015 6:08 am

    Artificial plants are fast becoming an essential in homes and work places for many reasons, mainly due to the fact that they fit into our hectic lifestyles better than real plants and trees do. Unlike a real plant, artificial plants can just be left to sit in your room and look beautiful without the need to prune or water them. You can place them anywhere in your home and they will survive without sunlight, so plants are the perfect choice if you have a dark corner in your living room that needs some color.

  39. Reply Dbrownman Oct 26,2015 4:30 pm

    I’ve read the article and read all the responses. I can’t believe how nasty people can be. Very discouraging.

  40. Reply PAX Oct 28,2015 5:15 pm

    Wow, how bogus. Maybe try plants that aren’t difficult if you aren’t experienced. Fake plants look fake, do nothing besides take up space. Honestly in my opinion I’d rather see a plant not doing well than a plant made of polyester.

  41. Reply monica Nov 2,2015 12:43 pm

    Plastic plants are un natural crap they do not grow,they do not absorb ammonia/nitrites and nitrates, they also do not cover co2 to oxygen and also do not provide food for fish.

    Live plants are better some are easier to look after than others for e.g. anubias and java fern they dont need high light, they also look natural do not grow to fast and hard to kill, they make tank cleaner than plastic plants.

    Plastic plants are only good for children

  42. Reply Katherine Nov 27,2015 5:55 pm

    Hello! I was just reading through this blog…and then the replies. And let me just say wow. Everybody has their own experiences and opinions and that’s fine, but can we be a bit more respectful towards each other?
    I do not agree with this article. In my opinion, the majority of this writing is false. Fake plants look better than real ones? I don’t think so…
    Aquariums shouldn’t be made for setting up and then leaving it. I think people should interact with it. It brings me joy every day to see new leaves shooting out of my java fern. I have a mixture of real and fake plants. I have a couple of fake plants to add a bit of color and mostly real ones to create a natural area for my fish. I would highly recommend live plants over fake. In the two months that I’ve had my java fern, I’ve seen a couple dozen new leaves shoot out. Sure you have to do maintinece, but it’s fun, IMO. I hope I haven’t offended any body. I just wanted to share my opinion. I would recomend that the writer should do a bit more research before spreading information around.

  43. Reply Kris Dec 5,2015 2:08 am

    Larry suck my nob! I mean bob.

  44. Reply M Jan 17,2016 5:47 pm

    We have tried 3 times with different live plants in our Fluval Edge 20 litre tank, and spent a lot of money on buying all kinds of supplements and assassin snails, and it has been running a year since I got it for my bf as Christmas gift. Yesterday we gave up again and threw away all the sick plants (crazy hairy alge attack this time), and now we are just having the soil on the bottom and some glass made ice cubes as decoration. Good to take a break from all the mass and frustration! But we have never tried fake plants and can’t say which are better, but real plants are definitely for experts and who have time to pay great attention to the tank!

  45. Reply LaurenAlexis Feb 3,2016 9:23 am

    Good post…I agree it is quite difficult to find fake plants that look real.Live plants are better some are easier to look after than others for e.g. anubias

  46. Reply LaurenAlexis Feb 3,2016 9:29 am

    Beautiful gardens take a lot of work, all year round. Equip yourself with all the necessary gardening supplies for a bountiful vegetable harvest or a dazzling and bright flower garden.

  47. Reply Suzy Feb 23,2016 4:49 pm

    I am from the UK and brand new to keeping fish/fish tank. I have bought fake plants for now as i’m completely new to all of this. I wanted to see how I went on with setting up the tank, first and foremost, so that I have a good environment for my fish – when I eventually purchase them. I have read many articles and blogs and have found so many, many different opinions on keeping fish. I’m hoping that it’s not going to be too difficult. I thought i’d opt for a fish as i’d done this as a child, and I had the same fish for 13 years, so i’m sure I can do this. I will let you know how I go on. I set the tank up about 5 days ago, the filter’s been running ever since, and all aerated ornaments and fake plants, and substrate has been carefully washed. I’ve included tap safe treatment into the water, and the filter. I’m now off to purchase some ‘crystal water’ treatment as the water has gone a little cloudy. Not sure why – but previous articles have said something about ‘new tank syndrome’. If anyone can help offer any advice at all, or any other articles to read, i’d be most grateful.

  48. Reply Robert Mar 5,2016 11:09 pm

    I have a 23 gallon tank and have just placed an order for heaters, filter pump, gravel and lighting rig, just so I can explore the idea of maintaining an underwater garden. The good news is, I am part of a team. My partner wanted fish for our boys, I’m a keen gardener. Neither have kept fish before but between us I am sure we will manage. Worse case scenario; the fish die, the plants get used as compost material for my allotment and the aquarium becomes a formicarium and I move in a colony or two of lasius flavus or lasius niger.

  49. Reply Brad Smith Mar 25,2016 2:46 am

    I’ve had quite a few tanks. I’ve found when I had a thriving plant community it helped my nitrite and nitrate levels down. My friend had the same tank for years and it was full of plants and other green stuff.he didn’t do water changes and it was thriving. It did look like a jungle tho…

  50. Reply Kevin Apr 12,2016 4:55 pm

    There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Some of us don’t, myself included don’t have a green thumb. For example, I have used low light “easy” plants and still had problems. My wisteria looks terrible and had hair algae, my anacharis melted, my java fern is half dead, my flame moss is long died, my jungle val is full of holes, and my anubius never grows. My hornwort, however, grows like crazy. I do use ferts and liquid co2. I still like my plants because to me they look natural with some dying leaves. These amazingly perfect planted tanks look awesome, but nature never looks that perfect.

    On the flip side, it IS okay to use plastic plants, and if you arrange them correctly they can look somewhat realistic. The “real plants or die” people need to back off a bit. Are you really going to put live plants in an African Cichlid tank? I have 2 tanks with real plants and 2 tanks with fake. They have there pros and cons.

  51. Reply Joe Apr 18,2016 7:43 pm

    I have both a mix of live and fake plants, I find it that having a mixture works really well, the fake plants grow algae for algae eaters while providing hiding places for my fish and the live plants oxygenate my water. As far as which is better? Beats me but I like ha icing the best of both worlds, and also it allows me to add more of a variety of fish to my tank, most live plant aquariums only allows nano fish unless u have a really big tank I would say 70+ gallons, but what I would recommend for all you beginners out ther is do a mix, since it will allow you to set up a nice looking tank fast and also let you slowly learn how to care for live plants without being overwhelmed by a large garden, also if your plant die it will be less to replace when you try again.

  52. Reply Joe Apr 18,2016 7:51 pm

    M your algae problem can be fixed quite easily by having these 2 fish, 1: Siamese algae eater, 2: rainbow shark, they are a native species of Southeast Asia and are the best algae eating combo out there, well in my opinion anyways, I use them to keep both my fake and live plants clean, the Siamese will grow to a decent size while the rainbow will stay small which will allow them to get into tighter spaces for cleaning, I hope this helps and good luck.

  53. Reply Thespecialone Apr 27,2016 12:53 pm

    I have a 60g and I started with fake plants when cycling but took them out after 2 days because they look rubbish so I switched to live plants left them to grow for 4weeks before adding fish it was my first ever tank with no experience. All I did is got is easy to care for plants that require no co2 or fertiliser. I have my lights on for 10hrs a day then i have a led night light for the other 14hrs. Here are the plants I have, all available from aquarium gardens (UK) just type it in Google. Java fern, Anubias coffefolia, Anubias Nana, flame moss these all attach to wood or stone and are a very healthy looking dark green. ludwiga repens, ludwiga repens Rubin, rotala rotundifolia, Echinodorus Ozelot Red Flamed all of these are red and green substrate plants. Sagittarius platyphylla, Vallisneria Spiralis and dwarf hair grass are planted into the substrate. I also have no special substrate for plants all I use is CaribSea Black Tahitian Moon Sand. Hope this helps

  54. Reply fish fingers May 13,2016 12:58 pm

    Wow, there is so much bad advice in this article, I don’t know where to start. If you don’t know which route to take, then do what YOU want to do. There is so much snobbery in fish keeping that it scares newcomers away from even trying. Ultimately, live plants are beneficial to the system. They are also NOT hard to keep. You do not have to dose CO2 or fertilizers with most generic shop brought plants. If you are doing an amazing aquascape with 500 different types of plants, then that’s a different story, but the general 10 gallon – 20 gallon hobbyist can take a trip down to the local shop, buy some stem plants and throw them in and they will thrive. Some basic education on phosphate and nitrate reduction will help minimize algae problems. Stop the snobbery, stop the ‘it’s my way or the highway’ attitude. Research, learn and go for it.

  55. Reply daisyfisher May 30,2016 11:39 am

    Keep in mind that plants you use should attract nonexistent lines to the front passage so a guest, without monitoring it, is attracted to that front entryway.

  56. Reply Humberto May 31,2016 2:02 am

    hi! you all forget the ciclids, they don´t need plants in their aquariums, even the DISCUS fish, and their owners maintains pH levels and other parameters ok. Having a planted aquarium with natural or fake plants is your choice, of course is more desirable the natural plant, but not a live or death situation, don´t worry, the most important thing is the bacteria living in your filter, that’s the matter, and in acuascaping the plants are MOST important than fish!

  57. Reply Ka Andres Jun 22,2016 4:46 pm

    As a starter of being an aquarist, I salute the author of this article. As I see, he just made some false details/information about when he sided with the “fake” plants since he really wanted the people to give their best in explaining why “live” plants are infinitesimally better than the former. An I would say he succeeded.

    IMO, the reason why he did not take side very well with the live plants rather he gave some invalid credits for having a fake plants in one’s tank is that it will not get much comment from the great, passionate individuals like you. What minimal effect would it be if the author himself and ONLY himself praises the beauty and goodness of having a live plants. As reader and beginner aquarist myself, I highly appreciate the style of writing by the author!!! He greatly touched us and made us react the way a beginner like me would perfectly choose to plant a LIVE ones.

    Did you notice the lines below in the beginning of the article?

    “What’s Your Say?

    What’s YOUR opinion on this debate? Share it with us in the comments section below…”

    I would say this is one of the most informative article (of course, including the comments) in my search for great information of caring about my fish. Thanks to all the commenters!!!

  58. Reply Martine Jul 10,2016 3:50 am

    I would agree with the assertion that plastic plants have a place in the aquarium. I have spent a lot of money in the last year on live plants which were supposedly easy to grow. Only a few actually thrived such as Java fern, amazon sword,val. The rest look great for the a month or two and then slowly but surely disintegrate. I have become disillusioned and fed up with shelling out money for plants, that even with food and light which should nurture them, take their leave. I’ve recently augmented the aquas cape with some plastic plants with very satisfactory results. Fish will seek out a place of refuge and they get that with artificial plants. I also use tall plastic plants to hide heaters and tubing. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

  59. Reply notbuyingyourbs Jul 14,2016 11:31 pm

    this sounds like a subtle ad for fake plants.

  60. Reply Thea❤ Jul 29,2016 12:33 pm

    Live plant are most definitely better!! They offer food to your fish while you are away for a long period of time and they naturally make the tank look nicer.
    Artificial plants on the other hand are disturbingly ugly and are a waste of time.
    Yes, they are easier to clean and to look after, but if you are not prepared to occasionally go to the pet store and spend money on something that is good for your fish, then I advise that you are not ready for fish.

  61. Reply Shannon Feb 2,2017 12:24 pm

    I’ve had a 32 litre coldwater tank for nearly a year now. It’s had 5 or 6 fish for most of that time (comet, ryukin, 2 zebras and 2 bristlenose catfish, who all get along famously!), with only fake plants. I’ve had both green and brown algae blooms, and need to do 50 percent water changes, gravel vac, filter maintenance (need a better one), glass cleaning and plant ornament cleaning WEEKLY, to keep it looking good. I understand that the tank is at capacity fish-wise, so I accept that necessity. I’d like to move to live plants,but I’m concerned about disturbing them. Typically I remove everything from the tank when I gravel vac, and give it a bit of a clean (in aquarium water), – 4 fake plants and two ornaments.
    If I move to a sensible choice of live plant: can they be moved? Do I need to vac as thoroughly? Will the algae problems and need for thorough cleaning diminish somewhat?
    How will my routine change?
    I should add that while I’m new to all things aquatic, I’ve read as much as I can find, and my fish are healthy and happy, as far as I can tell. What I’m doing seems to be working, but of course that’s not to say that there aren’t better ways!
    Thanks for any pointers.

  62. Reply NewbieWanKenobi Mar 28,2017 12:09 am

    This is the best thing I’ve read this year. You guys killed it with comments. I was thinking of going tommorow to get me some fakes, bit I guess I’m going for the live ones. Some of the comments I will surely re-read, because they are borderline genius witty.

  63. Reply Samara Apr 16,2017 7:23 am

    Live plants! This article give some good information but I started my fishtank with live plants cause i love gardening without seeing worms comeout of the dirt. I would introduce them(plants) when you are doing water changes that way you can use some of the old water in a clean bucket and clease your plants from any snails. Make sure you find a local fish store smallers privately owned stores are usually better in plant prices. I definitely find that the plants great because it also feeds my raibow sharks are always cleaning them. I rather they clean something natural than just plastic/silk.

  64. Reply John Jensen Apr 25,2017 2:19 am

    Wow after reading this I bought a 100 plants on aquabid.com and can’t wait to yank my fake ones out.

  65. Reply John Sep 28,2017 8:14 pm

    The only reason why I don’t use fake plants because number one you don’t know where their are made from and it could be made very poorly made and could be toxin for the fish tank and 2nd it has glue that brings chemicals that it very bad for the fish tank

  66. Reply Erin Oct 13,2017 8:28 pm

    My first tank as an adult was a 10 gallon with goldfish and live plants. I had cabomba caroliniensis, a smaller sword plant (forget which), bacopa, and spiral valisneris. I was using a cheapo tank kit with incandescent lights built in the hood, which I switched out with stronger compact flourescent bulbs. My plants thrived, despite all my futzing about trying to fix the algae-farm conditions that popped up. My swords propagated and I had to trim all my plants regularly, all despite no CO2 additions (I hadn’t heard of Excel at that point, either), and inert pet-store gravel substrate. My fish were healthy and my little stock filter was perfectly adequate to cleaning up whatever nitrogenous waste the plants didn’t consume. Eventually I learned that the algae growth was manageable by changing my lighting period from all day, to about 8-6 hours split up morning and afternoon (when I was home from work and could enjoy the lit-up tank). I learned a lot more about tank and fish maintenance in the process of all this, none of which I would have learned if not for the live plants. Years later I set up another 10 gal at work, with a little stock filter, slow-growing, low-light plants, and red cherry shrimp, pond snails, ramshorn snails. That was around 2012-13, and last I heard it’s still going strong without any intervention by me over the last 3 years. Plants are an essential part of setting up a balanced eco system.
    If you are turned off by the idea of tending plants, or they seem cool, but overwhelming at this stage — don’t get them. If it seems like they might be fun/interesting/useful, they certainly are and you should go for it. But to say that plastic plants are better looking and better for your tank overall, that is not realistic.

  67. Reply T.J. Mahar Feb 7,2018 3:49 am

    I had a few fake plants and then started with a Fern and Anubis. After seeing the difference, I tossed the fake stuff. In fact, I won’t use fake anything…wood or any other decorations. They make your tank look like garbage. Notice you won’t find any aquascaping contests with fake plants..never.My tanks are now full of awesome plants and people constantly compliment me. Lastly, nature is humbling. Yeah, you’ll have fish die, yeah plants too. It’s part of tanking. But the beauty of a natural tank is completely satisfying.

  68. Reply lanee Jun 18,2018 8:45 pm

    My family just got an aquarium and I don’t like the algae growing on our plastic plants. I consider the benefits of fake plants and I know there is a way to clean them but I like how the real plants help the fish environment and don’t collect algae on their leaves. I want to remove my fake plants. Is this the right choice?

  69. Reply Joshprg Nov 4,2018 7:13 pm

    Joke of the day:

    “Dennis is an experienced aquarist with many years of knowledge and experience in keeping successful tanks”

    Someone saying that artificial plants are better than live plants obviously knows nothing about the aquarium hobby, what kind of hoax-site is this?

    Not to mention that the plastic plants will be covered in long, black and ugly algae very soon due to the lack of living plants taking care of nitrate, amongst others…

  70. Reply R. Catfish Dec 12,2018 2:06 am

    I am a noob and this is my first 10 gallon. I got a couple of amazon swords and some moss balls and so far absolutely nothing has happened. The roots went through the pot and into the gravel, and that’s fine. I am pruning every week. Even though I don’t gravel wash and have no means to do it, thanks to my corys, snails, catfish, and plants ammonia and nitrate are both 0 ppm. OP, I know that some people just can’t raise plants, but don’t try to discourage those who can.

  71. Reply Nic Dec 15,2018 10:49 pm

    I had my live plants in a tank for over a year with no lights or special equipment. So, (though my natural setup it far more sophisticated 5 years on) live plants often don’t need significant extra care.

    The only fake plants I have are sitting in a cabinet.

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