What Plants Do Neon Tetras Like? Tetra Planted Tank Ideas

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When setting up your aquarium for your Neon Tetra fish, one of the biggest considerations will be which plants – if any – you’re going to include in the setup.

Plants are a great way of adding some color and depth to an underwater habitat, but you might be wondering whether Neon Tetras even like plants, and if they do, which ones should you buy?

Photo by u/OutlandishnessFar154 on Reddit

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I’ll take you through some of the most popular choices for Neon Tetra plants, as well as explaining why it’s worth adding them to the tank at all and a couple of important things to consider when deciding how many plants you should add.

What plants do Neon Tetras like?

Neon Tetra fish like plants that filter light, and can provide a hiding space when they want to rest and relax. Frogbit and Dwarf Water Lettuce are good floating plants for light cover, while they also like Java Fern, Hornwort, Brazilian Pennywort, Ludwigia Repens and Java Moss.

Dwarf Water Lettuce by u/Woodner on Reddit

These are good plants to buy for your Neon Tetras because not only do the fish like them, but they’re well-suited to living in the same water parameters. They’ll be relatively easy to keep alive and healthy and in turn, will give your Neon Tetra fish the protection and security they’re looking for.

Read more: Neon Tetra pH and water parameters guide

Neon Tetra fish don’t like harsh lights. It’s disorientating and can stop them from getting enough sleep. It’s a good idea to set up a blackwater aquarium for them, but if you don’t want to then at least make sure any lights are softer.

Floating plants can help with this – they provide a natural barrier to sunlight, stopping the tank from being too bright.

Water lettuce is a great floating plant that grows naturally in the same water parameters that Neon Tetras enjoy. Frogbit is also a good choice – with the added benefit that the stems will provide some good natural spots for the fish to swim around and hide amongst when they’re feeling a little stressed.

You just need to take care that these plants don’t grow too wild and cover the entire surface of the tank. It’s good to filter the light but blocking it entirely with an overgrown tank should be avoided. Trim it back when it starts to get a bit too wild.

Taller, leafy plants like Amazon Sword are the other main type you should be looking for to add to your Neon Tetra habitat. While there aren’t many plants that are bad for your Neon Tetras directly, there are some that are better suited to a Tetra’s water parameters.

Amazon Sword towering over Cardinal Tetra

Java Fern and Hornwort are solid choices for starter plants because they’ll grow to a good height (around 10 inches for Java Fern and up to 24 inches for Hornwort) but are hardy and easy to care for.

Brazilian Pennywort is another popular choice although it does need a little more care with liquid fertilizer, but it’ll only grow to 8 inches so can be used to provide some variety in plant height.

Ludwigia Repens is similar to Brazilian Pennywort, except it also needs more light – so it’s crucial you get the balance right with your floating plants. However, this red plant does provide some nice contrast to all the greenery, and will look great in a darker aquarium.

Finally, I’d recommend Java Moss as another plant to consider. It’s very resilient, and it has a nice compact structure that provides Neon Tetras with plenty of good hiding spots. It won’t grow too tall, but as a carpeting plant will instead spread outwards.

How to maintain aquatic plants

When you’re first setting up your tank, add root tabs to the substrate that will gradually release nutrients for your plants over time. If you place them around the roots, they’ll feed the growth of your plants and you’ll really notice the difference.

Once your tank is established, you can supplement the growth and maintain the health of your plants by adding liquid fertilizer like Seachem Flourish (check the price on Amazon here).

Seachem Flourish root tabs and liquid fertilizer

I add the recommended dose with every water change but don’t over-feed your plants or you may trigger algae growth.

Neon Tetra planted tank ideas and examples

1. Reddit user u/Walknskank used a large Java Fern front and center to act as a centerpiece in this heavily planted tank:

2. This is an excellent tutorial from YouTuber MD Fish Tanks:

3. This professional aquascape looks beautiful but with no cover from taller or floating plants, you’d need to limit the amount of time the tank lights were on to keep the Neons comfortable:

Aquascape by Aquathusiast is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Do Neon Tetras need plants?

Neon Tetras are a hardy fish, and provided you get the water parameters right, you don’t need plants for them to be healthy. But plants are beneficial to the fish – they will likely be less stressed, while the plants can also help maintain the right conditions.

Live plants add oxygen and remove nitrates from the water. The best water parameters for Neon Tetras have nitrates below 20 ppm, which live plants will help to maintain.

Photo by u/Rejillest on Reddit

If you don’t want to add live plants, then artificial plants will at least help to reduce the light filtering into the tank, and also give the fish a place to hide when they need to de-stress.

Remember that Neon Tetras’ natural habitat would have a lot of aquatic plant life. Anything you can do to mimic this will make them feel most comfortable.

Do Tetras like lots of plants?

While Neon Tetras do enjoy having spaces to hide, they also like plenty of open water in which to swim and school. Adding too many plants can restrict them, making them feel like they can’t swim as freely as they want, which can cause them stress.

Neon Tetras are an energetic species of fish. They can be quite playful, and they’re a schooling fish (or more accurately, a shoaling fish). So, you need to make sure they have plenty of room to dart around and cluster together with common species.

Giving them a good balance between plant life where they can hide, and open water, is a great way to make sure your Neon Tetras are happier, which can lead to a longer life.

Do Tetras like heavily planted tanks? Not if they don’t have the space to swim around as freely as they want to. 

FAQs

Do Neon Tetras like plants?

Neon Tetras like plants – they give them somewhere to hide and relax. Avoid overloading the tank, as the fish also like to have plenty of space to swim. A good balance is to provide a mix of tall and floating plants, leaving enough open water for swimming freely.

Can Tetra live with live plants?

Neon Tetra can live with live plants. They can be beneficial, as they help to oxygenate the water whilst also removing harmful nitrates. It’s important to buy plants that can grow in larger substrate – while Neon Tetra don’t tend to dig around in substrate, they can choke on finer gravel.

Do Neon Tetra need a planted tank?

Neon Tetra fish don’t need to have a planted tank, but it is beneficial if they do. As long as the fish aren’t subject to too much light and have somewhere to hide, they will be less stressed. Plants make this easier, whilst also maintaining the ideal water parameters.

Summary

While you don’t need to use plants in your Neon Tetra tank, I would definitely recommend that you do. You’re helping to keep the fish happier by giving them a habitat closer to the one they would enjoy in the wild, and live plants can help to keep the water parameters just right so that the fish can thrive.

Just be careful not to get too carried away. You aren’t spoiling your fish if you buy more and more plants – you might just be spoiling their habitat instead, and not in a good way.

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