20 Best Fish for Planted Tanks

Posted by on 01/18/2024

Whether you’re stocking an existing tank or planning for the future, selecting fish can be a difficult decision.

If you’re looking for some guidance, we’re going to cover a bunch of different stocking options for your planted aquarium. Keep in mind that the majority of fish seen in the hobby will thrive in a planted aquarium (it does mimic their natural habitat after all), but the following list should point you in the right direction. Let's begin!

Fish for Small Planted Tanks

Small planted tanks are some of the most difficult to keep. Less water volume means water chemistry can change at a much faster rate compared to larger-sized tanks. If you're up for the challenge of keeping fish in a smaller-sized tank, here are a few of our favorites.

Galaxy Koi Betta

Betta fish are some of the most common in the freshwater hobby. Their popularity has resulted in an abundance of breeders crossbreeding the species to produce a wide range of colors and patterns.

If you have a 5-gallon planted tank or lager, then a Galaxy Koi Betta might be the perfect addition. These fish sport an out-of-this-world color pattern, and hobbyists will appreciate their active personalities in a planted aquarium. 

Read More: Galaxy Koi Betta: Care, Tank Setup, Breeding & More

Galaxy Koi Betta
Ron Kuenitz/Shutterstock.com
Galaxy Koi Betta

Ember Tetra

When your aquarium lights kick on, Ember Tetras begin to color up. Resembling small flames swimming throughout the water column, a small group of Ember Tetras look fantastic in a planted tank. Their orange coloration contrasts nicely with the green shades seen on live plants, plus their small size (adults grow to about 0.8 inches) and ability to school make them popular fish.

An Ember Tetra
An Ember Tetra

Pygmy Corydoras

Pygmy Corys are downright adorable. They have a puppy-like appearance, making them some of the cutest aquarium fish. These fish can be found lounging along the aquarium substrate, and their peaceful temperament makes them a great choice for planted tank beginners.

Pygmy Corydoras
AquaTuer/Wikimedia Commons
Pygmy Corydoras

Platinum Blue Medaka Ricefish

Ricefish are known for their ability to withstand cold temperatures, making them a unique choice for hobbyists looking to stock a cold-water aquarium. For those of us who do not require a heater in our tanks, the Platinum Blue Medaka Ricefish is nothing short of stunning.

While they're much more rare than the typical Ricefish, we love the look of Platinum Blues in a planted aquarium. Adults will grow to be about an inch and a half in size.

Platinum Blue Ricefish
Pavaphon Supanantananont/Shutterstock.com
Platinum Blue Ricefish

Eques Cory

If you're in search of a unique-looking fish for your small-sized planted aquarium, look no further than the Eques Cory. The fish has landed on our list of 7 Bottom Feeder Fish for Small Aquariums for good reason.

These fish display a brilliant orange and blue coloration but don't expect to find these fish easily. They're very rare, and hobbyists will have to pay top dollar to get their hands on some of these corydoras.

Eques Cory
Pavaphon Supanantananont/Shutterstock.com
Eques Corydora

Bumblebee Oto

Following up with another rare fish is the Bumblebee Oto. These fish are not nearly as common as the related Otocinclus vestitus and are in high demand by hobbyists who are in the know.

These fish love snacking on algae, and their orange color makes them a sight to behold in a planted tank.

Read More: Bumblebee Otocinclus: Care, Size, Where to Purchase & More

Bumblebee Oto
The Bumblebee Otocinclus

Rocket Clown Killifish

If you're comfortable adding a tight-fitting lid to your aquarium, then you'll love the Rocket Clown Killifish. Take one look at the colors on their rocket-like tails, and it's easy to understand why these fish are so popular.

Rocket Clowns are surface dwellers, always in search of new food sources with their upturned mouths. They're known jumpers though, so a tight-fitting lid is a requirement, which may make routine planted tank maintenance a bit more difficult.

Rocket Clown Killifish
Rocket Clown Killifish

More Fish for Small Tanks

If you're interested in seeing even more fish, check out another related blog post of ours: 20 Best Fish for a 10 Gallon Aquarium. All of these additional fish will make great candidates for a planted tank!

Fish for Medium Planted Tanks (20-50 gallons)

Hobbyists who own a 20-50 gallon tank have quite a few options when it comes to stocking choices. Rams, plecos, and even a few cichlids can be housed comfortably in tanks within this size range. 

Let's take a look at some of our favorites.

Celestial Pearl Danios

Native to Myanmar, Celestial Pearl Danios (often abbreviated as CPD), are the go-to fish for planted tank owners. Their bodies, adorned with iridescent spots that resemble small stars, make them highly sought-after.

Technically, these fish can be housed comfortably in smaller tanks (10-20 gallons), but we love the look of a large school of these fish in a medium-sized tank. Hobbyists can keep up to 15 of them for every 20 gallons of water.

Celestial Pearl Danio
A pair of Celestial Pearl Danios

Emperor Tetra

Cardinal tetras and neon tetras are probably the most common tetras in the hobby. But one of the lesser-known species is known as the Emperor Tetra.

These fish are a bit larger than some of the other related species of tetras and grow to about 1.8 inches in length. They're also very active in an aquarium, chasing down food sources and investigating areas of the tank.

There's also a unique color strain of the Emperor Tetra, known as the Blue Emperor Tetra, that we cove in a related blog post: Blue Emperor Tetra: Size, Tank Mates, Temperament & More.

An Emperor Tetra
7TP (Krzysztof Bartosik)/Wikimedia Commons
An Emperor Tetra

Queen Arabesque Pleco

Plecos are downright cool. There are so many of them that the German aquarium magazine DATZ even created their very own classification system, known as the L-classification system. One of our favorites is the Queen Arabesque (L-classification number: L260), and it's easy to see why. 

The fish has a unique zebra-like pattern, making it favorable among pleco-keepers. Hobbyists will pay a premium for this fish, as we've seen them sold for up to $100.

Read More: Queen Arabesque Pleco: The Complete Care Guide

Queen Arabesque Pleco
chonlasub woravichan/Shutterstock.com
Queen Arabesque Pleco

Cherry Barbs

If you're looking for a fish to compliment your green aquarium plants, then look no further than the Cherry Barb. Hobbyists can keep up to 15 of them for every 20 gallons, allowing the aquarist to house a large school of them in a medium-sized tank.

Cherry barbs can be a bit aggressive when first introduced in an aquarium. However, after a few weeks have passed, a pecking order will be established and these fish should demonstrate a much more peaceful temperament.

A Cherry Barb
Kylie St.Clair/Light Fish
Cherry Barb

German Gold Rams

Rams are suitable for medium-sized tanks, and German Golds are some of our favorites. These fish are best suited for tanks with sand-based substrates, as Rams are known to dig into the sand from time to time. But for hobbyists without aquarium carpeting plants, Rams are a great option.

These rams, particularly the males, display a brilliant yellow coloration, but due to their aggressive temperament, hobbyists can only keep one fish for every 20 gallons of water.

German Gold Rams
FishyRamGuy/Light Fish
German Gold Rams

Green Phantom Pleco

Next up on our list is the Green Phantom Pleco. This lemon-lime-colored pleco is quite small - adults only grow to be about 5 inches in length. Hobbyists will want to provide plenty of driftwood for these fish to rasp on, and experienced hobbyists may even want to try their hand at breeding the species.

Keep in mind the fish does share the same L-classification number as another species, which we cover more in our care guide.

Read More: Green Phantom Pleco: Care, Size, Appearance & More

Green Phantom Pleco
5snake5/Wikimedia Commons
Green Phantom Pleco

Kribensis Cichlid

While Kribensis Cichlids are omnivores, don't let that stop you from purchasing this fish for your medium-sized planted aquarium. These fish can live comfortably with aquatic plants, so hobbyists won't need to worry about them taking a bite out of their next aquascape.

Kribensis Cichlids are significantly less aggressive than African Cichlids, and are relatively easy to care for, making them an excellent option for hobbyists looking to get into cichlid-keeping.

Kribensis Cichlid
danifox88/Light Fish
A Kribensis Cichlid

More Fish for Medium-Sized Tanks

If you're looking for some more options, take a look at our list of 17 Best Fish for a 30 Gallon Aquarium, while there is some crossover between these two lists, you'll find some additional fish that are also planted tank-friendly.

Fish for Large Planted Tanks (50+ gallons)

Large tanks sure have their perks. The amount of water stored in a 50+ gallon aquarium means water chemistry changes happen at a much slower rate, allowing hobbyists to correct any issues before they become problematic.

Best of all, huge tanks mean an almost unlimited amount of stocking choices. Here are some of our favorites for planted aquariums.

Blue Diamond Discus

If you have a 75-gallon aquarium, then you can own some of the most prestigious freshwater fish in the hobby - Discus.

These fish, native to the Amazon, are pursued for their rounded bodies, vibrant colors, and laid-back personalities. Discus fish are a challenge to keep, and they're very expensive, so we only recommend them for the advanced aquarist.

If you're up for the challenge, then one of our favorite color morphs is the Blue Diamond. Its bright blue body looks fantastic in a planted aquarium. Just make sure you know what you're getting into before deciding on the species.

Read More: Blue Diamond Discus Care: Diet, Lifespan, Diseases, Breeding & More

Blue Diamond Discus
Brandon Alms/Shutterstock.com
A Blue Diamond Discus

Green Dragon Bristlenose Pleco

While this fish can thrive in a 30-gallon tank, we like this fish in an even larger aquarium. The Green Dragon Bristlenose Pleco will grow to about 6 inches in size, and hobbyists will want to provide plenty of driftwood for this fish to rasp on. There are two variants of the fish, a long-fin version and a short-fin version, and both look fantastic.

Read More: Green Dragon Bristlenose Pleco: Care, Size, Lifespan & More

A Green Dragon Bristlenose Pleco
A Green Dragon Bristlenose Pleco


Ok, if you're an experienced aquarist, you may be surprised to see these fish recommended for planted tanks. For those who are unaware, cichlids have a reputation for tearing up plants. These fish tend to be much larger than the previously mentioned fish on this list, and they can easily knock over plants and uproot your aquascape.

But that doesn't mean you can't keep cichlids in a planted tank! The key to doing so is to have an established tank with rhizome-based plants such as anubias nana and anubias frazeri. You'll want to give these plants plenty of time (at least a few months) to root around your tank's rockwork. Once they've rooted, you can introduce the cichlids. 

Oh, and one last thing, if you're looking for some cichlid tank design ideas, we have you covered in another one of our blog posts: Cichlid Tank Ideas: Hardscape Options, Plants & More

Apistogramma Cacatuoides

While an Apisto can be kept alone in a medium-sized tank, in a larger tank hobbyists can keep a small group of these fish. Hobbyists can keep one male and 2-3 females comfortably in a tank larger than 50+ gallons, but avoid adding additional males. Technically it may be possible for you to keep another male/female group, but males may start to display aggression towards one another. If you do decide to keep an additional male + 2-3 female group, always have a backup tank at the ready in case things go awry.

Apistogramma Cacatuoides
Daylowdart/Light Fish
Apistogramma Cacatuoides

Turkana Jewel Cichlid

The Turkana Jewel is a brightly-colored red fish, with a dorsal fin adorned in iridescent teal dots. Native to Africa, this African cichlid is one of 13 other "jewel" cichlids that make up their genus. These fish will grow to be about 11 inches in length, so a large tank is a requirement. 

When well cared for, these fish will live for up to 8 years, so be prepared to care for them for quite some time.

A Turkana Jewel Cichlid
octurkanas9260/Light Fish
A Turkana Jewel Cichlid

Electric Blue Acara

If you're looking for a beautiful blue fish for your large tank, then the Electric Blue Acara is a great option. These fish hail from south and central America, and they're often recommended to hobbyists new to cichlid-keeping thanks to their peaceful temperament. These fish can live for 10 years and are a bit smaller in size compared to the previously mentioned Turkana Jewel. Electric Blue Acaras (often abbreviated as EBAs) will only grow to about 7 inches in length.

Electric Blue Acara
EBACrazy/Light Fish
An Electric Blue Acara

Kenyi Cichlid

One of our favorite types of African cichlids has to be Mbunas (if you're interested in learning about the others, check out our guide: The African Cichlid: Everything You Need to Know.) 

Mbunas, which translates to "Rockfish" by the Tonga people of Malawi, have earned their name for a reason. These fish love to hang out amongst the crevices formed by your aquarium rock work, similar to the way they hide in the rocks of Africa's Lake Malawi.

There are quite a few popular Mbuna color variants, but we love the Kenyi Cichlid Mbuna due to its blue coloration and vertical black stripes. Hobbyists should be aware that these fish are highly territorial, and you'll want to do your research before introducing these fish directly into your tank. 

A Kenyi Cichlid
A Kenyi Cichlid

Where to Purchase 

If you're looking to track down some of these fish on our list, be sure to check out our marketplace where you can shop and support other aquarists in the hobby.

If you still can't find what you're looking for (and are based in the United States) we built a massive list of over 250 different online aquarium stores to help you in your search.


That wraps up our list of some of the best fish for planted tanks. Did any of the fish on our list surprise you? Let us know in the comments, and if you have a favorite planted tank fish, be sure to let us know!

Also be sure to visit our marketplace where you can shop for anything aquatic, and enter to win free prizes every month!

Image of Miles Harrison

Miles Harrison

With over a decade of aquarium experience, Miles can be found writing about saltwater and freshwater aquariums. When he’s not writing about fish, you can find him going for a run or building websites, such as this one!