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.
  • Waning motivation for tank upkeep over time. As Michael Grossman writes in Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine,

“ 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!