Best LED Grow Lights for Explosive Aquarium Plant Growth & Color


Updated: October 17, 2020
There never was a one-all silver bullet for looking after aquatic plants that thrive.

LED aquarium lights will likely produce the most plant growth in a planted tank but a comprehensive guide is needed to help with best utilizing that.

For maximum efficiency of the selected grow lights, the beginner should be familiar with the right photosynthesis-inducing spectrum, for example.

Also, if on a budget, will cheap equipment be able to provide that for the money?

Will a lighting calculator be able to tell the most beneficial light quantity for a freshwater tank with live plants?

If vigorous aquarium plant growth is the goal of your planted tank then which brand of LED lights will work best for you? Is there something else you should know?

The 8 Top-Rated LED Lights for Growing Lush Aquarium Plants

Light Name: Planted Aquarium Depth: Grows: Price Bracket:
1. Finnex Planted+ 24/7 Shallow / Medium Medium / High-light Plants $$$
2. Fluval Plant 3.0 Shallow / Medium Medium / High-light Plants $$$$
3. Current USA Satellite+ PRO Medium Medium-light Plants $$$$$
4. NICREW ClassicLED Shallow Low-light Plants $
4. Beamswork DA Pent Shallow Medium / High-light Plants $$
6. Finnex StingRay Shallow Low-light Plants $$
7. Finnex FugeRay Planted+ Shallow Medium / High-light Plants $$$
8. Finnex Ray2 Deep Medium / High-light Plants $$$

Beginner guide on LED grow lights and their role in a planted aquarium

To provide aquatic plants with an educated choice of aquarium lighting you need to be familiar with how both parties function.

I suggest bookmarking this page for further reference as it’s not a small amount of information. Here’s a complete beginner guide on LED aquarium lighting for aquatic plants:

1. Don’t fall for the Kelvins myth

I often hear (and read) how other fishkeepers determine the effectiveness of their grow light by using Kelvins.

However, this measurement can be quite irrelevant for growing aquarium plants.

You’ve probably heard someone saying that the best Kelvin rating for aquatic vegetation is 6500 K.

Some claim it is even higher, reaching up to 9000 K or above.

This misconception persists because it has been known that the Sun burns at around 6000 K at noon.

Being the main source of light for all outdoor plants alike some folks have hinted that this Kelvin range might have something to do with plant growth.

In actuality, however, this couldn’t be further away from the truth.

In laymen’s terms, the Kelvin rating is the color temperature of light emitted from a light source.

Anything above 5000 K is bluish, and light with a K-rating of below 3000 K becomes yellowish.

The sun burns at nearly 5700 K, but because of our atmosphere, it gives off a white hue at noon.

However, when it comes to LED lighting, the K-rating that manufacturers state has nothing to do with the actual burning temperature.

Why you may ask?

In aquarium lighting the Kelvin ratings are based on a metric called Color Correlated Temperature (CCT).

Color Correlated Temperature is basically the correlation of perceived color from two different light sources.

This means that the human eye will perceive the light color from a 5800 Kelvin LED or fluorescent aquarium lighting as it would perceive the color of sunlight.

However, the fixture won’t literally burn at 5800 Kelvin.

Following these thoughts, here’s how Kelvin ratings impact aquarium plants:

The only real use of Kelvin ratings in aquarium lighting is their perceived color. Lower Kelvin ratings of 3000 and below will give off a yellow hue, medium Kelvin ratings of around 6000 will appear white and higher Kelvin ratings will be blue-ish. The Kelvin value of grow lights does not impact the growth of aquarium plants.

2. PAR readings and their role in growing freshwater plants

The range between 400 and 700 nanometers on the light spectrum chart is called Photosynthetic Active (or Available) Radiation – PAR.

This is all light that can be employed by plants for photosynthesis.

Nowadays LED lights are spectacular at mimicking that.

However, PAR only measures the quantity of light in that range.

There’s another, dare I say, equally important abbreviation that you might want to be familiar with and that’s PUR.

Photosynthetic Usable (or Utilizable) Radiation, measures the quality of light per application. PUR is unique for each aquatic plant species.

This would mean that, with everything else being equal, a LED lighting fixture with the right diodes can grow freshwater aquarium plants better than one that seems to have the same PAR output.

PUR is good to have, but PAS is where it’s at.

Photosynthetic Action Spectrum (PAS) indicates which wavelengths of light activate photosynthesis in particular.

These are the wavelengths that trigger a response in chlorophyll A and chlorophyll B (which stimulate plant growth).

PAS is considered for plant growth in particular where PUR can be related to plant health as well.

As you might’ve guessed PAS wavelengths are also unique for each plant.

Luckily for us planted tank enthusiasts, the manufacturers of LED aquarium lighting are aware of the difference and are tweaking the formula with each new model.

The diodes on the best LED lighting fixtures will now target more PUR and ideally PAS while keeping the PAR just about enough.

Here’s a video of a somewhat famous aquarist testing the PAR levels of a next-generation LED aquarium light, compared to its previous version.

The new one (Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0) definitely gives off less PAR than the older model, but in actuality grows freshwater aquarium plants better.

It’s a good practical example of what I’m explaining here.

Though it now seems obvious, I think it’s noteworthy that the LED lights used to grow aquarium corals require different spectrum wavelengths than freshwater aquatic plants, but that’s a topic of another article.

Which brings me to my next section…

3. Pursuing the best grow light spectrum for your aquatic plants

The electromagnetic spectrum that falls under the Photosynthetic Active Radiation contains blue, green, white, and red light, as perceived by the human eye.

You can see that in the below image:

Each of these is essential for inducing growth in aquarium plants, with some more than others.

You can see to what efficiency each spectrum wavelength is being used by freshwater plants in the below graph:

What this chart shows is that red light is used the most by plants, followed by blue.

Contrary to the popular belief green light is also used, though around 30% is being reflected (hence the green color of most plants).

Because of its lower absorption rate green penetrates the plants’ leaves deeper than the other two colors.

This makes it even more valuable in deep, planted aquariums, where live plants need to make the most of the light’s energy.

Note that this is efficiency we’re talking about here.

Blue light is high energy particles and for various reasons most of it is somewhat “lost” in the process of photosynthesis.

Note that this graph does not reflect how important the color of the spectrum is for aquarium plants, but rather how well they are able to take advantage of it for their needs.

Michigan State University conducted an experiment to show how important red and green light can be for growing plants.

See a photo of the experiment showing how each plant performed:


As you can see the most plant growth was achieved by combining 50% Red and 50% Hyper Red light.

Another thing that stands out is that the combination of Red and Green light performed better than anything including over 25% blue light.

However, this is not to say that blue light is not an essential part of photosynthesis.

Blue just needs to be in small quantities in order to not suppress the extension growth of live plants.

That being said, we can conclude that the light spectrum that supports the growth of freshwater aquarium plants best should include:

  • At least 50% red light in the wavelength range of 630 to 700 nanometers
  • At least 35% green light in the wavelength range of 500 to 580 nanometers
  • No more than 15% blue light in the wavelength range of 435 to 495 nanometers

Okay, a lot of red, some green, and just a little bit of blue. That’s the perfect spectrum formula for aquarium plants so far.

In my recommendations below I’ve taken it into account so you don’t have to.

Now, let’s add water penetration to the equation.

4. Mind the water penetration of LED lights

Ok, so you know what the right kind of light for a planted tank should be.

For aquatic plants to thrive, however, this light needs to reach its target.

The spectrum changes with water depth.

Here’s an illustration of how wavelengths of light penetrate water:

As you can see our precious red light gets absorbed pretty much on the water’s surface.

However, a planted aquarium will be nowhere near that deep.

Looking through the non-custom made commercial fish tanks in the industry you’ll find that the deepest one is 28″ (71 cm) deep.

That’s a 150-gallon fish tank.

Even at that depth, your aquarium plants will only miss out on around 7% of the incoming red light.

Green light quantities will remain pretty much stable and so will the blue spectrum.

However, as different lighting models have different spectrums, tank depth does play a pretty significant role in your choice of freshwater plants.

I’ve got that sorted out for you in my recommendation section below.

They are all based on my personal experience and observations during work with my clients, where I craft personal gear suggestions for aquarium setups.

Now, let’s talk about aquarium depth.

5. Tank size & depth matters

There are 2 important aspects of your planted aquarium’s size that affect the efficiency of your LED lights in regard to growing live plants:

  • Tank depth (or height) – this affects water penetration of the spectrum. The lighting fixtures that I recommend will pierce the water excellently, but some will be a better choice than others for certain aquarium height in regards to optimal vegetation growth.
  • Tank lenght – This dimension comes into play when you’re selecting the size of your fixture. There are LED grow lights with extendable brackets and ones without. The brackets only guarantee a good fit and not full light spread and coverage. Some fixtures are limited in size options, so I made sure to recommend whatever will grow your aquatic plants best, while perfectly fitting your tank’s length.

The tank’s width is not that important as the light spread of the fixtures I list below covers 24″ easily. That’s way more than your typical tank width. Only aquarium tanks with a width of over 18 inches and a depth of over 24 inches would benefit from a second lighting fixture.

6. Being flexible with customization features

Some aquarium-grade LED lights will be more flexible in terms of customization than others.

The manufacturers of the cheaper lights are obviously investing in raw performance, rather than fancy features.

The more inexpensive ones that I recommend will grow aquatic plants just fine as long as you follow my instructions and pointers.

Anyway, the more advanced aquarium LED lighting will allow for better control over the spectrum and on some occasions could even simulate weather patterns.

The weather simulations are more of a gimmick for display purposes.

The spectrum customization, however, could play a role in the healthy development of plant mass.

If a timer is being included in the pack then you’ll be enjoying a really nice bonus, because it makes scheduled maintenance pretty much care-free.

7. Keep in mind your freshwater plant selection

Some freshwater aquatic plant species will require more light than others.

There are ones that can be extremely picky of the required intensity and others that will simply thrive under low lighting.

The low-demand ones are usually recommended for beginners, because of their hardiness.

Some aquarium plants that will grow under low levels of light would be:

  • Brazillian Pennywort
  • Java Fern (click the link for a beginner-friendly care sheet on that one)
  • Java moss
  • Moneywort
  • Hornwort
  • Guppy grass
  • Anubias
  • Vallisneria

…The options are too many to be listed here.

These are all good options to make for a heavily planted freshwater tank with diverse vegetation.

However, keep in mind that eventually (as we all do after we get hooked) you’ll want to add some more beautiful but demanding aquarium plants.

Here’s a photo of a low-tech aquarium, heavily planted with easy live plants:

Photo by: klibs

Aquatic plants used in the above setup: Pennywort, Anubias, Vesicularia montagnei (Christmas Moss), Blyxa Japonica, Crypt Wendtii, Ceratopteris thalictroides (water sprite).

And here’s a photo of a high-tech tank, planted with demanding aquarium plants, including Baby Tears:

Photo by: kashif314

Buying a more advanced lighting fixture will guarantee you excellent plant growth. You’ll be comfortable in adding high-light plants later without considering a new purchase to fit your needs.

A dedicated planted tank aquarist will inevitably want to grow lush carpeting aquarium plants such as the Dwarf Hairgrass or Baby Tears.

Carpeting plants just look so good in an aquarium!

However, with these, you’ll definitely need a stronger lighting fixture.

Anyway, with my gear suggestions below I will be covering all possible setups.

I will explicitly mention which fixture suits your plans best, to save you time on further research.

8. Be aware of lensing and avoid “beam lighting”

Modern LED aquarium lights use lenses in order to concentrate the beam of the diode more.

This gives more PAR and water penetration, which is good for more demanding aquatic plants, such as the carpeting ones.

Though light-emitting diodes penetrate water fantastically anyway, the top LED lighting fixtures, designed to support aquarium plants, usually come with 60º lenses.

This will give off light at a 60º angle per a single diode.

To compare, a Light Emitting Diode (LED) without a lens will give off light at a 120º angle.

As you can see this enhances performance in terms of water penetration and it may further stimulate developing plant mass in the species that are located in the outer parameter of your planted aquarium.

In some cases, however, lensing could lead to the beam light effect.

You’ll see where the beam ends and if your grow light does not fit your fish tank’s length perfectly there will be shadowing in the corners.

Removing some of the outer lenses will eliminate this problem.

The process of doing so is absolutely simple even if you’ve never held a screwdriver.

Here’s a short video on how to do it.

Again, this may or may not be needed, and only in the cases where your fixture does not fit your fish tank perfectly.

I made sure to recommend LED grow lights that will best fit in each tank size, but I felt like it was worth mentioning anyway.

What is the best LED grow light for vigorous aquarium plant growth?

It has been proven that LED grow lights stimulate photosynthesis rates to an extent that makes them the best artificial source of light for a planted aquarium.

Below you’ll only find reviews of models that I’ve personally used or ones for which I have at least a couple of real-life success examples from my customers or friends.

These are the best LED lights for explosive aquarium plant growth:

1. Finnex Planted+ 24/7 – Overall Best LED for a Planted Aquarium

Click here to see the current price + more photos on Amazon.

Purchasing the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 LED is probably the best thing you could do for your freshwater aquarium plants.

The engineers behind this grow light conducted actual scientific research to make sure the Finnex fixtures utilize the most efficient spectrum for photosynthesis.

My experience with it confirms their findings, at dare I say, 100%.

Turns out this model of LED lighting will grow pretty much anything in a medium-to-deep planted freshwater aquarium.

It has no issues growing demanding carpet plants or pretentious red plants.

If you’re familiar with the aquatic flora you already know that, basically, these plant species require the most light.

Use this LED fixture on a depth of at least 12 inches or its potent spectrum will induce algae growth.

The deepest tank I’ve put a Planted+ 24/7 on is 21 inches, which equals the standard height of a 55, 75, and 125-gallon tank.

Aside from their potential to support vigorous plant growth, these lights come with a full pack of customizable features. They are accompanied by a handy remote control, which gives you control over different weather patterns, including the 24/7 mode.

The latter will simulate a 24-hour cycle of lighting, mimicking outdoors conditions.

Though beautiful these are more of a display gimmick, so you could just put it on a timer if you want.

Anyway, the feature you could take serious advantage of is the customizable spectrum, where you’re given complete freedom.

Note that CO2 injections are recommended alongside this fixture because its potent light-emitting diodes can otherwise induce algae.

I encourage you to go for the purchase only if you’re planning a medium to high tech planted tank.

The fixture is physically durable and the only part I’m not really satisfied with is the plastic mounting brackets.

They allow you to mount the lighting body on a brace or a rimless aquarium.

Finnex could probably improve this but the somewhat brittle brackets do the job of holding the unit in its place.

Another inconvenience I would like to mention is the overall shorter cord. No idea why it’s this short.

Good for entry-level hobbyists but also used by experienced fishkeepers (me included), this LED light is definitely top-notch when it comes to aquarium plants.

I recommend.

 Advantages: 
  • Will grow virtually every aquarium plant there is
  • Outstanding performance in medium-deep tanks (12 to 21 inches of aquarium depth)
  • Fantastic pricing for the value you get
  • Deeply customizable
  • The 24/7 mode is a care-free way to look after your aquatic plants
  • Brackets are designed to fit on both a rimless tank and on the ones with a brace
 Disadvantages: 
  • The cord could be longer (it’s not super-short, but it’s not a convenient length either)

2. Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 LED – Premium Growth for Medium Depth

Click here to see the current price + more photos on Amazon.

The Fluval Plant 3.0 is, in my observation, rivaling the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 in terms of performance.

I own these LED lighting fixtures personally but I also have a very close friend of mine who runs it on 2 of his display tanks.

He’s basically a guru at planted tanks and also my teacher, so to speak.

In an attempt to give you guys a piece of valuable advice I’ve consulted with him for this review.

Anyway, I can see that the live plants in his fish tank setups with the Fluval Pant Spectrum 3.0 are flourishing with growth.

This is definitely a LED light for medium or high-requiring freshwater vegetation.

Pressurized Carbon Dioxide is recommended by definition on planted tanks that run this unit or you’ll find yourself in an algae situation.

I’ve seen the Fluval Plant 3.0 crush it on anything with 21 inches of depth, which are basically your 55 and 75-gallon standard tanks.

In terms of customization, I could say that these LEDs are slightly better than the Finnex one above.

Here, on top of everything else, you get pre-setting modes that include a “Planted Tank” mode. If you want to squeeze the maximum potential of the customization, you could ramp up the white and red and lower the blue wavelengths.

The pre-set mode will absolutely grow your aquatic plants though.

Aside from that, the body of the Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 LED is rather lightweight and has a sleek design.

It also has something that not many manufacturers can brag about – a waterproof rating of IP67.

A rating of IP76 basically means that water evaporation from your aquarium won’t harm this LED light, which extends the expected life of the fixture significantly.

This may be the reason why the manufacturers offer a 3-year warranty.

No other aquarium lighting can beat that.

Author’s note: – The Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 LED is, in fact, more durable than the Finnex Planted+ 24/7, from my observations.

Another pro I think is worth mentioning is that the lenses of this fixture allow for 120 degrees of illumination, completely eliminating the beam-light effect. No shady corners in your planted aquarium whatsoever.

Anyhow, an issue I would like to point out with the Fluval Plant 3.0 is the App, which controls the light customization.

This LED light is relatively new to the market and the App needs some polishing.

From time to time there may be connectivity issues, which completely removes your control over the lighting in your tank.

Another thing is that if there’s a power outage the light will get stuck on blue until you come home and reset the settings from your mobile phone. Too long of this and algae may sprout (though we’re talking days, here).

Nevertheless, the Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 is an overall great LED light for freshwater planted aquariums that aim at keeping thriving live plants.

It is somewhat new to the world of planted tanks, but it’s already risen to the top.

If you have the budget and the right setup in mind – definitely go for it.

 Advantages: 
  • Grows pretty much any aquatic plant
  • Efficient for medium-deep aquariums
  • Has pre-set grow modes that work for aquatic plants
  • Detailed customization available
  • The lightweight sleek body design
  • Waterproof certified (IP67)
  • 120º lensing for maximum spread of the beam
  • 3-Year Warranty and is very durable overall
 Disadvantages: 
  • On a rare occasion, the App has connectivity issues, which leaves you helpless for the time being (Fluval has improved that with time and there are almost no reports of it happening now)
  • The transition of dusk and dawn is not that smooth (this doesn’t really affect your plants)
  • After a power outage, you need to reset the settings from the room where the aquarium is
  • May seem pricey, though that’s normal for a premium product of this class

3. Current USA Satellite Plus PRO – Ideal for stem Plants in Medium-Deep Tanks

Click to compare pricing + see MORE photos of this product at:

My experience shows that in a tank with a decent depth such as the 55-gallon and the 75-gallon ones, which are both 21 inches deep, the Current USA Satellite+ PRO could definitely look after your medium-light plants.

That type of vegetation I’m referring to basically includes stem aquarium plants and, sometimes, an easy-to-grow carpeting plant.

The spread of light is decent and it covers the whole planted tank well.

This LED fixture does not provide sufficient lighting for demanding red plants or at least not enough to stimulate explosive growth rates (red plants, for example).

Following these thoughts, I would run the grow light over my medium-depth fish tanks that are very heavily planted but do not contain super difficult aquatic plants.

This way I’d take advantage of the Satellite+ PRO’s potential to the fullest.

Aside from plant growth, this LED grow light is the perfect addition to a display planted tank.

Why? Because it has tonnes of fancy features.

The Current USA Satellite+ PRO is programmable to simulate all kinds of weather patterns, including thunderstorms or passing clouds.

The timer that comes with it is better than your usual one, as it remembers the settings even after a power outage.

The only thing that you need to keep in mind is that you have to manually turn it on after the power comes back.

The Satellite Plus PRO lighting fixture also comes with a remote which, at least to me, is pointless because it only works on a very close range.

Do make sure you run this LED light over a glass top because the body is not waterproof and water evaporation from your planted aquarium may damage it.

I’d purchase this product, if I wanted to have a beautiful, heavily planted 55 or 75-gallon tank, that would not contain difficult live plants.

Just a quick note that if you’re going to shop anything Current USA, then Chewy.com is your friend.

They always have it on some kind of discount, it’s never out of stock and, often, the prices will beat even those at Amazon.

 Advantages: 
  • Supports the growth of medium-light stem plants fantastically
  • Has a beautiful natural spectrum
  • Spectacular show-off modes
  • Blue LED diodes do not induce algae
  • The timer is better than most
 Disadvantages: 
  • More expensive
  • Not waterproof (run it over a glass aquarium hood)
  • The remote control does not work over long distances

4. NICREW ClassicLED Lights – Perfect for Low-light Tanks on a Budget

Click here to see the current price + more photos on Amazon.

If you clicked the link to Amazon you’ll notice the enormous amount of positive reviews the NICREW has.

This is not surprising because many beginners choose to go for the low-risk, low-light planted tank, and this LED lighting fixture is perfect for exactly that.

It’s a budget grow light because the manufacturers made sure to eliminate any unnecessary bells and whistles.

This leaves you with a simplistic design and limited customization that equals roughly 1 PAR per $1.

Obviously, the NICREW ClassicLED is an extremely energy-efficient LED lighting choice.

The PUR and PAS are sufficient too, as It will grow a decent range of low-light live aquatic plants.

The spectrum makes your colorful fish to really pop, by the way.

Anyway, generally speaking, you’ll save on the initial cost and electricity used afterward.

If this sounds too good to be true, rest assured that there are some disadvantages that you should know before purchasing this LED light for your aquarium.

First off, the fixture is nowhere near waterproof, so installing it over an open-top can significantly lower its lifespan.

Make sure to have a glass lid over your aquarium or the water evaporation will be the end of the unit.

Also, the extendable brackets are only that – extendable.

If you buy the shorter fixture and extend them to fit a larger planted aquarium you’ll get limited light spread and shadowing in the corners.

The brackets are also not the best supporters.

You need to be very careful when opening the lid as they don’t fit that great.

As long as you don’t accidentally push them or anything you’ll be fine though.

The NICREW ClassicLED is an overall killer choice for planted aquariums on a budget, intended for low-light plants. If this was my situation, I would buy this light.

 Advantages: 
  • Extremely flexible on aquarium sizes
  • Grows low-light aquarium plants
  • Spectrum is ideal for colorful freshwater fish
  • You pay roughly $1 per 1 PAR (great water penetration for money)
  • SUPER affordable
  • Night mode
 Disadvantages: 
  • Not at all waterproof (installing it over a glass top is a must)
  • Extendable brackets can be misleading because they do not ensure light coverage of the full fish tank
  • Loose brackets (another reason to have it over a glass top)

5. Beamswork DA FSPEC 0.50W Pent – Grows Aquarium Plants in Shallower Tanks

Click here to see the current price + more photos on Amazon.

The Beamswork DA FSPEC 0.50W Pent is a slightly upgraded version of the Beamswork EA FSPEC.

A slight upgrade, however, does not mean a slight difference in performance.

The Pent will ultimately work for a 10, 15, 20, or a 30-gallon breeder planted tank that’s high-tech in nature. Basically tanks with 12″ of height.

This LED light will support the growth of aquarium plants that require a lot of light, which, given its price, is more than welcome.

Beamswork is on the inexpensive side of aquarium LED lighting.

This is so because you don’t get any additional features.

You don’t even get a timer. You should, however, get a timer (they have their own model which works well with their fixtures).

The daylight spectrum brings out colors of fish and aquarium plants alike nicely, giving your planted tank a really attractive tint.

I’ve used both of the DA and EA models when I was building my tanks on a tight budget and I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

The EA FSPEC is more than enough for a low-tech planted aquarium setup in a shallow (up to 12″ deep) tank.

The EA version will support the basic low-light plants known in the hobby.

The cons here would be that the LED diodes do not provide a perfect blending of the beam and if the water surface gets too excited by your filter or aerator you might notice a slightly disco-colored bottom.

To avoid that I recommend that you get these light fixtures if the substrate in your aquarium is a darker color.

Other than that, the BeamsWokr DA FSPEC Pent is a rather cheaply priced LED light that will grow live aquarium plants in a shallow tank.

If your plans for a planted aquascape fit in this description then purchase either model and call it a day.

I give the Beamswork LEDs a thumbs up.

 Advantages: 
  • Very competitive pricing
  • A sleek and simplistic design
  • Will grow medium to high-light plants in shallower setups (aquariums of no more than 12 inches in height)
  • Spectrum makes the colors of aquatic plants and fish pop
 Disadvantages: 
  • No extra features whatsoever
  • A timer should be bought separately (use the one Beamswork offer themselves – it’s worth it)
  • If the substrate is a light color then you might notice the disco-effect of beams not blending too well (just go with a darker substrate, such as Black Diamond Blasting Sand which looks good in a planted tank anyway)

6. Finnex StingRay – Perfect for a 5-gallon low-tech tank

Click here to see the current price + more photos on Amazon.

As the title goes this LED light will serve smaller planted aquariums pretty well.

If you plan to have a small, 5-gallon tank that’s planted and also has a couple of nano fish, or a Betta in it then the Finnex StingRay may be your best bet in terms of lighting.

Low-light aquatic plants will thrive under it as Finnex made sure the spectrum is in the sweet spot of wavelengths for photosynthesis.

Though the illumination isn’t enough for more demanding greenery the Kelvins are at 7000, which is great for the overall colorful look of the tank and fish in it.

You won’t be getting any fancy customization, by the way – just an ON and OFF switch.

If you are planning on such a setup, you’ll be satisfied with the growth of your aquarium plants and also with the durability of the fixture. Finnex is known to make long-lasting equipment in the freshwater aquarium lighting industry.

The cons of this unit are the usual suspects – the plastic mounting brackets and the shorter cord.

Both of these can be somewhat annoying but they won’t really impact how the live plants respond to the spectrum of these LED lights.

Get this light if you’re having a small, planted tank that’s low-maintenance and has a Betta or some other nano fish in it.

 Advantages: 
  • Beautiful daylight spectrum that makes your aquarium plants pop out
  • Grows low-maintenance plants in shallower aquariums (no more than 10 inches deep)
  • Simple and sturdy build
 Disadvantages: 
  • No customization
  • Mounting brackets are somewhat flimsy
  • The cord is shorter than with your usual aquarium lights

7. Finnex FugeRay Planted Plus – Grows Difficult Plants in Shallow Tanks

Click here to see the current price + more photos on Amazon.

The Finnex FugeRay Planted+ is a super bright aquarium light that grows high-demanding live plants.

I’ve personally used it on my 30-gallon tank with standard height to grow an underwater carpet.

FugeRay did not have any problems with making my red plants flourishing either.

That’s a depth of 12 inches. This means that this fixture will be suitable as aquarium lighting for any high-tech planted tank from the commercially available ones with such height.

These include the 30 breeders, 20 gallons long, 15 gallons, and a 10-gallon leader.

This may be so because the diodes are heavily leaning towards the red wavelength of the spectrum and as we know 660 nanometers is where it’s at for plant growth.

Frankly, the Finnex FugeRay Planted+ is really the best light I can think of for shallower tanks with demanding greenery.

As for the cons, there are not many.

A major one would be that the build is not IP67 waterproof certified, which means you’d have to position the fixture over a glass lid.

Obviously, this will extend the expected life of the product.

Another thing is that the light does get a little warmer than your usual LED lighting but it’s not actually hot or anything, so there’s that.

It has a night mode, but I would recommend avoiding that as the blue light could induce algae in your planted aquarium.

Though you probably figured that out by now, I think it’s also worth mentioning that you should use CO2 in such a setup, to further reduce the chance of algal spores developing.

I would buy this LED grow light if I wanted to provide my shallow, planted tank with the best spectrum and intensity for vigorous plant growth.

 Advantages: 
  • Spectrum leans on the red (660 nanometers) which is excellent for high-demanding aquarium plants
  • Powerful output
  • Gives a very eye-pleasing pink-ish tint to a planted aquarium
  • Is fantastic for shallower high-tech setups
  • Lightweight and thin body
 Disadvantages: 
  • Short cord
  • Plastic brackets
  • Night mode could induce algae (just don’t use that)
  • Rarely it may start flickering (Use a Q-tip with 99% alcohol to clean the circuit board if that happens – it’s a one-time fix and you’re good to go)

8. Finnex Ray2 – High Water Penetration

Click here to see the current price + more photos on Amazon.

The Finnex Ray2 is absolutely crushing it when it comes to water penetration.

It’s very strong and very bright. I do not recommend using it unless your tank is more than 21 inches deep.

These are basically the 65 (24″), 90 (24″), 150 (28″) and 180 (25″) gallon one if we’re talking standard dimensions.

The Ray2 will induce growth in high-demand aquatic plants at great aquarium depths.

I did make a fool of myself thinking it won’t overpower my 55-gallon, heavily planted tank.

I was wrong.

The light was so bright that it actually burned my aquarium plants and I had to return it.

It’s basically why I keep repeating to folks that high PAR readings are not and never were the goal when growing aquatic flora.

Another thing that should go without saying is that you’ll definitely need CO2 injections to keep algae at bay when running this LED.

I would buy the Finnex Ray2 if I wanted to cover the bottom of a deep tank with a beautiful yet difficult carpeting aquarium plant such as Baby Tears.

A small disclaimer I want to make about that statement is that Baby Tears also requires a nutrient-rich substrate and water column fertilizing, so it’s not JUST about high PAR.

 Advantages: 
  • Enormous output
  • Grows the hardest of aquarium plants in deeper fish tanks
 Disadvantages: 
  • Needs to be run over a glass top (is not waterproof)
  • Shorter cord (meh…)

Which LED lights should work best according to your planted aquarium’s size and gallon capacity?

I’ve motivated and explained in detail each of my size-related recommendations in my general LED lighting guide, which you can find linked right at the start of this article. Click the link there and right at the top, you’ll find a table containing each tank size. Find yours and click on that to see why I’m suggesting this precise model for this setup and aquarium dimensions.

The best LED lighting according to your planted aquarium’s gallon volume and dimensions would be:

  • 5-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Finnex Stingray
  • 5-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Fugeray Planted Plus
  • 10-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Beamswork EA FSPEC
  • 10-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Fugeray Planted Plus
  • 20-gallon LONG tank with low-demand plants: NICREW ClassicLED
  • 20-gallon LONG tank with high-demand plants: Beamswork DA FSPEC 0.50W Pent
  • 20-gallon HIGH tank with low-demand plants: Beamswork EA FSPEC
  • 20-gallon HIGH tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Planted+ 24/7
  • 30-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Beamswork EA FSPEC
  • 30-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Beamswork DA FSPEC 0.50W Pent
  • 40-gallon tank with low-demand plants: NICREW ClassicLED
  • 40-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Planted+ 24/7
  • 55-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Current USA Satellite+ PRO
  • 55-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Planted+ 24/7 OR Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0
  • 75-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Current USA Satellite+ PRO
  • 75-gallon tank with high-demand plants: 2x Finnex Planted+ 24/7 OR Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0
  • 90-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Finnex Planted+ 24/7
  • 90-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Ray2 OR 2x Finnex Planted+ 24/7 OR Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0
  • 125-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Current USA Satellite+ PRO
  • 125-gallon tank with high-demand plants: 2x Finnex Planted+ 24/7 OR Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0

Though I’ve mentioned the answers here, I also have a separate guide on choosing lighting for a 125-gallon planted aquarium, because not many manufacturers offer a 72-inch long fixture and fitting can be a nuisance.

Should you go for the more cheap LED lights if you’re on a budget?

Mind that all the LEDs I am listing here are on the inexpensive side, given the industry’s tendency to overprice equipment.

You could definitely find aquarium lighting that goes up to $400 and it will grow live aquarium plants just as well.

However, the models I review can all be considered budget-friendly and you’ll be getting the best bang for your buck if you decide on them.

As I said these grow lights have proved themselves to me and others countless times already, just make sure to get the right one for your planned plant setup.

That being said, going for a cheaper LED light for your planted aquarium, should not necessarily mean low quality, but, say, limited customization and only sufficing for a setup with low-maintenance plants.

You could say that the fixtures in my guide are the best performing aquarium lights for the money.

How many hours a day should I leave the lights on for my planted aquarium?

Here’s a general lighting schedule for your aquarium plants:

Generally speaking, most freshwater aquarium plants will thrive on 8 hours of full aquarium lighting. If you leave the grow lights on for between 8 and 10 hours, there will be an abundance of light that may be further employed by algal spores. Leaving on any actinic light during the night, also known as “night mode” on most aquarium lights may also induce algae because the blue and ultraviolet spectrum are utilized by most algae species.

If green hair algae or, perhaps, Black algae start appearing in your planted aquarium – reduce the daily lighting schedule to 6 hours which should be enough for your live plants, but will suffocate the algal growth.

Should I use a lighting calculator to estimate the needs of my aquarium plants?

If you go around the Internet you’ll find countless “lightning calculators” that claim to estimate how much light your aquarium plants would need to thrive.

Generally, some out-dated ones will include lumens or lux values (lux being lumens per square inch) and the more advanced ones will try to seduce you with PAR readings.

Here’s why using online lighting calculators will not be of help to your planted aquarium:

Most lighting calculators for planted tanks found online won’t provide aquarists with meaningful insights on how much light their aquatic plants would need to grow well.

The units used in these calculators are often Lumens, which are based on brightness perceived by the human eye, or PAR levels, which do not distinguish between the differently-important for photosynthesis red, green, and blue wavelengths.

That being said quantity of light is important for aquarium plants, but what actually makes the impact is providing the right spectrum and wavelength.

I discussed both of these in my guide section right above the individual product reviews.

Additional tricks to further boost the growth rate of your aquarium plants

Having the right aquarium lighting is just 50% of the equation.

To boost your aquatic plants’ development to its full potential you’ll need to dose CO2 and fertilizers.

You should definitely be able to recognize what’s the best fertilizer for your aquarium plants if you want to achieve a contest-worthy planted tank.

Visit the link and have a quick skim over my guide on that. I made it very-beginner friendly and you’ll almost immediately discover the right aquarium fertilizer for your setup.

Anyway, the basics of it are that the fertilizers go in either the water column when in liquid form or in the substrate when they come as root tablets.

Speaking of substrates, there are ones that are specially designed to grow aquarium plants. You definitely need one of those for 100% healthy and thriving growth.

However, some of them will be expensive, yet won’t contain the key nutrients advertised on the bag.

To sort out the good from the bad ones and to help you understand the whole nature of substrates for aquarium plants I’ve created this beginner guide.

Give it a skim and you’ll learn how to distinguish quality from phony advertising.

And before we finish – do your research on a good CO2 regulator so that your planted aquarium could benefit from a stable and precise dosing of Carbon Dioxide.

Over to you

You should now be confident and knowledgeable enough to make an educated choice.

Explosive plant growth will come as long as you follow the instructions and pick the best LED grow lights for your setup.

I wish there was someone who’d sit and tell me all the things I had to learn the hard way throughout the years.

If you’re still unsure or have a custom planted aquarium, tell me in the comments and I’ll do my best to offer you a piece of advice.

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Marc

Fantastic article! For a beginner like me, tank depth is something that’s hard to find information on. Gallons is a poor benchmark because the shape can differ. I’ve been contemplating a Fluval Plant LED for a 24″ deep tank I’m looking to setup, but I want to keep it low-medium lighting plants (I can barely find time to mow my lawn outside, I don’t want to manage an out of control garden in the house too!)

rahman

so, how many percent red, green, blue, and white if i want make LED HPL 36 Watt and every led 1 watt? my tank deep 40 cm and height 60 cm.

Stephan Gaigher

The spectral percentages you give are Red 50%, Green 35% and Blue 15%, however the customizable led’s have a White channel as well. Do you recommend setting that at 100%?

Ron

Part of the cost of these lights is that they are waterproof. Lights intended for growing plants indoors are less expensive and have the same wavelengths as recommended here. I bought these:

Link.

They are not waterproof so I mounted them behind the tank facing towards the plants. Much cheaper!

Richard

Hi love the info on this site
Have a 100gal reefer Aquarium with Radion lights
The problem I’m having is that I’m getting to much light I think as I’m getting brown algae growing on all my plants. Right now my red and green are 100% blue and RedBlue are at 40% Uv at 50% and white 100%. I also add co2 which has stimulated plant growth nicely.

asef

what is it that green is doing for the plant?

Tara

Hi, I recently bought a Fluval Plant 3.0. The led colours don’t include green. Pink, blue, cold white, pure white, and warm white. Is this providing the proper spectrum?

Lenore

I was about to purchase the Finnex KLC 24/7 model for my 29 gal tank (19″ tank depth). However, Amazon’s chart says only the Finnex CRV and Finnex Plant models have True 660nm Red LEDs. Isn’t that important and shouldn’t I buy one of those models instead?
Also, do the remotes allow you to shut the lights off completely? The tank is in my son’s bedroom so it’s important that there is no light at night.
Thanks for your information!!!

Aaron

Hello,

I have Nano-Cube 28g and I have simple basic plants. This aquarium comes with some intense LED lights that are made for salt water, but I’m using this for fresh water. I’m able to control the intensity of the light through an app on my phone to change blue, white and red levels as a percentage. Would you happen to know the levels I should set each individual color for my application? There is no green light and when I read the article I didn’t see a percentage for white light (unless I missed it). Thanks!

Tina

this is the first article i found that provided actual numbers. thank you so much dude! i’m trying to build my own light and this helps a great deal.