There never was a one-all silver bullet for looking after aquatic plants that thrive.
For a successful planted aquarium LED lighting will have the most impact on growth but a comprehensive guide is needed to help with best utilizing that.
For maximum efficiency of the selected grow lights, the newcomer 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 healthy growth is the goal of your planted tank then which LED brand and model will work best for you? Is there something else you should know?
|Light Name:||Suggested Aquarium Depth:||Grows:||Price Bracket:|
|1. Finnex Planted+ 24/7||Shallow / Medium||Medium / High-light Plants||$$$|
|2. Fluval Plant 3.0||Shallow / Medium||Medium / High-light Plants||$$$$|
|3. NICREW ClassicLED||Shallow||Low-light Plants||$|
|4. Beamswork DA Pent||Shallow||Medium / High-light Plants||$$|
|5. Finnex StingRay||Shallow||Low-light Plants||$$|
|6. Finnex FugeRay Planted+||Shallow||Medium / High-light Plants||$$$|
|7. Current USA Satellite+ PRO||Medium||Medium-light Plants||$$$$$|
|8. Finnex Ray2||Deep||Medium / High-light Plants||$$$|
A-to-Z 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.
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 to growing plants.
You’ve probably heard someone saying that the best Kelvin rating for aquatic vegetation is 6500K.
Some claim it is even higher, reaching up to 9000K or above.
This misconception persists because it has been known that the Sun burns at around 6000K at noon.
Being the main source of light for all outdoor plants alike some folks have hinted that it might has 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 5000K is bluish, and light with a K-rating of below 3000K becomes yellowish.
The sun burns at nearly 5700K, 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.
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 LEDs 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.
That’s Photosynthetic Usable (or Utilizable) Radiation or you could say the quality of light per application. PUR is unique for each aquatic plant species.
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, LED manufacturers of aquarium lighting are aware of the difference and are tweaking the formula with each new model.
The diodes on the best LED 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 definitely gives off less PAR than the older model, but in actuality grows freshwater 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 freshwater plants require different spectrum wavelengths than corals, but that’s a topic of another article.
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 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 aquariums, where plants need to make the most of the light’s energy.
Note that this is efficiency we’re talking 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 plants, but rather how well they are able to take advantage of it for their needs.
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.
It just needs to in small quantities in order to not suppress extension growth.
That being said, 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 plants so far.
In my recommendations below I’ve taken it into account so you don’t have to.
4. Mind the water penetration of LEDs
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 surface.
However, an aquarium will be nowhere near that deep.
However, as different lighting models have different spectrum tank depth does play a pretty significant role in your choice for your 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.
5. Tank size & depth matters
There are 2 important aspects of your aquarium’s size that affect the efficiency of your LED lights in regard to growing 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 LEDs 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 plants best, while perfectly fitting your tank’s length.
6. Being flexible with customization features
Some aquarium-grade LEDs will be more flexible in terms of customization than others.
The manufacturers of the cheaper ones are obviously investing in raw performance, rather than fancy features.
The more inexpensive ones that I recommend will grow 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 in 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.
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 plants that will grow under low levels of light would be:
- Brazillian Pennywort
- Java fern
- Java moss
- Guppy grass
…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 plants.
Here’s a photo of a low tech tank heavily planted with easy-care plants:
Photo by: klibs
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 plants, including baby tears:
Photo by: kashif314
A dedicated planted tank aquarist will inevitably want to grow lawn-like lush carpeting plants such as Dwarf Hairgrass or Baby Tears.
With these, you’ll definitely need a stronger fixture. With my gear suggestions below I will be covering all possible setups.
8. Be aware of lensing and avoid “beam lighting”
Modern LEDs 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 best LEDs designed to support aquarium plants usually come with 60º lenses.
This will give off light in a 60º angle per a single diode.
To compare, a LED diode without a lens will give off light in 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 aquarium.
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.
Again, this may or may not be needed, and only in the cases where your fixture does not fit your fish tank perfectly.
What is the best LED grow light for vigorous aquarium plant development?
It has been proven that LED grow lights stimulate photosynthesis rates to an extent that currently makes them the best artificial source for planted aquarium lighting.
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.
1. Finnex Planted+ 24/7 – Overall Best LED for a Planted Tank
Purchasing the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 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 fixture’s utilizing 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 require the most light.
Use this fixture on a depth of at least 12 inches or its potent spectrum will induce algae.
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 its 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.
The thing 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 LEDs 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.
- Will grow virtually every aquarium plant there is
- Outstanding performance in medium-deep tanks (12 to 21 inches)
- 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 and a fish tank with a brace
- 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
The Fluval Plant 3.0 is, in my observation, rivaling the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 in terms of performance.
I’ve not personally owned this fixture but I have a very close friend of mine who runs it on 2 of his 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. 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.
Aside from that, the body is rather lightweight and has a sleek design.
It also has something that not many manufacturers can brag about – a waterproof rating of IP67.
This basically means that water evaporation won’t harm the LEDs, which extends the expected life of the fixture significantly.
Another pro I think is worth mentioning is that the lenses here allow for 120 degrees of illumination, completely eliminating the beam-light effect. No shady corners in your aquarium.
An issue I would like to point out is the App, which controls the light customization.
This light is pretty 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.
The Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 is an overall great LED for freshwater aquariums that aim at keeping thriving live plants.
It is somewhat new to the fishkeeping world, but it has the potential to rise 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 plants
- Detailed customization available
- The lightweight sleek body design
- Waterproof certified (IP67)
- 120º lensing for maximum spread of the beam
- 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 fewer 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 tank is
3. NICREW ClassicLED Lights – Perfect for Low-light Tanks on a Budget
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 fixture is exactly perfect for 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 the colors of your fish really pop, by the way. 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 of before purchasing.
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 evaporations 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 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 will be fine.
The NICREW ClassicLED is an overall killer choice for budget aquariums intended for a low-light planted setup. If this was my situation, I would buy this light.Advantages:
- Extremely flexible on aquarium sizes
- Grows low-light plants
- Spectrum is ideal for colorful fish
- You pay roughly $1 per 1 PAR (great water penetration for money)
- SUPER affordable
- Night mode
- Not at all waterproof (installing it over a glass top is a must)
- Extendable brackets can be misleading because they do not ensure full fish tank light coverage
- Loose brackets (another reason to have it over a glass top)
4. Beamswork DA FSPEC 0.50W Pent – Grows plants in Shallower Tanks
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 gallons long and a 30-gallon breeder high-tech planted tank. Basically tanks with 12″ of height.
It will support the growth of high-light requiring plants well in these setups, which given its price is more than welcome.
Beamswork tends to keep it 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 the timer (they have their own model which works well with their fixtures).
The daylight spectrum brings out colors of fish and 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 beam blending and if the water surface gets too excited by your filter or aerator you might notice a slight disco-colored bottom.
To avoid that I recommend you to get these fixtures if your substrate is a darker color.
Other than that these are rather cheaply priced LEDs with no extra features that will grow live 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 plants and fish pop
- 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)
5. Finnex StingRay – Perfect for a 5-gallon low-tech tank
As the title goes this light will serve smaller aquariums pretty well.
If you plan to have a small 5-gallon planted fish tank, with a couple of nano fish or a betta in it the Finnex StingRay may be your best bet in terms of LED lighting.
Low-light 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 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 LEDs.
Get this light if you’re having a small low-maintenance planted tank with a betta or some other nano fish in it.Advantages:
- Beautiful daylight spectrum that makes your plants pop out
- Grows low-maintenance plants in shallower tanks (no more than 10 inches deep)
- Simple and sturdy build
- No customization
- Mounting brackets are somewhat flimsy
- The cord is shorter than with your usual LEDs
6. Finnex FugeRay Planted Plus – Grows Difficult Plants in Shallow Tanks
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 standard height tank to grow an underwater carpet.
It 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 it 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 LEDs 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 aquarium.
Though you probably figured that out by now, I think it’s also worth mentioning to use CO2 in such a setup, to further reduce the chance of algal spores developing.
I would buy this LED 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 plants
- Powerful output
- Gives a very eye-pleasing pink-ish tint to the aquarium
- Is fantastic for shallower high-tech setups
- LIghtweight and thin body
- 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)
7. Current USA Satellite Plus PRO – Ideal for stem Plants in Medium-Deep Tanks
I’ve found the Current USA Satellite+ PRO to not be a popular choice for freshwater planted tanks.
However, 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 it could definitely look after your medium-light plants.
These basically include stem plants and, rarely, an easy-to-grow carpeting plant.
The spread of light is decent and it covers the tank well.
This LED fixture does not provide sufficient lighting for demanding red plants or at least not enough to stimulate explosive growth rates.
Following these thoughts, I would run the unit over my medium-depth tanks that are very heavily planted but do not contain super difficult plants.
This way I’d take advantage of the Satellite+ PRO’s potential to the fullest.
Aside from plant growth, this product is the perfect addition to a display tank.
Why? Because it has tonnes of fancy features.
It’s 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 is that you need to keep in mind is that you have to manually turn it on after the power comes back.
It 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 it over a glass top because the body is not waterproof and evaporation tank water may damage it.
I’d purchase this product, if I want to have a beautiful heavily planted 55 or 75-gallon tank, that will not contain hard-to-grow live plants.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
- More expensive
- Not waterproof (run it over a glass aquarium hood)
- The remote control does not work over long distances
8. Finnex Ray2 – High Water Penetration
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 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 want 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 plants in deeper fish tanks
- Needs to be run over a glass top (is not waterproof)
- Shorter cord (meh…)
Which LEDs should work best according to your planted tank’s size and gallon count?
I’ve motivated and explained in detail each of my size-related recommendations in my general LED lighting guide, which you can find here. Click the link and right at the top, you’ll find a table containing each aquarium size. Find yours and click on that to see why I’m suggesting this precise model for these setup and 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
- 75-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Current USA Satellite+ PRO
- 75-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Planted+ 24/7
- 90-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Finnex Planted+ 24/7
- 90-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Ray2
- 125-gallon tank with low-demand plants: Current USA Satellite+ PRO
- 125-gallon tank with high-demand plants: Finnex Planted+ 24/7
Though I’ve mentioned the answers here, I also have a separate guide on choosing lighting for a 125-gallon aquarium, because not many manufacturers offer a 72-inch long fixture and fitting can be a nuisance.
Should you go for the more cheap ones 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 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 they’ve proved themselves to me and others countless times already, just make sure to get the right one for your planned plant setup.
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 LEDs may also induce algae because the blue and ultraviolet spectrum are utilized by most algae species.
Should I use a lighting calculator to estimate the needs of my aquarium plants?
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 plants
Having the right lighting is just 50% of the equation.
The fertilizers go in either the water column or in the substrate.
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 guide.
Give it a skim and you’ll learn how to distinguish quality from phony advertising.
Over to you
You should now be confident and knowledgable 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 setup, tell me in the comments and I’ll do my best to offer you a piece of advice.