It’s no secret that plants need light. It’s the same for aquarium plants. But not just any aquarium lighting will do.
Many basic aquarium lights are not designed with plants in mind. All they do is light up the tank so you can see your fish.
If you want to grow aquatic plants you have to provide them with the right kind of lighting.
We’ll explain what you need to know about aquatic plant lighting, the difference between light types, and finally, our review of the best LED aquarium lights for growing aquarium plants.
In this article
Why Aquatic Plants Need Light
Just like land plants, aquarium plants run on light power. They use light energy to make food for growth and release oxygen into the aquarium.
Plants contain light-absorbing cells that gather energy from the sun and use it for energy.
When we put them into our aquarium, we must do our best to mimic natural sunlight above the aquarium.
Without lighting, the plants gradually yellow and die.
Not All Light is the Same
Chances are if your aquarium has a fluorescent light, it’s not going to work well for growing live plants. Why?
Because the light bulb in the fixture was designed to light up the tank and maybe even make dayglow gravel and ornaments “pop.” These color-enhancing bulbs create a type of light that makes certain colors very intense.
If your goal is to have a “rave” aquarium, this type of lighting works great. But not so much for live plants. Why is that?
Plants need a certain “type” of light to stimulate growth.
You may have seen the term “full spectrum” used to describe plant lighting. Unlike color-enhancing bulbs, full-spectrum lighting is more like sunlight. That’s the kind of light quality aquarium plants need to survive in your tank.
Types of Aquarium Lighting
There are two types of aquarium lights to choose from. Aquarium light fixtures use either fluorescent tubes or LEDs.
Fluorescent light fixtures have been around for decades. The light bulb sits inside a reflector on top of a plastic aquarium cover. You can retrofit this type of fixture with a full spectrum T-5 bulb, but there are better options!
If you want to raise live aquarium plants, LED lighting is the way to go.
LED Aquarium Lights
LED lighting is everywhere. You’ll find LED technology on automobiles, store displays, and even street lights. That’s because LED lighting consumes much less energy than traditional bulbs.
LED fixture uses a variety of colored light emitting diodes to create very specific types of lighting. Some are designed to provide cold-looking white light. Others create a warm glow.
LEDs last for years and don’t burn out nearly as often as other lights.
Unlike fluorescent bulbs, LED technology runs cooler. This prevents overheating of the aquarium water.
LED aquarium light fixtures are less bulky and more attractive than traditional aquarium lighting fixtures.
More Benefits of LED Aquarium Lighting
There are more benefits to selecting LED lighting for a planted tank. Some LED fixtures have built-in timers that automatically turn the lights on and off for you. You don’t need to use a plug-in timer at the wall socket.
Some models have pre-programmed sunrise and sunset features for lifelike lighting.
Unlike fluorescent bulbs, LED lights do not gradually dim and don’t need to be replaced every year.
How to Select an LED Light for Aquarium Plants
When shopping for a LED light, be sure to choose a model designed for freshwater use.
There are many LED aquarium lights intended for reef aquariums with live corals. Reef lighting has a lot of blue LEDs, which work well for corals but should never be used with live freshwater plants.
Look for a LED fixture that specifically says it is for freshwater aquariums and live plants.
Freshwater plant lights use a different combination of colored LEDs that create light that mimics sunlight passing through a tropical river or marsh.
How to Match the Light to the Aquarium
With old-fashioned fluorescent lighting, you could use a “watts per gallon” formula for most aquariums. All that’s changed with LED lighting.
The watts per gallon rule is not very useful because LED technology provides more light per watt.
Some LED fixtures are designed to illuminate a certain spot directly under the light.
Other fixtures use a tank-wide array of LEDs to spread the light out through the entire aquarium.
The best way to choose the right size light is to read the light’s specifications on recommended aquarium depth or dimensions.
Keep in mind some plants like strong lighting while others, like mosses, will thrive in dimmer lighting.
You may not need a super-power fixture, depending on the depth of your aquarium and type of plants you’re keeping.
But we’ll make it even easier by reviewing the top LED lights for growing freshwater plants and giving recommendations based on plant type and tank size.
Top Planted Tank LED Lights Reviews
1. Kessil A160WE Tuna Sun
Kessil is a specialty lighting company located in San Francisco. The company is famous for their unique style of LED aquarium lighting fixtures.
Kessil lights use densely packed LED arrays, combined with a special reflector for maximum efficiency.
The A160WE Tuna Sun is a freshwater pendant light. It is designed to be suspended over the aquarium, using the mounting hardware or the optional gooseneck mount.
The Tuna Sun provides intense daylight-style illumination. The light penetrates to a depth of 24 to 30 inches below the water surface.
Pendant lighting works well when highlighting a single accent species like a sun-loving Amazon sword, directly below the fixture. Plants that thrive under lower lighting will be happy at the edges of the tank.
Light intensity is controlled by turning the output knob on the light or with the app. The wired controller allows you to select pre-programmed sunrise and sunset features.
The Tuna Sun also allows you to adjust the color spectrum of the light too. You can change the look from bright white to golden sunset.
The Tuna Sun can also be daisy-chained to other Tuna Sun fixtures for longer aquariums.
- Silent operation
- Ideal for cube-shaped aquariums
- Can be suspended over the aquarium
- Optional gooseneck mounting system
2. Current USA Satellite Plus PRO
The Satellite Plus PRO fixture looks more like a traditional mount-on-tank design.
The sleek housing sits on slender metal mounting legs. The legs are adjustable to fit a variety of aquarium widths. There are four sizes that fit tanks ranging from 16 up to 60 inches wide.
The fixture provides full spectrum light for strong plant growth while producing vivid colors and brilliant shimmer effects like sunlight penetrating a lake. Good for low and high-light type aquatic plants.
Each fixture uses a combination of white LEDs blended with blue, red, and green (RBG) LEDs to recreate sunlight over your aquarium.
This fixture is perfect for traditional rectangular tanks with a depth of no more than 18 inches (46 cm).
- 24 hour on/off timer with a 15-minute sunrise and sunset feature
- Adjustable color spectrum and intensity
- Six presets including cloud cover, fading lunar, storm and lightning
- Easy control with the wireless remote or fixture touch pad
- 120-degree reflector provides full coverage.
3. Finnex Stingray 2
The Stingray II aquarium light packs white and RGB LEDs in a sleek aluminum housing.
Finnex uses a unique blend of true actinic (blue), true red, and white LEDs to create accurate daylight conditions suitable for live plants.
All Finnex Stingray fixtures use certified power supplies guaranteed to send safe current to the LEDs. This prolongs the lifespan of the light and prevents stressing of the components.
The light is available in seven models for aquariums widths ranging from 12 to 48-inches (30-122 cm). The light sits on top of the aquarium using adjustable plastic legs.
This bright light allows you to raise light-loving plants under the fixture and other plants throughout the tank.
If you’ve got a nano tank, the clip-on FugeRay Planted + clip-on light is ideal.
- Three-position switch for easy selection of color modes
- Moonlight mode simulates evening
- Sleek design
- Recommended for rectangular tanks up to 20 inches tall
- High light output.
4. Fluval Nano plant light
The Fluval Nano LED fixture is designed to work as a single light over small nano planted aquariums.
The small footprint makes it easy to get full coverage in a shallow aquarium or up to a 3-gallon (10 l) nano cube tank.
The light mounts onto the back of the tank using the clip-on mounting bracket. If you’ve got a rectangular aquarium, the Fluval nano is available in multi-packs.
The light comes pre-programmed with biotope-specific settings like Lake Malawi, Tropical, and Planted.
The Fluval Nano is densely packed with LEDs making it easy to grow all types of plants in a small aquarium. Multiple fixtures can be added for larger aquariums.
- Small fixture for nano tanks
- Bright enough for sun-loving plants
- Comes with a mounting system
- Pre-programmed and easy to use
- Bluetooth control.
5. Fluval C.O.B. Nano
C.O.B. stands for Chip On Board. This means more LEDs can be packed into a smaller fixture.
The Fluval C.O.B. nano is designed specifically for shallow nano aquariums.
The fixture is IP67-rated, meaning it is water-proof and can be safely mounted on an open-top aquarium. There is no worry about accidental splashes.
The light is ideal for low-light plants like Anubias and ferns.
The mounting bracket allows for easy movement so you can work inside the tank.
This light uses a simple on/off switch. You’ll need an aquarium timer to control it. There are no pre-programmed settings or dimming function.
- Tiny light for small aquarium
- Simple setup
- Comes with a swiveling mounting system
- Silent operation.
For tiny aquariums containing low-light plants, freshwater shrimp and fish, the Fluval C.O.B. Nano is recommended. It is a simple fixture that will light up the tank and support plant growth.
If you have a small cube aquarium and a wide shallow tank and like the look of pendant fixtures, the Kessil A160WE Tuna Sun provides a boutique light with cool features.
For traditional rectangular aquariums the Finnex Stingray 2 overs a lot of lighting features, sleek looks, and bright light output.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them below!