Live plants in your aquarium can add tons of natural beauty to any room and help maintain a healthy environment for your fish and other tank inhabitants. If you’ve ever tried growing aquatic plants in freshwater aquariums, you likely know how challenging it can be to keep them alive and thriving. Using the best LED aquarium lighting for plants is critical for a beautiful planted tank. Our favorite LED aquarium lighting is the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 HLC Aquarium LED Light.
Having the appropriate light source is crucial for planted tanks, and the right LED lighting can mean the difference between gorgeous, vibrant plants and those with sickly or yellowing leaves. We put together these reviews for our favorite aquarium lighting to help you choose the best LED lights for your tank.
Best LED Aquarium Lighting for Plants:
What is the Best LED Lighting for Plants?
Our all-around favorite LED aquarium lighting for planted tanks is the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 HLC Aquarium LED Light. This lighting system is powerful enough to provide plants with all the light they need for proper growth, and it’s customizable with different intensities and colors to keep your other tank inhabitants thriving as well. The light cycles will maintain a natural environment in your tank.
Overview of Aquarium Lighting Options
There are several different lighting styles you can choose from when deciding on a source for your planted tank. We’ll discuss each of these below, along with some benefits and drawbacks.
1. Fluorescent Light
Fluorescent lights are typically chosen strictly for their affordability. They have a relatively short lifespan, a low heat output, and are between incandescent bulbs and LEDs as far as energy consumption. These bulbs generally have a decent intensity, so you could use them for slow-growing plants or non-crowded planted tanks.
2. Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL)
Compact fluorescent lights have a high intensity like standard fluorescent bulbs, so they’re suitable to support plant growth and promote healthy-looking leaves. They generally last longer than traditional fluorescent lights, but they still don’t hold a candle to LED lights in terms of longevity.
CFLs are very affordable, which makes them particularly attractive to new aquarists. They have a low heat output, so they’re unlikely to create dangerous hot spots or temperature spikes in your tank.
3. Incandescent Light
Incandescent light bulbs used to be standard throughout homes, and they’re still readily available and very affordable.
They have a comparatively low intensity, as only about 10% of the energy consumed is given off via light, while 90% is lost through heat exchange. This means that they’re the most likely to interfere with your tank water’s temperature, and they’re the least efficient.
Their lifespan is about a fifth of fluorescent lights and significantly shorter than LED lights.
4. Metal Halides
Metal halide bulbs – commonly referred to as halogen bulbs – have the highest light and heat intensity of all the bulb types. They tend to heat your tank water significantly, which can be desirable in reef setups or for aquariums containing tropical fish.
The light intensity from these bulbs is also very high, so they’re great for stimulating fast plant growth. However, the bulbs are very expensive, have a shorter lifespan than LED lights, and consume far more energy than other bulbs.
5. LED Lights
LED lights have the longest lifespan of all bulb types by far! Despite having the best longevity, they’re still very affordable and are the most efficient bulbs.
LEDs are the most common aquarium lighting options, so you’ll have the most customization available with this type of light. They come in rails, tubes, and many other fixture styles to fit your tank.
With LED lights, you have the benefit of being able to customize the light intensity and even the color, making them adaptable to continued growth, tank expansion, your aquarium plant choices, and aquariums with fish and invertebrates.
How to Pick the Best LED Aquarium Lighting for Plants
There are many things you’ll want to consider when deciding on the best-LED aquarium lighting.
Wide or long tanks with plants spread throughout the inside will need longer light fixtures or multiple smaller fixtures to provide ample light to all areas. Deep tanks need a higher intensity light fixture, as the light will need to travel through more water before reaching your plants. An appropriate intensity will ensure that even plants on the bottom of your setup receive enough light to thrive.
The light spectrum refers to the color spectrum that you can get from your LED bulbs. Many LED lights have customizable color options, which means you’ll have control over the appearance of your tank. Think of these as the color temperature of your light. You can coordinate the light to match your tank decor, your room’s decor, or your personal preference.
Additionally, having the option to change the color of your aquarium lights means you can maintain a more natural environment for your fish or other organisms. Most plants thrive in full-spectrum light, so it’s often worth investing in a comprehensive light source.
Light intensity refers to how much energy is emitted from your fixture via light, and the intensity determines how practical the bulb will be for growing plants. Light is the most crucial ingredient for healthy plants and will promote growth and help maintain vibrant, green leaves. Some plants need higher light intensity and some plants, like Anubias, can get away with shadier conditions.
Many fixtures allow you to choose how intense you want the bulbs to shine, and dimming capability can help you fine-tune your setup for slow or rapid plant growth.
Life Length and Build Quality
LED lights offer the best longevity among the bulb types, but not all LEDs are equal. Some cheaper LEDs will fail after about 25,000 hours, while pricier options can last beyond 50,000 hours. In order to minimize the amount you spend on your bulbs and fixtures over time, you should make sure only to choose LEDs that are rated for a long lifespan.
Additionally, the better the quality of the fixture around the bulbs, the more likely it is to stand up to dropping or handling for longer periods.
The effects you can create inside your tank with some LED lights are both practical and fun.
Some lights can be customized to emit any visible color, meaning you can make your tank look exactly how you want without compromising the intensity of useful light for your plants. You may want more vibrant colors during the day and less intrusive colors at night.
Some LED lights can be set to mimic cloud cover and moonlight, which can be great if you have fish or invertebrates in your tank that require a more natural light source or limited light at night.
In addition to how the LED lights make the inside of your tank look, you should consider how they make the outside appear. Light fixtures for your planted tank will generally be mounted to the top, and bulky fixtures can detract from the overall appearance of your setup. When you’re choosing aquarium light fixtures, you should think about how they’ll look in your home or office and whether they’ll detract from or add to the decor.
Ease of Use
LED lights very often include a variety of settings, including color, intensity, and light schedules. Some fixtures can be challenging to customize or set up, while others have simple remotes that make changing the appearance or usefulness of the lights easy from anywhere in the room.
What Plants and Animals Are In Your Tank?
Your tank inhabitants can often help you decide on the best LED lights to purchase.
If you have an aquarium with many plants or rapidly growing species like Waterweed or Hornwort, a high intensity will help boost growth and vegetation. Even if you have plants that grow more slowly or fall into the low light plant category, like mosses and Anubia, higher intensities can promote vibrant and healthy leaf formation, improving the appearance of your setup.
If you have fish or invertebrates in your tank alongside your plants, you should strongly consider an LED light with customizable intensity and colors. Simulating a natural environment for non-plant organisms in your tank can reduce stress and ultimately keep your animals healthier. For these purposes, a lower intensity or a more natural color can be beneficial.
Finally, aquarists know better than anyone that maintaining tanks is an expensive hobby, so you should consider your budget when choosing an LED light for your aquarium. LEDs are typically among the most affordable of the bulb types, but more features and customization often bring a higher price tag. You should optimize the features and performance you need with what you’re willing to spend.
This video covers more ways of thinking about purchasing aquarium lighting:
Advantages of LED Aquarium Lighting
There are many reasons LED lights are the most common aquarium lighting options. We’ll discuss some of the more compelling benefits below.
Better Plant Growth
When you’re setting up a planted tank, few things are more important than stimulating plant growth! Lighting and carbon dioxide are the two most critical aspects of plant growth. A good LED light will provide plenty of light that your plants can use to produce chlorophyll and glucose, ultimately leading to faster and healthier vegetation, as well as a more appealing, vibrant tank.
LED lights are very efficient, which means the bulbs last a very long time. The average length of quality LEDs is around 50,000 hours, significantly longer than many other bulb types. With LED aquarium lighting, you’ll enjoy fewer bulb replacements and a lower total cost in the long run. Additionally, you’ll spend less time replacing and maintaining your LED light fixtures than most other bulb types.
The average cost to run a single LED light for one hour is less than one one-thousandth of a cent. That means you can run your lights for twelve hours of simulated daylight for your planted tank and spend an average of under $5 for the entire year.
Not only do LED lights cost less over time, but they’re also easier on the environment.
LED lights are the most efficient options for aquarium lights, which comes with the added benefit of producing the least amount of heat. Too much heat coming off your bulbs can be detrimental for planted tanks that don’t need elevated water temperatures.
Ease of Control
Many LED fixtures allow you to dim the lights to simulate a natural environment, provide “moonlight” for the plants without disturbing your sleep, and change the color of the light to customize the appearance. You can also alter the intensity to control how quickly the plants grow or to set your lighting for specific plant species you want to stimulate. These options aren’t possible with other bulb types.
While other light options typically use gas or filament inside a glass enclosure, LED lights sit inside epoxy resin, which is exceptionally durable and resistant to damage. This is partially why LED bulbs can remain illuminated for 50,000 hours while others burn out in far less time.
The added durability you’ll enjoy with LED light fixtures will mean fewer replacements and a lower overall cost. Most importantly, you’ll have fewer outages, which means your plants won’t have to go without the light they desperately need as often.
LED Lighting Elements
In its most simple application, LED lighting includes three primary elements:
Planted Tank Light Spectrum
When planning a planted tank, you want your light spectrum to be balanced with an emphasis on red and blues. The ideal state is 40-70% of the light in the red and blue spectrum.
Unfortunately, many LED models are deficient in red and blues. In order to solve this, you may have to purchase a higher-end light than you’re anticipating or purchase a light where the spectrum is customizable.
Intensity of Light (PAR)
Just having the right light spectrum isn’t necessarily sufficient for your planted tank. You also need certain intensity of the light that will vary based on your plants. PAR can be broken down into the following categories:
Low Light Plants (25-50 PAR)
Medium Light Plants (100-150 PAR)
This PAR level will grow most plants, especially with proper CO2 dosage. However, red plants might be a little lackluster in color as they typically do better with higher PAR values. This light level is ideal for carpet plants.
High-Intensity Plants (150-250 PAR)
This intensity is ideal for red-colored plants. If you’re planning on a densely planted tank, this is a good light level and will counteract some natural shading that will occur. However, the downside of this intensity is more pruning requirements and algae control work.
Measuring PAR In A Planted Tank
If you’re lucky, the manufacturer of your light will publish the PAR values. That is not always the case though so it can be helpful to understand how to do it on your own.
PAR meters can be extremely expensive so some affordable workarounds include: borrowing a PAR meter at your local aquarium club or renting one from a local fish store. If you have extra funds, you can purchase one yourself, although it will set you back several hundred dollars.
If you want to create a DIY PAR meter, the video below from AquaPros shows a workaround with an Apogee sensor and a digital multimeter that will work for a planted tank.
Understanding Light Spread
Spread is a concern in densely planted tanks where taller plants shade smaller plants. If you have a large, densely planted tank, using two light sources can help reduce spread.
A single light can create a high PAR level in certain areas of the aquarium but also have areas devoid of adequate light intensity. The quality of your lenses and their degree angles will matter with LED lights for planted tanks.
When looking for LEDs, we recommend purchasing LED arrays versus pendants. Higher-end LEDs will also have built-in diffusers to mitigate shadowing.
Best LED Aquarium Lighting for Plants Options
Below are our favorite LED lights and fixtures that we’ve tested for our planted tanks. These are the best LED aquarium lighting for plants options that we can find on the market.
Best Overall: Finnex Planted+ 24/7 HLC Aquarium LED Light
This LED lighting system is super slim and unobtrusive. It takes up almost no space and won’t detract from the appearance of your tank or the room in which it’s housed.
The lights are very powerful and more than capable of providing light for your plants. The lights are intense enough to use in deep tanks as well.
The illumination is fully customizable, so you can choose color, create a lighting schedule, and alter the intensity with the convenient remote.
- It includes a remote control for effortless customization
- It has fully customizable light schedules
- It takes up very little space
- It’s powerful enough to supply light to plants, even in deep tanks
- It’s very durable
- It’s expensive
- The fixture is only suitable for 55+ gallon tanks
This light fixture is equipped with powerful LEDs capable of providing plants in deep tanks with plenty of light. This option is definitely in the running for best LED lighting for aquarium plants.
The light intensity and colors are fully customizable, and you can schedule different settings for a 24-hour period. It includes exciting features like simulated lightning storms and moonlight as well.
It’s very thin and won’t detract from the appearance of your tank.
The mechanism for attaching the fixture to your tank isn’t quite as secure as our top pick, but it didn’t give us any significant problems.
- It includes a remote for easy color and intensity changes
- It has fully customizable settings and interesting options
- It’s very thin and discreet
- It’s powerful enough for deep tanks and fast-growing plants
- It’s very durable
- It’s quite expensive
- The attachment mechanism isn’t the best
NICREW ClassicLED Plus Planted Aquarium Light, Full Spectrum LED Fish Tank Light for Freshwater Plants
This LED light is very thin, but it’s also quite wide and will be more noticeable than some other options on top of your tank.
It includes powerful LED lights that are suitable for deeper tanks and even the most demanding plants. You can customize the intensity and color, but it offers far fewer options and settings than the two previous options.
It doesn’t include a remote, but there is an in-line controller to make adjustments.
It’s available in a variety of sizes, so you’ll likely find one that can fit your tank.
- It has customizable intensity and color settings
- It includes an in-line remote for adjustments
- The lights are powerful enough for deep tanks and fast-growing plants
- It’s suitable for most tank sizes
- It’s very affordable
- It doesn’t include a wireless remote
- It has fewer lighting options than previous products
This light fixture is significantly larger than the previous products, so it may detract a bit more from your tank’s aesthetic.
The light intensity produced by this product will be sufficient for deep planted tanks or for plants that require an abundance of light.
It has a “moonlight” option for a pleasant appearance at night, but there are otherwise no customization options for color.
The fixture is well-made and durable, and it’s available in many sizes to fit your tank.
- It includes a splash guard to protect the boards from water
- It’s made of durable hard plastic and metal components
- The intensity is enough for deep or crowded planted tanks
- The moonlight color option improves your tank’s appearance at night
- It’s expensive
- It doesn’t include a remote
- There are very few options for color customization
This LED fixture is very thin and takes up minimal room above your tank.
It has a lower intensity than some of the previous options, so it’s best for slow-growing plants or moderately shallow tanks.
There are no color options, so you’ll have to stick with the preset natural light appearance. There are two settings for intensity.
This light is rather expensive, especially for the few options you get. However, it’s made very well and feels extremely durable, so we’re confident it will last you quite a while.
- The very sleek design won’t detract from your tank’s appearance
- The two intensity settings offer some customization
- It’s intense enough for moderately shallow tanks and most plants
- The setup is simple and secure
- It’s very durable
- It’s expensive
- There are no color options
- There is no remote included
This light fixture is slim and will take up very little space above your tank.
It has an impressive range of features, including multiple light color settings to mimic your plants’ natural environment. You’ll be able to make changes to the color right from your phone if you download the app.
This light provides less intensity than some of the previous products, but it’s sufficient for shallow and uncrowded tanks.
The mechanism to attach the light to your tank doesn’t feel very sturdy, so you’ll need to be careful when handling anything near your setup.
- The slim design won’t detract from your tank’s appearance
- You can control the light from your smartphone
- It has many color and intensity features for customization
- It can fit many different sized tanks
- It’s not the best option for deep or crowded tanks
- The attachment mechanism isn’t the sturdiest
This LED light is super small and takes up very minimal space above your tank. It casts the light out at a wide angle to maintain good coverage.
The intensity ranges from moderate to extreme, so this is ideal for very deep or crowded tanks. The high settings mimic the power and output of a metal halide light.
There is very little customization possible with this fixture, so the color will be determined mainly by the intensity.
This light is very costly and will likely fall outside of many aquarists’ budgets.
- The wide-angle light means excellent coverage from a small fixture
- It mimics sunlight very accurately and promotes plant growth
- It has a wide range of intensity settings
- It can mimic metal halide bulbs in output
- It takes up very little space above your tank
- It’s very costly
- There are no color customization options
LED Aquarium Lighting FAQs
Do Aquarium Fish Like Light?
Aquarium fish enjoy light during the day, but they can get stressed and be more prone to infection and disease if you leave the lights on at night.
Which Color Light is Best for Aquariums?
Most aquarists maintain that natural light is best for aquariums. However, plants and even most fish can thrive in different color lighting. You’re free to choose which suits your room or setup best.
Do Blue LED Lights Cause Algae?
Many people believe blue lighting is responsible for algae growth, but nothing about blue-spectrum light promotes algae. Light intensity and duration are primarily to blame for algae growth.
Are LED Lights Too Bright For Fish?
Provided you set them at the right intensity for your tank, LED lights will be perfectly safe for fish and won’t cause stress as long as you turn them off at night.
Can I Leave My Aquarium Light On 24/7?
Most plants can survive in 24-hour light, but they require a dark period to thrive. Fish and invertebrates absolutely need a dark period, so make sure to run your lights for no more than 12 hours a day if you have fish in your tank.
Do Fish Like Light in Their Tank?
Fish enjoy light during the day, but they need a dark period at night to rest. Failing to provide them with proper light during the day and darkness at night can stress them and leave them open to fungus and diseases.
Should I Turn Aquarium Lights Off at Night?
You should shut your aquarium lights off for about 12 hours throughout the night. Fish, invertebrates, and aquatic plants all benefit from darkness at night and need a break from the light to thrive.
Conclusion: Best LED Aquarium Lighting for Plants
Aquatic plants require adequate lighting to grow, thrive, and maintain an appealing and healthy color. With the proper LED lights, you can supply your plants with plenty of light, customize your tank’s appearance, and minimize your energy costs.
Our favorite LED light fixture for planted tanks is the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 HLC Aquarium LED Light. It offers tons of customization, excellent light intensity, and has a sleek, unobtrusive design. Finding the best LED aquarium lighting for plants is a personal decision so we’re curious what you use in your tanks. What is your favorite LED Aquarium light?