A well-maintained, freshwater aquarium that’s home to a healthy collection of fish can be enhanced by the inclusion of a display of living plants. Planted tanks do require more maintenance and technical know-how than beginner tanks with silk plants, but the end result is well worth the extra effort.
So, what’s the best LED aquarium lighting for plants?
In this comprehensive planted aquarium LED lighting guide, I review seven of the best LED lights for planted tanks to help you choose the perfect lighting rig for your aquarium.
But first, let’s find out more about the technical aspects of aquarium lighting.
Quick Comparisons of the 7 Best LED Aquarium Lights for Healthy Plants
|Finnex Planted+ 24/7 LED KLC Aquarium LED Light||View Product|
|NICREW SkyLED Aquarium Light||View Product|
|Fluval Aquasky LED Strip Light||View Product|
|Current USA 18"-24" Satellite Plus PRO LED Light||View Product|
|BeamsWork DA FSPEC LED Aquarium Light Pent Freshwater||View Product|
|Fluval Plant Spectrum Bluetooth LED 3.0||View Product|
|Finnex Stingray Aquarium LED Light||View Product|
Planted Aquarium LED Lighting Guide
Most people know that plants derive their energy from a process called photosynthesis. But did you know that it’s the color of light that can make the difference between average and supercharged plant growth?
Here’s the science …
Do Kelvins Matter?
You can measure the effectiveness of general-purpose grow-lighting by using Kelvins.
Basically, the Kelvin rating is the metric for the color temperature of light. A K-rating over 5000K is bluish, and a K-rating below 3000K is yellowish.
But that’s irrelevant for growing aquatic plants!
When it comes to aquarium lighting, the K ratings are measured using CCT (Color Correlated Temperature), and the K value does not have any effect on the growth of aquarium plants.
PAR, PAS, and PUR
However, what is of interest on LED lighting unit labels are the PAR, PAS, and PUR numbers.
On the Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR) light spectrum chart, the range of 400 to 700 nanometers indicates the light that can be used by plants for photosynthesis and, therefore, growth. LED lights replicate that perfectly.
However, you also need to look out for PUR (Photosynthetic Usable Radiation) and PAS (Photosynthetic Action Spectrum). PUR represents the quality of light and is unique for each plant species. PAS indicates the specific wavelengths of light that trigger photosynthesis.
Thankfully for aquarists, LED aquarium lighting manufacturers have balanced their LEDs specifically to promote optimal growth in aquatic plants.
The Light Spectrum and Its Effect On Plant Growth
The electromagnetic spectrum contains red, blue, white, and green light, as seen by the human eye.
Each of these colors is essential, in varying degrees, to good aquatic plant growth with red being used by most plants, followed by blue. Although green light is used, around 30% is reflected, which is why most plants are green.
So, according to research, for healthy growth, aquatic plants need 50% red light, 35% green light, and no more than 15% blue light.
Water Depth and Light Penetration
To complicate matters, the spectrum changes with water depth, and that can affect your choice of lighting.
Most red light is absorbed in the water surface, blue penetrates deepest, and green sits somewhere between the two.
Fortunately, the deepest commercially made aquariums don’t exceed 28 inches deep, so even in tanks of that size, the plants only lose 7% of the incoming red light. The penetration of green and blue lights remains about the same.
However, the spectrum tank depth penetration varies between LED lighting models. So, you must always check the product label to make sure that the unit is effective for the depth of your tank.
Control Features and Modes
Cheaper LED units tend to lack the fancy customizable color choice features of more expensive ones.
Basic, cheaper models are fine for growing easy-care aquatic plants. However, more advanced units will give you greater control over the spectrum, which is crucial if you’re growing fussier species.
Effects such as lightning storms and cloudy days are a gimmick, whereas a timer will enable you to ensure that your plants get the correct amount of light, in the right colors, at the right time.
Lenses and Beam Lighting
LEDs use lenses to concentrate the diode beam, which improves water penetration. That’s great for demanding plants, including carpeting species.
Lensed LEDs produce light at a 60º angle per LED, whereas the angle without a lens is 120º. So, lensed LEDs give better water penetration, which is better for plant growth.
However, you must buy the correct sized unit for your aquarium. If the light fixture doesn’t fit the aquarium length properly, the corners of the tank will be in shadow, leading to poor or uneven plant growth.
Choosing LED Lighting for Planted Aquariums
Most tropical aquatic plant species need high light levels for proper photosynthesis. The closer the plant grows to the water surface, the more light it needs. Plants with red-tinted leaves need very high light levels, whereas carpet-type species that grow on the substrate need less.
I would recommend species with low light demands for beginner aquarists, simply because these plants are hardier. Good beginner plants include:
- Java fern
- Java moss
If you hope to graduate to keeping carpet-cover plants such as Baby Tears and Dwarf Hairgrass, I suggest you invest in a more advanced lighting unit that offers wider options, including colors and depth penetration.
LED Aquarium Lighting vs. Other Aquarium Lighting
In recent years, Light-Emitting Diode, or LED aquarium lighting, has become much more popular than more traditional forms of lighting units, especially when it comes to planted aquariums.
In a nutshell, LEDs are far superior to old-school lighting options.
Easy To Use
Old modes of lighting, such as T5 and metal halide fixtures, need a lot of manual adjustments to keep them working efficiently.
With LEDs, there’s no complicated installation process; you simply plug in the unit, and you’re good to go.
A good quality LED lighting unit can last for between five and seven years or more, unlike those old-style cheap PC lights that popped after just six months.
Generally, LED lights are proven to use 75% less energy than incandescent lighting, and they last up to 25 times longer too. Over a year, that’s going to save you money.
Many fish species, such as bettas, cannot tolerate sudden fluctuations in water temperature and may become stressed, leading to outbreaks of disease.
Some forms of aquarium lighting burn extremely hot, raising the water temperature while the lights are on and causing it to plummet when the light goes off.
In contrast, LED lighting gives off virtually no heat, so you can be confident that the water in your tank will remain at the correct temperature for your fish.
LEDs produce a much brighter light than fluorescent tubes and other forms of aquarium lighting, even if reflectors are used.
Brighter lighting means healthier, more vigorous plant growth, as well as showing off your fish.
As mentioned above, different colors can drastically affect the health and growth rate of your plants.
Many of these lighting units have remote controllers, too, so you can play around with the spectrum settings from the comfort of your armchair.
Top 7 LED Aquarium Lighting for Healthy Plant Reviews
High-quality LED lights are shown to greatly boost aquatic plant growth much more than traditional lighting options.
Here are my top seven recommended LED aquarium lighting choices for healthy plants.
1. Finnex Planted+ 24/7 LED KLC Aquarium LED Light
- 20”, 24”, 30”, 36”, and 48” widths available
- Automated moonrise, sunrise/sunrise settings
- True 660nm Grow Red LEDs
- Moisture protection coating
- Built-in sensor
This LED grow light has been engineered to supercharge photosynthesis in your plants, whether they’re medium or deep-planted, red leaf, or carpet species. This lighting unit can be effective when used on a planted tank up to 125 gallons. However, although that means healthy, rapid growth, the unit is best used on a tank of at least 12 inches depth, or the potent spectrum will encourage the growth of algae.
The lights also offer plenty of customizable features and include a neat remote control. You can create different weather effects, and there’s a 24/7 mode, which simulates a 24-hour lighting cycle. That means you can recreate the outdoor conditions that would be experienced in the plants’ natural environment.
The spectrum is completely customizable, giving you total flexibility to choose the lighting levels in your aquarium.
I recommend this LED lighting fixture for beginners and experienced aquarists alike.
- Excellent depth penetration up to 21 inches
- Excellent value for money
- 24/7 mode enables easy aquatic plant care
- Brackets will fit rimless and brace-style tanks
- Power cord could be longer
- Encourages algae to grow in shallow tanks
2. NICREW SkyLED Aquarium Light
- 12”-18”, 18”-24”, 30”-36”, 48”-54”
- 6500K white LEDs
- Full-spectrum LED (RGB)
- Independent light control
- Extendable mounting bracket
The NICREW SkyLED Aquarium Light is extremely energy-efficient and well-designed. This LED unit is the perfect choice for you if you want a good quality starter LED lighting option that’s excellent value for money and will provide sufficient light for most beginner aquatic plant species.
With super-efficient PAS and PUR, the unit will allow you to grow a wide range of medium to low-light plants in a 20-gallon long planted tank. The spectrum makes the colors of your fish really pop too, which is an added advantage.
The unit has extendable brackets, enabling a safe and secure fit, even on non-standard aquariums. The bright white LEDs are equivalent to 6500K LED illumination, and you get blue moonlight effect glow-lights for night-time simulation, which is perfect if you have nocturnal fish species that are otherwise hidden during the daytime.
- Flexible aquarium sizes
- Suitable for low-light aquatic plants
- Ideal spectrum for colorful fish
- Excellent PAR water penetration for the price
- Night-time mode
- Unit is not waterproof, so must be installed over a glass cover slide
- Extendable brackets can cause shadowed corners
- Brackets are loose, so unit must be installed over a glass cover slide
3. Fluval Aquasky LED Strip Light
- 25-watt power
- 32”-40” length
- 6500K white LEDs
- Tri-colored RGB LEDs
- Customizable lighting options
- 120-degree light dispersion
Fluval is a leading manufacturer of high-quality, value for money aquarium equipment, including filtration units, fish tanks, and lighting fixtures.
The Aquasky LED allows you to customize your lighting rig, pairing super-bright white LEDs with the all-important red, blue, and green tri-colored lights for optimal plant growth. There are also some fun, gimmicky options that you can play around with, including fading lunar, lightning, cloud cover, and stormy weather.
You can adjust the sky and color effects from the comfort of your armchair by using the Skypad infrared remote control. Although they don’t have any notable effect on the growth of your plants, the 11 pre-set sky effects and wide array of color combination choices do enable you to change the mood in your aquarium and highlight the coloration of the different fish species that you have.
The lensed LEDs provide 120o light dispersion for excellent aquarium coverage and uniformity of lighting, so you won’t need to worry about dark corners where your plants don’t receive enough light. The fixture has extendable mounting brackets that can be easily adjusted to fit a variety of tank widths from 36” to 48”.
- Extendable mounting brackets
- Suitable for low-light aquatic plants
- LEDs provide 120o light dispersion and excellent tank coverage
- Wide range of effects and colors
- Unit is not condensation proof, so must be installed over a glass cover slide
4. Current USA 18″-24″ Satellite Plus PRO LED Light
- 48” to 60” length
- Full-spectrum, 4-color LED fixture
- RGB and white technology offers endless color blends
- 12V DC UL transformer
The Current USA LED lighting fixture provides a full color spectrum for excellent medium-light plant growth in planted aquariums up to a decent depth of around 21 inches, including some carpet-cover plant species.
High PAR levels promote strong plant growth, and the 32-key customizable infrared remote-control unit makes adjustments quick and easy. The fixture has a 24-hour timer and a neat fade-up, fade-down feature so that your fish aren’t startled when the bright light comes on.
The unit is advertised as being completely water-resistant and low-voltage for added safety. However, the fixture does tend to attract condensation, so it should be run over a glass top or cover slide to avoid damage to the unit.
Although the light spread is pretty good and covers the whole tank, the lights are not bright enough for the more demanding red plant species. That said, the fixture is ideal for a tank with easy to grow plants and can be programmed with lots of different weather patterns, including clouds and thunderstorms.
- Good natural spectrum
- Blue LED doesn’t encourage algae
- Remote control
- Has a timer
- Unit is not condensation proof, so must be installed over a glass cover slide
- Remote control is not effective from short distances
5. BeamsWork DA FSPEC LED Aquarium Light Pent Freshwater
- 48” length
- Config: 10000K, Actinic 460nm, Red 620nm, and Green 520nm spectrum LEDs
- Lumen 5200
- Timer-ready, Day/Night mode
The BeamsWork Pent is an ideal low-tech solution for a smaller tank up to 12” in height, making it a good basic LED lighting fixture for the smaller aquarium. In this kind of setup, the unit will support the requirements of high-light plants.
The unit is very inexpensive, largely because you don’t get any of the additional novelty features that you do with many other brands. There’s no timer, which is a shame because the manufacturer does offer its own model that you have to buy separately.
That said, for a product that sits in the cheaper side of the market, the daylight spectrum the unit provides does bring out the colors of your fish, as well as keeping your plants healthy and providing a very appealing tint to the whole picture.
Unfortunately, the LEDs don’t give you a perfect beam, and if the current in your tank is quite lively, you may get a disco effect across the substrate. That’s not necessarily a problem provided that your substrate is a dark color.
- Good natural spectrum
- Competitive pricing
- Simple, sleek design
- Perfect for shallower aquariums up to 12” in depth
- Timer must be purchased separately
- No additional features whatsoever
6. Fluval Plant Spectrum Bluetooth LED 3.0
- 24” to 60” widths available
- 6 bandwaves for full spectrum coverage
- Bluetooth connectivity for remote control of lighting
The Fluval Plant 3.0 is a high-performance lighting fixture that’s packed with customizable features and is an excellent choice for tanks up to 21 inches deep, which is generally all 55-gallon to 75-gallon aquariums.
The unit has a choice of pre-set modes, including one that’s specifically for planted tanks. However, the lighting fixture is also completely customizable. So, if you need to, you can increase the white and red lights and reduce the blue wavelengths to really boost plant growth. The LED lenses are designed to give 120 degrees of illumination, so there’s no danger of shadowy corners in your tank.
This LED fixture is different from most of the others on the market at the moment in that it has an App, which controls the unit’s customization feature. That’s a great idea in principle, but you may experience connectivity issues, which totally takes away your control over the tank lighting. Also, power outages cause the unit to stick on blue until you’re around to reset it from your iPhone.
The fixture is lightweight and sleek and comes with a waterproof rating of IP67. That means that evaporation and splashing from aeration units won’t damage the LED lights, thereby extending the life of the unit considerably.
- Good natural spectrum
- Great for medium to deep tanks
- Pre-set grow modes
- Fully customizable
- IP67 waterproof certified
- 120º lensing prevents shadows in tank corners
- Occasional connectivity problems disrupt mobile adjustment of the lighting fixture
- Power outages mean you have to reset the unit from your home
- Expensive compared to other LED lighting units
7. Finnex Stingray Aquarium LED Light
- 12” to 48” sizes available
- 56 x 7000K
- 8 x Actinic blue LED's
- True 660nm red high CRI scoring LEDs
- 27 watts
The Finnex StingRay LED lighting fixture is designed for use with smaller planted aquariums from 5 gallons, making it ideal for a betta tank.
The manufacturer has designed the unit specifically to meet the needs of low-light plants and to show off the colors of your fish. The fixture is pretty basic. There are no fancy customization options, but Finnex is a reputable brand whose products are well-regarded in terms of their quality and longevity.
There are a couple of downsides to this low-tech LED lighting unit in that the plastic mounting brackets do feel a tad flimsy, and the power cord could be a little more generous. But, overall, the product represents good value for money, and it does a great job in providing your plants with everything they need for healthy growth.
So, if you have a small betta tank or a beginner planted tank with a few nano fish in it, this lighting fixture is definitely worth considering.
- Excellent daylight spectrum to show off plants and fish
- Great for small, shallow tanks
- Good quality, simple unit
- Unit is not customizable
- Plastic mounting brackets are rather flimsy
- Power cord is rather short
So, now you have all of the information that you need to choose the perfect LED lighting fixture for your planted aquarium.
Of the products I’ve highlighted in this guide, my favorite is the Finnex Planted+ 24/7 LED KLC Aquarium LED Light.
This LED lighting fixture has been created to produce superior growth rates in aquatic plants, regardless of aquarium depth and plant species. The unit is packed with customizable features, including a 24-hour natural lighting cycle. You also get a remote control, which enables you to play around with the color spectrum until it’s perfect for your plants’ needs.
The only minor drawback to this product is that it may encourage algae to grow in shallow tanks. That said, this is a super quality, totally customizable LED lighting unit that represents excellent value for money and is recommended for both beginners and experienced hobbyists who have a love for beautifully planted tanks.
1 thought on “Best LED Aquarium Lighting for Healthy Plants”
Thanks for the thorough rundown Alison! Leaning towards getting a Fluval 3.0 today for a 90g planted tank, installation will be under a canopy. Id like to have a second one but $$$… Prices/selection in canada are horrible and over priced (usually double US prices by the time it gets to your door). Your info has been invaluable!