Can Cichlids Be Kept in a Planted Tank? Which Cichlids Don’t Harm Plants?

Cichlids and live plants are generally thought of as two things that do not go well together. This can be a disappointment as cichlids are some of the prettiest fish out there and in many cases can even rival and surpass saltwater fish when it comes to the aesthetics.

Cichlids, however, have a dark side to them and they usually love uprooting stuff and this can include plants. This is a shame though as the highly personable cichlids would make for excellent inhabitants of planted aquariums. As such, it is only natural to wonder whether cichlids can be kept in a planted tank? The surprising answer is that cichlids can indeed be kept with live plants.

Of course, there are some caveats here and simply adding cichlids into a planted tank will almost always result in a plant massacre. There are two special cases where cichlids can be kept in planted tanks without the plants suffering their wrath and today, we will uncover both these methods.

Cichlids that do not harm plants

You read that right. There are indeed some members of the cichlid family that are as docile around live plants as any fish out there. These can be further subdivided into two based on their size.

Large centerpiece cichlids for planted aquariums

Cichlids are bold and beautiful and almost all of them would make for great showstoppers for a planted tank. The only downside is that most of them would transform your tank from a planted tank to one with a lot of plants floating around in a matter of hours.

However, there are exceptions to this rule and two of them are really beautiful and can grow to a large size. This makes them perfect as centerpiece fish for your tank. The cichlids in question are the Freshwater Angelfish and the Discus. Here is a closer look at both:

Freshwater Angelfish

These are flat-bodied arrowhead-shaped cichlids from South America. Even though they are semi-aggressive, they can be kept with smaller fish that are docile in nature which makes them the perfect candidate for a planted aquarium. They can grow to a maximum size of 6 inches and that along with their stunning metallic hues make them an eye-catching spectacle among live plants.

The fancy varieties with flowing fins and rarer colors further up the ante in the looks’ department. Their natural habitat includes a lot of aquatic plants and hence they can feel perfectly at home among live plants. They also do well in slightly acidic water which is fortuitous as achieving such conditions in a planted tank is quite easy.


Even though the overwhelming majority of cichlids are stunning to look at, the Discus is in a league of its own. Flat-bodied just like the angelfish but circular in shape, the Discus can come in a variety of some of the most stunning colors and patterns. This has quite understandably earned it the moniker of the “King of the Aquarium”.
Discus Fish in a Planted Tank

Even though they can get quite large with maximum size often touching 8 inches, they are extremely docile. In fact, you can keep the diminutive Neon Tetras with Discus fish without putting the life of the Neon Tetras in danger. Similarly, they are harmless around plants as well.

The Discus fish also prefer slightly acidic water. The only thing to remember is that these are some of the most demanding fishes out there in terms of care requirements and they need pristine and stable water conditions at all times.

Dwarf cichlids and planted tanks

If you do not have the space in your aquarium to accommodate larger cichlids like Angelfish and Discus, Dwarf Cichlids offer a great alternative.

They are almost as stunning as their larger cousins and in many cases are even more colorful. They are perfect for those who are looking to create a smaller aquascape and need some really eye-catching fish.

They prefer slightly acidic water that is on the softer side. These fish are quite docile and do not try to uproot plants. In fact, they feel safer and more confident in a planted tank allowing them to exhibit coloration that is even more brilliant.

Great examples of dwarf fish that can be added to a planted tank include the following species:

They can also be kept with smaller non-cichlid community fishes like Tetras and Corydoras catfish making them one of the most ideal occupants of a planted fish tank.
Cockatoo Dwarf Cichlid in a Planted Tank

Plants that can withstand cichlid aggression

The options mentioned so far are for people who do not have any particular cichlids in mind and just want to add them to a planted setup. As we just saw, the options can be quite limited. What if you are approaching it the other way around?

What if you really like a particular cichlid but want to know if they can be kept with plants? These include cichlids like the Mbuna and Haps which are notorious for constantly digging the substrate and uprooting everything in sight. However, with the right approach, even these cichlids can be kept in a planted tank, and here is a step by step how to add these cichlids to a planted tank:

  • Cichlid safe plants – This is the most crucial step of all. It should be quite obvious that not all plants will be able to stand up to the aggression of something like an African Cichlid. It is also worth remembering that most of these aggressive cichlids require harder water with slightly higher pH and the plants you choose should be able to tolerate such an environment. Great examples of such plants include:
  • Wait For The Plants To Be Properly Established – This is another key step that should not be ignored. Always set the tank up with plants before adding the fish. Make sure that the substrate is deep and wait for the plants to establish themselves well. This will allow them to grow strong and deep roots making it almost impossible for the fish to uproot them. So, plan your tank out in such a way that you get your fish well after the aquarium has been planted.
  • Choose The Right Cichlids – While you can go with almost any cichlid out there with this approach, there are still some members of this family that just cannot be kept with plants. These include the super-aggressive varieties and the ones that can grow beyond a maximum size of 6 inches such as Jaguar cichlids and Oscars.

In summary

Keeping cichlids and live plants in the same tank can be a bit of a challenge but with a little bit of care and patience, you can use this combination to create some of the most unique and beautiful fish tanks in the hobby.

1 thought on “Can Cichlids Be Kept in a Planted Tank? Which Cichlids Don’t Harm Plants?”

Comments are closed.

Available for Amazon Prime