What are the Best Aquarium Lights For Planted Tanks? (My Top Picks)

by Kevin

LED aquarium light for planted tanks.

A strong aquarium light (with an appropriate amount of photosynthetically active radiation) is one of the most important pieces of equipment for planted tanks.  

Plants use photosynthesis to make food from light.

If a light is too weak or lacks the proper wave length, your aquatic plants will not thrive.

So, picking the right aquarium light is often the difference between slow growing plants and plants that grow like weeds.

Once you dial in the right lighting, plant growth will only be limited by the amount of nutrients available, which can be supplied with liquid fertilizer and/or planted tank substrate.

The problem for most of us is that “plant lights” are super expensive.

And many plant lights are meant for huge aquariums.

So, I’ve put together a list of affordable (or within the realm of reasonable) nano tank lights for growing aquatic plants.

Based on my own experience, these lights are excellent choices for a low to medium light tanks ranging from 3-20 gallons.

Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through links on this page (at no extra cost to you).

TLDR: The Best LED Aquarium Lights

LED aquarium light on a planted tank.

1. Hygger LED Clip Light

2. Hiro Aquatics Full Spectrum LED Spotlight

3. Finnex LED Clip Light

4. NiCrew LED Light

5. Woterzi LED Clip Light

6. Hiro Aquatics LED Light with Bamboo Board

7. Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0 LED Light

What Factors Matter Most for Aquarium Lights

1. Spectrum

Aquatic plants require specific wavelengths of light to photosynthesize and grow.

The ideal spectrum often includes both blue and red wavelengths. Blue light promotes healthy leaf growth, while red light supports overall plant growth and flowering. Full-spectrum lights, which mimic natural sunlight, are generally recommended as they cover a broad range of wavelengths beneficial to plants.

2. Intensity

The intensity or brightness of the light is crucial. It determines how well the plants can photosynthesize.

Intensity is typically measured in lumens or PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation). High-light plants require a greater intensity to thrive, while low-light plants can grow in less intense lighting. The intensity needed can also depend on the depth of the aquarium, as light penetration decreases with depth.

3. Duration

The length of time the plants are exposed to light each day, also known as the photoperiod, is essential.

Typically, aquarium plants need about 10-14 hours of light per day. Too little light can hinder growth, while too much can encourage the growth of algae. A consistent light schedule is often maintained with the use of timers.

4. Type of Light

Different types of lighting systems are available, including LED, fluorescent (T5 and T8), and metal halide.

LED lights are popular due to their long life, range of spectrums available, and low energy consumption. They can also be easily adjusted to change intensity and color.

Fluorescent lights are more traditional and are a cost-effective option, while metal halides are typically used for deeper tanks or high-light requiring plants but are less energy-efficient.

5. Heat Output

Lighting can raise the temperature of the aquarium water.

It’s essential to choose lights that don’t overheat the water, as this can harm the plants and fish. LED lights are advantageous as they generally produce less heat compared to metal halides or older fluorescent bulbs.

6. Spread and Coverage

The light should evenly cover the aquarium to ensure all plants receive adequate light. This is especially important in densely planted or larger tanks. Lights with a good spread will prevent shadowing and ensure lower plants receive enough light, especially if there are taller plants that might block light.

Selecting the ideal light for aquarium plants involves balancing these factors according to the specific needs of the plants and the setup of the aquarium.

It’s also important to consider the aesthetic aspect and how lighting makes your tank look, I’ve replaced a few lights that were great at growing plants but made the tank look unnatural with overly warm or purple tones.

A Review of the Best Affordable Aquarium Lights

For those interested in why these LED aquarium lights made my short list of top lights, keep reading and I will give you my thoughts and experiences.

1. Hygger Clip Light

Hygger aquarium light on a planted nano tank.

The Hygger Clip Light boasts the following specs:

13 watt;

30 LEDS: 24 white and 6 blue;

9000-11000K color temperature;

1330 Lumens.

This light is also available in a 45 LED bulb configuration.

Pros:

Strong LED lights that project concentrated light directly below the LED bulbs

Easily attaches to the edge of a tank.

Flexible goose neck.

Minimal heat (feels warm, not hot).

Cons:

Feels a little flimsy.

Goose neck is short (longer neck would be more helpful).

Covers limited surface area.

Is this Hygger the best affordable aquarium plant light?

The Hygger LED light surprised me for a couple of reasons.

First, the Hygger light is very bright, at least when used above a 5-7 gallon planted tank.

The Hygger LED bulbs are clustered into a fairly small rectangular area, providing intense light directly below the Hygger.

This is great aquarium plants that love stronger light.

The downside is that you may need more than one Hygger to cover the surface area of a tank larger than 7 gallons.

The second thing that surprised me is it’s still working after about a year.

Initially, I thought the Hygger might last three months, but mine has lasted for almost a year, and that’s with daily use (8 hours a day on a timer).

For larger and longer tanks, the Hygger may not be ideal, but for cube shaped tanks or planted nano tanks this light works amazingly well.

Also, it has great Amazon reviews, which you can check out here.

2. Hiro Aquatics Full Spectrum LED Spotlight

This light is a new discovery, but I am pleased to report that it makes an excellent small tank light, especially for tall/portrait style tanks 2-5 gallons.

This Hiro LED Light has the following specifications:

15 watt;

1200 lumen bulb;

6500K color temperature.

Pros:

Adjustable

Ideal for tall/portrait tanks

Minimalist design

Cons:

Get warm, almost hot.

Bracket that attaches to edge of tank feels flimsy

3. Finnex Stingray Clip Light

Finnex stingray clip light growing plants in a nano betta fish tank.

This little LED aquarium light is a gem for nano tanks, especially tanks ranging from 2.5-5 gallons.

The Finnex Stingray Clip light is a 4-watt light and does not provide particularly bright light, so avoid using it on deeper tanks.

But, I can confirm it grows Anubias plants 12 inches below the water’s surface.

For small shrimp tanks and betta fish tanks, this LED light is excellent for growing low light plants, like Java Ferns, moss balls, and other almost un-killable aquarium plants.

The Finnex clip light specs:

12 Daylight (7000K) LED bulbs;

3 Actinic Blue LED bulbs; and

3 Red LED bulbs.

The Finnex Stingray Clip light is not an intense light, but it excellent, and affordable, replacement for aquarium kit lights.

Pros:

Small, slim, and lightweight;

Sleek, nice design;

Flexible gooseneck;

Ideal color spectrum with extra red and blue LEDs;

Grows low light plants.

Cons:

Lacks brightness/intensity for deeper tanks;

Not suitable for light hungry aquarium plants.

4. NiCrew LED Clamp Light

NiCrew aquarium light for small planted tanks and betta fish aquariums.

This NiCrew light works well for small, planted tanks and is strong enough to grow Java Ferns, Anubias, and other plants that thrive in betta fish tanks.

I keep mine on an 8 hour timer and its holding up well after about 5 months.

The 2nd generation of this Nicrew Aquarium light is now available as a 15-watt LED that is bright and seems more intense (more light reaches the substrate) than my Finnex Stingray Clip light.

Nicrew aquarium light vs Finnex Stingray Clip light.
The NiCrew light (directly in front) sits low while the Finnex Stingray Clip light (in the back) hangs from a flexible gooseneck.

Both lights are similar in price.

But, the Finnex Clip light has a gooseneck and attaches to the side of an aquarium using a clamping system.

In contrast, the Nicrew light uses metal brackets/legs, which sit on the edge of the aquarium glass.

These brackets/metal legs adjust by a simple sliding motion, allowing them to fit aquariums between 12 and 18 inches long.

This allows for quick and easy removal of the light for tank maintenance but, a potential design flaw is that the legs can completely slide out, especially when you are re-installing the light after a water change.

While I have not dropped the light into my tank, the rather loose metal legs make it far too easy to do so when adjusting the light.

My Nicrew light also gets very warm to the touch.

Overall, I like the Nicrew light’s intensity for the price, and if you are growing more demanding aquarium plants, I would chose the Nicrew over the Finnex Clip light.

Pros:

Strong light for the price;

Low profile (allowing it to be installed in tight spaces);

Grows low to medium light plants.

Cons:

Loose fitting metal legs that slide;

Light gets noticeably warm.

5. Woterzi Clamp LED Light

Woterzi aquarium light for planted tanks.

The Woterzi Clip-on light is ideal for standard 10 gallon tanks growing low-light plants.

While I expected the Woterzi light to function like the super bright Hygger light, the light emitted by the Woterzi is similar to the softer light emitted by the Finnex Clip light.

The Woterzi light contains a similar number of LEDs to the Hygger light, but the Woterzi LED bulbs are farther apart from each other and therefore look dimmer than the Hygger bulbs, which are clustered together.

This doesn’t mean that less light is produced, it simply means that the Woterzi’s output is more diffused than the Hygger’s light.

But, the Woterzi light does provide decent light over a larger surface area than the Hygger light.

If you are trying to grow carpeting plants, and other light hungry aquarium plants, stick with the Hygger.

If you want an all around, decent light that will grow low light plants, the Woterzi works like a charm.

Woterzi light specs for 14”-22” Model:

14 watts;

7000K-8000K color temperature;

1950 lumens;

30 white LEDs;

6 blue LEDS;

Day and night modes.

Pros:

Light weight.

Elegant design.

Large number of LEDs for the price.

Easy to attach to side of tank.

Available in 10-18 inch; 14-22 inch; and 21-29 inch lengths.

Cons:

Not ideal for cube shaped tanks due to length.

Light is diffused rather than concentrated.

Light could potentially fall into water if bumped with significant force.

6. Hiro Aquatics LED Light With Bamboo Board

This particular light has been another great find.

I am currently using it on a 5 gallon planted cube tank, where it supplies a medium-strong source of light.

The interesting thing about this light is that it comes with a bamboo board to which it attaches.

Hiro Aquatics Light With Bamboo Board Specs:

Comes in 3 models: 5, 7, and 9 watt;

450-830 lumens;

6000K color temperature.

Pros:

Comes with bamboo board desk stand

Elegant Style

Strong

Adjustable gooseneck

Cons:

Light requires board, cannot attach to tank

Narrow distribution of light

7. Fluval Plant Spectrum 3.0

A picture of the many LED bulbs on the Fluval plant spectrum aquarium light

The Fluval Plant light is last on my list because this aquarium light is not really “cheap” or affordable.

But, for those with some dough to spend on plant lights, this light is pretty cool.

First, I know this light grows carpeting plants.

I know this because I managed to dry start Monte Carlo (Micranthemum) with the Fluval Plant light in a 17 gallon tank.

Monte Carlo growing under a Fluval Plant light.

Once the tank was up and running the Fluval Plant continued to grow the Monte Carlo without CO2.

Yes, it grew super slowly without CO2 but it did grow, which is how I know this light is quite strong.

Fluval Plant Spectrum Light specs for the 24’-34’ Model:

32-watts;

6500K color temperature;

1350 lumens;

IP67 water proof rating;

Programmable 24 hour cycle with Fluval’s SmartApp for iOS and android via Bluetooth.

Pros:

Slim profile, elegant design;

Expandable, low profile legs;

Somewhat waterproof;

Specifically designed to grow plants;

Ideal for aquascapes;

Provides wide light coverage (120 degrees) while maintaining decent intensity;

Also great at growing terrestrial houseplants;

Available in 24 inch to 34 inch; 36 inch to 48 inch; and 48 inch to 60 inch lengths.

Cons:

Runs very warm/hot;

Pricey;

Not ideal for cube tanks due to length.

Are LED Aquarium Lights Best for Plants?

Generally, LED lights (light emitting diodes) are the “best” from an energy efficiency standpoint, but not always from a price standpoint.

But, as LED technology advances and demand increases, LEDs become both more efficient and more affordable.

When I started my first planted tanks, T5 grow lights were the go-to light for growing aquarium plants.

But now, I actually prefer LED lights for growing aquarium plants.

Modern LEDs are easy and they work.

Why LED lights?

According to energy.gov, LED lights differ from other lighting sources, like incandescent lights and compact florescent lights (CFL), in three key ways:

1) LED bulbs are small, and different colors of LED lights can be positioned next to each other to create a powerful white light;

2) LEDs emit light in a specific direction, with much less light dispersion than other lighting sources.

This means that more light will reach the aquarium plants directly below the fixture and the need for reflectors to redirect light is greatly reduced.

3) LED lights release much less heat.

While incandescent lights and compact florescent lights release most of their energy in the form of heat, LEDs stay relatively cool and use energy much more efficiently.

My Thoughts on LEDs vs T5 Lights

Both lighting sources will grow plants, but I find myself more impressed with LED aquarium lights.

The lights mentioned in this article are all LEDs and they are extremely affordable for how much light they provide.

If you already have a T5 setup for your aquarium plants, there is no reason to abandon it completely, but I would start adding some LED aquarium lights to your collection and see if you like them more than your trusty T5s.

Conclusion

The cheapest aquarium lights you can get are the ones the come with an aquarium kit or combo.

Generally, these kit lights are weak and only excel at growing algae.

Kit lights typically deliver dispersed light that appeals to our eyes rather than the concentrated light (think LED) that plants prefer.

So, if you are hoping to grow plants in a betta tank, a 10 gallon, or any other aquarium, investing some money in a decent plant light is key.

The lights mentioned above make the list because they provide strong, and efficient lights that grow plants (I’ve tested all of them) at a fraction of what some name brands charge.

Are they going to last as long as name brands? It’s too early to tell, but mine are still going strong.

Check back for more updates in the coming months, pros and cons will be updated as I continue to experiment with how well these LEDs grow aquarium plants.

If you want to learn more about setting up and maintaining planted tanks, check out my guide to planted aquariums.

Or, check out my guide on the best driftwood for aquariums if you need some ideas for your next aquascape.

As always, stay zen aquarists.