Oscars and Aquarium Plants: Can You Have Both?

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Many aquarium hobbyists love Oscars because they are unique among freshwater aquarium fish species. Oscars are a type of cichlid and they grow large – up to 18 inches long. Not only are Oscars beautiful, but they have a lot of personality; many aquarium hobbyists describe them as dogs in the body of a fish because they beg for food and seek attention from their owners. Although Oscars make wonderful pets, they do present some inherent challenges. The biggest obstacle with Oscars is keeping them from destroying your live plants.

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Oscars and Live Plants

When you think about Oscars and the challenges they present for the freshwater aquarium hobbyist, there are several factors to consider. The main obstacle, of course, is related to the size of the species. These fish have the capacity to grow up to 18 inches long, though they tend to top out around 10 inches in captivity. The large size of this species necessitates a large aquarium – at least 55 gallons for a single Oscar, or 100 gallons for a pair. In addition to the tank size, you also need to think about tank requirements like temperature and water chemistry. Oscars prefer warm waters between 77 and 80 degrees with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.

Cultivating the proper tank conditions for Oscars isn’t difficult, but you will come across some challenges if you try to keep live plants in the tank with your Oscars. Oscars don’t usually eat live plants – the challenge Oscars present is that they have a tendency to root through the substrate in their aquarium which can cause damage to the plant roots. Oscars tend to “rearrange” their tanks a lot, pushing tank decorations around and digging through substrate. Many aquarium plants are unable to tolerate this kind of treatment and they are likely to die if their roots are damaged.

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If you do plan to keep live plants in your Oscar tank you need to be intentional about where you place them. If you have a sizable tank (about 150 gallons or more), your Oscar might leave part of the tank alone. Another option is to protect your live plants by surrounding them with large tank decorations that your Oscar will have a difficult time moving. For example, you could place your live plants in the corners of the tank and then protect the roots with large rocks or other decorations. This is not a fool-proof plan, but it may help you to keep your plants around a little longer.

Best Tank Decorations for Oscars

Though Oscars and live plants do not tend to do well together, there are certain decorations that are recommended for an Oscar tank. Large, flat rocks and rock caves can be great additions to the Oscar tank because your fish will have a hard time moving such large objects. Slate is a particularly good choice for the Oscar tank because it is flat – this will provide your Oscars with a surface on which to spawn, if breeding is an interest of yours. Large pieces of driftwood can also be added to the tank to give it a natural appearance. When using large tank decorations, just be careful to position them so that they will not injure your fish if they fall over. You should also avoid sharp points or rough edges that could hurt your Oscars if they try to push them around.

Keeping Oscars is challenging but it can be rewarding for the aquarium hobbyist as well. Because these fish can be such a challenge, it is even more important that you do your research before setting up your tank to be sure that everything will go well.