Many aquarium owners have gazed at planted aquariums and wished that they could have live plants in their own aquarium. Unfortunately most don't know where to start, or have tried previously only to have the plants die off.
There is no real rules or formula to the amount of plant cover to provide in a community aquarium. Just providing enough hiding places for the fish to feel safe, and an environment the fish will be able to chase each other around the tank is a great improvement.
When selecting live plants for the aquarium, have a real floating plant like water sprite or hornwort in the collection you plant. These plants hide new born babies (fry), the fish will be encouraged to breed and baby fish (aka fry) grow will be more likely to grow up in your tank. This is a great experience for children, and something to think about for adding interest in a community aquarium.
Other good benefits of real plants are that they can be a food source and provide algea prevention the natural way.
1) The only source of food in a fish only aquarium (one that has only plastic plants and no live aquatic plants) is the packaged food fed to the fish in the aquarium once or twice a day. (aside from algae that grows on everything due to the lack of live plants). That means the fish are entirely dependent on the fish keeper and the food introduced into the tank on a daily basis.
If wise choices are not made and a varied diet provided, the fish and aquatic life may not be as healthy and can become more vulnerable to disease.
Also if you forget to feed the fish, they have no other source of food. In a planted aquarium, the fish have a choice; they have a natural mid-day snack. Although not all fish will eat plants, most will pick at the leaves and dead or dying plant matter if no other food is available. It also helps to vary a diet fed to community aquariums, since there are many different kinds of fish, scavengers and snails with varied tastes and needs.
Many fish are omnivorous and need to eat plant material to be healthy and thrive.
2) Algae occurs because there are nutrients in the water and there is light (even low light), and nothing else to eat the nutrients, algae is a result of a natural cycle. In a planted aquarium, plants can out - compete algae and use up all or very nearly all of the nutrients in the water. Although this can open up a whole other can of worms while trying to get light levels and nutrient levels right. Once a planted aquarium is balanced, it will most likely never have to be cleaned, as far as pulling algae off decor and the gravel again. Remember, a little algae is a good thing, it shows the tank is cycled and healthy, and some fish love to eat algae, finally a little algae gives an aquarium a natural look.