How To Keep Aquarium Plants Healthy and Prevent Them From Dying

Planted aquariums will have its challenging moments, especially when you are just starting. One of the first things that you might notice going wrong is the fact that your plants are not growing, turning different colors, have holes in them or are dying. You might even notice that even the water and aquarium glass is being affected, luckily, there are simple ways to determine what is happening in the aquarium and prevent them from occurring again. 

To keep aquarium plants healthy, you need to make sure there is a quality light source on for 10-12 hours per day, the proper amount of nutrients inside of the water and C02 to help the plants photosynthesize. To prevent the plants from dying, keep up with maintenance and conduct water changes every week to avoid toxic conditions.

What Truly Causes Aquatic Plants to Die?

  • Lack Of Maintenance
  • Algae
  • Nutrient Deficiencies

In this article we will go over how to identify when plants are lacking nutrients and how you can possibly save them.

How to Save or Revive Dying Plants

The most beneficial action you can take to save a dying plant is to trim the affected area and remove it from the tank. You can also try to prevent any issues from occurring initially by keeping up with maintenance and conducting frequent water changes. Try to find out what the imbalance is in the water and fix it immediately.

Make sure that you have the proper lighting for your plants and that it is strong enough to reach all the plants in the aquarium. Don’t have the lights on for too long, too brightly lit or too dim because algae will form. Have a decent substrate for your plants that is rich in nutrients.

In truth, not all plants can be revived. Some plants are simply hardier than others so they can endure harsher conditions and revive themselves over time. That’s why it is easiest to prevent this from happening in the first place. If you are a beginner place is ideal to start with easy plants so that you can gain enough experience and understand how to care for aquarium plants.

Learn to Identify Nutrient Deficiencies in Plants

What normally happens to beginners is having to go through many mistakes and learning from that experience. One major roadblock that you might encounter is your plants having troubling growing properly. The plants might not seem the right color, have dark spots, develop holes or grow algae and many other things. Most of the time what causes the lack of growth is a nutrient deficiency.

The problem with nutrient deficiency is that it can be difficult to determine. You may believe that you are having issues because of nutrients deficiency but it could actually be another problem, like toxicity, which can cause symptoms similar to a nutrient deficiency. 

Below are the most common nutrient deficiencies you might encounter and some characteristics to help narrow down the problem.


  • Twisted-stunted growth
  • Curled leaves
  • Irregular growth

Carbon Dioxide 

  • White or crusty deposits on leaves. 
  • Growth becomes stunted or stops


  • Young leaves might be light in color
  • Old leaves are normal
  • Irregular growth
  • Black spots
  • Holes


  • Similar to iron deficiencies
  • Blocks the absorption of iron
  • Yellow spotting or holes between the veins


  • Leaves closer to the top of the aquarium are pale
  • Leaves closer to the bottom are yellow
  • Leaves shrivel and die prematurely 
  • Some plants may turn red with low nitrogen
  • Growth may be slow


  • Leaves may be darker than normal. 
  • The plant may lose older leaves prematurely.
  • Stunted growth or stops entirely
  • Spot algae may occur 
  • Brown spots 
  • Purple discoloration may occur


  • More noticeable damage on newer plants compared to older plants
  • Yellow edge or spots
  • Black dots
  • Yellow rimming in holes


  • The inner part of the leaf turns yellow, veins stay green
  • Whitening
  • Twisted-stunted growth
  • Purple discoloration may occur

Lack of Maintenance

Neglect is the word that is most associated with aquariums that don’t survive long and dying plants. Having an aquarium has some quality of work attached to it and that means conducting consistent maintenance. Maintenance consists of trimming the plants, cleaning the substrate and conducting scheduled water changes.

What a water change does is allow you to remove old, toxic, dirty water with new water and refresh the aquarium. Most beginners mess up around the first few weeks and forget to conduct water changes this can cause high levels of toxins in the water and eventually algae will begin to grow. A good rule to follow is to do a water change every week or so and, depending on the severity, change around 10%-50% of the water.

Algae Can Damage a Planted Aquarium

Planted tanks are vulnerable to algae during the first few weeks and months after the initial setup. What will cause damage to your plants at first will be factors such as too many fish in the aquarium, imbalanced light distribution, excess nutrients seeping out from substrate, unbalanced co2, overfeeding fish. The first kinds of algae that you might witness during the initial weeks might be:

  • Green Water (Algae Bloom)
  • Green Filamentous Algae
  • Diatoms

Later and more serious algae that can occur:

  • Black Algae
  • Blue-Green 
  • Cladophora

Green Water (Algae Bloom)

Most people find this form of algae the most troublesome. The main problem is that severe algae bloom can cause a lack of oxygen suffocating and killing the fish.

It is known as green water because of tiny microscopic algae that are floating in your aquarium turns the water green. This type of algae has been proven difficult to be rid of. Unlike other algae, an algae bloom cannot be scrubbed off or manually lifted. Even water changes are not that effective in fully solving the problem. One method is called blackout. This is when you remove your tank from all sources of light for a few days until the green water goes away or you can try using a diatom filter.


Diatoms may look worrisome but are easily maintained. This type of algae is most commonly found in low-light environments and technically not algae. It is also common in newer tanks, has a sticky/slimy texture that is easily removed and doesn’t last long.

Typically when you see these algae it means that your nitrate levels will be lower than your phosphorus levels. By having healthy plants, having certain algae-eating fish or adding more light you can keep brown algae out of your tank.

Black Algae

Grows on any surface including plants and difficult to remove. Black brush is normally in tanks with fluctuating co2 or not enough of it. Low tech tanks are vulnerable especially with too much light. Black algae are hard to clean and any small spec will grow back. Black brush is difficult to remove from plants that aren’t hardy so treat them like hardscape and spray with peroxide. Softer plants will have to regrow new leaves and be trimmed. Place algae eaters in the tank to help out.


Staghorn likes to grow on hard surfaces like the decorations or hardware and sometimes plants. Having high ammonia levels seem to be best suited for growth and unfortunately, algae eaters are not very fond of staghorn algae. It is distinguished by its distinctive gray color and strained like appearance.

Brown Algae

This algae may look worrisome but is easily maintained. Brown Algae is the type of algae that is most commonly found in low-light environments. It is also common in newer tanks and has a sticky/slimy texture that is easily removed.

Typically when you see these algae it means that your nitrate levels will be lower than your phosphorus levels. By having healthy plants, certain algae-eating fish or by adding more light you can keep brown algae out of your tank.

Green Dust Algae

Green dust coats plants and glass with powder-like algae and is common to new plants. One of the main causes is due to having low CO2 levels compared to the amount of light being given. Green dust algae can also be a sign of nutrient levels being out of balance.

Red Algae

Red algae happens to be tough to get out because it is damaging to plants. This situation can be infuriating after you spent tons of time to create the perfect aquascape scenery. \Not only can they show up on plants they have also been known to appear on most objects and bogwood.

Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria)

Rolls off glass and stuff in sheets and has a musty kind of smell. Usually means low nitrite levels it can be wiped off or you can use the blackout method and conduct a water change. This kind of algae is the most dangerous and deadly for your plants and fish. Although it is known as an algae it is actually cyanobacteria.

This basically means that it is an aquatic bacteria that can create its own food. blue-green algae are not common in new setups but are typically is neglected. It can be noticed by its slimy texture and blue-green color. It lays over everything like film and gives off a distinct foul order.

It is most commonly found in neglected aquariums with little to no maintenance. Blue-green Algae enjoys nutrient-packed water that isn’t regularly cleaned. Aquariums with too many fish are also a great environment for their growth. It is also known that blue-green algae can sometimes be harmful to humans as well.

Cladophora Algae

This type is known to be very difficult to handle and maintain. It has grass or moss-like texture, fast-growing and can grow on plants. Cladophora Algae normally grows on hard surfaces like wood or rock and thrives in the light. Once this type of algae is in your tank it is very difficult to remove.

Green Spot Algae

Mostly grows on plants and the glass of the aquarium. It grows in brightly lit aquariums and is normal in a very small amount. Green spot algae are mostly found in mature aquariums and areas where the tap water tends to be slightly harder than normal. You will notice this type of algae by the little dark green dots that it leaves behind. Unfortunately, algae eaters are not as effective on this type as opposed to the other algae.

The most common way to remove the green spot algae is to scrape it off with a razor or a plastic card but it can’t be removed the same way with the plants. You will have to trim the affected parts of the plants, even hardy plants can be affected.

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