Information, Decorations, Maintenance

Beginner’s Guide On caring for live aquarium plants

Photo of author

by Jason Matthews



Aquarium plants help maintain a natural ecosystem within your tank by serving as a source of food and shelter, while helping produce oxygen and absorb the ammonia and CO2 being generated by your fish.

The best way to keep aquarium plants alive is by giving them enough light. Aquarium plants require at least ten to twelve hours of light to thrive. They need this light to facilitate photosynthesis, a process that helps produce energy for growth and generate oxygen for your aquarium.

Many other factors come into play when it comes to caring for live aquarium plants, including things such as CO2, substrate, and different types of fertilizers. You need to keep all of these at the right levels for your aquarium plants to thrive.

How To Keep Aquarium Plants Alive

Provide Sufficient Lighting

Just like any other plants, aquarium plants need a light source to photosynthesize and generate nutrients for themselves. In fact, lack of lighting is one of the most common reasons for aquarium plants dying. Consider installing full spectrum fluorescent lighting that will keep your plants looking green and healthy. Other types of bulbs will not be as effective as they do not have the properties or brightness that your plants need to thrive.

You may need to adjust light wattage depending on the size of your tank. Low maintenance plants can survive with one watt per gallon of water, but 2 to 3 watts per gallon is recommended to ensure that the plants receive the right amount of light.

Another important factor related to lighting is the color temperature. Aquarium lights typically produce a purple or blue hue, as this is the ideal color temperature for aquarium plants. It penetrates the water and goes straight to the bottom of the tank where the roots of the plants are located.

Control Food and Animal Waste

What you feed your fish has a direct impact on the quality of your aquarium plants. When aquatic animals finish eating, the plants absorb the leftover food after it breaks down. Aquarium plants consume animal waste as well to balance the tank’s ecosystem.

Unfortunately, sometimes the food and waste may contain certain chemical compounds that may be harmful to your aquarium plants. The food and waste particles left behind affect the water chemistry as they are being broken down, and this chemical reaction can adversely affect the plants.

For instance, when you leave fish waste and decaying matter in the tank for too long, they release certain compounds such as sulfur that can inhibit the growth and sustenance of your aquarium plants. In fact, failure to clean up waste and leftover food can lead to root decay, which basically translates to the death of your plants. Besides, this decaying matter can also affect your aquarium fish, causing them to develop bloating disease and compromise their ability to swim.

Related article: How to clean plastic plants in aquariums

Avoid Excess Filtration

All indoor aquariums and fish tanks are equipped with filtration systems. These are extremely important in maintaining a healthy environment within the tank by cycling and cleaning the water. The quandary is that filters tend to filter out plenty of carbon dioxide too, which is not that great for your plants.

Usually, you can counter this by installing CO2 diffusers in your aquarium. These work by supplementing carbon dioxide to help ensure the survival of your plants. CO2 diffusers supply just enough CO2 to be utilized by the plants, but not too much to affect the fish.

Use The Right Fertilizer

Like non-aquarium plants, your aquarium plants also need fertilizer to grow strong and healthy. A good way to provide the necessary nutrients for your plants is by using iron-based fertilizer. This not only helps to promote plant growth, but it also creates a healthy substrate for them to survive on.

What’s more, there are certain macronutrients in fertilizer that plants can’t obtain from water such as phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium. As such, failure to use fertilizer (or not using the right one) can lead to yellow, wilted plants that will eventually die out. Phosphate deficiency, in particular, causes plant leaves to fall out. Nitrogen deficiency causes the leaves to turn yellow, while potassium deficiency creates pinholes. Twisted or stunted growth can also occur due to lack of other nutrients.

Consider The Stability Of Your Substrate

Substrate refers to the bottom of your tank that contains stones like pebbles and gravel. Since plant roots grow here, it is important to have a strong substrate to facilitate normal, healthy growth.

Gravel should not be too large as it creates too many spaces in-between. As a result, the roots will be left loose and hanging, increasing their risk of de-rooting. A super fine layer such as peat or laterite is a great option for your substrate as it can support the roots of your plants without applying too much pressure on them. In addition, it helps to funnel nutrients so that they can be absorbed by the plants instead of staying at the bottom as heavy particles.

Watch Out For Tank Mates

Aquatic animals are cool and interesting, but they could also cause premature death of your aquatic plants. Some fish like to play with plants and can literally uproot a whole plant in the process, leaving it floating on the water. Other aquatic animals such as bottom feeders and snails can reach to and eat off the roots, completely obliterating the plant.

Common fish that make bad tank mates for aquatic plants include Monos, Silver Dollar, and Tetras, which are known to be pretty aggressive plant eaters.

Regulate pH Levels And Water Chemistry

Improper water chemistry is the main cause of aquatic plants prematurely dying. Aquatic plants generally need a pH of 6.5-7.8, depending on the type of plant. Watch out for excess nitrates and ammonia, which result from fish waste and can affect your tank’s water chemistry.

Related article: learn the symptoms of low pH in fish tanks & How to lower pH in an aquarium

Water chemistry also determines how algae, rot, and other substances affect your plants. Failure to monitor your aquarium’s water chemistry can cause these silent killers to start preying on your plants.

Freshwater aquarium plants are a great addition to your fish tank. Unlike plastic plants, live aquatic plants provide a reliable food source, improve water quality,  help curb algae growth, absorb carbon dioxide, and produce oxygen. In most cases, having thriving plants in your aquarium often translates to thriving fish as a result.


Jason Matthews

My name is Jason Matthews, and welcome to my website. When other kids were bragging about how their dog could sit and roll over, I was bragging about my latest Betta Fish and the cool sea castle I just added to his aquarium. 

Jason aquariume

🐠 Get Your Free Ebook: A Beginner's Guide to Aquariums - Sign Up Now!

Learn everything you need to know to keep fish, including setting up your tank, choosing the right fish, and maintaining water quality. As a subscriber, you'll also stay up-to-date on the latest aquarium products, special offers, and discounts.

Your privacy is important to us. You can trust that we will never share or sell your information, and we'll only send you relevant content.

Leave a Comment