If you grow your aquarium plants at optimal light levels and the proper temperature, provide the proper pH and water hardness as well as supply them with all the needed nutrients you will probably never see plant diseases or deficiencies. Incorrect care is often the main cause of stunted growth and plant damage. Here I will discuss the different problems we encounter with plants, their causes and remedies.
Nutritional and trace element imbalances.
Errors made with supplying plants with the nutrients and trace elements can lead to plant damage and damage to the aquariums ecosystem. You should try to avoid these mistakes if at all possible.
Carbon Dioxide Deficiency. (CO2)
- Symptoms:The plants stay much smaller and grow more slowly than plants fertilized with CO2. Rough Calcium deposits on the leaves. Breakdown of the pH system causing a rise in pH.
- Causes:A lack of CO2 can arise even with optimal care. All plants use CO2 in their respiration process and it is difficult to maintain an equilibrium. Vigorously Aerated or agitated water increases CO2 loss, as the gas escapes into the air.
- Remedy:Regularly fertilize with CO2 and try to limit the amount of aeration and water agitation in your tank
Excess Carbon Dioxide CO2.
- Symptoms:The fish gasp at the water surface for air, as if they are suffocating.
- Cause:Oxygen deficiency resulting from over fertilization with co2, dirty filter material, poor lighting, too large of a fish load and bad tank maintenance.
- Remedy:Check all your maintenance procedures and filters, look for dead animals and plants. If you use an automatic CO2 fertilization system, adjust the amount released and make sure it does not run at night when the lights are off.
- Symptoms:The fish go through many bouts of disease and have a loss of vigor. With a long term deficiency the plants become stunted and the tank has excess algae growth.
- Causes:Insufficient nutrients or light, as a result the plants are not able to produce Oxygen from the assimilation of Carbon Dioxide. The Nitrogen cycle of the tank slows due to the aerobic bacteria not working or slowly working. The results are water overloaded with waste products and an excess of CO2.
- Remedy:Check the filters, lighting, fish population, all other tank maintenance procedures and especially your feeding habits. Make any needed alterations or corrections.
- Symptoms:Yellowing of the marginal sections of the young leaves. Trace element deficiency, usually Iron Chlorosis.
- Cause:Your local water supplier or your Reverse Osmosis/DI filter removes the Potassium from the water. So a deficiency may arise.
- Remedy:Regular fertilization.
- Symptoms:Production of the Iron Phosphate causes the leaves to turn Black or Brown and to die. In addition if there is an excess of Nitrates your tank will experience an Algae bloom.
- Cause:Not performing your water changes on schedule or not changing enough water.
- Remedy:Change a large portion of your water right away. Then modify your tank maintenance routine to include larger water changes or more frequent ones.
- Symptoms:In the early stages small holes develop in the leaves or along the leaf margins. Advanced stages will affect the entire plant or group and cause the breakdown of all the leaves.
- Cause:Not known for sure, but excess Nitrate is a factor. Unclean water, improper nutrients and insufficient light also contribute to the onset of this disease. The odd thing about this disease that by trying to correct the above stated causes, often triggers this disease. Not regular maintenance, but for example doing a water change after a long period or changing the lights well after they were used up can bring about the onset.
- Remedy:Immediate improvement to the aquarium set up. Large water change, cleaning of the substrate, removal of all dead and decaying plant material. Don’t baby the plants, just leave them alone and they should recover in a few weeks.
- Prevention:Get on a regular maintenance schedule, do the water changes, keep up with the fertilization and change your lights when the recommended time arrives.
- Symptoms:Yellow leaves that become brittle and glassy and finally fall off or rot away.
- Cause:Potassium deficiency, too little fertilizer and over-fertilization with Phosphate. In well fertilized aquariums it can be caused by an overly high amount of total Carbonate hardness in conjunction with a pH over 7.
- Remedy:Regular use of an Iron rich fertilizer compound or a substrate which contains Iron additives. If needed lower the Carbonate hardness of the water.
- Symptoms:Leaves turn Yellow but the Veins stay Green.
- Cause:Unbalanced Iron fertilization.
- Remedy:Use a fertilizer that contains all compounds needed by plants not just an Iron rich fertilizer.
Incorrect care and its end result.
Plants can often suffer from deficiency problems caused by the wrong choice in the aquarium substrate lighting and other accessories.
Problems in the substrate.
- Symptoms:Gas bubbles rising to the surface any time the substrate is disturbed, stunted plant growth, poorly rooted plants and rotting roots that are Black in color.
- Causes:The bottom material is too fine and/or has compacted. The Nutrients in the substrate have been used up.
- Remedy:loosen the bottom material and add some heavier grade material as well as a substrate fertilizer like Laterite. If this does not improve the conditions a replacement of the entire bottom material may be needed.
Wrong water temperature.
- Symptoms:If the water temperature is too cold the plants will cease to grow and eventually die. Too high of a water temperature the stem plants will have small leaves and long spaces between them and the Rosette plants will show little growth.
- Cause:Malfunctioning or broken aquarium heater. Using a heater with too little wattage to properly heat the water.
- Remedy:Purchase a new aquarium heater designed to handle your size tank. Keep a close eye on your temperature and watch for swings that could tell of a heater problem. For detailed information on heaters please go to the Basics section of the site.
Plant not receiving enough
or the proper light.
- Symptoms:The plants are weak and spindly, the leaves are pale Green to Yellow and the stems are frail and thin. On the Rosette plants the stalks are weak and the leaves are small. Stem plants have only a few leaves and long spaces between them. Growth closest to the light is strong and compact, lower sections could be bare of leaves. A fine layer of Diatoms begins to grow.
- Causes:Not using enough wattage for your tank or not enough bulbs. The Fluorescent bulbs have lost there lumen output. The photoperiod is not long enough. Wrong spectrum lights heavy on the Red side, will cause tall and leggy plants. Blue spectrum bulbs will cause low squat growth and those in the Yellow/Green range will cause stunted growth.
- Remedy:Add more lighting, replace your tubes or increase the time your lights stay on. Purchase the right full spectrum bulbs, the so called plant bulbs are a poor choice. For more information on tank lighting go to the Basics lighting section.