How to Revive Plants in Aquarium (13 Ways)

13 Ways on How to Revive Plants

One of the most enjoyable features of aquarium keeping is the endless number of options for personalizing your tanks in interesting and beautiful ways. Incorporating and knowing how to revive plants into your plans definitely expands your options for putting together a great looking tank. But adding more life to your tank can also complicate the challenge of keeping everything healthy and happy.

What are the best ways to revive aquarium plants? If your live aquarium plants don’t look healthy, there are two keys to getting things turned around—diagnosis and treatment. By examining the plants, testing the water, and troubleshooting your set-up, you can identify the cause. Once you know the cause, you can find a solution.

There are lots of good reasons to give live plants a try in your aquarium. They increase the oxygen in the water, add beauty and diversity to the tank’s appearance, and give your fish good places to explore or hide. But you can only enjoy the benefits of having live plants in your aquarium if you can keep them healthy and beautiful. Read on for great tips on how to do it.

The Key to Reviving Aquarium Plants

You don’t have to have years of experience, an expensive high-tech set-up, or a lot of time to devote to maintenance, to be able to successfully integrate living plants into your aquarium plans. One thing that will improve your results, whether you’re a beginner or have lots of experience, is information on how to revive plants.

When you’re making your plans for a tank, the information on how to revive plants that you gather through research helps you put together a plan that sets you up for success. But even the best plans change when you start to execute them. If your plans for beautiful living plants are running into obstacles, then the information you gather by diagnosing those problems is your best resource.

There are many variables that make up the biosphere inside your tank’s glass walls. If any of them is off, this can cause the live plants in your aquarium to struggle or even fail. By reading the signs that the plants give you and gathering information from other elements of the environment, you can identify both the cause of and the solution to your problems.

Once you know the cause of your plants’ difficulties, solutions are typically both easy to find and simple to implement. Since your tank is a living environment, it’s best to remember that every action has a reaction. It’s best to deal with the issues you identify through diagnosis one-by-one, to make sure that you don’t over-correct and inadvertently cause other problems.

Diagnosis and Treatment

As we said, information on how to revive plants is the key to reviving dying or struggling aquarium plants. One of the best ways to use the information on how to revive plants to your advantage is to do quality research prior to embarking on a program of aquaculture in your tank. Starting out from a solid foundation gives you the best chances of success and makes troubleshooting any issues you encounter easier.

Aquariums are complex environments, so the problems your plants are having could be caused by any one of a number of variables—light, heat, water quality, substrate, nutrients, or even fish and other animals in the tank. The plants themselves might give you all of the information you need to diagnose problems. Or, you may need to perform additional tests.

Performing a diagnosis of your tank’s conditions might reveal multiple issues that all have the potential to impact your living plants’ health. It’s tempting to try to set everything right all at once so that you get your tank back to “perfect,” but it’s important to proceed with caution, or your fixes might generate new problems through unintended consequences.

The rest of this article will give you a lot of the information you need to diagnose and treat any problems that you’re having with the living plants in your aquarium. First, we’ll go over seven common problems in your tank. Then we’ll take a closer look at what you should be shooting for in six different categories that make up your aquarium’s environment.

Seven Common Sources of Problems That Will Cause Your Living Plants to Struggle

Every aquarium set-up includes the tank and a filtration system. The size of your tank and the capabilities of your filtration system will determine the numbers and types of living organisms that the aquarium’s environment can support. In addition to these basic elements of a set-up, most aquariums incorporate additional elements that influence the conditions inside the tank.

For living aquatic plants to thrive in your tank, you will need to have some control over aspects like light, temperature, oxygen and CO2 levels, and nutrients. Different plants have different requirements, making it difficult to find the right levels to keep everybody happy and healthy at the same time.

Sometimes it’s just not possible to keep all of the different species that you like in the same tank. It’s important to research the different species that you’re interested in prior to purchasing. Make sure that what you do to keep on species happy won’t cause another species to struggle and fail. This way, you’ll set yourself and your tank’s inhabitants up for success.

What follows are the seven most common problems that people encounter with living plants in their aquariums. Once we’ve gone over the problems, we’ll discuss a six-step process to troubleshooting your system to eliminate the causes of these problems.

Slow Growth

There are three basic elements that aquatic plants require to thrive in your tank: nutrients, light, and carbon dioxide (CO2). If your plants aren’t growing as quickly or as heartily as they should, there’s a good chance that one of these three elements is to blame. The first thing you need to do is figure out which one is causing the problem.

Knowing which nutrients your plants require will help you diagnose the causes underlying slow growth. Some plants require higher amounts of iron to do well, while others thrive on potassium, phosphorus, or nitrogen. When your plants are struggling, start by researching what their specific needs are and make your plan for reviving them based on those needs.

Slow growth can also be caused by insufficient light. This can occur due to improper bulbs, insufficient light, or providing light for insufficient amounts of time every day. Most experts recommend from 3 to 5 watts of light per gallon of tank volume. It’s important to use full-spectrum lights for your tank. It’s also important to give your tank 12-16 hours of light each day.

If your tank has insufficient CO2 levels to support live plant growth, you can either take steps to eliminate the loss of carbon dioxide or to introduce additional CO2 to the system. Reducing the amount of aeration in your tank will control how much CO2 is lost. You can also use a CO2 injector to raise the levels in your tank.

Yellowing Leaves

The vast majority of aquatic plants are green in color when they are healthy. If plants that should be green develop yellow coloration, you likely have problems with your lighting, or your tank has a potassium deficiency.

If your tank’s lighting set-up meets the 3 to 5 watts per gallon standard that we mentioned above, then you need to double-check the light spectrum of your bulbs. If you find that your bulbs provide full-spectrum lighting, try increasing the amount of light that you give your plants by a few hours each day.

A potassium deficiency can be remedied through fertilization. Your local supply store can help you select a fertilizer that is best for addressing potassium deficiencies in the set-up that you have. As a general rule, we recommend starting off with half of the recommended dosage on any fertilizer and making adjustments from there as needed.

Yellowing Leaves

Brown or Black Leaves

The first step to diagnosing brown or black leaves on your aquatic plants is to determine whether it is actually the leaves of the plant changing color or if there are dark algae growing on them.

If there are algae growing on your plants, you will need to take steps to combat the algae growth in your tank as well as steps on how to revive plants. An over-abundance of light and nutrients in your tank promotes algae growth. You will have to correct these imbalances if you want to halt the growth. You can also clean your plants to remove algae that have grown on them.

Excess phosphates or nitrates are the most likely causes of black or brown leaves that are not linked to algae growth. If you find that this is the case with your aquarium, a large-scale water change will help to eliminate the imbalances. If you see the improvement you’re looking for, keep up with conditions by doing regular water changes.

Holes in Leaves

If you notice small holes starting to develop in the leaves of your aquatic plants, you are probably dealing with Cryptocoryne Rot. The exact cause of this disease is unknown, but there is some evidence to suggest that excess nitrates are a contributing factor.

To combat Cryptocoryne Rot, you need to focus on overall water quality in your tank. A large-scale water change is a great place to start. While you’re performing the water change, you should also vacuum the gravel in your tank to eliminate excess solid waste.

In the most advanced stages, Cryptocoryne Rot will make the whole plant above the root system melt away. If given the chance, roots will rebound from this meltdown once the environment in your tank has stabilized.

Brittle Leaves

When the leaves of your aquatic plants are not only yellowing but also becoming brittle, it’s a good sign that your tank is suffering from one of three problems. The first possibility is iron deficiency. The second is a potassium deficiency. You could also have a problem with an elevated pH level.

It’s important to test the pH level of your tank before taking any action to remedy this problem as the solutions that remedy one cause could easily exacerbate the problem if it is actually being caused by something else.

As a first step, test both the pH level and the carbonate hardness of your tank’s water. If either of these levels is found to be out of balance, take the necessary steps to address those issues while monitoring your plants for improvement.

If the pH and carbonate hardness levels in your tank are good, or the brittle leaves persist even after the balance is restored, then you should pursue remedies for iron or potassium deficiencies. Use an iron-rich fertilizer in your substrate or a potassium fertilizer according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Brittle Leaves

Spindly Growth

When plants that normally grow thick stems and leaves begin to look thin or spindly, an issue with your lighting system is the most likely cause. If you’ve just introduced the plants to your system and they go spindly, then you need to upgrade the amount or quality of light that you’re giving them. If the problem develops over time, your bulbs need to be changed.

To combat this problem, it’s a good idea to replace the bulbs in your tank’s lighting system. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, take a closer look at the light spectrum of the bulbs and the total wattage of the system. You might also consider increasing the amount of light that you give the tank on a daily basis.

Growth Stoppage

When plants cease to grow completely, they will eventually start to die. If this is occurring in your tank, you need to start by checking the temperature of your tank’s water. This is the most likely cause of a complete halt in the growth of your aquatic plants, and it can definitely kill them if the problem is allowed to persist.

Replacing the heater in your tank’s set-up is the best remedy when your existing heater wears out. You can also try adding an additional heater if it seems like your current one is working well, but you still have problems keeping the temperature of your tank up.

Additional Information on Diagnosing Nutrient Deficiencies

There are so many potential nutrient deficiencies that can cause problems for your aquatic plants that it’s almost impossible to offer a comprehensive guide to troubleshooting that will cover every plant species, tank set-up, symptom, and remedy.

Below, you will find some of the most common nutrient deficiencies, along with some of the most reliable indicators that you will see in your plants if your tank is suffering from them.

  • Magnesium Deficiency: Older leaves develop yellow spots or lighter color, but veins remain dark.
  • Potassium Deficiency: Older leaves will be yellow along the edges. Holes may appear.
  • Zinc Deficiency: Yellow spots on the tips, margins, and veins of leaves.
  • Iron Deficiency: Leaves turn yellow to white in color.
  • Nitrogen Deficiency: Leaves turn red to yellow in color.
  • Phosphate Deficiency: Older leaves show dead patches and yellowing. Leaves die and fall quickly.
  • Calcium Deficiency: New growth is twisted and pale.

Six Sources of Happiness for Your Aquatic Plants

Everything that we discussed in the previous section is geared toward diagnosing and troubleshooting problems in your tank when they pop-up. The best way to avoid problems with your plants is to put together a program that eliminates problems before they occur. There is plenty that you can do to fine-tune your tank set-up and offer your plants routine care.

A good tank set-up will offer plants a friendly substrate, plenty of light, and water that gives them plenty of CO2 and nutrients. When it comes to caring for your plants, it starts with purchasing them from a reliable source and buying species that will do well in your set-up and with one another. From there, it’s important to perform rooting, pruning, and trimming regularly.

When you know that you’ve got all of these important elements in place, you can add bells and whistles to your set-up to make the environment even more suitable for living plants. These additions could include specific fertilizers to help particular species or a CO2 injector to make sure that everybody has plenty of what they need to perform photosynthesis.


When the substrate in your tank is too compact, it can cause poor root systems in your plants. This can eventually lead to roots turning black and starting to rot. One cause of a compact substrate is an excess of decaying organics within the substrate. To combat this problem when it occurs, loosen and vacuum the substrate.

It’s better to avoid a compact substrate entirely by putting together an initial set-up that will resist compaction and offer plants plenty of support for healthy root systems. When designing the substrate for your tank, incorporate multiple elements with varying coarseness. This will offer the plants the soil-like conditions they love and resist compaction.

To give your plants’ roots an extra-helping hand, you can incorporate something like plastic embroidery mesh into the substrate. This will give you a way to tie-off the roots using cotton thread. Taking this extra step will not only give you more control over the finished look of your tank, but it will also offer extra support to the root systems of your aquatic plants.


As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to make sure that your aquarium’s lighting system is powerful enough and that it provides the right kind of light to support live plants. As a general rule of thumb, you will want 3 to 5 watts of light for each gallon in your tank. Full-spectrum bulbs are the best option for making sure you get your plants the right kind of light.

Once you have these basics covered, it’s important to make sure that the details are lined-up for optimum plant health. It’s important to make sure that living plants have enough light every day. Typically, they will require 12 to 16 hours of light to thrive. It’s also important that they get periods of darkness. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

One thing that causes problems in some aquarium set-ups is the uneven distribution of light. Depending on your tank’s measurements, it might be difficult to arrange your lighting in a way that eliminates areas of darkness or partial shade. This might not seem like a big deal. It might even give your tank a look you enjoy. But when it comes to healthy plants, equal access is best.

Light aquarium plants


Making sure that you don’t overstock your tank and that you have a powerful enough filter are the first steps to ensuring that your aquatic plants enjoy the water quality they need to thrive. Once you have the basic elements in place, it’s important to stabilize the environment to ensure that pH levels and carbonate hardness are under control.

When you introduce your aquatic plants to the aquarium, it will be important to monitor them closely and take notice of any evidence they offer you. It will also be important to monitor the rest of the environment to determine the impact that adding the plants is having. Eventually, the environment will re-stabilize, and you’ll have a good idea of what, if anything, you need to do.

Even when your tank is stabilized, and everyone seems happy, it is important to stick to a routine schedule of water changes to maintain the environment that is working. Over time, the bio-load on your tank will lead to a build-up of nitrates.

Living plants will help your filtration system to keep up with nitrates, but water changes lessen the load and make life better for everybody.


There are three things that are important to consider in relation to the plants that you will be putting in your aquarium: sourcing them, placing them, and maintaining them.

  • Sourcing Plants: Knowing where to buy healthy quality plants for your aquarium is as important as knowing what to buy so that you get species that will thrive in the environment you’ve created. Don’t expose your tank to risks by purchasing sketchy plants. Don’t set yourself up for failure by introducing plants that don’t stand a chance.
  • Placing Plants: It’s important to consider how the plants will look in your aquarium once they’re established and growing. Choose plants of varying heights to fit the front, middle, and back of your tank. Use plastic embroidery mesh to help you situate everything where you’ll want it to be and keep it there.
  • Maintaining Plants: It’s important that you get into a routine that includes pruning and trimming your aquatic plants to prevent them from over-growing the tank and choking themselves out of CO2, light, or nutrients.


We subscribe to the theory that less is more when it comes to fertilizer. When we have a plant that is struggling, we prefer to double-check all of the other potential sources of problems before we fall back on fertilizer as a fix. This is due to the fact that introducing concentrated nutrients into your tank can easily throw something else out of balance.

When you’re planning your tank and purchasing your plants, it is important to research the nutrient needs of the various species you’re considering. If you plan on incorporating a plant with particular needs, then you should make sure to have a fertilizer that addresses those needs on hand before the plants go into the tank.

If a plant struggles and fertilizer is required to give it a helping hand, it is best to start out small. You can always add more if the plant needs additional help. The more you add, the more likely it is that you’ll throw something else out of balance.

CO2 Injection

There are a lot of options for introducing supplemental carbon dioxide to your aquarium. They range from cheap and easy DIY solutions to fairly sophisticated and high-priced mechanisms. What they all have in common is their ability to inject additional CO2 into your tank’s environment.

Since this is what your plants breathe, getting them enough is essential to their health and happiness.


The best thing about keeping aquariums is that there are enough options available to make it easy for anyone to find the right level of involvement for them. For some, a simple set-up will be enough to keep them happy. Others will start simple and gradually increase the challenges they take on in return for additional options that this offers them for their tank’s environment.

Whether you prefer to keep things on the simple side or welcome a challenge, introducing some living plants to your aquarium’s biosphere is something you should consider. If you create the right conditions before you introduce them, you can set yourself up for success—even if you prefer to keep things simple.

Whenever you have living plants in your aquarium, it’s important to know what to look for so that you can catch problems early and take the appropriate steps to resolve those issues.

With a little bit of information on your side and not much extra effort at all, you can have a verdant aquascape to keep the fish and other critters in your tank interested and entertained. When they are, they’ll offer more interest and entertainment to you in return.