6 Tips to Take Care of Live Plants in Aquarium (For Beginners)

Live plants are great for aquarium. It helps to emulate the natural habitat of fish. It helps to oxygenate the tank and there are a lot of other benefits of keeping live plants in an aquarium.

But reap all the benefits you have to take care of these plants.

In this article, I am going to share with you some tips to take care of your live plants in the aquarium.

Tips to Take Care of Live Plants in Aquarium

Tips to Take Care of Live Plants in Aquarium

1. Choose Plants Wisely

Choosing the wrong plants for aquarium is the mistake many beginners make when they are just starting out with the hobby.

If you just choose the right plants for your aquarium then it will be a lot easier for you to take care of it.

While choosing the live plants you should make sure that it is compatible with the water condition your fish require.

You should know what temperature your fish require what is the water pH tolerance range of your fish and also how much ammonia your fish produce i.e. how messy your fish is.

Then you should look for the plants which are comfortable with the same water parameters as your fish.

You should also know if your fish like nibble on plants.

If your fish do like to nibble on plants then you should go for fast-growing plants because they will survive that aquarium and the fish will not be able to consume it completely.

You can still keep slow-growing plants in the fish tank which has fish that like nibble on plants but you should make sure that the fish are well-fed so that they will not nibble on plants. 

But still, there is always a risk that the fish will consume the plant.

2. Maintain Optimum Lighting Condition

Light is one of the most important parameters when it comes to maintaining healthy aquatic plants in your aquarium.

Maintaining optimum lighting for plants is very important because it helps the plant to grow, it enhances its color and also it helps to minimize the early algae growth.

Full-spectrum light is the key to maintaining the colors of your live plants.

Some people like to design their own lighting system but it doesn’t worth it unless you have a big room filled with lots of fish tanks.

If you are just starting out then you should go for or the lights which are specially designed for planted aquariums.

You should just make sure that the light actually covers all your aquarium.

How much light do plants require?

There are some plants that require low light like Anubias, Java fern, and Java moss.

About 15 to 30 micromoles will be sufficient for these plants.

Some plants like Amazon sword, hornwort will require moderate light of about 35 to 50 micromoles.

And some plants like duckweed, water spirit, and parrot feather require good lighting of about 50+ micromoles for their optimum growth.

How much time do plants require light?

Plants photosynthesize for 12 to 14 hours every day.

So, you should keep the lights of your aquarium on for about 8 to 10 hours daily.

But initially when you just plant your plant into the aquarium you should keep the lights on for only 6 hours and then you should gradually increase it.

This is very important to do because initially when the plant is small it requires a very low amount of light.

If you put the lights of your aquarium on for more time then the algae will take advantage of it and grow very fast in your aquarium.

For example, you should keep the lights of your aquarium on for 6 hours for a couple of weeks then you should increase to 8 hours for the next couple of weeks and then you should increase to 10 hours for the next couple of weeks.

Also if you noticed a lot of algae is growing in your aquarium then you should cut down on the hour you keep the lights on.

There are also some aquarium lights that come with adjustable lighting functionality so you can dim the light at the beginning when you are just planting your plant and then you can gradually increase it.

Timing matters

Timing is also very important when it comes to lights for live plants.

That’s why I highly recommend you to get a timer for your lights or you can buy an aquarium light that comes with an inbuilt timer.

If you go without a timer for your lights then there will be at least some time difference when you turn on or turn off the lights.

Also, sometimes you will forget to turn on the lights or turn off the lights which can cause a lot of trouble.

And it may take even a month to fix the problem.

3. Maintain Healthy Substrate

There are some plants that get most of their nutrients from the water like Anubias, Java fern, etc.

And there are some other plants which get most of their nutrients from the substrate like Amazon sword, Cryptocoryne, etc.

So for the plants which get most of the nutrients from the substrate, we should use a substrate which is high in nutrient so that the plant will get nutrients right away.

There are some good substrates that are specially made for planted tanks.

But one thing to note here is that after 1 or 2 years all the nutrients in the substrate will get consumed by the plant.

So to remineralize the substrate you will have to add root tabs near your live plants.

For the plants that get most of their nutrients through the water and not through the substrate, you can use any substrate like gravel.

And you can always put some root tabs near the plants if you ever need to add some nutrients for the plant.

You should avoid fine sand for a planted aquarium as a substrate because the roots of the plant will not penetrate through it and will not get sufficient nutrients.

Even for plants like Java fern and anubias which get most of their nutrients from the water fine sand substrate is not recommended.

4. Maintain Ideal Water Conditions

Like your fish, the plants also require specific water conditions to thrive.


Generally, aquatic plants can handle a wide range of temperatures because in the wild they face both warm and cold temperatures. 

So, they are pretty adaptable with the temperature changes.

Ideally, you should choose the plants which require the same water condition as your fish.

If your fish prefer warm water then there are some plants like Marimo ball, African water fern, Java fern, Hygrophila, Sword plants like Amazon sword, Dwarf lotus, Brazilian pennywort, etc that can thrive in warm water.

If your fish prefer cold water then there are some plants like Marimo ball, Java moss, Cabomba, Water cabbage, etc that can grow in cold water.

Water pH

Most aquatic plants have a high water pH tolerance range but there are some plants that are sensitive.

The ideal water pH range for aquatic plants, in general, is 6.5 to 7.8.

Again, you should research what kind of PH your fish require and then you should choose the plant accordingly.

chart showing which aquatic plant can survive in what pH of water



First of all, do you really need fertilizer for your aquatic plants?

The answer is yes and no.

If you just want your aquatic plant to survive in your tank then you don’t need to add any fertilizers and it will do well.

But if you want it to grow fast and healthy then you may require to add some fertilizers in your tank.

What do fertilizers do?

Fertilizers provide the essential nutrients which are needed for the healthy and fast growth of the plant.

Basically there are two types of nutrients that a plant needs.

  1. Macronutrient
  2. Micronutrient


Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the macronutrients plants require and they require it in large quantities.


Micronutrients are nutrients like iron, magnesium, boron, copper, chlorine, Cobalt, nickel and plants require these nutrients in smaller quantities.

What are the different types of fertilizers

There are three types of fertilizers

  • Liquid fertilizers
  • Prepacked substrates
  • Root tabs

Liquid fertilizers

Liquid fertilizers, as the name suggests, are in liquid form.

These fertilizers will get dissolved in the water.

This is the best kind of fertilizer for the plants which get most of their nutrients from the water like Java fern, Anubias, etc.

Prepacked substrate

A pre-packed substrate is nothing but the substrate which contains all the nutrients that a plant requires for its growth.

This substrate is especially beneficial for the plants which get most of their nutrients from the substrate like Amazon sword, Cryptocoryne, etc.

Root tabs

Root tabs are nothing but tablets of fertilizers that you can put around your plants.

It will dissolve slowly and provide nutrients to your plant.

You can use these root tabs for any plant whether they get their nutrients from water or from the substrate.

Because even if the plant which gets most of their nutrients from the water will still get some nutrients from the substrate.

And you can obviously use the root tabs for the rooted plant which gets their nutrients for the substrate.

Root tabs are also a very good alternative if you already have gravel in your aquarium and you want to put some rooted plants like Amazon sword into your aquarium, as it will provide the nutrients to it.

Root tab also comes in handy, when after 1 or 2 years, the nutrients from the prepacked substrate get diminished.

5. Trimming

Trimming live plants is very important to maintain the aesthetic look of your aquarium.

When plants get the right environment for their growth they can grow very rapidly.

There are some plants that can grow very fast, usually stem plants come under this category.

When plants grow very big and reach the surface of the tank it will prevent the light coming inside the aquarium.

So, the small plants will not get light and they will not grow properly.

Also, if you don’t trim the fast-growing plants then they will occupy most of the space in your aquarium, so the fish will not have sufficient space to swim in the aquarium.

Overall, to maintain the aesthetic look of your aquarium and for the proper growth of small plants, you should regularly trim your fast-growing plants.

6. Provide CO2

Now, CO2 is not a must-have thing in a planted aquarium.

If you are a beginner then I will advise you to just stick with basic hardy plants that don’t require a lot of attention.

Also, if you introduce excess CO2 in your aquarium then it can cause water pH swings that can be harmful to the aquatic life in your aquarium.

But if you have a good experience in the hobby then you can supplement your plants with additional CO2.

CO2 basically enhances plant size, color, and growth.

You can use a CO2 calculator to know how much CO2 will be enough for your tank.

There are are several different ways to introduce carbon dioxide in your aquarium.

Pressurized CO2

This is probably the most reliable way to introduce CO2 in the aquarium.

When you use a pressurized CO2 bottle with an electronic solenoid valve then it allows you to introduce the CO2 in the aquarium during the day which will prevent the pH swing in the aquarium during the night.

But the drawback of this method is that it is very expensive initially.


This method of introducing CO2 in the aquarium is the most cost-effective.

It requires very chip ingredients and everyday hardware tools.

Besides, if you do it properly then it can be very effective as well.

The drawback of this method is that you have to refill the CO2 after every few weeks and also it is very hard to monitor the CO2 and you will have to let it run even throughout the night which can cause water pH swings in your aquarium.

CO2 Liquid

CO2 liquids do not directly introduce the CO2 in your aquarium but instead, it introduces the carbon-based solution in your aquarium.

So it is not the ideal substitute for carbon dioxide.

Also, it becomes very expensive over time.

The good thing about this method is that it is very easy to use and it can work really well in small aquariums.

CO2 tabs

The CO2 tabs are very good for small aquarium tanks.

As you can major how many tabs you put into your aquarium, it is very convenient to measure the doses of the CO2 you are putting into the tank.

But you cannot use this method with large tanks because it becomes very expensive.

Also, the demand for CO2 tabs is very low so there is a probability that you will get a very cheap quality product.

Electronic CO2

Introducing CO2 using the electronic CO2 method is good for small tanks but it becomes very expensive if you use it in a large tank.

Do fish produce enough co2 for plants?

Common Aquatic Plants Deficiencies

Plants are living things so like with other living things, there are some deficiencies that occur in plants as well.

Nitrogen Deficiency

Like fish, plants also need food for their proper growth.

But we usually overlook when it comes to food for the plant.

Plants require nitrogen for their growth.

When plants don’t get enough nitrogen then their leaves started to get yellowish in color.

You may also see the leaves of the plant getting translucent, this also suggests nitrogen deficiency.

The reason your aquarium doesn’t have sufficient nitrogen could be you are changing the water of your aquarium very frequently.

To increase the nitrogen level in your aquarium you can use liquid fertilizers if you have water column plants i.e. the plants which get most of their nutrients through water.

You can use root tabs if you have rooted plants that get most of their nutrients from the substrate.

The fertilizers will increase the nitrogen and so will solve the nitrogen deficiency problems.

The plants are usually grown in aquatic farms where they are not put into the water.

So when you put such a plant into your aquarium the plant will get rid of the leaves that were grown when it was in the air in the aquatic farm and it will start growing new leaves in your aquarium.

During this process, the leaves of the plant will turn into yellowish color.

Usually, we see this problem with stem plants like the Amazon sword.

We usually don’t encounter this problem with hardy plants like Anubias and Java fern.

So if the leaves of your plant are becoming yellow due to you the reason that it was previously kept in the air in the aquatic farm and now it is kept in the water in your aquarium then you don’t have to do anything about it.

It is a natural behavior of plant and it will grow over time.

Iron Deficiency

The symptoms of iron deficiency in the plants may look similar to nitrogen deficiency.

In the case of iron deficiency, the leaves of the plant turn yellow in color but it is a somewhat lime yellow color.

Also, when there is iron deficiency you can see the skeleton i.e. the veins of the leaves clearly.

So in case of iron deficiency, you have to add iron to get rid of it.

Now most fertilizer contains iron in small quantities.

But to get rid of iron deficiency completely you should add a separate supplement of iron.

Potassium Deficiency

The symptom of potassium deficiency is you see pinholes on the leaves of your plant.

Most of the fertilizers contain potassium in small quantities.

And usually, this is enough for most of the plants.

But there are some plants like Anubias and Java fern which want more potassium than other plants.

Overall you can get rid of potassium deficiency by simply adding some fertilizers in the fish tank.

Phosphorus Deficiency

Phosphorus deficiency is not a very common deficiency in aquatic plants.

The symptom of this deficiency is you will notice yellow leaves of your plant as well as there will be some big patches of brown color on it.

Usually, this deficiency is caused when you put a phosphate pad in your filter.

So, in this case, removing the phosphate pad will solve the problem.

Magnesium Deficiency

The symptom of this deficiency is you will see the light greenish color of the leaves and also the veins of the leaves will be visible and they’ll have a dark green color.

The way to fix this deficiency is to use a fertilizer that has magnesium in it.

Calcium Deficiency

The symptom of this deficiency is that you will notice twisted leaves of the plant.

Again, to fix this deficiency you have to use fertilizer which contains calcium.

So as you can see there are various types of deficiencies that can occur in the aquatic plant.

But the good thing about it is that the solution for most of these deficiencies is just adding fertilizers in the aquarium.

Firstly, you should identify what deficiency your plant is facing and then you should choose fertilizers that actually have that element to fix the deficiency.

For example, if you noticed magnesium deficiency then you should choose a fertilizer that has magnesium in it.

Also, once you added the fertilizers in the water then it will take at least a couple of weeks to see the results.


I hope you have found these tips helpful.

It is very important to observe your plants so that you can notice any deficiency in its early stage and then find a solution to fix it.

Some deficiencies are a bit tricky to notice like the magnesium deficiency because the symptom is just a slight fade greenish color which is hard to notice.

But the reality is, it is not that difficult to keep live plants in an aquarium, you just have to give them a proper amount of nutrients that the plants can get from the fertilizers.

Also, you should give them the doses of fertilizers according to their size.

For example, you should not give the same dose as you were giving to your plant when you were just starting out.

You should increase the dose of the fertilizers according to the size of the plant.

Photo of author
Prathmesh Gawai
He is the main author and editor at Aquagoodness.com. And he loves to share helpful information on aquarium and/or fishkeeping hobby. Prathmesh has over five years of aquarium and/or fishkeeping experience. Currently, he has a Betta fish tank. He has written hundreds of articles on various aquarium fish species and on fish tank maintenance over the last five years. Connect with him on YouTube here. Learn more about him here.

2 thoughts on “6 Tips to Take Care of Live Plants in Aquarium (For Beginners)”

  1. I thank you for your time on getting to know your plants and there properties, I had now idea that aquarium plants could live in gravel and what types of plants are better. Thanks so much for your help on this subject it’s going to help me out better, again thank you . Jason Nicholls.

    • Hey, Jason. Thanks for reading the article. Glad you found the info helpful.
      Yes, live plants can live in the gravel. Here’s a list and info about the best plants for gravel substrate.


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