Aquarium Plants

My views, Steve Hampton, on how to succeed with aquarium plants

Plant Deficiencies

For the beginning Aquatic Gardner recognizing plant deficiencies is probably the hardest thing to learn. Several different deficiencies will appear to look almost the same. Couple that with the  fact that a new tank has rapidly changing conditions that make it difficult for a veteran aquatic gardener to properly diagnose. List below are the most commonly occurring plant deficiencies and how to recognize them.


 Deficiency  Leaves  Deficiency Symptoms
 Nitrogen (NO3)  Old

Old Leaves turn yellowish or sometimes reddish. Small stunted plants with very large root systems; leaves smaller and lighter in color than normal; slow growth. Paleness will start at the tips of the lower leaves. Older leaves die off quickly in extreme deficiencies. If this deficiency continues, the foliage will continue to develop, but stems will be spindly, sappy and soft, flowering will be delayed, small fruit will grow and the plant will be more susceptible to disease. Lack of lush green color especially in older leaves.


Toxicity - soft, dark green leaves, long weak stems, poor root development and slow to maturation.

 Deficiency  Leaves  Deficiency Symptoms
 Iron (Fe)  New Leaves turn yellow and become brittle and glassy an disintegrate Greenish nerves enclosing yellow leaf tissue First seen in fast growing plants. Tips of new leaves will become either pale of yellow, and this will spread inward. The leaf will likely turn blotchy from a lack of green pigment, eventually turning brown and drying out.

Toxicity - Deficiencies of other elements, brown spots on leaves.

 Deficiency  Leaves  Deficiency Symptoms
 Potassium (K)  Old Yellow areas, then withering of leaf edges and tips. In early stages, yellowing and curling of older leaves. Newer leaves will begin to droop. Older leaves then become blotchy and scorched. Flowers are lackluster, and stems are soft. The plants will be more susceptible to diseases. Pinpoint holes in leaves.

Toxicity - saline conditions, marginal leaf burn, wilting. May cause calcium deficiency in soft water condtions with excess potassium.

 Deficiency  Leaves  Deficiency Symptoms
 Magnesium  Old Symptoms do not appear until the deficiency is well established. The plant will be stunted. Leaf veins will stay green while the remainder of the leaf turns yellow. Brow spots will appear and the plant will dry out. Flowers will be slow to develop, if at all. Flowers that do grow will be lackluster.

Toxicity - edge curl on leaves, small stems, signs of potassium deficiency.

 Deficiency  Leaves  Deficiency Symptoms
 Phosphorus  Old Premature leaf fall-off Similar to nitrogen deficiency. Stunted plants with dark, dull, and sometimes discolored leaves, unusually hard stems, poor root system and very little branching. Attacks lower, more mature leaves first. Occurs especially when nitrogen level is low.

Toxicity - small curled new leaves, early maturation, large root systems.

 Deficiency  Leaves  Deficiency Symptoms
 Calcium (Ca)  New Damage and die off of growing points Yellowish leaf edges. Underdeveloped roots are the first to be affected. Younger leaves will be immobile and their edges will curl. Plants will be stunted and have dark, crinkled leaves.

Toxicity - iron and potassium lockup.


For answers to specific questions check out
 Tropical Resources, the Web-Forum provider for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine and say hello to me while you are there!