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Why are my aquarium plants melting?

"Why are my aquarium plants melting?"


Why are my aquarium plants melting?
This is one of the most common questions that someone new to aquarium plants will ask. They buy plants at a local fish store and get some advice that isn't totally correct, or, at least doesn't provide all the information that's needed.

If you're lucky and have a decent LFS, the plant came with some sort of instructions from the grower. If you're like most of us in the USA, you got a plant in a bag with some water in it. Hopefully, the person who sold you the plant also gave you some instructions on how to keep it but they probably didn't tell you what to expect. So, here you are, reading this article on the Internet hoping to get some answers and, more importantly, some help.

Well, you came to the right place. This online community is full of people helping each other to learn to grow beautiful, healthy aquarium plants that don't melt (most of the time!). This article will give you some grounding that you'll need BUT the best advice I can give you is to 1) head over to the Meet and Greet forum and make a post saying "Hi" and 2) don't be shy about asking for specific help. It is critical that you get used to the idea that you don't have to figure this all out by yourself. There are many of us who are more than happy to help you avoid all of the costly mistakes we've made in the past and save some poor plants in the process. OK? Deal?

OK! Let's get some fundamental understanding as to "why are my aquarium plants melting?".

The fundamentals of aquarium plants and why they melt​

Honestly, you probably already know this. All plants, like us, are alive and need some basic items to continue living. Food and water being the most important to you and me, and it's the same for your aquarium plants. The water part is pretty easy and most people get this right. If it's an "aquarium plant", then you will likely be keeping the plant inside your aquarium under water. This eliminates your need for watering the plant. Therefore, unlike many terrestrial plants, water isn't the reason why your plants are melting.

Your aquarium plants are melting because of one of three things:
  1. They are not true aquarium plants (yes, fish stores do sell terrestrial plants as aquarium plants. Sadly);
  2. They are transitioning from growing in air to growing in water; or
  3. The environment you have them in isn't meeting their needs.
Let's cover each of these to get you a better understanding and then we can take it from there based on what the issue is.

1. They are not true aquarium plants​

Sadly, there are fish stores, both big box and local, that knowingly or unknowingly sell non-aquatic plants to unsuspecting, budding aquatic gardeners. Why remains a mystery to me but it's probably a little bit of ignorance and greed. The bottom line is that if your plant is not designed by nature to be underwater 100% of the time, it will die. Just like you and me, if we were underwater 100% of the time.

You may be asking, "Well, how do I know if my plant is an aquarium plant or a non-aquatic?" Well, that's a great question! You either have to identify it on an online site like the now-defunct PlantGeek database of non-aquatic plants, post a picture of it here and ask, or wait and see if it lives if you try the things I will recommend below.

To avoid this uncertainty from happening again, it is up to you to do some research and intentionally choose the plants you are going to purchase. Bonus points if you buy them from local hobbyists or from reputable stores, be they online or brick and mortar. Doing so means you know the plant is intended for your aquarium and, hopefully, how to give it what it needs to grow well for you.

2. They are transitioning from growing in air to growing in water​

patchwork-of-growing-plants.jpg Many aquarium plants are commercially grown emersed. They are grown in small pots with rock wool instead of soil. This is wonderful if you're the grower because it allows for very controlled growing conditions and the plant stems/leaves grow hardy and strong.

These aerial leaves are specifically made by the plant to get oxygen and CO2 from the air. Most of the nutrients (food) they need is pulled from the roots that are suspended in a stream of nutrient-filled water.

These aerial leaves are also designed to photosynthesize out of water. Either the sun (as can be seen in the image to the left) or growing lights are commonly used to provide the energy the plants need for photosynthesis. And, as you remember from school, photosynthesis is one of the ways that plants take light and convert it to food for themselves. Coupled with what they are taking up via their root system, the plant is getting everything it needs.

Amazing what nature does. An aquarium plant, that is designed to live underwater, can be grown outside of water. The term, "nature finds a way", is so true. Humbling.

But enough about that. I mentioned "what an aquarium plant needs to grow well". What is that?

Great question! In a very basic sense, your plant needs water, light, carbon dioxide and nutrients to survive and grow. It gets all of this mainly via its leaves/stems and its root system. And, as we just learned above, in the grower-favored emersed setup, it's getting all of that. The difference with your aquarium is that in your case, the plant needs to get that while being underwater.

So, a plant that was initially grown in the air (like the picture above) has to change (or transition) how it it getting some of the things it needs. Remember, it built leaves that are adapted to get oxygen and carbon dioxide from the air, not water. These leaves were also adapted to getting light without a column of water in between them and the light source. It now has to change all of that so that it can adapt to life underwater in your aquarium.

Of course! It does this by creating new "submersed" leaves that are going to work better underwater and it "drops" the old aerial leaves that are no longer needed. This dropping may be the melting you're seeing. It's just your very smart plant adapting to life underwater in your aquarium. Nature is finding a way.

So what should you do, be patient and research. Depending on the plant and your aquarium conditions, the transition may take a couple of weeks to a month.

I would recommend that you post a picture of your plant(s) here on ScapeCrunch and see if you can get some help from our members to identify the plant you have. They will then be happy to tell you want the plants needs from you to grow healthy. Of course, you can go the Google route and get information. Perhaps you do both. However, as I mentioned at the beginning, there is no comparison to asking other human beings with more experience for help. Don't be shy. You're not nothing anyone. We are here to help.

What happens if you know the plant is a true aquarium plant AND you know it transitioned (or was grown underwater to begin with) and it's still melting?

3. The environment you have them in isn't meeting their needs.​

If you've gotten to this part because the other two don't apply to you, then you're likely not meeting the needs of the plant. It may be that you were given a plant that is considered difficult to grow or that has specific growing conditions that your aquarium doesn't have. There are expert-only aquarium plants you should stay away from at the beginning. Again, post a picture of your plant here on ScapeCrunch and we will be happy to help you identify it and share with you its growing requirements.

That being said, let's make sure your aquarium is set up for aquarium plant success.

81sa0Tv0ZmL._AC_SL1500_.jpg Let's be honest. The aquarium to the left is not a great place for aquarium plant success. These are plastic plants, by the way. Looks nice. Your kids (or you) may love it and Buffy the Betta may be happy as a clam in it. Your aquarium plants won't be.

If this is your aquarium, we have a lot of work to do. If you're further along than this, congratulations! You're well ahead of the game.

In any event, what we need to begin to focus on is providing your aquarium plants with an environment that will encourage them to grow. Most aquarium plants are resilient and hardy in spite of your recent melting experience. Give them what they need, more or less, and they will do just fine, especially the more common species.

What is great news is that it doesn't have to be expensive. You can have a wonderful, low-cost aquarium full of healthy, beautiful aquarium plants.

Here's a wonderful example of what we call a "low-tech" aquascape that you can learn to maintain and show off to your spouse and friends.
tumblr_nyyhg3LL421s3c1oao1_1280.jpg

Here are the things you will need:
  1. Pick the right plants that will do well in an environment like yours. How? Ask here for help picking low-tech plants.
  2. Get yourself a good quality, full spectrum fertilizer made specifically for aquarium plants. There are many good commercial options today. Want recommendations? Ask here at ScapeCrunch. Follow the instructions on how to use it.
  3. Get yourself a pH and hardness kit(s) and test your water. Most plants prefer soft water with a pH of 7 or below. Of course, there are exceptions and if you're keeping hard water fish with a higher pH, just pick plants designed for that environment.
  4. Get full spectrum lighting to provide your aquarium plants with the light they need. You don't need to go out an buy a new light fixture. Just ask here if they light you're using is enough for the plants you have or are planning to have. It may be just fine!
That is all there is to it, folks! This doesn't have to be rocket science, you don't need a green thumb (should it be wet green thumb?) nor thousands of dollars. In my opinion, the biggest hurdle you have to overcome is to be OK asking for help from people who have been where you are and now have the knowledge and willingness to help.

Yes, of course, there is a LOT more to this than what I've described above. These are the basics of the basics and intended just to give you some understanding and a sense of "everything will be alright". Please believe me that your aquarium can be filled with beautiful, healthy aquarium plants that you and your fish will absolutely love! It just takes patience and a willingness to engage and learn.

ScapeCrunch was created and is run by passionate planted aquarium hobbyists. The mission is to help newcomers to the planted aquarium hobby get past questions like "why are my aquarium plants melting" and get to truly enjoying this wonderful hobby that teaches SO much about the beauty of nature and all it's wonders. Please lean into this community by asking questions and contributing your part. We will all be better for it.

Wishing you much success in your journey,

Art
 
Out of the 100's of people I've helped I'd say the majority post wanting an answer as to why their plants die but when they are given said answer they either get defensive or don't take the advice.
Sadly, I think this is just a reflection of people in general these days.

People plant a flag in an idea, regardless of how provably wrong it is and they'll fight to the death to defend it.

Many people today just ask questions so that they can hear their own opinions parroted back at them.

I love when someone mentions something I never considered. It makes me take a step back to understand what they're telling me so that I can figure out where I went wrong.
 

"Why are my aquarium plants melting?"

The tricky part is the answer is always..."it depends".

Most times when people post a question like that they get bombarded with things that people have read on the internet. They have little practical experience but love to give advice. No matter the advice they are giving may have little to nothing to do with the tank in question.

Here is the reality. If people really want help, they need to share as much as they can about the tank. Each tank is a unique eco system, and it really needs to be understood in it's entirety. But few take the time and effort to share the details. If they would, many folks like the experienced people who are here could offer competent relevant advice. Many times once you understand what is going on the answer is obvious.

So in the end with advice it's kind of "you get what you give". There are very few problems that are solved by asking a general question like that. The devil is always in the details.
 
So you guys are all talking like people that have helped many. I thank you for doing that.

Here's how I think about it. I try to remind myself that sometimes, newcomers don't know what to ask or how to ask. They really don't have a grasp of the entire ecosystem they have going nor what to track. So, I know I first need to help the newcomer understand there is a lot behind the question being asked and that the answer will "depend" as Gregg says. However, there is an answer and we will get to the bottom of it.

Typically, the person who asks "why are my aquarium plants melting?" is the person who wants a more natural aquarium and has probably seen some beautiful examples online. However, they know precious little about keeping plants.

If they are open to receiving help, I'm happy to give it. I know the same applies to you guys. If the person just wants me to tell them what to do and doesn't want to learn or understand, I'm less apt to help.
 
Typically, the person who asks "why are my aquarium plants melting?" is the person who wants a more natural aquarium and has probably seen some beautiful examples online. However, they know precious little about keeping plants.
You hit on a key point there. They have seen beautiful aquariums and know what it is they want to accomplish.

The easiest and fastest way to success is to seek out tanks that are successful in a style similar to what you have in mind. Then study their methods. Ask questions. I have found the people in this hobby more than happy to help new folks and share their methods.

I have told more than one person to take a deep breath, pause for a minute, and take some time to learn the basics. Just understanding the terminology will make it easier to learn from others. It takes a little more effort, but even low tech tanks can be a disaster with no knowledge, so no matter the level you aspire to it pays to study up.

Personally I get a real kick out of seeing someone I have helped begin to demonstrate success. It's one of the joys of the hobby and helps to grow the hobby too.....which is a good thing!
 
Then study their methods. Ask questions. I have found the people in this hobby more than happy to help new folks and share their methods.
Boy you hit the nail on the head here. This is my frustration with social media. Just today I was feeling terrible because I PMed Marian a bunch of questions on Facebook about his reset. It felt horrible having to ask so much on social media that is designed for one line questions and one line answers.

How can a newbie ask questions, study the success of an experienced person, and take the time to ask questions of someone, IF what they are used to on social media is a one line question? How do you encapsulate everything you need to ask into a one line question? Forums are so much better for this. Anyway, stepping off my soapbox as you've all heard this before.

Personally I get a real kick out of seeing someone I have helped begin to demonstrate success. It's one of the joys of the hobby and helps to grow the hobby too.....which is a good thing!
Me too! I started to help people back in the Compuserv days and the on APC back in the early 2000s. Now some of those people are experts and MUCH better than me. It's good to see and I'm so happy for them.
 
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