Aquarium Plants Turning Transparent – Why & How To Deal With It

Much as flower or vegetable gardeners may find themselves worried at the sight of brown leaves, aquarium plants turning transparent is a legitimate cause of worry for owners.

This article explores the reasons for this phenomenon in detail and suggests a few solutions to return the vivid colors you love in your aquatic plants back to your aquarium.

3 Reasons Why Aquatic Plants Turn Transparent

First of all, you should know that there are several factors determining the overall health and stability of your aquarium habitat, and thus all affect your aquarium life. Those include:

  • Nutrients
  • Light
  • pH and Carbon Dioxide level

You will need to remember these factors, as you must diagnose the exact cause of your plants to properly get rid of the problem.

aquarium plants with transparent leaves

1. Lack of nutrients

Much as aquatic animals, plants living in your aquarium require a certain amount of specific nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, and iron to survive and proliferate.

When the supply of said nutrients runs low, aquatic plants will start to wither and die, which results in them turning brown, yellow, or transparent.

Specifically, your plants turning transparent might be caused by a lack of chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color by enabling the photosynthesis process.

Thus, aquarium owners must supplement their tanks with fertilizers high in iron. Specifically, iron-rich comprehensive solutions in liquid form are highly suggested to tackle this issue. Instead of switching fertilizers, owners could seek to add an iron-specific treatment for the soil in their tank.

Aside from iron, zinc or manganese deficiency could also cause discoloration in aquatic plants. Whereas a lack of iron will cause inner and terminal leaves to turn transparent, insufficient zinc or manganese will do the same for older leaves.

Thus, if your plants’ older leaves show signs of discoloration, you should apply the same fertilizer and treatment method, just with zinc and manganese instead.

These supplements often take about 2-3 weeks to take effect, thus owners should wait this amount of time before determining what next step they should take.

2. Lack of light

Another similarity between aquatic plants and terrestrial ones is their need for light. Specifically, the type of light, its brightness, and duration of light all contribute to your plant’s health. Notably, plants can suffer discoloration not only from a lack of light but also from an overabundance of it.

Thus, owners need to have a good idea of how much light is required for each type of plant they have in their aquatic garden to adjust tank lighting according to their needs.

However, to find the right type, amount, and intensity of light for your tank, experimentation is key. As discussed above, the type of plants you have in your tank determines part of this, while the rest is the level of lighting already delivered to your tank.

Multiple revises regarding the type of bulbs and adjustments to your timer are warranted to find the optimal lighting condition for your tank.

3. Imbalance in pH and Carbon Dioxide level

A key specification that determines whether your tank’s environment is habitable or hostile to your plants is the pH level of the water. pH level (from 0-14) is the indication of how acidic (0-7) or basic/alkaline (8-14) your liquid is.

Moreover, a vital part of plants’ survival, be it on land or underwater, is photosynthesis. Thus, carbon dioxide being one key component in photosynthesis, could interfere with this process and cause discoloration if its level is not adequate.

transparent leaves

To find the right pH level, aquarium owners need to take into account the type of fish and plant life in their tank (freshwater vs saltwater). With that being said, aquatic plants are intolerant to alkaline water (pH 8-14).

Thus it is recommended that owners keep the pH level in their tank between 5-8, with the specific level depending on what type of aquatic life is present. Besides, it is recommended that aquarium owners:

  • Avoid using tap water, as it may shift the pH balance in your tank due to its chemical composition.
  • Keep a close watch on their tank’s pH level at the end of a fertilization or nitrogen cycle and adjust if needed, as aquariums’ water level tends to be more acidic around this time.
  • Note in mind that some plants release tannin acid, such as driftwood, which will affect your pH readings.

Regarding CO2 imbalance, the first step owners need to take to combat this is to ensure their tank has a proper and functioning air pump and filter.

The airflow in aquariums needs to be consistent and adequate to prevent any bacteria from growing, sapping away the precious CO2 that aquatic plants desperately need. Owners might also consider using either a CO2 injector or CO2 tablets to manually supplement the carbon necessary for your tank.

Bonus Tips And Tricks

Aside from the above, owners might still need to consider these tips to avoid aquarium plants turning transparent:

  • Watch your gravel layer: aquatic plants do possess roots and thus require an adequately thick level of the substrate to grow in. It is recommended that your gravel layer should be around 2-3 inches for your plants to take root properly.
  • Try baking soda to raise your tank’s pH level if it’s too acidic, as baking soda’s pH level is 8.4
  • In contrast, in case of a high pH level, consider adding peat moss to reduce it. Put the moss into a mesh bag or any similar container to prevent them from spreading but still allow them to release nutrients.

Although your tank might slightly discolor, it will return to normal with the added benefit of lower pH levels.


Now that you have learned the reasons and solutions regarding aquatic plants turning transparent, make sure to apply these tips and tricks to your tank in the future!