Should I Remove Dead Plants from the Aquarium?

Do you have dead plants in your aquarium? Since you’re here, the answer to that question is yes!

Hence this article’s question and topic, “Should I remove dead plants from the aquarium?”

Short answer, yes. You should remove a dead plant from your aquarium. The reason is simple. A dead plant – not a leaf or two- has the potential to increase the volume of nitrogenous toxins exponentially. 

Who would want that? I don’t know about you, but none of the aquarists I know are fans of toxins in their aquaria!

That said, a fallen leaf or two should not be a concern. You can let nature take its course unless it’s ugly to look at – or clogs up the filtration system. Not good!

However, a bunch of leaves above the substrate should concern you. Apart from toxins, why are your plants dying at such a rate? Something needs to be fixed with the fish tank.

This article will discuss more reasons to keep dead leaves/plants out of your fish tanks and why they are dying en masse.

Keep or Take out

We admit that each tank’s condition or inhabitants are unique. Thus, there is no size shoe fit-all solution to some -if not most- aquarium issues.

When can one let nature take its course, and when should one interfere? That is the question we need to discuss. Feel free to flesh out your ideas in the comment section below.

Here are the conditions that we can let dead leaves stay in fish tanks:

Planted Tank
Planted Tank, what a beauty!

Few Leaves

As mentioned before, a leaf or two shouldn’t be a concern. Over time, organic matter decay into ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates.

The toxins released from a few leaves are not enough to cause a seismic change and shock to an aquarium (and its inhabitants).

Since they don’t pose much threat to our beautiful friends, you can choose to ignore them.

Large Tanks

The Larger a tank is, the more difficult it is to change its chemical balance significantly. That is why we can house more fish with varying needs in a large tank.

Dead leaves will probably go through the decaying process unnoticed in your test results. That’s saying something!

Due to this ‘helpful’ phenomenon, you can ignore dead leaves in large fish tanks!

Clean-Up Crew

Veteran fish keepers are well-acquainted with the term clean-up crew. A bunch of aquarium inhabitants cleans everything up for you.

If you have a few clean-up crew in a tank, maintenance should be the least of concerns – let alone dead leaves.

If you have a few snails, eartheaters, or redtail sharks, you should let them feed on dead leaves. Taking them out is akin to denying your clean-up crew a deserved feast!

That said, here are the conditions that we should take dead leaves out of fish tanks:

Should I Remove Dead Plants from the Aquarium?
Removing old leaves

Large Volume of Dead Leaves/ Plants

Yes, we will start with the obvious one. When there are enough dead leaves to alter the conditions in a tank, it is best to take them out.

A sudden influx of nitrogenous toxins is a big shock for fish. A prudent fishkeeper will seek to avoid the shock altogether.

He will remove dead leaves, vacuum the substrate, and discover why his plants are dying en masse.

Small Fish Tanks

Small fish tanks are the direct opposite of large tanks. Generally, it is much more challenging to maintain suitable conditions in small fish tanks.

Why? Simply due to their high volatility. Even a tiny crumb of uneaten food can cause a BIG CHANGE in small tanks. The question is, what about a dead leaf or two?

If you want to keep fish safe and happy, taking out dead leaves or other organic matter the moment you notice them is best!

Prevalent Toxins

You must remove dead leaves if a tank has been plagued with nitrogenous toxins. The situation is bad already, and it is not beneficial to add more fuel to it!

I know fish keepers prefer to let the tank recycle and fix itself. I am not a fan of that school of thought. A cycled tank has an established balance already.

Anything that disrupts the established ecological balance must be dealt with swiftly. Otherwise, we risk piling unnecessary stress on the inhabitants!

Plants Dying: What to Do?

Despite fish being our priority in a fish tank, plants take a lot of effort to nurture. Therefore, plants dying hurts – a lot.

So, what can we do to preserve aquatic plants in the aquarium? Below are actions you can take to protect plants in aquariums:

Planted fish tank
There is beauty in simplicity, behold!

Clip Off Dead Leaves

Before things turn ugly, it is best to clip off dead leaves. I am sure you’re wondering why!

Simple. Dead leaves are like parasites – no, cancer. They gobble up most of the plant’s nutrients to prevent their inevitable death.

Clipping dead leaves allow the plant to dedicate its resources where needed. The plant will grow much better due to the freed nutrients.

In addition, clipping dead leaves curbs the spread of disease to the rest of the plant. You are saving the planet -sorry, plant- by sacrificing a leaf or two.

Besides, plants are more pleasing to the eye with the dead leaves gone. Who wouldn’t want that? I know I do!

Better Lighting

As you know, light is essential for plant growth. Most aquarium plants are not an exception.

It is not just about a bulb or two; light must have the right quality to benefit plants. To that end, ensure the following when providing light for plants:

If you have the above covered, you don’t have to worry about plant lighting!


Plants need nutrients to survive and support their growth. Thus, you’ll need to set aside a budget for fertilizers.

fish flakes
Platy eating fish flakes

Yes, plants may be dying off or growing due to insufficient essential nutrients. Fertilizers are an integral part of an aquarium’s maintenance and are required to ensure the plants receive enough nutrients.

They contain essential macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and micronutrients like iron, magnesium, and calcium. Without these nutrients, plants cannot grow and thrive.

Fertilizers also provide essential secondary nutrients, such as sulfur, boron, and zinc, necessary for healthy plant growth.

If plants are dying in an aquarium, you should consider whether they can access all their required nutrients. If not, at least you know what to do about it.