Can Aquarium Plants Touch the Heater – Freshwater Aquarium

In my aquarium I wanted to hide my ugly heater by planting a giant Amazon Sword plant in front of it. But than I thought, what would happen if the plant was constantly touching the heater? I needed to know what other people thought and this is what I found out.

Can aquarium plants touch the aquarium heater with its leaves?

It’s best to make sure no plants touch the heater at all times. With stronger heaters the leaves could get burned. If the aquarium plants block (part of) the water circulation around the heater your aquarium water temperature will be lower and unstable.

Experience from many other fish keepers is that leaves touching the heater don’t always give problems, especially with small heater of 50 Watts. You should be careful with more powerful heaters, but there are ways to do this really easy. I’ll briefly cover this in the rest of the article.

Protect your plants from the heater

When there is enough flow around the heater, all the produced heat will be distributed throughout your aquarium. Your heater will feel surprisingly cool to the touch, and this is good! However, if the flow is obstructed parts of the heater can become extremely hot.

For this, you can use a heater guard, which is a plastic cage that surrounds your aquarium heater. They are surprisingly cheap and solve a lot of problems, because all your fish and plants will be protected from the glass heater elements.

I recommend this heater guard that’s available on Amazon. Make sure you get the right size so your heater actually fits in the guard.

How to spot if your plants got burned

If you’ve got a plant that has been tightly pushed against your heater, chances are that there are some burned spots on the leaves. If this is the case, you’ll easily recognize it due to the brown hue.

When a plant leaf looks burned but has not touched a heater, it’s looking brown for another reason. Are you already additional fertilizer to make sure your plants can thrive? If your lights are too bright for a plant, it can also make the leaves look burned.

To treat the plants, carefully prune the burned leaves. If your plant is doing well it will easily recover from the burn mark. If your plant is positioned too close to the heater you should also consider moving your plant to prevent this happening again in the future.

The water should be able to flow around the heater unobstructed because the water flow is essential in distributing the heat in the aquarium. If you’ve got plants blocking the flow this will result in aquarium water that is colder than you want it to be.

Can an aquarium heater burn your fish?

Like we just established, usually an aquarium heater is remarkable cool to the touch. Because of this, it’s unlikely for fish to be burned, however it does happen. I’ve seen fish that get stuck between the heater and the glass get burned, and this sadly happens mostly with algae eaters like bristlenose catfish or larger pleco’s.

If you notice one of your fish is indeed burned by your aquarium heater, you need to take a couple of precautions. First assess the wound, if it’s extremely severe your fish might not make it. Next, up your water changes and perform a 20% water change daily. This will keep your water quality pristine.

It’s crucial to try and avoid further infections, the fish is extra vulnerable with the mucus layer and therefore the primary immune system missing.

You can dose salt (1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) per 5 gallons / 19 liters) to reduce osmotic pressure. Make sure you do not go overboard with the salt. Use regular untreated kitchen salt of dedicated aquarium salt for this.

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

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