Have you been thinking of getting into the world of aquascaping?
Confused on where to start?
In this post I will try to go over all the different aquascaping techniques from the very beginner to the more advanced with the hopes that after reading this post, you would be able to find one that fits your style and experience the best.
No matter what technique you choose, the most popular aquascaping principle is to put short plants in the foreground and the tall ones in the background.
Non Planted Tanks
First we’ll look over the different techniques of aquascaping that does not have any live plants.
Hey, I did mention that I was going to go through them from the absolute beginner, didn’t I?
One of the easiest versions of Aquascaping is the use of artificial plants. These are great for beginners because they do not require certain light or water parameters.
They are also easy to clean by using an algae brush or spraying them with water with a shower or sink faucet. This will wash the algae and detritus (dirt) off.
Some may say that using artificial plants isn’t really considered aquascaping, but I think it’s great for beginners.
They can concentrate on keeping the water parameters healthy for their fish with less variables to disturb the ecosystem. Once, they’ve got their basics right they can start experimenting with live plants.
As for the more advanced, using plastic plants is also great to practice your composition, positioning and other aquascaping design principles.
Most local pet stores have a wide array of plastic plants or you could get it online either on Amazon or That Fish Place.
The next aquascaping technique that does not use live plants is called a hardscape.
This technique involves using rocks, driftwood or even resin sculptures from the aquatics section of your local pet store.
Many hardscape aquarists use the one third design where they split the aquarium into thirds top to bottom and left to right where the one upper and the opposite lower end make a plus + sign is where they will put a high rock or piece of driftwood and a smaller one at the opposite end of the tank.
Other ways involve driftwood with thin branches in the center or sides and medium smooth rocks around the base.
Intermediate aquascaping includes the use of live plants and this is called a planted tank.
There are many types of plants with specific needs such as high or low light and high or low carbon dioxide. Many also require fertilizers or nutrients added to the aquarium. Each requires a different “recipe” for it survive and flourish.
The basic aquascaping design principle for a planted tank is to offset the focal point to one side.
Also having short foreground, medium midground and tall background plants make the aquarium look full but gives a great area for aquarium fish to swim.
Low Tech Planted Tank
Firstly, we will talk about low tech aquariums with live plants which are great for live plant beginners.
A low tech tank would allow you to have plants that can withstand low light. The plants also grow slower and do not need as much, if any, fertilizer which will create less pruning time. Perfect for people who have busy lifestyles.
The only downside to low tech aquariums is that some plants that need strong light or carbon dioxide will not survive. This limits the variety of plants that you can use in your tank.
Low light aquascapes are generally about 1.5 to 2 watts per gallon. Common low light plants would include Java Moss, Java Fern, Anubias, and Cryptocoryne’s.
Most plants like a sandy or small gravel substrate (base), and so do your bottom dwelling fish such as corydoras. A mechanical or biological filter would be ideal for this type of setup.
Getting a little more complex, the fertilized planted tank are bit more challenging for beginners.
One of the easiest ways to fertilize an aquarium is by using small tablets that you push into the substrate next to the plants root base. There are liquid fertilizers that you can add too. Be sure to read the label for the correct measurements.
The use of fertilizers is a bit of step up so I would recommend that you start reading up before beginning a fertilizer regime on your aquarium.
Here are some great resources I’ve found to get you started:-
- Introduction to Fertilizing the Planted Tank
- Fertilizing Planted Aquariums
- Fertilizers in a Planted Tank
Non CO2 Planted Tank
In case you were sleeping in science class, CO2 is Carbon Dioxide which plants need to survive. However, you can actually have a planted tank aquascape with no additional CO2.
Fish do give off some carbon dioxide but it isn’t enough for all plant species; this is where you would need to go into advanced aquascaping with CO2.
Low light plants will grow in an aquarium with no additional CO2 but will grow at an even slower rate. Many plants require high light to flourish in an aquarium and again it is recommended that you read up as these does require higher maintenance than your ordinary tank.
To get very bright lighting you can use metal halide but caution they can very hot. Alternatively, you could use T5 fluorescent bulbs which are smaller than the original fluorescents and can distribute light better and evenly.
The types of plants that require high light are normally red-leafed or plants like Moneywort and Hornwort.
Injected CO2 Planted Tank
The most advanced type of aquascaping is the injected CO2. This phase of aquascaping requires high maintenance and is something you can dabble with once you are more experienced.
If you think you’re ready for the next step up, here’s a great video by Evan from Cloud9Aquariums covering the fundamentals of CO2 Injection to get you started:
This set-up will require additional equipment such as CO2 bottles, regulators, diffusers, and a bubble counter among others. This obviously comes with a cost, but a simple search online will show many different DIY CO2 setups. Here’s a great one I’ve found: Do-It-Yourself Carbon Dioxide Injection
You will have to check and make sure you are not giving too much CO2 to your tank so you don’t kill off your fish. The plants will also grow fast and will need to be trimmed often.
You also have to check your pressure on your CO2 and replace tanks when they run empty. That’s on top of other regular aquarium maintenance that you’ll still have to do, mind you.
However, as with everything else in this hobby, patience and practice does come a long way. The result of your hard work is often rewarded with such beauties such as this:
Here’s a great guide I’ve found that pretty much covers everything about CO2 injection in a planted tank: All You Wanted To Know About CO2 Injection But Were Afraid To Ask
A biotope style aquascape is a remake of the natural habitat of certain fish and plant species in different parts of the world. Some of the popular biotope aquarium are:-
- Amazon Blackwater
- New Guinea River
- Asian Swamp
- Central American River
Here’s a good video with a couple of examples of different biotope aquariums:-
When doing a biotope, the species of fish must match the plants and surroundings of the aquarium so it looks and acts like it would in a real world setup. This in theory is makes things easier as the plants and fish would require the same pH balance, hardness and temperature.
However, replicating the natural environment isn’t the easiest thing to do. It requires a lot of meticulous research and planning. This aquascaping technique is usually done by the more advanced aquascapers and are often a second or third set in their collection.
If you’re interested in starting a biotope aquarium, here are a few helpful resources for you to start digging in:-
- Biotope Aquariums – a great write up which covers the different biotope aquariums with details on what is required
- Biotope Aquariums by MongaBay.com – another great resource with even more biotope aquarium types
Natural Aquarium Aquascape
There is an advanced design of aquascape that many aquarists try to replicate, these are the ones that you’ll often see in competitions. Made famous by Takashi Amano of Japan and his company Aqua Design Amano (ADA).
He has published four books, three in a series named “Nature Aquarium World” and the fourth “Aquarium Plant Paradise”.
He discovered a species of small freshwater shrimp that eat a large quantity of algae, which are named after him as “Amano Shrimp”.
His aquascapes are normally one large piece of rock or driftwood with a “mat” of low foreground plant and a few large plants with a large school of one to three species of fish.
There are many other different aquascaping styles such as the Dutch Style, Iwagumi, and Zen Gardening style.
I will be writing a follow up post on the different aquascaping styles (this post only covers the different techniques), so be sure to sign up to the newsletter if you don’t want to miss it.[hcshort id=”9″]
So there you have it folks, a full list of different aquascaping techniques from the very beginner to the more advanced.
I hope that I’ve covered most of the aquascaping techniques that are out there. Did any of the techniques above hit the spot for you? Let all of us know in the comment section below.
And if you think that I’ve missed out on any other styles or techniques, feel free to let me know in the comments section too.
Just remember, the key to a great aquascape is a greater imagination! Happy Aquascaping!