Everything You Need To Know About Aquascaping

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Aquascaping is the art of gardening under water. To aquascape is to arrange aquatic plants, stone, caves, and driftwood in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing.

There is a huge range of styles for your aquascape aquarium, and it has become a very popular hobby. The Aquatic Gardeners Association, a United States-based organization, has over 1,200 members!

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This beautiful art of underwater landscaping is a challenge to not only create something pleasing to the eye, but a steady and stable environment for your fish to live in as well.

It’s necessary to create a tank that maintains appropriate levels for your plants to grow while keeping the algae down, and keeping your fish happy and healthy.

Aquascaping has become popular enough that there are many contests held all over the world, and a large number of distinct styles of aquascaping have emerged over the years.

Let’s take a look at some of the more popular styles, and how they can be achieved.

Styles of Aquascaping

Iwagumi Style

This style of aquascaping is focused on minimalism and was first made popular by Takashi Amano, who many consider the father of modern aquascaping.

It reflects Japanese culture and ideology and strives to be bold yet subtle, sharp, and soft all at the same time.

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Generally, they use large and intricate stones as focal points, and the most beautiful stones are tilted with the water flow to mimic a natural environment.

These type of aquascapes generally use only low foreground plants, as the main focus is on dark and interesting rocks. It puts heavy emphasis on the Law of Thirds (also called the Golden Rule.)

Generally speaking, there are three stones that are the focal point, one of which is the largest and considered the “Father Stone.”

There should always be an odd number of stones to make it appear more pleasing to the eye.

The biggest focus should be the idea of scale. A very powdery substrate is frequently used to give the stones a sense of being larger, and nano fish such as tetras are often used to sustain this sense of scale.

Biotope Style

This type of aquascape is less about the aesthetic than some of the others.

Instead of trying to be very much like a planted garden, it focuses more on replicating a specific habitat exactly from a specific geographical location.

The gravel, plants, and fish must match what would be in that geographical location by nature, and even the chemical composition of the water would reflect it.

These sorts of designs you’ll see a lot in national aquariums, meant to replicate the animal’s home habitat as closely as possible.

They are also used frequently by biologists in order to study certain species or habitats that would be more challenging to observe in the wild or otherwise uncontrolled settings.

Since these tanks replicate the wild, they are relatively easy to set up and maintain once you do your research as to what occurs in that region.

Jungle Style

This is a popular style for large tanks, as it can give a very dramatic impact. It is meant to represent jungle environments, from the Amazon to the Congo.

The plants are left untrimmed and more natural, and tend to have little to no rocks and caves, as well as very little open space.

A jungle canopy is typically mimicked with either tall, broad-leafed plants that reach near the top of the tank or even floating plants to give the desired dappled light effect on the lower garden.

Colorful fish against this kind of tank can provide a very striking and interesting environment.

The Nature Aquarium

This style was also introduced by Takashi Amano. His designs drew on Japanese gardening techniques to mimic natural landscapes.

This is done by making asymmetrical arrangements of relatively few species of plants around a single focal point.

aquascape aquarium

This focal point can be rocks, or even driftwood to make a striking driftwood aquascape. The idea is to make the aquarium look more like a landscape above water, rather than a colorful garden.

Often, the rocks and plants are arranged to represent valleys, hills, streams, or lakes. The plants, stones, and wood are the most important part of this style.

Colors are usually limited in this style, and fish or shrimp are selected to complement the environment and control the algae, but it is limited to few species.

Typically smaller fish are used, to maintain a sense of scale. Traditionally, these types of aquariums are freshwater.

The Walsted Method

Although this style is very visually appealing, it is less likely to win awards than some of the other styles.

It follows many of the same basic ideas of the Biotope and the Nature methods, in that it aims to recreate what happens in a natural environment.

However, instead of trying to be aesthetically pleasing or recreate a specific landscape, it encourages the completely random placement of its rocks and plants instead of for beauty.

It seeks to emulate the randomness of a natural environment, and are perfect for low-budget and low-maintenance aquascapers.

Because of the density of plants used, the substrate is usually potting soil, and very few water changes are required.

Just take care that you use potting soil without any chemical additives, or you could kill your plants or fish within the tank.

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Dutch Style

The Dutch aquascaping basics are all about diversity.

This style began in the Netherlands in the 1930s, and emphasizes plants on terraces of different heights, with very little focus on rocks or wood.

The plants are supposed to be of varying colors, textures, and sizes, just like you might see in a garden on land. If these plants are arranged in lines, it’s referred to as “Dutch streets.”

More than 80 percent of the tank should be filled with plants, leaving very little substrate visible.

Tall-growing plants are traditionally placed against the back glass. This was originally used to hide the bulky equipment necessary to run aquariums in the 1930s.

It also serves to make the plants seem less like they’re contained inside a tank, and more like a continuous piece.

Generally, this style is done in a freshwater tank, as there aren’t many saltwater plants which can grow to display the desired effects.

This type of aquascaping is the most popular, as it is visually stunning, and can hold plants that are otherwise exotic or difficult to grow.

This also means, however, that this aquascape is one of the most difficult to maintain and the most time-intensive to set up.

Discus Aquarium

Aquascaping discus aquariums present unique challenges, as they are a difficult but beautiful fish to keep.

Combining these fish in a planted aquarium creates a breathtaking and prizewinning combination, and you’ll find many instances of these fish being used in displays.

Their colors are a perfect complement to a lush green background, and because they are relatively large, they are easy to see at a distance.

Discus fish are sensitive to water quality, so a planted tank is beneficial to keep them healthy as well.

The biggest thing to remember when setting up a planted discus tank is that these fish are shy and sensitive, so aim for plants that don’t require a lot of trimming or maintenance.

Have more plants than rocks and driftwood for your fish to hide in and to keep them from getting stuck on anything.

The key with this sort of tank is to not go too small; although discus fish are small when purchased, they can grow up to eight inches, and will need plenty of space to thrive in your striking display for years to come.

Create Your Own Style of Aquascaping

Once you begin to experiment with aquascaping, there is really no need to follow established styles.

Saltwater aquascapes are becoming more popular, especially with the colors and varieties of plants and fish available.

The best place to get inspiration is to look at pictures of existing habitats in nature, and to look at displays in your local aquariums.

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Aquarium displays are made not only to showcase the creatures to guests, but to mimic the natural environment as closely as possible, so as not to stress out the fauna that live inside.

Some basic rules to follow, to ensure that your displays are breathtaking and long-lasting, are:

  • Budget – Budget not only your money but your time. Some plants and displays take a lot more maintenance than others, so be sure you’re not biting off more than you can chew. Decide first what size of tank you want, and how much time and money you want to spend on it. Then conduct research into different plants and fish to accommodate your needs.
  • Rule of Thirds – In order to encourage the eye to travel around the tank and see all of the hard work you’ve put into it, place your largest focal point almost exactly one-third from the right side of the tank.
  • Less is More – Even in the more busy styles of aquascaping, like Dutch or Jungle, you don’t want to overcrowd your tank. Remember, even if you have no fish, your plants are living creatures and need room to grow. When you are planting your tank, take into account the adult size of the plants you are incorporating.
  • Contrast – Remember that your tank should have a focal point, and you don’t want it, or anything else, to get lost. Contrast your colors, shapes, and sizes against one or two important things, but don’t make everything different, or the eye won’t know what’s important to look at. A busy tank is no longer aesthetically pleasing, and becomes a blur of plants. It’s best to start with a single-color substrate, single-color rocks, and two or three plants of different colors, and then play with height and placement contrast from there.
  • Enjoy it! – Aquascaping is an art form, and like all art, it is meant to be enjoyed. This enjoyment is not only for your visitors who view your tank, but for you as well. Aquascaping takes a lot of time and care, but the end result is sure to be something you can take pride in.

Watch this video for a beginner’s guide to aquascaping.


Do you have any tips for aquascaping?

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