Aquascaping, planted tanks and biotopes. The fishkeeping hobby is becoming increasingly diverse, planted tanks are becoming more popular and rightly so! A well maintained planted aquascape can look stunning, an aquascaped planted tank puts emphasis on the overall appearance of the aquarium rather than just the fish. The general idea is to achieve a visually pleasing, natural look.
Layout: When aqua scaping the layout can make or break the overall look of the finished product. One thing to keep in mind is that your hardscape should not be too small, this is a common mistake made by beginners, you want the rock and wood in your tank to make a big impact! When laying out the hardscape materials ensure you are not symmetric, nature generally does not use straight lines. Avoid placing main rocks or wood in the exact centre of the tank as this can make the aquascape look less natural. There are various methods for aqua scaping but the main piece of advice I will give you today is aquascape the tank for yourself, make it eye pleasing to you, after all you are the one who will be watching and maintaining it. You probably have an idea in mind but maybe not, looking up aquascapes is always a good place to get some inspiration, there are various books on aqua scaping. Remember undesirable equipment such as filters and heaters can be an eye sore and ruin the natural look of your aquascape, try to hide these if possible.
For a natural looking Iwagumi or nature aquascape you should choose one large piece of wood or rock as your main piece and build your aquascape around this, be sure not to place this in the exact centre of the tank as this may lead to an unnatural look. There are various layout types to go for, you can have your main hardscape piece far off to one side and have the rest of your hardscape falling away from it, or you can place your two largest hardscape materials apart and build up the rest around it to form islands. Once your main hardscape is in place and secure, add your substrate, this can be gravel, sand or aquasoil the choice is up to you depending on what your plan is. If having a carpet of monte carlo is your goal then using aquasoil might be the best option, although if you plan to mainly focus on epiphyte plants such anubius or microsorum then sand will work fine. When planting ensure taller plants are at the back and keep in mind how big they will grow, a tank can quickly turn into a jungle if over planted.
Hardscape: This term refers to rock or wood used in an aquarium. Keep in mind that some wood or rock may release unwanted compounds into the tank. Aquarium shops will stock a range of aquarium safe rocks and wood. Keep in mind that you want your hardscape to make a big impact, it is the back bones to your aquarium and a common mistake is getting lots of small hardscape. It is always a good idea to get at least one main large piece and build the aquascape around that. Choose hardscape materials which are pleasing to you. In general, is a good idea to choose one type of rock and one type of wood, although you do not have to use both in your aquascape. Pro tip: Buy more than you need, a common problem beginner aquascapers run into is running out of hardscape when creating an aquascape! You can always keep unused rocks or wood for future projects.
Once you have your hardscape in place in an arrangement which you like spend a while looking at it and take your time, it is hard to go back after this point without ripping the aquarium apart! If needed place some plastic or foam under the rocks to protect the glass. Do not rush this part as this is the main focus point in your aquascape, some hobbyist’s setup their tank and leave it dry for a few days to ponder over the hardscape layout. The general rules to follow are choose one main large piece of hardscape and build your layout around that. Try to hide unsightly pieces of equipment such as filters or heaters. Avoid placing hardscape directly in the centre of the tank as this can look unnatural.
Substrate: Once the hardscape is in place it is time to add your substrate. There are many different types such as sand, gravel or aquasoil. Remember your finished plan when choosing the substrate, if you wanted a planted carpet then maybe an aqua soil is the best option as this can provide nutrients for the plant roots. It is common practice to slope the substrate up at the back, this allows more room for plant roots, makes the tank seem deeper and means from the front the view is not disturbed by a cross section view of deep substrate.
Planting: How to add live plants to your aquarium? Plants are what makes the aquascape come to life! They add a fantastic pop of colour and tie the aquascape together. It is up to you which plants you choose, keep in mind some plants have higher demand than others. You may have heard the term ‘low tech’ or ‘high tech’, this refers to how high energy your aquascape is, if it is ‘Low Tech’ then generally this means a filter, heater, light and maybe some light fertiliser is used. A ‘high tech’ aquascape usually refers to a tank with high end powerful planted tank lights, lots of liquid fertiliser and CO2 dosing as well as all the normal aquarium equipment. In general, ‘Low Tech’ aquascapes require less regular maintenance than ‘high tech’ ones as plant growth is usually slower.
When planting live plants in the tank make sure they do not dry out, spray them regularly with water. Remove all foam or plastic from the plant roots and plant them in the substrate so that the roots are covered. Keep in mind some species of aquarium plants are epiphytes which means they must be attached or wedged between rock and wood allowing the roots to be in open water. Pull off any dead or damaged leaves before planting. Pro Tip: if you have purchased a pot of a plant such as cryptocoryne or monte carlo you can carefully pull the plant away at the rots to make multiple smaller plants, you can then spread them around when planting. This does not work for every species!
Equipment: You will still need a filter and heater to keep your water quality in check for your fish although it is popular to use an external canister filter which means the only part spoiling your natural view is the input and output tubes which can be replaced for glass sets. You can also get inline heaters if your heater is an eye sore but not all aquascapes need heaters it depends on the plant and fish species you choose. If you are keeping hard to grow plants and opt for a ‘high tech’ setup, then you will need more equipment such as CO2 and stronger lighting than if you went down the ‘low tech’ route.