Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

About Aquascaping

balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish
balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish

Aquascaping is the art of setting-up, decorating and arranging aquatic plants along with stones, rocks, driftwood or cavework in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Also termed as underwater gardening, aquascaping was first introduced to the world way back in 1990’s by Takashi Amano from Japan, who made the natural underwater gardens look like dreamscapes. Although it is possible to create an aquascape with plants only, it can also be set up with fish as well as plants; or with rockwork, hardscape and no plants by following some specific methods.

If you find it difficult to create an aquascape then scan through the many examples of good aquascape scenes on the internet and pick a scene that you really like and that you can replicate.

Basic Principles for Aquascaping

aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish
aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish

To reach the perfection in the design of your aquascape you must follow a few important principles that are listed below:

Simplicity is the key – While aquascaping is all about imagination, it is recommended that you follow a particular style and maintain simplicity which would make the aquascape look more appealing to the human eye.
 
Choosing the aquascaping style – There are several major styles that you can choose from, which you can create a visually-enticing aquascape. These include the Japanese-inspired nature style, the garden-like Dutch style, the jungle style and many others. While the nature aquarium style is the re-creation of terrestrial landscapes – mountains, hills, valleys, etc., the Dutch style is characterized by terraces or raised layers containing distinct types of plants with different leaf types.

Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.
Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.

Maintaining Proportion- To maintain harmony in the aquarium, it is crucial to strike the perfect balance between plants, decorative items and fish as well as between filled and empty spaces in the aquarium. Also, arrange plants, rocks and wood in a manner that there is a balancing contrast of light and dark spaces.

Use your imagination- There are no defined rules for aquascaping. Use your imagination to make a beautiful aquascape that has clean water and an appropriate amount of light, CO2, and other essential elements.

To ensure proper care, maintenance and success of an aquascape, aquascapers must keep in mind several factors to strike balance in the closed system of the water tank. These factors include:

  • aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood
    aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

    Filtration System

  • Liquid fertilizers
  • Medium to high level of lighting
  • Maintaining the correct amount of carbon dioxide to support photosynthesis
  • Frequent water changes
  • Substrate and fertilization
  • Algae control

Plants and Plant Types

Besides the layout, style and design of an aquascape, aquascaping require specific ways to ensure proper care and maintenance of plants underwater. One of the most crucial things that aquascapers must keep in mind is choosing healthy and vibrant plants. Also, they must be trimmed to get the desired shape and positioned properly using a thread. Before beginning, you must know the plants and plant types that we shall discuss now!

Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant
Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant

Carpet Plants: Just as the name suggests, carpet plants are used by aquascapers to create a mat of plants or a lush of green lawn, making the underwater garden more beautiful and attractive. You can choose foreground pl ants such as Hairgrass, Dwarf Baby Tears, Java Moss, Water Wisteria or Willow Moss as they stay low to the ground and spread horizontally across the floor of the water tank.

Fast Growing Plants: When you begin with aquascaping, you can choose fast growing plants like hornwort, Vallisneria, Cabomba and Hygrophilia that would grow quickly, with no effort and would not even put a hole in your pocket. Other stem plants including sword plants, Java fern are also suitable but a little expensive.
Floating plants: While a number of floating plants can block light, many aquascapers prefer using them for visually-enticing aquascape. These plants include Hornwoot, Java Moss and Najas.

Artificial Plants: While using artificial plants is not considered aquascaping, it is one of the easiest ways for beginners. So, if you find it difficult to care for and maintain natural plants, you can go for artificial plants that do not require light or water parameters.

green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background plant
green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background

Location for Short, Large and Bushy Plants

To create a beautiful landscape underwater, it is essential for aquascapers to place the plants in an aesthetic manner. The major aspect to keep in mind is the focal point. It can be anything like a rock, a piece of driftwood or a bunch of plants or even one dominant plant. It is recommended to begin with carpet plants at the foreground and place the bushy and large plants at the background.

You can begin with the focal of the water tank and continue with the low-growing and mid-growing plants. At the end, place the higher plants. You can choose an appropriate composition such as the concave set up, the convex set up, the rectangular set-up, the triangular set up, or the Iwagumi set-up.

Different Coloured plants

red water hedge plant nice alternative to green
red water hedge plant nice alternative to green

To create in-depth perspective and make the aquarium look more natural, aquascapers use plants of different colours and sizes. Plants can be grown in groups and with rich colour contrast. Commonly used plants for colour contrast and highlights include lutea, lucens, wendtii, walkeri, and becketii of the Cryptocoryne species, Ammania, Alternanthera reineckii and Rotala.
Notably, 3 plant species per foot would be preferred to ensure good colour contrast.

Open Spaces for Fish

Before you kick-start aquascaping, you must understand that plants as well as fish are EQUALLY important in your water tank. When you provide the best conditions for your plants to stay healthy, you are providing a healthy environment for the fish as well. At the same time, it is a must to wisely use spaces between plants by creating imaginary streets as well as pathways. Also, make sure that you have as must open space as must filled space to provide space for your fish to lively comfortably and happily.

Hardscape: Use of Bogwood/Driftwood

discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots
discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots

Hardscape is one of the most commonly used techniques used by aquascapers across the globe. It involves using driftwood, rocks and resin sculptures. Driftwood adds a decorative touch to the aquarium, while making it look natural. The wood can be the main focal point, around which the plants can be placed. Many aquascapers prefer using the Malaysian driftwood or manzanita branches, depending on their preference.

Use of Rocks and Stones

In addition to wood, aquascapers use rocks and stones at the heart of their aquarium to create a natural-looking aquascape underwater. You can place boulders, large cobbles and smaller pebbles aesthetically in the water tank to further enhance its beauty. The classic way to use rocks is to place 2-4 flat rocks on the bottom of the aquarium and then arrange other rocks in the order of their size. Alongside, you can also add airstones and submersible lights to create visual effects and make the water tank more attractive.

Balanced aquascape with driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet
Balanced aquascape: driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet

Get Started!

Aquascaping is not all about creating a plan and sticking rigidly to it. Sometimes it is better to do a quick sketch up and then proceed to plant according to your rough draft. Then when it’s all laid out, you can see that it might not be right so you will need to rearrange things until you get it right. And don’t forget plants do grow and some grow more than others. So your aquascape will actually develop over time.

Aquascaping is all about imagination and creating enchanting visuals that appeal to the human eye. So, make sure that you use your imagination to create an amazingly-looking aquascape. Happy aquascaping!

Tropical fish keeping on a budget

home made sponge filter

Tropical fishkeeping on a budget

home made sponge filter
home made sponge filter

While aquarists far and wide agree that fishkeeping is a fascinating hobby and trade, it can easily become an expensive one as well. The staggering number of new products always being released is enough to make anyone believe that an aquarium is a major investment. However, if you keep things simple and aren’t afraid of a little bit of DIY work, you can enjoy an amazing fish tank without breaking the bank in the process.

There are two major elements to keeping a tropical tank on a budget: reducing your start-up costs and keeping your tank maintenance low-cost. Making the correct choices in both aspects will ensure that you end up saving significant sums of money in the long run.

Reducing start-up costs

The first opportunities to save money come when you begin collecting supplies to set up your fish tank. Depending on what products you buy and the sources from which you buy them, you can end up earning yourself substantial savings, or spending an unnecessary fortune.

Naturally, getting a smaller tank will decrease all of the associated costs that you will have to deal with afterwards. However, small tanks can be difficult to properly take care of, so you are encouraged to choose a small tank only if you feel like you have enough experience to make it a success, especially if you are on a budget.

Some of the best deals for aquarium equipment can be found through second-hand sources such as classifieds sections and fishkeeping forums. Buying second-hand equipment can vastly reduce your start-up costs, but must be done carefully. Everything has a shelf life, and you can expect to replace used equipment more frequently than you would if it was new.

Creatively sourcing your aquarium supplies can help you save in many ways. For example, you could forego using expensive substrates like black Tahitian moon sand and instead opt for pool filter sand that, while not specifically made for aquarium use, is cheap, clean, and natural enough to use on a budget without risking the health of your fish or affecting your filtration.

Sometimes people will give away a leaky aquarium that is otherwise sound. Such an aquarium can be repaired for just the price of a tube of silicone and a bottle of nail varnish remover. Use a blade to remove the old silicone from the inside of the aquarium. Thoroughly clean the joints. Then spread a thin bead of silicone and reseal the tank. Use a finger along the seam to smooth the silicone and voila a new tank. You can also re-seal any tank that springs a leak.

Another great way to save money on your start-up costs is by making your aquarium setup a DIY project. Many common aquarium appliances can be made using various household and workshop items:

  • Sponge Filters – If you buy a simple power head and a brick of filter sponge, you can use a plastic tube to connect the inlet of a power head with the other end of the tube inserted into the sponge. Point the outlet towards the surface of the water and you have a surprisingly good filter at a fraction of the cost.
  • Sumps and refugiums – Ambitious DIY aquarists can build their own sump with relative ease. If you have spare tank handy and don’t mind doing a small bit of plumbing work, you can enjoy the benefits of a sump without having to pay for one! This is a great option for tanks that are damaged or scratched.
  • Aquarium stands – You can use a solid piece of furniture to place your aquarium on. A table of exactly the right size can be purchased and used. These can be bought second hand and used. Make sure that they are sturdy and level and support the whole of the aquarium base. If needs be place a solid sheet of wood on the base to support the aquarium.
  • home made aquarium lid
    home made aquarium lid

    Aquarium lids – This is an ideal DIY project. If you have some DIY ability this is an ideal first project that will not be costly if you make a mistake. Materials can be bought from your local DIY store. You can also improve your design over time.

Collecting your aquascape decorations locally is another way to save some cash on your setup. Why pay for exotic Amazon driftwood to be delivered to your door if you have a river or a forest nearby? With a little bit of time, some careful selection, and a thorough cleaning and soaking, you can get your entire tank’s decoration done for free. Rocks and stones can be collected in the same way.

Making choices that save money over time

There are lots of ways that you can enjoy tropical fishkeeping on a budget, and a great deal of them rely on reducing the long-term costs of keeping a tank. Putting any of these cost-saving measures into practice with your tropical fish tank will ensure that you keep your expenses low.

  • Make your tank plantless—Live plants are wonderful additions to tropical tanks, but they need lots of light and those lights need lots of energy to run. If you want to save money in the long run, you might want to leave the plants behind.

Plantless aquarium here

  • Use low-maintenance, low light plant varieties and keep them nourished with inexpensive LED lights whenever possible. Incandescent and halide lamps can get costly over time. Buy a few easy varieties that grow fast.
  • Do your own repairs. Most filters have repair kits that are used to replace parts that wear out. The kits are a fraction of the price of a new filter.
  • Condition your water slowly—If you want to avoid conditioning your local tap water with expensive chemical products, let the chlorine naturally evaporate before using it in your tank. You can even try collecting rainwater if your tap water is too hard.
  • Grow your own live food—Fish food is a constant cost that continually adds up over time. If you choose instead to invest some energy in cultivating brine shrimp or daphnia or digging worms from the garden, you can enjoy an effectively unlimited supply of high quality live fish food.

Live food rearing here

  • Make your own dried fish food – There are many fish food recipes based on prawns, spirulina or spinach, flour, eggs, fish and other ingredients mixed in with multivitamins. The recipe is blended together then baked on a low heat to dry. The result can be broken into small pieces and frozen.
  • Insulate your aquarium – Heat loss can result in additional energy costs and make your heater work harder, wearing it down faster in the process. Insulating your aquarium to minimize heat loss will save you money over time—even if it is only partial insulation.
  • Set up a low maintenance Walsted aquarium.
  • Set up a temperate aquarium without a heater.
  • Stock your aquarium by breeding your own fish. To obtain different species just advertise and swap your excess brood. It may take some time, but you will obtain the variety of fish that you want for just the price of the initial adults.
  • Buy young fish and grow them to the size you want. Adults are more expensive to buy and won’t adapt to your aquarium as well as young fish.

Common cost-saving mistakes

Some beginning aquarists, in an attempt to save cut corners and save money, make a number of grave mistakes that can end up costing them the entire aquarium if left unchecked. A few examples of these are listed below:

  • Buying cheap low quality equipment such as heaters, filters and lighting is a bad mistake. A heater that fails can chill your fish or even get stuck and cook them! A filter that fails will pollute your water.
  • Using sunlight to light your aquarium—A tropical aquarium needs both heat and light, so placing your aquarium in direct sunlight seems like the perfect cost-saving solution right? Not quite! Rather than killing two birds with one stone, this will probably kill your aquarium population by causing an uncontrollable algae bloom.
  • If you don’t buy a heater, tropical fish will slowly die of cold at night or in winter.
  • Insufficient Filtration – Yes, larger filters tend to cost more, but it is always better to err on the safe side and go for a larger filter than to find yourself suffering from insufficient filtration.
  • Not testing the water—Water testing kits are not the kind of product that you want to skip out on in order to save some cash, even if you are an experienced aquarist. Be sure you know your water’s ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels, as well as its hardness and pH before you start adding fish.
  • Do not try to repair a tank with a cracked glass. Finding and fitting a new pane of glass is as difficult and costly as buying a new or second aquarium.
  • Buying cheap fish that are unhealthy. By all means shop around and see if someone is giving away fish or selling at a low price. But always make sure that the fish you are buying are healthy and the other seller’s fish are also healthy. Sick fish don’t just die they also pass illnesses to your other fish.

If you avoid these three common pitfalls and follow the guidelines set out above, you should be able to enjoy significant savings on your tropical fish tank. If you get lucky enough to find good deals on your tank’s necessities, you can end up with a beautiful aquarium at a fraction of the price it looks like it cost!