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!

Amazon biotope aquarium

amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

Introduction To The Amazon Biotope Aquarium: Recreating The Amazon River

amazon biotope with bolivian rums and rummy nose tetras
amazon biotope aquarium-Bolivian rams and rummy nose tetras

One of the more popular options when it comes to biotope selection is the Amazon biotope aquarium. This is a setup that is designed from the ground up to emulate the conditions of the Amazon River, and, if done right, will give you a unique insight into the ecology of this fascinating part of the world.

While keeping a biotope aquarium of a tropical river with such diversity may seem like an expert-level challenge, the truth is that beginners looking to set up their first Amazon biotope aquarium have little to fear if they do adequate research and make the right choices. If approached correctly, the Amazon River can be a very accessible biotope choice.

Also Malawi biotope here

Getting started on your amazon biotope aquarium

Despite its apparent complexity, the Amazon River environment can be relatively simple to replicate. The key is making practical choices concerning the accuracy of your biotope aquarium: The Amazon River is full of undesirable predators, leeches, and parasites among many other qualities that are detrimental to the aquarium environment, so you will need to make some compromises.

These issues do not stop at aquatic predators, but go on to include dark, muddy water conditions that offer very little visibility and a thick soil bottom that would be impossible to clean. That will not only make your tank plant-less and barren due to the lack of light penetrating the water, but will also make it difficult for to you enjoy seeing your fish at all. In general, you are best advised to avoid trying to create a 100% faithful biotope aquarium.

amazon biotope with angels and roots
amazon biotope with angels and roots

You can, however, make great strides forward in your plans to keep an Amazon biotope aquarium if you combine some effective aquascaping with common sense ecological accuracy. The best way to do this is to scan the Internet for images of Amazon biotopes that you like the look of and then work towards your own expression of that example. Once you have a clear idea in mind, there are three basic methods to approaching your biotope aquarium:

• Find the fish that you like, determine what part of the Amazon River they are from, and then create the biotope to suit them;
• Choose a specific part of the Amazon River to replicate and fill your tank exclusively with fish from that area;
• Begin with the plants, driftwood, and substrate and then build your tank upwards from there.

Either one of these methods can produce a successful Amazon River biotope aquarium if handled correctly. You need only choose which elements you are most comfortable starting with.

Types of amazon biotopes

Since the Amazon River is so large, there are a number of options from which you can choose when it comes to your specific type of tank. Some biotope options will be very different from others, and more ideally suited to certain species that would naturally live there. A short list of options include:

• Whitewater Stream—This environment features water with a slightly muddy appearance. Whitewater tanks look their best with driftwood and dead branches added in, as well as a dark sand substrate.

• Blackwater Stream—Waters that originate deep within the rainforest and contain a high level of dissolved leaf litter are usually referred to as blackwater streams. This water is more acidic due to the dissolved leaf litter that you will need to add, or even use as a substrate.

• Oxbow Lake—This refers to the many crescent-shaped lakes that form when the Amazon River changes course. These lakes tend to be both muddy and filled with accumulated leaf litter and debris. For this reason, mud is an ideal substrate, and Oxbow biotope keepers will want to keep filtration to a minimum.

How to simulate amazon river water

The acidity of your Amazon biotope aquarium will vary depending on which of the three above choices you choose for your tank. For example, a whitewater river environment will require water with a pH level between 6,3 and 7,0, while a blackwater biotope will be more acidic—between 4,5 and 6,5, and the Oxbow Lake water has a pH between 5,4 and 6,8.

The temperatures of the various forms of the Amazon biotope aquarium tend to be less varied, with 24-28° C being the norm. Water hardness should be kept reasonably low, as most of the dissolved materials in Amazon waters are not mineral, but organic: a dH level between 3-8 should be ideal.

When it comes to attaining the signature colouration of Amazon water and keeping the fish as comfortable as they would be in the wild, it is necessary to mix peat with your reverse osmosis-filtered water as well as some leaves to give it substance. Examples of leaves that will help create the tannic water commonly seen in the Amazon are:

indian almond leaves
indian almond leaves

• Indian almond leaves,
• Oak leaves,
• Copper beach leaves.

The idea is to stain the water using these leaves in order to give it the unique brown appearance that every Amazon biotope should have to some degree. The other main element of your biotope water will be peat.

Peat is widely available from aquarium supply stores and fish shops and is necessary for gaining the correct level of dissolved organic matter in the water and reproducing the Amazon River environment correctly. In order to maximize the benefits of peat, it is recommended that you do not use with activated carbon filtration or with waterborne fish medicine.

Peat is a unique element of the Amazon river environment and one part of your biotope that cannot be skipped. Your Amazon biotope aquarium tank should be cycled with peat present, and topped off if the water gets too clear after changing later on.

Populating your amazon biotope aquarium

amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams
amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

The Amazon River is home to an enormous number of different species, and some of them are better suited to certain tanks than others. Naturally, you will want to choose species that do not prey on one another and that can live in relative peace and harmony in your tank—this can be tricky when it comes to Amazon fish.

One of the main aspects that you will want to take into consideration is the size of your tank. If you plan on keeping a small tank, then basing your Amazon biotope aquarium on a population of tetras or dwarf cichlids would be a great idea, while larger tanks can afford to support more exotic options.

More on tetras here

More on dwarf cichlids here

If you have a large enough tank, you can populate your tank with Angelfish, Silver Dollars, or even piranhas. Care must be taken with larger community tanks keeping these kinds of fish, as most of them are very aggressive. Often, aquarists will stick to a single species in order to minimize violence between fish—and even then the tank is not guaranteed to be 100% violence-free.

Considering plants for your tank

Plants, too, must be considered in light of the unique water conditions that the Amazon River provides. The main issue here is that the standard water conditions of the Amazon offer very little light penetration. Some flexibility on your plant choices here can help a great deal in the long run. Some plants that would be at home in this biotope would be:

• Echinodorus (Amazon Sword, Dwarf Sword, etc.);
• Hair Grass;
• Cabomba;
• Myriophyllum.

One of the major concerns for plants in an Amazon biotope aquarium is access to light. If your water features a high level of dissolved organic material like it should, your plants might not have adequate access to regular aquarium lights, requiring you to get more powerful ones for them. Cabomba and Myriophyllum plants, in particular, can present problems from this point of view.

Another concern when it comes to aquarium plants in this environment is the number of plants to keep. That level of dissolved organic material in the water will make algae control a challenge—keeping lots of plants will help balance your tank and keep it relatively clear. Again, if you choose to be flexible in your plant choices, you can benefit from a healthier aquarium even if it is not 100% faithful.

Aquascaping and driftwood

mail order driftwood is suitable for amazonian biotope
mail order driftwood is suitable for amazonian biotope

While you may have all the information you need to begin your new Amazon aquarium, creating a natural-looking Amazon river environment requires that you take the time to plan your tank out carefully and find the right décor for it.

Driftwood is an essential element of a faithful Amazon biotope aquarium tank. If you have a larger tank and would like to keep one or two panaque catfish, you may even need to provide driftwood as food for the fish. Trying to source natural driftwood from the actual Amazon River is a futile task for most aquarists in the world—instead, you will have to find suitable wood from other sources.

In general, clean bog hardwood that has been carefully dried out can be used in your aquarium. You will want to introduce the wood before the plants and fish in order to compensate for any water quality issues that may occur.

Putting together your tank with all of these separate elements will take some planning and forethought. If you have taken the time to look at other aquarists’ Amazon biotopes, you might have a good idea of where you want to go with yours. Another option it to find genuine photographs of the Amazon river and to use the materials at hand to replicate the aquascape to the best of your ability. Both of these are equally suitable methods of making an ideal Amazon biotope aquarium.

When you have completed your aquarium it is worthwhile going back to the original images to see how closely you have replicated the original biotope image. Perhaps you have surpassed the original and can relax. Or, perhaps you have forgotten some element that would add the finishing touches. When all is complete you can then sit back and enjoy your small simulation of the amazon river. After all this is what all the effort is all about.