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!

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers make and how to avoid them

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank
Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

New aquarium hobbyists are generally an excitable bunch—they are quick to purchase all the tools necessary and eager to begin their first foray into the colorful and rewarding world of fish keeping. That excitement, however, can lead to some important oversights when it comes to maintaining a successful tank. If you are new to the aquarium hobby and would like to ensure success, make sure you avoid these common pitfalls:

Number one: lack of patience

In order to ensure the success of your aquarium, you must be able to provide your fish with a stable environment that is carefully and patiently attended to. The desire to get everything done right now and enjoy a colorful display of fish may be overwhelming, but if you do not take the time to address the water conditions of your tank first, you run the risk of killing fish.

Examples of impatient behavior that threatens fish include placing fish into your tank before it is cycled, placing multiple fish in your tank on the same day, and overfeeding. It is important that each of these steps is taken carefully and with respect towards appropriate timing.

Make sure you treat tap water to remove chlorine or allow a bucket of tap water to rest for 36 hours before adding to the aquarium.
When adding new fish they should ideally be quarantined first and when putting a fish into an aquarium put the bag into the aquarium first for 15 minutes before emptying the fish into the aquarium.

Don’t overfeed your fish. Any uneaten food should be removed within five minutes. Use a siphon to hover out uneaten food. The amount of food a fish can eat is minute. Most beginners overestimate what their fish can eat.

Don’t feed just for entertainment, to get the fish to actively swim for food is not a good idea.

Don’t buy sick or unhealthy fish. Keep your money in your pocket and find a shop where they sell healthy fish.

Wait until your fish tank is ready before buying fish.

Number two: not understanding the nitrogen cycle

All about cycling here

Make sure you have a good filter. The more powerful, the better. Not buying a filter is the surest way to fish death.

This mistake links heavily with mistake number one, since an unsuccessful tank cycling is often the result of impatience. Getting bacteria in your tank to reliably convert toxic ammonia into nitrite and nitrate is of critical importance to the health of your fish, and it takes time. If you rush this important step, your fish will have a very hard time surviving.

Thankfully, there are numerous guides on this website and others dedicated to helping newcomers understand the nitrogen cycle. By following those guidelines to the letter and giving your tank time to become the ideal environment in which the necessary bacteria can grow on your filter medium, you will ensure that your first fish thrive.

Buy a filter with a lot of surface area such as a sponge and make sure it is well powered. The bigger the aquarium the more powerful a filter you need. The filter is not there to just filter ‘bits’ out of the water but more importantly it is there to allow bacteria to break down fish waste into harmless substances.

Do not clean everything in the tank. You will remove the healthy bacteria. Washing the gravel is a big no-no. But you should hover the gravel to remove any debris or fish waste.

Do not wash the filter’s sponge in tap water as you will kill the healthy bacteria.

Also do not use soap or detergents or any other chemicals to clean the aquarium or any equipment. Most are poisonous to fish.

Number three: buying a small tank

Often, newcomers to the aquarium hobby will look at large tanks and think they require expert-level care due to their size when in fact, the opposite is true. Large tanks offer a far more forgiving environment for your fish when it comes to water quality—one of the most challenging areas for newcomers.

If you choose a small tank, you run the risk of upsetting the balance of water acidity, hardness, or ammonia levels very easily. In a large tank, even significant mistakes can be remedied with relative simplicity, owing to the greater volume of water present. You are much less likely to accidentally kill your fish in a large tank, so it is worth it to invest in the biggest one you can afford!

Goldfish bowl – this is a big no-no.

Number four: overstocking your tank

If you succeed in properly cycling your tank and setting up the right conditions for your fish to thrive in, you still run the risk of overstocking your tank with fish. Experienced aquarists can run highly populated tanks, but a newcomer would invite disaster by the attempt.

There are many rules to combining the ratio of fish to tank volume, but one of the most common is through measuring the total length of your fish and comparing that to the volume of tank. One safe option is to measure 1 cm of fish for every 2 liters of water. Thus, a 60 liter tank (16 gallons) could reliably support 30 cm (12 inches) of fish.

Stop buying every fish that takes your fancy. If you buy more fish, you must first buy another aquarium.
Also check the adult size of the young fish you buy. When your fish start to grow they can become overcrowded.

Number five: choosing incompatible fish

Suggested compatible fish

Appropriate research into the needs and behaviors of your fish is key to maintaining a safe and pleasant environment for them. Certain species require very different water conditions, and others will behave aggressively. It helps to have the advice of an experienced aquarist on hand when choosing your fish so that you can enjoy a colorful, rewarding selection of fish.

While there are numerous guides available for choosing your first group of fish, and many helpful suggestions can be found online, even the most studied of newcomers can make mistakes. Taking fish behavior, ideal water conditions, and favorite position in the tank (bottom-dwellers, surface feeders, etc.) into consideration is best done with the help of a mentor.

Number six: overfeeding

Easily the most common mistake made by new fish owners, overfeeding can have disastrous consequences on the condition of your tank. Fish are opportunistic eaters that will generally consume whatever food is present—just because they eat does not mean they needed to be fed.

When starting out, feed your fish once per day, taking care to test the water before feeding and, if necessary, withhold their food for a day or two. You are not starving your fish, but making sure that their waste is effectively processed before you introduce more food. Give them only enough food for them to finish in five minutes, and they should be fine.

Number seven: infrequent water changes

Many new aquarium owners, having learned about the nitrogen cycle and taken the time to set up their tank properly, make the mistake of believing that this chemical cycle will take care of all waste in the tank. While it does convert harmful ammonia into nitrate, it does not protect against high levels of nitrate which can irritate fish—you still need to perform water changes and hover your substrate every week.

Also do not change more than 25% of the water at any one time.

Number eight: insufficient filtration

Your filter could be the single most important piece of equipment in your tank. Not only does it separate debris from your water, but most of the beneficial bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle inhabit the filter medium. For this reason, you should err on the side of over-sizing your filter.

For the best results, purchase a filter that can turn the volume of your aquarium 4 or 5 times per hour. This is slightly more than commonly recommended, and ensures that you have enough power to keep your water in prime condition. Remember, too much filtration is never a problem, but insufficient filtration is a constant frustration.

Number nine: not adhering to a maintenance schedule

Suggested maintenance schedule

This mistake is often the root cause of mistake number seven. Fish keeping is not a set-and-forget hobby—you need to apply yourself to keeping your fish healthy on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your aquarium, you will need to dedicate between one and three hours per week to cleaning the tank, testing the water, and performing your water changes.

Doing this effectively requires that you introduce this into your weekly schedule. Newcomers to the hobby who attempt to rely on their intuition will suffer disastrous consequences eventually. Keeping track of your maintenance schedule is key to success, and easy to organize: simply set up a reminder program in a calendar application on your computer or smart phone for reliable reminders.

Change 10% of the water every week should be fine for most fish. Rinse the filter out in aquarium water when the flow starts to slow down.

Number ten: not including live plants

Suggested beginners plants

While newcomers to the aquarium hobby often like the look of live plants, they frequently omit these important and helpful aquarium guests, thinking that they require too much maintenance. In reality, live plants reduce maintenance needs by passively out-competing algae for nutrients in the tank and oxygenating the water efficiently.

If you want to ensure the greatest conditions possible for your first aquarium, invest in some hardy live plants and let them perform some of the work for you. You will be glad you did!

Even if you have a good filter removing the fishes waste products. Over time nitrates will build up. When you do water changes you dilute the nitrate however you do not remove it entirely. Plants remove nitrate so helping to remove the low level waste of nitrates.

Plants also help to remove some toxins from the water. Plants help prevent algae by absorbing fertiliser from the water before algae can absorb it.

Don’t buy snails to clean algae, they will just eat your plants and poop everywhere.
Also, don’t leave your aquarium by a sunny window. You will just get a tank full of green water, even with plants. And don’t leave your aquarium light on all the time. 8-10 hours a day is sufficient.

Conclusion

The decision to keep your first aquarium can be an exciting one, and it is easy to rush into things, but the best results come to the aquarists who focus patiently on providing the best environment for their fish. Address these ten common mistakes to enjoy the best chance of success for your first fish tank.