Background plants for your aquarium

aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

Which background plants for your aquarium?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

How to recognise good background aquarium plants

What is meant by ‘background plant’? This refers to plants that will be placed along the back and sides of your aquarium. These type of plants usually grow tall and cover most of the rear of the aquarium. And finally they usually provide a good background contrast to foreground plants. This is achieved by having bushy growth or fine leaves. Listed below are the best background plants in terms of beauty and ease of care.

Magenta Water Hedge (Alternanthera Reineckii)

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

This is a plant that will contrast well against other green plants because of its red/purple coloured leaves.

Because it is a little short it has to be planted in groups to form an effective background or as a space filler between taller plants. There is a taller variety that does make an ideal background plant.

Allow space between each stem so that each plant will obtain enough nutrients from the substrate and also they don’t block each other’s access to light. It does need good lighting or it will not thrive. Push fertiliser tablets near its roots because they do like a lot of nutrients. The water hedge prefers neutral to slightly acidic and soft water with a temperature range of 72F-80F. Hardiness is average.

Green Cabomba

fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds
fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds

This is a plant that needs strong lighting and fertilisers tablets near its roots or it tends to disintegrate. It is better to keep the aquarium water well filtered because the fine frond like leaves collect debris. Plant cabomba in groups. Easy to propogate by taking cuttings from the top. Prune when it grows too long. Temperature range is 60F-80F. It prefers water that is around neutral in ph with a moderate hardness. It is medium in difficulty to care for.

Onion Plant

This plant sometimes known as the aquatic onion plant resembles an onion plant but is unrelated. It grows long slender but thick leaves that don’t branch. It has a bulb above its root system. The leaves tend to spiral slightly as it grows. It is a tough low maintenance plant. It is good with cichlids and goldfish. It needs moderate lighting. Temperature range of 64F-80F and can handle a wide range of water conditions around neutral ph and moderate hardness.

Cryptocoryne Balansae

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves
cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

This plant has long slender crinkly leaves with pointed tips. It can grow well in hard water and can be grown under different brightness. However it will grow faster in bright light. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets that grow on the runners. It is a hardy plant and easy to care for. Plant in groups for a nice effect. One of the best background plants. Temperature range 73F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph between 6-8ph and a moderate hardness level.

Broadleaf Amazon sword plant

This is a good beginners plant and makes a good background plant but does need to be kept pruned because it grows large. It needs a reasonably bright light. It can cope with a temperature range between 68F and 82F. Does benefit from the occasional fertiliser tablet. It does not care much about its water chemistry as long as extreme conditions are avoided.

Ruffled Amazon sword plant

This is another easy to keep amazon sword variety. It is more bushy than the broad leafed amazon and its broad leaves have an attractive crinkle to them. It needs the occasional fertiliser tablet and some good lighting to thrive. Temperature range of 72F-82F and likes a wide range of ph and hardness with slightly acid being preferred.

Spadeleaf plant

The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant
The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant

This is a very broad leafed plant. It is easy to look after and grows quickly when supplied with bright light and tablet fertilisers. It can become quite bushy because of its fast growth. It likes a temperature range of 50F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph and water hardness.

Water wisteria

Water wisteria is an easy to keep plant with finely branched leaves. Use a table fertiliser near its roots and a bright light to ensure good growth. Water wisteria likes a temperature range of 73F-82F. Likes average water conditions around 7 ph but is not too fussy.

Dwarf Hygrophila

This is a popular aquarium plant and for good reason. It is low maintenance and very hardy. It will grow under nearly all aquarium conditions. Plant in groups of five in the background to create a bushy background. It does grow rather quickly. It does prefer bright light but can get by in moderate lighting. The preferred temperature range is 64F-86F. Ph range 5.0ph – 8.0ph.

Green myriophyllum

The green myrio is a great beginners background plant
The green myrio is a great beginners background plant

A great looking background plant that creates a fine leaved layer of green bushes all along the back of the aquarium. Keep the aquarium well filtered because debris in the water will collect in the plants fine leaves. Temperature range between 59F-77F.

Dwarf Rotala

Dwarf rotala is a stem plant with leaves that grow all along single stems. In bright light the leaves take on a reddish colour over the green. This plant grows quickly when kept in brightly lit aquariums. It is an easy to care for plant. Temperature range is 68F-84F. Ph 5.5-7.5.

Straight vallisneria

The vallisneria is a tough, easy to care for plant. It reproduces by sending out runners on which plantlets sprout out. Each plantlet can be cut off when the plantlet has grown roots. It will grow quickly in the right conditions. Because of this it needs to be thinned out by separating out the leaves of the plant. vallisneria grows best in bright light but it will tolerate low lighting conditions. It is best planted in thickets surrounding the back and sides of the aquarium. Temperature range of 59F-86F. ph range is ph6-ph8.5.

The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough
The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough

Corkscrew vallisneria

The corkscrew vallisneria is similar in appearance to the straight version but with spiral leaves. It is not as hardy as the straight leaved version and needs moderate to hard water to thrive. And will not do well unless bright lighting is provided. Temperature range of 75F-82F. Ph range is ph6-ph8.

 

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!

15 best plants for beginners

Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium

Best plants for beginners to avoid plant failures

Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium
Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium

Here is a list of 15 hardy tropical freshwater plants that are the best plants for beginners. These plants don’t need much attention to grow. No special lighting, no Co2 and no fertiliser. Just tough plants that will grow in normal temperatures and most ph and hardness water conditions. Plants that need no maintenance except to trim them when they get bigger.

See also succeed with aquarium plants

and healthy aquarium plants

and aquascaping for beginners

Java moss

Java moss can grow in low lighting levels. It grows profusely. It likes a wide temperature range from 59F-82F. It can live in a wide range of ph and hardness. It is easy to care for.

java moss
java moss

It is not strictly a plant but it does much the same thing. It Doesn’t require gravel or sand. Spread it thinly over rocks and driftwood. It will attach itself. It can be made to float and hang down by attaching it to a piece of cork. Once it starts growing well then start pruning it heavily. It is great for fry to hide in and pick off infusoria growing on it. It is tough and difficult to kill. It may need cleaning sometimes by running under a tap. Algae may grow into it and be difficult to remove.

Java moss is like having all the benefits of plants without actually growing plants. No need for fertilisers, special lighting or other bits of plant maintenance. It is great for aquarists who don’t care for plants but recognise the benefits.

Java fern

java fern
java fern

Java ferns prefers low lighting conditions. It grows slowly but is very hardy and doesn’t need looking after. It can cope with a temperature range from 64F-86F. It is not fussy with ph or hardness.
Don’t bury the roots of the Java fern in the gravel. Algae may grow on the leaves and needs to be removed occasionally. If it is damaged it repairs itself quickly. If it is cut or broken, each piece will grow into a separate plant. It absorbs nitrates well. If co2 and fertiliser is used it can grow more quickly, if you want.

Amazon sword

Amazon swords are easy to care for. It likes neutral ph 6.5 to 7.5 and soft to moderately hard water. Its temperature range is 72-82F.
It can grow large and so it is best in a 36 inch tank or bigger. Plant it in a loose gravel. It needs time to root well.

amazon sword
amazon sword

Great for angel fish and discus to spawn on. It can grow faster if iron rich fertiliser is used. Remove damaged leaves and remove any algae on leaves. It can be propogated off runners. Plantlets will grow at the end of the runners. When the plantlets develop roots then you can remove them and plant them. Plecos will eat and damage amazons.

Amazon frogbit or duckweed

American frogbit can survive in cold pond water as well as tropical temperatures up to 78F. It likes a ph of 6-7.5 and moderate hard water. It requires low to medium lighting. it grows very fast. It is very low maintenance and very tough.
This is a pure floating plant. It provides good cover for fry. It really soaks up ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and phosphates, helping the nitrogen cycle and controlling algae.

Anubias nana (Anubias barteri nana)

anubias nana
anubias nana

Anubias nana is easy to care for and very hardy. It prefers low to medium lighting. Its temperature is tropical at 72F-82F. The water conditions for Anubias are soft to neutral hardness with a ph 6.0 – 7.6.
It is easily reproduced. It is slow growing but will grow faster with CO2 and extra lighting and fertilisers. It doesnt need to be rooted in gravel. Fish don’t like the taste of anubias.

Anacharis (elodea)

Anacharis is easy to care for. It takes any lighting (low light to bright lighting). It is not really a tropical plant will cope with temperatures up to 75F. The water conditions are not crucial with a preferred ph of 6.5 to 7.5 and soft to hard water but avoid extremes. Elodea can root into the gravel but can also be kept free floating. You can propogate it from cuttings. It is low maintenance and grows well without any help.

Cryptocoryne wendtii

Cryptocoryne wendtii
Cryptocoryne wendtii

Wendt’s crypt can be kept in low light or bright light. It has a ph range on the acid side of 5ph-7ph and likes soft water. temperature 72F-86F. The plant likes stable water conditions and may take some time to settle. Once settled and never disturbs it becomes a hardy plant.
There are several colour variations with different leaf size and texture. It is easy to propogate. Propoagate by taking cuttings with some roots attached. It can also produce runners with plantlets on the end. Separate the plantlets when they have grown roots. It is generally a slow grower. If there is change in the water conditions it may start to deteriorate.

Dwarf hairgrass

dwarf hair grass
dwarf hair grass

Dwarf hairgrass likes a temperature range 60F-83F. It prefers water on the acid side but is flexible with a ph range of ph5.0-7.5. It likes low to medium lighting.
It is fast growing. It does tend to attract dirt and algae. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets. Cut off plantlets when they grow roots. You can create an underwater lawn with dwarf hairgrass.

Pygmy chain sword

Pygmy chain swords are tropical with a temperature range of 68F-84F.Its preferred water conditions are medium hard and ph 5.5-7.5. ph 5-7.5. It prefers a medium level of lighting. because of its small size it prefers sandy soil.
It propogates by growing runners with plantlets on the end. When the plantlets grow roots then you can separate them. It grows reasonably well and is easy to care for. It might need tablet fertiliser near roots.

Dwarf sagittaria

dwarf sagittaria
dwarf sagittaria

Dwarf sagittaria’s temperature range is 71F – 82F. It prefers its water to be acid but copes with a ph between 5.0 and 7.5ph. It prefers medium lighting but can cope with low lighting levels. It grows fast and is easy to care for.
It can grow in gravel. Use small grained gravel or sand. It may benefit from root fertiliser tablets. If grown out of water before buying, it will change its form in the aquarium. It will shed all of its leaves and develop small grassy leaves from the centre. It may look dead soon after buying but will make a complete recovery.
It propagates by sending runners under the gravel that will pop up as mini plants next to the original plant.

Water wisteria

water wisteria
water wisteria

Water wisteria is quick growing, hardy and very easy to care for. It likes its water between 6.5ph and 7.5ph and soft to medium hard water. It is tropical with a temperature range between 75F-82F.
It is usually rooted but can still grow when floating. It is a relatively small aquarium plant. Fertiliser tablets will help with growth but are not necessary. You can propogate it through plant cuttings. Goldfish and other big plant eaters will eat and kill it.

Hornwort

Hornwort is a floating plant that can also be planted. It is a sub-tropical plant with a temperature range of 50-86F. It doesn’t care about its ph or hardness. It grows in low lighting levels. It is very easy to care for and grows very fast. Some fish will eat it.

Water Sprite

water sprite
water sprite

Water sprite is a floating plant that is easy to grow. It can be planted in the substrate as well. It will grow in almost any water conditions. Its temperature range is 68F-86F. It is quite hardy and grows fast. Lighting is not important and it will grow in low lighting.
Water sprite is helpful in cleaning up ammonia, nitrites and nitrates from the water. It will provide shade to shy fish and fry. . It is a great cover for fry that grow near the surface. Self propogates by growing new plantlets on the body which break off to form new plants. Snails love this and may destroy it. Fish may graze on it too, harming it.

Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala Rotundifolia is a red plant. It likes medium to bright light. It can grow in low light but will turn green. It grows fast in bright light. It is subtropical with a temperature range of 64F-82FC. It likes slightly acid water but can cope with a ph between 5.0-7.5ph with neutral hardness.
It can be propogated by taking cuttings. It is hardy and easy to care for as long as it is well lit.

Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma
Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma grows fast. It prefers low to medium lighting. And will grow faster with more lighting or even some sunlight. It has a wide temperature range of 64F-86F. Copes with almost any water ph and hardness. It is easy to care for.
Because of its small size it is called dwarf hygro. It is light green in colour. It can be propogated by taking cuttings. Pruning is helpful occasionally to spruce it up and stop it overgrowing. It can be grown on gravel or sand.

low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium

A guide to low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

Why create a low maintenance aquarium? So you can spend more time admiring your fish, perhaps. People who are just getting started in the aquarium hobby are often taken aback by the level of maintenance that a successful fish tank usually needs. The cultural stereotype of keeping a goldfish in a tiny bowl and enjoying some kind of no-maintenance pet that just floats around and nibbles on flake occasionally is quickly dispelled once the conversation turns to biological filtration systems, cleaning schedules and balancing the nitrogen cycle in your tank.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many fish keeping enthusiasts have come up with some clever ways to lower the maintenance needs of their tanks. Thanks to one of two approaches, aquarists are getting closer than ever to a no maintenance sustainable environment that does not need constant upkeep and vigilance to keep their fish healthy.

Two approaches: natural and high-tech

If the average aquarium maintenance seems like hard work then there are two basic ways to approach your setup in order to enjoy a tank that allows for low maintenance fish keeping:

natural tanks-These tanks are designed around sound ecological principles. While complex these greatly reduce the amount of work that you have to put in on a regular basis. These tanks focus on providing a closed ecosystem that is as close to natural as possible, with plants, algae, bacteria, microscopic planarians, freshwater shrimp, and fish completing the food cycle for you.

High-Tech tanks-This kind of aquarium does away with the need for ecological purity and uses automation and chemicals to maintain comfortable water conditions without your help. This means using sterilisers,  over-filtration, automatic feeders, algae-reducing chemicals, and more. These tools work in concert to keep the tank healthy and clean.

In natural tanks you will want to plan your tank around hardy, low maintenance fish that can tolerate the occasional change in water quality without being too badly shaken by the experience. Natural tanks will have occasional biological issues, and high tech tanks may suffer malfunctioning equipment from time to time, so it is important that you do not commit yourself to extremely delicate species.

Designing a natural tank

newly set up Walstad aquarium
newly set up Walstad aquarium

If you would like to set up an natural aquarium for low maintenance fish keeping, your tank will need to put a premium on long term planning and maintaining adequate life cycles for all of the tank’s inhabitants. Your choices regarding the species that you would like to keep will be very important, since they will all need to work together in order to maintain a healthy tank.

In the case of a natural, self-sustaining aquarium, the simplest aquarium tools can be put to effective use while plants and bacteria take care of your biological filtration needs. A drip-feed system can make water changes unnecessary, and with the right approach to your plants, you may even eliminate gravel cleaning from your to-do list, leaving you only with the responsibility of feeding your fish.

Plants are a necessity for the low maintenance fish keeping set up. By absorbing unwanted fish waste and keeping algae in check, they can help reduce the need for water changes while keeping your fish healthy. Good low-maintenance choices include the following:

  •  Water wisteria,
  •  Java moss,
  •  Lilaeopsis,
  •  African water fern,
  •  Java fern.

Simply keeping plants in your aquarium is not enought to ensure a stable low maintenance environment. Using soil as a substrate can allow biological filtration to occur directly within the tank when done properly. One of the most effective natural tank designs is the soil-based tank developed by Diana Walstad.

The Walstad Method

Diana Walstad has pioneered an unorthodox method of low maintenance fish keeping  that makes heavy use of plants and organic soil conditions to keep aquarium water healthy for fish. The combination of a soil substrate with fast growing plants takes out the nitrate and ammonia present in the water. This natural approach allows for filtration to occur through the land-based plants’ absorption of those chemicals in the roots and their subsequent release in to the atmosphere, above the water line.

These aquariums, when properly set up, can greatly reduce the need for mechanical filtration tools and other gadgets while also eliminating the need for you to personally change the water constantly. The key is to be found in the proper use of soil as a substrate rather than conventional gravel. Having your plants rooted in a thin layer of high quality soil allows anaerobic bacteria to filter the water without overwhelming their roots. This high quality soil boosts plants growth and activity. Thriving plants take out a lot more of the harmful ammonia, nitrites and nitrates than their struggling counterparts in a gravel tank. This also makes gravel cleaning a thing of the past.

With this kind of tank, supplemented by the addition of microscopic planarians or daphnia and other live food, you can enjoy a truly low maintenance fish keeping set up. You can do away with all the specialized equipment and other products. Often, a natural Walstad tank can be enjoyed indefinitely with only a heater, good lighting for the plants, and a light-duty mechanical filter or aerator that keeps the water flow up. The Walstad set up can be enhanced with a modicum of equipment, especially a small biological filter and a drip feed water system. But then it is not a 100% natural system.

You can buy Diana Walstad’s book on Amazon.The book goes into detail on how the aquarium ecosystem works. She details some of the experiments in building a sustainable ecosystem that have lasted several years. This is not a book full of pretty pictures. It is a book that will tell you how to build healthy and low tech aquariums where the plants thrive and the fish are healthy. Click on the book on the left to buy the book.

 

The value of high quality soil in an natural tank

Since it is clear that the use of soil as a substrate is what makes this tank special, it is important to determine what constitutes high quality soil and sets it apart from other options. The main concern here is to use properly natural soil—that is, soil that is made of 100% natural matter so that natural decomposition can take place.

The composition of the soil will greatly affect the water quality of your tank as it decomposes, so you will want to perform frequent water changes while your tank and its fish adapt to the presence of the soil and an ecological balance is created. Regular potting soil is largely excluded due to the presence of additives that will contaminate your water.

Step by step process for setting up a Walstad Method natural tank

• Start with your tank’s essentials: the heater and filter/power heads should be in place before you add anything else to the tank.

• Begin by adding a 3 cm layer of untreated, non-sterile top soil to the tank.

• Cover the soil layer with an additional 3 cm of medium fine gravel, or a fine layer of sand. Be gentle: too much covering will deprive your bacteria of oxygen.

• Your plants will need calcium. If your water is soft, add in bone meal or coral gravel to compensate.

• Add your choice of plants and turn on your lights: 2 watts for every 3.8 litres is a sufficient amount.

• Add clean room temperature water that is free of chlorine or chloramine.

• Use filters or power heads to maintain brisk water flow and keep the water oxygenated, especially until cycling is complete.

• Test for pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite every two days for two months, changing the water as necessary. Some soils will require frequent changes to rid the water of toxins.

• You can add fish immediately after setting up, but be sure to perform 25% water changes as soon as you see ammonia or nitrite levels above zero.

• If algae becomes a problem, reduce your lighting or add floating plants to the tank. Once the tank is established, the plants will effectively out-compete algae for nutrients.

To read more about the techniques and why they work then read

The high-tech tank

If you would like to enjoy low maintenance fish keeping without making any compromises on fish choice or plant presence, the high-tech tank might be for you. This type of tank has a number of benefits, including the fact that you can keep just about any type of fish you desire, and plants tend to grow bright and beautiful quickly in this environment.

Some delicate fish species that usually live in river environments are especially suited to the high-tech tank. The increased flow, filtration, and continuously changing water will make river species feel right at home.

The main drawback to the high-tech tank is that setting it up is a long process. After set up there is usually a tinkering period where you fine tune things. You will have to invest a bit of time, energy, and money into maintaining a proper balance through technological means. This could mean using any or all of the following tools to keep the water conditions ideal for your fish:

• Double filtration—Using multiple filters will effectively double the period before you need to clean the filter media. Doubling the filters maximises biological filtration to keep ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels at zero.

• Power heads—These can help keep the flow rate high within the tank, enabling effective filtration and keeping detritus and mulm from settling into the gravel substrate. This gives more of a chance for the filters to pick it up instead.

• Drip-Feed System—This is a very useful DIY project that will continuously drain and replace water from your tank: Pre-filtered water is drip fed to the tank while an overflow system drains all excess water. Carbon filtration is needed to remove chlorine.

• Automatic feeder—A programmable fish feeder can store days’ or even weeks’ worth of food and reliably deposit a controlled amount directly into the water at regular intervals. Robust, high quality units can be left on their own for weeks at a time without worry. You can even go on holiday and not worry about hungry fish.

• UV steriliser—Low maintenance fish keeping practitioners still need to control algae, and if you want to avoid regularly scraping your aquarium glass clean then a UV steriliser will provide the algae control that you need.

• Algae-controlling chemicals—Another low maintenance fish keeping solution for controlling algae is through the use of specialized chemicals. These can be found at many fish and aquarium supply stores. But these are a last resort.

• Light timers—Choose your lights carefully to avoid encouraging algae growth. A light timer can also help by allowing you to set a specific lighting schedule that offers just enough to help your plants grow without triggering an algae bloom.

• Protein skimmer—Often found in saltwater aquariums, these devices greatly reduce the amount of organic fish waste in your tank, reducing the need for water changes.
This approach to low maintenance fish keeping allows you to enjoy your aquarium without needing to worry about your fish’s basic needs such as feeding and water changing. You will still need to perform regular cleaning. But with high-powered filtration of your tank and a good control of algae, you should be able to get by with a quick monthly vacuuming and filter rinsing schedule.

Step by step process for setting up a high-tech tank

• Again, start with the tank’s essentials: Your filters, heaters, and lighting setup should be ready.

• Add a 5 cm even layer of gravel along the bottom of the tank. If you use sand, a very shallow layer will make vacuuming easy.

• Plant any plants you may have now. If you use the easy-to-clean thin gravel substrate, your plants should be potted or attached to rocks and other decorations, which you can also add in now.

• Add clean, conditioned, de-chlorinated water to your tank.

• Insert and activate your filter, lights, and heater.

• Begin cycling either by adding starter fish, fish food, or another ammonia source.

• After cycling begins, you can activate the drip-feed system for constant water changing, though you may need additional water changes until cycling is complete.

• Test the water every two days for two months, waiting for ammonia and nitrate readings of zero.

• Respond to algae growth with reduced light until cycling is complete. The UV steriliser and protein skimmer should help here but if it is not enough, you can add algae controlling chemicals after cycling is complete, or even use low maintenance floating plants to control algae growth.

Once you’ve successfully cycled your tank, you should have a complete low maintenance fish keeping solution on your hands: high water flow, drip feeds, and automatic fish feeders will ensure that your aquarium stays sustainably healthy without constant care. Again the high tech system is enhance by having floating plants and biological filtratrion. So not a pure high tech solution.

Now you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fish. You’ve earned it.