What You Need for Aquascaping a Fish Tank (Beginner's Kit)

What You Need for Aquascaping a Fish Tank (Beginner's Kit)

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Aquascaping is to aquariums as gardening is to potted plants. Instead of the clamshells and pink gravel, aquascaping lovers today are seeking to develop aquatic art with driftwood, live plants, rocks, and fish. Aquascaping is gradually gaining popularity, and although aquascaping can appear dramatic, it is not difficult.

Like any other hobby, it needs pure dedication, time, and comprehensive research. You need to understand the basics of plant nutrition, fish, cycling an aquarium, and water chemistry. In this article, we will be getting a clearer insight into aquascaping, from introducing the simple rules of setup and construction to developing different aquariums. Without further ado, let's get started.

What Is Aquascaping?

In recent times, more and more people are adopting the art of aquascaping. To be more precise, aquascaping is described as the setting up, decoration, and arranging a set of elements, including, but are not limited to, stones, rocks, aquatic plants, and driftwood, in a craftsmanship manner to unveil a more aesthetically pleasing aquarium.

To set it apart from simple gardening, aquascaping comprises a more extended and typically more troublesome development path for an aquarist. For the passionate kind, they understand that fish rearing is much more than the aquatic horticulture aspect, incorporating the ecology, physiology, maintenance, and pruning.

Gradually, aquariums become part of the homes, develop into your pride, arise in your everyday conversations, in turn, fulfilling one's hidden dreams by allowing them to unleash their imagination and creativity. Aquascaping lets one display their interests through fascinating species and attractive aquatic organisms. Nevertheless, developing the perfect aquarium is not a simple task; it requires dedication but ultimately turns out fun and rewarding.

How Does It Attract People & Why People Choose It

Many of us work for long hours and often tend to exert much pressure on ourselves in these modern times. After a day's work, an aquarium not only reminds you to pause and sit back but unwind and relax as you enjoy the breath-taking view.

The apparent advantage of getting an aquarium for your home is that it improves one mood and general well-being. In turn, it enhances the general mental and physical health. In fact, most enthusiast aquarists have found a hobby in aquascaping.

Different Styles of Aquascaping:

Similar to other art forms, aquascaping allows for a variety of styles and approaches. Every individual has varying preferences, expectations, and desires from their scaped fish tanks. The following are the most popular styles of aquascaping, each defined by its own unique features and characteristics.

Nature Aquascaping

Also known as the natural Style, nature aquascaping was first developed by a Japanese, Takashi Amano, back in the late '90s. It is well-characterized by a purely natural feel and looks, mimicking natural landscapes in the aquarium through driftwood and rocks as a centerpiece.

Minimal plant species are used here, whereby most are either moss and carpeting plants. The most common nature aquascaping landscapes show versions of hillsides, valleys, rainforests, and mountains. The peaceful ecosystem depicted by this Style needs frequent maintenance through continuous filter changes and trimming.

Jungle Style Aquascaping

Jungle style is best suited for beginners as it's among the easiest to develop. As the name suggests, the result should resemble the untamed and wild appearance of a jungle. One of Jungle Style aquariums' most prevalent characteristics is that the vegetation is mainly left on its own, hence becomes quite dense over time.

Despite not being the most complex-styled aquascaping, the Jungle Style can become quite attractive and functional with time because most fish species love the dense environment.

Biotope Aquascaping

Biotopes, or Biomes, are likely the most versatile aquascaping Style. This Style replicates the natural environments, thus necessitating extensive research to determine complementary plant and fish species. Fortunately, today, it's more than easy selecting these species from any corner of the globe.

Biome aquascaping might seem garden-like, like nature aquascaping, but it leans more towards organized chaos. Depending on your strictness level, replicating rock and substrate selections is not only attractive but generally helps the whole ecosystem.

Dutch Aquascaping Style

Around the 1930s, the Dutch aquascaping Style emerged and became popular, especially with the inaugural aquarium equipment advertisement. This Style is wholly focused on the arrangement and culture of aquatic plants.

Dutch Style aquascaping doesn't involve the use of any hardscape materials or driftwoods. It primarily focuses on the color, texture, and height of various plants and the fundamental method of constructing the terracing approach. It might appear easy to achieve, but honestly, aquascapers require extensive knowledge of different plants to develop an aesthetically-pleasing scape.

Iwagumi Aquascaping

Unlike the Dutch Style that only incorporates the plant's use, Iwagumi aquascaping is structured upon developing a careful arrangement/positioning of hardscape. Using carpeting plants typically comes in handy in enhancing their disposal and natural beauty.

The general setup of the Iwagumi aquascape comprises the use of three significant stones; the larger one referred to as the Big Buddha, and two smaller pieces known as the attending stones. It's nice to add stones with the same texture and color, and it'll develop a sense of harmony and unity in your aquarium,

Walstad Aquascaping

The Walstad style of aquascaping was marketed by Diana Walstad through her published work, "Ecology of the Planted Aquarium." This method is less of aesthetic philosophy and more of the design. Basically, it doesn't involve additives, water changes, or filtration. All you need is heat, light, food, and maintaining plants trimmed, and the tank topped off.

The secret to adopting the Walstad style is using soil as your primary substrate. Unlike conventional aquariums, which used sand or gravel that contains zero nutrients for plants to thrive in, most modern substrates include not only nutritional elements plants need, i.e., Iron and Potassium, but also have materials rich in CEC to bind the nutrients together for the plants. Note that Walstad aquascapes, once matured, are the easiest to maintain.

Basic Points to Make Aquascaping Visually Appealing

Aquascaping is essentially a form of art, whereby creativity and imagination play a vital role. Nonetheless, mastering the basics of this process is what will make you successful. As the measure is highly crucial with nature, so is it with aquascaping.

Do you wish to develop an attractive fish tank and at the same time give your fish the best experience or make the aquatic plants grow to full potential? The following are some worthy tips.

Focal Points

The focal points act as the anchor to the viewer's mind. It generally tells one where to pay attention initially and where to shift their focus next. All aquascapes, regardless of the Style, ought to have that focal point. Suppose you have a smaller aquarium; you should only establish a single focal point and a few secondary interest points.

However, with larger aquariums, you need to develop several focal points, but one should still appear as the most significant attraction. It's also quite essential to stop stressing the eye; thus, having multiple points of interest with striking significance would not be wise.

Rule of Thirds

Even though true beauty lies in the beholder's eyes, the beholder's eye can be manipulated quite easily through art. Aquascaping involves developing appealing visuals by directing the eye to focus initially and what to shift to next.

The rule of thirds talks about how to use imaginary guidelines to determine where to position particular elements in the scape, thus enabling the artist to manipulate the view. To understand how this works, depict an image divided into nine equal parts using two equally spaced vertical and horizontal lines. You can use this perception to determine the focal image point. It makes the viewer's experience more captivating, pleasing, relaxing, and intriguing.

The Golden Ratio/ Scaling

In simple terms, the golden ratio is the number obtained through dividing one line into two parts, in a way that if you divide the more extended leg with the smaller ones, the result equals the whole part divided by the longer part.

Aside from mathematics and art, the golden ratio is staunchly inter-connected with a focal point's development. With aquascaping, the golden ratio is that point where the viewer's eye is directed towards at a glance.

Making Perfect Foreground, Midground, And Background

Finding the right balance between the foreground, background, and midground can result in an aesthetically-appealing perspective for your aquarium. Use driftwood and stones in your midground to depict the impression of a hilly or higher ground.

To achieve some in-depth perspective, use carpeting plants in the foreground and maybe try cork, wood sticking, or just paint on your background. The last thing would be to make your fish tank appear harmonious.


Planting the aquarium is fun, but at the same time challenging. It would be best if you achieved some contrast between the middle ground, foreground, and background. Try placing plants with varying sizes and colors, as it helps one develop contrast and an in-depth perspective that will ensure your aquarium looks more naturally-appealing.

Items to Consider

All aquascape designs need one to understand what items will be required to achieve the final project. Some of the materials to consider include aquarium size, substrates, lighting, organisms, and plants. Read on as we lay down each one of them.

Aquarium Size


First and foremost, you need to factor in how much space you have available and what size of an aquarium you wish to maintain. The small fish tanks need less in terms of setup, pruning, water changes, and other maintenance practices. Besides, heaters, lights, and filters are less expensive. The only disadvantage is that you have to limit the number of your fish.


On the other hand, large fish tanks need much more maintenance practices, i.e., cleaning and water changes. They also need more expensive heaters, powerful filters, and other devices to maintain full potential. With a large aquarium, you have much more space for your fish and achieve better aesthetic features.


If you are uncertain about which way to go, select the medium-sized tank. It acts as the bridge between the large masterpieces and small fish aquariums. Especially if you are a beginner, don't go all the way of committing yourself financially to a huge tank.


One of the essential items to consider for your aquarium is lighting. It's viewed as the functioning heart of a fish tank as it determines both the growth and health of aquascape plants. Plants require a specific color temperature for full development. The four main types of aquarium bulbs commonly used in an aquarium include:

Incandescent Light

Incandescent light bulbs are the least popular of all variations available because they are less colorful and fragile. You will probably find them in cheap hoods, which often come with smaller aquarium kits. Even though they can light a small fish tank, this light is only suitable for algae growth. Besides, these lights get extremely hot, making them less durable.

Metal Halogen Light

Metal Halogen light is more common in saltwater aquariums than freshwater aquascaping. They act as a point-source of light, creating a distinctive ripple effect, which appears well in Aquascapes imitating shallow water environments, like a reef tank or riverbank.

One disadvantage of these light bulbs is that they can get dangerously hot, adding heat to your fish tank, which can be challenging to control in the long run. In fact, they consume more power than LED light and modern fluorescent bulbs.

Fluorescent Light

Fluorescent lighting is the perfect balance between efficiency, cost, and ease. Their fixtures are easy to obtain, and they cost much less than LED lights. Furthermore, they are more aesthetically-appealing.

Even though fluorescents burn out faster than LEDs, they last for longer than incandescent bulbs. Besides, they can shift the spectrum with time as they age. If you realize your algae is starting to take hold, that might be a sign that the lighting color temperature is not fully functional, thus necessitating a replacement.

LED Light

LED bulbs are a favorite for many aquarists because they are not only power-friendly but also quite durable. They can last for up to 50,000 hours without calling for a replacement. The only disadvantage of LED lights is their price; they possess the highest initial setup charges out of all the lighting systems.

But all in all, they offer the best value for your money by far. If you are highly enthusiastic about aquascaping a fish tank, we would recommend you pick LED lighting.


Every time you deal with live plants, you should put significant consideration into your choice of substrate. Sterile substrates, i.e., pure gravel and sand, make it hard to nurture healthy plants and virtually impossible to achieve the aquascape's natural-looking appearance.

Artificial substrates, i.e., Mr. Aqua Aquarium Soil and Seachem Flourite, offer a dark base, which is not only nutritionally complete but also aesthetically pleasing. You can also mix substrates for aesthetic or nutritional purposes.


Adding plants to your aquarium is, to some extent, challenging but generally fun. Ensure you start with the focal point of your fish tank, moving to the mid growing and low-growing plants, and fill your background with the higher ones.

It's advisable to plant groups very densely as the more the items, the higher the probability of catching roots and growing. Also, use plants with varying sizes and colors, as this helps create contrast and develop an in-depth perspective, which makes your tank appear more natural.

Fish and Invertebrates

Fish that dig should be mostly avoided as they destabilize and uproot the aquatic plants. For instance, loaches, Cichlids, and large catfish. Plant eating invertebrates and fish, such as pacus, silver dollars, and most snail species, may also cause some issues.

Despite algae-eating invertebrates and fish being helpful, it can be hard to clean off decorations without removing them. However, some small algae eaters make your aquatic plants look pristine as the algae enjoy ample nutrition and light, which plants require. They are also good to watch on your own.

Small fish are often used in an aquascape, primarily due to their bright colors and making the aquarium appear larger. The Iwagumi and Nature-styles use a few small fish populations to depict the sense of a sky-like, spacious habitat. The most common fish types used include Australian rainbowfish, tetras, and more.

Sequential Steps to Setup

Step-1: Placement of The Tank

Beforehand, determine the size of an aquarium you'd like, plus the Style you wish to reproduce. Try and picture how the end design will look like, factoring in the different types of hardscapes, i.e., wood or rocks. Also, consider the flora and fauna pieces that will be present in your tank.

At this juncture, you'll need to outline the positioning of your aquarium. Avoid exposing it to direct sunlight, as this may promote unwanted algae growth. Also, avoid all areas close to heat sources as raised temperatures also have a similar effect. An ideal place to place a fish tank is in a cool and enclosed space.

Step-2: Add Substrate (Rocks and Sands)

The substrate added will vary according to the aquascaping Style you wish to adhere to. Typically, gravel and sand don't support plant growth; thus, soils work perfectly. Get soil with high nutrient content and maintain a slightly acidic or neutral PH to enhance healthy plant growth.

Before you add the substrate, first put a lave granulate base. It supports big stones while providing gaps to loosen this soil and allow for water and nutrient circulation. Once this is achieved, add the soil to your specified layout design.

Step-3: Add Other Decors

Again, the selection of your hardscape will vary according to the setup type you're trying to achieve. Most hardscapes are from stone, driftwood, bogwood, and rock. Lay them out nicely according to your preference, but ensure they're stable enough not to slip once you add water. Add any other necessary decoration such as paint, etc.

Step-4: Add Water

The water should be poured carefully to make sure that the substrate is not displaced. There are various ways to add water. One, you can position a small bowl above your substrate and slowly pour the water. Also, you may opt to fill the aquarium slowly with an ultra-thin siphon.

Step-5: Add Plants

Young pants and some light bulbs are great for starting an aquarium because as they grow, the roots shape themselves nicely to suit the nutrition and substrate needs. You can place plants into the substrate using tweezers. What's more, they should be pushed down almost an inch into the soil to prevent them from detaching or breaking loose.

Step-6: Arrange Items for Aesthetic Purposes (The Main Task)

Instead of positioning a driftwood piece directly at the center of your tank, try putting it off-center, or maybe in a corner, as it creates a sense of contrast and tension. Placing a second decoration on the other end creates an attractive open water gap. If you put a similar decoration next to the first one on edge, it develops a gradient, intentional but alluring to one's eye.

Sometimes, leaving out space also works best depending on the Style of aquascaping you wish to explore. Instead of hurrying to fill the bare areas and gaps in your aquascape, check to see if it can add to your overall design somehow. Similarly, you mustn't overstock your tank with multiple species and décor selections as it appears haphazard and chaotic. An aquarist can achieve much with only a single plant and animal species.

Step-7: Add Fish

The species one selects is based on the taste and preference of an aquarist. The only thing you need to ensure is rear fish that aren't going to become too large for your fish tank. Once you are ready to add some fish, you shouldn't just insert them directly. Instead, let them acclimatize with the water conditions.

To achieve this, you need to place the bag they were brought in into your tank for around 10 minutes, after which you can gradually add a small, cup-sized quantity of this water into the bag with a five-minute interval until it's full, then release them into the aquarium.

Necessary Maintenance Items

Aquarium Filter

As the name suggests, the aquarium filter removes excess food, the fish's excretions, decaying organic matter, and toxic chemicals within an aquarium. The main methods of filtering water are chemical, biological, and mechanical. Many aquarium filters out there are designed in a combination of any two of these methods.

Aquarium Heater

The main types of aquarium heaters are undergravel and immersion heaters. Although you can use an external type inline heater as well. An aquarium heater is used in fishkeeping to warm the temperatures of water in the fish tank. Most marine and tropical freshwater aquariums are maintained at temperatures of 22-30 degrees using the aquarium heater.

Siphon Gravel Vacuum

Regular aquarium maintenance is never complete without a water change. The recommended average water change should be about 10-15 % every two weeks. A Siphon Gravel Vacuum makes it easy as it extracts the water from the fish tank while vacuuming the gravel to remove fish excrement, fish food, and other toxic wastes sited at the bottom of your fish tank.

A Protein Skimmer

Also known as the foam fractionator, the protein skimmer is a device that removes organic compounds, i.e., waste and food particles from water. It is commonly applied in commercial areas, such as large aquariums or water treatment facilities, to make the water less toxic.

Nutrients & CO2

Carbon dioxide and nutrients are an essential component for plant photosynthesis, even those inside your aquarium. The main ways of adding them to your tank are through gas or liquid injections. These systems ensure that your aquarium stays fully-functional.

An Air Stone

Also referred to as the aquarium bubbler, it is the piece of furniture found in an aquarium, conventionally a piece of porous stone or limewood. The air stone gradually diffuses air into the aquarium, thus eliminating large bubbles and noise of traditional filtration systems and offering other health benefits for your fish.

Water Test Kits

A water test kit is a device used to measure impurities or variations in the water, including lead, pesticides, pH, bacteria, and more. For aquarium maintenance, one ought to have a water testing kit. The aquarist regularly uses a water test kit to test for salinity, carbonate hardness, nitrite, and nitrates in the water.

Scissors and Tweezers

Curved tweezers and scissors help one to plant their aquatic plants with ease and comfort. You can drive your plants into the soil/substrate with these appliances even on the edges and corners.


What Is the Best Size Aquarium for A Beginner?

Large aquariums allow more flexibility but require extra maintenance. On the other hand, small ones limit one to the number of fish to the rear but are generally more economical. For beginners, tanks sized 15-40 gallons are neither too big nor too small. They are a perfect ground for practicing one's aquascaping techniques.

What Are the Best Fish for Aquascape Tanks?

Most aquarists already have an idea of the type of fish they wish to put in their tank. With aquascaping, finding the correct type of fish is quite challenging since you need to factor in several factors. But despite there being no general rule, you have to review their swimming habits, breeding cycles, behavior, etc.

Always avoid fish that may disturb your aquascape. Preferably, pick the small variety with bright, attractive colors. The most recommendable fish are the Tetras, Australian rainbow fish, and many more.

What Are the Main Challenges for Maintaining an Aquascape Tank?

Building an attractively-looking aquascape is not enough. Maintaining it safe and clean for fish and plants might be as well challenging. Successful aquascaping typically depends on the actions you take after setting up your tank. These include frequent water changing and pruning, proper balancing of light, nutrients, and CO2.

Wrapping Up

The entire aquascaping process might appear hard to achieve because you must find the perfect balance between creativity and scientifically-proven principles. But all in all, it's not that hard if you adhere to the basic principles. Like with any creative work, aquascaping relies extensively on knowledgeable resources and one's imagination. Use this article as your guide for an exceptional aquascaping experience.

Author's Bio

Sujit Modak is the owner of the fishkeeping blog Aquarium Tales. He is an experienced aquarist. He successfully experimented with a complex ecosystem inside home aquariums. Biotope aquariums and aquaponics are the fields of his interest. He shared an experience-based guideline for the beginners on aquascaping a fish tank.

Eddie Waithaka

Resident Content Creator and Marketer at AquariaWise who talks about aquariums and fish and aquascapes a lot.

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