What Is Aquascaping – Creating An Aquarium Garden

Aquarium Garden
(Image credit: subinpumsom)

Gardening outdoors has its benefits, but aquatic gardening can be just as rewarding. One way to incorporate this into your home is through aquascaping. Read on to learn more about creating an aquarium garden.

What is Aquascaping?

In gardening, landscaping is all about designing your surroundings. With aquascaping, you’re simply doing the same thing but in an aquatic setting – typically in aquariums. This can be a fun way to create an underwater landscape with plants growing in natural curves and slopes. Fish and other aquatic creatures can be included too.

A number of plants can be used for aquascaping. Carpeting plants and mosses are added straight into the substrate to form a lush green carpet along the bottom. These include dwarf baby tears, dwarf hairgrass, Marsilea, java moss, liverwort, and Glossostigma elatinoides. Floating plants provide shelter and partial shade. Duckweeds, frogbit, floating moss, and dwarf water lettuce are ideal. Background plants like anubias, Amazon Swords, Ludwigia repens are good options.

Most fish species work well with these underwater landscapes, but some top choices include tetras, discus, angelfish, Australian rainbows, and livebearers.

Types of Aquascapes

While you’re free to design an aquascape any way you’d like, there are generally three types of aquascapes used: Natural, Iwagumi, and Dutch.

  • Natural Aquascape – This Japanese inspired aquascape is just as it sounds – natural and somewhat unruly. It mimics natural landscapes using rocks or driftwood as its focal point. Plants are often used minimally and attached to driftwood, rocks, or within the substrate.
  • Iwagumi Aquascape – The most simplistic of the aquascape types, only a few plants are found. Both plants and the hardscapes are arranged asymmetrically, with rocks/stones placed as focal points. As with plantings, fish are minimal.
  • Dutch Aquascape – This type puts emphasis on the plants, highlighting different shapes and colors. Many are planted in larger aquariums.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative with your aquascape design. There are many things you can do. For instance, add an aquascape waterfall with small, sandy gravel running down some rocks or, if you are using both terrestrial and aquatic species (paludariums), create small aquascape pools.

Creating an Aquarium Garden

Just like any garden, it’s a good idea to have a plan first. You’ll want to have a general idea about the type of aquascape you’ll be creating, and the hardscapes used – rocks, wood, or other suitable materials. Also, consider what plants you’d like to add, and where you’ll be placing the aquatic garden. Avoid areas with lots of sunlight (promotes algae growth) or heat sources.

In addition to having a plan, you need equipment. This includes things like lighting, substrate, filtration, CO2, and aquarium heater. Most aquatic retailers can help with specifics.

When adding substrate, you’ll need a lava granulate base. Choose a substrate soil that is neutral to slightly acidic.

Once you’re ready to start designing your aquascape, be sure to create defined layers similar to that found in the garden – foreground, middle, and background. Your plants and hardscape features (rock, stones, driftwood, or bogwood) will be used for this depending on the type of aquascape chosen.

Use tweezers to place your plants, gently pushing them into the substrate. Blend plant layers naturally with some dotted amongst rocks and wood.

After your aquascape design is finished, carefully add water, either with a small cup/bowl or siphon so as not to move the substrate. You should allow the tank to cycle up to six weeks prior to introducing fish. Also, allow them to acclimate to the water conditions by placing the bag they came in into the tank first. After about 10 minutes or so, slowly add small amounts of tank water to the bag every five minutes. Once the bag is filled, it’s safe to release them into the tank.

Of course, once your aquascape setup is complete, you’ll still need to keep your plants happy and healthy. Be sure to change your water bi-weekly and maintain stable temps, generally between 78 and 82 degrees F. (26-28 C.). Depending on your plants, you may need to trim on occasion too, and remove any dead or dying foliage. Fertilize only as needed.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.