Aquascaping can be hard to get into. First, it’s a very complex hobby allying art, gardening, and fish breeding after all. It doesn’t mean it has to be hard, though. If creating various landscapes such as mountain ranges, ponds, jungles, or waterfalls while also providing a place to live to fishes is something that interests you, then aquascaping is made for you.
In this article, you will learn about the steps needed to start your first freshwater aquarium. I will go over the artistic side of aquascaping by talking about layouts and styles you can choose while also going over the technical details of the substrate, hardscape, planting, and fish breeding.
Although it can look challenging at first, aquascaping is nothing more than creating a perfect place for plants and fish to live and applying art to it.
Choosing your style and layout in Freshwater Aquarium
One thing you have to understand before starting is that planning is everything in aquascaping. Get familiar with thinking before acting and sketching your designs before executing them.
This will both save you time and money in the long run! One of the crucial things you have to plan that will dictate how your aquarium looks, in the end, is your chosen style. Aquascaping made of many styles that all aim to picture different landscapes and scenes.
While styles like Iwagumi will try to place rocks at the center of attention and create a scene that inspires tranquillity, other styles like Dutch will aim to create impressive views by using plants to play with their colors.
Try to imagine what your final design will look like and if you want to rely more on plants or hardscape to create it. Once you have an idea of what you’re going for, try to find what aquascaping style fits the most of your planned design as it will give you plenty of ideas on the layout to use and how big your tank will need to be.
Your layout and style will also influence what type of hardscape you will use, plenty of different wood and rock types exist, and your fish will interact differently with each of them. Plants also have a great variety from mosses to plants that grow outside of the water.
You have a lot of freedom when choosing them, which leads to a great variety of designs. Planning a place for placing your aquarium is also extremely important. You can’t just place it anywhere you want.
You will have to keep in mind that your aquarium will generate humidity and that you shouldn’t place it near a window as the constant exposure to the sun may trigger algae spread, which is the bane of aquascaping. Being near a heat source will also increase the chance of algae developing.
As a result, somewhere that is both cool and not in contact with sunlight will be the best place to place your aquarium.
The substrate is one of the main pieces of your planted tank. It’s both used as the floor of your aquarium and the soil that your plants will grow on. It needs to be nutritious and fit the type of plant you want to be growing.
Substrates aren’t all about growing plants, though. You can find different types of substrate (gravel, sand) that will give a different feel to your tank. Also, consider differently colored substrates depending on what effect you want to create.
Generally, sand and gravel won’t be used to grow plants as the soil is your best bet for that. Aim for soil that is rich in nutrients so that your plants can grow steadily.
It’s also important to consider pH when choosing substrate, a neutral to slightly acidic pH will best maximize plant growth. Before laying any substrate, you should take the time to lay down down lava granulates.
They will act as a foundation to support your heavy hardscape, such as wood and rocks, while also forming natural gaps to allow proper water and nutrient circulation for your plants.
Hardscape is divided into many categories (driftwood, rocks, stones); each of these categories has different types of hardscape that can be used in very different ways. Once you have laid out your substrate, you should focus on laying the hardscape.
Be careful when choosing your hardscape as some may be dangerous to your fish; for example, you should always clean any wood you pick up in the wild and never use chemicals on it. Rocks and stones should also be cleaned by resting in boiling water to destroy any harmful bacteria that could contaminate your water.
Always keep in mind what is the best environment for your fish to live in; some wood types can alter pH levels a lot, which can ultimately kill fish. Even if changes aren’t so extreme, certain species of fish are particularly strict in terms of required pH, and even slight variation can be dangerous to them.
Whatever hardscape you choose, make sure it’s solidly anchored and stable, the water will create currents and force that may dislodge your hardscape and cause it to fall. The last thing you want is your hardscape to fall and ruin your design or worse break your tank’s glass.
Planting the tank
Just like substrates and hardscape, there is a lot of plant variety in aquascaping. Plants both help set up a certain feel and vibe you want your design to give.
Don’t think it stops here, though, plants have other essential functions such as water filtration, limiting the spread of algae, and providing shelter and places to hide for fish. The first layer of plants you will use will usually be carpeting plants (think of it as grass planted on your substrate).
It will be used to carpet the whole floor of your tank. Other types of plants, such as floating plants, will be composed of an anchored part and a freely floating part. However, plants aren’t only used on the substrate.
You can use them to decorate hardscapes like wood or rocks. Moss is usually used as decoration as it can be planted on nearly any surface in your tank.
Choosing fish for your aquarium is a crucial step; you will need to make sure the fish will live well in your tank and be happy.
Make sure not to take a fish that is too large for your tank as they will be stressed by the lack of space. Other things to watch out for include pH water level.
All fish species can only live in water within specific pH ranges if you’re a beginner, try to pick a fish that can live in large pH ranges as it will be both easier and less stressful to manage for you.
Fish such as Teta are recommended because they are generally easy to take care of and can survive in various waters.
Lighting is a crucial element of any successful aquascape tank. Light is needed for photosynthesis, the process by which plants get the energy required to grow. The main lighting choices are LEDs and fluorescent bulbs.
LEDs do have a good range of lighting, but they are rather expensive and emit some heat.LEDs, on the other hand, emit very low heat, are very efficient, and can last for more than 40,000 hours.
Other options, such as metal halides, exist, but they aren’t recommended because of the very high heat emission and inefficiency they pack. Proper lighting is one of the factors of good plant growth, so it should be treated with care and as a top priority.
Fertilizing your plants is all about giving them supplementary doses of both macro and micronutrients. Those nutrients help the plant grow and reach its true potential.
Deficiencies should be monitored closely and cared for as they can cause stunted growth, yellow-colored leaves, and in some cases, plant death.
Fertilizing is important if you want your plants to grow very tall, but the number of nutrients they will be able to process and use depends mainly on the lighting and CO2, so those things should be taken care of first.
CO2 is the food of your plants. It’s what they use to achieve photosynthesis and produce the energy required to grow.
Proper CO2 supply is crucial to thriving plants, but it is also necessary for them to survive. The CO2 amount your plants need is ruled by the amount of lighting they receive.
More lighting means more growth potential, which requires more CO2. A pressurized CO2 system is recommended. Even if it’s the solution that will cost you the most, it still holds first place in terms of ease of use and efficiency.
You should now have the required basics to start aquascaping your first freshwater aquarium. If you’re struggling, always try to plan what result you want before doing anything.
Always think about your fish and plant safety before doing anything as even an insignificant act, such as adding a rock to your tank, can have very bad consequences such as death if it carries harmful bacteria.