The Art of Aquascaping


The Art of Natural Aquascaping

Written and illustrated by Al-Haitham Jassar
So you want to setup a planted tank with a professional and natural looking layout, but you have no idea what to do? Well, worry no more because I will show you some great aquascaping "guidelines" to help you make your dream tank come true!
Now, I will not go through the basics of fish keeping and how to establish an aquarium, I'll just discuss the artistic principals and techniques of Nature Aquariums in brief, and I hope this small article will give you a hard base so that you could build whatever you want later. Let us begin…
-The focal point.
This is very well acknowledged in art.
When you look at a good painting for example, your eyes are guided to the subject of the painting ( a man, a house, a dog….etc), but in bad paintings your eyes will just move around without finding a spot to relax ( no subject to look at! ). Aquariums are exactly like paintings, and we must decide what the focal point is going to be so that the tank would be pleasurable to look at.
The focal point can be anything not moving – a bunch of plants, a rock , a piece of drift wood…etc. But keep in mind that when you place your centerpiece, don't let the tank look too symmetrical, it will seem unnatural if you did. So the best thing is to place your focal point a bit to the left or to the right and so on.

-The Composition of the Layout. Now comes the fun part!
Choose the composition you like the most:

1) The concave setup ( the U shape or the V shape);

2) The convex setup ( or the Island setup):
3) The triangular setup ( or the Sloped setup ):
4) The rectangular setup (high everywhere, plants cover most of the background).
5) The Iwagumi style: This is a difficult Japanese style which resembles beautiful grass landscapes.
Some tips:
1- Use a neutral color for the background ( black, white or blue ).
2- Since natural is your goal here , don't add anything artificial in the tank ( like fake wood or plastic plants! ).
3- Don't forget the general rule: low plant's are to be used in the foreground, and tall plants are for the background.
4- Make the gravel sloped, it will help make the tank look deeper.
5- Don't mix more than one type of rocks! What you need is a few of the same type ( preferably dark, with a good texture ). Same thing for the wood.
-About using wood in the setup:
Try to avoid pieces that are artificially cut on the end, but if you did buy one try to hide the unnatural looking tip. Also don't add too many pieces of wood because you need some space for planting. Another good thing to do is attaching Mosses and/or Ferns to the wood, they give a great sense of age, but always watch out for the overall balance of the layout.
-Planting and trimming your aquatic plants:
First of all you must know that aquatic plants grow, and they grow a lot ( especially when they are really healthy and happy ), so you will need to prune them to keep your aquascape balanced. All you need is long, sharp scissors, and long pinsettes ( important for planting ). Now, when you setup your aquarium it's best to plant all the desired plants from the beginning, this will fill out the tank and make it mature faster ( plants do not require a cycled tank ). When it comes to planting, pinsettes are your best friend! Never use your hands.
Tip: do your first planting right before filling the tank with water ( you can fill in a few inches of water to keep the plants moist ), this way the water will be very clear when you add it afterwards! Also note that most aquatic plants look much better in groups and bunches, keep that in mind while you are planning for your aquascape. OK, let's talk a bit about trimming those plants!
Each type of plant requires a different technique for trimming:
1) Mosses are trimmed just like hair, but be careful not to make a huge mess.
2) Stem plants should be cut from the stem, and from each cut new leaves will grow. You can replant the heads if you want.
3) Carpet plants ( or any plant that grows from runners ) can grow pretty dense and suffocate themselves, so carefully cut any extra runners and leaves ( and remove them of course ) and don't allow those delicate plants to pile up or over grow. Vallisneria is another story, you must remove any yellow leaves you see, and this plant can grow pretty long and will cover the surface, just cut the leaves so that they stay on level with the water surface. Be aware that Vals produce runners for reproduction, cut those runners if you don't want the plant to grow out of control! (sometimes I find baby Vals growing in the other side of the tank ).
4) Anubias are strong and can live for a long time, but Anubia leaves catch algae very easily, so if you spot any ugly looking leaves ( dead, algae-covered, got holes…etc ) remove them quickly, new leaves will grow. You can also cut the rhizome of the Anubia if it starts growing out of order ( and yes you can replant the cut part ).
5) Water lilies can also cover the surface, so cut the long floating leaves from the bottom.
6) Ferns need to be trimmed as well, old leaves become spotted and ugly ( for reproduction ). Simply cut and remove the old leaves and any secondary rhizomes that might effect the mother plant.
7) Crypts also need to be trimmed! The most important thing about cutting Crypt leaves is to cut it right from the bottom, otherwise you will be surprised by a nasty mass of dead matter after lots of wrong trimmings. Trust me.

As I said, these are just the basic rules or guidelines for having neat and eye-catching aquascapes, what really makes a difference is the creative touch from you!
Written and illustrated by Al-Haitham Jassar
Do Not COPY without a written permission, please.

ADA Aquascaping - step by step pdf