Many people immediately think of fish when they think of an aquarium. They are nice to look at, but don’t underestimate the plants and decor that really bring your aquarium to life. When you carefully create a true underwater world with the focus on aquarium plants, rocks, wood,… we call it aquascaping. That can grow into true works of art, but even as a beginner, you can make a visual picture of your tank if you follow the right steps.
How do I start a plant aquarium?
A strong design is half the battle for successful aquascaping. Write a sketch of what you envision on paper: a forest feeling, more of a mountain landscape, a jungle vibe,… Are you inspired by the natural “chaos” or do you opt for a serene Japanese garden effect? Immediately create a legend that you can later use as a shopping list. Do your research and be inspired as you ask yourself the following questions:
- How big will the aquascape get?
- What surprises and accents does the aquascape contain? Where is the focus?
- How was space created: elevations, material, structures, backgrounds..
- Do you build your hardscape from rocks, wood, cabbage, (river) stones, …
- Do you like ‘pure nature’ aquascape or do you add aquarium inhabitants?
What kind of soil do I need?
Just like other plants, aquarium plants have their own unique wishes and requirements. Some plants (floating plants, mosses, algae and ferns) don’t even need a bottom. Others need a bottom as an anchor point for their roots to attach. They only get a small part of their nutrition from the soil. For those types of plants, it is therefore sufficient to add liquid fertilizers to the water. In addition, there are also a number of plant species that do use their roots as the main source of food production. If you only have one or a few specimens of this, you do not have to provide your entire aquarium with a nutrient medium. Only use a nutrient layer locally and then you can safely supplement the remaining surface with sand or substrate. Pushing some fertilizer into the ground now and then is enough for many. Whether or not you need a nutrient medium depends entirely on the type of plants you choose.
How do I choose aquarium plants?
Of course, the aquatic plants are the stars of an aquascaping aquarium. It is therefore essential to choose suitable plants that can also be easily combined with each other. They should not only match in terms of preferences for water values, but also choose them according to the style you want for your underwater landscape. Do you want to create a zen effect or rather a lush jungle? Do you choose high and/or low aquarium plants? Are you up for the maintenance challenge or do you prefer plants that don’t require much care? Whichever you choose, always provide the necessary plant food. Would you like such a beautiful green-covered soil?
How do I maintain my aquarium plants?
If the conditions are optimal, your plants will soon start growing (slow or fast depending on the species). So you will (regularly) have to prune, pick or trim. This is not just to contain them for visual reasons, without pruning your aquarium plants will suffocate. Depending on the type of plant, follow the correct pruning rules:
• Ground cover: cut the top short with small scissors. Not too short, the root should not be visible. (eg: Riccia fluitans)
• Offshoots: cut off the outer leaves at the bottom, just above the crown. (eg: Vallisneria)
• Planting with rhizomes: cut or cut the plant at the root (and replant it) (eg: Anubias)
Tip: Pruning involves a lot of small plant mess. Do not let it float around in your container and try to scoop up as much as possible with a fine net. If possible, combine it with a water change.
Read Also: Choosing Live Plants For Your Aquarium
How do I keep my water values up to date?
Optimal water values are essential for a healthy, well-growing aquascape. To be able to maintain this stable, it is best to invest in a good aquarium filter and CO2 supply. Also measure and check the water values in your aquarium every month so that you can adjust if necessary. It is crucial to stabilize the natural balance between light, CO2 and plant nutrition; otherwise your aquarium will soon turn into an algae festival. The right lighting can bring an aquarium to life, but then you also have to adjust the amount of CO2 and plant food accordingly.
The stronger your aquarium lighting is, the faster your plants will grow, but also the more fertilizer and CO2 you will have to add. Adding bacteria is also not a bad idea: this will start and complete the nitrate cycle and maintain a healthy aquarium.
Do you like residents?
A plant aquarium that is purely about aquascaping can be just as interesting as an aquarium with fish. If you do want to add a few residents, do so carefully. Aquarium inhabitants such as shrimps, lobsters and fish bring extra life within the aquascape, but once they are too many they disturb the biotope. Many fish also cause a lot of pollution and a sprouted aquascaping is often too sensitive to allow it to dissolve biologically, resulting in algae. To avoid this frustration, it is best to start with only aquarium plants and hardscape. If you notice that the base is good, you can add a few more residents later. Keep in mind that each strain has its own preferences that you need to take into account. For example, not all species can live together and some prefer long instead of high water columns or rather rocks instead of plants. So coordinate your tank, inhabitants and plants with each other. It is also best to choose varieties that only grow to between 2 and 5 cm in size to keep the impact under control. So choose, for example, (fire) shrimp, cardinal tetras or guppies.
Do you choose an inner or outer filter?
Internal filters are cheaper, but if they are visible, they quickly become a visual disturbance. External filters can be strategically placed out of sight so that they do not disturb your underwater landscape. They are also easy to maintain but more expensive to purchase.
How many light hours are ideal?
Sufficient light is very important to promote the growth of young plants. Still, it is best to choose a dark place in the house to put your aquarium. This way they do not get too much indirect light and you have control over the number of light hours per day. The danger with a starting aquarium is that algae formation occurs due to too many hours of light. Want to create a healthy aquascaping? Then start with 6 hours of lighting and gradually work up to a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 10 light hours per day. Did you know that plants need light to grow and produce oxygen, but they don’t release that oxygen until it’s dark?