Introduction to Aquascaping
Aquatic plants have been part of our hobby since the 1930s the craft of arranging plants, hardscape and creating a more natural environment for the fish, started to gain huge interest in Netherland.
One of the first popular Aquascaping styles was the Dutch, where arranging the plants neatly just like in a home garden was the Goal. Aquascaping gained interest as the very First World War had started, Fish hobbyist where forced to look for alternatives to continue the hobby but without the added responsibility of the fish.
- Dutch: The goal in Dutch style, is to organize the plants neatly to create contrast utilizing color and leaf texture. In a Dutch design you can find multiple tones of the same color, thus making it possible to contrast with same colored plants with a slight different tone.
- Nature (Scale Design): One of my favorites is the Japanese-inspired Nature Style, where the main focus is to recreate a piece of nature in your aquarium, to better describe it I like to call it "Nature Scale Design". Recreating forests and even river scenarios are a popular choice for this style. Creativity is key with all styles of Aquascapes, but, Nature Scale Design is by far the most demanding style of them all. For this and other reasons this style of Aquascape, is considered the hardest to execute. Nonetheless never impossible, if it's your first time Aquascaping, don't be hard on your self and just follow your instincts. Just like every other thing in life, practice makes perfect. Keep in mind that for this style, you have to stick to the smallest species of fauna to maintain the scale with your design.
- Jungle: The Jungle style is a favorite, to better describe this style to newcomers, I call it Freestyle. This style is a favorite as it is the easiest of them all. With very minimal rules it makes it a great style for beginners or experienced that just want to have fun. Smaller plants in the front and taller ones on the back, simple ay?. This style uses your choice of wood as the hardscape, you may use rock to spice it up but it's not originally scaped with it. Feel free to utilize any plant species you desire, as long as you can meet the conditions for it, you should be ok. A signature plant species for this style is the Jungle Val (Vallisneria Americana).
- Biotope: In the Biotope style, you try to recreate the exact conditions found in the environment where the fish is found. As an example the Biotope of the White Cloud Mountain Minnow would be: A strong flow for a river effect, sandy bottom and all sizes of soft river stone, if plants are utilized they should be endemic to the lake stream or river where the fish are found. You would also have to replicate the water parameter and temperature to be exact. Even though this style might seem easy, it is more commonly practiced by professionals as a great amount of research has to be done to be species specific.
- Iwagumi: The plant selection for this style is very minimal, usually sticking to just one or two species for the whole Aquacsape, so it's definitely something to keep in mind if you want to experiment with a few plants at a time. Iwagumi means "rock formation" in Japanese, the focus is on the positioning of the rocks. In the original Iwagumi style there is 3 stones and one or two types of carpeting plants. Baby Tears has forever been a favorite in the hobby due to its tiny round leafs. The incredible small leaf of this plant makes it useful to enhance the perception of the size of the hardscape, making it seem larger than what it really is.
How to start Aquascaping
1. Choose a style: The first thing you want to do is select a style that you want to practice. Setting your mind on a certain style makes a huge difference in how easy or hard it can be to select the plants and hardscape.
2. Substrate: Add the substrate, the front should have at least one inch of depth creating a higher slope towards the back. Sloping the Substrate helps create greater sense of depth and perspective.
3. Hardscape: Now that you have selected a style, focus on the hardscape first if the style requires it. The hardscape is the backbone of the design, so invest the most time end effort in this stage. Work on arranging the rocks and wood. You will know you are done when looking at the hardscape alone gives you a sense of satisfaction.
4. Plants: The base layer is ready and the hardscape has been set, now it's time to get planting.
- Iwagumi: Add water until the soil is very damp, this makes a whole world of a difference when planting carpeting plants. Planting carpeting plants is easier on damp soil instead of a tank filled with water, as the plants will not float to the surface incase they where not planted deep enough.
- Nature Scale Design/Jungle: For this style, start with the moss, attach moss with cotton string of the same color or use Seachem's plant glue if desired. Using glue is easier but it can be messy if not applied carefully. I personally recommend using string on thinner branches and glue on wide hardscape, for example a big rock or a very large piece of wood. Cover the moss with damp paper towels to prevent damage from dryness. Add water to the substrate until it is nicely damp and introduce the smaller species first. Once you are done with all the small to medium species, introduce the taller species, add more water if needed.
- Dutch: Just like with the Nature Scale Design, add water on the substrate until moist then introduce any carpeting plants. Most of the plants in this style are on the taller side, taller plants are better planted with water in the aquarium. Filling the Aquarium half way will make it easier to plant taller stem plants or even rosettes like large swords or Jungle Vals.
What to expect in a newly planted Aquarium?
Congratulations! you have successfully planted the Aquarium. You can sit back and enjoy your creation. Feel free to rearrange any hardscape if needed, just be careful with the smaller plants as they are prone to floating up to the surface if the substrate around them is disturbed.
Keep the lights on for no more than 6 hours for the first week. During this time the plants are not fully stablished and rooted yet, a shorter photosynthetic period is preferred.
The appearance of algae is quite normal in a young setup. Most Aquariums under four months are not considered mature yet. These Aquariums will experience swings in parameters due to insufficient beneficial bacteria levels, this can trigger algae blooms, but nothing to fear, as it is quite normal in newly planted aquariums. In our next blog we will focus on how to keep Algae controlled in a planted Aquarium.
One of the most frequently asked questions is "When do I add Fertilizers?" A quick answer is, "After one week on High Tech setups and three weeks on Low Techs". This is based on how fast plants are growing on each set up. The stronger the light level, the higher nutrient uptake. Just make sure to stay on top of your water changes to minimize the algae spores in the Aquarium. See you on the next Blog on "How to control Algae on planted Aquarium".