Aquascape Like A Pro - Ultimate Guide for Beginners

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Aquascape Like A Pro - Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Newbies tend to get overwhelmed with the bombardment of aquarium information they'll have to go through in order to make a transition; from regular fish-keeper to an aquascaper. While the truth is, getting started with aquascaping is not as hard as you thought!

Even so, if you want to turn your hobby into a passion, expect that it will take time, dedication, and thoughtful research to get the best result.  

To help you with this, we curate the rules, principles, and procedures in a simpler way. We will have a rundown on how to set up an aquascape that suits your style, as well as the basic elements to add to your aquascape. 

But first, let us start with what you should know about aquascaping. 

What is Aquascaping?

The overall definition of the term aquascaping can be described as "underwater gardening". Similar to landscaping, aquascaping also involves techniques of setting up, decorating, and arranging a set of elements in an area. The only difference is that aquascaping is an action done in an underwater area and involves the possibility of a much longer and more difficult path of development. 

And is also a bit different from hardscape at the basic level.  In hardscape, substrate and plants are placed in the aquarium in order to fulfill the needs of certain livestock.  It is really meticulous decorating and arrangement of rocks, driftwood, and live plants in an aquarium. Mostly inspired by terrestrial environments, like mountains, forests, grasslands, and even jungles.

Though it isn't always to make your aquarium look like a natural water world. You can always adjust the setting of your tank depending on the livestock you intend to keep. 

However, other than the growing aspect of aquatic pruning, ecology, and maintenance,  aquascaping also implies the aspects of designing and layouting, which goes beyond the boundaries of conventional aquarium keeping.

Basics Rules of Aquascaping

Like most creative development, aquascaping relies solely on how wide your knowledge is and how far your imagination brings you. As a saying goes " your imagination is your limit". 

Now combine this with scientific principles to have a more efficient result. 

While acquiring both a knowledgeable and creative mind can be a challenge it is necessary in order to be a successful aquascaper. 

These are the things you should consider before you start with aquascaping:

  • Simplicity – In aquascaping less is more. Many people are tempted to incorporate too many unnecessary types of plants as possible, thinking that this would ensure a great visual appeal, but for most cases, it will result in the opposite.
  • Variety – However, when we talk about simplicity, it does not imply that you should limit yourself to one type of aquatic plant. Let your imagination take into play. Remember that imagination plays a vital role in aquascaping!
  • Proportion – this is an important factor that gives a sense of harmony to your tank, so try to have an aquarium that will give you plenty of room to scape. If possible avoid aquatic plants that are too large for your tank or plants that will get too much space.
  • Persistence – If you do not have this quality, you will easily get frustrated in aquascaping.  That is why you should prepare yourself for changes if there’s something you don’t like about your aquascape. Consider that the more you experiment, the better you will get at it.

Necessary Elements for your Aquascape

  • Lighting – this is one of the most important aquascaping equipment, for this has a vital effect on the health and growth of the aquascape plants. No wonder why lighting is considered to be the functioning heart of an aquarium.
  • Water Filters – As its name implies, water filters are responsible for cleaning your aquarium's water. It does this by removing excess food, fish’s waste, and other dangerous chemicals, and decaying organic matter within the aquarium. There are three different ways to filter the water in an aquarium: mechanical, biological, and chemical; in which most water filters available on the market are a combination of two of these three.
  • Carbon Dioxide – Aquarium CO² systems can be slightly expensive, but same as lighting, CO² systems are essential for the growth of aquatic plants. As a matter of fact, your plants won't grow and obviously die without carbon dioxide. For long-term use, make sure to purchase a good CO² system that has the capability to grow plants to their full potential.
  • Liquid Fertilizers – Fertilizers supply the needed nutrients for a certain aquatic being. There are two types of fertilizers you can use to keep your aquatic livestock healthy: macronutrients and micronutrients. Both are needed and should be dosed properly to create a bountiful aquatic environment.
  • Substrate – Aquascape plants function just like land plants. They not only feed through their leaves, but they also feed through their roots. That is why a properly selected substrate is very important. You should also consider the type of plants you want to grow as well as their purpose for your aquascape. Having the right substrate will ensure the proper development of their size as well as their color.
  • Hardscape Materials – Aquarium ornaments(aquarium driftwood and rocks) represent the bone structure in aquascaping. If you want to secure the aesthetic look of your aquarium, relying on aquatic plants is not enough. Adding rocks, wood, gravel, and other hardscape materials are needed to keep your scape as uniquely as possible. If these hardscape materials are arranged properly, you will not only make your aquarium attractive but also make your design and layout sturdy. 

Aquatic Plants and Livestock


Aquatic plants are the most considered foundation in aquascaping. There are more than 200 discovered aquatic plants today. You don’t have to study all of them, a few do well. It is best to choose plants that can complement each other. In other words, choose the types of plants that can blend well together. 

You should also take into consideration the ease of care, ability to survive in similar water parameters, and of course its availability; some plants can easily be bought at any pet store while others are hard to obtain.



Regarding fish, try to go for small schooling types of fish. You can find various types of these small schooling fish in the Boraras genus. Very small tropical fish are perfect, especially for nano aquascaping setups.

The worst type of fish that you should avoid in an aquascape is the ones who love to burrow, especially the larger ones. This type of fish will destabilize and uproot plants, or destroy the overall design of your aquascape. One example of burrow fish is the large catfish and also other invertebrates. 

Though most types of cichlids are suitable for aquascaping, others might be prone to the habit of digging. 

Plant-eating fish and invertebrates can also cause problems.

Algae can be difficult to clean off of decorations without removing them and sometimes impossible to remove from plants without causing hard. So adding algae-eating fish and invertebrates can be very helpful. Algae-eating shrimps are a perfect example of these.

Aquascaping Visual and Focal Algorithm

Surely, not only do you want your tank to please your eye, but make it wonder at the right angle. 

Precise measurement is very important in nature, and aquascaping makes no exception. And before being wonderful, unpredictable, and diverse; nature is mathematical.

Here the following mathematical rules and designing principles for aquascaping.

Avoiding Symmetry

The idea of having perfect symmetry really doesn’t occur in natural scenes. That is why aquascapers avoid symmetry in any way possible. 


Avoiding symmetry helps to keep an aquascape from looking too harsh or manmade. Making spectators feel as if they are looking upon a picturesque landscape.  

Grouping rocks and other focal points in an uneven way helps things avoid being symmetrical. 


Focal Points

Focal points are elements in your aquascape that draw the attention of the eye. It can be a spectacular rock, a vibrant red plant, driftwood, or anything that can bring visual allure.


Placing things in the right spot is important for it can affect the overall scene of your aquascape. This is evident because most principles of aquascaping involve all about captivating the focal point of the eye.


The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds derives from photography and cinematography. This rule is used in both practices to decide what angle to shoot a film from or to make a scene look more dynamic and interesting. 

When applied to aquascape, the rule of thirds refers to the use of imaginary guidelines in order to know where to place or how to organize certain elements within your scape. An imaginary grid is placed over the front glass of the aquarium with two horizontal lines and two vertical lines. The purpose of this is to divide the tank into nine equal parts. 



Golden Ratio

The golden ratio is a mathematical equation that has been around since ancient times. It is mainly applied in art and architecture. 

Its main principle is to create a proportionate ratio within a rectangle. 

For example, you divide a line within a rectangle into two parts, then divide the longer part by the smaller part. This will give you the result that is equal to the whole part divided by the longer part. So in simple terms, it is an act of creating an infinite ratio within an abstract. 

The golden ratio is also tied to the creation of a focal point. In aquascaping, this would be the point the eye is directed towards at a first glance.

You can use it as a guide so you'll know where to place the best focal points in your aquascape. 

When you apply this rule in arranging the elements of your aquarium, the viewer’s eye can't resist glimpsing around the different focal points in your aquarium again and again. 


Color and Size Contrast

When it comes to size, it is more appealing in an aquascape when Big size elements will be partnered with smaller ones. For example, when incorporating big size rocks in an aquascape, most experts usually used smaller aquatic plants as carpeting. 

There is a good number of color combinations you can try and the easiest type of contrast which you can apply to your own aquascapes. By far the greatest color contrasts are made between a lighter and a darker color. You can draw a sketch of your plan for this to execute the best result. 

Foreground, Midground, and Background

Figuring out where you’re going to place plants and hardscape is really important in an aquascape so make sure you take note of these basic principles:

  • Foreground – for foreground you can use the shortest plants and rocks you have. This will help you put things like small stones or low-growing carpet plants in their best-designated place.
  • Midground – midground is where your middle height plants and hardscape should go. Depending on your setting, you can place taller focal points on the border of the midground and background if needed.
  • Background –  tall is mostly always put at the back. So the background is where your tallest plants and hardscape should be placed. A perfect spot for tall stem plants or really tall pieces of driftwood.


Aquascaping Style

Aquascaping, like any form of art, also offers a variety of approaches and styles. There are a lot of styles to choose from depending on your preferred taste.

One of the most popular is the Amano Style or Nature Aquascaping. 

The ‘Amano style's name after Takashi Amano. His idea of aquascaping is unlike any other. Amano aquascaping incorporates japanese philosophies and traditional gardening. 

For instance, it applies both wabi-sabi and zen philosophy.

Wabi-Sabi is a principle that refers to transience, asymmetry, imperfection, and recognizing natural processes.

Zen also influences the Nature style, particularly for minimalist design.

There's also the exotic style like blackwater biotope aquascape and more. 

Aquascaping Maintenance Tools

Here are the tools you will be needing to upkeep your aquascape as well as its usage. 

  • For easy pruning use Scissors and tweezers 
  • For changing water use Siphon hoses
  • Test kits for Water Chemistry
  • Water conditioners like dechlorinator and plant fertilizers
  • Brushes for glass and decoration cleaning
  • Filtration suitable for your tank size
  • Warm heaters for your tank

Aquascapes are becoming rapidly popular and while they can look sophisticated, they do not need to be complicated. Knowing the basic rules of aquascaping, water chemistry, fish and plant nutrition, and cycling an aquarium are essential to a healthy and enjoyable Aquascape.

This put us to a thought that any passionate aquarium keeper can be a pro aquascape. Now still doubting yourself? You'll never know unless you try. So keep your heads up high and try aquascaping!

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