The Art of Decorating Your Aquarium: Aquascaping for Dummies

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You might think that decorating your aquarium is as simple as adding some gravel and a few ornaments, but some people prefer to take their fishkeeping to the next level by aquascaping their tanks. But what is aquascaping, you may be wondering? The word itself is made up of aqua and scapo, Greek for water and stem, respectfully. Aquascaping is the art of decorating your aquarium with plants, rocks, and anything else you’ve got lying on a shelf. Most probably, if you’ve set up a tank at least once, you can justly call yourself an amateur aquascaper. Aquascaping is often regarded as an art, and rightfully so! There are different styles, ranging from Dutch to Japanese to Jungle. 

jungle-style tank. photo credit: By George Farmer https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37282753

 Robert Woods from Fish Keeping World says “a good place to begin would be to pick one style”. Japanese style is the most well-known, found in many public aquariums worldwide. You’ve possibly seen one in the foyer of some large corporate building. They usually house a few large and colorful fish and have moderate amounts of decoration. Also, Japanese style frequently mimics natural landscapes, like mountains or canyons. Take a quick look online to explore what other awesome things can be done! Interestingly, Japanese style branches out into something known as Iwagumi style. The Iwagumi has a strong focus on rocks and their arrangements. As a matter of fact, the name of the style translates to “rock formation” from Japanese. Aquariums that have adopted this style can seem minimalistic but still look stunning. It’s amazing how only a couple of rocks carefully placed can serve as a solid foundation for a majestic environment. Its counterpart, Dutch style, employs a wide array of plants of different sizes, colors and shapes. These aquariums look like true aquatic forests and usually become home for the fish as bright and beautiful as their surroundings. The third one, Jungle, is quite self-explanatory. This style combines elements from the two mentioned above, however, unlike aquariums in Dutch style, the Jungle tanks would be green most of the time, retaining the natural look of the plants. Now that you’re more or less comfortable with styles, it’s time to choose fish that would fit nicely into the setting. At that stage it’d be really helpful if you already have some idea of what fish, or at least of what color, you’d like to see in a tank. Needless to say, the type of fish would depend on your style of choice. Some of the most striking appearances are within the Cichlidae family. Take a look, for example, at the Aequidens or Cichlasoma genus from South America – these beauties will surely keep your aquarium glowing all year round. Alternatively, if you want something a bit smaller consider fish from the Rasbora or Danio genus as well as gourami fish. Multiple schools of fish would look wonderful in a large planted tank. That brings us to the discussion of tanks. Here, the volume doesn’t really play a huge role. It’s more important to know what you’re planning to do with the space you’ve got. A smartly furnished 5-gallon tank will make a much bigger impression than a randomly stuffed 30-gallon tank. Here are some guidelines you might want to follow: • Don’t put all the stuff in the middle – even if you’re doing thisfor the best of reasons, chances are it won’t look good. Like with the best cake, try spreading it evenly. If you have only a couple of decorations to work with and a relatively small tank, try placing them throughout whilst leaving some free space in between. However, filling up the whole tank shouldn’t be your goal either. Maintaining a balanced ratio is key to creating a beautiful tank. If in doubt, leaving slightly more room unoccupied is usually better. • Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better – this goes for decorations as well as the tank volume. Sometimes you are better off just creating a simple but beautiful modestly sized tank rather than trying to shoot for the stars. You’ve probably seen these huge ceramics at pet stores, but the truth is, they rarely blend in. Except for rare cases, try to avoid them. Finally, this can also be said about fish. Most of the time, keeping large fish not only won’t be practical but will be quite distasteful as well. • Know your decorations – understanding what and what not to put in your aquarium is a must. Obviously, any material that ends up in the tank must be safe for your fish. If we’re talking about ceramics, they often have markings on them uniquely for that reason. Another popular material is wood. The pieces you buy from the store are good to go but never just chuck in some random wood from the outside into the tank. Make sure you know what you’re putting in the tank, as the health of the fish depends on it. • Clean is a win – maintenance of the tank isn’t elective but a requirement. Nothing in your aquarium will live for long without constant support. If you have plants in your tank, you’d have algae growing on rocks, substrate, walls and decorations. Having algae outbreaks is tough but under good maintenance their growth can be contained. Sustaining a nice and clean environment in your tank is the whole point of aquaculture, and subsequently aquascaping. If you stick to the rules outlined above, then your tank should be up and running in no time. Decorating your aquarium is all about showcasing what’s on the outside, not what’s on the inside. Whatever your tank is, as long as everything looks good, it’s fine. To help you get started there are different beginner sets available, including all the essentials. Try starting out with smaller tanks and if everything goes good from there,move on to something bolder. Never be afraid of trying something new, even if you’re unsure of whether it’ll work out or not! At its core, decorating the tank is about figuring out what looks best and learning in the process.

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