Aquascaping Made Easy – 10 Useful Tips for Beginners

aquascaping for beginners
Source :

Description: Create a beautiful underwater paradise with aquascaping for beginners guide, giving you clues about what to prepare before buying the tank, plants, and fish.

Aquascaping is an art of turning a regular fish tank into an aesthetically pleasing mini world. It requires composition and perfect calibration of all design elements, which may deter beginners. If you want to have an underwater garden but don’t know where to start, follow this practical guide of aquascaping for beginners.

Here are 10 important tips to consider before starting an aquascape project.


Plan Basic Design in Aquascaping for Beginners

Basic Design in Aquascaping for Beginners
Source :

Avoid creating a perfect symmetry for an aquascape! You want something that looks more natural. Use the ratio of 1:1.62 to divide the tank into two parts and create focal points. A slightly asymmetrical composition with a gently curved landscape line is the best starting shape. Want something more dramatic? Try the triangle shape that gradually goes higher from side to side.

Types of Aquascaping for Beginner Designs

The world of aquascaping recognizes several popular design types, which you can adopt as the basic for your tank visual. They are:

  • Nature

Nature tank design is wild and flexible, allowing beginners to get creative with plant placements. This design is perfect for combining many different materials and textures, such as rocks, gravels, logs, mosses, ferns, and carpeting plants. You can mimic the look of a meadow, jungle, or shrubs with this style.

  • Iwagumi
iwagumi style
Source :

The Iwagumi style is inspired by Japanese rock gardens. Its main features are three rocks with different sizes that form a golden triangle design: Oyaishi (the largest), Soeishi (the mid-sized), and Fukuishi (the smallest). The design uses minimum plants and puts emphasis on balance and simplicity.

  • Dutch

The Dutch style is the opposite of Iwagumi. It boasts lush plant beds that consist of various colors, sizes, and textures. This style is more suitable for a large tank.

  • Taiwanese

Taiwanese design combines the characteristics of Dutch and Iwagumi styles. It uses large rocks, terraces, and various depths to create a sharp natural landscape. It also uses various artificial objects, like mini statues, to add unique decorative elements.

  • Walstad
aquascaping for beginners tanks
Source :

Walstad design puts emphasis on a natural setting with almost no algae. The plants are placed on a substrate layer that allows them to grow naturally, encouraging the nitrogen cycle and reducing the need for water changing.

  • Biotope

Biotope aquascape mimics a specific ecosystem, which requires scientific knowledge in about the natural setting you want to portray. This design is often used to learn about the ecosystem in a more controlled setting.

  • Saltwater

Saltwater aquascape is the most expensive of all. Aside from planting marine plants, corals, and anemones, this design requires perfect salinity level, special equipment and maintenance, and the most high-maintenance types of fish.

Beginners can start by adopting the nature style, which gives more freedom on rustic creativity. Use it as a tool to train your ability to create a balanced look. Even with the most basic plants and fish, the result will still be beautiful.


Create the Best Beginner Composition

nano aquascaping for beginners
Source :

The general composition rule in aquascaping for beginners is “shorter in the front, taller in the back”. Do not let any of the design elements get shadowed by the others. When designing and arranging aquascaping for beginners, you should always take a step back once a while, checking if everything looks balanced.

Avoid placing just one focal point in the middle. Imagine drawing two horizontal lines and two vertical lines in front of your tank, equally spaced. The intersection spots between these lines are the best locations to place the focal points.

The use of contrast will improve your aquascaping for beginners composition because it makes every element sticking out. For example, combine dark rocks with small plants, or thick branch with thin, billowy kelp. However, everything depends on the final look you aim for.

Choose the Right Plants

aquascaping plants for beginners
Source :

Start from aquarium plants suitable for beginners. There are quite many beginner plants with unique shapes and sizes, which you can combine into an aquascape. Popular options include:

  • Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf Baby Tears are popular as carpeting plants. They grow and spread fast, covering the tank in no time with a bright green layer.

  • Java Moss

Java Moss gives your tank a natural look. It also has a beautiful green shade, with a self-attaching member that cuts the need for artificial ties. Java moss is also hardy, able to grow under soft, ambient light.

  • Stringy Moss

Stringy Moss has beautiful fine leaves and stems, creating a soft surface when they grow in clusters. Stringy Moss is great to create a rustic, forest-like look. When in clusters, they create the flowing illusion that softens the look of hard material surfaces.

  • Needle Leaf Java Fern

Needle Leaf Java fern is the thinner version of common Java fern. It has thin leaves that will not dominate the space in your design. Needle Leaf Java Fern can grow under low light, and it rarely needs trimming.

  • Anubias

Anubias has medium-sized leaves ideal for decorating with wood. It grows slowly and requires little trimming. Anubias can live under low light, and you can get it at various aquarium-related stores.

When browsing for plants, choose the ones with different shades of green. If you want to add colors, spread a little red, orange, or purple here and there, instead of just in one place.


Choose the Right Fish

The best aquascaping for beginners fish must fill the space perfectly without overwhelming the look and uprooting the plants. Gentle schooling fish are great choices for aquascaping, especially the ones with bright colors. However, you can incorporate slightly larger fish, but avoid cramping them.

Several great fish for beginners include:

  • Ember Tetra
ember tetra fish
Source :

Ember Tetra are popular schooling fish in aquascaping for beginners, loved by beginner and expert hobbyists. They have bright orange color that looks pop in an aquascape. Ember Tetra can live in water with low pH level.

  • Chili Rasbora

Chili Rasbora have brilliant red and purple colors, and they swim in a tight school. They love swimming together from side to side, creating a delightful view. Chili Rasbora are quite rare and more suitable for a tank with single-species fish.

  • Pearl Gourami
Fish Pearl Gourami
Source :

Pearl Gourami have beautiful spots and brilliant colors, perfect for tank owners who like larger fish. However, they need sufficient swimming area, preferably 50 l for three fish and twice that number if you want more fish.

  • Discus
discus fish
Source :

The large Discus have striking markings and colorations, suitable for a tank with more than 250 l capacity. You can combine them with small, gentle schooling fish to create an impressive look.

  • Freshwater Angelfish
Freshwater Angelfish
Source :

Another great species for a tank with more than 250 l capacity, Freshwater Angelfish create an exotic, tropical look. They are famous for their peaceful nature, so you can combine them with small schooling fish like cichlids and tetras.

Several species of tiny but brilliantly patterned tetra are also suitable for aquascaping for beginners. Cardinal Tetra have neon red and blue colorings. Neon Tetra’s colors split horizontally in the middle. Harlequin Tetra have a subtle pink marking that complements a dark line on their bodies. They also live long, between 10 and 15 years, providing you keep the water in ideal condition.


Work for the Ideal Water Condition

ideal water condition for tanks
Source :

The ideal water pH in an aquascaping for beginners is 7.0, which indicates the same amount of hydrogen ions and hydroxide ions. However, most freshwater aquarium fish can tolerate the pH values between 6 and 8, just in case your water has less than ideal condition. Too low or high, and your fish will get stressed and die.

Consider the level of hardness in the water, which indicates the presence of calcium and magnesium. Hard water contains high amount of calcium and magnesium, which can cause problems with your plants, fish, and tank. Water with 4 to 8 dH value is considered “soft” and safe for the aquatic life and the tank.

The hardness level also applies for carbonate and bicarbonate ions in the water. High level of water carbonate hardness (KH) ensures a more neutral pH value. If you check your tank water and notices a drop in pH level, low KH may be one of the causes. Use a KH testing kit to check the carbonate hardness level.


Check the Chemicals in the Water

chemicals in the water
Source :

You don’t need to be a chemistry expert in aquascapin for beginners, but there are several important rules for chemical parameters in the water. They are:

  • Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen cycle happens during organic waste recycling process in your aquarium habitat. It results in ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate floating in the water. In an ideal aquarium, ammonia must not be present, nitrite must not exceed 0 ppm, and nitrate should only be present in a minuscule amount. Weekly water change can be a solution.

  • Phosphate

Phosphate is a common chemical compound in any aquarium, produced by waste mineralization process from bacteria, excrement, dead plant materials, and food particles. A normal tank should have the standard phosphate value of 2 to 3 ppm.

  • Chlorine

Chlorine is present in tap water as a disinfectant, but it can kill fish and plants. Make sure to neutralize the water before you use it in aquascaping. Before filling up the tank, let the water sit in open buckets for a day until all the chlorine airs out.

Tap water may also contain chloramine, a combination between chlorine and ammonia. Unlike pure chlorine, you cannot air out chloramine by letting it sit. You must use a water conditioner product to remove traces of chlorine and chloramine.

Some types of fish or plants may be more sensitive than others. Ask the aquarium store owner or employee about the characteristics of each plant and fish before taking them home.


Use References and Inspiration to Start

live plants for sale for aquascaping for beginners
Source :

If you feel clueless and confused in aquascaping for beginners, finding inspiration is a great way to start. There are many references and information sources you can find to start with aquascaping. YouTube and social media provide numerous free learning sources from the experts.

Observe the works of aquascaping legends such as Takashi Amano, one of the exceptional pioneers of modern aquascaping. He was famous for Florestas Submersas, a giant aquascape in a U-shaped tank displayed in Portugal. The aquascape is not just beautiful, but also forming its own unique world.


Experts to Follow in Aquascaping for Beginners

simple aquascaping for beginners
Source :

For more contemporary sources, you can browse names such as Filipe Oliveira, Oliver Knott, George Farmer, and Jurijs Jutjaevs. These contemporary experts have created wonderful aquarium worlds and dispensed the knowledge to others by social media and YouTube videos. Even just glancing at their photos, you can get a bunch of inspiration to start creating an aquascape.

For more real-life references, you can attend special forums for aquascape enthusiasts. Online gathering spots like Aquascaping World Forum, The Planted Tank Aquascaping Forum, Aquascaping Forum, and Aquatic Plant Central Aquascaping Forum are famous among beginners and experts alike.


Sketch and Plan the Design Properly

aquascaping freshwater aquarium for beginners
Source :

Start by drawing a simple plan of the design you want. Follow all the design rules and elements we have learned. By starting with drawing, you can get the full picture of your desired tank without changing the positions of plants.

You can also bring the sketchbook to the aquarium. Meet the aquascaping expert and show your rough design. Ask if there are changes you should make. You can follow this plan if you want to buy all the necessary equipment immediately for the aquascaping for beginners.

Use Proper Steps when Building Aquascaping for Beginners

aquascaping 55 gallon tank for beginners
Source :

Here is the example of a basic step-by-step tutorial in building your aquascape:

  1. Layer the bottom with the mixture of nutrient-rich material and power sand for the plants to grow. Ask for the best recommendation from your local aquarium store.
  2. Flatten the bottom surface with a sand flattener tool.
  3. Add the highest, bulkiest decorative materials, such as large rocks and driftwoods. You need them to build height and focal points.
  4. Start with the foreground carpeting plant. Make sure they line up neatly.
  5. Arrange the tall background plants. Make sure their heights are aligned properly.
  6. Arrange the foreground, non-carpeting plants.
  7. Add the mosses on the hard surfaces.
  8. Pour the aquarium water slowly. Make sure you already neutralize the chlorine.
  9. Add the fish.

You don’t need to create a tight symmetry when arranging the plants, since they will not look natural. Step back after several plant arrangements to observe the result.


Consider the Algae Problem

who makes the best aquascaping soils for beginners
Source :

Nothing frustrates aquarium owners more than the presence of algae. These organisms can grow on various surfaces in your tank, clouding the water and creating ugly green splotches. Several common causes include overstocked or overpopulated aquarium, poor cleaning, too much or too little sunlight, excessive nutrients in the water, overfeeding, and lack of water changes.

A little presence of algae in aquascaping for beginners will not hurt, but when it starts to cloud the water and ruin the aquascape, you need to apply several solutions. They are:

  • Cut Back the Feeding

When feeding the fish, make sure they can finish everything within five to 10 minutes. If there are excess food particles in the water, remove them.

  • Change Water Frequently

The ideal water change frequency for a tank is once a week, with the amount of 25 to 50 percent of water replacement for every cycle.

  • Clean Visible Algae

Once you see the visible signs of algae, clean them immediately. Scrub the tank surface and vacuum the bottom part.

  • Test and Neutralize the Water

You may want to test the water for the presence of nitrate and phosphate. Aquarium shops sell handy testing kits even beginners can use. Neutralize the chemicals by following the instructions of your local aquarium shop expert.

Some species of fish eat algae and can be used to keep the tank clean, such as Siamese Flying Fox and Otocinclus Catfish. However, not all algae-eating fish have ideal sizes for aquascaping for beginners. You must be discerning when choosing the fish species. If there is no possibility to keep algae-eating fish, skip them.


Caution: Remember to Restrain Yourself!

aquascaping tanks
Source :

Beginners in aquascaping often cannot help themselves, placing all sorts of objects, plants, and fish in the tank. This rookie mistake can cause problems like algae, chlorine, nitrite, and nitrate buildups in the water. You can prevent it by focusing on the plants first. Stick to the original design you have sketched.

Underwater plants are the main points in aquascaping for beginners, not the fish. The final look should give you the impression of underwater nature, or the imitation of the landscape such as mountain and forest. If you can achieve the best arrangement, choosing just one or two types of fish are enough to create a stunning impression.

The rule also applies when photographing the tank. Never assume that a digital camera with automatic shots and built-in flash will give you the best images. Using DSLR camera with manual shots, automatic white balance, and ISO 800 gives you the most ideal setting for an aquascaping photography. Avoid using the built-in flash in front of the tank to avoid reflection.



aquascaping fish and plants
Source :

Aquascaping is more than just placing random plants, rocks, and fish in an aquarium. It combines artistic expression, perceptive design, and balance to achieve the natural look. Aquascape experts hone their skills with time and experiences. If you are not an expert, finding the right guide is the best way to start. Follow these steps if aquascaping for beginners and create your dream underwater paradise at home!

Leave a Comment