Dutch Aquarium 101: Know-How of This Oldest Aquascaping Style

dutch aquarium tank
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Dutch aquarium applies the style of the said country in aquascaping. Dated back to the era of the 1930s in the Netherlands, it is the oldest aquascape method ever created. No wonder it belongs to the top two of most known among aquarists; one other is the nature concept.

The Nederlandse Bond Aqua Terra (NBAT) – Dutch Society of Aquarists – was its first creator. However, only after two and more decades later, it was then published as an aquascape style along with the set guidelines of what could tell such a concept apart.

With the guidelines, annual contests were held and the official scorers would come to where the aquariums were instead of judging the photos only.

How is Dutch style aquarium different from the others, by the way?

Dutch Aquarium’s Primary Elements

dutch aquarium primary element
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Utilizing no rocks, wood, and other hardscapes altogether, Dutch aquarium has aquatic plants’ arrangement and growth as its focus. However, it does not mean that those three materials are not permitted to be implied. It is just limited to only one kind, be it stones, timbers, or other decorations.

If you have already picked one, it is advisable to use it only throughout your aquascape. Driftwood is chosen, for example, then using only that kind of wood is recommendable for the sake of simplicity.

In the meantime, a gorgeous Dutch aquarium makes use of plenty of aquatic plants and carries out a strong contrast brought by the involvement of texture and tone while preserves the plant life’s high density as well.

You could bring any kinds of plants from all parts of the world into your Dutch aquarium only if they share the same environmental traits, such as water quality, light, and temperature.

The ability to see and nurture plants’ growth – in other words, ‘a deep understanding’ – must be owned by all aquascapers in the hope of designing a Dutch aquarium. It is so to obtain the intended outcome which mostly affected by their comprehension in cultivating aquatic plants.

Thus, they have to understand the methods of growing, mix-and-matching, as well as managing the plant life completely. Other things that need to be understood are

  • whether each plant serves as background, foreground, or middle one;
  • whether each plant requires only a little or a lot of light;
  • whether each plant has already been submerged yet; and
  • whether the plant is a real or swamp water kind.

Though the appearance of the Dutch aquarium is similar to underwater gardens, its goal is to get a balanced and aesthetical aquarium. It is unlike a nature style aquascape, which aimed to resemble the natural setup of a particular ecosystem.

The main component of the Dutch aquarium needs a system to support the life cycle within. They are as follows.


Dutch aquarium needs standard fluorescent lamps. They do not only support many plants’ growth but also offer spread and coverage.

Filtration System

Sumps and canister filters are needed for a high-demanding Dutch aquarium setup since it belongs to the most thorough planted tanks all aquascapers can keep.

Additional CO2 System

As containing the most ‘nagging’ water plants, Dutch aquarium requires additional CO2, which injected in 15–20ppm speed range so that the best shape and colors still intact as planned. Without it, the effort done to have such style will fizzle out.

Substrate System

Usually, a Dutch aquarium needs laterite or clay and small gravels as the substrate system. Furthermore, since we are talking about stem plants growing that will feed on the tank soil, an active substance that could hold plenty of nutrients is necessary.

An active substrate, such as a go-to soil for planting, would more than just do. It helps the plants to grow to their optimum potential.


As the aquatic plants inside ‘nag’ for so many foods, feeding them only nutrients on the soil may not be enough. Thus, regular dose of minerals and iron is also needed, especially for the red plants since they demand a higher amount than most of the greens.


Common Composition and Design

common composition and aquarium design
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Since these entire Dutch aquarium talks are about aesthetics, ascertaining a harmony of plant color, density, simplicity, and variety is crucial. The most common and basic practice is terracing, which encourages the aquascapers to deliver deepness in utilizing aquatic plants.

Previously, terracing is done by setting a real terrace using woods or stones of different heights at the bottom of the tank. However, these days, the method is utilized above a flat bottom surface, which gradually rises from front to back.

Such length is applied to be more flexible in grouping the plants according to their heights.

Approximately seven from ten parts of the tank floor must be filled with aquarium plants in varying species with different leaves shapes, yet then again, simplicity needs to be emphasized as the common concept.

Too many colors and varieties can influence the outcome negatively. Therefore, 60 to 70% of the plants should be those of greens while the rest could be taken by other tones, such as orange, pink, red, or yellow.

One of the two best practices in preserving compactness, minimalism, and structure, is applying the ‘rule of thirds’, a popular guideline in the visual arts field. The other practice is creating single focal points, and usually, the role is trusted to the big or red plants.

Lastly, contrast, space, and tones must be considered as well in Dutch aquarium systems. They are vital to the whole scale beauty and structure.


Plants and Fish in Dutch Aquarium

There is a common rule used in aquascaping a Dutch-style aquarium: apply three species of plants per foot. It is to establish the required variation and color contrast in this concept. Choose stem vegetations since they have fast-growing rates, beautiful color, and the right size.

Besides stem plants, moss walls and cork backing are often picked as well to hide the aquarium equipment behind the tank.

The followings are the most often seen species in the Dutch aquarium. Use this list to grow your own.

Recommended Plant Types for Dutch Aquarium

For Depth, Pathways, and Angles

Dutch aquarium needs deepness, lanes, and angles. The plants needed to create those factors are usually Lobelia cardinalis and Saururus cernuus (lizard’s tail), the low growers. Besides, they have just the right size and grow close to the substance in your tank. Here are their visuals.

Saururus cernuus (Lizard’s Tail)
Saururus cernuus
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Saururus cernuus derives the name from its trait of producing single spikes of small white flowers that resemble the tail of a lizard. Its foliages grow in vibrant green.

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)
Lobelia cardinalis
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Lobelia cardinalis is a slow grower that can grow up to 80–100 cm. It needs part to full sunshade and low maintenance.

For Aesthetic

Meanwhile, trust the visual aesthetic aspect to Hygrophila corymbosa and Limnophila aquatic squad. They grow at a rapid pace with big stems and offer different sizes as well as shapes to the whole scale view.

Here are the visuals of Hygrophila corymbosa, Limnophila hippuridoides, and Limnophila sessiliflora.

Hygrophila corymbosa (Giant Hygro)
Hygrophila corymbosa
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Hygrophila corymbosa is a fast grower, which has big broad leaves. It belongs to marsh plants and can grow above as well as underwater.

Limnophila hippuridoides
Limnophila hippuridoides
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Limnophila hippuridoides catches attention with its wondrous hues that range from bright to deep red to purple shades. This plant is a fast grower and suitable to be in the middle or at the back part of the tank.

Limnophila sessiliflora (Dwarf Ambulia)
Limnophila sessiliflora
Limnophila sessiliflora

Limnophila sessiliflora belongs to the fast-growing plants and has light green foliage with a reddish hue. This plant could adapt to a wide environmental condition range with a pH of 5.5–8 and temperature 22o–28oC.


To Be the Foreground

After creating depth and beauty, you need aquarium frontage from small earthy plants, like the Cryptocorynes. The most often used are Cryptocoryne walkeri (lutea), Cryptocoryne wendtii (mi Oya), and Cryptocoryne beckettii (petchii pink). Here are their visuals.

Cryptocoryne walkeri ‘Lutea’ (Yellow Water Trumpet)
Yellow Water Trumpet
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As seen in the picture, the Cryptocoryne walker is a medium-sized plant that has green to brownish colored foliages. It is perfect if located in the middle or front part of the tank.

Cryptocoryne wendtii (‘Mi Oya’ Water Trumpet)
Cryptocoryne wendtii
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This water trumpet plant is a relatively high grower (up to 20–35 cm) and fits in high temperature (over 30oC) environmental conditions. It needs plenty of nutrients in substrate systems to enhance its growth.

Cryptocoryne beckettii (Petchii Pink)
Cryptocoryne beckettii
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Petchii pink tolerates water with pH values 5–8 and temperature 15o–30oC. Its name indicates the hues of the foliages of pink to light reddish-brown.

As the Focal Points

Now, you require the main actors to be the scene-stealers. They have to be large and vary in colors.

Pick a few from the list of the mini Alternanthera reineckii or Rotalas group for your color highlights, and solitary plants, such as Nymphaea zenkeri (red tiger lotus) or Aponogetons species in terms of size.

Meanwhile, Rotala sp. (H’ra), Rotala wallichii, and Rotala macrandra are among the often-used Rotalas group. Here is how they look.

Alternanthera reineckii (Mini Parrot Leaf)
Alternanthera reineckii
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Alternanthera reineckii mini has a set of strong color accents, which perfect to be in the foreground. As a low grower, people count it to be the new dwarf variant and know it as Rosaefolia minor as well.

Rotala sp. (H’ra)
Rotala sp
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This Rotala species has narrow and soft foliages with color ranges from light green to soft orange to red under adequate lighting. Placing it in the middle or back part of the tank would do.

Rotala wallichii
Rotala wallichii
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Rotala wallichii has super fine soft leaves with colors that range from pink to reddish-brown and look perfect to be in a large group.

Rotala macrandra
Rotala macrandra
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Its red foliages are so beautiful but it gets so not without effort. Rotala macrandra demands adequate CO2, good lighting, micronutrient environment, and plenty of nutrients.

Nymphaea zenkeri (Red Tiger Lotus)
Nymphaea zenkeri
Source : https://www.aquasabi.com

Nymphaea zenkeri is famous for its heart-shaped leaves in bright reddish-purple color. It will have a new growth 8 to 10 days after dropped inside the aquarium.

Aponogeton madagascariensis var. madagascariensis
Aponogeton madagascariensis var. madagascariensis
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Also known as lace Madagascar plant, Aponogeton madagascariensis is an easy grower if you meet its preferences of cool water (21oC).

Aponogeton ulvaceus
Aponogeton ulvaceus
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Aponogeton ulvaceus is a medium-fast grower. It can reach up to 30–60 cm high.

For Blending the Contrast

As a big transition gap might exist in between elements in your Dutch aquarium, you require something to blend them seamlessly, and Java moss could do that. This plant could add contrast, become the focal point, and need easy maintenance as well. Here is the visual of the Taxiphyllum barbieri.

Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java Moss)
dutch style aquarium fish
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You could have a beautiful mat spread on the bottom surface of the tank with Java moss since this plant is completely anchored. It does not require a nutrient substrate.

Recommended Fish Species for Dutch Aquarium

Though the focus of the Dutch aquarium is the organization of aquatic plants, fishes are also sparingly involved to fill the three parts left of the tank. The recommended choice is those of schooling ones, like red noses and neon tetras. Provide 12 specimens of them at the very least.

Meanwhile, you could also choose bigger fish, such as Congo tetras, and freshwater angelfish. Here are their visuals.

Red Nose

types of fish at ducth aquarium
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Neon Tetras

dutch aquarium system fish
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Congo Tetras

dutch aquarium systems reviews fish
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Blue Marbled Angelfish (Freshwater)

dutch aquarium blue marble anglefish
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Possible Problems in Dutch Aquarium

ducth style aquarium layout
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At this point, you may already understand that since the Dutch aquarium emphasizes contrast, organization, and variety of the elements, each component has purposes of its own. Colors in layers and varying focal points should be their aim.

Consequently, this is the main problem you might face in aquascaping Dutch aquarium: maintaining the living creatures involved. Besides, to get the wanted result, the aquascapers must have a deep knowledge of it.

The equipment appropriateness, daily fertilizer, and especially plants pruning, are some of many things included in the diurnal jobs to observe and preserve the cycle of your aquatic creatures’ life.

Plants trimming, especially, is your everyday job when you are a Dutch aquascaper. These aquatic vegetations tend to grow rapidly only over a day. That is why there is a saying goes around like, “The only time the tank looks in a good shape is day one after trimming.”

Meanwhile, several other daily chores are checking CO2 and tank temperature, feeding the fishes, as well as getting rid of the floating leaves. Meanwhile, glasses cleaning, debris dislodging, filters cleanup, and replanting are the jobs needed to be done weekly. Healthy and beautiful is the intention.


Focal Factors in Contest Scoring

dutch tank aquarium
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In case you want to join the Dutch aquarium annual contest, know this special rule: a tank should not consist of more than one plant species per 1 dm front glass. Furthermore, pay attention also to these key factors of scoring.

  1. The plants, fish, and other aquatic creatures must be in good shape.
  2. The water should be at the optimum temperature and contain the proper nitrates and phosphate levels.
  3. The selected plants need to serve the purpose of color and contrast.
  4. The selected fishes must be compatible in number and comparison to the tank size and environment.
  5. The aquarium design and layout should fulfill the general rule.
  6. How you set up the equipment to be out of view is also part of the scoring.

For some judges, it is also important to check the aquarium suitability with the interior where it is arranged, the color scheme appropriateness, and its size in comparison with the room’s volume. Any attention diverting objects on and around is also taken as a concern.

Additional tips to be ready in welcoming the judge:

  • understand all of your plants’ behaviors,
  • modify the lighting timer so that the light is on for a few hours earlier than usual before the judge comes,
  • make sure that your plants still have the height and width that fit your initial plan,
  • get rid of all the floating dead leaves on the surface, and

pull out all the leaves on the plants that are old, discolored, and covered with algae


Advice to Improve Dutch aquarium

dutch style aquarium plants
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This section is about advice given by Bart Laurens, the owner of the bart-laurens.nl website, to Joe Harvey and Scott Miller, the winners of the Dutch Style category on AGA (Aquatic Gardeners Association, Inc.) contest 2017. The aquarium in the picture got the first position in the competition.

First. Do not ever divide your aquarium into two sections by setting a big group in the middle.

Second. Try not to make a symmetrical aquascape. Replace one of any two groups that have similar plant leaves to get some improvement.

Third. Leave enough space between groups at the back part of the tank to suggest more deepness.



Apart from the use of various freshwater plants, space and terraces utilization tells Dutch aquascaping apart from other styles, like a jungle and Iwagumi aquarium. Displaying an organization of a serene and harmonious ecosystem is the intention of such a concept.

Balance, focal points, and contrast are the keywords in the Dutch aquarium. Visualize the intended outcome as close as possible to your initial design. Though no one could guarantee it as an easy job, thorough implantation and maintenance will offer gorgeous and natural results.

Be sure to use the proper tool for aquascaping. It lets you more control in doing the planting. I hope this article’s information could be of any help. Happy designing a Dutch aquarium of your own!

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