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A Journey through the Aquascaping Styles

Walk through your local fish store, and you’ll likely notice a lot more than just fish for sale. In fact, even larger chain stores like Petco and Pet Supplies Plus are expanding inventory. If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about plants and hardscape materials (aka wood & rocks). Aquariums today are so much more than a glass box to display your fish, but an underwater canvas for aquascaping.

Simply, aquascaping is the arrangement of rocks, wood and plants to create an aesthetically pleasing layout within an aquarium. However, so much more than just wood, rocks and plants go into the works of art you will find by googling aquascape. For me, aquascaping is the perfect balance of science and art. Wood, rocks, sand, soils, light, nutrients, plants, fish, algae, microbes and, of course, water, all come together undergoing a range of chemical, biological and physical process. These become the tools of an Aquascaper, who uses composition, texture, colors, scale and contrast with the goal of producing an enjoyable and interesting aquascape.

The enjoyment I get from my aquarium hobby is constantly evolving. I’ve been in the planted tank hobby for about 3 years now, and I’ve tried quite a few different aquascaping styles.

Jungle Scape

I started with a Fluval Spec V (5 gallons), some basic aquarium gravel and a Finnex planted+ 24/7. I stuck a large sunken battleship in it and planted a couple stems plants, mosses and hairgrass. After cycling, I stocked the tank with red cherry shrimp and celestial pearl danios, titling it Shipwrecked Shrimp. I liked this tank, but I soon found myself wanting something bigger.

Eventually, I picked up a used 38 gallon off craigslist and opted to create my first jungle scape. I used black diamond blasting sand substrate, roots tabs and CFL desk lamp lighting. Then I planted it with a range of ferns, swords, anubais, grasses and stems. I soon upgraded the lighting to two Current Satellite + LEDs and added pressurized CO2. Feeling quite confident in my ability to grow plants, as The Jungle was growing well, I decided to try a more technical aquascape, an Iwagumi.

Iwagumi Scape

I found a great deal on a new Fluval Spec III (and knowing how easy the Spec V was to maintain) I went for it. However, unable to find the seiryu stone I wanted to start my Iwagumi with, I had to acquire some help. I got in contact with a shop in Oregon who handpicked some seiryu stones, shipping them along with some ADA Aquasoil and cosmetic sand, to me in Columbus, Ohio. I did my best to recreate the scape the shop and I had worked on together, planted it with Monte Carlo and started up the tank. The tank quickly became an algae farm. Adding a pressurized paintball CO2 setup didn’t help much either. The true cause was my inability to maintain the tank. I lost motivation and interest. Three gallons is not a lot of water fill the tank halfway with Aquasoil and rocks and it’s even less. Water changes weren’t easy, and cleaning the rocks was tedious, requiring a fine toothbrush. While this tank may have only lasted 4 months, what I learned was worth it.

Dutch Style Scape

I discovered I enjoyed heavily planted tanks and rearranging plant layouts to into different jungle-dutch styles over the simplistic look of an Iwagumi. As a benefit, I found them easier to maintain.

About a year after my first planted tank I moved. Moving with aquariums can be stressful, but it’s much easier if there’s already a tank ready at the new place. With the mindset of bigger is better, I found a gently used 75-gallon for the new house. The 75 became the new 38. Adding driftwood and using the seiryu the tank evolved into a more nature style aquarium. The tank is still running today, almost 2 years now, but I foresee a new South American biotope aquascape come to the 75. 

Forest Scape

My next aquascaping adventure is my most recent, Forest’s Edge. I elected to try and scape a forest/landscape. This time I practiced setting up the hardscape in a scape box, making multiple trips to local fish stores for more spiderwood to work with. I de-rimmed a used 30-gallon tank and crossed braced it with a section of glass lid. Substrate of choice was Aquasoil, lighting was a Fluval Plant 2.0, and a 5lbs pressurized CO2 system. The tank has been doing very well and I’d say it’s my best aquascape yet.

In this coming year, I intend to aquascape a couple new tanks to submit for aquascaping competitions one of which may even und up being another nano-Iwagumi. So, I encourage you to keep scaping and challenge yourself in attempting different aquascaping styles. If you are just starting in this hobby and wanting to reach competition-level aquascaping, try practicing in a scape box or designate a farm tank for growing new plants. I currently maintain 4 farm tanks (2-40b, 2-20L) in addition to the 30 & 75 aquascaped tanks. Reaching a point where you feel confident in submitting your aquascape to a competition may take a few years, but don’t be afraid to ask for critiques/comment. The aquascaping community is one of the friendliest and helpful I’ve come across.

In the end, there are a variety of aquascaping styles to go from, including: Dutch, Iwagumi, Jungle, Biotope, Nature and Landscape, all enjoyable in their own way. Yet, aquascaping is all about your vision for the aquarium and producing an enjoyable tank. So, my advice to you is to make your aquascape your own! And if you end up with pink gravel, maybe your style is just more Andy Warhol over Takashi Amano.

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