Aquascaping Aquariums

Aquascaping is a relatively new practice but one which is growing rapidly in popularity. It is the art of creating beautiful, natural looking underwater landscapes in aquariums using both creative planting and hardscape. There are many talented aquascapers whose work you can use for inspiration. These include George Farmer, Tom Barr and Oliver Knott, as well as the great Takashi Amano who sadly passed in 2015 but whose legacy lives on. Don't be too intimidated by their efforts, however, as they are masters of their craft. Their artistic heights might seem unattainable but with a little practice and creativity you can produce impressive results yourself.

Aquascaping is taking the world by storm and it isn't difficult to see why. There is limitless potential to use your creative skills and fertile imagination. The results can be truly astounding and mesmerising.

Your Vision

If you are keen to try aquascaping yourself then it is useful to explore the work of others first. This will give you some insight into the possibilities. However, your aquascape should be a unique creation and so you should start thinking about the look you wish to achieve. You can take inspiration from your favourite places as well as from the images that you see online.

You will need the right set-up for your aquascape with the appropriate hardware and equipment. You should research you options in this regard and seek advice if you are unsure as to what best suits your needs.


When designing your aquascape there are several issues to consider. Scale and a sense of perspective are key to the success of any aquascape. In general, what you are trying to create is miniature world in which everything is to scale and one which delivers a sense of perspective. Smaller features and plants can populate the foreground with larger elements placed further back. Your aquascape should progress from a low foreground through a higher middle ground to the background for the best effect. This type of topography will create a sense of perspective and keep everything to scale. A graded landscape will also prevent larger rocks, wood or plants from obscuring the features in the foreground.

A considered approach will ensure a great view of any livestock that you wish to include. You do not have to feature fish in your aquarium. Many enthusiasts focus only on the planting and hardscape. Experiment with your layouts and remember to consider the size of the aquarium that you have chosen. It is important not to overcrowd the available space or to feature disproportionately large plants in a small tank.


Balance is also a major consideration. The most appealing aquascapes are aesthetically pleasing because they are balanced. It is often best to place the most significant or striking feature a little off-centre. If you are using coloured plants or hardscape then avoid the inclusion of just a single colourful plant or element as this can detract from the principle feature of the aquascape or destroy the balance of the piece. Try to resist the temptation to be too symmetrical as a symmetrical aquascape will appear contrived and unnatural.

Be sure to allow for enough open space to showcase your fish and don't overcomplicate your design. It isn't necessary to include every conceivable plant species to achieve a spectacular result. Sometimes less is more.

You may well find the creative process frustrating at first but don't let this stop you in your tracks. Keep experimenting until you arrive at something with the potential to be special.


When you have thought about what you want to achieve and have evolved a pleasing concept it is time to think about the specific details of your aquascape. Firstly you will need the right substrate for your tank.

The substrate is the base layer for your aquascape. The substrate has many purposes. It provides a decorative layer and an anchor point for plant roots. It is a useful way to store and supply minerals and nutrients and provides a home for beneficial bacteria. These bacteria break down excess food and the waste from fish and then turn it into nitrates which the plants can feed on.

There are now substrate products which have been specifically created for planted aquariums. They have been designed to promote plant growth. There are two principle varieties of substrate - complete substrate, which can be poured into the tank and then planted and compound substrate which requires capping.

Complete Substrate

A complete substrate like AquaGro Nutrasoil can be used as a stand-alone feature or can be combined with a base layer like volcanic pumice which is porous and promotes bacterial growth. This transforms the substrate into a biological filtration system. The base layer also prevents compaction and encourages the movement of water within the substrate, thus keeping it fresh.

Compound Substrate

You can also achieve impressive results using a compound substrate. Here a layer of the chosen substrate is placed over the base of the tank. The substrate can be deeper towards the rear of the aquarium. This layer is covered with fine lime free gravel which caps the substrate to prevent it from clouding the water column. This type of substrate should always be covered with at least 3cm of the gravel.

Substrate Additives

There are a variety of additives available which are designed to enhance the aquarium environment. These variously prevent the substrate from becoming overly acidic, remove impurities and promote bacterial growth.


You can create striking and unique aquascapes by incorporating hardscape such as rocks and wood. Use smaller rocks for interest and to build a graded elevation and larger rocks to create the illusion of mountains. Experiment with different shapes to find the effect you are looking for. Sharp edged rocks make for convincing peaks whilst steep sided rocks with minimal planting at the base produce wonderful cliffs and mountains. You can raise the level of the substrate beneath your rocks to increase their elevation. Place your main feature a little off centre and fashion arrangements that have undulating lines for the most visually pleasing effect.

Never include limestone rocks in your aquarium as these will affect the hardness of the water. We have a great selection of rocks suitable for aquariums here at Romsey World of Water.

When placing your rocks in the aquarium take care not to knock the sides of the tank. The rocks can easily crack the aquarium glass!

Aquarium wood is available in a huge variety of shapes and sizes and can be used creatively to produce fabulous effects. You may not find precisely the piece of wood that you need or which best suits your design, but you can cut pieces to size if necessary.

You may also wish to consider the inclusion of decorative pieces in your aquascape. Here your choices are limited only by your imagination! It all depends whether you are aiming for a completely natural look, a fantasy theme or an aquascape with manmade features like buildings.

Aquascape with Rocks and Wood


It is the planting which will make or break your aquascape. It is crucial to choose the right plants and to position them effectively. Take special care with small aquariums as plants with large leaves can ruin the sense of scale. For smaller tanks look at Hemmianthus callitrichoides, Utricularia graminifolia, Elocharius parvula and Glossostigma elatinoides. The smaller leaves will make the tank look larger than it actually is.

With bigger aquariums you have much more scope and can feature a wider variety of plants. Try to incorporate several species as this will create a natural appearance and a more aesthetically pleasing result. Use different shades of green to enhance interest and to add texture and depth to your design. A mix of shades will also appear more natural and less deliberately structured. Add red or orange plants like Tiger lotus for a more colourful display.

When you are ready to start planting, take a set of pincettes (tweezers) and grasp each plant in turn by the roots. Carefully push the roots into the substrate. Position small plants towards the front of the aquarium, medium sized species like Cryptocorynes in the middle ground and stemmed plants to the rear. This will help to create the illusion of depth and the right perspective. Darker plants work best when placed close to the edges of the tanks and mosses on rocks and wood produce pleasing contrasts.

As your aquascape will need time to settle and grow in, take care not to plant too thinly. Denser planting will produce a natural and more mature look in a shorter space of time. Group odd numbers of plants, i.e. plant in threes and fives rather than in twos and fours. This approach to planting will have greater visual appeal.

CO2 & Fertilizer

Just like plants on the surface, aquatic plants require certain factors to maintain life. Light, nutrients and CO2 are all essential and allow aquatic plant life to photosynthesise. Striking a balance between these is crucial, as an unbalanced system can have detrimental effects on the health of the aquarium. For example CO2 can create fluctuations in pH level and sometimes these can be quite dramatic shifts.

As mentioned, a balance is required between lighting, CO2 and fertilizer. The amount of fertilizer your aquarium requires will depend on the levels of the other two factors. At Romsey World of Water we have a great selection of fertilizers to choose from, each with a healthy balance of the nutrients required.

Planted Aquarium

Filling the Tank

Once you are satisfied with your design you can fill your tank with water. Fill the aquarium slowly so that you do not risk disturbing the substrate or uprooting your plants. It can help if you place a plastic bag on the substrate as this will disperse the water as it falls. If you wish to include fish in your aquascape then do some research into the various species or seek professional advice in order to make the right choices.

Health Warning

Aquascaping is addictive! Catching the bug can be a life changing event. You will almost certainly wish to join the growing army of enthusiastic hobbyists who create a fabulous array of amazing aquascapes for their homes and offices.