A Basic Guide To Aquascaping: Landscaping Inside Your Aquarium




basic aquascaping

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Aquascaping is a great form of art that focuses on making underwater landscapes in an aquarium. It sounds a little difficult but after getting used to it, you will be able to make stunning underwater landscapes that could catch the attentions of any person’s eyes. You just have to focus on little details and the basics to advance in aquascaping.

The following tips should be helpful for you in aquascaping an aquarium.

This article is a guest post by FishTankSetups.com.

Basic Factors

Aquarium Lighting

Lighting of the aquarium is very important for various reasons. The most prominent reason is the growth of plants and health of fish. There are many types of light sources available in the market.

Sun acts as the source of light in nature and imitating that in an aquarium demands good and bright sources of lighting. The best option for planted tanks are LED lighting. It uses less energy and is very bright. For beginner aquarists, an LED light is an excellent choice. It doesn’t have to be expensive either: if you’re just getting started a basic budget LED might work just fine.


The second most basic component of an aquarium is substrate. It is essential for plant growth and production of bacteria. Plants get soils, sands and other sources of nutrients in the nature from rainwater and shoreline runoff. For a planted aquarium, substrates perform the task of that rainwater and soil by providing the plants the required nutrients.

It enhances the growth of those aquatic plants. One should invest in good quality substrates. A good quality substrate will last very long, nearly the lifetime of an aquarium, even if you plan on upgrading or downgrading to another tank.

Click here for a more in-depth look into planted aquarium substrate.

Carbon Dioxide

Plants require Carbon dioxide (Co2) for their growth. In an aquarium, it is necessary that you provide your aquatic plants the required supply of Carbon dioxide using a Co2 system. Without it, they will not be able to photosynthesize to their full potential. Aquatic plants are autotrophs and make their own food.

Still, the supply of Carbon dioxide should be monitored closely because excessive CO2 can be harmful for your plants and fish. There are many options for providing Carbon dioxide to your aquarium. You can use pressurized CO2 bottles. However, with these bottles you will need a needle valve, diffuser, and bubble counter. Other methods are Carbon dioxide tabs for smaller tanks, electronically generated CO2 and DIY CO2.


Without hardscaping in your aquarium, it will just be plants and fishes. Hardscaping is the most important part of aquascaping. The aim of aquascaping is replicating nature in an aquarium and for that you will need wood and rocks. There is a variety of woods and rocks. You should always choose natural colored rocks for your aquascape.

Make sure that the rock you’re using does not react with water. Driftwood is amazing for your aquascape as it’s perfect for imitating nature. You can buy driftwood from stores but be sure to wash it properly to remove any chemicals. Regardless of washing it it will leech tannins into your aquarium.

Tannins are not harmful to your aquarium, it only affects the aesthetics. Every piece of driftwood is different, some may leech a lot of tannins whereas others will only release a small amount. Don’t worry as leeching will eventually stop after time. Keep doing water changes and your tank will eventually clear up!

Shallow Hardscape
Shallow Hardscape by corpse89


Now that you have all the basic components, you will only need to put everything in order. Once you have done that you can start making your aquascape. The most important thing for making a beautiful aquascape is your own imagination.

You can build one and destroy it as many times as you want. Until you get the desired results, you can keep repeating the process. These following tips should help you in making better choices regarding the art of aquascape:

Say No to Symmetry

You can try to make your aquascape symmetric but the most beautiful aquascape do not follow any symmetry. That is so because aquascaping is mimicking the nature and nature does not have symmetry. Therefore, you should try to avoid symmetry at all costs. You should try to have the focal point of your aquarium on 1: 1.62. That ratio makes the tank look as if it is identical on both sides.

Avoid Frustration

You should never get frustrated with your aquascape. If you think that the tanks you see on the internet have done something special then you are wrong. They just make sure that they highlight every part of the aquascape in a unique way. You too have that ability and with a little practice, you can do better.

Basic aquascaping guide | Starting your own aquarium garden
Hover over image to pin to Pinterest


Fish play a vital role of an aquascape. They display life and are the chief component of an aquarium. You should get those kind of fish that have avid swimming habits and breed on a regular basis. You should always try to get smaller fish as they make your tank look bigger than its original size.


You should stick to natural decor for your aquascape. Plants of any other color could be used as well for uniqueness and grasping attention. Green colored plants display nature and you can use different shades of green plants. Orange colored and red colored plants are also good for your aquascape. You should be aware of the size of the leaves of the plants as bigger leaves make your tank look smaller than its real size. Plants with big leaves also hide the natural beauty of your aquascape. Therefore smaller plants work well.

The above tips should be very helpful for those who are new to the art of aquascaping. Other than the basic components, you can also deviate from these tips for different looks, as these are not rules. With constant practice, it is certain that you will be able to make great aquascapes.

If you have any more questions about the basics of aquascaping or want to share your own experiences, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Happy fishkeeping!

Cover photo: IMG_3929 by Michael Ben-Zur

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10 thoughts on “A Basic Guide To Aquascaping: Landscaping Inside Your Aquarium”

    • Sure! I’ve answered a few of the questions you had on other posts already but if you have more, keep them coming!

      • Thank you! I’ve just been looking to upgrade and your posts are by far the best I’ve seen so far 🙂 Anyhow, my main goal is to focus on looks. Now that I’ve gotten confident and done a whole lot of research, I’d like to upgrade. So far, I’m looking to purchase a 20 gallon tank for my betta and nerite snails, as well as add in amano shrimp and pygmy corys. The setting is going to be river sand with driftwood and a whole plethora of plants. The one aspect that I’m still shaky on is algae control. Even with algae eaters, I still can’t seem to get rid of brown diatoms and green algae, but as far as I’ve tested, my water levels are all normal. I also do water changes once a week. I’ve considered the chemical algae control, but you can’t use it for crustaceans like shrimp. Do you have any recommendations?

        • Thank you! Trust me, we had to learn all of this at one point and we are still learning every day!!
          As I replied earlier, pygmy cories won’t do well with your betta. They’re very active fish and actually spend a lot of time in the middle water column, which can quickly stress out your betta.
          Would you be able to tell me your water parameters? Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, phosphate?
          Is your tank getting a lot of natural sunlight?
          Do you use tap water for water changes or RODI/distilled?
          This will help me get a better feel for your tank! Thank you.

          • I sure can! It’s a 10-gallon, freshwater tank with a temp of 78.4F. I use the Api Freshwater Test Kit and the pH is 7.6 (I also did high range pH and it was roughly 7.8) and ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels were all 0. The room isn’t pitch black, but it is pretty dark since I keep the blinds and curtains closed. For water changes, I use water from my house which I’m on well water, but I’m almost positive it isn’t distilled. I read your post on betta tankmates and I saw that cory cats are a better fit for a betta. Do you have any recommendations on which particular species would be best in a 20-gallon betta tank?

          • While your parameters may seem ideal on paper, some amounts of nitrate are actually pretty important for maintaining a balanced tank. Though it might seem counterintuitive, some algae (especially diatoms) feed on low nutrients. Ideally, you will want some traces of nitrate (~5 ppm) and even some phosphates, though too many phosphates can also lead to an algae bloom. It’s a very delicate balance. That being said, it may be worthwhile to test your well water for all those parameters, plus phosphate.
            For getting rid of the algae, you should try to remove as much as you can by hand, but continue to do research and test your parameters. Because you have no nitrates, it might just take feeding your fish a little more often to get some more nutrients into the tank. I know a lot of people have treated their saltwater diatoms with this method (sometimes while blacking-out their tank for a couple of days), but I’m not too familiar with freshwater techniques.
            Some people suggest that nerite snails will eat diatoms, which you could try a couple; your betta and amano shrimp shouldn’t take interest in them if you feed them enough.
            I would look into sterbai cories, or the other ‘pygmy’ (there is only one true pygmy species: C. pygmaeus) cories, C. hastatus or C. habrosus.

            I know this is a lot of information, so don’t hesitate asking for me to clarify anything!

  1. Hello!
    What would be the best plant combination for a 20 gallon tank with a betta, nerite snails, amano shrimp, and pygmy cory?

    • Hey Samantha,

      You have a lot of choices! It just depends on how much tank maintenance and upkeep you want to give yourself. If you’ve never kept aquarium plants before, I would definitely recommend Anubias; they’re super hardy and don’t require much at all. We have a care sheet specifically for them here. There are a few others that would probably do great in your tank. You can also find our list of 8 easy aquarium plants for other ideas! Good luck!


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