The art of aquascaping has become increasingly popular in recent years. Aquascaping is described as ‘underwater gardening,’ using techniques of setting up, decorating, and arranging a set of elements, like aquatic plants, stones, driftwood, and rocks, in a way that becomes aesthetically pleasing to the human eye.

A “How To” for Aquascaping.

Like any other passion, aquascaping takes time, dedication, and extensive research. From establishing the simple principles to introducing the essentials of building an aquascape, we will provide you with the information you will need to begin the hobby of aquascaping.

What is Aquascaping?

Unlike basic gardening, aquascaping involves a much longer and possibly more difficult path of development. Once aquariums have become part of our homes, we take pride in them. They emerge in our daily conversations and fulfill our hidden dreams by enabling us to harness our creativity and imagination and turning into a passion.

Besides the growing aspect of aquatic horticulture, involving physiology, pruning, ecology, and aquarium maintenance, aquascaping also implies design and layout elements that extend beyond the aquarium’s boundaries. It’s not easy to obtain the perfect aquarium, but once you have decided to get into it, aquascaping can be challenging but very fun and rewarding.

Basic Aquascaping Principles

The whole aquascaping process may seem difficult to accomplish, but it’s not as hard as it looks if you follow a simple set of principles. Like in the case of any creative process, aquascaping relies heavily on your imagination. Finding the perfect balance between efficiently using scientific principles and creativity is possibly the hardest to achieve, but it is possible! Below are a couple of specifics to take into account before thinking of getting started with aquascaping:


Aquascaping is all about taste, and sometimes less is more. People are often tempted to incorporate as many types of plants as possible, thinking that this would ensure a splendid visual variety. Still, most of the time, the result is the opposite. Keeping your aquascape simple can keep it from being overcrowded.


Keeping it simple does not mean using only one type of plant. Even if you intend to create a theme, you don’t want your aquascape to look dull. Remember, imagination plays a crucial role in aquascaping!


It’s essential to give a sense of harmony to your tank, so try to have as much open space as filled space. Avoid using only large leaf plants because they take away from the proportion and depth of your aquascape, leading to a less pleasing aesthetic.


Aquascaping can become frustrating, but trial and error is the best way to figure out what combination of aquascaping styles and layouts work for you. So be ready to deconstruct and reconstruct if there’s something you don’t like about your aquascape. The more you experiment, the better you will get at it.

Aquascaping Essentials


Lighting is one of the essential pieces of aquascaping equipment. With a crucial influence on the health and growth of the aquascape plants, the lighting is considered to be the functioning heart of an aquarium.

Water Filters

As their name says, water filters remove excess food, fish waste, dangerous chemicals, and decaying organic matter within the aquarium. There are three basic methods you can filter water: mechanical, biological, and chemical, and most water filters on the market involve a combination of two of them.

Carbon Dioxide

The CO2 systems might be slightly costly, but they are essential for the growth of plants. No plant can grow without carbon dioxide. If you are genuinely passionate about aquascaping and find that you will continue it as a hobby, purchasing an excellent CO2 system enables them to grow their plants to their full potential.

Liquid Fertilizers

Fertilizers are necessary to plant growth in the same way that vitamins are beneficial to the human body. Depending on the lighting and CO2 systems of the aquarium, there are two types of fertilizers you can use to keep it healthy: macronutrients and micronutrients. They both need to be appropriately dosed to create an appropriate aquatic environment.


Aquascape plants absorb nutrients through their leaves and roots, which makes a correct selection of aquascaping substrate very important. Depending on the plants you want to grow (small foreground, tall background, etc.), the suitable substrate will ensure your plants’ proper size, development, and color.

Hardscape Materials

Sometimes plants are not enough to secure the aesthetic of an aquarium. Adding rocks, wood, or gravel makes them look as unique. Unusually arranging them allows you to use your creativity, but you can also follow layout guidelines. Hardscape materials like driftwood or rocks are essential elements that ensure the design and layout part of the entire aquascaping process.

Mastering the backbone of the aquascaping process is necessary if you want to be successful. You want your tank to be aesthetically pleasing, your fish to feel comfortable, and your plants to grow to their full potential. You can do all of that by following a set of simple mathematical rules.

The Rule of Thirds

Aquascaping is about creating enchanting visuals that the eye naturally draws to, typically from left to read. The rule of thirds refers to exactly how elements within our scape should be laid out in such a way that we can control what the eye of the viewer sees. To understand how the rule of thirds works, imagine your tank divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines.

The purpose of these imaginary lines is to see intersection points of the grid, where you can establish the image’s focal point. The focal point doesn’t have to be in the middle of the tank, as that can take away from the things around it. A specific mark that anchors the viewer’s gaze first, and then from which the viewer’s eye can glide towards other points of interest, is necessary to create an aquascape that is appealing to the viewer.

The Golden Ratio

A golden ratio is a number obtained by dividing a line into two parts so that if you divide the longer part by the minor part, the result equals the whole amount divided by the longer part. In both art and mathematics, as well as in nature, the golden ratio is strictly connected with the creation of a focal point. In aquascaping, this would be the point the eye is directed toward at first glance.


The Focal Point

As mentioned before, the focal point is an anchor for the viewer’s mind. It tells him where to look at first and where he can go. Every aquascape should have a focal point. In the case of smaller tanks, there should be only one focal point and several secondary points of interest. When it comes to larger aquariums, you must create more than one focal point, with one being the main point of focus focal point. Too many points to focus on could lead to a lack of interest for the viewer. Keeping it simple is the best option. The Nature, Iwagumi, or Jungle styles start by creating focal points and implementing the golden ratio rule.

Aquascaping Styles

Aquascaping offers a variety of approaches and styles. Each person has their niche and expectations and desires for their individual aquariums. There are four major aquascaping styles, each of which has particular characteristics and unique features: The Dutch style, the Jungle style, the Iwagumi style, and the Nature style. Below is a short description of these four main styles.

The Dutch Aquarium

Dutch Aquarium

Popularized in the 1930s, the Dutch aquascaping style is entirely focused on the culture and arrangement of aquatic plants. The Dutch style does not involve the use of driftwood or any hardscape materials. The main focus is placed on the height, color, and texture of a wide variety of plants and the basic technique of construction is the terracing approach. It may look easy to accomplish, but aquascapers need a wide range of plant knowledge to create an aesthetically pleasing aquascape.

The Jungle Aquarium

Jungle Aquarium

The Jungle Aquarium is one of the most straightforward aquascaping styles to reproduce. As implied by the name, the final product should resemble a jungle’s wild, untamed appearance. One of the most common characteristics of Jungle tanks is that vegetation can grow as it pleases and becomes quite dense, which requires less maintenance and enables the design to last longer. The Jungle style aquascape may not be the most complex of layouts. Still, it can become beautiful and functional over time, as numerous fish species prefer its dense vegetation environment.

The Iwagumi Aquarium

Iwagumi Aquarium

In contrast to the Dutch style, which only uses plants, the Iwagumi aquascaping style is based on an arrangement of rocks as the hardscape, their precise positioning using the golden ratio. The use of low-growing plants is widespread to enhance natural beauty. The typical setup for an Iwagumi aquascape involves using three main stones, one more extensive, called the big Buddha, and two smaller stones. To create a sense of unity and harmony in the tank, it is essential to use stones having the same color and texture.

The Nature Aquarium

Nature Aquarium

Differentiating from the well-manicured Dutch style, the Nature aquarium style aims to create an image of the natural world. Nature aquarium aquascapes commonly depict smaller versions of rainforests, mountains, hillsides, or valleys. Both hardscape materials and plants play an essential role in the quest for balance in the aquarium.

Nano Aquascape

Nano Aquascape

One of the most popular styles of the freshwater tank is the Nano aquascape style. This beautiful tank setup looks stunning in a smaller-sized aquarium. So, if you prefer smaller tank displays or are working with limited space, aquascaping using a Nano style is fun and rewarding. In addition, hobbyists that opt for this beautiful aquascape style enjoy beautiful plants and schools of smaller teeming fish.

What is a Nano Aquascape?

Nano tanks are an excellent choice when aquarists want to display plants or small fish and invertebrates in a small yet spacious enough freshwater environment. One benefit to owning a nano tank over other large aquarium displays is that they are smaller and, therefore, easier to maintain.

Nano Aquascape Plants & Fish

Some of the plant types you may consider including in your aquascape are moss, dwarf hairgrass, Hemianthus callitrichoides, and stem plants.

For small freshwater fish, many people opt for species such as Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi), Cardinal Tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi), Chili Rasbora (Boraras brigittae), Bettas (Betta splendens), Harlequin Rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha), Fancy Guppies (Poecilia reticulata), Endler’s Livebearers (Poecilia wingei), Zebra Danios (Danio Rerio), and Bluefin Notho (Nothobranchius rachovii), among others.

Symmetry & Shape

Don’t force symmetry in your tank. Avoid placing big chunks of hardscape material in the center of the aquarium. It will make everything around look the same, taking away from the beauty of the entire piece. The best aquascape shapes are the ones following a smooth curve. There are several composition styles in this regard:

  • • The concave layout: higher on either side and lower in the middle, this layout offers the impression of open space in the center.
  • • The convex shaped layout: plants are trimmed lower on either side and higher in the middle, which is very nice aesthetically and can be obtained with rocks to make a mountain looking scape.
  • • The triangular setup: higher on one side, lower on the other, this type of layout creates very balanced visuals.

Don’t feel constrained by these basic shape setups! It’s more important to let your creativity do its thing and experiment as much as possible. Follow your gut and do what feels best for you. Be confident and have fun in the process!

How to Create Perspective

  1. Choose the perfect background. Unless you place your aquarium in the middle of a room, you should definitely give it a background. Some of the most common materials for aquascaping backgrounds include wood, cork, adhesive foliage or simple paint. The role of the background is to hide the wall, hoses, and cables and to help create in-depth perspective.
  2. Find the right balance between foreground, mid-ground, and background. A good balance between these three can give a good, aesthetic perspective to the tank. Use stones and driftwood in the mid-ground to create the impression of hills or higher ground. To obtain some depth, use low growing plants in the foreground and try some pieces of wood sticking out to the surface in the background. The final setup should create harmony throughout your aquascape.
  3. Choose a natural-looking substrate. Depending on the plants you intend to grow in your tank, you should choose natural-looking gravel. The substrate acts as a base for the entire aquarium and you don’t want it to look fake.
  4. Choose the right plant size and color. Planting the tank is very challenging, but really fun! Make sure you begin with the focal point of your aquarium, continue with the low-growing and mid-growing plants and, at the end, with the higher ones. It is better to plant groups very dense as well, the more items, the higher the chances to catch roots and develop. Use plants with different colors and sizes, as it will help you create contrast and in-depth perspective and will help your tank look more natural.

Recommended Fish

Most people already have an idea of what fish they want to put in their aquariums. When it comes to aquascaping, getting the right type of fish is a delicate choice because there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. There is no specific rule, but you have to think of fish behavior, their breeding cycles, and swimming habits. You should avoid fish that would disrupt your aquascape. The most common types of fish are small and usually schooling (tetras, Australian rainbow fish, etc.) because they have vibrant colors and make the tank look bigger.

Aquarium Maintenance

Keeping your tank clean and safe for plants and fish could be challenging. Successful aquascaping is dependent on the things you do after you’ve set up your tank, things like regular pruning and water changing, constant plant-trimming, correct balancing of light, CO2, and nutrients.