The aquarium in the video above is my 30-gallon planted tank. Closed system, which means it is rarely cleaned except for removing and replacing about a gallon of water a week. No gravel cleaning. No debris cleaning. Occasional removal of leaves that become covered in hair algae. Pressurized CO2 added. No other fertilizers. 

I updated this article about three years after I wrote it. Yep, I just keep learning more about keeping aquariums.

My promise to you: I will do my best to make your visit worthwhile.

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This article discusses proper placement of rocks, driftwood and plants in creating a beautiful and natural looking aquarium aquascape.


For this article, three major types of planted aquascapes will be discussed:


A. Dutch style, which includes a lot of lush red and green plants. Not discussed because they are stupidly difficult to create and run. That said, here is a picture of a Dutch Style tank. 

B.  Amano style: This is a more simplistic aquascape with an emphasis on stones and low growing green plants. Amano tanks often have a lot of open space in the upper half of the aquarium.

C.  The rest of us style: Honestly, to create a Dutch aquarium or an Amano style would require you and I spending all of our waking moments obsessing about aquariums and creating aquariums.

D. The rest of us Amano hybrid tank: What this is is a nano tank (three gallons or fewer) that has a few small, well-placed rocks and just one or maybe two carpeting plants. No other plants. This is doable. I have a 2 gallon nano being shipped to me which I will just to create a Amano hybrid.

 To create either a Dutch style, Amano style, or the rest of us style aquascape, you will need the following items:

1.  Driftwood. If you use driftwood, make sure it is big enough to have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the aquascape. You may need to buy more than one piece of driftwood.

2.  Interesting rocks or stones. At least one large stone and several smaller stones. Enough for your aquarium and the style you’ve chosen.

Of note: I saw black lava rock for sale on an aquarium store site. 10 lbs for $20. I can walk out my door and collect more than I could carry. It’s everywhere in this area. 30,000 years ago there were active volcanos everywhere in Southern Utah, U.S. Hence all the lava rocks. You can check the prices of rocks on eBay here.

3.  Proper substrate usually small gravel or sand.

4.  Plants. What style aquarium you decide on will let you know how many and what type of plants you buy:

*  The Amano style tank: This may require as few as one type of plants although you can plant 3 or 5 types and have a nice, lush aquarium.

*  The rest of us style tank: Whatever we can get that will grow well in our aquariums. Below is a picture of one of my nanos. I think I bought 7 or 8 plants. The ones in the picture lived. Of note: This tank is a 2.8 gallon nano tank. The only reason I could get the carpeting plant to grow was due to how close I could get the light.

*  The rest of us Amano hybrid: This style would need one easy to grow carpeting plant. A lot of the same plant.

How To Create The Aquascape

1.  Lay the substrate on the bottom of your aquarium in two layers. The first layer will be a growing medium 1.5 inches thick. There are many types available on Amazon or do what I do and use organic potting soil. Next cover the growing medium with gravel or sand.

The tank below is my 2.8-gallon. It looks like I have about three inches of EcoComplete in a tank that is seven inches tall. Of note, the red plant in the back is dying. You can tell by the covering of black hair algae. There is a scientific reason it was dying, but for now, let’s just say I replaced it with a different plant.

 The tank about is almost an Amano Hybrid. I would have just had to get rid of the large plants and keep the carpeting plant. I would need to add a cool rock or two and some shrimp so that there would be some activity to view. 

2.  Decide which item you want to have the greatest impact on your tank, stones or driftwood. Whichever one that is, place those items in your tank first. Take several minutes to move the stones or driftwood around so it has the most appeal. Make sure and place the items off-center, because off center décor in an aquarium looks and feels more natural.

Proportion is important in hardscaping your aquarium. For example, my 30 gallon above has a piece of driftwood that I purchased for my 10 gallon. It looks lost in the picture. Here is a Google search showing driftwood in various aquariums. You can see the difference between what looks natural and what pieces of driftwood look lost. 

3.  Place the remaining hardscape (stones or driftwood) in your tank to complement the first item(s) placed in your tank. Take several minutes to look at things and move things around to look natural and appealing. Extra time spent on this step will help you create a more beautiful and natural aquascape.

4.  Plant your plants: Place your plants in your aquarium first to compliment your hardscape (stones and driftwood) and secondly so that the smallest plants, when full grown, will be at the front of the tank and the larger plants are towards the back and sides of your aquarium.

*  Be sure your plants won’t look too symmetrical (balanced) when full grown. In nature things are almost never even or the same, for example look at a row of mountains. For your tank to have the natural beauty you are trying to achieve, you’ll need to be careful not to have too much symmetry or balance.

*  You’ll want one side of the tank to have taller plants than the other. Be careful that red-colored plants are not symmetrical either. If you have a red plant on the right and left side of the tank, you can make them asymmetrical by making sure that they are different plants, different colors or different leaf patterns.

*  I really love the Amano style tanks that have only one or two different carpeting plants, stones and an open space for the fish or shrimp above the aquascape. My personality is to be a minimalist, so it’s not a wonder I enjoy this style of aquarium. Here is another link to a picture showing this style.

You can see aquarium carpeting plants and check the price on Ebay here.


5.  Fill your aquarium: Once everything is in place and looks as good as you can make it, fill your aquarium with preconditioned, 78 degree water. You’ll use a water conditioner which neutralizes chlorine, chloramine and heavy metals. After the filling the tank, turn on your aquarium heater and aquarium light. Wait a couple of weeks and add a few shrimp or snails or both. Don’t add fish to a nano tank as nanos are too small.

As you work on creating additional aquascapes, you will get better at this, so don’t become discouraged if your first few attempts are not quite to your liking. You will get better and better as you set up aquascaped tanks, tear them down and set them up again. 

Red and white freshwater shrimp on a stick

What Type Of Freshwater Shrimp Can I Keep In My Nano (Small) Aquarium?