Top 5 Modern Aquascaping Designs for Your Freshwater Fish Aquarium

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Hi Aquarium Keepers! Today we have a guest post from Stella Coleridge who is a specialist on Freshwater Planted Tank Aquascaping. I don’t really cover freshwater topics much, but I the freshwater planted community is very fascinating and can have some crazy good looking setups. So without further ado here is Stella’s Post:

Top 5 Modern Aquascaping Designs for Your Fish Aquarium

For many aquarium enthusiasts, it’s as much about creating an amazing underwater landscape as it is about the fish and the art of aquascaping – or creating an underwater garden effectively –is growing in popularity.

Aquascaping involves arranging aquatic plants, wood, rocks and stones, within the aquarium, to create an underwater garden for the fish to live in – or some people are so focused on the garden side they concentrate solely on aquascaping and don’t have fish.

It does involve giving consideration to all of the technical aspects of tank maintenance such as lighting, temperature, filtration and cleanliness, to help maintain the garden and keep the plants thriving.

There are a number of distinct aquascaping design styles which have developed from this craft, which you can try at home for your own fish aquarium, here are the Top Five:

Dutch Style

This style of aquascaping stems back to the 1930s and reflects a traditional flower garden by using many different types of plants with varied colours, leaves and textures, planted together at different height levels.

This garden uses many styles of plants, but does tend to see them planted in groups, often in straight lines, and rarely includes anything else so no rocks or driftwood would be used in this style of aquascaping.

Traditionally, tall plants would be placed at the back to hide any filtration systems from view, and around 80% of the tank floor would be covered with foliage, so no substrate would be visible in this Dutch style underwater garden.

When choosing the plants for Dutch Style, you need to pick ones which fit in with the style, particularly for covering the substrate and floor. Some of the best plants to use for this style of aquascaping include: Saurus Cernuus and Lobelia Cardinalis.

Other plants commonly used for Dutch style aquascaping aquariums are: Hygrofilia Corymbosa, Limnophila Aquatica, Java Moss, Tiger Lotus, Cryptocoryne, Ammania, Alternanthera Reineckii, and Rotala.

Natural Style

Natural style is also known as Japanese style and aims to mimic a natural landscape using plants and stones. The aim is to create a miniature underwater garden, using carefully arranged stones, with a clear focal point, and using only a few different species of plants together.

This style tends to use colourful plants with small leaves and moss, to create a minimalist look, and it doesn’t completely cover the floor of the tank. This is a style of aquascaping which would traditionally include fish in the tank to add to the aesthetic, but with a limited number of different species.

When choosing plants for natural style, you can look at examples like:   hair grass (Eleocharis parvula), Riccia, Staurogyne repens, Glossostigma elatinoides and Echinodorus tenellus.

Other species which work well in this style of tank design are the shade loving plants like mosses, and ferns. The Cryotocoryne family of plants is the ones most commonly used to plant in the shade among the rocks and wood.

Jungle Style

With this style, the plants are left to grow more naturally and more wild than the first two styles we have looked at, which are more designed. The jungle look generally fills the whole tank, with no space and no stones or rocks.

To achieve this look, bolder and coarser plants are used with varying leaf shapes, to create a wild appearance. Often tall plants can be used to create a jungle canopy effect on the surface, along with floating plants, which block out the light. There are various plants which can be used to create this more wild landscape.

For example, you could look at using any number of these plants to create a really effective jungle aquascape: Microsorum pteropus, Aponogeton boevinianus, Bolbitis heudelotii, Crinum calimistratum, Vallasneria americana gingantea, Echinodorus ‘Ozelot’, Echinodorus ‘Rubin’, Crinum natans, Aponogeton crispus ‘Red’, Echinodorus quadricostatus and Sagittaria.

Biotopes Style

If you want to recreate an exact aquatic landscape or habitat which appears in nature then you need to go for a biotope style aquascape. These aquariums are not designed to look pretty but to recreate exactly, a particular habitat, which may or may not include plants or fish.

The aim with this style is to replicate as closely as possible, down to the correct gravel, rocks and water composition, an existing natural habitat. These are often used to help study what would happen in a natural setting but could also create a great talking point in your own home aquarium.

Paludarium Style

This final style is the combination of land and water within the same aquarium and can be used to create habitats such as riverbanks, bogs or the beach. The aim is to have part of the aquarium under water, but part above the water by building up the substrate in some areas.

The tank would only be partly filled, allowing some of the substrate to rise out of the water as a land mass. This then allows for plants who like their roots in the water but tops to be in the air, to become a feature within the aquarium, as well as aquatic plants.

This type of aquascaping design makes a great tank for keeping amphibians rather than fish, and can be used to display floating plants perfectly.

Examples of plants which grow really well in a Paludarium include:  Cyperus alternifolius or Spathiphyllum wallisii. Some types of Anubias and Bromeliads also grow well with their roots in the water but their leaves in the air. Plants which float include Eichhornia crassipes, or Pistia stratiotes and these work really well in this type of configuration.

Which type of fish should I use in Fresh-water Aquariums?

While your initial focus in creating an aquascape design will be on the plants and the appearance, choosing the right fish to complement your design and thrive in your chosen tank environment is also a key factor.

Many aquarists struggle with this decision, trying to find the right species to thrive with plants and which should be avoided. In general, smaller fish help to create the illusion of a deeper aquarium. Fish to avoid are larger herbivore fish such as silver sharks and pacu, as well as fish which are very sensitive to pH swings.

The best small fish which you should choose to go with your aquascape design include: Ember Tetras; Neon Tetras, Harlequin Tetras and Cardinal Tetras. Outside of the Tetra family, you could look at featuring Angel Fish, Rainbows or Guppys. Discus and Dwarf Gourami also thrive well in aquascape environments, as does the Chili or Mosquito Rasbora species.


So if you are looking to make your aquarium stand out and you love gardening, then why not combine both hobbies to create an amazing aquascaping design within your fish aquarium. From a stone and rock minimalist look, to a completely wild jungle landscape, the choices and looks you can create are endless.

Hopefully, these top five design ideas will have fired your imagination to start aquascaping in your own fish aquarium at home. Whether you try natural style or Dutch style, remember, you still need all the technical skills connected to running an aquarium, to make this underwater garden thrive.

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